The sound and vibration of the propellers passed into the windowless interior of the plane where Captain d’Arc stood looking down at the orphan. The child sat hugging her knees dressed in a schoolgirl uniform, and the sight reminded the Captain of her childhood years of solace spent a decade before the war in the convent. D’Arc shook her head, “This is a terrible birthday, I’m sorry.”
From her seat on the fold down bench in the Nightingale’s spartan cargo hold, the girl looked up and flashed her unconquerable smile. “It’s alright, Captain. I’ll be thirteen for a whole year! And we have a mission!”
The auburn haired woman knelt down and looked the girl in the eyes where she sat. Clad in the fifteenth century Armor of Orleans, the Captain looked every bit the knight, even without a helmet. Holstered at her side was a more current M1911 Colt pistol, and layered on top of the armor were the modern pouches of her paratrooper’s utility belt and bandoleer.
“Bless you, Anne. God has given you a gift, and tonight we’re going to need it. We need this victory. We need something to show that we are not fighting the inevitable. Something for all of our peoples and the freedom of France!”
The young armored woman searched the satchel at her side and the grey frizz of Marie’s hair poked over her shoulder. The elderly woman in a tweed coat and dress shot a sly look at Anne from where she sat on the bench opposite her. “Don’t let Captain d’Arc fill your head with too much fervor tonight, my dear.”
Anne stifled a giggle in the dim electric lighting of the cargo hold as the Captain rolled her eyes at the frail professor smiling behind her.
“However, I’m sure that when we return to England with Queen Isabella, Mr. Churchill will be there to serve your cake himself,” Marie said.
The Captain withdrew a small package wrapped in plain paper from her bag. Nodding in agreement with the Madame, she made an amused face while handing her gift to the girl. “It’s not much of a present, but I want you to have this now.”
The child looked at the brown paper and twine. “It’s a book isn’t it?”
The Captain smiled amid the pervasive, droning hum of the airplane’s propellers, watching Anne’s fingers undo the wrapping with quick, surgical precision to reveal a leather-bound book. Opening it, the girl thumbed through a dozen blank pages before looking up at d’Arc.
“A diary. You write so well and have so many thoughts. I thought that you deserve a private place to put it all… Just between yourself and God.”
“Thank you, Captain!”
“You’re wel —”
The Nightingale rolled, dipping fifty degrees to the right and sending the armored woman clunking into the wall beside Anne. The engines roared as the airplane made a sharp evasive turn ahead of the sound of screaming propellers, machine guns and twenty millimeter cannons tearing past them. The Captain darted to Marie, standing over and shielding her as the sound of piercing bullets echoed through the fuselage.
Anne saw bullets and fragments hit the Captain in the back, and the force of the impacts caused d’Arc’s knees to buckle. But bullets couldn’t pierce the mystical protection the Armor of Orleans provided, and the warrior maiden pulled herself straight holding onto one of the handrails beside her.
The Captain looked down at the old woman she had protected. “Don’t jam anything yet, we need the wireless and radar working until I give you the order!”
The professor looked up at Captain d’Arc and gave a bobbing nod in her state of surprised shock. As soon as that acknowledgment was given, the young woman turned and ran towards the front of the plane.
“Keep her safe!” the Captain ordered pointing back as she raced away.
The thirteen year-old listened to the metal-on-metal footfalls fade into the sounds of the aerial battle around them. She then dutifully crawled over and wrapped her arms around a grim-faced Marie.
“This is bad, Anne. We’ve been spotted too early…”
D’Arc sprinted down the corridor with the tooth rattling sound of return fire bursting from the twin pairs of .50 caliber machine guns in Nightingale’s top and bottom ball turrets. She skidded to a halt next to the turrets as they shifted, turned, and rolled in their sockets.
Her mailed fist hammered on Plexiglas hatches, and she could see the star-filled sky awash with fiery streaks and aircraft silhouettes beyond the turrets’ operators. “Calamity! Alena! Report!”
Another spray of bullets impacted the plane sending a fragment of shrapnel flying off d’Arc’s pauldron. The upper turret coughed out a burst of tracers and an explosion lit up the dim interior of the aircraft before Calamity’s cowgirl whooping could be heard.
“That’s two-zip, rooskie! ” the plain-faced American shouted down to the ball turret beneath her. Senior sergeant Arzamasskaia pressed her middle finger upwards against the inner glass of her sphere as a reply, all the while furiously swinging the turret to get a bead on a red Focke-Wulf fighter. Against the Plexiglas, her bare finger briefly ignited like a wick with flame, leaving a blackened outline to continue flipping-off the cowpuncher as she returned to working the guns.
“Status report!” the Captain ordered.
Calamity squeezed off another sputtering burst from her pair of machineguns. “We’ve got a whole squad, Cap! And they’re good—”
“—Dammed good, Kapitan! ” Alena shouted as her bullets obliterated the tail-section of an attacking fighter and its emblazoned swastika. “Two-to-one, yank! ”
A flaming Focke-Wulf in a death spin hurtled past the underside of the Nightingale. The plane veered to the side and d’Arc braced herself against the inner fuselage. “Jane, keep them as busy as you can up top! Firebird, do the same but keep an eye on the ground as we descend! If we’re flying into a trap below I want your eyes on it first!”
“Okay Cap!” Calamity barked swinging the ball turret up ninety degrees and firing. The sergeant in the belly gun gave a flaming thumbs-up of acknowledgement, her eyes searching for the next target.
The Captain began her sprint to the nose of the plane. “If Earhart and Tudor are still on course in the cockpit, the Château should only be minutes away! Be ready!”
There were several more violent turns and a full barrel-roll as the armored young woman maneuvered her way to the cockpit with athletic skills worthy of an Olympian. The Captain finally burst in on the pilot as she masterfully sliced the Nightingale between a pair of oncoming fighters that zipped past them and the waning crescent of the moon. A third crimson plane swooped in dead ahead and guns blazing.
Captain d’Arc was knocked off her feet as several holes were blasted into the windscreen and a machinegun slug slammed into her waist. Yet, the iron grip of her gauntlet fell onto the back of the pilot’s chair and stopped her fall. Seated in the co-pilot’s chair to the Captain’s right, red-headed Liz squeezed a trigger and laid out a spray of incendiary tracer fire. The Nightingale’s quartet of chin-mounted, fifty caliber guns blew the Nazi plane apart.
The pilot looked behind her for a split second, twisting the plane’s control yoke as it dodged flaming debris. “Joan! Are you—”
“—Fine,” she gasped as a deformed bullet slid off her armor and fell to the cockpit floor.
The Englishwoman in the co-pilot’s chair kept her eyes open for new threats. “Captain, if you’ll take the guns, I’d be more useful at the wireless station.”
D’Arc moved beside the woman in the kelly-green RAF jumpsuit and Liz handed the co-pilot’s headset to her as she rose. The Captain slid the headset over her auburn braids and settled into the chair. “Try raising the Brothers again, flight lieutenant. We need those escorts!”
Pale Liz buckled the seat’s harness over herself and the golden scabbard of her sword when she reached the communications equipment a stride away from the Captain. “Yes, Ma’am,” she said placing a bulky pair of headphones over her forage cap.
Captain d’Arc looked to the pilot on her left. “I need options, Amelia.”
The lanky aviatrix in leather and beige gunned the throttle and shouted over the engine. “Options!? I’m good, Joan, but I can’t keep this up and get anywhere near the Château for the extraction! We’ve got Barron von Richthofen and his whole god-dammed Flying Circus up here!”
The flight lieutenant finished her radio distress call and turned to the pilot chairs. “We’re still on course according to the radar, ETA to target five minutes.”
“Any signal from Cuthbert?” the Captain shouted back over the wind howling through the bullet holes in the windscreen.
Liz adjusted a series of dials and flipped a switch. “Telemetry is consistent with Cuthbert still being at the Château in the target area, Ma’am.”
“The agent would have signaled if the Queen had been moved, but they may be unaware if someone’s using her to bait us into a trap. Any word from the Maquis du Dordogne?”
“Negative, Captain. No word since they radioed the start of their diversionary attack at twenty three hundred hours.”
D’Arc clenched a fist. “They’re going to get slaughtered if we can’t—”
“—Bogey at six o’clock high!” Calamity’s voice blared over the headsets and intercom. “Everybody brace—”
Twenty millimeter cannon and machinegun slugs tore through the broad tail of the Nightingale as a crimson Focke-Wulf strafed the fuselage. Amelia pulled back the throttle and jerked the plane to the side. The advanced prototype fighter overshot the plane after her maneuver, but not before its hail of bullets shattered the upper ball turret and the inner right wing engine burst the into flames.
Captain d’Arc fired a long burst of the forward guns in vain as the Red Barron himself maneuvered out of her sights like a wasp. “Calamity, what’s your status!?”
“Top turret has shit the bed, Cap…. But I ain’t bought no farmland yet!”
The pilot punched at the avionics and lowered the goggles on her leather cap. “Another hit like that, Joan, and we’re going down!”
Liz made a pained squint as she listened to German pilots speak in Luftwaffe codes. She pulled back one of her headphones and the static could be heard over the noise in the cockpit. “Captain, there has been a huge increase in radio interference… It may be active jamming.”
Amelia yanked the throttle and pushed forward on the control yoke. “This is crazy, Joan! Even if she’s still there, we’ve lost the element of surprise! I’m turning this thing around and—”
“—Hold course!” d’Arc shouted with her eyes fixed forward.
Amelia turned to the Captain with a look of disbelief. “If Marie jams the radar now I can shake them! But you’re insane if you think I can get the Nightingale to the target and still attempt the rescue! Not with the best the German air-force has to offer all around us!”
“Maintain course. That’s an order, Amelia.”
“It’s going to be a turkey shoot…” the pilot said refocussing her eyes forward and stomping a rudder pedal.
Liz looked up from the green glow of the monitor before her. “ETA to target is three minutes, Captain. We’ve lost the rear radar, and the unit in the nose is acting up. I’m assuming battle damage.”
The Captain groaned and shook her head, then a voice spoke over her headset.
“Kapitan, I have targets on the ground.”
“Tell us something good, Firebird,” d’Arc replied.
“I’ve sighted gunfire in the vicinity of the Resistance’s planned diversion. There’s a platoon and personnel carrier laying down fire. And I just spotted a Panther and several Panzer-Four tanks leaving the garrison headed in their direction.”
D’Arc clenched a gauntleted fist. “Those aren’t assets they would commit lightly! Either they don’t know what’s coming, or think they have us contained.”
“The do have us contained, Joan! We’re too pinned to act!” Amelia said tapping the altimeter.
Flight lieutenant Tudor spoke up from the rear of the cockpit. “I can confirm that Richthofen relayed an update to garrison.”
The armored woman’s brown eyes stared hard as stone towards the dark horizon. “The Maquis are going to be killed and our opportunity squandered if we can’t break this entrapment!”
Tudor spoke again. “I’m still trying to reach the escorts, Ma’am, but the interference—”
“—Keep trying,” the Captain said before a girl’s barely adolescent voice crackled over the headset.
“Madame Curie has been shot. There is… blood… but she’s talking.”
The voices in the cockpit went silent as Lieutenant Earhart cupped a fist around the microphone of her headset and glanced at the Captain. “If she looses control back there…”
Captain d’Arc nodded to the pilot then looked to Liz in the rear.
“That would explain the growing interference in the wireless and radar, Ma’am.”
The Captain spoke with steely confidence into her headset. “Keep her calm, Anne. Calamity, get your boots down there and see what you can do.”
“Ten-four,” the Missourian said shouldering her way out of the ruined turret.
“Incoming!” lieutenant Earhart shouted as the Barron’s experimental Focke-Wulf and two wingmen swooped into view letting loose steams of gunfire. Captain d’Arc hammered off another burst from the guns, but despite Amelia’s legendary skill, the Nightingale was outmaneuvered as it fell into the sights of the German Luftwaffe ace.
A barrage of tracer fire flew past the cockpit from behind, tearing one of the blood-red wingmen apart and forcing the Barron into a barrel-roll to escape a similar fate.
A man’s voice cut through the harsh static of the radio as a P-51 Mustang fighter roared into sight alongside the plane. “Sorry we’re late Captain!”
“You sure know how to call it close don’t you, Lieutenant Wright?” d’Arc said over the radio while she eyed the escort fighter.
“Oh, Wilbur excels at it, Ma’am,” his brother Orville quipped bisecting the engine of the Focke-Wulf in his gun-sight. “You wouldn’t mind if we cut in on this dance would you, Amelia?”
Liz furiously worked the radio’s attenuation at the console as Amelia’s voice burst over the radio awash in static “They’re all yours boys! I hope you brought friends!”
Earhart turned the Nightingale and gave the mustangs a wide berth pulling away from them. Beyond the wing-tips she saw the starry night above filling with the painted maws of Tesla modified P-40 Warhawks.
“We figured we’d do one better and bring some Redtailed Angels from the three-thirty-second,” Lieutenant Wright said distorted and bearly understandable though the static. Then the American fighter planes dove down in waves, the sky coming alive with gunfire and spreading dogfights. “We’ll keep … busy, proceed … target… give Hitler and … Bonaparte … some hell—”
Flight lieutenant Tudor threw off her headset and it clattered blaring static into the desk-space on the console. “That’s it! The Curie Wave is overwhelming wireless and radar for kilometers around.” The Englishwoman reached up and thumbed a bank of switches in sequence, “I’m patching our communications through internal lines now…”
Captain d’Arc nodded a thank you, “Liz, ETA to target?”
“One minute, Ma’am. Orders?”
The armored woman looked out on the dark land and river reflecting the starlight inching higher towards the horizon. “Calamity, what’s Curie’s status?”
The American slapped the button on the wall-mounted intercom in the airplane’s rear hold. “It ain’t pretty! She took a bad one to the shoulder! And she’s pretty pissed about it!”
The Captain looked to Lieutenant Earhart with a stone-faced nod. “Can she make a drop, Calamity?”
“I reckon if she won’t volunteer, she’ll get volun-told, right Cap?”
“Right. Let’s do this.” D’Arc looked to Liz from her co-pilot’s chair. “Flight lieutenant, there’s no more good you can do up here. Grab a crate of smoke flares and join Jane in the rear. If Curie’s conscious but too hurt to jump, be ready to assist her.”
The woman in the green jumpsuit unbuckled her seat harness and left the console. “For the love of God, Captain. She’s a woman, not a bomb.”
“No, she isn’t a bomb,” d’Arc said turning back to Earhart. “She’s something far worse.”
Liz left the cockpit shaking her head as the aviatrix pushed the control yoke and started to throttle down the Nightingale’s speed. “I can drop us to a thousand feet over the riverfront approaching the Château. That’ll be enough for a strafing run and for Curie to… disembark… if you’re planning something like what we pulled in Crete last year.”
Giving a nod to the American, the Captain pressed a gauntlet to her headset. “Sergeant Arzamasskaia, give the Germans a distraction to chew on from the turret as we pass them.”
Now alone in the cockpit with the pilot, d’Arc looked at the dark landscape of hills and forests drawing closer as they descended. “Can you get us on the roof, Amelia?”
“I’ll need to decelerate and loop back after the attack run. She won’t do a full hover on three engines and I wouldn’t press our luck hanging mid-air anyways… A lone Focke-Wulf or good hit with a Panzerfaust could—”
“—Can you do it?”
The lanky woman shot the Captain a wink under her goggles. “Is Eleanor Roosevelt president of the United States? Yes, I can give you a slow drift just over the top of the Château if the wind holds steady… You’ll all have to jump for it though!”
“We’ve managed in worse. What about the return extraction?”
“That’ll be… Tricky, Joan.”
Calamity’s voice crackled over the headsets. “Cap, Marie’s starting to get, uh, hot under the collar back here… We could use you…”
The Captain rose from the co-pilot’s chair. “En route.”
Her headset was thrown into the seat beside the pilot as Amelia pulled a lever and unlocked the Nightingale’s tiltwings. “I’ll announce the run with the intercom before I start … It’ll take a few minutes to get into position.”
The steel of d’Arc’s boots clacked against the bare metal of the plane’s interior walkway as she exited the cockpit and made her way towards the rear of the aircraft. She stopped only once, quickly grabbing a Browning machine gun off the wall and draping a belt of ammunition over her shoulder. Walking past the ball turrets, the wind howled through the shattered Plexiglas and open hatch of the top gunner’s station.
“Give them thirty seconds of hell with the strafe,” the Captain said to the bottom turret. “Then get yourself aft in another thirty.”
The dark haired woman within remained focused on the green glow of the nightvision screen before her, but lifted a thumbs-up that flared briefly with flame. D’Arc kept walking stone-faced as she heard a pained scream echo from the rear of the plane.
A shudder shook the cargo hold as the Nightingale’s wings began to rotate clockwise, reaching a forty degree angle against the fuselage. Calamity Jane stood in the hold, one hand on an overhead rail and the other checking the chin-strap of her M1 helmet. The plane vibrated and rapidly lost speed as its propellers whined into the higher gear that would keep the boomerang shaped aircraft aloft and hovering.
The broad, plain-faced woman stamped the butt of her rife onto the steel tread plate under her cowboy boots. “How’s she looking, Liz?”
“It’s a bad wound,” she said rising up from her haunches. She took a moment to adjust the RAF forage cap over her red hair then looked the American in the eye. “Alena is the better medic, but I think it hit her brachial artery. I’d know more if I could touch her without getting scorched.”
Waves of heat radiated out from Marie like a campfire where she lay slouched against the wall. “I apologize for being such a poor patient for the bastard princess of England! ”
An angry blast of heat rolled over the pair of standing women and Calamity almost swallowed the bubble-gum stuffed in her cheek. Snapping the bayonet into place on her Garand, she hefted the riffle. “Keep it together Marie, I know you’re hurt but we’re all going to be in trouble if you get any more ornery…”
The old woman grunted and clenched her shoulder. “I’m sorry, to all of you… I’m an inadequate leash of flesh for vile Maria…”
Lieutenant Tudor smiled and sank down as close to Marie as she could bear the heat. Looking her in the eye she rested a hand on the scabbard at her belt before turning her gaze to the stream of dark-blue blood flowing from the frail woman’s wound. It collected and boiled in a slowly spreading pool.
The pale Englishwoman looked back to Marie’s face and shook her head. “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, be he never so vile.”
Marie grimaced a smile and coughed out a laugh. “A thespian still… that will serve you better as a queen than as a commando, my dear…”
Young Anne kneeled down opposite the boiling blood, unfazed by the intense heat even as Marie’s clothes began to smolder. “You’re not weak, Madame! Few could bear your torment!”
The old woman looked to the unmarred face of the thirteen-year-old girl beside her. To her eyes that had seen so much, yet still reflected an ocean of hope. A tear danced and evaporated into a wisp of hissing steam on Marie’s cheek. “I can’t bear this curse anymore, Child! Icarus only forfeit his own life for his hubris, but how many others will have to forfeit theirs for the sake of mine!?”
The girl embraced the crying woman even as the touch of her skin burned scorches into Anne’s gymslip dress and white blouse sleeves. Liz backed away from the pair as the Nobel laureates’ long tweed skirt and coat smoked and burned in patches. Tudor stood beside Calamity stunned at the sight while the Missourian slipped an en bloc clip of bullets into her Garand. “You ain’t ever seen it up close before, have you, Limey?”
“No,” the flight lieutenant said laying a shaking hand to the hilt of her sword.
“The old gal’s in agony. She feels every ounce of pain just as you or I would…”
Liz kicked the crate of smoke flares to her side a few feet farther away. “And if it happens before she’s out of the plane?”
“We’re dead!” Calamity said slamming a fist down on the release button for the loading ramp. The whine of gears and hydraulics preceded the howl of rushing air that sucked the smoke and acrid smell of burning cloth out into the night sky behind them.
Anne’s dark hair billowed towards the open hatch. Marie touched the back of the girl’s head with a searing hand that should have set her on fire. She pulled her closer and shouted over the noise. “Don’t let her do any more evil through me! Please child, end me! It would be so easy for you…”
“No, no I won’t!” the thirteen year old said shaking her head. “In spite of everything, I still believe that there is good in Maria! You both saved me!”
Captain d’Arc entered into sight and the armored woman exchanged worried glances between herself, Calamity, and Liz. Before she could say anything, the intercom buzzer sounded over the noise and the speaker-born voice of Lieutenant Earhart burst over the howling wind. “Starting the attack run! Over target in sixty!”
“Anne! Change of plan!” the Captain shouted at the girl. “I want you to escort her down! Engage the enemy and keep the Madame focused on the Germans! Rendezvous with us at the Château ASAP!”
The child gently let go of Marie who slid to her hands and knees, weeping as Anne stood. “Yes, Captain!”
Madame Curie looked up at d’Arc with steam hissing from the corners of her eyes. She snarled as her back burst into flames. “You! You think you’re so righteous?! Appointed by God to be France’s savior from Hitler and Bonaparte?!”
The Captain pointed the machinegun at Curie. “Anne! Thirty seconds!”
Anne’s clothes and knee high socks smoked with burns and holes. But her skin underneath was unharmed as she yanked the door of a storage locker. It tore loose from its hinges and flew from her fingers, crashing into something far out of sight down the hall.
“Sorry!” she said reaching inside the locker.
“It’s one thing to hurl a monster like me into battle! But you! You’re a criminal to send an innocent child to do a killer’s work!” The old woman’s voice then lost coherence and broke into a wail as the rest of her body became wrapped in immolation.
D’Arc sighted the Browning on the skull of the writhing woman and readied the weapon with two quick pulls of the cocking lever. “This is war, Marie. We’re all monsters, and there are no innocents!”
The sound of the Nightingale’s underbelly machineguns erupted as Sergeant Arzamasskaia opened fire on the platoon of soldiers and vehicles beneath them. The flames surrounding Marie flared and died, replaced by a weak but growing blue glow as scraps of cloth trailing smoke were sucked out the open cargo bay door.
The Captain saw a pair of eyes glowing white with hate. “Anne! Now!” she shouted.
Snapping the second and last buckle of the cape into the shoulder clip of her slim utility harness, the toes of Anne’s Mary Janes lifted off the steel tread plate of the floor. The child hovered in midair for a second, then shot forward like a dart past the three women. Trailing the red blur of her cape, she tackled Marie as she rose naked and wrapped in an aura of blue. The impact of the girl knocked the unearthly figure off her feet, and with a distorted, furious cry from the Madame the pair hurtled out the open door and into the night sky.
The trio of women rushed to the edge of the open hold and gazed out at the dark landscape of trees and riverfront scrolling away from them. Sergeant Arzamasskaia rotated and turned in the ball turret beneath the plane, pointing out the enemy positions below them with tracer lines of sustained fire before they flew out of range. They could all see a flare of electric blue falling to earth, then a flash on the ground like muted lightning. Yet no sign of Anne’s red cape could be seen.
“Hoe-lee-shit!” Calamity said spitting her gum into the wind beyond the open door. “That was too fucking close!”
Captain d’Arc took a step back from the edge. Nearly stumbling, she looked down to see six holes melted into the steel plate covering the floor; they were imprints of Marie’s hands, feet and knees. She looked back into the night, “God, save us all…”
To the right of the other two women, Lieutenant Tudor spotted a fleck of red just before it fell out of sight. She smiled, “Oh brave new world that has such people in it…”
The Nightingale’s propellers roared and pulled away at a hundred miles an hour as Anne flew from the aircraft’s open rear door. Wind whipping and howling in the plane’s wake, she held Marie at an arms length by the shoulders as the sleeves of her blouse instantly flared into flames. Anne could barely see anything beyond the electric blue aura intensifying around Marie, and the heat radiating off of the woman’s skin finally reached a point that it surpassed the girl’s superhuman resistances.
Anne’s hands were jolted with singeing pain as she felt the woman’s scale and muscularity surge larger in her grip. The girl’s eyes, terrified yet determined as they witnessed the transformation progress, suddenly locked with hateful, glowing white pupils. Marie’s features were no longer the tired and grandmotherly ones Anne trusted. Instead they continued shifting into a youthful, blue-skinned, and savage beauty vastly unlike that of her elderly mentor.
Electricity arching between her teeth, the wrathful goddess sneered at Anne. “You twerp!”
The naked woman, growing larger and stronger by the second, took hold of Anne’s wrist and the crushing grip coupled with the molten heat caused her to cry out in pain. The pair cartwheeled and rolled through the air, stars and dark earth below rotating in dizzing flashes. Anne dodged an angry backhand as her furious opponent struggled and swung her in all directions. Disoriented, Anne hesitated a second too long, and the blue sole of the monstrous woman’s bare foot exploded forward with a growl.
Kicked square in the face, Anne was rocketed skyward but also knocked free of the amazon’s grip. The world spun and she tasted blood, but in stroboscopic flashes she watched the enraged devil that Madame Curie was becoming plummet to earth howling obscenities. Still dazed, Anne struggled to regain control of her flight, finally doing so with a tug to her cape when she used the garment as the stabilizer it was intended to be.
The girl hovered in the star filled sky and shook off the motes that clouded her vision. Somewhere below her feet there was a flash like lightning as the monster crashed into the ground. Anne brought a hand to her nose, finding it bloodied but not broken.
She flinched at the pain and looked at the reddened skin on her palms and wrist. “Well. It’s been a while since that’s happened.”
Anne rotated in place, scanning the horizon and ground below as she ripped off the smoking tatters of cloth that still burned at her shoulders. Now sleeveless, she could see the dogfighting planes that had rescued them in flashes of tracer fire miles away. Still turning, she then spied the boomerang shaped Nightingale descending and arching far above the Dordogne river approaching the Château de la Malartrie. Anne scoured the ground looking for the Madame’s distinctive blue glow, but the sound of gunfire drew her attention.
From her birds-eye view Anne could see lines of fire being exchanged. The distinctive buzzsaw sound of German MG 42’s paired against the coughing return fire of outnumbered Sten guns instantly highlighted the location of the Maquis du Dordogne. The guerrilla fighters were pinned behind the burning wreck of an armored SS halftrack left in the wake of Sergeant Arzamasskaia’s strafing. With the Waffen-SS platoon renewing their attack, the dozen Frenchmen were hopelessly outgunned.
Anne looked at the worsening scene and felt a shake in her fingers. Balling her reddened hands into fists, she took a deep breath and plunged downward. Aided by gravity and her power of flight, she reached terminal velocity in seconds and lost control over her trajectory. Barely managing to pull out of her dive, she swooped over the helmets of SS men like a clumsy missile in the dark.
With a girlish scream she rocketed past the Maquis hunkered down behind the destroyed halftrack and crashed into the woods twenty yards away. Seconds later, the groaning sound of one tree falling, then another, were heard over a break in the gunfire. Several of the French fighters shrugged at one another before using the distraction to squeeze off several more busts from their submachine guns at the advancing Germans.
“Dieu merci, la bombe était un raté!”
Anne lay on her back in the woods. Opening her eyes to the renewed sound of gunfire, she saw a serine crescent moon and stars framed by the canopy of beech leaves above her. Anne threw herself to her feet, throwing off shattered wood and braches before floating to a man’s height above the ground. She darted like a hornet towards the firefight.
The guerrilla leader slapped the last box magazine into the side of his Sten gun and prepared himself to go down fighting. Turning to place his next shot he instead saw a pair of dirty Mary Jane shoes floating at the level of his sight. Wide-eyed, he slowly looked up at what he assumed was an angel come to take him to Heaven. The thirteen year old looking down at him had no wings, but her red cape flapped in the wind as she spoke the best French she could muster.
“Please get out of here! You’ve all done your duty!”
The Frenchman shook his head in disbelief. Opening his mouth to speak, a German rifle slug ricocheted off Anne’s brow. The girl hardly flinched, unharmed as he stood there mouth agape.
“Take your men and go! I’ll give them something else to shoot at,” she said turning and floating past the vehicle wreckage.
The Waffen-SS platoon stopped their advance as she gently drifted towards them. Scowling at the smell of burning petrol that evoked harsh memories, she came to a gentle stop, hovering in silhouette before the flaming halftrack.
A score of soldiers leveled their weapons at Anne as their broad-faced platoon officer came to the fore. The child glared at him, floating with fists clenched at her sides.
“Nun?! Worauf wartest du?!” she yelled in the tongue of their Fatherland.
“Es ist ihr!” the officer shouted shouldering the butt of his riffle and taking aim. “Das Monster!”
Cracks of gunfire sent bullets in ones and twos. One hit Anne in the sternum, and before it fell deformed to the ground another bounced off her forehead. She floated unimpressed as the hail of bullets rapidly grew into a torrent. Finally the buzzsaw sound of an MG 42 machinegun cut through the night, pelting her with a blazing stream of tracer fire that had as much effect on her as a spray from a garden hose.
Flattened bullets cascaded past her feet. Anne raised her open palms, and hovering like a Vitruvian figure she let herself become an even easier target. The bullets didn’t even sting. Instead she thought about how the rapid pulse of the impacts was not unlike standing in a waterfall. The foul smell of lead and gunpowder were the only things that made it unpleasant, until a 7.92mm Mauser clipped her eye to evoke an annoyed flinch.
Lifting her left hand to shelter her eyes from the torrent, bullets defected off the tattooed brand of numbers marking the girl’s forearm. She glanced behind the burning halftrack and spotted the Frenchmen halfway to the woods. Another blast from an MG 42 raked her waist, blowing off a swath of her gymslip and turning her attention back to the Germans. Anne wasn’t terribly modest, but looking down at her ruined clothes the embarrassing thought of being left naked from the gunfire irked her.
She looked up from herself in time to see a pair of soldiers ready their stick grenades and hurl them. Watching the first baton flip end over end towards her, she reached out and grabbed the handle of the potato masher like the pop fly she caught playing baseball with the American airmen in Alness. The girl flung the grenade immediately skyward and only a second later it exploded a great distance above them.
A second bomb was tossed and continuing the game Anne grabbed the wooden handle of that one as well. The high explosive grenade detonated in her hand.
The gunfire stopped in fits. Weapons were lowered, but as a gust of wind pealed aside grey smoke, the child still hovered above them. She was more disheveled and sour faced than before, but unharmed.
Anne let go of the splintered shards of wood she held by her hip. “Ow.”
The girl’s red cape hung like a tattered red banner while she turned her back on the stunned Germans. She felt a few sniper rounds pelt the back of her hair as she watched the last of the Maquis disappear into the woods. Behind her, the SS platoon officer grabbed his radio man and shouted orders as his men looked to him.
“Rottenführer! Rufen Sie in der Panzer! Holen Sie mir eine Panzerfaust!”
Anne continued to rotate in mid-air until her slow clockwise turn came full circle and she looked down at the soldiers. They gazed at the child who had rendered their weapons and years of training utterly impotent. For the first time they understood the rumors, understood how a young girl could be a monster.
Then she descended on them, and battle-hardened men cried out in terror.
The platoon officer watched as she swooped into the ranks and men were struck, thrown and tossed aside like dolls. Darting to and fro like a hummingbird, Anne struck swift but restrained blows just as the Captain and Lieutenant Tudor had taught her. The girl remembered all too well her first day of training weeks ago, hitting pig carcasses as hard as she could. Witnessing the grisly aftermath her blows wrought then tempered the ones she struck now.
A backhanded slap sent a soldier sprawling into the man next to him, incapacitating them both. A sweeping blow from her shin shattered another’s legs like balsa wood and he screamed in agony. Some managed to draw a pistol and even fire off a point-blank shot, but the results were as pointless as before while Anne responded with a flick of the wrist that dropped them to the ground. A team of men even attempted to tackle her, but she dragged them along like paper dolls. Tossed aside as if by a bucking bull, and a very unlucky Oberschütze was grabbed by his ankles and used as a club against his comrades for several terrifying seconds.
Anne met the battle cry of the platoon officer with a hard, unimpressed stare as he leapt at her. With expert skill he raked his knife across her jugular vein and planted a bullet fired from his Walther P38 pistol directly into her ear. His actions had the same effect as if he had done them to the hull of a battleship, and the child grabbed his wrists. Effortlessly, she twisted his arms in a way nature never intended, and with a pair of wet snaps she broke the morale of any SS man left standing to hear it. A reserved strike from the heel of her palm shattered his ribs and sent the officer flying several meters.
A lucky half-dozen ran for their lives up the road, and Anne did not pursue them. She floated over the carnage, and by her accounting she had managed not to kill anyone as was her intent.
“You are all horrible men. You deserve far worse than what I have given you.” She drifted past the moans of the broken men beneath her, then up the wooded road towards Château de la Malartrie like a dour sprite.
Senior sergeant Alena Arzamasskaia pulled the release lever and opened the access hatch for the bottom ball turret. Short and with a gymnast’s physique, she slid her boxy shoulders and hips out of the tight confines of the turret with coordinated ease. Standing, she almost lost her footing as her boot slipped on a loose rectangle of metal. Hearing the rush of air escaping from the Nightingale’s cargo hold, Alena scooped-up the debris and examined it as she jogged towards the rear. The Russian woman came up behind her comrades-in-arms gazing out the open cargo ramp a moment later.
“I’m here, Kapitan! ”
The three women pulled away from the open door and rushing winds and looked back at her. Master sergeant ‘Calamity’ Jane Canary slapped a red button to her side and the open ramp began to elevate and close against the fuselage. “That was some mighty fine-looking shooting there, for a rooskie. Now, did y’all manage to hit anything?”
Captain d’Arc spoke before Alena could reply. “How effective was the run, Firebird?”
“One Hanomag on fire and additional collateral amongst the infantry.” She held up the rectangular metal locker door in her hands, “Did we take another hit?”
Flight lieutenant Tudor shook her head. “No, that was our Anne’s doing… An accident of haste. She just flew out of the plane with the Madame, like Ariel bidding the wishes of Prospero.”
Alena furrowed her dark eyebrows, squinting as she nodded and dropped the locker door to lean against a wall. “Like who doing what?”
“Like… Superman, Bird,” Calamity said as the cargo door slammed shut with a bang and hydraulic hiss. “She even wore the stupid cape Tudor designed.”
The senior sergeant gave a nod of understanding as she pulled a black beret from her pocket and tucked her mahogany hair underneath it. Liz lifted a finger to defend the merits of her aeronautical stabilizer, but the spark of an argument was ended with the buzz of the intercom and the interjection of Lieutenant Earhart’s voice.
“Okay ladies! Hold onto something, because I’m turning this flying bathtub around! We’ve got light flack and tracers around the Château.”
The Captain braced her armored back against the wall opposite of Liz and Calamity. Lowering her Browning she backhanded the intercom button. “Can she take the fire, Amelia?”
“I think so. If she can’t, we’ll know soon enough!”
“Give us a ninety second warning before we’re over the roof.”
“Rodger that. You have three or four minutes to get your asses ready to jump!”
The Nightingale began to bank into her turn as the plane vibrated to the rumble of her tiltwing engines straining to decelerate. Except for Alena, the women braced themselves on handrails and walls as the aircraft swung slowly away from a level orientation. The senior sergeant, however, took several surefooted steps to the weapons locker and calmly withdrew a Thompson submachine gun.
Calamity slung her Garand, bayonet pointed upwards, over her right shoulder, then rested a thumb on the antler grip of one of her holstered Peacemaker revolvers. “What’s the plan, Cap? We ain’t got the kid to knock on the front door or skedaddle away with Her Majesty the hostage anymore…”
Taking a cue from her comrade’s actions, Liz withdrew a Walther PPK from the holster on her belt and checked the chamber. “Things have gone more pear-shaped than usual, Captain.”
Alena slapped a box magazine into her weapon and put the toe of her boot on the open crate of flares. “I’m assuming you want me to do a smoke trick with these?”
Pings of small-arms fire defected off the armored hull of the Nightingale as Captain d’Arc depressed the intercom plate once more with the steel of her armored backhand. “Listen-up! We don’t have Anne to spearhead a frontal assault from the courtyard anymore. We don’t have Curie to use Cuthbert’s signal to pinpoint the Queen’s location in the Château. So instead of fighting our way up to the roof as a distraction while Anne flies the Queen back to the Nightingale, we’re going to drop onto the roof and fight our way down.”
The Captain looked at the silent faces of her team. “There are only six rooms where Queen Isabella could be quartered. Once we find her, we’ll hit the defenses on the ground floor in the opposite direction than they are prepared for and exit to the courtyard. Amelia, be ready for a hot extraction after we launch a signal.”
D’Arc nodded at the pilot’s reply. “Now, thanks to the furious Madame, wireless and radar is down for at least sixty kilometers. If the Maquis have done their job, landlines and power were cut half an hour ago. It’s likely we will still have some surprise and confusion to exploit. And even if we had to play our trump card early, Anne and the Madame are probably already giving the Nazis more than they can handle.”
Calamity chuckled and gently elbowed Liz in the ribs. “Curie’s probably going apeshit just like the last time we dropped her out the back…”
The armored woman’s gaze was sharp enough to draw blood. “Crete was a debacle, Sargent. We want a victory tonight. We need a victory tonight! After Gibraltar and Cairo and the raid on New York… some have started to talk as if we’re standing in the way of a changing tide… Simply fighting the inevitable. Well, tonight we do something for God and country!”
The Nightingale finished her turn with a rumble and whine of the engines before Lieutenant Earhart’s voice was heard. “Ninety seconds!”
Captain d’Arc readied the machinegun in her hands and looked at Calamity. “Get the door open and toss the crate with Liz while I say hello to anyone on the roof to greet us. Firebird, I want you to light the flares midair. Give us a wall of smoke but don’t set the building on fire!”
“Yes, Kapitan!” Alena loaded the canister into the grip of her pyro-pistol and holstered the unique weapon to her hip. Her eyes met with Tudor’s while Calamity slapped the button to open the cargo bay doors. With a nod, the senior sergeant kicked the crate of smoke flares and it slid over the metal floor before coming to a stop at the foot of the Englishwoman.
The American was poorly matched for lifting the box in tandem with the royal, being the height of a man while Liz was of average stature. But Tudor was fit, and they managed to hoist the box to an offset angle at their waists as the ramp continued to slowly lower.
Standing to the right of the Captain, Alena looked up to her. “I am ready.”
“I’m glad someone is…” d’Arc said brandishing the Browning machinegun. She then moved to take a braced stance with the weapon, looking out the opening maw of the cargo door.
“Sixty seconds to target! We have fireteams on the roof!”
Like a growing hailstorm, rifle slugs began to impact the fuselage and nose of the plane far behind the backs of the women and the upward tilted wings and engines much closer to them. The pair of sergeants exchanged looks between themselves and the flight lieutenant as the Captain stared out the rear of the Nightingale with grim focus. After a moment of hesitation, Tudor steadied her share of the burden she bore with Calamity and spoke.
“No, my fair cousin… If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss. And if to live, the fewer, the greater the share of honor. By God’s will, I pray for not one more!”
The auburn haired woman spared a second to glance at her team with a restrained smile before returning her vigilant gaze to the rear.
“I am, of course, butchering the lines to suit my ends… But it is our sentiment, Ma’am.” Liz then turned her attention to the cargo door as the ramp clamped down and ended its descent.
In the cockpit, Lieutenant Earhart feverishly worked the controls to keep the aircraft level. With her tiltwings rotated almost ninety degrees and propellers pointed virtually skyward, the Nightingale coasted towards the peaked roof and towers of the Château de la Malartrie like the world’s greatest target. Streaks of tracer rounds fired from the rooftop hit the nose and upturned wings of the aircraft, and Amelia wondered if the fireteams realized that if they managed to bring the plane down it would crash directly into them.
“Thirty seconds!” she shouted into her headset as the gunfire intensified into a tempest of bullets. Then there was the buzzsaw rip of an MG 42 from the far right of the roof and the pilot watched its spray of fire tear across the nose of the plane and blast through a sizable chunk of the windscreen in an explosion of glass. The empty co-pilot’s chair beside her was rendered into chunks of burning leather and horsehair. With a yell she gave the control yoke a one-handed shove, nudging the plane out of the machine gunner’s line of fire long enough for her to lay down return fire from the chin-mounted guns.
German soldiers ducked and dove for cover as .50 caliber shells raked the roof and blew the chimney apart in an explosion of fragmented masonry. “Target! Target!” she yelled as the nose of the plane drifted no more than ten feet above the roof. Pulling her hand back from the gun trigger to adjust the throttle, Amelia felt a sharp sting in her arm. She looked to her right to see spreading blood and a hole in the sleeve of her bomber jacket through cracked goggle lenses.
With Earhart’s call heeded, a trio of women braced themselves while their Captain stepped forward onto the ramp amid the banshee wails of the Nightingale’s engines. The top of the roof drifted into view slowly as the tail of the aircraft overflew the Château, and an unfortunate group of soldiers raised their rifles to see The Maid of Orleans snarling down at them.
“Vive La France!”
The machinegun in her hands rattled out a log burst of fire as d’Arc hosed the roof and German guards with bullets. A few managed a shot or two, but only a single bullet was turned by her armor as soldier after soldier fell.
Calamity Jane watched the belt of ammunition shrink into the weapon as spent casings fell like raindrops in front of her. “Alright! Heave-ho!” she shouted over the deafening noise of the Browning.
Liz swung her shoulders in time with the tall sergeant and let the crate of smoke flares fly loose at the apex of their heft. Dozens of round sticks spilled from the spinning crate and scattered in a wave. Awaiting this moment, Alena spread the fingers of her open hands. With a roll of flame, the flares ignited in unison and fell onto the roof tiles belching a wall of black smoke. With hands like burning torches, the Russian woman intensified the smoke and for a moment it seemed to rush forward like the wings of some great, dark bird.
The Browning fell silent and the Captain charged forward, leaping off the edge of the suspended loading ramp and into the smoke with a cry of “Now!”
Alena shook the last of the flames from her unharmed fingers and grabbed the submachine gun at her side. Without a word, the woman bounded like a cat to jump after her commanding officer.
Calamity pulled her Garand rifle to the ready and looked to Liz. “Well, any last inspiring words?”
The bastard princess of England grabbed her Walther PPK from its holster with her left hand and brandished it. Then with the grip of her right she pulled her sword from its golden scabbard. The eldritch gleam of Excalibur flashed before the American and made her every hair stand on end.
“Geronimo.” With that, the rightful heir to the throne of England turned and leapt from the plane.
“Awe, hell!” Calamity cursed as she started her run to the edge of the platform. “That’s my line!”
She lifted her riffle and kicked off the edge of the ramp in her cowboy boots. “Fine then! I’ll steal yours!” she shouted as the black smoke enveloped her.
“Yeehaw! God save the Queen!”
Rounding a corner on the dirt road, the Sturmmann caught sight of the wireless operator huffing under the weight of the bouncing Feld Fu radio on his back. Running as fast as they could under the branches and stars, the less burdened enlisted SS man caught-up to his superior officer. “Kamerad Rottenführer!” he said gasping in German, “I don’t think she’s pursuing!”
Flushed and bespectacled, the radio operator looked at the storm trooper and pointed to the end of the shadowed tunnel of trees they ran though. “Clear the woods!”
Their boots kicked up dirt in the night, and they emerged sprinting from the cave-like mouth of the wooded road into weak moonlight and stars. Free of the trees, stretches of farmland were to either side of the soldiers, and the rutted road forked around a small grove just ahead of them. The sounds of automatic gunfire and airplane engines echoed down from the Château de la Malartrie as the pair skidded to a stop. Both men buckled over, hands on their knees while several lines of tracer fire could be seen from the old castle.
The Sturmmann looked up as he panted. “I think she killed everyone!”
“I heard the Untersturmführer’s arms pop!” the radio operator said between gulps of air. “I think she ripped them off!”
The two men straightened themselves and the Rottenführer began to take off the Feld Fu backpack. “The Maquis drew us into an Allied trap… they’re using Mengele’s Monster like a hammer while others attack the garrison!”
Nodding under his Stahlhelm helmet, the rifleman adjusted the strap of his slung Karabiner. He pulled back the gun’s bolt back to check its chamber, “All of this for some royal whore! Napoléon should have just had the bitch shot!”
“Keep your eyes open!” the radio man said pushing up his wireframe glasses. He walked across the dirt road hefting his Feld Fu before reaching the wooden fencing bordering the rolling fields beyond. Setting the equipment down as he kneeled by a post, he set to work flipping switches and turning knobs to bring the wireless to life.
Still flushed and sweaty, the Sturmmann’s eyes darted side to side, expecting the Monster to appear floating like an apparition from any direction. “You need to warn them! Get the panzers and ÜberKämpfers down here to earn their keep!”
“It’s so obvious, Kramer and his freak-show didn’t arrive tonight on tour like we were told… They knew the Monster was coming, and I bet they want to recapture her.”
The rifleman nodded and looked down the dark tunnel that was the wooded road they had fled from. “I don’t know about the girl, but they’ll make sort work of a plane full of commandos! We’ve got the Walküre here and—”
“—Quiet! I’m trying to get this working!” The officer snapped resetting a battery wire and trying to coax the equipment to life. “If the ÜberKämpfers hadn’t gotten here at the last minute, they could have dealt with the Monster themselves instead of letting us get mauled!”
The Sturmmann felt a cold dampness in his fingers clenching the riffle. “Do you think she’s the only one? I mean… could they have sent the Hexen with her? My brother was on Crete when the Madame—”
“—Don’t say that! You weren’t in high school when that fiend rampaged through Düsseldorf in thirty six! I still have nightmares! She—” The Rottenführer growled in pain as the radio came to life and his headphone blared a piercing wail of static into his ears. Half-deaf, he threw off the headset along with his cap and scrambled a pace away from the equipment.
The high-pitched, oscillating howl was a screeching siren in the night, something far louder than either man thought the headset should be able to produce. The rifleman shot a wide-eyed look at the officer and shouted over noise. “Turn it off! Turn it off! It’ll bring her right to us!”
The radio operator shook his head and braved the ear-splitting static. Skidding to his knees in the dirt he grabbed the headphones and yanked the wire connecting them out of the Feld Fu with a snap. He stood up and backed away with the headset’s loose cable dangling at his boots, but it continued to blare the warbling tone as he and the enlisted man stared at the possessed device.
The howl collapsed and coalesced as both men looked at the headset in the Rottenführer’s hand. Distorted and unearthly, a woman’s voice was heard.
“—Out the plane! They threw me—”
“—Sohn von einem Weibchen! ” the officer shouted chucking the headphones over the fence. They spiraled into the darkness over the field, spewing words that fell into an indistinct murmur. The voice and noise disappeared, and the pair exchanged nods of relief before noticing an intensifying blue glow ten meters into the hayfield.
“Was ist das? ” the storm trooper questioned raising his riffle. “Is it a paratrooper flare?”
The radio operator shook his head, remembering the terror he had witnessed six years ago. He grabbed the rifleman’s shoulder with a shaky grip, “Nein! We need to run! Now!”
A woman’s voice rolled out of the darkness before the soldiers. The deep, smoldering sound of her contralto rooted the Sturmmann where he stood.
“They… threw me out of the plane!”
The blue glow rose and intensified with the angry words as the Rottenführer tugged at the paralyzed rifleman’s coat. “We need to go! That’s an order, Sturmmann! ”
She rose with her back to them, naked and wrapped in the radium-blue aura that emanated from her skin. Nearly twice the height of a man, the broad shouldered amazon clenched her fists standing in the center of the shallow crater she had awakened in. Looking skyward, she let out a baleful growl.
“They threw me out of the plane!” she screamed like an enraged titan. A circle of fire expanded out from the epicenter of the glowing, blue goddess before a bubble of heat and sparks formed around her. Her long black hair drifted upwards as if in free fall, and then the harsh white flash of aching electricity flared between the fists she thrust at the stars.
“They threw me out of the plane! AGAIN!”
Something within the rifleman snapped, died or awakened in pure terror. Shouldering the butt of his Karabiner, he aimed its iron sights on the raging woman. Ignoring his officer’s commands to stop, he landed two square shots into the feminine musculature of her bare back before the Rottenführer forced the rifle down. Mesmerized, the soldier watched two long gouges of deep blue appear where he had struck the titaness, but as she dropped her fists and began to turn he could see they were no more than scratches.
Her face was eerily beautiful and savage, like the rest of her. She looked at the Sturmmann with wrathful eyes that burned with such intense white light that he could not meet her gaze. Taking a step forward on the scorched earth, she thrust an open hand towards him.
The soldier’s rifle was ripped from his grasp, painfully snapping loose from the strap where it caught his neck and arm. Standing next to him, the radio operator watched the weapon fly towards the unearthly woman before his wireframe glasses were also stripped away by the intense magnetism.
The rifle was pulled into her waiting hand, and the giantess hefted it like a toy. Her grip splintered the wood of the forestock, setting it ablaze instantly while the barrel was twisted into an odd angle. A harsh smirk came to her black lips as she threw the ruined gun back at the Sturmmann with tremendous force and magnetic repulsion. In a blur of speed it slammed into his waist before he or the officer beside him could react. The Rottenführer heard the soldier’s retching grunt as he was folded in half by the impact, but by the time he looked to where the man once stood, his broken body had been thrown far out of sight.
The Rottenführer kept turning on his heels and ran screaming.
Skill smirking, the Madame sent the metal Feld Fu box flying after him and it crashed into his side. Knocked face-down into the dirt, the officer scrambled back to his feet watching the blue titan strut towards him like one of the Furies. Limping, he tried again to escape but the floating cube of his radio equipment blocked him. He tried to dodge the radio as she swung it at him with another magnetic tug, and knew his failure when it slammed into his chest. Coughing and pinned by its momentum, the box kept flying and pushed the Rottenführer along with his heels dragging across the ground.
He was flung into the small grove at the fork of the road. The sound of breaking branches filled his ears as wooden claws raked and bit him until he was rammed back-first into the trunk of an old beech tree. Pinned a meter off the ground by the pressing force of the metal box, he futilely punched and clawed at the wireless equipment.
With a measured, even sultry pace, the Madame walked out of the hayfield lead by a path of fire a few strides ahead of her. She reached the wooden fence rails at the boarder of the road and the officer saw them smoke and combust into flames. Her radium-blue thighs crashed though the barriers that barely reached her navel and reduced them to ash.
“Bitte! Bitte… töte mich nicht!” he shouted as best he could with his broken ribs.
The preternatural figure did not answer his pleas as she stepped onto the road. Wrapped in waves of shimmering heat and phosphorescent aura, the soles of her bare feet hissed against the damp dirt with every step, leaving a trail of molten glass footprints. She strutted closer wearing only a cruel smile, and when he dared to meet her blazing white gaze with eyes that begged for mercy, he was forced to look away as if staring at the sun.
She approached with a flare of volcanic heat, and watching the grass at the edge of the grove, the Rottenführer observed it begin to smolder and burn. Singeing heat washed over him, and he remembered the sight and smell of burned corpses in Düsseldorf. He pressed shaking, broken fingers together, then stumbled into a prayer for salvation that he doubted was deserved.
The barking cough of machinegun fire pierced the night, exploding on and around the Madame. With a growl and a swipe of her arm, the officer watched the titaness stop a yard short of setting him ablaze. They both looked up the road and saw the panzer spraying bullets onto her from its turret and bow. The pressing force that pinned him abated, and the officer slid down the side of the tree transfixed on the sight that had saved him. Hitting the ground like a discarded doll, he watched the monster’s attention turn from him in stunned silence.
A second later the Feld Fu dropped inanimate onto his head from above, knocking him out cold.
The Madame’s looked at the tank firing on her fifty yards up the road. Peppered with another burst of bullets, she growled as a swarm of bloody welts spread across her waist and chest. Thrusting a glowing palm into the gunfire with a snarl, the tracers began to deflect around a shield of invisible magnetism she willed into being.
Above the stuttering machinegun fire and rumble of its engine, the whining turret motors of the Panzerkampfwagen leveled its main gun at the Madame. With a thunderous crack, the cannon lobbed a high-explosive shell at the furious giantess in the night. Thrown off its mark like the bullets, it streaked wildly to her left and exploded over the burning fence.
Fragments of shrapnel bit into her shoulder as she staggered. Enraged, she bellowed a dark, primal scream that pierced the night. The cry echoed within the interior of the tank while ammunition loader clambered to reload the cannon. Beside him in the turret, the gunner peered out his porthole sight and watched a cascade of sparks form around the naked blue titan. Stomping his foot he yelled a warning to the driver before the clatter of shifting gears and spinning treads coincided with an flash at her sides.
Two great electrical arcs grounded themselves from her downward facing palms. Standing like a living Tesla coil, she grimaced between the whip-cracking streams of energy at her hips. Throwing out her hands, the giantess released the lightning and the pair of spidery bolts leapt down the road. The prong of electricity struck the panzer’s turret, dancing in blinding arcs over the tank’s metal hull.
For a terrifying few seconds the cramped interior of the vehicle was awash in agony as men were electrocuted amid the reek of ozone. This suffering ceased when a spark of voltage struck the cannon shell in the loader’s hands, igniting the explosive beside its stored brethren. The shockwave and fireball of the chain-reaction sent a shower of fire and debris spewing out the rear of the now flaming wreck.
The Madam let the bolts fizzle-out and grabbed her bleeding shoulder. Magnetizing her hand, she yanked out a jagged shard of red-hot metal that hissed in the cobalt blue of her blood. Panting from exertion, she began to feel her regenerative powers working upon her injuries, healing them shut while she watched the fragment liquefy in her cupped palm.
She let the molten metal pour from her fingers like viscous wax before she looked up with a satisfied smile, only to see a second panzer charge in behind the burning wreckage of the first. The turret cannon was leveled, and before she could react the crack of the tank gun sent a shell flying directly at her.
The explosive round whizzed past her ear, missing by mere inches as the Madam’s long black hair was blown back by its passing.
Yelling a furious curse, the blue woman ducked and ran forward. The gunner within the second Panzerkampfwagen cursed his aim as he lost sight of her sprinting towards the tank she had just destroyed. Closing in on the flaming hulk, the Madame snarled as she planted the bare sole of her foot into the side of the sundered vehicle. The stiff kick deformed the steel plate around her footprint and sent the burning remains of the tank skidding a dozen meters across the ground. The wreck slammed into the second panzer with a calamitous crash.
There was the shredding sound of tearing metal as second tank tried to pull away from the collision, but instead it ripped the loop of track tread on its left side completely off. Now free of the flaming wreckage but listing and barely able to maneuver, the men within scrambled to their stations in the aftermath of the impact. The tank commander barked an order over the sore groans of his crew to get the cannon reloaded just before a blue light diffused into the interior.
The crew’s radioman, his electronics hopelessly jammed, kept a tense lookout as he manned the panzer’s bow-mounted machinegun. The driver to his left fought with the controls, desperate to get any useful movement out of the vehicle. After trying another useless gear, he looked up and yelled a warning when he saw her… Saw her standing angry, tall and scowling right in front of the tank. It was then that the loader shouted that the main gun was ready, unaware that the target was now too close to be shot with it.
Traversing the machinegun hard to the left to fire at point blank range, the bow-gunner saw the Madame wave an open palm before he could fire. The grip of the machinegun was snatched from his hands, torn out from the housing of the vehicle along with the rest of the weapon. The remains of the gun fell behind her in chunks before she waggled a scolding finger in his direction.
A similar display of magnetism crippled the coaxial machinegun mounted in the turret, leaving the tank impotent as the nine-foot tall woman stepped onto the armored plate above the driver.
A rush of heat flooded into the tank, drawing out every fowl odor of sweat, diesel and oil that had ever plagued the crew. The driver watched the panzer’s paint bubble and separate from the hull around giantess’ toes from his vision slot before a blast of searing air scalded his eyes. Clawing his way out from the controls half-blinded, the bow-gunner pulled his comrade away from the growing heat. Above them, and helpless in the turret, the tank’s commander and gunner watched the titan peer at them through their silted visors.
She touched the tank gun by its midsection and the crew heard the moan of heated, warping steel. Lifting her hand, she left a glowing red palm print from her grip before sliding a pair of fingers playfully down the gun’s shaft towards the muzzle. With a smile she slapped the cannon skyward from the underside, leaving the barrel twisted into an ‘L’ shape.
Striding up the panzer, she stopped to look down at the tank, listening to the panicked men within. Before the unseen crew within the turret could escape it, the Madame slammed her heel into its armored plate. Kicking the turret right off the tank, she bisected two of the men trying to escape it in a rush of grinding metal. It crashed into the ground and flipped over meters away, and she watched the loader crawl out of the turret soaked in the blood of the tank commander and gunner.
She looked down into the opened chassis as the bow-gunner and driver looked up, mouths agape, at the glowing blue devil blocking the stars above them. Sneering, she thrust down a grabbing hand.
The driver was grabbed by shoulder and screamed as it was instantly turned to flame. Pulled nearly face to face with the Madame, his skin hissed and blistered as the bow-gunner beneath his dangling boots scrambled out of the Panzerkampfwagen. The agonized wails of the driver were ended with a backhanded slap from the titaness that sent his smoking head rolling into the night.
Two hundred yards away, the SS Panther commander winced at the sight and put down his binoculars. As the larger tank idled beneath him, he looked down and whispered into the open cupola turret that his waist emerged from. “Are you sighted? We’ll only have one shot.”
“Jawohl!” The Panther gunner nodded as the glowing Madame turned and exposed her naked sternum to his crosshairs, oblivious to their presence.
Turning back to their target, the commander started his order. “Fire at w—”
The two men suddenly had their vison blocked by the dour face of a schoolgirl floating an arm’s length in front of them. The commander reached for the pistol on his belt, then stopped his hand looking at her red cape and gymslip dress riddled with burns and holes over unmarred flesh. Nodding, he straightened himself realizing that he was in the presence of not one, but two monsters.
She looked at him in his death’s head cap with eyes that could deliver a judgement from Solomon himself. The commander looked at those eyes, dark pools in the night, and was reminded of his own daughter. “Please,” he said with stoic composure, “don’t kill my men. They were only following my orders.”
She shook her head and dipped down to look the gunner in the eye through his aiming slot in the turret. Planting a shoulder under the base of the cannon barrel, she pushed upward. The commander felt the turret angle backwards as the sound of groaning, straining metal shook the tank. Lifted partially off the ground, the fifty ton vehicle fell back onto its treads with terrible snap when the child tore the turret free.
The girl floated above the decapitated tank, holding seven tons of steel and a 75 milliliter cannon aloft with the might of Samson. Feet dangling out the open bottom and barely holding onto the turret, the gunner accidentally triggered the main gun which thundered a wild shot into the sky. Anne flinched at the deafening noise, then watched as the recoil knocked the gunner and loader out of the turret’s underside and into the tank that had been ripped opened like a tin-can below her.
While the tank commander remained dangling in the open cupola of the armored turret Anne held in her arms, the girl looked at him sternly. “She’ll have heard that. You’re weapons have made her very angry tonight, and Madame Fury will show you no mercy.”
The commander found himself turned upside down as the child inverted the turret and shook it gently just above the road. He was jostled loose, and the grown man was dumped onto the ground in the same manner as a bug waggled off a stick. Standing up, dirty but unharmed, his men spilled out of the tank beside him. Together they watched Anne brace the turret against the ground and break off its cannon with a jagged snap.
Floating, she paid the men little mind as she tested the balance of the cannon she now hefted like a ridiculously oversized baseball bat. She only looked up at the stunned men when the commander approached her.
“You really should go,” she said.
“What are you?”
“What am I? Isn’t it clear, Commander? You have found the Übermensch you idolize… And she is a Jewish girl orphaned at the hands of your countrymen.”
The SS Officer could find no words as the girl in the torn cape rose higher into the night sky. Tapping a sixteen foot long steel baton of the palm of her hand, a radium blue aura stomped closer in the night behind her.
“This is the part when you run away, Commander.”
The officer did as suggested, turning and leading his men into a run with a wave of his arm. They didn’t look back as they fled, and Anne pivoted in mid-air to face the sullen blue goddess walking up to her.
Unearthly and beautiful, Marie’s statuesque alter-ego was utterly unlike the frail old mentor that had taken Anne under her wing. Her powerful physique and broad shoulders loomed over the child appearing like a twenty-year old of epic proportions. Anne gulped and gripped the oversized cudgel in her hands as the titan came to a stop and glared at her.
“Good evening, Madame,” the child said briskly floating to eye level with the giant, but remaining outside the radius of the intense heat that sizzled around her.
The Madame snarled and spoke through clenched teeth in her dark contralto voice. “You! Threw me! Out of the plane!”
“Pushed, Maria. I pushed you out of the plane.”
“Fine. You pushed me out of the plane, twerp! I hate that!”
“Yes, I did, and I’m sorry,” Anne said with a nod, “but if you had awakened in the plane, you would have destroyed it and killed everyone.”
Still sour-faced, glowing Maria looked to the side and spied the riverbank a short walk away reflecting her blue luminescence. “Whatever. You’d been fine.”
“We’re trying to help you, remember?”
Maria laughed and took a step towards the water. “They hate me, and you know it, runt! And it’s mutual! They only deal with the old bitch because they think that they can control her!”
“That’s not true!”
“Oh, you’re such a baby! You don’t know anything!” the titaness said dismissing Anne with a hand-wave. “It’s the same with you! We’re just weapons to them! Can’t you see that? We’re so much more than they or their frail little world! That’s why they’re afraid of us!”
Anne lifted the tank cannon like a batter about to take a swing. “No! You’re wrong! They’re trying to save the world from evil men like Hitler and Bonaparte! And they need our help! ”
The great amazon shook her head and continued to walk away. “Save the world… just like they saved, your family ?”
The girl’s eyes narrowed as she gripped the huge baton in her hands. “Shut-up!”
Maria smiled and flicked back a lock of her long black hair, satisfied in how her words had hurt the brat. Stopping, she turned back to the flying girl. “Their stupid little war shouldn’t mean anything to you now, Tinkerbell. You’re so much more than you were before… Why don’t you loosen up and enjoy it?”
“Because… I, we, have a mission. The Captain—”
“—Oh! Don’t go asking me to help that clamshell cunt! Hating her is one of the few things Marie and I agree on! If I see that bitch again, I’ll crush more than her helmet! ”
Anne still hovered at eye-level with Maria as the pair exchanged glares for a tense, long moment until the blazing white of the titan’s eyes overcame the girl’s resistances and forced her to look away. Maria smirked at the sight, then motioned to the river behind her.
“I think I’ve killed my fill of Germans tonight, how about you?”
“I haven’t killed any, ” Anne replied flatly.
“Oh. Well, then I understand if you haven’t gotten it out of your constitution yet… But I want to go soak in the water…”
“We have a mission, Maria. We need to rendezvous at the château with—”
The blue woman wasn’t listening as Anne watched the giantess run her hands down powerful curves. “—I can make it boil, Anne! It won’t hurt you, of course… just take off those rags you’re wearing and enjoy the spa with me! Please? There will be bubbles in all the right places! ”
Anne sighed, lowering the tank gun barrel she held. “No Maria, we need to get to the château or the others will be in real trouble—”
“—I don’t care,” the titaness harrumphed.
“What about Alena? Don’t you care about her? She combed your hair…”
Anne felt a flutter of hope as a look of introspection fell across the glowing giant. “My… fire is her friend…”
The thirteen year old watched the unearthly woman remember an event Anne had only heard about third-hand. “Yes, that’s what Firebird said.”
“So soft and pretty with my head in her lap,” Maria reminisced with a finger to her lips.
Anne blushed at Maria’s words, no one having told her that part of the story before. But within the mind of Madame Curie’s alter-ego, Anne had discovered that dreams and memory had a way of jumbling together… the truth somewhere in-between.
The heat of the titaness’ aura seemed to lessen as she shot a heavy, ponderous look at the child. Anne nodded as the woman opened her mouth to speak, but barreling down the road behind them another panzer IV tank skidded into view after rounding a corner. The fighting vehicle kicked up a pile of dirt as it came to a halt surrounded by the wreckage of the three other tanks. Idling for several moments, the unseen crew with the Panzerkampfwagen assessed the sight of a flying child wielding a sixteen foot cannon like a club, and the naked, glowing blue giant glowering beside her.
With the sound of shifting gears, the tank circled backwards as it began its retreat.
The Madame sprinted after the panzer with a laugh as the vehicle finished turning itself about and propelled itself full-throttle away from the devilish woman that chased them. It crashed though the remains of the wooden fence separating the road from farmland and tore across the open country in hopes of an escape.
Anne quickly caught up to Maria while she bounded into the hayfield and set a swath of it ablaze. “Hey, let it go! We need to get to the château!” she shouted poking her with the cannon from a safe distance.
“Go away, Tinkerbell! I’m going to play another game of kick the can! ”
“But, the mission!”
“This is more fun! I want a challenge tonight!”
“Argh! You’re such a… Such a child! ” Anne shouted stuttering and growling in anger as she came to a floating stop. Maria merely laughed harder at the girl’s frustration as she ran into the distance, becoming a bounding, indistinct glow at the head of a trail of fire.
Anne turned and dragged the cannon behind her, gliding over the ground as it dug a rut towards the road. “At least she’s headed away from the village, we’ll have to find her later…”
Reaching the road, she hefted the tank gun and sighed looking back one last time. “The Captain definitely needs me more than she needs me babysitting Maria.”
Nodding in resolution, Anne pivoted around and braced her improvised weapon between both hands before darting up the road that the last panzer had emerged from. Flying ten feet above the sunken dirt of the road, she rapidly worked her way up a shallow incline of rising hills.
From her altitude she saw no more solders or vehicles on the roadway as farmland once again transitioned into standing trees. The sounds of gunfire and the flash of tracer bullets grew closer as the girl braced herself to unleash her unfettered speed. She knew that she reach the château in a minute then if she could keep herself from crashing into anything. Yet before Anne could launch herself fully into the sky, a tendril of barbed-wire lashed around her leg. It was drawn instantly taunt by her speed.
The steel wire turned the girl’s momentum against her, and with a shriek of surprise and metallic whip-crack she plunged face-first into the road. Loosing her grip on the cannon, it bounced several times making gong-like bangs before pulverizing a roadside tree. Literally plowing a trench with her face, Anne pulled herself prone shaking and spiting-out dirt before trying to see what had snared her.
It was the rush of pain, something that had become a very infrequent visitor since the experiment, which drew her attention. Something coiled around her calf and ankle like a cold metal serpent that marked its trail with biting cuts. Twisting and hovering just above the ground, Anne looked down to see a thick tendril of barbed-wire tethering her from a lattice of wire braced against the trees to either side of the wooded road. Thrusting herself upward with her power, the tangle of wire strained to hold her back.
The girl screamed as the barbs were drawn deeper into her flesh. Her might was such that one tree, and then another, was uprooted and snapped. But just as it looked like she might pull free, the knotted coil of wire around her calf whipped itself higher with its own animation. With titanium thorns biting into her knee and thigh, Anne grabbed the steel tentacle and tried to pry it loose as its barbs pierced her fingers.
Then from the unseen darkness, a woman’s shout pierced the night.
“Gute nacht, fräulein Frank!”
Anne had a split-second to see a sucker-punch hurtling towards her in the night, but was helpless to act. The fist struck her cheek and eye with an explosion of force that echoed like a thunder-crack, reverberating throughout the woods and even over the gunfire of the nearby battle. The tremendous impact launched the girl like a tetherball, swinging her at the end of the wire fetter that bound her and into a wayside boulder that shattered into a shower of stones.
As Anne slumped over unconscious, her assailant stood over her and cracked the knuckles that ached from the blow she had landed within her black glove. The blond looked at the child, confirming her knock-out, then cackled like a hyena with laughter.
“Oh lucky night!” she said in German. “You and I will surely get that photo with der Führer now!”
There was no answer from the darkness as the Walküre looked at the barbed-wire strewn about the ground. “Oh, pull it together already!”
As commanded, the wires unhooked themselves from a dozen trees. Whipping and coiling over dirt and grass, they converged and wrapped around Anne’s unconscious body to form a brutal cocoon.
The woman tugged her gloves taunt and listened to the material flex while she tensed her fingers and watched the sight. “The Madame we expected, but they must be truly desperate to have sent Mengele’s Monster! What do you say, Mandl?”
There was only the sound of pinching metallic wire as all but Anne’s bruised face was wrapped and restrained.
The young woman sighed at the silence and smoothed a wrinkle she found on her coat. “I miss the old days between us, Mandl… But I will say that now you keep my secrets better than anyone!”
Again, there was no answer as the wire finished wrapping around the girl. Then several hooking strands sprouted up from the entwined mass to slowly rise.
“Between you and me, I’d snap this Jew’s neck right now if it weren’t for the fact that Kramer and the others want rip the secret out of her blood…”
Continuing to rise-up from the cold coil of barbs encasing Anne, a dozen strands or more wove themselves together. The thorny spider-web began to form a crude, hollow wireframe of a human head.
The blond still smirked as she looked at it and adjusted the collar of her uniform. “Now we’ll find out if Brandt is right about your titanium alloy wire being strong enough to hold the little bitch, won’t we Drahtgeist? ”
A soulless head of barbed-wire nodded slowly in agreement.
“We’re done here. Let’s get back to the château and help them kill the rest,” the Walküre said turning to look up the wooded road. “Tonight’s victory will be long remembered in the Reich!”
To Be Continued…
Copyright © 2015 Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.