Wednesday, October 22, 2014


    "Combines the best of heady 60s and 70s spy adventure with the breakneck pace and scale of the great Republic serials, with a wry sense of good humor that rival's Napoleon Solo's best lines." - Steve Latshaw, screenwriter Stan Lee's Lightspeed, director Return of the Killer Shrews.


Charles Lee Jackson, II

ISBN 9781615085002
Copyright 2013 by CLJII

Dedicated to the memory of
Who handed me the key


   IT WAS GOING to be one of those mornings. Federal agent Max Decker crouched in the shadows, cold, wet, and thoroughly alert. He'd been on the trail of a gang of jewel thieves since about two AM, and had been led to King Harbor, Redondo Beach, California. When the three crooks had ditched their car and run around the end of the security fence, Deck had cut straight across to head them off.

   He'd located a waiting speedboat at the end of a service pier, and had ducked down behind a row of oil drums Now, as he heard their approaching footsteps, he touched the "send" button on his wristwatch radio, whispering, "Agent Two to Harrison. Stand...." Something was wrong – there was no joy on the circuit, no hiss of the electromagnetic spectrum. "...Harrison?" The call to his back-up wasn't getting through. And he couldn't wait. As the three burglars clambered into their boat, Deck darted from concealment.

   The boat roared away from the pier, leaving Decker still in pursuit. Making a desperate leap, Max caught a trailing sheet, and was dragged through the water, spray erupting in his face.

   Fighting against the backwash, Deck pulled himself forward, grasping fingers catching the stern rail. But as he rolled over the gunwale, one of the burglars spotted him.

   As the man moved in on him, Deck slugged him, knocking him back into the man at the wheel. The boat sharply ported its helm, and Deck lost his footing.

   The third crook came 'round out of the front seat, bringing up a pistol. Seeing a partially loose cleat on the rail beside him, Deck wrenched it free, and hurled it.

   The metal cleat struck the gun just as the man fired. The wild shot went straight through the back of the man at the wheel.

   Unaware of this, Decker leaped at the gunman, and the two struggled for the pistol while the boat ran wild. Spotting the pouch of stolen jewels on the front seat, Deck slugged his foe as hard as he could manage, and made a grab for the swag while the other man was stunned.

   Reaching over the front seat, Deck saw that the boat was headed straight for the breakwater. A sidewise glance revealed the fate of the pilot.

   Lashing out, Deck kicked the gunman in the face, and, jewel pouch to hand, launched himself over the side.

   With no one at the wheel, the speedboat careened ahead, smashing into flinders against the rocky breakwater in a flash of fire!

   "...IT TOOK ME twenty minutes to swim to shore," Deck explained, a little later that morning, in my office. My office being on the top floor of a building surmounted by the emblem of my studio, CLJII Pictures.

   He was still damp, and looked very worried.

   "…And your radio failed to work, huh?" I said.

   "It gets worse," he replied. "I got to Harrison, and his radio didn't work either – and when I tried to call my office on the 'phone, there was so much static it was useless.

   "Which is why I came over here. I figured if anybody knew what the problem was, it'd be... The Emperor."




Chapter One


   HOLLYWOOD WAS JUST waking up outside the studio, that bright clear Spring Monday morning in nineteen seventy-six. In those hectic days, The Empire ran a middling sized motion-picture studio, a few blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard near Gower. A broad central avenue ran through the place, with an office building on one side and three Sound Stages on the other. Behind the stages was a small back lot with a shallow lake. Beyond the lake were a wooded glade and a mock-up of part of Bronson Canyon.

   Now, if you're wondering why a federal agent would be turning to a movie producer for help, it's easy to explain. Though my main job is entertaining people, I've long had a sideline as a champion of Justice.

   My name is Charles Lee Jackson, the Second, also known, as the above dialogue indicates, as "The Emperor", originally a reflection of the entertainment empire I was building, but also an apt name, given my special aptitudes. I had a disability as a child, and overcoming that disability was only a start for me; for, as a friend once told me, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I worked at it very hard, as much to shame those who told me I never could as to improve myself. And I really did overdo it, at least as far as some people are concerned. I've become very smart, very fast, somewhat bullet-proof, and a little magical. My only real shortcoming is my modesty.

   Seriously, I decided that if I had the power to help others and crush crime, I really ought to use that power to do so. In the course of this I've made a lot of like-minded friends and gained enough respect that people like Max Decker would turn to me.

   As for the movie part, my friends in the trouble-busting game have graciously allowed me to recreate some of their adventures. I used to make movies about them; these days I'm a little too busy, so I stick to prose.

   BUT IN THOSE by-gone days of the 'seventies, my little studio doubled as a headquarters for the people I called "Swashbucklers" and whom others called "J-Men", Justice Men (and woman), free-lance crimefighters.

   Though we didn't know it yet, everybody else was aware of the problem onto which Max Decker had stumbled. We, however, were just getting started. In those days, on my lapel I wore an insignia with my company logotype, my signature in red on a silver background in a blue ellipse. But it wasn't just a badge, it was a two-way radio. "Richmond?" I addressed my radio operator. Working from a secret location, never seen by the public, he'd been with me a decade, and never failed to be on the job when anyone radioed or telephoned. But this time, there was no response. "...Richmond?" Nope, no answer. I picked up the office 'phone and dialed nine-nine-nine.

   "Richmond, why aren't—" the static was awful. I asided to Deck, "Jeez, you're right, I can barely hear him...." Back into the telephone: "Why aren't you answering the wireless? ...Oh." I cradled the receiver.

   "Richmond says he's been off the air since about four AM. The satellite microwave beamer faded out in the last half hour."

   "Which means?" Deck asked.

   "Which means that there must be what amounts to a world-wide radio blackout – and enough static on the 'phone lines to close down all communications in the world."

   Decker blinked. "Any idea who could be doing it?"

   I mused a moment. "Continent-Eight doesn't have the technology – they tried something like this a few years ago, on a very limited scale, and it didn't work." Continent-Eight being a world-wide organization of criminals, our most frequent opponents, about whom you'll learn more in time.

   "Hmmm," Deck considered at length, "it shouldn't affect the telegraph lines…."

   "That's an idea. Once the word gets out, or actually, doesn't get out, I expect some of our compatriots will turn up here, but if not, I'll get the word out one way or another and maybe we can learn something about what's going on out there."

   "OUT THERE", THINGS were popping. Over at LA International Airport, the RADAR was out, and the runways were being frantically cleared as a jumbo seven-forty-seven made its approach. The pilot, running on Visual Flight Rules, was trying to land the crate by the seat of his pants….

   …At Station Twelve of the aforementioned Continent-Eight, the Communications Chief was trying to comply with a request from Maskman, one of the people in charge. Tall and broad-shouldered, his identity was concealed by a steel helmet.

   "Sorry, Leader Four. I can't connect you with Station One. We have white noise on all channels."

   Maskman – whose only link to the outside world was his radio – could barely hear her speaking. "What? I can't hear you – I've got white noise on my radio." He tapped his pocket communicator, but it didn't help….

   …In the south of England, an old retired officer from the lancers was annoyed. His butler was having trouble tuning in the BBC broadcast.

   "Sorry, sir. The Home Service seems to not be on the air today."

   "Dash it all," the old gentleman complained. "Whatever happened to reliability? Whatever happened to pride in your work?

   "That's the second time in twenty years."

   A STURDILY BUILT fellow entered my office without an introduction from the girl in the outer office. It was my partner, David McDaniel. Dave, author of an assortment of spy novels and SF stories, was also a proficient marksman who sometimes joined me on my adventures. At the studio, he mostly practiced his favorite trade, as Director of Photography and Key Film Editor. Additionally, he kept an eye on things on the set until I arrived to take over the Director's chair.

   Presumably, he had come up to report on the morning's studio activity. Radio or no, Production would go right along – at least unless the static interfered with the Nagra sound recorders.

   "See?" I said, "They're floating in already. Max Decker, you remember my right-hand man, David McDaniel?" Max waved a greeting.

   "Hiya, Siya," Dave responded, "Hi, Deck." He brushed a stray lock of his pale brown hair away from his green eyes and said, "I was just down on the set. Robin's supervising the swing gang down on stage B. …Who's floating in?"

   "Nobody in particular, just Swashbucklers in general. I've got a feeling we've got a big problem ahead."

   "Bob and Bill expected?" Dave asked. He referred to our comrades in film and arms, Robert Short and William Mills, who not only worked on stunts, effects, and music for CLJII Pictures, but also lent their fists and brains to the fight for Justice.

   "Well," I explained, "Robert is up at Vasquez Rocks with the Effects crew placing charges for tomorrow's location shoot. Lord knows where William has gotten himself to... But I assume they'll both be along sometime today."

   The door opened again, and my Executive Secretary stepped in. Heather McKenzie, beautiful, smart, with pretty blue-green eyes and soft light brown, almost blonde, hair, had been with me for several years, handling everything from a Continent-Eight attack to stalling off no-talent Hollywood bimbettes looking for work.

   "Sire? There's a woman outside to see you." It was a familiar situation, though not one often brought to my attention.

   "Only one?" quipped McDaniel.

   "Well," McKenzie allowed, "there are about a dozen waiting... but this one seemed special."

   The girl in question had poked her head in. Seeing who she was, I said, "She certainly is!"

   She came running to my open arms. "Uncle Sire," she cried.

   "Illenya Petrina," I greeted her.

   As we hugged, I remembered our last meeting – which had also been our first. Visiting a Soviet science conference, to which I had been invited as someone who represented the West and did not represent US foreign policy, I had met Pyotr Vostok, a member of a science group I won't name, and had been invited to stay at his home. There I was introduced to his pretty teen-aged daughter, who, having shown the aptitude, was already working with her father. Like all pretty teenage girls, she was quite taken with me.

   That had been nineteen seventy-three, and she'd done an excellent job of growing up in the interim. Even having her blonde hair pulled into a severe bun in the back didn't detract from her milky complexion and bright blue eyes; and the plain sweater and skirt and boots she wore didn't hide her attractive figure.

   McKenzie gave her the eye and turned on a heel, leaving.

   "It is good to see you again," Illenya told me, "and I wish that was my only reason for coming." She indicated the others in the room. "May I speak freely?"

   "Yes." I introduced the gentlemen, and ushered the girl to a sofa.

   "My country has sent me to ask you to once again help with a difficult situation; to ask you to oversee the decommissioning of Utrennaya Zvyozdochka as a gesture of peace to the western nations."

   Not many things catch me off guard. This did. "You mean Utrennaya Zvyozdochka still exists?"

   Deck, surprised at my sudden concern, asked, "What's this 'Utrennaya' whasis?"

   "Utrennaya Zvyozdochka," McDaniel thought a moment. "That's Russian for... 'Morning Star'."

   "That's right," I said. "A very poetic name for something quite the contrary.

   "It's a leftover from the frantic 'fifties: an automatic nuclear retaliatory base located in the Caucasus. It launches a strike automatically unless countermanded every twelve hours by a coded radio signal!"

   Deck, who had leaned back against my desk, jumped to attention. "Say what? But… that would mean—"

   "Exactly. And from her calm demeanor, I doubt Illenya knows that there's a world-wide radio blackout!"

   The Russian gasped. "What is this?"

   I explained what we believed about the interference.

   She blanched. "But if Moskva cannot radio the base, the computer will assume that Russka has been destroyed!"

   "Yes," I added, "and blast the US to atomic rubble in retaliation! Unless we can get there in time and stop it!"

   I turned to Max Decker. This re-stacked the cards. "This is far more important than the radio blackout itself. The whole world could be doomed! You hold down the fort here. I'll be back."

   I headed for the side door, the one that led straight to the inner courtyard. "Illenya – come with me – quick!!"

   I breezed past McKenzie, who, having overheard the whole story, was returning from her office. McDaniel joined her as I left. She remarked, "If he's not back in a few hours, the whole world could be doomed."

   David nodded absently. "Maybe we should run and hide.

   "...As soon as we figure out where."

   RESTING IN A launching cradle in a courtyard beyond sound stage A was a singular aircraft. Designed like a scaled-down Concorde, with swept-back delta wings and a droop nose, His Majesty's – well, My – Ship Skystar was the only 'plane of its kind. The entire underside of the fuselage was lined with plates made of CL-arium, a unique metal the properties of which include the ability to screen out the force of gravity itself. Since I'd discovered it and found a way to synthesize it, I got to name it. I told you modesty wasn't one of my strong points.

   As Illenya strapped herself in, I fired up the twin Rolls-Royce engines. The ship trembled against the docking clamps, until I touched the button that blew them free.

   Skystar shot into the heavens at tremendous speed. With an effective weight of only a few pounds, the engines could push the massive craft well beyond the speed of sound. We'd be over the Soviet Union in a couple of hours.

   Lining up on magnetic north, I pushed back from the control panel. George could fly it from here. I needed more info from Illenya.

   "Do you know the details of how 'Morningstar' is set up?"

   "No, no details," she said. "I was just to ask you to meet with our people and watch so that your President would be assured of our sincerity."

   "He's not my President," I pointed out. "Without the schematics, and with so little time to spare, I may have to do this the hard way."

   "Hard way?"

   "Rockets don't fly very well if you've beaten them to pulp with your bare hands."

   FAR BELOW, MY friends watched the tiny black speck that was Skystar disappear into the northern sky. McDaniel's trained eye spotted something else, though. He pointed and asked, "What's that?"

   The others saw it too, a tiny gleam of light racing across the heavens, doing something all but impossible: catching up with Skystar!

   Then the glint vanished, but a moment later something happened to prove that it had not been an optical illusion.

   As something flashed past my field of vision, Skystar was rocked by a tremendous explosion!!

   The port engine was wrecked, and the whole ship lurched over. Illenya, who had released her seat belt, was thrown across the cabin. Falling myself, I got under her and kept her from harm.

   With the starboard engine still going full blast, the ship began to loop into a left-handed spin, zooming out-of-control around the sky.

   I made a dive for an access panel – closer than the controls at the moment – and cut the engines. Skystar continued its caper across the heavens, but at least it gained a modicum of stability.

   Now going to the control console, I flipped the switch to allow for individual control of the CL-arium plates. By rocking the application of gravity, I hoped to straighten out the ship. The problem with gravity manipulation is that inertia doesn't like to play along.

   Presently I had us on a straight course. By letting gravity pull on the tail assembly, I slowed our forward motion. Then I set all the panels at point zero zero five of one G and let Skystar float toward the ground. Below was the Antelope Valley, with plenty of acceptable touchdown points.

   I glanced back toward Hollywood, musing, "They're going to be somewhat surprised down on the ground when they see what hit us."

   Illenya, whose hair had come undone in the shaking, was busily fixing it, but stopped to ask, "You saw something? What did it look like?"

   I had a sketch pad handy, and put my pen to it, drawing a distinctive shape, with highlighting and everything. Illenya recognized it. Anyone would.


Click here to buy Book One, The Emperor's Gambit, for Kindle only 99 cents.

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