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  • MENACE FROM SPACE part seven

    We’re almost done- in this penultimate chapter Jimmy Woo’s team venture behind the Iron Curtain to get a peek at the Soviet space program. Space nerds will note the appearance of an historical figure; Marvel nerds will note an early appearance of the Red Ghost. (I, of course, am both kinds of nerd)- JP

    ———————————————————————————————————
    “The Chief Designer”

    The explosion blew a cloud of snow and steam for a kilometer and black clouds of birds emptied the surrounding forests. Several men in fur hats wiped moisture from their glasses and shook their heads towards the ground. Water trucks raced to the launchpad and began dousing the flames around the area. In the watchtower a burly man pulled off a pair of headphones and slung them at the nearby console. He tried to find a clear patch of sky through the tower window but it would be an hour before the haze would settle. The moisture provided perfect cover for the far more successful rocket now racing down to the remote sector of Siberia.

    “Well that was lucky,” said Venus. “I mean, not for them so much, but we could have been zipping around this country for hours without finding their launch facility.”

    Marvel Boy set the Silver Bullet guidance system for landing and turned to his attractive teammate. “I think our odds would have been pretty good to detect activity even without a failed liftoff. As I told the fellows at the Marshall Space Center when they were worried how far they were falling behind the Soviets’ space program… my guess is they’re putting more resources into their program and firing off many more rockets. And charting that on a bell curve would show a lot more disastrous attempts than they’re probably letting on about.”

    “Well that would be none, because from what we hear, everything they try works like a charm,” added Jimmy Woo. “Their main guy, the- what do they call him… Chief Designer? You’d think he’s the Earth equivalent of you the way they go on about him and his knowledge of rocketry.”

    “Yeah, well we got Von Braun on the Disney show. We’re gonna have cartoons in space before them.” The gorilla grabbed onto the ring on the wall to steady himself as the rocket lurched backward and lowered behind a hill some distance from the Soviet scientists. Bob took off his cape and put on a coat, sweater, pants and boots over his usually sparse costume. Ken Hale whistled at the young hero. “Look at the ordinary Joe! Who’d know this kid grew up on a planet where they think capes and shorts is the style?”

    Grayson pulled on a wool cap as well. “When in Siberia, to paraphrase your old saying. I could keep myself warm by powering my armbands up more, but then I’d be a spectacle- and I don’t think Jimmy wants any extra attention on us.”

    “That’s right,” returned Jimmy, pulling on his own coat. “We’re just here for some info, and this is a touchy situation. As an FBI team we’re way out of line coming behind the Iron Curtain like this. Venus is going to take the lead on this one. I’ll keep my trap shut and maybe they’ll just think I’m Chinese.”

    “Hey, you set off a war between the U.S.S.R. and Red China, that would be something,” said Hale.

    “No one’s getting hurt today, because we’re doing things my way.” Venus ran her hands through her long hair and its silver color took on a bluish hue. “Just to really play up the effect. Let’s go.”

    The Soviet guards were discussing as always when they might be able to leave this temporary post, when one heard the crunching of feet upon snow. Their guns raised at the figures stepping out of the woods and walking towards them.

    “M-11, incapacitate those gunmen, but leave them alive. And jam all transmissions from this area.”

    The robot marched forward and a hail of bullets rained upon his metal casing. Rather than ricochet off as the bullets in Seattle had, these stuck to the android, who now generated a magnetic field to protect the team members behind him from any stray fire. The guards emptied their clips and reloaded or grabbed extra guns from nearby vehicles. It was becoming difficult to distinguish the robot’s form as the covering of rounds grew. One of M-11′s arms was extended and wrapped around the fragments of rocket found in the Natty Bumpo. His free arm extended rapidly to it’s full length, followed by the fingers on that hand. From the tips of the fingers burst arcs of electric current that filled the clearing and connected all the Soviet gunmen for an instant. Briefly their grips contracted to force even more machine gun fire, and at once the attack stopped as they each collapsed in place. Jimmy, Ken and Bob turned over a few who had fallen face down in the snow to keep them from smothering, and the team continued forward. A telepathic scan by Marvel Boy revealed the Soviet scientists to be holed up inside the watchtower. Ken Hale pushed the locked door until it popped off its hinges and the troupe proceeded up a metal staircase.

    At the door to the launchroom Jimmy turned and whispered. “Any guns in there, Bob?”

    “Just one. They’re all hiding behind tables and equipment.”

    “Okay, let’s go. No one talks but Venus. It’s your show.” The men put their fingers to their ears.

    She nodded, and began to hum. As she let her voice get louder, the thud of the gun being dropped could be heard. Ken then pushed this door open as well to let her step inside. Jimmy held a hand up to M-11 indicating for him to stand in the hall for the moment.

    In the control room, several Russian and German engineers held onto whatever structures they were near as if on a ship that was rocking gently, yet steep. They were all delighted when the bearer of the unearthly voice entered. Venus kept singing and held out her arm as if to introduce those that followed- a short asian man, a tall nordic man, and an extremely large gorilla. While her voice worked through their heads the entourage seemed perfectly normal. Then the singing stopped and the group seemed the oddest ensemble the scientists had ever seen. Still, they were no longer terrified of what the guards must have been firing upon, and the calm stayed with them.

    —NOTE FROM AGENT WELLINGTON, TRANSCRIPTIONIST–

    The following exchange between Agent Venus and the Soviet scientists has been translated from Russian. These have been triple-checked by Linguistics, who have the reels made from M-11′s playback.-A.W.—–

    “Greetings, Earth Men. My crew and I are visitors to your world. It is our understanding that you seek to travel the reaches of outer space.”

    “You speak Russian?” asked a man with thick framed glasses. “Is our language like yours?”

    “No,” replied Venus, stifling a smile. “To speak our language you would need four more mouths and an extra octave range. We are appearing to you in bodies representative of your highest life forms for your own comfort. You are not ready to see beings such as us yet.”

    Two of the scientists looked at each other and spoke in their native German. “Gorillas are one of our highest life forms?”

    “Yes, they are,” Venus replied in their direction, which startled the men. She reminded herself for later to not share that part with Ken. “We are curious about certain parts of your space program. Last year you sent up your second capsule into orbit. I believe it had a passenger… a dog, you call it. Is this correct?”

    A few of the men looked down in apparent shame. “Yes,” said a thin man with a kind face. “Laika.”

    “Was the capsule designed to return to Earth with this passenger?”

    The thin man wiped his eye. “No. Our instruments were to test if one could survive the gravity pull and weightlessness. She… would not have lived more than a few hours.”

    “Really.” Venus turned towards the door. “Automaton, please bring in the debris we found.”

    The calm of the room evaporated as the massive form of M-11 walked in, his torso at 90 degrees to his advancing legs. Once he had cleared the doorway with the metal he carried, his body rotated back into alignment. The expanded arm retracted to place the two halves of the Sputnik II space capsule on the floor of the men who assumed they would never see the craft again.

    “You brought it out of orbit!” The man turned to the others. “I knew it! I knew once we began going into the cosmos we would attract attention! We- we have only peaceful intentions with our program… we only seek to fly around our own planet! Please do not destroy us.”

    Venus raised an eyebrow at M-11. Naturally they were assumed to be peaceful emissaries until the menacing android appeared. “We are not angry with you, but something you’re telling us doesn’t make sense. We found this debris on Earth.”

    The burly man who had thrown his headphones in anger earlier stepped forward. “I am Korolyov– the Chief Designer.” The man paused a minute to compose himself. He had never planned to tell this news to his superiors at the Kremlin, and assumed no one outside his immediate staff of engineers would believe it either. Now he found himself facing beings who would likely not find his story unusual, so he began.

    “Sputnik II was not designed for reentry. We are not at that phase yet. But a month before launch, I had a dream… several of us had the dream, in fact. In the dream we were shown plans to fit the capsule for life support. Others were shown how to produce a chemical to be injected into Laika, as well as device to be implanted under her skin. The dreams recurred and compelled us to follow this new plan. It was only at liftoff that we all realized we had been influenced. We thought perhaps… creatures such as yourselves may have done this.” As he explained in more detail the additions they had made, an engineer in the corner named Kragoff jotted down notes furiously on his clipboard.

    “Perhaps,” returned Venus. “It was not us, however.”

    Kragoff stepped a bit closer and spoke. “What do aliens want with such information? How do we know you are not spies?”

    Marvel Boy floated up three feet and hovered over across the room to look down on Kragoff. The balding scientist retreated back to the desk where he had been scribbling notes.

    “We do not want your secrets, we were only curious as to your motivation,” answered Venus.
    “It is clear you were not under your own control during this mission.”

    The Chief Designer spoke again, feeling oddly free to share information as his audience was not a part of the politics that governed his life and work. “Please excuse him. We are forced to take great measures with our space program, such as moving our launch sites to different parts of the Union.” He looked out the window at the bleak cold sky. “I would never have brought us here- I was sent here many years ago, to a gulag. I believe soon we will be able to build a permanent center outside of Moscow, where our program can proceed at full pace. We would welcome you to return then, to our Star City.”

    “Thank you. But we have many other planets to visit and document. Perhaps we will return one day. Now we must say farewell.”

    Marvel Boy’s headband glowed quickly, surprising the engineers. Venus nodded his way and then asked a new question. “Yes. Do you have anything of the animal… a blood sample, perhaps?”

    The thin man walked over to Venus, his head still hanging as he reached into his coat pocket. From the jacket he produced a small leather collar. Marvel Boy’s headband pulsed again.

    “May I keep this?” Venus asked. She politely kept the quality of her voice to a level that wouldn’t coerce the man. He nodded his head.

    “Thank you. We are very grateful.”

    As the strange visitors exited, Venus turned once more for a final question. “One more question. Why do you have so many people with weapons around this noble venture?”

    “Our leaders fear that others on this planet will learn our methods… and possibly reach the heavens before us.” Korolyov felt flush at what he had said. “That must sound quite ridiculous to beings such as yourselves.”

    “I wish it did,” said Venus.

    Comments

    Comment from Hugh Sheridan
    Time: March 17, 2008, 4:04 pm

    Hiya Jeff, I love your work and am especially loving the chance to reread the Jimmy Woo story.

    Anyway I just wanted to leave a message you might see cause I just heard about the Secret Invasion Agents of Atlas story. Cool news! but I just wanted to remind you that these characters are no strangers to Skrull infiltration – in Busiek and Pacheco’s excellent Avengers Forever #4 +5 they stopped one from replacing Nixon during the 1960 election campaign.

    Im sure you already realised all this (especially as Brevoort was the editor of that project too) but I just wanted to make sure as I think some kind of shout-out to that story would be supercool, not to mention totally organic.

    Anyway keep up the great work, Im looking forward to all your future stuff!

    Comment from Parker
    Time: March 17, 2008, 4:13 pm

    Oh I read that long ago! But since Immortus wiped out that timeline, this is the way they engaged Skrulls now- in a way, the fact that the Agents are involved is a shout-out, really. But sadly I couldn’t figure out a way to get Nixon back in there. Good to hear from you, Hugh!

    Comment from Hugh Sheridan
    Time: March 18, 2008, 5:45 am

    Well its pretty cool that you realised the connection at least(and thanks for taking the time to respond). Cant wait to read the story anyway!