Setbacks and Progress
“Fitch, Miss Glendale, have a seat.” Portly Admiral Bankford continued to stare out the window at the D.C. traffic crawling through the gray winter slush.
“What’s doin’, Admiral? “ Fitch asked, pulling out a chair for Atom Girl to sit in. She had to undo a button in her long wool skirt in order to cross her legs. “We weren’t due back from leave for…”
“I know, Lieutenant,” the Admiral turned curtly from the window,” but planning your wedding is going to have to take a back seat to the war, if you don’t mind.”
“No problem, boss. We were goin’ to wait till it’s over, anyway. But I thought we had those Axis jerks on the ropes now.”
“Hmmph.” the Admiral replied, seating his bulk in his desk chair. “So did we. Until our top undercover agent began sending back reports of a cabal of Nazi scientists working on a new super weapon.”
“No sweat, Admiral! Atom Girl has handled plenty of that Flash Gordon stuff already.” Fitch shot Joan an appreciative glance.
“Billy, obviously Admiral Bankford is a little more concerned about this one.” Joan turned to face the Admiral. “What's so special about this group?”
“Very perceptive, Miss Glendale. It’s not any one scientist, with a possible exception. It’s the group as a whole: rocket scientists, electronics experts, metallurgists, the top men in almost every field. And one wild card.” Bankford reached into his desk, and pulled out a thin dossier. “This is everything we have on man named Werner von Bronze.” He flipped around a picture of the suave aristocrat for them to see. Von Bronze was at dinner party, dressed to the nines, laughing at some joke with Hermann Goering. Both men had buxom blondes with them.
Fitch sniffed dismissively. “Party boy here doesn’t look like much of threat to free world.”
“No? He’s one of the most brilliant minds in Germany. Besides being heir to a family fortune, he has made millions on patents and new applications for other people’s work. He seems to have a knack for piecing together various unrelated bits of research into new uses. That’s what worries us about his involvement: he is obviously combining the work of the other scientists into some approach that we can’t get a handle on.”
“What sort of things has he come up with in the past?” Joan queried.
“Well, he took a high frequency sound wave generator; a project that was supposed to be some kind of weapon, but was abandoned because the sound wave kept destroying its own focusing chamber. Another scientist had invented a tuning fork that could find the harmonic frequency of any metal’s molecular bonds, and cause them to resonate, but he couldn’t generate the proper vibration to get any real reaction. Von Bronze hooked the two together, and came up with device that can liquefy any metal without heat.”
“Pretty snazzy, but still no super weapon.” Fitch remarked.
The Admiral ignored Fitch. “His newest line of work is bizarre; he was using some sort of microwave radar coupled with electrostatic discharge to turn the living tissue of lab animals into a glassy substance.”
“Ick.” Joan made a disgusted face.
“More than that, apparently he has been doing rather unscientific experiments with it, on human subjects. Things that have even disturbed some high-up Nazi officials, if you can believe that.”
“Wow, it must really be out there, if it bothers that bunch of weirdoes.” Fitch looked surprised.
“Well, details are sketchy, but apparently the process is reversible. Our agent thought the new project was somehow related, but wasn’t able to make a connection, before…” the big man trailed off.
Atom Girl leaned forward. “The agent was compromised?”
“Yes. Maybe. We aren’t sure; she has missed her last 3 weekly reports. Although we haven’t yet heard any mention of her capture in decoded traffic. The Fortress is fairly autonomous, and none of their progress reports to Berlin give any information on the project, just vague timetables. Our agent seemed to think they were almost ready to move, however.”
“So, Atom Girl powers up, busts in this joint, mops the floor, and everybody lives happily ever after. Right babe?”
Joan gave Billy a wan smile. “I think what the Admiral is getting at, is that it won’t be quite that easy.”
“Right. Both our Army Air Force and RAF Bomber Command have been trying to plaster this place for 3 months. The compound itself is hollowed out of a mountain side in a narrow, twisting Bavarian mountain range. All approaches to the area are covered by heavy caliber flak guns controlled by some kind of electro-mechanical calculating machine; we have suffered almost 100% losses on several occasions. Eighth Air Force has basically refused to send any large strike force while that automated defense system is in operation. We’re just lucky that they haven’t the resources to deploy that equipment on a wider scale. And-”
“There’s more?” Fitch asked, incredulously.
“How about a full company of Donner Truppen, Thunder Troopers, that’s what they’re calling the rocket boys, a battalion of crack SS troops, and some sort of experimental outfit they call Panzerklien, whatever that is. Enough too give even a full-powered Atom Girl trouble.” Bankford punctuated his sentence by stabbing the table with his forefinger.
Fitch whistled appreciatively. “So what’s the plan?”
“Yes,” Joan added “How do we get in?”
The Admiral stood, placed his hands behind his back, and paced.
“We’re sending in everything we’ve got. Air Corps and his men will attempt to draw out the Thunder Troopers; they’ve been itching to go it wholesale with each other anyway. Sergeant Freedom will airdrop in a few days early, and tie up as much of the SS Battalion as possible, hopefully getting them strung out playing cat and mouse in the valley. That leaves our most potent weapon, Atom Girl, to get into the Fortress, take out whatever forces are left, and stop this super weapon, within the time limits of your power. A pretty tall order.” He returned to staring out at the dreary Washington bustle.
“I’ll take out that weapon, Admiral.” Atom Girl stated. “What’s the timetable?”
“Final briefing in 3 days, London. We’ll fly out tomorrow.” He did not turn from the window. “Dismissed.”
Joan and Billy exchanged glances, and headed for the door.
“Lieutenant Fitch, you will stay for an extended briefing. I need to discuss something with you.” The Admiral was unusually formal.
“Well, I’m sure Joan will want to hear whatever…” he began.
“Miss Glendale is dismissed; I will speak to you alone at this time.” Bankford stated with finality.
Fitch shrugged his shoulders and mouthed “I don’t know” to Joan, who gave a concerned backwards glance and slipped out the door.
Atom Girl sat in a plush chair outside Bankford’s office for about a half hour, until Fitch finally emerged. He fiddled with his hat in his hands and stared at the floor.
“Well?” Joan asked.
Fitch looked uneasy. “I’m sorry, doll. He gave me a classified briefing, said not to discuss it with you, but I…”
“Shhhh. Not another word.” She interrupted. “If it’s that Top Secret, then I don’t want to know- I’m sure I’ll find out when the time is right.”
“Thanks, babe.” Fitch looked relieved. “I still feel guilty about not being able to share it with you.”
“We’ll have plenty of time when this war is over to sit back and tell stories.” She smiled and put a hand on his cheek. “Come on, Lieutenant, I’m buying you a drink.”
“Well, if you’re payin’, count me in!” They linked arms, and headed out into the January slush.