Two Army Air Force staff cars approach the gate of Drummond Air Field outside Saguaro, CA, twenty minutes’ drive from the Arrowspace complex.
Framed as a spy and traitor by the shadowy forces that stole the experimental jet bomber he’d been test piloting, Buzz rides in silence.
An MP sits beside him in the second car while another MP drives. Capt. Albright, an Army criminal investigator, is in the passenger seat.
After they pass through the gate, the car containing Col. Stavros and his aide veers off and heads for a cluster of small office buildings.
Minutes later, a flight of black Me-109s on a strafing run roar over the car carrying Buzz toward the stockade on the far side of the base!
“What the…?!” The MP driver yanks the wheel to the side, causing the staff car to spin out as bullets from the attacking Me-109s pepper it.
“Those are Lightning Legion planes!” Buzz shouts over the din of the assault on the airfield. “They must’ve been worried you’d believe me!”
“You sure those aren’t your Soviet pals trying to keep you from spilling the beans on them?” Capt. Albright snaps. “I’m no traitor, dammit!”
“Blast! Our engine’s dead,” the driver cries. In the distance, the Me-109s are strafing the rows of AAF fighters parked on the flight line.
“Alright, everyone out!” Albright barks. “We’re not going to sit here twiddling our thumbs while a second Pearl Harbor attack occurs!”
The four men pile out of the staff car, its engine disabled by the strafing assault, as a massive blast erupts several hundred yards away.
“That bomb hit near Col. Stavros’ office,” Capt. Albright notes. “You two go help the guys on the flight line. I’ll check on the colonel.”
“Yes, sir!” the two MPs shout and set off at a run. Albright takes out the handcuff keys and approaches Buzz. “And as for you, Brown…”
The officer unlocks one of the cuffs from the wrist of the suspected traitor and then fastens it on a door handle of the stalled automobile.
“You’re going to stay where I know I can find you.” Trapped in the midst of the attack, Buzz watches the captain runs toward Stavros’ office.
TO BE CONTINUED!
Overcoming his initial surprise, Red McCann rises to Buzz’s defense. “Don’t you worry, m’boy. We’ll get you the best lawyer money can hire!”
Colonel Stavros scowls. “You should think twice about just how close you and your company want to be tied to this traitor’s actions, McCann.”
“Even the suspicion of disloyalty on the part of Arrowspace may be enough to ensure this firm never gets another government contract.”
Red McCann leans across his desk and jabs his finger at the AAF officer. “I’m no traitor and neither is that young man!” “Dad, please!”
Bridget McCann quickly steps in front of her father’s desk. “I assure you we are as outraged by what has happened as you are, Colonel.”
Buzz’s face drops in disbelief as Bridget takes Col. Stavros’ side. “Mr. Brown’s account of what transpired is too bizarre to be believed.”
“Arrowspace is committed to working with the government to get to the bottom of this matter and seeing that the guilty parties are punished.”
She turns toward Buzz. “No matter whom they may be.” Behind her, her father sinks deflated to his chair. “B-but, Bridget. We can’t…”
Buzz’s expression turns grim. “That’s alright, Red. It’s enough for me to know that you still have faith in me. Unlike some turncoats.”
Bridget grabs Buzz by the flight suit and punches him in the mouth. “You’re the only traitor here and I won’t let you destroy Arrowspace!”
“Your daughter shows uncommon good sense, McCann.” Col. Stavros grabs the accused test pilot by the arm and shoves him toward the door.
Alarmed and upset by the harsh treatment of his best friend, Fido the monkey leans down from Buzz’s shoulder and bites the colonel’s hand.
Col. Stavros curses in pain and bats at the small brown monkey as it scampers across Red McCann’s desk and vaults through an open window.
“Damned dirty ape! Capt. Albright, take ‘Benedict’ Brown here back to base and lock him up till the US Attorney and FBI come claim him.”
His hands cuffed and his head hung low, a dejected Buzz slumps along quietly as he’s escorted from the Arrowspace offices by a pair of MPs.
TO BE CONTINUED!
“…so then I wandered until I found the highway, hitched a ride on a fruit truck, and made my way here as quick as I could,” Buzz concludes.
While the McCanns sit in stunned silence, Col. Stavros, the AAF officer assigned to review the XB-46 project, is volcanic in his disbelief.
“Giant zeppelin aircraft carriers, masked villains bent on conquering the world – I’ve never heard such unmitigated balderdash in my life!”
Capt. Albright, head of a parallel criminal investigation of Arrowspace, enters the office and sets a small metal lockbox on the desk.
“As you ordered, sir, the MPs searched Mr. Brown’s locker. They found a wad of horse race betting slips in his jacket pocket and this box.”
“Wait, I can explain…” “Save it, Brown!” Col. Stavros snaps as he grabs a letter opener and uses it to force the lock on the metal box.
He opens the lid, reaches inside, drops three bundles of twenty dollar bills on the desk one by one, and then draws out a sheet of paper.
Col. Stavros’ face twists into a sneer of disgust as he reads the sheet. He tosses it to the desk in front of Red McCann. “Read it yourself.”
“Time for the truth, Brown, not that idiotic claptrap you stitched together from comic books and Saturday afternoon serials,” Stavros snarls.
“You stole the XB-46, flew it to a rendezvous point, and sold it to the Soviets to cover your gambling debts. Capt. Albright, arrest him!”
“That’s a lie!” Buzz shouts. “Dr. Zeus ordered Moseley to plant that evidence in my locker if I refused to join the Lightning Legion!”
“You can’t pin your betrayal on him, you lying weasel,” Col. Stavros says. “We already interrogated Moseley first thing this morning.”
“He claims he spent the night in the pilots’ bunkhouse and the gate guards confirmed they didn’t see him leave or re-enter the compound.”
“I already told you he stowed away on the XB-46. He must’ve climbed the fence later or snuck back inside a delivery truck,” Buzz explains.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Capt. Albright says as he handcuffs the indignant pilot. “I’d think about exercising it if I were you.”
TO BE CONTINUED!
Frantically, Buzz tries to get a grip on the end of the snapped ripcord as he continues to plummet toward the ground in the dead of night.
Fragments from the ricocheting bullet that left shrapnel in his arm had also partially severed his parachute’s ripcord near the pull ring.
The roaring wind batters him as he carefully draws the torn end of the ripcord out so he can twine it about his fingers for a better grip.
Hopeful he at last has a strong enough hold on it, Buzz yanks firmly on the ripcord. “Hallelujah,” he croaks hoarsely as his chute deploys.
He peers down into the darkness as he drifts silently through the night, not knowing what might lie below or how far away the ground is.
Col. Stavros slams the palm of his hand down on the desk of Arrowspace’s president, Red McCann. “Where the hell is the XB-46 Javelin?!”
Standing behind him, Arrowspace VP Bridget McCann squeezes her father’s shoulder as he flushes with pent-up rage at the colonel’s tone.
Through the open door, she sees Army investigator Capt. Albright directing a group of military policemen as they carry away stacks of boxes.
“We are working diligently to discover what happened,” Bridget says. “We have sev—” “I don’t want excuses, Miss McCann. I want answers!”
“Your test pilot ran off with a secret jet bomber prototype that was developed with government funding. Now where is he?!” “Here.” “Buzz!”
A bedraggled Buzz Brown, with his flight suit tattered and a dirty bandage wrapped around his right bicep, tramps wearily into the office.
Fido, Buzz’s pet monkey, shrieks excitedly and leaps from the desktop into his best friend’s arms. “I missed you, too, pal,” the pilot says.
Arrowspace’s president springs from his chair. “What happened up there, son? Are you all right? And where in the blue blazes is my plane?!”
“I’m fine, Red. About the Javelin, however…” An irate Col. Stavros strides toward Buzz and points his finger an inch from the flyer’s nose.
“You better have a damn good explanation for your conduct yesterday, mister, or I’ll see to it you spend the rest of your life in Alcatraz!”
TO BE CONTINUED!
On the run, Buzz snatches a parachute pack from a hook on the wall in the hangar deck of the mammoth aircraft carrier zeppelin Olympus.
“Arrestare! Halt!” A bullet fired by the pursuing Lightning Legion member thuds into one of the other parachute packs hanging on the rack.
Showing the skills that made him an All-American fullback, the fleeing pilot runs a shifting course and cuts behind a row of parked aircraft.
With the planes providing cover, Buzz dashes toward what looks like an escape scuttle 60 feet ahead on the side wall of the hangar deck.
He spins the wheel to unlock the small hatch and pushes it open just as his pursuer rounds the corner of the stowed Me-109s and resumes fire.
Buzz grunts as fragments from a ricocheting bullet pierce his arm. Without pausing to don the parachute harness, he dives through the hatch.
Instantly, he’s hit by the shock of the thin, minus-70 degree air as he falls away from the Lightning Legion airship at 40,000 feet.
The stars above and city lights below rapidly trade places as he tumbles through the night, one hand desperately gripping the parachute pack.
Knowing he has only seconds left before he blacks out due to lack of oxygen, Buzz struggles to don the parachute harness as he plummets.
He forces his arms through the straps and his frozen fingers fumble with the ice-cold clasps as he loses the fight against unconsciousness.
Buzz’s eyelids flutter open and his heart immediately begins pounding jackhammer fast as he realizes he’s still falling like a modern Icarus.
“HO-LEEEE…!” Acting quickly, he arches his back and spread-eagles his limbs to stabilize his free-fall and slow his rate of descent.
The air being sucked into his lungs still felt thin and insubstantial, but at least it held enough oxygen to allow him to remain alert.
It was hard to determine how far he’d fallen in the dark, but he guessed he’d dropped 25-30,000 feet over 3-4 minutes of unconsciousness.
Eager to slow his earthward plunge, Buzz locates the handle of the parachute ripcord and yanks hard, only to have it come off in his hand!
TO BE CONTINUED!
“About time you got back, Teodoro. Hope you remembered to put cream in my coffee this time. Don’t know how you drink that stuff straight.”
Startled by a strange voice in the half-lit hangar, Buzz turns right and sees the back of a man inspecting a partly disassembled jet engine.
With a shock, he realizes it’s one of the advanced, fuel efficient new engines Arrowspace fitted on the XB-46 Javelin experimental bomber.
Buzz edges silently toward the man as he continues studying the jet turbine. “I’ve never seen a fuel aspiration system like this, Teodoro.”
“I think I’m…” The mechanic pauses in startlement as he turns around and realizes Buzz isn’t the Lightning Legion comrade he’d expected.
Surprised, the mechanic fumbles to grab a heavy wrench from a nearby tray of tools as Buzz charges toward him in the Olympus’ hangar deck.
The rushing pilot drops his fist to the level of his boot-tops before rocketing it upward in a thunderous smash against the mechanic’s chin.
As the kayoed Lightning Legion crewman catapults backward, Buzz weighs the viability of escaping in one of the Me-109s stowed in the hangar.
He’d need to singlehandedly prep a plane, push it to the elevator, lower it to the flight deck, and drop the gate for take-off. Fat chance.
Buzz pivots as the hangar door opens and a man enters carrying two mugs, which he drops as he reaches toward his holster. “Basta, spia!”
Buzz ducks for cover behind the partly disassembled XB-46 engine pod as the shaven-headed, hawk-nosed Lightning Legion crewman draws a Luger.
“Brilliant escape plan, ace,” Buzz mumbles while a stream of 9mm bullets ricochet from the jet turbine nacelle with vicious ‘spang!’ sounds.
As he peers around the side of the engine, Buzz sees the man he assumes must be Teodoro edging back toward a wall-mounted phone as he fires.
“6… 7… 8…” The pilot smirks as his whispered counting is followed by the ‘clack’ of the Luger’s hammer striking an empty firing chamber.
When the gunman pulls a fresh magazine from his belt pouch and hurriedly reloads, Buzz dashes toward a rack of parachutes. “Now for Plan B!”
TO BE CONTINUED!
The gold-masked leader of the Lightning Legion leans forward in his command chair. “When I want your advice, Moseley, I’ll ask for it.”
The cowed pilot lowers his eyes and mumbles an apology. “You will return to Arrowspace immediately and resume your cover,” Dr. Zeus orders.
“The pilot who flies you back to Saguaro will give you a bag containing false evidence implicating Buzz in the theft of the XB-46 Javelin.”
“Unless you receive counterorders, you will place that evidence in Mr. Brown’s locker at Arrowspace tomorrow morning.” “Yes, Dr. Zeus.”
“Blaming a phony conspiracy for the theft will divert attention until we are ready to make our organization and our aims known to the world.”
In the dark of the locked zeppelin cabin that serves as his cell, Buzz checks the phosphorescent hands on his watch. “1 a.m. Time to go.”
Quietly, he rises from the mattress-less bunk and puts his ear to the crack of the pocket door his captors locked from the outside. Silence.
He reaches into the pocket of his flight suit and draws out an old Boy Scout knife. “Glad those bright lads never thought to search me.”
The captive pilot opens the screwdriver tool on the knife and starts removing the screws from the metal plate around the folding door handle.
He pulls the plate off, peers at the lock mechanism inside, and then inserts and twists his knife until the bolt retracts. “Open sesame.”
Stealthily, Buzz creeps along a dimly-lit corridor onboard the gigantic zeppelin Olympus, flying base of the Lightning Legion raiders.
With most of the airship’s crew and its contingent of pilots asleep at that early morning hour, the only sounds are muffled machine noises.
The furtive pilot ducks into a ladderwell and descends toward the lower decks where the flying goliath’s squadron of planes are housed.
Buzz pauses on a landing and peers through a porthole in an airtight door leading to the hangar deck before easing it open and stepping in.
Rows of black Me-109 fighters, their wings folded up to save space, line the sides of the hangar. Buzz freezes in alarm as a voice calls out.
TO BE CONTINUED!
“You’ll never get your hands on an A-bomb,” Buzz advises. “The security around those babies is too tight.” Dr. Zeus shakes his head.
“No, not atom bombs. The weapon we’ll steal is one the US military doesn’t understand and has never used, one they’ve forgotten they have.”
“Buzz, I want you to lead our raid on the secret armory where this super weapon is stored. Once we have it, we will be unstoppable.”
The gold-masked leader of the aerial raiders rests his hand on Buzz’s shoulder. “Join with us. Become a member of the Lightning Legion.”
“We are at the threshold of a new era,” Dr. Zeus says. “Be with us in the vanguard of a wave of change that will sweep across the world!”
Buzz mulls over Dr. Zeus’ offer to join the Lightning Legion, a modern aerial version of the conquering hordes of Genghis Khan and Attila.
“That’s some kind of sales pitch. Can I have some time to think it over?” Dr. Zeus drapes his arm over Buzz’s shoulders. “But of course!”
The pair circles the dais in the center of the room and Dr. Zeus climbs back into his command chair. “You may have until sunrise to decide.”
“Fail to join us by then and I’ll have you thrown from the Olympus with no parachute. We’ll see how well you can fly without a plane.”
The Lightning Legion’s commander speaks into the intercom built into his chair arm. “Send Moseley up with the guards for our… guest.”
Clark Moseley, hijacker of the XB-46 Javelin experimental jet bomber and Buzz’s kidnapper, ascends the stairs trailed by two armed guards.
The sentries take position to either side of Buzz. Moseley smirks at his fellow test pilot. “I can’t wait to get back to Arrowspace, Brown.”
“Bet they’re weeping and wailing over how their prodigal pilot betrayed ‘em and stole their prize plane. This’ll finish Arrowspace for good.”
He laughs abrasively. “I’ll be sure to let that tasty redhead Bridget cry on my shoulder. Right after I shoot that fleabitten pet of yours.”
“Enough, Moseley!” Dr. Zeus barks. “I’ve asked Buzz to join us. Show him the respect you would a comrade.” “What?! You should kill him now!”
TO BE CONTINUED!
Dr. Zeus, masked leader of the band of aerial raiders known as the Lightning Legion, gestures to the clouds below his flying flagship.
“This aircraft carrier zeppelin can climb higher than the attack planes of any earthly nation, putting us safely beyond their reach.”
“Fighters launched from the Olympus will carry out surprise attacks on the air defenses of the United States,” the mysterious tyrant reveals.
“Before year’s end, America’s ability to defend itself from aerial attack will be destroyed and the government will yield to our demands.”
“But we will be merciful overlords. We will allow America to carry on much as before… Provided they pay $20 million in annual tribute!”
Buzz is startled into silence by Dr. Zeus’ audacious scheme of global conquest. “This airship is but the first of many,” the invader boasts.
“Soon the Lightning Legion will have a fleet of such ships armed with advanced aircraft, all powered by Arrowspace’s new jet engine design.”
“Our swarm of flying carriers will spread across the globe and extend our reach to every country on Earth. None shall escape our power.”
“After witnessing America’s downfall, the rest of the world will quickly accede to our demands for tribute,” Dr. Zeus continues gloatingly.
“We will order every surrendering nation to decommission its air forces, giving the Lightning Legion uncontested mastery of the skies!”
Dr. Zeus raises his gauntleted hand and slowly clenches it into a fist. “Where Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler failed, I will succeed.”
Buzz nods and whistles appreciatively. “That’s certainly not a penny ante scheme. You still have a disadvantage at the moment, though.”
“The U.S. Army Air Force currently outnumbers the Lightning Legion 100-to-1. Attacking with the forces you have now seems like suicide.”
Dr. Zeus’ booming laughter echoes through the chamber. “Regardless of how it may seem, I assure you I am not a mad dog attacking recklessly.”
“Shortly we will possess a weapon of such power that it will even the odds against us… A weapon we shall seize from America’s own arsenal!”
TO BE CONTINUED!
The black-clad, gold-masked Dr. Zeus, leader of the mysterious Lightning Legion, rests his fists on his hips and considers the captive pilot.
“We can use a pilot of your skill and courage, Buzz.” “The guy you sent to shoot me down at the flying circus said I was marked for death.”
Dr. Zeus laughs. “That is still an option, of course, but you’ve proven your mettle. Killing you would be a waste of resources. Join us.”
Buzz is quiet for a moment. “And do what? Shoot down old planes and steal new ones? Seems pretty penny ante. I like more reward for my risk.”
“As do we all. I assure you the Lightning Legion’s aims are far loftier than petty criminality,” hints the ominous chief of the dark raiders.
The masked leader of the Lightning Legion steps down from the circular dais and gestures to the captive pilot. “Come, Buzz. Walk with me.”
The pair cross to the wall of windows at the front of the chamber. Beyond the glass, an unbroken sea of clouds stretches beneath the Olympus.
“What you have witnessed thus far are merely the opening moves in a far-reaching game. Soon, we shall make bolder and greater gambits.”
“Toward what end?” Buzz inquires. “Nothing less than the conquest of the world.” “They’ve got cemeteries full of guys who have tried that.”
Dr. Zeus shakes his head. “Not in the way that we shall. The Lightning Legion will sweep across the skies like the hordes of Genghis Khan!”
“Past conquerors concerned themselves with territory and occupation. We care nothing for borders or earthbound states,” Dr. Zeus explains.
“We shall build an Empire of the Air. The last war demonstrated terrestrial nations with map-drawn borders are an outmoded, illusory relic.”
“Our realm will be the sky itself and as the Earth lies under the sky, so shall all the nations of the Earth be under our boundless dominion.”
Buzz frowns skeptically. “Most of those countries have their own air forces, you know. Are you expecting them to surrender without a fight?”
Dr. Zeus laughs. “That’s precisely what they’ll do after they watch us destroy the defenses of the most powerful nation on Earth… America!”
TO BE CONTINUED!