Major Power in: The First Mystery Hero

February 29, 1940

Attack of the Living Zombies

My life changed when zombies invaded my office at 6:02 pm, February 29, 1940. I'm Iollan Blake, private eye, pulp author, disgraced heavyweight boxer, and former Army medic. I was born in 1888 and fought in the Great War. You'll want to recognize me: I'm black, about 6'2" tall, trim and in good shape for a man my age, with graying hair and a Vandyke beard and mustache, also gray. My father was from Ireland, my mother the child of slaves.

It was dark outside and chilly inside my threadbare Harlem office despite the best efforts of my ancient kerosene heater. Today's storm had dumped another three inches of slush on top of the grimy mess already blanketing the city. The two-story building where I have my office was empty except for my secretary Cinnamon and me. I'd told her she could go home at noon, when the clothing store downstairs closed, but she wanted to finish a book excerpt in this month's Cosmopolitan, so she would stay until I locked up. There wasn't much traffic noise from the unplowed street. The perfect time for some writing.

I was sitting in my second-hand desk chair, trying to jazz up the story of my latest case. I make some tin on the side writing up my cases as cliffhangers for the detective pulps - when I can make them exciting enough to interest an editor. Nobody would buy the story if I only trailed the guy who was cheating on his wife and took a few pictures, but if that same guy was the boss of a big syndicate, and I got to beat up a couple of thugs and stop some bullets while breaking a few laws and evading the police, why, it might be a best seller. I hoped so; what Mrs. Alexander paid me to shadow her husband wouldn't even cover this month's rent.

Cinnamon staggered into the room from the outer office, practically carrying another woman, who was wet and shivering from walking through the snow. I leaped to help her into the client chair, then pulled the heater closer. I took a closer look and realized that I recognized her. The bedraggled woman was Rosita Mondragon, a snazzy young Broadway actress, well known in New York for her sultry voice, her passionate acting and especially her exotic Mediterranean beauty. Her current role as the sensuous torch singer in the musical The Duchess was a Lady was starting to bring her a lot of national attention as well.

If you live in New York you've probably seen her image as Desdemona from the famous Broadway production of Othello plastered everywhere on posters and stage bills. She's tall, with waist-length lustrous black hair, astonishing cat-like eyes under sharply-arched eyebrows, high, bold cheekbones and full lips, and beautiful olive skin. Her name and her looks are Mediterranean, but no one knows anything about her private history. In the Othello posters she's wearing a Renaissance gown with full skirts, a tight corset and puffy sleeves. Today, she looked like she hadn't slept for a week, and her clothes were soaked. Plus, her eyes were red and puffy and she was sobbing.

"Kinda far from home, aren't you, sister?" I asked gently. "I don't get many famous white actresses as clients. Not many white clients at all, actually. Maybe you're lookin' for Innis Blake, over on 2nd Ave?" Wasn't likely, but the Yellow Pages don't tell the whole story; maybe with a name like Iollan Blake she figured I was a redhead with freckles who drank a lot of stout. She'd be right about the stout.

She wiped her eyes with a soiled handkerchief and took a deep breath to compose herself. If she hadn't looked so pitiful, that would have been fun to watch. "No, Mr. Blake, you're the man I want. My sister's been kidnapped and I need you to find her!" she spoke with more energy than I expected, given her exhausted appearance.

"Kidnapping's a police matter, Miss Mondragon. Why are you coming to me?" I wondered. As I asked, Cinnamon stood quietly and left the room to insure Miss Mondragon's privacy. She's a pip!

"There's... things... about my life that I can't afford to have made public," Rosita replied cautiously. "Things that would destroy my career."

Well, that wasn't unusual. You go to a private dick when the police won't help you, or when you don't want their help, maybe because there's something you want to hide. "I understand. Still don't know why you want to hire me in specific? There must be a thousand other detectives in the city, and most of 'em look a lot more like you than I do. Why choose me?"

She started to respond, then she hesitated, indecisive. Now I was starting to get interested. "You're gonna have to trust me if you want to hire me. Anything the police would find out in an investigation, I'll find out too - I'm good at what I do," I assured her.

She turned her face towards heaven, whispered fearfully "I hope you're right, Da," then she turned and spoke directly to me again, her voice stronger. She'd made her decision. "My father trusted you. And I need somebody I can trust."

I must have looked puzzled - I certainly FELT puzzled. If I knew her father well enough that he trusted me, shouldn't I know his daughter too? Then she dropped a bombshell - but only her first of the day. Just as if she could read my mind, she answered my question. "Yes, you did know my father - Vincent Freeman."

This revelation stunned me! I had indeed known Vincent Freeman. In fact, we were close friends until he died about five years ago. I'd met him during the Great War, when I'd dug a bullet from his leg in a slush-filled trench in France. After the war, he'd opened a gym just down the street from my office. In the early 20s, when I was forced out of professional boxing and just getting started as a flatfoot, I didn't have many clients but I did have a lot of spare time. I used to spend hours in Freeman's gym, teaching youngsters to box.

It was hard to believe he had children - as far as I know, he never married. But the most astounding thing of all - Vince had been a black man. From her looks, Rosita's mother must have been white. No wonder she was so worried about keeping her secrets!

At that time, there was never any doubt in my mind that black folks were second-class citizens in this country. As long as we minded our place, we got along ok. It wasn't right, but it's how we grew up and I guess most people didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. But blacks weren't at the bottom of the social ladder. That rung was reserved for those unfortunates who have mixed black and white parentage... Nobody wants them, nobody claims them, and they're outcasts from both sides. Doesn't matter that Rosita is beautiful, doesn't matter how well she sings or how fantastic an actress she is, if 'regular' folks, whether black or white, find out she's mixed, her career will be over.

I'm not one of those guys who thinks he can change the world - at least, I wasn't back then. But I know right from wrong, always have. I would help this dame, if I could.

And then she dropped her second bombshell. "I think maybe my sister was kidnapped by Logan Ayers." Ayers was the guy who'd got me banned from boxing almost twenty years ago. From that instant, I was on the job! For a chance at Ayers, I'd take this case for free.

She must have sensed my thoughts, because she smiled faintly. Before I could say anything, though, we heard a loud crash in the outer office, followed by the sound of shattering glass and Cinnamon yelling in anger. An instant later, her yell changed into a terrified scream. The solid oak inner door exploded into the room, tearing the hinges from the frame before shattering into a cloud of splinters and shards of frosted glass.

Cinnamon's desk tumbled after it, bounced twice and smashed halfway through the far wall. If my own desk had been in line with the door, we would have been seriously injured, but years ago, an angry client had smashed through the door and rushed my desk before I could even react, so l changed the setup. Now my foresight paid off; we were out of the direct line of the bouncing desk. We both managed to turn our heads away from the door in time to escape serious injury from the cloud of impromptu shrapnel. Rosita's hair protected her, while I received some minor cuts on the back of my neck. I turned back to a stream of decrepit human figures, shambling through the shattered door.

It was like somebody with a giant vacuum cleaner sucked up all the winos from the Bowery, turned them into a zombie army, and was spitting them out in Cinnamon's office. They were filthy and smelly. The one in the lead wore a suit that had been expensive ten years ago, and looked like he'd been buried alive shortly afterward, then was dug up yesterday, still wearing that same suit. The others were worse... Their clothing in rags, their shoes were mismatched, their hair and beards matted, and did I mention they smelled? Stale booze and urine, mixed liberally with vomit, excrement and tobacco smoke, delicately tinged with horse manure.

Rosita must have been terrified - I know I was. But she didn't even scream. I pulled her out of her chair and pushed her towards the window, ordered "Quick, down the fire escape!" Then, she screamed! I quickly glanced her way and was dismayed to see more of those decrepit figures climbing through the window.

So I shoved her towards the closest corner and stepped between her and the shambling army of filthy, smelly things. I took a swing at the first one, connected with a roundhouse right to the jaw. He spun around but kept coming.

Now look, I don't believe in zombies, but I don't much believe in guys who don't go down when I slug 'em like that, either. I'm slower and I don't have the stamina that I did when I was younger, but I hit as hard as ever, and once in an exhibition match, I'd decked Jack Dempsey with a punch like that! These guys weren't dead - they were warm and I could see 'em breathing, but otherwise they looked, smelled and acted like zombies. Guess I'm gonna have to change my religion.

There wasn't really a whole army, either, but 20 or so were more than enough to force Rosita and me back against the wall. Cinnamon was behind the crowd, slamming one of them with the baseball bat that she kept in the front office for protection, and though she knocked it down, it just got back on its feet and continued forward. I figured her being ignored was better than her being attacked, not that there was anything I could have done to help her just now!

I pulled my pistol and fired into the stomach of the closest one. He was knocked down; at least these things weren't immune to the laws of physics! Some of the others behind him tripped, and that gave me time to shoot a few more. But the gun only holds seven rounds and all my spare clips were in the desk drawer. They tried to push past me; they were after Rosita. I went back to my fists.

These guys might be zombies now, but they had been denizens of the Bowery not long ago, and none of them were gems of human physical perfection. Their various addictions had left most of them underweight and weak, and even though they seemed immune to pain as zombies, as individuals they were no match for me. I could push them aside, knock them down, even pick them up and toss them away. Rosita helped, she stood next to me and kicked and punched, and for maybe a minute, we were able to keep them off of us. But pain didn't slow them, they didn't tire, and they just kept getting up and coming back for more. Eventually, I was overwhelmed, and swarmed under. A stab of pain at the back of my head and a bright flash of light somewhere behind my eyes signaled a quick fall into dark unconsciousness.

I awakened gagging and coughing from a terrible smell that was burning the back of my throat - it was even worse than the zombies! I hate smelling salts, but I was definitely awake! Rosita was gone, as were all the zombies, and my office was trashed. As soon as I assured her that I was ok, Cinnamon started cleaning up the place. If the police weren't here by now, they weren't coming, and Cinnamon wasn't about to call them, either. Still, it seemed strange that a small army of zombies could invade my office, even in the dark, even with everyone shut in by snow, and nobody got on the horn with New York's finest.

Even for me, losing a client before the case really got started was bizarre. It was high time I got started doing some of that detective stuff.

Contender

I hadn't thought about Logan Ayers in years. I'd met him only once, almost 20 years ago, and even though he changed my life forever, I doubt if he even remembered me by now...

In 1920, I had been one of the top two contenders for the heavyweight championship of the world. I'd come into boxing rather late in life, as boxers go, and at 32, I figured this was going to be my first, last and only shot at the title. It was all set up: one more match, in New York City against the other top contender, with the winner to face Jack Dempsey for the belt. I was the big favorite and the betting was heavy; a lot of money was going to change hands no matter who won. Ayers made sure that a big chunk of that wandering money found a home in his hands.

Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, now retired, owned the Club DeLux nightclub on 142nd St. in Harlem, and a week before the big fight, he invited me to dinner and a show as his guest. The club was losing money; Jack hoped that having the next black heavyweight champ as a guest would draw more customers - or at least impress some potential investors. My wife Keisha didn't attend as she strongly disapproved of Johnson's lifestyle. Jack introduced me to Logan Ayers as a businessman who was interested in buying the club, as well as a big boxing fan.

Ayers was as out of place in a Harlem nightclub as I would have been on the infield at Yankee Stadium. He was tall, white, perfectly groomed and well dressed. He carried a cane and wore a monocle. He had an aristocratic British accent and elegant manners. He was accompanied by an entourage of three incredibly beautiful and scandalously clad women. And he was a phony. Ayers claimed to be an expatriate English nobleman, but during the Great War, I spent a couple of years in the front-line trenches in France with soldiers from all across the British Empire, and Ayers' accent didn't match any of them.

Jack occasionally had to leave the table to deal with managerial issues, and Ayers took advantage of one of these occasions to talk to me privately. "Have you ever wanted to be rich, Mr. Blake? Our host tonight is proof that even becoming the World Heavyweight Champion won't necessarily guarantee that." Jack had been trying to convince Ayers to invest in the Club DeLux; Ayers continually brought up the Club's monetary problems, to the point where Jack was having trouble keeping his temper. "You might make five grand by winning the fight next week, but you can make twenty times that much by losing. A hundred grand, easily!"

I'd already guessed that this was coming. Ayers wasn't the first guy who wanted me to throw a fight. I was raging inside, but I stood, said politely, "I hope you haven't bet on the fight yet, Mr. Ayers, or you will probably be very disappointed. Good evening," and left. I was naive to think I could brush him off as easily as those other guys in the past, but I'd never dealt with that much money before.

I wasn't for sale, but my trainer, a guy I'd considered a friend, was. That traitorous SOB slipped me a Mickey in my water after the third round. I made it through the fourth, and got knocked out a few seconds into the fifth. But he never got to spend his bribe. They pulled him from the river the next day; his 'suicide' note said that he was ashamed to be the trainer for a bum like me. Sure, he'd just sold out a friend and made a bundle doing it — and then committed suicide hours later? I didn't believe it then; don't believe it now.

Some of the big losers ended up dead as well, when they tried to welch on their bets, claiming that the fight had been fixed. Me, I didn't even tell my story; shortly after I woke up in my dressing room, my manager handed me a stuffed animal and told me a snooty Limey named Ayers had left it for me, my two year old daughter Betsy's favorite teddy bear. Subtle way to show me what might happen if I talked. It worked. I shut up even when the National Boxing Association investigated me for throwing the fight. Though they couldn't prove anything, I was banned from boxing for life.

So, I got banned, a lot of other people, mostly bad guys, got dead, and did I mention that Ayers got rich? That was his springboard to the big time and he never looked back. I soon found out that now he wanted more than 'big time'.

Some of that Detective Stuff

I didn't expect to find any clues left by the zombies, but like I told Rosita, I am good at my job, and part of being a good detective is being thorough. A trail of stench led to the loading dock on the back alley; no wonder nobody called the police. Nobody would be watching a loading dock in a snowstorm. I learned a lot from the snow in the alley. A truck had backed up to the dock. Two men got out and later back in. One of them had cut the padlock on the loading dock door and they'd unloaded the zombies. I picked up the lock to have it checked for prints, but the guy had probably been wearing gloves. Other than scraps of stinking cloth that had fallen from the tattered clothes of the zombies, they left nothing else behind. They'd come from the south and gone back the same way, but I lost the tire tracks when they turned out of the alley onto the main street.

Out front, I saw tracks from only two people since the snow had ended. Rosita had been the only one to enter the building in a while, but someone else had walked down the other side of the street, used the phone booth just up the block, and then gone back the same way. Probably he'd been following Rosita, and had called in the zombies when she'd come inside. If that was the case, the truck must have been nearby, probably waiting by another phone booth. I guess they didn't want to grab her on the street. No earth-shattering deductions, but you never know what will help break a case.

I needed to learn more about Logan Ayers. I phoned my wife to tell her I'd be late, and to ask my daughter Betsy to let me into the morgue at her newspaper. She's a rookie reporter for the New Amsterdam News, the biggest paper in Harlem. She asked if she could join me; said she could use the practice.

For a smaller paper, the New Amsterdam News had surprisingly comprehensive coverage of New York City over the last forty years. In the Business section, I discovered that Ayers had been part of a syndicate that tried to buy the Club DeLux before Johnson sold it to Owney Madden, who changed the name to the Cotton Club. After that, Ayers dropped completely out of the Business news.

When Betsy discovered that Logan Ayers was occasionally mentioned in the Society pages, we focused our efforts there. Ayers showed up about once a year at some high profile society event, always attended by two or three stunningly beautiful women. Very little personal information was ever reported, but the papers continued to propagate the myth that Ayers was 'an expatriate English noble'. One of the most useful pieces of information was a recent story in which he was referred to as 'Mr. Ayers of Montauk'.

Betsy pointed out that he never had the same women with him at two events. "And as far as I can tell, none of them ever show up in the society pages again. When a girl looks like that, you'd figure she could get a date for some other high society event, even if Ayers dumped her." She indicated a stack of pages about a foot deep. "Of course, I can't check every girl in every picture for the past 20 years, but the girls Ayers spends time with are so beautiful they almost jump right out of the photos."

"I wonder if Rosita Mondragon's sister is as beautiful as she is?" I mused. I didn't like the connections that were starting to form in my mind, between anonymous beauties who disappeared and zombie kidnappers. Not much more I could do tonight, but tomorrow I'd be catching a train for the Hamptons.

"Elizabets, I think you, your mom and Cinnamon ought to get out of town for a while," I told Betsy as we left the paper. "Whoever was directing the zombies has no way of knowing how much Rosita told me before they captured her, but someone with brains might be having creative thoughts about how to keep me off their trail. I want you to get Cinnamon and meet your mom and me at 125th Street Station, pronto!" I pushed her one way as I went another. A couple minutes later I arrived home out of breath, cursing the slushy streets the whole time.

Keisha was unhappy to be pulled from bed at 3 am, but in the almost 20 years I've been a PI, we'd done this before. I packed a grip for her and Betsy as she dressed — and then took an envelope from our small safe. It held the dough I was paid for my last fight; even though I'd earned it legitimately, it had always seemed tainted to me. But if it would help protect Keisha, Betsy and Cinnamon from Logan Ayers, I was plenty glad I still had it!

We got the girls tickets for a sleeping cabin in a Pullman coach to Chicago via Albany, Buffalo and Cleveland. They would stay in Chicago for a few days, then come back — an unexpected week-long vacation in the middle of winter. I should have this case wrapped up by then. I hoped!

I had some time to kill before the 3:15 pm train to Montauk. A quick trip to Salvation Army, a nickel for a half hour in a private stall and I had a disguise — looking back at me from the mirror was a down-on-his-luck laborer, totally bald and beardless, wearing worn work clothes and a shabby overcoat. He walked with a limp (a pebble in the left shoe) and was carrying a battered valise. The last decade had seen hundreds of thousands just like him.

At the newsstand, I bought two back issues of Amazing Detective Adventures, which included one of my stories, and the latest issues of the Doc Shadow, Flash Rogers and Ellery King magazines. As usual, my editor had changed my story until it was almost unrecognizable. That used to make me angry, but these days, as long as they pay for a story, whatever they do with it afterward is fine with me. Ironically, Doc Shadow and his crew were fighting zombies this month in Death Master: No More Laughter. Maybe I'd learn something useful. The pulps are fast moving stuff, and in almost no time, it was time to board.

The train trip took about four hours. The car reserved for 'us' was at the rear of the train, and it was pretty full. A lot of servants on the estates of the rich Hamptons residents, returning from shopping in the city, along with a handful of soldiers headed for the Port Hero Army Air Corps base in Montauk. With almost all of the rich estate owners vacationing in Florida, winter was sort of a holiday season for the servants, and the atmosphere in the car was friendly, almost like a picnic.

I told people I was an unemployed mechanic, and a friend of mine, who worked for Logan Ayers, had sent me a letter that there might be a job there. Suddenly it seemed as if everyone had a story about the Ayers estate, and they painted a pretty spooky picture…

The mansion on the Ayers estate was built in the early 1700s, possibly by a pirate captain - some said Captain Bradish, others said Captain Tew. It sat on a high cliff looking south over the Atlantic Ocean and had changed hands many times over the last 200 years. As well, it had frequently been vacant, once for almost 20 years. The owner before Ayers had leaped from a skyscraper window on Black Friday, and the place had been boarded up for almost five years before Ayers finally bought it, cheap. During the time it was unoccupied, a couple of local kids had gone exploring the grounds, and they had seemingly blundered off the cliff - their broken bodies were found on the rocks at the waterline a couple of days later. The checkered history of the place gave it a reputation for being haunted even when it was occupied. A perfect place to go looking for zombie kidnappers!

Several people offered me overnight accommodations; there were a lot of empty rooms on their estates right now. I spent the night in the next door estate. I can sleep in virtually any situation, including high anxiety. I learned in France in a trench filled with frozen mud and German bullets zipping by overhead; once you've slept in conditions like that, you can sleep anytime, anywhere. But I had nightmares about Rosita and zombies all night; the next day I felt terrible. A brisk 20-minute walk woke me up, and I felt much better when I reached the Ayers estate. The estate is set on 40 acres on a hill next to the Sound, and the grounds are surrounded by a high wall. The single driveway passes through big gates with fancy wrought iron bars, and there is a small guardhouse set off to one side. As I reached the gate, two uniformed armed guards confronted me. They were not very pleased with a visitor.

"Go away boy, no work here for your kind," the younger one, whose name tag said Jackson, ordered, standing straighter, pulling in his paunch, and dropping his hand to the grip of his holstered pistol. He chucked his buddy in the ribs with an elbow like he'd made a joke, pleased with the intimidating image he was projecting.

I reminded myself that I'd spent four years in France fighting to make the world safe for jerks like this. I almost hoped he'd try to draw — his safety was off and I figured it was 50/50 whether he'd shoot himself in the foot. So I ignored him and turned to his partner, who had a rank insignia on his otherwise plain uniform. "Sergeant Johnson, I'm a mechanic, looking for work. I'm an excellent mechanic — if you've got a motor, I can make it purr like a cat."

"I told you to git, boy!" Jackson snarled.

Sergeant Johnson interrupted. "Shut up, Smitty! Donja listen to da briefings every morning?" He turned to me. "Dey might need a good mechanic up da house. Smitty, call up da boss and find out, willya?" He indicated a chair. "Siddown." I turned to sit and a bee stung me on the back of the neck! I reached back, felt a small dart, and then everything went dark as I slipped into unconsciousness. It would be almost a week before I woke up again.

Rosita the Zombie

The zombies knocked out Rosita, and when she awakened, she was bound and gagged on the big bench seat in the cab of a truck, leaning on the passenger door. She was sharing the seat with two men who looked like stereotypical hoodlums; they dressed and talked like Cagney in last year's hit gangster movie The Roaring Twenties. For the next several hours, she was extremely uncomfortable as the truck jolted eastward at high speeds across the icy roads of Long Island. When she'd been flung against him, the thug sitting next to her had tried to take advantage of her helpless condition by groping her, but had stopped after a warning from the driver.

"If she tells da boss, you'll be ridin' in da back da wid da rest of da zombies next time," he warned with a shudder as he indicated the zombies in the back of the truck. He had the heater running full blast with the windows wide open to try and keep out the stink from the cargo box, but it wasn't quite successful. Rosita decided that the boss would hear about the groping anyway, regardless that the man had, mostly, kept his hands to himself the rest of the trip. She'd almost been sorry about his restraint - the anger she felt at this thug for touching her had temporarily eclipsed the fear she felt about her future.

The two men chattered intermittently during the seemingly interminable drive, and by listening closely, she was able to put together some information, which confirmed what little she had already known. These guys were part of a criminal gang, and worked for Logan Ayers.

About a week ago, Logan Ayers had been in New York City for business, and he had noticed Rosita and her sister, Angelou, as they had a late meal at an expensive restaurant. He sent them a bottle of champagne, then introduced himself. It was a novelty for both women that he was interested in Angelou rather than Rosita; Angelou was as reserved as her sister was outgoing. But both sisters felt uneasy around Ayers, and Angelou had done her best to discourage her new suitor.

Ayers wasn't easily discouraged. He sent her flowers daily and turned up everywhere she went, seemingly by coincidence. Finally, Angelou reached her limit and told him, loudly and publicly, to stop bothering her. The next day, February 29th, Rosita had returned home early due to the snowstorm and seen Ayers' limousine leaving her neighborhood. In her apartment, there was evidence of a struggle and Angelou wasn't there. She'd looked up Private Investigator Iollan Blake in the Yellow Pages, but her phone wasn't working. Noting that his office was only about a mile away from her apartment, she rushed back out to the street. She'd been unable to find a cab, and had ended up walking the whole distance. And then she'd been captured.

The men in the cab with her were worried about an upcoming trip - Ayers and his gang, and all the zombies, were leaving shortly for Africa to harvest more of the plants used to make the zombie drug. The thugs had never been out of the country before, and everything they knew about Africa they'd learned from Tarzan movies and comic books. The driver was sure he would be eaten by a tiger; the other thug was planning to go off on his own and find Sheena.

The truck had eventually passed through a gate and pulled into a large garage backed up against the base of a hill. They drove into a tunnel that led out of the back of the garage and deeper into the hillside, and soon opened out into a big cavern fitted out as a boathouse. They pulled to a stop next to a large pool of water, connected to the Sound through a sea door, currently closed. An unusual vessel floated in the pool. It looked almost like an inverted saucer, with a row of windows set into one rim and what looked like the tail and ailerons of a very large airplane rising from the opposite rim. On the tail was painted the name 'Dominator'. If this thing could fly, it was easily the largest airplane in the world, though nowhere near as large as a zeppelin.

Rosita was pulled roughly from the cab and led into the floating saucer. They were met inside the entrance hatch by a squat, heavyset, tough-looking bald man with cauliflower ears and scars on his face, incongruous in an impeccably tailored butler's costume. "Please go right in, the Master has been waiting for you," he sniffed, his diction perfect, glaring his haughty disapproval of anyone gauche enough to keep his Master waiting.

"Here's da dame, boss," the driver, Ralphie, tittered as he pushed the tightly bound actress so she fell at Ayers feet. "Benny's out lookin fer da dick, just like you ordered." Ralphie was a little nervous about the search for the private detective; the boss might maybe think that Ralphie should have been smart enough to bring him in, or finish him off, even without orders.

But Ayers was smiling. "Good work, Ralphie. I see she's all ready for her shot."

Ralphie was encouraged. "She sure is a looker, ain't she, Boss? Think I might have her when you'se gets tired a'her?

"I'll keep you in mind, Ralphie, my boy," Ayers replied cheerfully. "Gentlemen," he nodded to several other henchmen. Before Ralphie could move, two men grabbed him while a third plunged a hypodermic needle into his neck, and another similarly injected the bound actress.

"Mr. Benton, you may experiment on Miss Mondragon as required," Ayers addressed one of the other men in the room. He was wearing a white lab coat and looked very out of place among the thuggish henchmen. "You will find that the chemistry lab on the Dominator, though small, is well-equipped. Get to work; I expect you to finish the process and produce several gallons of zombie mist before we reach Africa." Without waiting for a response, he turned and left the room.

Benton stood irresolutely. One of the thugs turned towards him, and growled in a menacing tone. "You'se heard da boss, ya mug! Get busy."

"But what do I do with her?" the befuddled chemist asked, pointing at the new zombie.

"Just tell 'er what you want 'er ta do," the thug said. "Anyting ya want!" He jabbed his buddy in the ribs with an elbow. "I know what I'd be tellin' dat dame!" When Benton didn't do anything, the thug growled a command. "Tell da skirt to take off her top."

Benton was too intimidated by the thugs around him to resist. "Girl, take off your blouse!" he ordered. Moving mechanically, totally disregarding the lustful goons and the nervous Benton, she doffed her bedraggled blouse, revealing a lacy red camisole, somewhat the worse for wear after her earlier ordeals.

"Hubba, hubba!" one of the other gangsters whistled. "Tell her ta keep goin', mug!" he demanded.

But Benton had reached the limit of his discomfort. "You guys heard the boss. You wouldn't want me to tell him you kept me from getting started, would you?" He turned to Rosita. "Come with me," he ordered, and left the room, his new zombie following. The mobsters grinned at each other; Rosita hadn't been ordered to put her blouse back on.

Harvesting the Zombie Drug

A week later, in Africa, Logan Ayers stood before the floor-to-ceiling observation windows on the flight deck of the Dominator, watching a stream of zombies stagger from the rain forest into the charred clearing surrounding the mighty sky ship. Each zombie carried a heavy bundle of large, maroon-colored leaves up a ramp into the main hold of the ship. Earlier the stream had been moving in both directions, but for the last ten minutes, no zombies had returned to the forest.

"We must be fully loaded," Ayers observed, satisfaction in his voice. "Gentlemen, please make your final preparations for the return trip." He didn't bother to turn to the group of men surrounding him, several of his thugs and Benton, so he missed the anguish on Benton's face when the chemist saw Rosita and her sister Angelou staggering from the jungle, burdened with bundles as large as those carried by any of the male zombies. "Mr. Benjamin, herd the zombies back into their pen. Mr. Benton, now that you have an ample supply of zeeweed, please begin large-scale production of zombie mist. I want enough to saturate Washington, DC, in three days."

"You're just going to leave the zombies here?" Benton blurted out, too startled to contain himself — he normally said as little to Ayers as he could. He knew that this kind of questioning could get him killed.

"We brought them here in the hold, Mr. Benton, and the hold is now full of zeeweed." Ayers responded coldly. "You should be able to find a suitable replacement for Miss Mondragon once we've enslaved Washington with your mist. Several suitable replacements, perhaps even a different one for each day of the week, eh?" He chuckled, then turned to one of the other thugs, dismissing Benton and anything else the chemist had to say. Benton silently turned and left the control room.

"Mr. Johnson, ready the heat ray; I'll give you a chance for some practice after we take off. Mr. Levesque, I'm looking forward to the gazelle fawn venison this evening. I believe you will find a suitable choice of red wines in the wine cellar." Not really a cellar; a cool, dry, dark room on the deck below the galley, well stocked. "Mr. Mueller, make sure all your men are aboard. We will not wait for stragglers, and we won't be back for a while. To work, gentlemen!" He turned back to the window, contemplating his grand future. Tomorrow Washington, and then the world!

Rebellion in the Ranks

Benton's hands were starting to shake and his stomach was twisted into a steel knot by the time he reached his lab. He'd known this time was coming, but had subconsciously avoided thinking about it, even as he'd furtively made whatever preparations he could think of. The nervous chemist picked up a vial, pulled the stopper, and drank from it. I hope this works! he wished, silently and fervently. The serum in the vial should be the antidote to the zombie drug. He'd been able to mix it secretly during his other work on the trip from Montauk to this remote location in the jungles of the Gold Coast, but he hadn't had a chance to test it.

Moving quickly, Benton emptied two bottles of chemical into a large bowl and smiled in grim satisfaction. In about fifteen minutes, the combination of the two chemicals would cause a violent explosion; Benton hoped it would provide a diversion to cover his escape. And maybe put a crimp in Ayers' plans to zombify Washington. He left behind a sheaf of notes detailing a process to produce the zombie drug in a mist form, except the mist it produced would be inert. He hoped his obvious attempt to destroy these notes in the explosion would convince Ayers of their authenticity.

He picked up a spritzer bottle. One squirt of the real zombie mist would stop anyone he encountered, and the antidote already in his system should protect him. He left the lab, locking it behind him. He poured a test tube of acid into the keyhole, inserted the key and snapped it off, then strode towards the external hatch like a man on an urgent errand. He made it outside without being stopped, and quickly walked across the clearing to the poorly constructed zombie pen, closely observed by Benny, the single guard. Benny was carrying a machine gun, and the barrel of the chopper was pointed uncomfortably close to the nervous chemist.

"The boss says I can bring one of the zombies along to experiment on, Benny," Benton observed to the thug. "Long as it's not one of the dames," he added regretfully. He took another step and decided he was as close as he was going to get without alarming the thug, so he took his chance, raising the bottle and spraying Benny. He didn't realize it at the time, but he was moving faster than he'd ever moved before. Benny didn't even have time to be alarmed before the mist blasted into his face.

The zombie drug had slightly different effects on different people. Benny slumped and started to fall, unconscious and boneless. Benton caught him and quickly dragged him into the pen, marveling at how light the burly thug felt. Must be adrenaline. He took the thug's gun away and started peering through the dim light in the flimsy structure, trying to spot Rosita. Wish there was some way I could get Ayers and the whole crew at once! he thought, but shuddered at what they would do to him if he failed. He'd seen some of them amuse themselves by committing unthinkable atrocities on some of the helpless zombies. The zombies didn't show the effects of pain — the chemist hoped they didn't feel it, either.

Benton's eyes adjusted almost instantly to the dimness inside the pen. The stench seemed to be reaching up his nose and ripping out the inside with razor-sharp claws, and he realized he could easily hear the zombies breathing. A feeling of lightness and physical well-being was washing through him, so intense that it distracted him, even under the current dire circumstances. It had to be a side effect of the antidote to the zombie drug. He felt as if he were supercharged! The bodies of the zombies were scattered randomly across the ground inside the pen; they sprawled wherever they'd been standing when Benny had ordered "Fall down and close your eyes!" Benton stepped over and around them with the easy grace of a ballet dancer and quickly located Rosita.

"Take a deep drink," he ordered as he held the canteen to her lips. After she gulped twice, he quickly set aside the canteen and held his hand over her mouth. He watched intelligence seep back into her eyes. "Quiet!" he whispered urgently. "If they hear us, they'll kill us!"

Rosita Mondragon hadn't actually been a zombie. A zombie is the reanimated corpse of an animal or human being, with no will power or initiative, incapable of speech or thought, which uncritically, undeviatingly and without examination obeys the commands of its master.

No, Rosita had been a living human being with no will power or initiative, incapable of speech or thought, who uncritically, undeviatingly and without examination obeyed the orders of her master. But the difference was critical; though she had been cruelly robbed her of her will and her ability to think, her living mind had recorded everything that had happened to and around her while she was under the influence of the zombie drug.

The look in Rosita's eyes changed from puzzlement to rage as she processed the memories of the last five days. Benton had taken the precaution of pinning her arms behind her back with one arm while holding the other across her mouth; while she couldn't get away, she struggled with surprising strength and almost ripped a large chunk of his hand away with her teeth.

He clamped his mouth shut on a yelp of pain, then growled at her. "Listen, sister - you've been drugged and I just gave you the antidote. I know you've been treated badly the past few days but if you remember anything, you know that I didn't have anything to do with it. If you keep fighting, you'll get us both killed. Now cut it out, will you?!?!"

He was telling the truth; once they'd reached his cabin, he'd treated her well, making sure she was clean, well-fed, and properly clothed - until they arrived in Africa, when all the zombies were ordered out to harvest zeeweed. His influence seemed to protect her even while she was harvesting - the gangsters had left her alone, though her sister, cast off by Ayers, hadn't been so lucky. Though Rosita hadn't been able to do anything to help her sister, she'd seen... and now she remembered.

Her struggles ceased, and she released her bite on the shredded heel of his hand. He let her go and quickly wrapped his hand in his shirt to stop the bleeding, realizing as he did so that it didn't hurt nearly as much as he would have expected. Must be another effect of the zeeweed antidote, he thought. Maybe they really don't feel any pain.

"We have to rescue my sister and Mr. Blake!" Rosita hissed back at him. "I'm not going anywhere without them!" She tried to sit up, and quickly put a hand over her mouth to stifle a moan of pain. For the last two days, she had carried heavy bundles of giant leaves through a rain forest over a crude, rough path, and her insensitivity to pain as a zombie had not prevented her body from being damaged. She was covered with bruises and welts, and she realized now that she must have sprained an ankle in a particularly bad fall. But the pain faded quickly, and the next time she moved, she was almost pain-free. "Whatever you fed me, it's pretty wonderful stuff!" she whispered again.

"I don't know Blake," Benton objected, and she pointed at the man lying next to her. "Are you sure he's OK? I saw Ayers drug some of his own men; what if he's one of them?"

"He's a detective I hired to find my sister. Give him the damn antidote!" She wasn't in the mood to quibble with Benton, or anyone, right now.

Abandoned in Africa

The first thing I was aware of was tremendous pain. My head throbbed; somewhere in the back of my mind, a voice said Concussion. And my body ached as if I had been beaten repeatedly. You have! the same voice insisted - and my memory returned.

I'd been a zombie for almost a week, since that dart had stuck in the back of my neck. The first two days hadn't been so bad - I'd been crowded into a large metal-walled room with about two dozen other zombies while the Dominator flew to Africa, and except when we were fed, there was virtually no activity. Then we'd been ordered out of the room and outside, where it was hot and humid, and we were forced to build a stockade in a clearing that had been burned from the jungle by the Dominator's heat ray. Zombies are not very good builders; the pen was flimsy and the construction was shoddy, but it was only supposed to keep us zombies from wandering away; it would do. And then our real work had begun.

For long hours each day, we marched into the jungle, harvested the leaves of big plants, carried them back to the hold of the Dominator, and repeated the process. Zombies are clumsy, and there were no paths in the jungle other than those we made, so we stumbled and fell a lot. I wasn't the only one who hit my head, hard, and I know, now, that others must have sustained broken bones and other injuries. Our supervisors were never satisfied with the size of our bundles, so we were continually ordered to add more leaves until even a zombie could hardly lift the bundle - and I'm sure that many muscles were torn. Some of the guards were sadists who enjoyed beating up helpless men, and some took advantage of Angelou's helplessness. We all saw all of these things, but none of it mattered.

We hadn't been fed adequately and we hadn't been given enough water. There had been no medical treatment at all; wounds either healed or they got infected. We worked despite injuries; we felt no pain or fatigue, although the bodies of several zombies eventually stopped responding; they just fell in their tracks and were abandoned where they fell. I shuddered when I remembered earlier today stepping over a pile of scattered bones, some with shreds of tissue still attached, which had been an unconscious but still living body yesterday. Some predators had found an easy meal.

As I was remembering all these things, my pains were fading. I started to feel physically very good - better than I had felt in years, in fact. I opened my eyes; Rosita was standing over me with Angelou, and one of Ayers' men was with them as well. He was carrying a Thompson machine gun. Rage surged through me, and I started to scramble to my feet to attack him, gun or no, but Rosita quickly sprawled on top of me, knocking me back down. I started to throw her aside, but she grabbed both my ears and twisted, while whispering urgently.

"Iollan, NO! He's on our side; he's the one who gave us the antidote! We're escaping." Her gentle method of getting my attention, her fingernails digging into the base of my ears, ready to tear them off if I continued to struggle, convinced me to listen to her. She didn't tell me much, just repeated that Benton was on our side and we were going to escape.

"What's the plan?" I finally whispered back, though I intended to keep a close eye on Benton. I got up and quietly made my way to the door of the pen, cautiously peeked out. There were about twelve members of Ayers' gang working around the Dominator.

At that instant, Ayers made an announcement over the outside amplifier. "Attention, ground crew. We lift in five minutes. Anyone not on board will be left behind."

Angelou went berserk at the sound of his Ayers' voice. Before anyone else could react, she grabbed the chopper from Benton and charged through the door of the pen, screaming at the top of her voice. As soon as she was outside, she started firing. The zombie antidote made her faster than regular humans, and she managed to drop four of them before they realized they were under attack. She got at least four more before they reached cover and started shooting back. Benton screamed and raced out of the pen after her. Angelou started spraying lead through the open hatch in the side of the Dominator. A manned machine gun turret slid out of the underside of the big airship. Benton leaped onto Angelou's back and drove her to the ground as the turret gunner opened up, and a stream of bullets smashed into them for maybe a second, then started moving towards the zombie pen. A second turret was now swinging around in our direction as well.

I grabbed Rosita before she could charge out onto the killing ground. "She's dead!" I yelled in her ear as I dragged her towards the rear of the pen. Bullets started to tear the front of the pen to shreds, and the bodies of unfortunate zombies, struck by heavy machine gun rounds, were jerking spastically on the ground. By now, Rosita had stopped fighting me, and we crashed easily through the flimsy rear wall of the pen without even slowing down, then raced off into the jungle.

Suddenly there was a loud bang behind us, perhaps an explosion inside the Dominator, and the gunfire stopped abruptly. I continued to drag Rosita further into the jungle, but I had to stop abruptly when we reached a riverbank with about an eight-foot drop to the water.

Rosita was running blindly; she raced past me, off the bank and fell into the water. I could only dive in and hope there wasn't a worse danger in the water than we faced on shore.

Fortunately for us, the river was deep and fast. Rosita didn't know how to swim; if it wasn't for the amazing vitality that was still driving both of us, we both might have drowned before I got her under control and had found a place where we could climb from the water. The water was surprisingly cold, and the chill helped subdue Rosita; she was exhausted and silent as we huddled together on the riverbank. Her body was wracked with pitiful shudders; she was crying silently.

"She's really dead, isn't she?" she whispered into my shoulder. "Do you think we're safe now?"

We were safer than we'd been in the zombie pen. But armed men who wanted to kill us might be searching for us, and we were marooned, unarmed and without any tools, in an unknown location in the African rain forest. Were we safe now? No. I hugged her tightly, but didn't say anything.

Somewhere behind us, the Dominator began to roar. If you put a dozen Stratoliners close together, it might sound about the same. We could tell the big craft was rising, it seemed to remain motionless for a while, and then it moved slowly in our direction. We didn't move — we were already hidden from the air by the vegetation around us. As the noise got louder, we were blasted by leaves and twigs being torn from the vegetation around us by a strong wind. As Dominator got closer, the wind direction changed until it was blowing down on us, and we were buried in leaves, branches, and even some small trees that were blown over by this incredible man-made windstorm. Looking up we could see two giant propellers set in shafts that passed through the flat hull of the Dominator, causing the hurricane-force downdraft that buffeted us. The giant craft continue to drift slowly out over the river, blasting a crater of water that exposed the river bottom. We were drenched, even through our new covering of vegetation. The giant props slowed gradually, allowing the water to rush back and the ship settled to the river's surface.

Ayers didn't seem to know we were here, so we ducked a little lower and continued to watch. Then a trapdoor opened on the top of the hull and a team of men climbed out. None of them were zombies, and there were only a few of them, many fewer than the full crew of only a few hours ago. Several had blood on their clothing and moved stiffly, as if favoring injuries.

"Good, she got a lot of the bastards!" Rosita snarled in savage satisfaction.

We watched in silence as the crew deployed a stiff, heavy curtain that draped around the Dominator like a skirt. After the team returned inside, the motors roared back to life, the sound muffled by the curtains. A cloud of mist bellowed out around the edge of the skirt as the Dominator lifted slowly about five feet, majestically rotated in place like the turret on a tank and raced off downstream.

"They're using the helicopter rotors as a hovercraft..." Rosita said softly. She laughed at the wondering look on my face. "A helicopter is like an autogiro, except more so. Straight up." She illustrated with her hand.

"I know what a helicopter is; Doc Shadow has several that he uses all the time," I replied, a little miffed. "You just didn't strike me as a Doc fan."

"Oh, I'm not; I read Gem Anthony all the time!" she huffed. "Or I used to," she continued sadly. "I don't suppose I'll ever get a chance again, though, will I?"

I knew Gem Anthony, Super Detective, from Saucy Detective Stories, though I mostly stuck with more masculine pulps and heroes. "The Big Bronze Girl Scout wouldn't give up now, would she?" I asked. When Rosita reluctantly shook her head, I continued. "Let's go back to the clearing and see what's left. Won't be any trouble finding it." I started back along the path of devastation the Dominator had torn through the jungle.

Ayers had left us nothing more than ashes; anything that had remained in the clearing after the Dominator lifted had been destroyed by the heat ray. The zombie pen and the bodies of the zombies inside had been reduced to a small pile. There was barely a bump in the ashes where Angelou and Benton had fallen, and not even a lump showed where the bodies of the thugs had fallen. There were scattered trickles of rising smoke across the clearing and a few fires still burning near the edge of the forest.

"Better see if we can keep a fire going," I suggested. By now, Rosita had reverted to a scary zombie-like state, so I ordered her to gather firewood while I found rocks to make a fireplace. Zombiehood was calling to me as well; it seemed almost pointless to continue.

But the zeeweed antidote continued to energize our bodies; we worked tirelessly, if listlessly, at the tasks I'd assigned. I knew I should be making further plans, but it just seemed like too much effort.

Spiritual Snow Leopard

The hurricane-force downdraft from the Dominator had swept almost all the ash from one end of the clearing, and I was searching the bare ground for rocks. In my sluggish state of mind, I didn't even react when a beautiful leopard walked slowly from the forest. She was very large for a leopard — as large as a lion, in fact — and she was gray like a snow leopard, an Asian species. She approached me slowly and daintily, picking her way with care to avoid any ashes. She didn't act like one of the most dangerous predators on Earth; ten feet from me she carefully seated herself and casually began washing her beautiful coat.

After a few seconds, she was satisfied that she'd got all the ash from her coat, and she looked at me. I got the impression that she was waiting for me to do something. Keisha and I have always had cats, so I'm used to talking to them. "Good day, Empress," I greeted her pleasantly, if a little warily. "I hope you've already had your dinner today!" She cocked her head to the side, quizzically, in that way that cats have. "You seem to be a long way from home. Aren't snow leopards from the Himalayas?"

She lifted a front paw and licked it, and I felt a sense of amusement. Maybe in my dulled mental state, I was hallucinating, but I got the sense that her home was right here, and here had been her home for a long time. That sort of rang a bell with me. "You're not kidding, are you?" She looked back at me, seriously, and I felt a very strong sense of satisfaction. Perhaps it was a side effect of the drugs or my long association with cats, but it felt perfectly normal to me to be carrying on a conversation with a leopard.

My mother was a child of slaves, born during the Civil War. She'd been raised to follow the 'pagan' religion of her ancestors, who were of an African people known as the Ashanti. Because my father's religion was more respectable than the 'pagan' religion of the Ashanti, outwardly my family had been Catholic. But I had also been instructed in my mother's beliefs. The Ashanti lived in a world where plants and animals had souls, and leopards, in particular, were held in high regard. Gray leopards were thought to be helpful spirits, perhaps the spirits of respected ancestors, who might appear to those in need of spiritual guidance. Over the years, the memories of this instruction had faded, but my mom and her family had taught me well; it didn't seem at all crazy to me to be conversing with a dangerous predator.

Perhaps this leopard could read my mind, a concept I was familiar with from Doc Shadow adventures. She was pleased with my acceptance — my belief in her allowed her to show me a story.

Devastating Raid

The landscape around me gradually changed, fading from the view of today to another, which I slowly realized was a view of the same area almost 200 years ago. The charred ground of the clearing sprouted thick grass, threaded with paths of earth, hard-packed by generations of bare feet. Huts, with walls built of wood bound by vines and roofs which included giant elephant ear leaves faded into existence, and I was standing in the middle of a clean, orderly village. It was early morning, and most of the residents were still asleep.

Suddenly, the cries of sentries rang out in alarm, followed by the sound of gunshots as the sentries were silenced. The residents quickly awakened to the alarm and when they realized they were being invaded, attempted to defend their village. But the invaders had the advantage of surprise, and they had firearms, and in a short time, they had total control. Many of the villagers were dead, and some severely injured. Several of the most belligerent surviving villagers and all of the seriously injured were executed. The rest were bound and the invaders led them away. I knew, somehow, that I was related to many of the captives through my mother. Several of the raiders stayed behind, and burned the village to the ground. The vision of the burned clearing of the past faded and I was back in the burned clearing of today.

Mystical Journey

I was almost emotionally overwhelmed by the ancient tragedy. The people in my vision had seen loved ones slaughtered, had been forcibly ripped away from their peaceful lives, and they would spend the rest of their lives as slaves. I stood in stunned silence, my brain too numb to function. Until I felt the leopard's jaws close gently around my wrist… I was too emotionally devastated to even react, until she gently tugged my arm. Without even thinking, I started to follow her. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a thought struggled into life. I can't leave Rosita here unprotected.

"I'll go with you, but we have to take my friend as well." I spotted her, and tried to move in that direction. The leopard released my wrist and followed, staying well away from me.

Probably trying not to alarm Rosita, I thought. But the combination of drugs and shocks she'd undergone in the past few hours had left her immune to alarm. She placidly accepted my order to come along, and we followed the gray leopard into the forest.

We followed the river north for about two miles into the foothills at the edge of a low range of mountains. The river issued from a large cave in the side of a smaller mountain. Floating near the shore was a dugout canoe, the sides of which were covered with mystical symbols. A new mental picture showed me sitting in the canoe. As I carefully stepped into the boat, Rosita attempted to board along with me, but the leopard blocked her way. The big cat mentally promised me that she would protect my friend, and assured me that I must proceed alone from here. As I settled to the bottom of the canoe, it started to move, upriver, into the cave and against the current, propelled by some invisible force.

The cave narrowed and the river ran faster, but whatever mystical force was moving the canoe was more powerful than the current. The small boat cut through the water smoothly and silently, without even leaving a ripple. The river curved sharply until I was in total darkness, and then a few minutes later, I saw a dim gray splotch ahead, which quickly grew until the narrow tunnel opened out into a much larger, dimly lit chamber. The canoe glided to a stop, and I stepped out onto a rough path that had been chiseled into the cavern floor.

Kwabena Gyemfi

In the direction of the path, I could see a brighter glow; as I approached, it resolved into the figure of a man. An old man, based on his slightly stooped posture and sparse gray hair, dressed in a breechclout of antelope skin. He carried a long, intricately carved staff set with what appeared to be rough block of rock, perhaps granite, about as large as two fists held together. Nothing unusual about him, except that he glowed and you could see through him!

"Welcome, warrior/healer/scion of the Ashanti!" he said as I approached. Except, he didn't say exactly that; actually, he didn't speak at all. He may not have used real words; his meaning appeared in my mind, and he seemed able to understand the meaning of my replies without my having to speak. Some of his concepts didn't seem to translate in a single word, so I heard several related words instead.

"Who are you? Why am I here?" I asked. Too much had happened to me recently for me to sustain a brilliant conversational level, so I settled for straightforward.

"My name is Kwabena Gyemfi. I was the okomfo/healer/spiritual leader of the nearby village, a friend/disciple/follower/advocate for Aduadu, the abosom/god/spirit/icon of this mountain range. I was slaughtered on that terrible day you have already seen, and since that time, I've been at rest. Aduadu has invited/gathered/summoned the two of us here today with a purpose; mine is to give you gifts."

An unusual world map appeared in my head, the world according to Aduadu. He'd skimped on details about man-made things such as cities and roads, but I knew I would never get lost again. Naturally, a god of mountains had paid special attention to the mountains, providing me with intimate familiarity with every mountain range and peak in the world. In addition to the geologic information, I discovered that I knew the names of the gods, goddesses, patron spirits and familiars of every range, plus which of these spiritual beings was currently on good terms with Aduadu, or if not, the nature of their disagreement. Who would have guessed that so many supernatural beings existed? Who would believe how touchy they were?

The ghostly okomfo continued, "Today the world is in danger, danger greater now than ever before."

In my mind, I saw an image of Europe; the image expanded until I was in the middle of a battlefield, surrounded by armies of men and machines of war. The view faded, replaced by rival gangsters shooting each other, a scene I knew was taking place somewhere in America. This was replaced by concentration camps in China, then scenes of disease and starvation in Central America. Throughout this cinema of horrors, Kwabena Gyemfi continued to talk. "Iollan Blake, the abosom/gods of the Ashanti have selected you to receive this gift. From this day on, you are no longer simply the mortal Iollan Blake, you are also the bearer of great power, bestowed by Aduadu, the spirit of this mountain range, at the behest of the abosom of the Ashanti. Use this power for good/with morality/for the benefit of all." The implications of this charge were overwhelming, his mental tone impressing on me the awesome responsibility that was now mine.

"Yours will be a lonely task, yet you will not be alone… You will be joined in your quest by others with great powers, powers bestowed by man and not-man, by the abosom/gods/pantheons/spirits of other people/nations/religions, by natural and supernatural forces, and forces from beyond the universe. And even with all the power commanded by you and your fellows, your quest will not be easy, for you will be opposed by forces also wielding great power." I saw an amazing panorama of beings, some wearing costumes or armor or street clothes, some carrying weapons and others without, beings with blue skin, beings with wings, beings wrapped in ice or flame or flickering electricity.

Then the visions ceased, and I was again standing in a cave in front of a being who claimed to be the ancient ghost of a tribal okomfo.

He stamped his shaft once on the rocks, and a light brighter than lightning flared, and I was buffeted by a noise greater than thunder. He touched me with the stone block on the end of his staff, and... something... struck me a great blow, a blow which rocked my soul, and I felt something infinitely cold, and yet comforting, flowing from the stone to me. I closed my eyes, overwhelmed with the unnamable tide of sensations. When the tide had ebbed and I opened my eyes again, he was gone. But I could feel great power within me, and I knew my life would never be the same.

I was dazed and stunned, barely able to think. I staggered to the canoe and collapsed; the next thing I knew, Rosita was helping me sit up and we were on the rock floor in the mouth of the cave. The gray leopard was gone; I guess my spiritual journey was completed.

The Power of Aduadu

I felt good, even better than I'd felt when I first received the zeeweed antidote. I pushed my hands against the ground to sit up, and an instant later I smashed into the top of the cave! The impact shattered some rocks loose. Rosita yelped and jumped out of the way, but I barely felt the impact. Before I could react, I fell back to the ground and barely felt that, either!

"Must have been a spinach patch in that cave!" Rosita exclaimed in disbelief. She sounded as stunned as I felt. But her voice was more forceful than it had been since her sister died.

"Popeye!" I exclaimed, pretty loud myself - and Rosita covered her ears in pain. "By God, that's exactly what it feels like!" I lowered my voice, much to her relief. I moved very carefully, picked up a small rock, and squeezed - and we both jerked and gasped in astonishment as the stone imploded with a bang like a pistol. Dust and chips blasted from the sides of my fist - fortunately missing Rosita, as some of the shards sounded like bullets as they ricocheted from the stone wall of the cave.

The feeling of well being cleared my mind, and I was thinking furiously, trying to put the facts I knew into some kind of order. Facts to a detective are like bricks to a builder, and need to be first collected into a pile and then arranged to build a foundation and a solid structure on top of that foundation. The most basic fact I had was that I had just done some extraordinary things. I needed to know what else I could do!

"Better stand back," I warned Rosita. "I could be dangerous." I made a deliberate effort to speak in a normal tone, and my voice sounded normal. I hit a rock with the thick edge of my hand, like a half-speed karate chop... the rock shattered, and there was no pain.

Popeye seemed like a good model - apparently Kwabena Gyemfi's ritual had imbued me with the Ashanti spiritual equivalent of spinach, giving me greatly enhanced strength and durability. I made a mental connection - those were qualities I also associated with mountains! "Thank you, Aduadu," I whispered. I was sure that somewhere my new patron was nodding, pleased with my acknowledgment.

Being careful to control the volume of my voice, I told Rosita the story. "That's nice, Iollan. Can we look for food?" I was sort of deflated at that, but I realized that she was having the ultimate bad day, and neither of us was really sure when we had last eaten. I volunteered to find us food, planning to take advantage of this task to investigate my new powers, and to try to learn to control them.

"I used to enjoy camping, fishing and hunting," I said to Rosita later, as we sat in the cave and finished a meal of roasted fish and fowl, scrambled eggs and grapes. "But with my new powers there's no challenge." I'd easily caught birds and fish by hand, split rocks to make utensils and tools, and snapped thick branches for firewood. I knew three ways to make a fire without matches and two of those depended on speed, friction and patience - but my new powers eliminated the need for patience.

"You remind me of Hugo Danner, except he couldn't fly," she replied. The meal had perked her up, and she was trying to keep occupied with the mystery of my powers to keep her thoughts away from her sister. I'd seen a bird nest high in a tree and wished I could reach it, found myself floating upwards. Our scrambled eggs were the result of this discovery.

After dinner, Rosita told me of an unusual experience of her own. Shortly after I'd disappeared, the leopard had padded into the dark cave and returned with a small leather bag which she'd dropped at Rosita's feet. It contained a handful of small, rough stones. "They're uncut diamonds!" she announced enthusiastically. "She told me they were mine, to use at my need. Wish I had a cat like that full time!"

Her mood changed again. "We're lost somewhere in Africa with no supplies, no tools and inadequate clothing! Even if you can keep us fed and safe from wild animals for now, what happens if one of us gets sick? How are we going to get home?"

"New York is that way," I pointed with certainty. "I'll fly and carry you."

Rosita was definitely underwhelmed. "Like Hell you will, Buster Brown! I'm not going to fly, thousands of miles, dangling from your arms, exposed to the weather. Not to mention, suppose your powers aren't permanent and we fall into the middle of the Atlantic?"

I thought for a moment, visualizing Aduadu's globe and focusing on our current location. "OK. This river empties into the Gulf of Guinea, and there's a port city at its mouth. Maybe we could find passage on a ship there."

She considered this. "If you find some way to protect me from the wind, I'll consider letting you carry me." Then she yawned. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired. Do you think it would be safe to sleep in this cave?" At that point, the gray leopard slipped silently from the underbrush and lay down near us. Rosita reached out and scratched the beast behind her ears, and the big cat purred. "Never mind."

So I made her a cabin. Well, a hollowed out log that I could strap to my back. She would have to lie down inside, and wouldn't be able to see out, but it was the best I could do in the middle of the jungle with no tools or building supplies. A few holes in the top to allow in air and light, and a hole in the bottom so we could talk, a pile of grasses and leaves as a makeshift mattress inside. Rosita didn't sleep well, and we bid goodbye to our leopard guide before the sun came up. She grudgingly crawled into her 'cabin' while I crawled into the harness, then I lifted slowly straight up. At about 20 feet, I moved out over the river and headed downstream. I kept accelerating until Rosita signaled me that she was uncomfortable going around bends, and I tried to hold that speed. I guessed we were doing 50 miles an hour.

Early in our flight, I discovered more about my powers — I could see things in the distance as if I had high power binoculars built into my eyes, the eyes of an eagle! I spotted ample evidence of the passage of Ayers and the Dominator; in several places, the hovercraft's heat ray had been used to burn away debris clogging the river. The Dominator was capable of flying from Long Island to Africa in less than two days — why was Ayers skimming down river instead of rocketing through the air? Perhaps that explosion we heard had damaged the vessel.

It might seem unlikely, flying without an airplane, but after a couple of hours I was getting bored. The scenery, though spectacular, was repetitive, and we discovered that I couldn't talk to Rosita because of the roar of wind whipping by my head. Rosita must have been even more bored than I was, lying in a small chamber carved out of a log and unable to see anything in front of us. So I was thinking about the future. My young and idealistic save-the-world stage was long gone - had Aduadu and the rest of the Ashanti abosom picked the wrong champion? At least I know what my costume should look like, I thought in satisfaction. Just like Starburst, the Super Man, a backup feature in the Doc Shadow mags, except without a mask, and in green and gray, the colors I'd favored as a boxer. But I had no idea what heroic name I would use. Maybe I wouldn't choose one — Doc Shadow used his own name.

Agent of the British Empire

My mental map showed that we were almost at the coast when I saw a lot of small boats moving upriver, being shepherded by several boats with lettering that said "The Volta River Transport System" as well as probably the same thing in the local language. I landed on the riverbank and helped Rosita from her 'cabin', then carried her in my arms as I flew towards the largest of the Volta River Transport boats. As I landed, we were greeted by a white man in a starched white uniform. His jacket had black epaulets on the shoulders. I couldn't recognize his insignia, even though I was familiar with British ranks; it was my impression that this was a civilian uniform.

"A flying man? How jolly extraordinary!" he exclaimed, but sedately, as if he saw flying men every day. Dressed in his impeccable whites, unshakably calm, always in control, and always a little above it all, he was the perfect stereotype of an agent of the British Empire. Then he saw Rosita. "Sir Nigel Wellington-Smythe, Gold Coast Colony District Commissioner, British Foreign Service, at your service, Miss!" he gushed with considerably more enthusiasm. He took her hand and kissed it with a courtly flourish.

What Rosita said next marked a critical point in my life. "Thank you, Sir Nigel. I'm Rosita Mondragon, and this is Major Power. He can do a lot more than just fly!" Major Power? I guess she had also been thinking as we flew. Definitely not a name I would have ever considered — but I'd always wanted to be an officer. Major Power it is!

"You aren't related in some way to that flying monstrosity in Ada Foah, are you? Started a bit of a beastly row!" Sir Nigel wanted to know. If you've never seen a flying disk or a flying man before, then you see both on the same day, it doesn't take a detective to wonder if they're related. Rosita told an edited version of our story, in which Benton's experiments gave me my powers, and Sir Nigel filled us in on the local happenings.

The port city was Ada Foah, the surrounding country the British Gold Coast. The Dominator had floated over the city early this morning. Her 'heat rays' had targeted and destroyed the British coastal fort protecting the town, while the British destroyer Werewolf, lying at dock for supplies, had fired at the flying craft.

"The Werewolf was about to put paid to that flying disk when it all went pear shaped." Sir Nigel told us. "A barrage of shells from the Dominator exploded around the 'Wolf and wreathed it in a misty-white smoke — and her guns fell silent." Clouds of the mist, drifting over the town, had ended all opposition. From the edge of town, survivors had watched the Dominator land on the docks. After a while, people had left the Dominator, and only a short time later, teams of British sailors had started transferring things from the Werewolf to the aircraft, and then teams of townspeople, each team supervised by one Dominator crewman, had started delivering more stuff to the docks.

I'd heard enough. "Please take care of Miss Mondragon, Sir Nigel," I requested, and then lifted into the sky. The abosom of the Ashanti had given me my powers to fight evil such as this. It was time to do my stuff.

"Throw a spanner into their works!" one of Nigel's men yelled. "The best of British to you!" Wellington-Smythe himself cheered as I raced off towards Ada Foah.

Dr. Disaster

Logan Ayers was sitting in the command chair on the flight deck of the Dominator, which had just lifted from the dock in Ada Foah. The giant ship's jet engines, damaged by Benton's sabotage, had been hastily repaired, using materials taken from the British destroyer. Ayers decided to return to Montauk. During the time required for complete repairs, he planned to have more zombie gas manufactured. The entire existing supply had been used up in the raid on Ada Foah, and Benton's explosion had wrecked the on-board facilities for making more. Plus, he needed to replace the crew killed by Angelou. Then on to Washington, where he would use zombie gas to capture the President and hold Congress hostage.

But not as Logan Ayers. I believe it is time to introduce the world to... Dr. Disaster! Yes, that sounds right! he thought, chuckling in satisfaction. He had considered other names, such as Mr. Midnight, Professor Plunder, the Duke of Destiny and Baron Baleful, but Dr. Disaster just resonated with him. It's unfortunate that Benton was a traitor, but he paid the price for crossing Dr. Disaster! Yes, that was the perfect name.

"Boss, something on the FOLD screen. Don't know what it is - what it looks like most is a torpedo on SOLD, but it's in the air, ten miles dead north, coming right at us and it will be here in about six minutes." Fortunately, the FOLD/SOLD operator had not been in the ground party when Angelou started shooting, as nobody else on board (except Dr. Disaster himself, of course) understood the Flying Object Locator Device (FOLD, what we would call radar) or the Submerged Object Locator Device (SOLD, sonar).

The rest of the world doesn't even know FOLD exists! Disaster thought in greedy satisfaction. Like most of the equipment in the Dominator.

The Dominator wasn't up to outracing a missile right now. "Gunners, fire the heat ray as soon as you see a target." Dr. Disaster walked to the window and aimed his high-powered binoculars north. The heat ray had an effective range of several miles, and it spread out enough that his gunners couldn't possibly miss. Soon he could make out a dot in the sky, which grew larger as he watched. "I don't believe it - it looks like a flying man!" Men didn't fly; this was some kind of trick. "Fire!"

The heat rays struck Major Power and instantly burned away his clothes, He was otherwise unaffected - except for his dignity! He was shocked and dismayed to be nude in public, and then he was outraged - and then, with no warning, he was wearing the costume he'd envisioned earlier - a green, skin-tight body suit with gray highlights, gray trunks and boots, a gray sunburst on his chest and a gray cape. The new costume was as unaffected by the heat rays as he was. Another unexpected aspect of his new powers!

"Still coming, Boss," the F/S man reported.

"Fire guided missile one!" Disaster barked, reluctantly, after an interval of consideration that was too brief for his crew to even notice. It was painful to have to use one of his two guided missiles, but he had no choice. Their guidance systems were years ahead of what was available to any government (...as is ALL my technology! he thought smugly), though German scientists were starting to make advances. Those two missiles had each cost as much as the Dominator. The big airship shivered slightly as the missile roared away. Through the forward window, the crew could see a finger of smoke growing, pointing towards the flying man. He turned to flee, but the missile followed. The missile was going to miss - but just before it would have roared past Power, its proximity fuse detonated the warhead.

The warhead carried about a ton of high explosive. The explosion slammed him down and he smashed through the jungle below like a meteor.

Major Power Fights Back

It was an interesting experience, being inside an explosion. I don't recommend it. I was swatted from the sky by a backhand from a god and slammed into the ground, blasting out a shallow crater. But I wasn't hurt, just stunned at NOT being hurt! I was a little shaky as I rose to my feet, but every fighter who has ever been knocked down and got back up to continue the fight knows how to deal with that — some deep breaths, dance a little, take a few practice swings. And then I was back in the air, and now I was mad. Knocking me down without knocking me out had never been a good idea for the other guy, and I was going to make sure that Ayers learned that, too.

The Dominator was accelerating to the southwest, out over the Gulf of Guinea, leaving behind twin trails of gray smoke from its jet engines. I concentrated on catching up, and began to draw closer. The two machine gun turrets again deployed from the bottom of the hull and streams of bullets, highlighted by tracer rounds, began searching for me. I avoided these easily by climbing above the vessel. As I climbed, the jets made sounds like the backfire of a car, though many times louder. Gouts of flame and black smoke belched out, engulfing me for an instant and then I flew out of the smoke to find the Dominator starting to tumble towards the water without her jets to drive her. I dove back underneath, flew to the front edge of the disk, which was starting to rotate down as the back edge rotated up, smashed into the hull, and started trying to lift.

The hull material was incredibly tough — it stretched and deformed around me, but didn't tear — and I managed to force the front edge up and stop the tumbling for a time. Without the jets, the big ship was slowing rapidly, and one of the pilots must have been strapped in his seat, as the helicopter propellers roared to life. With the ship's flight now stabilized, I dropped free of her and floated alongside considering… now that I'd caught the Dominator, what was I going to do with it?

Ayers must have been back in his own seat by then and asking himself that same question, because at that instant, the Dominator belched another guided missile. Except this time, it wasn't aimed at me, but back towards Ada Foah.

Straining in a way I hadn't known existed 24 hours ago, I raced back towards Ada Foah, determined to catch this missile. I was faster, but it had a head start; it was going to be close. About a mile from the city, its path curved down towards the destroyer — the Werewolf, Sir Nigel had said. I had no idea how fast I could fly, but I had to stop that missile! Aduadu, lend me speed! I begged in my thoughts — and in my head, I saw a moving picture of an avalanche, roaring unstoppably down the side of a mountain at incredible speed. Almost instantly, I was between the missile and the ship and the missile exploded and I was tumbling — but at the speed I was going, I was a thousand feet away a second later and already regaining control as I flashed above the delta of the Volta River.

After I made sure that the Werewolf wasn't hulled, I went back to look for the Dominator. She'd apparently crashed into the water — there was a big oily slick and floating debris near where I'd seen her last. I dove all the way to the bottom looking for her.

Discovered I could stay underwater indefinitely, and see in almost absolute blackness, but there was no sign of the big ship. Finally I gave it up and headed back to Ada Foah. Not that I had given up on finding Ayers, though — I knew where he lived.

The zombie mist wasn't as effective as the drug had been — people were already starting to recover. I spent most of the day leading people who were still under the effect of the mist to places where those who had already recovered could take care of them. About midday, the folks who'd fled upriver started coming back and helping out. Late that day, at one of the gathering points, someone put a hand on my arm from behind. "They tell me you call yourself Major Power," a female voice said, as I turned around. "Who are you really, mister?"

"Rosita!" I exclaimed joyfully as I reached out to embrace her, but she pulled away. "Where's Iollan?" she demanded, anger making her voice rough. "How dare you use the name Major Power?!"

I didn't want her to keep blurting out my real name so publicly, so I whispered urgently. "I'm Iollan Blake. Somehow magic gave me this costume - but surely I haven't changed that much?"

She looked as confused as I felt. "You don't look anything like Blake!" she insisted. She thought for a second, spoke again. "Tell me something only Blake and I would know…."

How many different super powered men was she likely to encounter in this city in Africa? Except for the pulps, I was pretty sure I was the only one in the whole world. Yet, she had seen a lot of unbelievable things in the past two weeks: zombies, a giant flying disk, her sister being murdered, a man who could fly. Surely simply wearing a costume shouldn't make me unrecognizable? So I considered the time we'd spent together - what had she shared with me that nobody else could possibly know? Ah…

"We were hiding on the bank of the river, watching Ayers' thugs convert the Dominator into a hovercraft, and you told me that you're a passionate fan of Gem Anthony, the Big Bronze Girl Scout. You know the words helicopter, autogiro, and hovercraft from her stories."

Iollan Blake, Meet Major Power”

She grabbed my arm and pulled me towards a storefront. "OK, Take a look in the window, here, and you'll see why I'm not convinced. Meet… Major Power!"

The reflection in the window was not me! Major Power's face was much wider than mine, with a square jaw, and he was at least two inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than I am. I was dismayed - I've had 50 plus years to get used to my appearance, and I like the way I look - I don't want to look like someone else! How would I ever explain the changes to everyone - to my family? My intense desire to be myself triggered a change, and looking back at me from the mirror was... me!

Except that I was suddenly wearing the same outfit I'd had on just after the heat ray vaporized my clothes — my birthday suit. Once again, the shock of being nude in public triggered the change back to Major Power. My mirror image flickered wildly between a nude Iollan Blake and a costumed Major Power for about two seconds before my subconscious decided that looking like Major Power was preferable to being nude in public, in front of Rosita, in a strange city surrounded by people I didn't know.

"Well, that was certainly interesting! It would make one heck of a party trick." Rosita was laughing. "I'm convinced." Then her laughter vanished — I guess she was thinking that future parties wouldn't be the same without her sister.

I was too distracted to pay much attention, though, as I examined Major Power's reflection — my reflection! — more closely. I looked much younger, though still with salt-and-pepper hair and gray beard - but otherwise there was very little resemblance between Major Power and Iollan Blake. The face I was born with is oval with a narrow, pointed jaw. My new face - well, there's a lot of Doc Shadow in that face. Wide forehead, slate gray eyes, square jawed, all planes, looks like it's carved from black granite. My theory is that my subconscious designed my new face rather than duplicating the rather silly mask that Stardust wears. I've since tested my ability, and I'm not a human chameleon - Iollan Blake and Major Power are the only forms I can assume.

"I know you're anxious to get back to your wife and daughter," Rosita told me, then continued emphatically, "but I'm absolutely NOT going to be carried 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean." She shrugged, then continued, "I've talked with Nigel about other ways to get home. There are no regularly scheduled ships, and he says I shouldn't even consider a tramp freighter, but he works for the British Foreign Office, and a Foreign Office packet ship heading from South Africa to London is due here in a month. He said he'd be happy to provide me with accommodations until then, and once I get to England, I can book passage on a commercial liner."

"That might take six months!" I observed. "There might be a faster way. If the Werewolf is headed back to England, her captain owes me a favor for saving his ship."

She sighed. "That would be nice. I don't need to get back right away; the last night of the production is tomorrow, and my understudy is probably doing fine. And I really need some time to recover from Angelou's death." She shook her head and smiled sadly. "But I can't be away for half a year, either."

The captain of the Werewolf came through for us, even improving on my plan — the 'Wolf was due to dock in Gibraltar in two weeks, and Rosita could take passage on a commercial liner there, cutting her travel time by at least two weeks. I arranged to meet her at Gibraltar, to check on her safety, and finally, I could leave.

I had quite an agenda ahead: flying across half of Africa and then the Atlantic Ocean; a reunion with my family; another visit to Montauk; a travel date with Rosita in two weeks.

As I lifted into the sky, it occurred to me that I ought to have some kind of dramatic exit line, but nothing came quickly to mind. So I just waved at Rosita, and said "I'll see you soon!"