Dr. Lambda in: The Origin of Dr. Lambda

(Co-authored with Lee Ball)

March 17, 1942

Mystery Submarine

A midnight fog crept across the water and onto the rock-strewn beach, the faint sliver of a moon providing just enough illumination to give Chesapeake Bay’s north shore the appearance of a toiling witch’s steam-filled caldron. Several yards from the shore, a barnacle-encrusted bell, perched atop a long-neglected buoy, clanked dully, but in time with the undulating waves.

The port city of Marble City, Maryland was as black as the ocean’s surface, hidden beneath its blanket of fog, as was every other city and town along America’s eastern seaboard. In the beginning, God had said, “Let there be light;” now, the Office of Civilian Defense had ordered that light extinguished with similar absolute authority.

With the uncaring darkness as its greatest ally, a black submarine poked its nose up through the water’s choppy surface a mile from the shore. Like a chipmunk caught in the grip of curiosity, the rest of the sub emerged through the briny opening made by its fore section. Once it settled and the ocean around it calmed somewhat, a forward hatch opened and several men, all clad in black with darkened faces — an added protection against detection from the shore — climbed onto the deck. With well-rehearsed precision, they moved as silent shadows, inflating and launching a black, rubber raft. As the raft bobbed in the water, three men descended a rope ladder that clung to the side of the sub. Two of the men, large fellows who were no strangers to hard work, took control of the oars, while the third man balanced himself and scanned the distant shore.

They had rowed to within a few hundred yards from the shore when the third man’s diligence paid off. A narrow beam of light stabbed from the darkness, but only for a fleeting instant, before being extinguished. At a word, the two rowers held their oars still, bringing the raft to a halt. The light flared a second time, and then a third, before the observer issued further instructions. The rower to his left dug his oar into the water and the raft pivoted until its nose was at an angle from the shore. A nod from the observer set the second rower in motion; within minutes, they had reached their destination.

With quiet haste, the rowers dragged the rubber raft through the final few feet of surf. The observer drew his pistol, a Walther P-38, and tried to stare into the darkness. Despite having a drawn weapon, none of the men doubted they were anything but vulnerable. It was an anxious minute of watching and listening as they eyed the grass-covered dunes. Their anxiety was relieved when they heard a soft voice, its words almost drowned beneath the roar of the pounding surf.

“Es war eine dunkle und sturmische Nackt.”

The observer lowered his weapon, although he wasn’t ready to holster it just yet, and responded. “Plotzlich erschien ein Schiff am Horizont.”

Two men emerged from the shadow of a dune, holstering their own pistols as they approached. With a nod of satisfaction, the observer did the same. Satisfied that things were as they should be, the two sailors snapped to attention and extended their arms in a silent salute, then began their short journey back to the awaiting submarine.

“Willkommen, Herr ElektriFeuer,” the taller of the two men said to the observer, while his partner began handing the newcomer a few items of clothing supplied for his use.

“My codename is William,” the taller man said, switching to the native language and speaking in near perfect English. “We should hurry,” he continued, “or else we risk detection by the Shore Patrol.”

ElektriFeuer nodded and donned the slouch hat and greatcoat he had been given, then followed his new companions into the shadows of the dunes without a backward glance. They had only gone a dozen yards when several giant spotlights in the nearby city flared to life, piercing the darkness with beams of bright light. To the three men, the lights appeared to be great pillars swaying back and forth, yet still attempting to hold up the night sky. An instant later, the pillars of light were joined by small explosions of light and smoke, and the sound of distant popping as Marble City’s Civil Defense unleashed their antiaircraft guns.

William smiled at his companions. Although it was still too dark to see, it was detectable in his voice. “They must have heard something in the sky,” he speculated, “a useful diversion for us. Come, our car is waiting nearby.”

Mystery Crash 

Galileo Galilei Observatory, a few miles north of Marble City

“What’s more worthless than a government astronomer during a world war?” Dr. Ned Quest asked his instrument technician, Darryl Hunter, and not for the first time.

Darryl had started to answer the first time it was asked, but realized it was a rhetorical question and said nothing. He remained silent the second, third, and fourth time Dr. Quest asked the question. He understood the man’s frustration, but he was quickly becoming annoyed at his attitude. Midnight had come and gone, and they had yet to begin the first in a planned series of Mercury observational studies.

“Since we entered the war against the Axis nations,” Ned continued, “nobody is interested in the stars, or the planets, or anything concerning space unless they are reading about them in those scientific fiction magazines.”

Darryl knew the man wasn’t quite finished with his grumbling, so he held his tongue a little longer.

“I’d rather be in the Army Air Corps,” the scientist said. “I really wanted to be a pilot.”

And there it is, Darryl thought, the source of his self-pity. As far as the instrument technician knew, he was the only one, well, the only civilian, at least, who knew that Dr. Quest had tried to enlist just six months earlier. He could imagine what the recruiters and the Army doctors thought when the 6’1”, thin-as-a-bedrail fellow walked into the room — probably the same thing his great-aunt would have said — “that is one skinny white boy.” Darryl couldn’t imagine how Dr. Quest felt, standing before those men who had sent so many off to war, hoping to one day take to the skies, when they rejected him and certified him 4-F. The instrument technician felt almost ashamed of his reaction to his boss's frustration. “I thought you were making good progress on your on your theory of thermonuclear reactions which power the stars?” Darryl asked, hoping to refocus Ned's attention on his work.

“Yes, I am,” the man said, “but nobody cares. And they won’t care that we’re learning about warped Einsteinian space-time inside the orbit of Mercury tonight, either.”

Darryl knew that to be the truth, because he didn’t particularly care about it either. He did, however, care about his boss. Dr. Quest was one of the few men who treated him as an equal. It didn’t matter that he was just a lowly technician — or that he was colored — Dr. Quest didn’t seem to care.

“I asked my great-grandfather one time why he didn’t try to run away from his master when he was a slave boy in Alabama,” Darryl said.

Ned momentarily forgot about his own misfortunes as the man began to speak. “I didn’t realize that your family included slaves.”

While Darryl knew that most Americans didn’t think about such things because they couldn't care less, Dr. Quest had simply not given it any thought because it wasn’t science related.

“What did he say when you asked that?” Ned asked.

“He told me that the people who owned him were good to him. He said he had a roof over his head and a little food in his belly. As long as he performed his duties, his master treated him well,” Darryl said.

Dr. Quest gave the words serious thought. “What if he didn’t perform his duties? Wasn’t he beaten?’

“That’s what I asked him,” Darryl said.

“What did he tell you?” the scientist asked

Darryl shrugged. “He said that he probably would have been if he hadn’t always done what he was supposed to. Before I could ask anything else,” he said, “gave me a little advice.”

Ned seemed to be back to old, inquisitive self. “Don’t keep it to yourself, man,” he said. “What did your great-grandfather say?”

"He said, 'Boy, it's fine to want something better, but it's easier to achieve when you don't spend your time worried about what you don't have'."

The scientist began to nod. “He was a wise man,” Ned said. After another moment of thought, he spoke. “Perhaps we should get to work.”

“Maybe we’ll learn enough tonight to build that gravity warp weapon you were talking about,” Darryl said. “At least the viewing conditions are optimal with the whole East Coast in an air raid blackout.”

Ned didn’t believe blackouts were necessary since an Axis aircraft had never been spotted in American air space. He tapped a button and the great doors that protected the massive telescope from the elements while it wasn’t in use began to open. Still, he thought, as he looked at the night sky, it is nice to be able to view the sky without the intrusive light pollution.

Darryl began flipping switches and checking gauges, preparing the equipment to begin recording everything they discovered. “I should be ready in about five minutes,” he said.

Dr. Quest opened his mouth to respond, but whatever he started to say was drowned out by something the two men never thought they would hear…Marble City’s anti-aircraft guns were firing. Whatever it was that they had spotted was close, but they didn’t know how close until something in the air just to the west of the observatory was hit and lightning- bright sparks and flame lit up the night sky.

“Into the shelter!” Ned hollered, pushing Darryl before him. “I’m right behind you.”

Darryl yanked open the trap door in the observatory floor and practically dove down the stairs. He landed hard on his shoulder, but rolled over just in time to see the building’s domed roof explode inward. He heard a cry of pain and saw Dr. Quest tossed over the opening by the force of the explosion. He was screaming at Dr. Quest when one of the steel beams from the now-ruined roof crashed to the floor and blocked the trapdoor.

Above, Ned felt, briefly, like a rag doll being tossed away. A split second before he crashed spine first into an instrument console, flying debris struck him in the back of the head, sending him into unconsciousness.

He didn’t know how long he lay there, but he awoke to a painfully loud roar in his ears. Given the last thing he had seen, he was surprised that he didn’t feel more pain than what he did. It only took a second before his surprise turned to horror as he realized that not only did he not feel pain, but he didn’t feel anything.

“Darryl?” he asked, his voice a low, raw whisper.

His eyes began to focus on the figure standing over him, and what he saw made his mind reel. It most definitely was not his instrument technician, and it was not standing. The being was easily seven feet tall. At first, Ned thought its skin was gray, but realized that the creature was wearing some sort of full body suit, covered by a brick-red tunic. Around its waist it wore an orange belt that held several strange devices. Despite the fact that it wore gloves that matched its tunic, he could easily see that the being had only three fingers per hand, and each of those had a fourth joint. It wore a helmet that seemed to be made of glass, but the scientist’s mind determined that it was stronger than any glass found on Earth. The creature’s head had the most effect on Ned. It appeared to be a cross between a lizard and a wolf; greenish-gray scales covered most of the face and a spiny ridge ran from somewhere on the back of its head, between its canine-like ears, and down between its multifaceted eye, stopping at the bridge of its snout.

Overwhelmed at what he saw, and everything that had just happened, Dr. Quest’s eyes rolled back in his head and unconsciousness claimed him once again.

Hospital Mystery 

“AAAARRRR…huh?” Ned came awake with a scream for the pain he knew his body should be in, but was surprised to discover none. The panic was still there, though, and he bolted upright. He glanced around the room, with its stark white walls and antiseptic aroma, and wondered why he was in a hospital bed; and why was he festooned with all of these wires pasted to his body? Aside from his body feeling…heavier, he guessed was the best way to describe it, he felt fine. No, better than fine; he felt fantastic. He had never felt stronger or healthier in his life.

As he began to pluck the wires from his body, the scientist realized two things. The first thing he realized was that the wires were apparently attached to monitors in another room, which was evident by the fast-approaching feet of someone in the hallway. The second thing he realized was that his body was no longer the puny form he had been cursed with since birth, he now had muscles that would make a college All-American jealous.

“Dr. Quest! You CAN’T be sitting up.”

Ned looked at the nurse who had just burst into his room, an attractive brunette angel of mercy all in white, and smiled. Without taking his eyes from her, he continued to remove the wires from his body. The scientist considered flirting with the pretty young woman — her hair what would one day be called “Victory rolls”, center-parted, with the back of her hair combed up towards her crown and secured beneath her nurses hat with bobby pins — but her shocked look told him that nothing he could say to her at this moment would elicit the amorous response he would hope to hear.

“Nonsense, Nurse…” he read the name tag that seemed to be resting comfortably on her enticing upper curves “…Smith, since I AM sitting up. I’ve never felt better in my life. In fact, I feel well enough to go dancing, if you are interested.” He was surprised at his words; he'd just decided not to ask her for a date, but the wellness he was feeling encouraged a boldness that was totally unlike him.

Before Nurse Smith could respond, a man several years his senior in a white lab coat came rushing into the room.

“Dr. Quest, Ned, what are you doing?”

"Isn't it obvious, Ridley?" Ned asked the physician, who just happened to be one of his friends, "I'm leaving." Ridley was the top doctor at Marble City's prestigious St. Elaine Hospital, one of most respected in the nation.

The doctor put his hand on Ned’s shoulder and tried to push him back down on the bed. “Listen to me,” Ridley said. “You suffered some very severe injuries during that air raid. Your back and neck were broken. My god, man, you shouldn’t even be alive.”

At the mention of the air raid, Ned suddenly remembered the strange being standing over him that he had thought, at the time, to be Darryl. He felt a twinge of guilt for not thinking of his friend sooner. “How’s Darryl?” he asked.

“Darryl?” the doctor responded. “Oh, you mean the black fellow that helps you at the observatory. He’s fine, I guess. A few cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. We usually don’t treat his kind at this hospital.”

Ned bristled at his friend’s comment and offhand tone. “Instrument technicians are taken to a different hospital?” he asked, sarcastically. The doctor started to respond, but Ned was not in the mood to listen to his friend’s racist response. “What about the alien?” he asked. “Did they catch it?”

“Alien?” the nurse asked, somewhat taken aback by what the handsome scientist just said. “Doctor Jones? Should I get the patient a sedative?”

Ridley thought for a moment before answering. “Aside from Dr. Quest wanting to walk out of a hospital with the injuries he has sustained, I’ve always known him to be a rational fellow. No, let’s hold off on the sedative. I want to hear what he has to say.” After a brief pause, the doctor added, “I’ll handle things from here, Nurse; you can go.”

Ned watched as the young woman walked away. Hubba-hubba, he thought, surprising himself with his observation of a heretofore unnoticed type of heavenly body.

Once the men were alone, Ridley looked at his friend. “What are you talking about, Ned? What destroyed the observatory? What’s this about an alien?”

Slowly, Ned began to recount the events of the previous night to his friend. Ridley did his best to answer any questions that his friend asked.

“Not only was there no alien found,” Ridley said, “but there was no trace of whatever it was that destroyed the observatory.”

“Perhaps the government removed everything before they brought me here,” Ned suggested.

“I don’t think so,” Ridley replied. “You were in such bad shape that I was picked up at my home and brought to the observatory immediately.”

“What about the ack-ack boys? Didn’t they see what they were shooting at?”

Ridley shook his head. “They were sure they hit something, but it was too dark to make out any details.”

Ned was beginning to wonder about his sanity. If it wasn’t for how he felt, and the changes to his body, he would almost swear that the past several hours had been the result of a serious hallucination. “What about Darryl? Did he see anything?”

“When the military dug him out, he was just as confused as the rest of us as to what happened.” Ridley paused. “Ned. When he saw the shape you were in, Darryl dropped to his knees at your side and cried like a baby. He thought you weren’t going to survive.” There was no sense of mocking in the doctor’s tone. “Frankly, none of us did.”

“But, I did,” Ned said, “and now, I want to go home.”

Ridley smiled at him. “You aren’t going anywhere until I am satisfied that there is nothing wrong with you. If I catch you trying to leave again, I’ll have the orderlies strap you down and place a round-the-clock guard on you.”

Ned really wanted to be going, but he understood his friend’s underlying concern. “Alright, I’ll be good,” he said. “Just do me a favor and tell Nurse Smith that I’m going to have to cancel our dance date tonight.”

The doctor laughed, amazed at his friend’s new self-confidence and his sudden interest in things non-scientific. “I’ll be sure to tell her,” he said. “Honestly, though, after that comment about the alien, she probably thinks you're off your rocker. Now, get some rest.”

As the man turned to go, Ned spoke. “Ridley.”

Ridley turned back to face him. “Yes?”

“About the alien. Do you believe me?” Ned asked.

Ridley thought for a second. “I’ve known you since you were in college,” the man said, “and in all this time, you’ve never been anything but rational. If you say you saw an alien, I believe you.”

Ned smiled. “Thanks.”

The next morning, Darryl had come to pay him a visit, not really knowing if he would even be permitted in, and was surprised to find that Dr. Jones had left instructions that he was to be permitted to stay as long as he wanted. Ned was very excited to see him.

“I’m so glad to see you are alright,” Ned said. “They told me you were trapped for quite a while.”

Darryl was stunned to find his boss awake and moving. “They told me that, if you even lived, you would be paralyzed for the rest of your life.”

“Yeah, well, clearly they were wrong,” Ned began, “I’ve got a few questions for you.”

Darryl knew what was about to be asked, so he didn't wait for the question. "What I saw should be impossible. When I dove into the shelter, I landed pretty hard on my shoulder; there was no doubt in my mind that it was dislocated. Still, I tried to get back up to you, but the collapsed ceiling had me trapped. I was able to see something, something bigger than a man, moving through the smoke and the flames. It stopped near the hole, and, I swear, it looked at me. Then it removed something from its belt and pointed it at me. A beam of green light penetrated through the debris as if there was nothing there and engulfed me. It was only for a second or two, but my shoulder stopped hurting. It also made me very sleepy; I couldn't keep my eyes open. That's the last thing I remember until the soldiers dug me out of there."

“Why didn’t you mention this when they freed you?” Ned asked.

Darryl snorted in amusement. "I knew they wouldn't believe me. I almost don't believe it myself."

Before their conversation could continue, Dr. Jones entered the room accompanied by a half-dozen other men. “We’ve got a busy day ahead of us, Ned,” he said, then turned to Darryl. “Feel free to join us, Mr. Hunter. Perhaps your presence can keep Dr. Quest calm enough to be a willing participant.”

“Thank you, sir,” Darryl said. “I’d like that, and I’ll do my best to keep him here.”

The next several hours brought about an endless battery of tests and involved several of the hospital’s specialists. By dinnertime, doctors, specialists in their fields, began to arrive from all over the country, eager to perform their own tests on this walking miracle. Ned got the distinct feeling that, if he allowed it, these men would study him for the rest of his life. It was an unexpected source that brought the tests to an abrupt end.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had questions of its own.

Mysterious Story

The next morning, a pair of agents came to the hospital and demanded that Ned be released into their custody. Dr. Jones offered a dozen medical reasons why Ned shouldn't be removed, and when these fell on deaf ears, he threatened to lodge a dozen complaints.

“Address them directly to J. Edgar if you want results,” one of the agents, a tall man with dark brown hair and a slightly bulbous nose, replied.

Ridley Jones knew that the agent was being facetious. Based on the man's comment, he suspected the order to retrieve his friend and the instrument technician came directly from Hoover's mouth. He watched in dismay as the two men were led from the hospital through the service entrance to an awaiting 1942 Chrysler Royal.

Several minutes later, the car was pulling into a carport at Marble City's FBI branch building. Two more agents were waiting just outside the door when they arrived. Inside, the pair was led to a small, windowless room, a four-by-four card table and three folding chairs its only furniture. A stenographer's tablets and pencils lay on the table beside a small, flexible lamp, and a pitcher of water and a single Dixie cup.

Two new agents walked into the room. One looked like a recruiting poster for the FBI, tall and muscular, blonde and handsome. The other was a very non-descript man of average height and weight, someone who Ned was sure could spend hours in a crowd and not be noticed. The only thing about the man that was noteworthy was his black suit, and the black fedora and sunglasses he wore, even indoors. The bigger agent was nonplussed when the man in black picked up one of the pads, pulled the only unused chair to the back of the room, and immediately began making notes. Unwilling to call for another chair, the blonde agent conducted the entire interrogation standing up.

After the 'interview' was completed, the man in black tossed several hand-written pages on the table. "What's that?" the larger agent asked.

"It's the report you're going to turn in about what happened the other night. Make sure all three of you read it," was the reply, in an emotionless monotone.

Ned indicated himself and Darryl with a sweep of his hand. "Why should the two of us have to read it?" he asked, with a sudden chill of discomfort. "We were there."

"Read it, study it, and make sure you get it right!" the man in black insisted. "Be sure you all sign it before you leave," and he vanished out the door.

Ned and Darryl looked questioningly at the remaining agent. He pulled the chair back to the table. "You guys can read over my shoulder," he offered.

Big Changes for Ned

“Who do you think that guy was?” Darryl asked, as he took another sip of coffee.

They were seated in an all-night diner that Darryl had recommended. "I don't know," the scientist answered after he swallowed the last of his second sandwich, "but I think it's better if we forget he was there, and concentrate on remembering our story." His tone indicated that he wasn't happy with the situation.

Darryl nodded, watching the man across from him take another bite of a new sandwich. It was the third one he had ordered since they arrived at the all-night diner.

“These sandwiches are delicious,” Ned said. “Are you sure you don’t want one?”

“I’m good,” Darryl assured him.

Ned raised his hand and waitress hurried to their table. “Are you ready for your bill, hon?” she asked.

“Not before I have a piece of that pecan pie and a cup of coffee,” the scientist told her.

“You've used up at least two days of ration coupons,” Darryl noted with concern.

Ned shrugged. “I’ll get by. Last thing I had to eat was breakfast in the hospital. We're gonna have to find something to do for a few days, at least until the government finds us a new observatory to use. Maybe we can do some correlations on the data we gathered last week.”

"I can hardly wait," Darryl replied dryly as the waitress returned with pie. She topped off their coffee cups and placed the men’s tickets on the table.

In between bites, Ned complimented Darryl’s choice of diners.

“I eat here at least once a week,” Darryl said. “They’ve got some of the best food in Marble City.”

Ned nodded. “Now that my belly’s full,” he said, “I feel like I could sleep for a week.” After paying their tabs, the two men left the diner and walked to Ned's car.

“I appreciate the ride,” Darryl said, “but I can catch the bus the rest of the way so you don’t have to use up another gas coupon.”

“Don't worry, the FBI filled my tank for me. Least they could do,” Ned said. "Well, actually, they got me out of the hospital, too. I thought Ridley was going to die of apoplexy!" He grinned at the thought. "Besides, I owe you for introducing me to this place."

Forty minutes later, Ned was pushing open the door to his apartment. As he entered, he removed his hat and coat and tossed them towards the coat rack; both landed perfectly. He continued to his bedroom and sat down on the bed, his eyelids growing heavier by the second, and managed to get one shoe off before sleep overtook him. It would be several hours before he woke up enough to climb beneath the covers.

Ned awoke to the raucous growls and sharp pangs of an empty stomach. “Blast it!” he complained aloud. “How can I be hungry after everything I ate last night? A family of three would have been stuffed for three days with that much food in them.”

Rummaging through his cabinets, Ned began to throw together his breakfast. By the time he was full, he had gone through a quart of milk, the food scheduled for all three of the day's meals, and a gallon of water.

As he headed to the bathroom to get ready for the day, he rubbed his belly, expecting to find a full paunch but instead felt a washboard of muscle. He had only a few seconds to wonder about his rapidly changing physique before he started to worry about being out of ration coupons for this week.

“I've got to find someone willing to part with some food coupons,” he muttered, “or I'm going to starve. I don't think I could go the rest of week without eating.”

Ned brushed his teeth and combed his hair while he weighed his options for finding more food. There was always the black market. Food coupons could easily, although expensively, be acquired through this shady organization, but he refused to deal with black marketeers. To Ned, anyone who dealt with the black market was guilty of treason. It didn't matter what their reason, to him, it was an undermining of the war effort. He would find another way.

With all of his mental energies focused on finding food, it never once occurred to him to consider the reasons behind his insatiable hunger. Suddenly, Ned smiled. He knew what he would do. I need to go to the observatory, at least until they tell me to find another job, so I'll take the bus, he thought. I'll bet I can find somebody willing to trade me food ration coupons for my extra gas coupons.

Ned headed into his bedroom and began to dress. Afterward, he scooped his keys off the dresser and grabbed his book of fuel coupons, then left for the bus stop. As he walked the two blocks, he passed by Eberman's Petroleum just in time to hear an argument coming from inside the garage.

“I was here first,” he heard an angry voice bellowing. “It's mine!”

“I'll give you twice the asking price,” a second voice shouted, somewhat louder than the first.

Ned stuck his head around the garage door to see what was going on. He spotted Errol Downer, the burly station attendant, standing beside an empty tire rack; in his hands was a brand new whitewall, the last the station had to offer. Between him and Errol two men stood toe-to-toe shouting at the top of their voices. The look on the attendant's face told Ned that the man had had enough.

“Either cut out the yelling or nobody gets it,” he roared.

Ned couldn't help but grin. Errol had been a drill sergeant during the First World War and, at almost fifty-five, his voice still carried a ring of authority.

“This is the last tire we have,” he continued. “Unless you jugheads want me to cut it in two, one of you is just going to have to wait until Monday's shipment comes in.”

Both men spun to face him and he became the target of their anger. “Shut up!” “I need to drive today!”

They screamed at him, then back at each other, and then some more at him. All of a sudden, one of the men, the one who had offered to pay double, snatched the tire out of Errol's hands. Despite his age, Errol Downer was no man you messed with. His face began to redden. Rolling up his sleeves, the ex-sergeant squinted at the men then closed in and started swinging. It was like a dam bursting. The tire fell to the floor as all three men began punching, gouging, wrestling, and cursing. Without thinking, Ned rushed to his friend's aid.

At first, he tried to reason with the men. “Come on, you guys! Everybody's affected by rationing.”

When that didn't work, not that he expected it to, he did something he would have never thought he would do; he waded into the fight. Rather than the presence of a fourth person causing them to pause, he became just another target. He saw Errol risk a quick glance at him and watched his eyes widen in surprise when he recognized him. If the attendant was going to say something, Ned never got a chance to find out. The first man he heard spun around with a power-filled fist that caught him square on the chin.

Ned had never been a fighter, had never even been in a fight, and didn't know how to block a punch or roll with it if it connected. His head was jolted slightly to the side, though more from surprise than pain.

“Hey,” he said before reaching out and grabbing the front of the man's shirt. Wrapping his fingers in the material to get a good hold, he spun around and threw the man towards the door. His reaction was so quick and so smooth that his attacker had no chance to react himself. The man staggered and stumbled backwards trying to keep his balance. As he passed by the garage door, however, his left foot hooked the edge and he went down. He tumbled onto the sidewalk where he rolled to a stop and lay still, stunned and moaning.

Turning his attention back to the fight, Ned saw a fist inching toward his stomach as though it were moving in slow motion. He slapped the punch aside and spun the man around. Placing his foot against the man's rear end, he gave a shove and shot him like a rocket toward the street. Unlike the first man, he managed to catch the garage door and stop himself from falling. He turned and looked back at Ned, his face a mask of rage.

“This was none of your damned business,” the man said, “you son of a bi...”

Before he could finish his insult, Ned took a quick step in his direction and the man took off down the street, forgetting all about his car.

“Patriotism is everybody's business in times of war,” Ned shouted, not sure if the man could even hear him.

The first man staggered to his feet and glared at Ned, then he turned and walked to his car. After a couple seconds, they heard it fire up and pull away.

“I barely got in a good shot,” Errol complained. “Aw, who needs jugheads like them anyway.” He turned to Ned. “Thanks, Dr. Quest.”

“No problem,” Ned replied.

“You caught me by surprise when you jumped in and I almost thought my eyes were playing tricks on me,” Errol continued. “To be honest, Doc, I would have never thought you had it in you. Say, where did you learn to fight like that anyway?”

Ned just smiled and shrugged; it was a question he couldn't answer. This was his first fight and he had whipped two men almost by himself. He couldn't believe that he wasn't even breathing hard. Before he could come up with any kind of answer, Errol provided one of his own.

“I'll bet you've been training down at Randy's, haven't you? Looks good on you, Doc,” he said. “I'll have to swing by some day and watch you spar. I'd almost lay money that you could whip the rest of Randy's boxers.”

“Not at Randy's,” Ned said. “I've found a new place near the observatory.”

“Oh, okay,” Errol replied. “Still, the Charles Atlas look fits you.”

They spent a few more minutes chatting — Errol even offered Ned the whitewall — before he excused himself and continued to the bus stop. As he sat on the bench he thought about his new physique and fighting abilities. That they were tied to his encounter with the alien he had no doubt, but after the FBI interrogation and their warning he was convinced that everything that had happened needed to remain a secret. Still, to think that he had gone from being the scrawny weakling to Charles Atlas overnight; it was nothing less than amazing. No wonder I'm so hungry - these muscles had to come from somewhere!

Mysterious Alien Potions

Ned arrived at the observatory to find nothing less than what he had expected; the Army had the drive leading up to the demolished building cordoned off, and J. Edgar's boys were combing through the wreckage. Even though he had expected this, he had hoped to check things out without an audience. It took repeated looks at his identification and several minutes of conversation between the soldier guarding the hill and someone in the FBI before he was finally allowed to continue. Another soldier drove him the rest of the way in a jeep.

“So, you're the scientist who was here the other night when that Nazi sympathizer was shot down,” the soldier said. "What I hear's he stole a small plane and was headed for DC."

“That's what I heard, too” Ned replied cautiously, not knowing if the statement was innocent, or if whomever it was that had interrogated him was just making sure he stuck to the story. "I got knocked out before I could see anything."

“Helluvathing when our own citizens turn against us in favor of some sawed-off Chaplin wannabe,” the soldier said, as he pulled up next to a group of officials who stood looking at the ruined building.

“Sure is,” Ned agreed.

“Dr. Quest,” a man in a suit said, as he approached the jeep. “If we would have known you were coming up today, we could have sent someone after you.”

“Sorry...” Ned began.

“Agent Mathers, FBI,” the man said, extending his hand.

“Agent Mathers,” Ned parroted him. “I hadn't planned on coming, but I remembered that Darryl and I had multiple experiments going on when the crash happened. I know it sounds stupid, but I wanted to make sure that everything was under control.”

A look of concern crossed the agent's face. “Were they dangerous?”

There had been no such ongoing experiments, but Ned hoped that the thought of such might allow him a little freedom to search the ruins himself. “Possibly. I mean, they shouldn't be, but with everything that happened, I would feel more comfortable if I knew for sure.”

Agent Mathers thought for a moment, then began to nod. “Perhaps it would be best if you looked around. We only know part of what you were working on, and frankly, we wouldn't know an experiment gone bad if we stepped on it.”

Five minutes later, Ned was, to those watching, casually searching the ruins. For the most part, it was easy to see that the whole observatory and everything in it were a total loss. He was almost ready to call it quits when he spotted something that he knew was out of place. Buried beneath the rubble near where he has been found was a small metal box.

It was covered in concrete dust and somewhat scratched up, but appeared to be in good shape. Ned thought for a moment as he looked around some more. If he brought the box to the agent's attention, he would never know what it held; a nagging feeling told him that he needed to get it for himself. Glancing back at where it lay, he called for Agent Mathers. “Trouble?” the agent asked, approaching with caution.

“No,” Ned said, his voice calm and reassuring. “It appears that none of the experiments were at a stage to be dangerous when they were destroyed.”

Mathers appeared relieved.

“What I was wanting you for is to get permission to retrieve my lunch box,” Ned continued.

“Your lunch box?” the agent asked.

Ned pointed at the dusty, scratched up box. “Darryl and I had already eaten when the accident occurred, so there's nothing in it, but it does have sentimental value.”

The agent looked at the box, and then at Ned.

“It was given to me by an old professor of mine,” Ned said. “He said it was to remind me that despite the fact that science was easy to get wrapped up in, none of it would matter if I didn't eat enough to keep my mind in shape.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Agent Mathers replied. “I can have one of the guys get it for you if you want.”

Ned looked around. “No need to bother them for a lunch box. I'm sure they've got more important things to worry about. I can get it myself.”

“Be careful,” Mathers said.

Ned carefully shifted some debris and dug the box out. When he climbed out, he and the agent walked over to where the soldier stood beside the jeep.

“I feel better knowing there is nothing to worry about,” Ned said, climbing into the jeep.

“I appreciate you coming out, Dr. Quest,” Agent Mathers replied.

“If you do stumble across something you aren't sure of,” Ned said, “feel free to give me a call. From what I've seen, though, it looks like the whole thing is a loss.”

The agent agreed, said goodbye, and went back to overseeing the work.

“I've been instructed to give you a lift back home,” the soldier said, as he backed up and turned around.

Ned was doing his best to stay calm. “I'd appreciate that,” he said. “It will sure beat waiting on the bus.”

Ned's curiosity was getting the best of him by the time he arrived home. After thanking the soldier, he calmly walked into his building, then, when he was sure the driver was gone, he raced to his apartment. Once inside, he carried the box into the bathroom, the only room without a window, and sat down in the floor with his back against the door. Wiping the nervous sweat from his palms, he opened the box.

Inside were three small cylinders, each with a truncated nozzle on one end and a button set into the other. Two of them held a luminescent liquid that appeared to have the density of syrup while the third one was empty. Removing it, Ned saw that it fit perfectly in the palm of his hand. Is the fit perfect for an alien hand as well? Ned wondered. Examining it more closely, he saw that the button was depressed. Ned gave his discovery some thought: Maybe these cylinders are the alien equivalent of hypodermic needles, and that one was used on him. Perhaps they were part of an alien emergency kit and were left behind by accident. He also wondered if the alien had known exactly what effect they would have on a human. I definitely need to study them more closely.

Returning the cylinder to its place in the box, he closed the lid, then wrapped the whole thing in a towel and slid it out of sight between the cast iron legs of the bathtub.

He was feeling hungry again, so he got up and decided to see what he could come up with. As he passed through the living room, he switched on the radio. It was in the midst of a news update so he paused to listen.

“Major Power has, once again, foiled the plans of Nazi agents. An early morning attempt to blow up the Statue of Liberty came to naught when the 'Dark Dreadnaught' apprehended the villains. Apparently, he came up under their boat and, after spinning it several times, carried it and its nauseated passengers to the nearest police station.”

Ned turned the radio off. A grin and dawning realization blossomed on his face as he realized what lay before him. He felt a growing determination to follow the example being set by New York's resident mystery hero, Major Power. He couldn't fly nor was he invulnerable, that he knew of, yet he had the knowledge to rectify that. For a moment, Ned forgot about food and began to consider the equipment he would need. If I want to be a mystery hero, I have a lot of work to do! He never thought it odd that the gear and devices he was already designing in his head used scientific principles he had never even considered before today.

Sabotage at the Shipyard

The workers on the night shift at the Admiral Dewey Naval Shipyard outside Marble City didn't realize they were in danger until death and destruction rode into the yard like the worst half of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The nightmare that would dominate Marble City's various news outlets for the next several days began with a small explosion in the paint shop. Klaxon alarms sounded throughout the many buildings in the complex, sending military police base-wide scurrying to secure the shipyard. Base fire fighters rushed to the scene and began the dual task of trying to extinguish the fire while at the same time doing their best to keep it from spreading. Medical response teams also arrived and began evacuating the injured to the base hospital as well as Marble City General and St. Elaine. All the while, those workers not commandeered to assist in rescue efforts followed proper procedure and headed for the nearest air raid shelters. Operating as smoothly as during a drill, the instant responses saved hundred of lives during the following destruction.

Lieutenant Kip Jackson of the United States Marine Corps was the Officer in Charge on this particular night, and he had never seen anything like the juggernaut rampaging through his yard, destroying everything it saw. It was, in fact, a sight unlike any ever seen before: the world's first super powered mystery villain. Rushing to a guard shack, the lieutenant prayed that his report, as fantastic as it seemed, would be believed by his supervisors and responded to immediately. He was desperate for reinforcements, and he hoped his words were enough to justify their deployment.

“We need help!” he shouted into the phone, momentarily forgetting proper protocol.

Something in his voice must have caught the attention of the listener because he heard just one simple question. “What's going on?”

“It's a man,” the marine began, “or, at least it looks like a man.”

“So,” the voice on the other end, which belonged to Captain Martin Burke, said, “you need help containing one man?”

The lieutenant knew he was on the verge of losing any support his outburst might have garnered. “Yes, Sir, we do!” Kip yelled into the emergency phone, trying to be heard over the roar of explosions in the background. “This guy looks like he's wrapped in some kind of electric fire, the same color as a welding arc. We gotta use masks just to look at him. You gotta believe me, Sir. This guy's throwing balls of electricity around like the Marbleheads' ace pitcher.”

Kip was about to report more details when he saw the saboteur looking at him and wagging his finger back and forth.

“Nein, nein, nein.”

“My God, Captain,” Kip started to say. “This guy's a Germ...”

His body began to convulse with such violence that he was flung uncontrollably through the air as a glowing ball of blue-white electric flame whizzed past him and exploded against the corrugated metal wall behind him. Liquefied metal dripped from the ragged edges of a hole the size of the guard shack's front door.

The lieutenant struggled to retain consciousness as he tumbled like a rag doll over the rough pavement. When he skidded to a stop, he forced his twitching body around so he could see his enemy. He fought, desperately, to control his body so he could grab his boot knife — his sidearm lost during his tumble — but to no avail. Despite the pain, Kip knew it would be useless, having already seen bullets vaporized in the blue-white aura that surrounded the man. Still, he was a Marine, and a Marine never gave up.

“S...s...sump...simper...f...if,” he stammered, his teeth digging into his tongue from the convulsions. Lieutenant Kip Jackson was prepared to die, but he had no intention of dying afraid.

Amidst the chaos, however, luck smiled down on the Marine. Instead of being blasted from this life into the next, Kip watched as the grotesquely flaming Nazi turned and launched a barrage of electrical fireballs at the transformers in the shipyard's high-tension step-down station. When the balls of electricity hit the transformers, a series of explosions lit up the night and mercilessly battered the lieutenant into unconsciousness. The last thing he saw before mental darkness claimed him was the aura that surrounded the villain flicker and fade. A man in a skintight black outfit stood surveying the destruction he had wrought.

Illuminated by nothing more than the numerous fires, the powerless shipyard plunged into a flickering twilight. Cloaked in the shifting darkness, the murderous intruder vanished into the night.

“WUXTRY! WUXTRY!”

Darn that kid. I pay him a good two bits a month to peddle his stupid papers on some other corner, Ned thought angrily. I've got an alarm clock, so I don't need some loudmouth newsboy waking me up. He wanted to roll over and go to sleep, but realized that he was sitting in a chair, his head resting on his folded arms. I must have fallen asleep at the dining room table again, he thought. No, that's not right. I don't remember going home.

“READ ALL ABOUT IT!”

Ned bolted upright and his eyes snapped open. Blinking like a confused owl he spent several seconds trying to determine his current whereabouts. He soon realized that he was in a research and development lab in the basement of the unassuming government building where he worked when not at the observatory. He glanced at a partially completed electrical apparatus.

“Rats! The soldering iron's still plugged in,” he said, jumping up. “I'm lucky the building didn't burn down.”

He pulled the plug from the outlet and breathed a sigh of relief. With that sigh all of yesterday's memories came flooding back.

“EXPLOSION...SABOTAGE...MURDER!”

The newsboy's shouts convinced Ned that he needed to go buy a paper. He stood still and stretched, amazed at how good he felt. A few days ago, he would have been cramped up and stiff from sleeping hunched over a table; instead, he felt loose and strong. Whatever the alien had done to him, Ned owed him a debt of gratitude.

As he stepped into the hall and pulled the door closed behind him, a thought pushed itself into the forefront of his mind and brought him to a halt. I'm several feet underground in a concrete-reinforced basement. How in the world was I able to hear that newsboy?

The lead story in the Marble City Chronicle Extra Edition was, of course, about the previous night's attack at the Dewey Shipyard. The more Ned read, the angrier he grew. This was just the kind of evil he wanted to confront as a mystery hero. He hadn't been ready in time to help lat night, but he  made a vow: If that saboteur returned tonight, Dr. Lambda would be there to stop him.

Dr. Lambda? Ned's thought amused him. I must have come up with that name in my dreams. Still, it fits.

Ned picked up the device he had been working on before he fell asleep and looked it over. Glancing at a nearby chalkboard, he exhaled, satisfied, and smiled. A modified version of Einstein's Unified Field Theory covered every inch of the board. He turned his attention to the device. It was a rod, a foot in length and silvered, that ended in a coppery globe the size of a softball. He planned to complete by adding a grip and basket similar to a dueling sword to the end opposite the globe. The device would allow him to affect and control certain aspects of the space-time continuum, namely gravity and electromagnetism.

Powered by stellar energy, the reason he chose to call it the Stellar Scepter, it would be able to manipulate the frequency of oscillation (signified by the Greek letter Lambda) of various fundamental space-time particles at the quantum level.

“I guess that explains where “Dr. Lambda” came from,” he said chuckling. He looked at his watch. With only a couple more tests to perform, he figured that everything should be finished in just under two hours.

Dr. Lambda, I Presume?

Even before he answered the phone, the heavyset police officer rolled his eyes in dread. For the past hour, the blasted thing had rung off the hook and everyone had the same story. He took a deep breath, the buttons of his shirt coming dangerously close to popping off and shooting across the room, and picked up the phone.

“Marble City Police, city desk, this is Officer Schneider. May I help you? A flying man in midtown? Yes, sir, we've already had other reports about him. No, we don't believe it's Major Power; we called New York and they told us his costume is green and gray. Our flying guy is dressed in, yes sir, red and gray. Yes, sir, we have, indeed, contacted the Civil Air Patrol, and they've been in touch with the Army Air Corps. No, sir, we don't believe he is dangerous, as a matter of fact, all he has done is fly. No, I'm sure it is not illegal to fly without an airplane, but Councilman Reinstein called us a few moments ago to say he would be filing an emergency bill tomorrow. No, sir, I wouldn't recommend blasting him with your shotgun. Well, in the first place, that WOULD be illegal; and in the second place, if he can fly on his own, shooting at him might just upset him. Yes, sir. Thank you for calling.”

The sergeant shook his head and hung up. Before he could release the handset, however, the phone began ringing again.

***~~~***

“Something's gone wrong,” Marty swore, as a siren began wailing inside the bank. “One of these mooks must have set off a damned alarm. Run for it, Sam!” he yelled to his partner.

Two men in suits, the lower parts of their faces obscured by bandanas, raced from the Marble City National Bank. They kept a steady stream of lead flying into the bank in hopes of discouraging any pursuit. At the curb, they scrambled into the back of an awaiting 1938 Studebaker Commander Sedan that pulled away before the door was closed. Somewhere behind them, the sound of a siren wailed louder and louder.

“Step on it, Freddy,” Marty urged the driver. “Can't this damned heap go any faster?” “Pipe down, Marty,” the driver said with a snarl, “or I'll stop and let you drive.”

The tires screamed, leaving a dark, smelly trail of rubber, as Freddy jerked the wheel to the right to avoid an oncoming car. The sudden jolt sent Sam and Marty hard into the backseat driver's side door. Sam took an elbow to the bridge of his nose while Marty felt the sights of Sam's pistol rip a jagged line across his cheek.

“Oh, crap!” Freddy yelled, as he realized that he was about to run over a fire hydrant.

His passengers didn't have time to offer their own swear words when Freddy yanked the wheel hard over and into a noisy left turn. The tires squealed, broke loose, and the car took to the air. For just a moment the Studebaker seemed to hang majestically motionless before momentum and gravity pulled it violently back to the ground. The car rolled twice before landing on its side with a terrible screeching crash. The front left tire was gone and the axle suddenly dug into the street, setting the car to rolling again. Twice more it rolled before crashing into the corner of a tenement building. Horrified spectators moved towards the car to see if they could help.

“For your own safety, citizens, please step away from the automobile.”

The crowd stepped back, not just because there was authority in the command, but more perhaps because the command was called out from above. Looking up as one, they were stunned to see a red and gray clad man in a copper-colored helmet descending from the sky. He landed, a bit awkwardly and stumbled a tad, using his outstretched arms to regain his balance. Need to work on the landings he thought, so I can make a nice, smooth appearance. Once on solid ground he hurried to the car, grasped the rear bumper, and tried to pull it free of the jagged breach it had made in the wall. The sound of creaking and groaning convinced the crowd retreat even further.

The mystery man straightened up, put his fists on his waist, and studied the situation. After a moment, he turned back toward the crowd and issued another warning. “I'm going to try something which might be dangerous, so I'd suggest you stand back even further.”

As the crowd stepped back without question, the man pointed at a gentleman at the front of the crowd. “You,” he said. “Go find a phone and call for an ambulance.”

Turning back to the accident, the man stretched out his right hand and pointed something at the wreck. A silent coppery glow surrounded the object, brightening by the second. Moments later, the car began to move as though it were being grasped by an invisible giant. Following the movements of the costumed man's hand, the car lifted off the ground several inches and then floated out of the hole in the wall. Shattered bricks, broken glass, and chunks of metal rained down as the vehicle was moved over the sidewalk, rolling until it was right side up, and then set gently on the street.

The helmeted man stepped forward and examined the crumpled roof of the car. Touching the glowing device to one of the pillars of the car's body, he moved his thumb ever so slightly and the thing began to glow again. The glow became a dull brick red and heat started radiating from the device, then began to brighten until it was white hot. The sizzle of molten metal caught the attention of those still close enough to hear. The big man moved quickly to the other pillars, cutting them one at a time. When the roof was free, he gently lifted it away from the car, a trail of glass dripping like beads of water, and set it aside.

“Is there a doctor in the crowd?” the mystery man asked in a loud voice. “These men need help until the ambulance arrives.”

People moved aside as an older man and a woman young enough to be his daughter rushed forward. Two police officers followed in their wake. They approached the mystery man.

“Thanks for the help, buddy,” one of the officers said.

His partner wasn't quite as appreciative. “Who are you?”

The mystery man smiled. “Call me...Doctor Lambda.”

“Well, Doc,” the first officer replied, “we need to ask you some questions about what happened here. We need to find out about you, too.”

“Check with the crowd, fellas. Somebody must have seen the whole thing. Sorry to save and run, but I've got to go.” The world's second mystery hero pointed his device over his head and silently lifted into the air, his ascent marked by the cheers of the excited crowd.

***~~~***

“Yeah, Captain, we saw him, up close and personal. Big guy, skintight outfit like those ballet fellas — kinda sissified, if you ask me. Yeah, he was wearing a red shirt with gray sleeves, gray tights, and red boots. He was also wearing some kind of strange helmet; covered the top of his head down to his nose and ears, a shiny copper color. He packs what looks like the hilt of a sword with a glowing copper baseball kinda thing instead of a blade.”

“Anything else?” the police captain asked.

“Yeah. There was a funny orange symbol on his chest, too. Looked like a capital “A” without the crossbar.”

“And the name?” the captain asked. “Are you certain about the name?”

“Yep. He said it was Doctor Lambda.”

Sabotage at the Munitions Plant

Ned was quite pleased with Dr. Lambda's first heroic appearance. He wished he could have been able to prevent the accident, but he was already realizing that even a super- powered mystery hero couldn't be everywhere at once. Had they been innocents, his remorse might have been greater, but these men had brought their misfortune on themselves. Still, the situation had given him the opportunity to check out his new powers, which worked perfectly, and introduce himself to the local police.

The thought receptors in my helmet perfectly converted my mental commands into control signals for my force field belt and the Stellar Scepter, and the stellar energy collectors in the discs at my waist providing a smooth flow of power. I still need a lot practice, though, especially on the landings. Now that he'd had his first taste of action, he wanted a crack at that electrical saboteur. A few hours later, as the thrill of flying began to fade and the boredom of night patrol grew, he got his wish; his first encounter with a super- powered foe.

The skies east of the city lit up fantastically with an evil orange and red light, followed a few seconds later by the rumbling thunder of a massive explosion.

Sounds like trouble at the munitions plant, Dr. Lambda thought, as he rocketed eastward at top speed.

One of the isolated ordinance packing buildings was burning and erupting in equally massive secondary explosions as the fire reached new stocks of gunpowder and already- packed shells. And moving toward another of the widely spaced packing buildings was a man wrapped in a pillar of blue-white electrical flame.

Dr. Lambda was in deep concentration when he came to a halt a short distance above and in front of the saboteur, then he dropped feet first to the ground. Misjudging his landing speed, he almost collapsed on impact; it was only his enhanced strength that kept his knees from buckling. Still, the landing had the desired effect: the electricity-engulfed figure stopped dead in his tracks. Before Lambda had a chance to do anything else, his opponent raised his left hand and released a barrage of blinding blue-white electroballs.

The first ball of electricity impacted his force field at chest level and exploded, staggering him. The second explosion knocked him backwards, and the third one blasted him off his feet.

Dr. Lambda mentally chastised himself. Idiot! Were you expecting a handshake and a warm hello?

It was a struggle, but the novice hero finally got his Stellar Scepter raised and pointed at his foe. Concentrating, he fired an almost-solid bolt of energy dead center into the villain's blazing aura. The man staggered back a step and Dr. Lambda braced himself for another attack.

Instead: “Ah,” the saboteur said. “I haff heard of you, Major Power. I haff been hoping for a chance to test you myself.”

Dr. Lambda mentally adjusted the light filter in his helmet's visor and climbed to his feet. “Sorry to disappoint you, Fritz, but you're not in the Major's league. I'm going to stop you myself so that Major Power doesn't have to dirty his hands.”

“And who are you to make such claims?”

“I'm Dr. Lambda.”

“Well, Dr. Lambda, I vill kill you and den toss der Major's body on your funeral pyre aftervard. Die at the hands of ElectraFire!”

Before the hero could respond, a barrage of electroballs erupted from the Nazi's hands, but Dr. Lambda wasn't going to be caught the same way twice. He leaped into the air and let the blue-white attack pass harmlessly beneath him. A mental command to the Stellar Scepter sent him into a quick loop that took him, up, over, and behind ElectraFire, and he slammed into the German's back. Upon impact, Lambda's force field reacted violently with ElectraFire's electrical flame and the resulting explosion blew the two men several yards apart. ElectraFire's flames went out as he tumbled through the air.

Dr. Lambda tried to rush forward and press the attack, but his body was jangling uncontrollably from the electricity that had leaked through his field. By the time he regained his feet, ElectraFire's aura had reignited. Dr. Lambda noticed, however, that it was considerably dimmer.

“Verdammt Amerikaner! You still live!” ElectraFire said, panting. “Your death at my hands vill bring great honor to the Reich.”

Dr. Lambda managed to grin. “Not tonight, ElectraFire.” He hoped his voice was stronger than he felt.

Using his scepter to pick up still-glowing slag from the rubble, he launched it at the Nazi. The fragments hit the aura and exploded into vapor, knocking the villain back a step. Raising his hand, ElectraFire fired back.

Lambda countered with his force beam. The two pillars of energy met halfway between the foes, exploding in a dazzling flash of light.

This is getting painful and tedious, Lambda thought. It's time to use my brains. I can't touch him, but based on the way his aura flickered, I'm betting I can overload him.

Keeping one eye on his enemy, Lambda began to scan the factory grounds, the flickering orange light of the burning building aiding in his search. Not far away, he spotted the smoldering remains of a parked jeep.

The Stellar Scepter flared and the vehicle lifted into the air, then rushed toward ElectraFire. The villain threw his hands up and fired at the impromptu missile, but the explosive force of his weakened electroballs wasn't strong enough to overcome the power of the Stellar Scepter and the jeep crashed into the electrical aura.

The aura flared as ElectraFire tried desperately to melt the incoming jeep, but, as Dr. Lambda had hoped, the Germans' depleted power wasn't enough. The aura vanished, the jeep hit him with a glancing blow, and ElectraFire tumbled to the ground where he lay unmoving.

Dr. Lambda approached the motionless villain with caution. He'd seen enough westerns to know that the bad guys sometimes played possum, but, as it turned out, ElectraFire was most definitely unconscious. Examining his fallen foe, Dr. Lambda discovered highly sophisticated devices beneath his costume which seemed to be the source of his power. It took him no time to disable them.

Using some wire he pulled from the rubble, Dr. Lambda bound ElectraFire's hands and feet, then went to offer his assistance to the disaster teams who were trying to contain the fire before it spread to other buildings. Thankfully, the night shift had been canceled due to the saboteur's previous activities so there were no casualties.

Dr. Lambda was still on the scene when a group of F.B.I. agents arrived to take charge of the subdued, and still unconscious, ElectraFire. He recognized two of their number approaching him, men with whom he had already spent more time than he wished, though they didn't know that. Looking around, he determined that his help was no longer needed, then gave a slight leap and ordered the Scepter to pull him skyward.

“Sorry guys,” he said, as he went higher, “but we mystery men like to keep things a little mysterious. Just remember, if you need help, Dr. Lambda will be there.”

As he disappeared into the night sky, Ned Quest couldn't help but smile at his new good fortune. He was finally doing something to help the war effort.