[SHC] Matters Of Imagination

 

[This is a Super Headcanon Support “Official Fanfic” as suggested by a $30 Patreon patron and written by the author. As a Fanfic it is canon in our hearts, but perhaps not in the actual story. The prompt: “Karla Schicksal has a fandom argument about pulp stories.”]

* * *

Everything delivered to the Nochtish forces came from the homeland. Equipment, supplies, and basic mail was all packed up in the ports of Tauta and former Lachy territories on the southern side of the Nochtish continent, marginally closest to Ayvarta. Once loaded onto merchant vessels, the mail’s journey south took a little over a week in the best conditions. Then, because Cissea had a limited port capacity, some ships would have to be diverted to Mamlakha, adding one or two more days to the journey. Add a few more days in case of unstable seas.

Now your goods touched the soils of the southern continent, but that was only half the battle. They would then be handled by Oberkommando Suden, who would classify and inspect them. Then they would be set to the front. High priority goods made use of Nocht’s limited motor pool; anything sentimental to a soldier was almost certainly not high priority. Mail from home was packed into horse carts to begin an arduous journey to distribution centers closer to the front, that would sort mail by battalion and send it to finally meet its intended recipients.

In total this process could take weeks, if your package didn’t simply get lost somewhere.

Schicksal had arrived on Ayvarta with the freshest copies of Amazing Stories, Tantalizing Tales, Mysterious Mysteries, and a dozen other delightful magazines for the adventure fiction enthusiast; she had even haggled with the OKH deployment office, delaying her deployment until the very last possible second to secure the most recent issues of all her favorites.

She had already gone through them at least twice each. Had she been any less busy she would have probably worn the issues down even more. She nearly had them in memory now.

Thankfully she renewed her subscriptions for the year and made the necessary arrangements for all of her magazines to be sent to her. It was just a matter of waiting for them.

Over two weeks into the operation, the 8th Panzer Division finally stopped moving.

At the crack of dawn, Schicksal and a small gaggle of panzergrenadiers waited by the dirt road winding through the woods just off the site of their new camp. They heard the horse cart coming, hooves stamping, wheels turning, before they could even see it through the thick ranks of the trees. Once it wound into their sight, the men cheered. Jokes were traded around about worried mothers, about salty spouses, and angry creditors they had joined the army to escape. Schicksal stood apart from them, but she laughed at a few while hoping for a package.

The animals pulling the cart slowed to a halt, and everyone gathered around. A hatch window went down on the side of the cart, and a young woman started calling out names. A few of the soldiers had lists with them — they were platoon officers, collecting the mail for all their men so they wouldn’t have to wake up at dawn and mob the cart all together. Nice of them. Schicksal whistled, and tapped her feet, waiting for the woman to get to her corner of the alphabet.

“Karla Schicksal!” the clerk called out. She held a big cardboard envelope out of the window.

Schicksal approached, smiled and took the package. She offered her thanks, but the clerk wasn’t even looking — she was moving on to the next name and the next bundle of mail.

Under a nearby tree, Schicksal inspected the goods. She cut the tape holding down the envelope flap using her combat knife, unfolded the flap and looked inside. Three paper books were tucked inside, each one about eighty to a hundred pages thick, with flashy covers.

One issue of Savage Sights! with a cover of a man wrestling a drake in the swamp; one issue of Remarkable Reports!, a fairly low quality variety fiction magazine that Schicksal nonetheless had to own every copy of; and finally, the pièce de résistance, a copy of Astonishing Tales! featuring Johannes Jager on the cover, wearing his trademark mask and white uniform, a communist attack blimp soaring overhead and attacking his beloved city.

This particular issue of Astonishing Tales! promised 120 pages of non-stop action.

Schicksal hugged the issue to her chest, exhaling softly. She returned it to the envelope and started the short trek through the woods back to the camp, her treasures under her arm.

The 8th Panzer Division had taken up positions across the wood in an all-around defense known as a “hedgehog.” Its three Panzer Regiments and its newly-added Panzergrenadier Regiment, numbering around 300 tanks and 4000 men in total, were deployed in a reverse triangle, with their individual Panzer companies and Infantry battalions deployed in depth. At the center of the formation was the Division HQ, located in an area of sparse tree growth with enough canopy to provide some cover, but also space for the tanks, trucks, cars and tents.

As she cleared the trip-wire alarms at the edge of the encampment, she found a few dozen soldiers and staff lining up around a mess. A tent had been set up on two poles in one half and its other half over an M4 Sentinel; men and a few women lined up for black bread, sausages and a thin soup constituted in a pot from powdered chicken stock and dried vegetables.

She was not feeling up to standing in a line. Schicksal instead headed past the mess to the center of the camp where the Befelhspanzer M4, her mobile command center, was stationed. Dreschner’s tent was pitched next to the tank, its turret turned so the dummy gun could help hang up the canvas structure. The General was still asleep; Schicksal snuck around the tent opened one of the tank’s storage compartments on the side and withdrew a ration box.

Food and entertainment in hand, and a cool morning breeze blowing through the wood, Schicksal situated herself under a tree and sat down with her back to the trunk.

Schicksal cracked open the ration box, took out all the individual parts, dug a little hole for the hexamine burner, and started cooking up the beef and barley pack using her metal coffee mug as the pot. She emptied a pack of citrus and honey powder into her water canteen and shook it up to have a sweet drink, and munched on a piece of biscuit while waiting for the entree to cook. Once it was ready, she she buried the spent hexamine tablet, and sat the mug on her lap along with the remaining biscuits. She emptied salt and pepper packets into the mug, mixed everything with a spoon and started to eat. Her beef was stringy; but the meal was filling.

Finally, she cracked open the envelope and produced her new copy of Astonishing Tales!

There was no better time to read than right after the dawn, when Dreschner was still asleep, and with a warm meal in her belly. She cracked open the pages, looked down the table of–

She heard a worried voice behind her. “Ah! Excuse me! Please be careful Miss!”

Schicksal turned her head and saw a red-haired woman running to her and waving.

“Miss, please don’t move!” She drew her sidearm and Schicksal shrank back.

Pistol raised, the woman took a shot.

It flew over Schicksal’s head.

She heard a shrill, clicking screech from out of sight.

Everyone in the camp raised their heads in alert and looked her way.

“It’s alright! I got it everyone! It’s ok!” The woman shouted back.

Something fell from the tree and landed beside Schicksal with a soft thump.

Schicksal’s eyes turned slowly to her right.

She stood slowly up, hugged herself, and started to scream.

Dead beside her was a long worm-like creature composed of thick, seemingly rigid segments linked by exposed, fleshy muscle. Its head was like an armored blender full of teeth, and it was easily larger than a dog. On its underside, thousands of little legs helped it creep up on her.

Schicksal screamed and screamed and continued to scream for several minutes.

Everyone who had been staring turned back around and went about their business.

* * *

Once Schicksal stopped screaming, she started kicking around the dead creature (she heard it distantly referred to as a wyrm) and it proved satisfyingly firm and resistant to her boots.

“This place is hell! Hell! How do people live among these monsters!” She wailed.

At her side, the young woman who had shot the creature had long since holstered her weapon, and watched with concern as Schicksal aggressively squashed the passive creature.

“Um, well, I’m glad you’re ok.” She said, once the rage appeared to be subsiding.

Gasping for breath, Schicksal bent down, hands on her knees. “Thank you. You are?”

“I’m Evangeline Heinrich.” She said. “Private, Medic, 7th Panzergrenadier Regiment.”

“I’m Karla Schicksal, Chief Signals Officer, 8th Panzer Division HQ.” Schicksal said.

“Oh my! Chief Signals Officer? You looked so young I thought you’d be a grunt like me.”

“Nope; I ride in the big tank with the fake gun and get personally yelled at by General Dreschner every day, often several times a day.” Schicksal sarcastically replied.

They shook hands. The 7th PzG was the latest asset attached to the 8th Panzer Division, making up for the ongoing losses of tanks. This girl had the coat and the pins to prove it, as well as the blue cross on a white patch symbol of the medical corps. She was willowy, certainly taller than Schicksal herself. Her angular features and long red hair gave her a sort of flashy look that her demeanor and voice quite easily disproved. She had on a pair of wide-rimmed glasses.

“Say, is that a copy of Astonishing Tales?” She asked, looking at Schicksal’s other hand.

Schicksal looked down at her own hand — she had the magazine folded into a tube throughout the whole of her tantrum. She unfolded it and showed the medical officer. Indeed, it was.

“That’s neat! I didn’t subscribe back home, I forgot. Do you mind if we read it together?”

Schicksal stared at her in confusion. She nearly asked if this was a joke. For the longest time she hadn’t met one single other woman who read pulp magazines. Certainly the magazines themselves didn’t do much to attract the readership, and Schicksal had always thought of herself as having boyish tastes in this regard. So she always expected a certain level of ridicule for her hobby from men and a certain level of disgust or disregard from women in addition.

“Well, um, sure, but it’s um, it’s a dorky adventure stories magazine.” Schicksal said.

Evangeline smiled. “Oh, I know what it is! I’m actually a big fan of the magazine.”

“I see! I never thought I’d meet another soul who was interested.” Schicksal said.

“Neither did I, to be honest! I thought people would think I’m childish.” Evangeline said.

Schicksal nonchalantly kicked away the remains of the beast and sat down under the tree again. Evangeline dropped beside her without even wiping the dust or food crumbs and wrappers from the ground. She sidled close to Schicksal, nearly cheek to cheek. She felt warm — it was more than a little awkward, but also nice in an odd way.

Schicksal opened the magazine.

This particular issue had four stories: Secret-Man, Johannes Jager, Dr. Dangerous, Weretaur.

“Oh, Secret-Man! That’s my favorite! I’m not fully caught up on it, sadly.” Evangeline said.

All of the warmth and goodness suddenly seemed to drain. She was a Secret-Man fan? 

Schicksal turned the page from the table of contents, over the editor’s comment and the letters section, and contained the urge to scowl at the ridiculous illustration of Secret-Man in his costume. A black skin-tight suit studded with gold question marks, and a diving helmet featuring a very prominent gold question mark across the face. How did he even see?

What did this girl even see in such a ridiculous hero? Schicksal usually skimmed Secret-Man chapters. The prose was too sparing in detail, nothing more than functional, with no spice to it; and she hated the stories. Secret-Man kept going from crisis to crisis without any chance to stop. In this latest arc he just killed the evil General Von Klaw only to find himself hunted by the government — for murdering Von Klaw! What the heck sense did that make? He stops a coup attempt, saves the President and now the Schwartzkopf is after him? For murder?

She sighed a little, but Evangeline had her head up against her shoulder and was already going down the lines with a zeal. “Turn the page when you’re done,” she said cheerfully.

Schicksal started reading. Periodically Evangeline had a question about the current stories and Schicksal would answer it. In this latest chapter, Secret-Man uncovers a conspiracy in the government to seize his vast inheritance by disappearing him under the pretenses of a murder investigation so that the head of the Schwartzkopf could become rich. It was possibly the dumbest plot that Schicksal had ever read, and she found two typos in the prose! A disgrace, a total disgrace. Evangeline devoured each page — she read much faster than Schicksal did.

“Oh no! Don’t cut it off there!” Evangeline moaned. She sighed into Schicksal’s shoulder. “They promised a lot of action and a huge page count, but they just made the letters big!”

“They make a habit of doing that nowadays.” Schicksal said. She turned the last page on Secret-Man and felt a sense of relief at being done with that dreck. Past the final page was a little insert that had a piece of foil, inside of which was a piece of Secret-Flavored chewing gun.

“Wow. It’s black; they’re really serious about this.” Schicksal said, taking out the candy.

Evangeline snatched it from her. “I’ll take it then! I’d like the coupon for the mask too!”

“Sure. We can cut it out later.” Schicksal said softly. Evangeline really was a fan.

Schicksal turned the page. There was no Johannes Jager illustration, he was on the cover in full color after all. But the title didn’t lie! Time for another action-packed adventure with–

“Hey, um, can we skip this one? I kind of hate Johannes Jager.” Evangeline said.

Schicksal thrust down the magazine and turned her head sharply to stare down the medic.

“What is your problem?” She said. Perhaps not tactful, but it’s what escaped her lips.

“Um. I’m sorry?” Evangeline replied, blinking and crossing her arms, confused.

“How the heck can you put up with 25 pages of Secret-Man and skip Johannes Jager?”

Evangeline frowned and narrowed her eyes. “Are you a fan of Johannes Jager?”

Schicksal grumbled. “As a matter of fact, I am! So we’re not skipping it, for a start!”

Evangeline grumbled inaudibly back. She was suddenly less enthusiastic about reading the magazine, but Schicksal didn’t care. Now she was the one devouring the pages. Half the time Evangeline seemed to gesture for her to turn the page without even having read any of it.

After being ambushed by the communists last chapter, Johannes Jager managed to escape using a flashing light gadget that had become standard issue with the police in Jager’s near-future story setting. However, on the streets, the dreaded KVW were attacking with blimps! Though the technology of the communists was backward, their zeal and corruption and their infiltration of the government allowed them to take over the Nochtish skies! Schicksal was consumed by the plot, and read each line vigorously. Then her reverie screeched to a halt.

“Johannes Jager lacks any of the nuance that Secret-Man has.” Evangeline grumbled.

Schicksal didn’t deign to look at her and acknowledge her childish views on literature.

“Nuance? Secret-Man is a rich jerk who has the ear of the government and a dumb suit! Johannes Jager is an ordinary man who wants to clean up his streets and make his city a better place to live! Secret-Man’s chock full of nothing but vapid teenage fantasies.”

“Hmph! Well Johannes’ Jager’s stories make no sense. If he’s just an ordinary man fighting criminals like you say, then what’s with the silly plot twist about the Ayvartan KVW and the communist airship? Secret-Man stories have more plausible and interesting villains!”

Schicksal turned the pages faster, and Evangeline turned her cheek with another ‘hmph!’

Teeth gritted, the two felt a disdain that can only come from clashing hobby interests.

Such conflict as was fought in the heinous so-called “Solstice War” could not match the sheer unbridled hatred and no-quarter-given savagery that could arise from two enthusiasts at odds with one another. Evangeline and Schicksal had barely met and already the tension was boiling over. Schicksal’s mind filled with black thoughts about the uncultured rogue at her side. She felt it was likely Evangeline was also ripping apart her new companion in her own thoughts.

“Ugh, every time I peek it’s another cringe-worthy one-liner.” Evangeline moaned.

“Then don’t peek! Someone who’s so in love with the lifeless, perfunctory writing of Secret-Man couldn’t possibly understand the clever witticisms of Johannes Jager!” Schicksal replied.

And yet, the tragic gravity of a shared hobby kept them in each other’s orbit, unable to escape, both attracted and repulsed, such that passive-aggressive facial expressions, little shoulder checks, and occasional sighing and grumbling was all they could muster for each other.

Schicksal turned the final page on Johannes Jager, exhaled audibly, and turned to the medic.

“Do you read Doctor Dangerous?” Schicksal said roughly to her acquaintance.

“I don’t have any strong feelings about it, but I’ve nothing better to do.”

Evangeline looked at her from the corner of her eye and turned her cheek around again.

Schicksal could have left it at that, but there was a gnawing feeling she had to clear out.

“Do you seriously prefer Doctor Dangerous to Johannes Jager?” She asked.

“So what if I do? So what?” Evangeline said, crossing her arms and staring daggers at her.

“You have no taste then! Doctor Dangerous is even stupider than Secret-Man!”

“Then why do you read it?” Evangeline shouted back. They were almost nose to nose.

“Because it’s 1/4 the page count in most issues! Why do you read it then?”

Evangeline grinned cruelly. “Because it’s better written than Johannes Jager!”

“Take that back!” Schicksal cried, forehead-to-forehead with Evangeline.

“As a matter of fact even Weretaur is better!” Evangeline shouted, still grinning.

“Well, Weretaur is pretty good, to be quite honest– TAKE THAT BACK!”

Schicksal suddenly seized Evangeline by her collar and tugged her; Evangeline looked shocked at being manhandled for her opinions. She raised her hands in the air rather than escalate.

A shadow stretched suddenly over both. They looked to their side, and up, and they froze.

“Signals Officer Karla Schicksal.” General Dreschner said. He was staring directly forward as if at the tree instead of the women. Black bags had formed under his eyes, and he had a grim expression shaded by his peaked cap and the high collar of his dark grey officer’s coat. His hands hung at his side, fingers twitching periodically. His feet tapped impatiently.

“Yes sir!” Schicksal trembled. She released Evangeline and raised her hands up as well.

Everyone else in the base seemed to be staring their way once again.

“I don’t recall you ever receiving the authority to inflict corporal punishments on your fellow soldiers.” Dreschner said. “Please explain what it is you are doing to this medic.”

Schicksal raised her hands and turned away from Evangeline. “Nothing sir!” She replied.

“It doesn’t look like nothing. Private, what is this altercation about?”

“Nothing sir!” Evangeline replied. “We simply got a little emotional over things!”

Dreschner cocked an eyebrow and seemed unsatisfied with this explanation.

Evangeline stood up from the roots of the tree, and Schicksal followed shortly after. As they stood at attention and saluted the General, the magazine fell on the floor. Schicksal felt a jolt down the spine as she heard the sound of the paper falling to the earth. That magazine subscription cost her 15 marks renewable per quarter, and she hated the thought of–

“Something wrong, Schicksal?” Dreschner asked, leaning forward.

“Nothing sir!” Schicksal said, a nervous, contrived grin on her wide-eyed face.

He sighed audibly. “Is that one of your funny books? Those seem to always spell trouble.”

Evangeline, who perhaps lacked understanding of the General’s overall disposition, leaned down and picked up the magazine. A smile appeared on her face and she flipped the pages back to the illustration of Secret-Man. She held out the magazine as if to show Dreschner.

“Sir! You could help us resolve our pitched literary dispute!” She cheerfully said.

Oh no. Schicksal felt a sudden sense of alarm and gestured for Evangeline to stop.

“A dispute; over those cheap books of yours.” Dreschner said. He sounded mortified.

Evangeline did not pick up on it at all. “Yes sir! What do you think of this character?”

She handed the book to the General, who stared down at the picture of Secret-Man.

“He looks absolutely ridiculous. I feel stupider just looking at him.” Dreschner said.

Evangeline shrank back. Schicksal felt triumphant, and put her hands to her hips. She puffed up her chest and stood tall, soaking in the embarrassment and shame of her rival.

“Well, sir, what about the character on the cover?” Evangeline whimpered.

Dreschner turned back to the cover. “He looks like a jackass.” He replied dryly.

Schicksal winced. Dreschner shot her a look; she put up a fake smile and cringed away.

He extended his hand, returning the magazine to Schicksal. He sighed audibly again.

Then he extended his hand again, took Evangeline’s tag to get her name.

“Evangeline Heinrich, a medic, 7th PzG. I take it you two must have just met?”

“Yes sir!” Evangeline said, rubbing her hands together and avoiding his gaze.

“And it seems you are hitting it off like bosom chums, already having a brawl.”

“Ah, it’s nothing like that sir, really.” Evangeline said, stammering a little.

“Out of curiosity what is the age range for these magazines?” He asked.

“Fifteen through seventeen years old I think.” Schicksal answered quickly.

Dreschner looked at her over his shoulder, while still mostly facing Evangeline.

He turned from them and cleared his throat. “You’re 24, Mauschen; Evangeline is 17. I’m 43 years old. I have some advice for the two of you, as subordinates, and youngsters.”

“Yes sir!” Schicksal and Evangeline replied in unison.

He turned back around, facing the both of them.

First he turned his tired gaze on Evangeline. “Heinrich, if you wish to remain outside the medical tent, smelling something in the air other than antibiotics and gauze, then learn to get along with people whose taste in questionable literature differs from your own.”

Evangeline winced. “Yes sir.” She said in a tiny voice, averting her eyes.

Dreschner then cast a serious look Schicksal’s way. She withered under it.

“Schicksal.”

“Yes sir!” She said.

“Be the adult, for god’s sake.” He added simply. “Get a hold of yourself.”

“Yes sir!” She said again, her hands and knees shaking and her teeth chattering.

“You are antagonizing a teenager. Take the high road. You are better than this.”

“Yes sir!” Schicksal said again, feeling herself sinking into a hole. She hadn’t paid much attention to Evangeline’s age, though this information would have likely changed little.

Dreschner shook his head at her, and pressed a hand against his forehead.

“Return to the Befehlspanzer in one hour. We must go over cipher codes for the rest of the month. We’re in a war zone, in case you forgot while busy shaking up a child.”

Everyone in the camp stopped staring and returned to what they were doing.

General Dreschner turned sharply around and marched back toward the command tank.

Schicksal stood in place, her expression trapped in a strange cocked half-grin.

Evangeline looked almost in tears over being called a child.

They sat back down on the tree, a good meter between them. They stared in opposite directions, the magazine dropped between them. Schicksal took the book.

“Do you want to read Weretaur?” Schicksal idly asked, still looking away.

“Weretaur is pretty good.” Evangeline replied softly, looking the other way.

“Weretaur is indeed pretty good.” Schicksal said. She turned her head slightly.

Evangeline sighed and sidled closer, engaging Schicksal’s gaze.

“I like that Weretaur has supernatural powers. It makes him unique. He isn’t just a man in a suit. However the author takes up too much page space with descriptions.”

“I disagree about the prose but that’s okay.” Schicksal said.

They shoved back together, and Schicksal skipped the pages over to Weretaur.

Quietly and without incident they took in the fantastic adventures of Gehornt Schmidt. By day a seemingly ordinary mortal, but by night a man cursed to fight brutal battles against heinous beasts in the dark corners of Lachy, beset by ancient mysticism in his strange quest keep the light-dwellers, as ordinary citizens were called, safe from paranormal harm.

In their particular issue, Schmidt fought a vampire.

Both the signals officer and the medic managed to agree that vampires were “neat.”

 

THE JUSTICE OF JOHANNES JAGER (I)

 

This side-story contains scenes of violence.

* * *

(side-story contemporaneous to Generalplan Suden)

Deep in the seedy back alleys of Rhinea, under a snowfall darker than the devil’s abode, all manner of Bastardry And Terror unfolded unseen, and only one man had the moral conviction to bring justice back to the bad quarter. With his wits about him, his trusty silver Zwitscherer pistol at his side Johannes Jager hurtled down the the dreaded Mort street like a runaway train. For every ordinary man’s step he took three — because He Had To.

He prayed to God almighty that she was still safe, that there was still time.

Mort was a mean, run-down part of the city in the old quarter, where thieves hauled their loot, dames would kiss ya for a buck, and every hand had a gun or a knife. You wouldn’t find a man like Jager, an Upstanding Man, caught dead in this place. Not under normal circumstances. It was not place for a man with a conscience. He looked every which way and saw nothing but obscured hands and grinning faces, looking at him all calculating-like.

In his all-white trenchcoat and fedora and his silver mask he stood out among the Villains, as he intended to. He wanted them to know that he was an invader, an interloper.

He was not one of them — he was a Man With A Mission and they couldn’t stop him.

He wouldn’t let them take her. Not again. He had a Debt to Pay.

In front of the rough-looking Höllemund bar, two gents two meters tall each stood before the doors. Johannes Jager had no time for such Crooked Company.

He circled around the alleyway, climbed atop a garbage can, and reached into his coat for the gas-powered hookgun he had prepared before leaving the precinct. Such things were becoming more common and compact in 2040, especially for police departments. Thank God for his Real Identity as the unassuming beat cop Frederich Freiden — Jager needed only to aim for the roof, and he put a hook right around the television aerial.

He walked up the wall to a second floor window, punched the glass with his Silver Knuckles, and entered a dark room that smelled of hemp! He felt the packages in the dark.

“Disgusting,” Jager thought to himself, “Guess nobody told them…dope’s no joke!”

Johannes Jager withdrew an electric torch and scanned the packages, packed full of grass that would fry your brain the instant you lit up the weed-cigar. All kinds of terrible drugs like these got into Nocht, and ruined innocent young men and women who could have stood a chance otherwise. What monster dealt in these Mind-Altering Monstrosities?

No sooner did he consider this that he found the red seal of the many-headed Hydra on all of the bags. Of course, it could have been no other group of fiends!

(The Hydra was the mark of Elite Communist Terrorists — his old nemesis!)

Pistol in hand, he forced open the door and pounced on the lone guard in front of it, quickly disabling the stout man with a precise strike on the neck from the hard metal of his Zwitscherer. Thundering loud music from below masked their quick scuffle.

It wasn’t his kind of song — but this was His Kind Of Dance.

He picked through the downed man. He took his gun, unloaded all the bullets, and gave it back. This was a Lachy man, he could just tell from his Profiling Training. Lachy gangs were notorious for their cooperation with terrorists. They probably pushed guns and dope for the communists. Feeling a righteous fury in his chest, Jager rushed up the empty hallway toward the staircase to the third floor, where the Leader likely awaited.

He couldn’t let these folks have Sylvie! They would ruin her completely!

Johannes Jager stepped to the third floor and found a long hallway to a door decorated in purple feathers. He threw himself into a roll as a pair of men guarding the door drew their pieces on him! Fully automatic pistols blared across the hall, Illegally Modified.

Bullets boomed and banged and pitted the floor and made holes in his coat! A Storm Of Metal sliced the hemp-smelling air in the hall. Any ordinary man would have been intimidated, but Jager was too quick for them. As he came out of his roll his Zwitscherer screamed with justice, and the knees of his foes exploded, and they fell back in great agony!

He charged past them, kicked the weapons from their hands, and broke through the door to the lair of the villain! On a plush red couch in the center of a luxurious room, a mountain of a man, bald and white as a sheet, laid back on the seat, his arm around Sylvie’s shoulder. She gasped at the sudden Noise And Blood, and she looked like she wanted to bolt. Her blonde hair was perfectly straight, her green eyes staring with burning hatred at the burly neck and head of her captor. Her white dress was pristine and fashionable, and she looked thankfully unharmed. It was plain to see she didn’t belong in this lair of thugs.

“I’m here for the girl and the hemp, Krieg.” Jager said, scowling with rage at the kingpin.

Krieg’s barrel-like head twisted as he smiled. He laughed hoarsely.

“Johannes Jager. We finally meet. I don’t know if you’re a cop or just an idiot, but I got use for both. Join me, Jager! I’ve got work for a man with your skills! I’ll make you rich!”

“Listen pal,” Jager shot him a glance sharp as a steel knife, “I got no time…for crime.”

“You think I care for the girl, Jager? I don’t care about girls. I care about money! I got this girl because I know you’ve been protecting her! I know you’ve been talking to the Lieutenant! Stop what you’re doing for those clowns at the precinct, and be my right-hand man, Jager! I have eyes and ears everywhere. You can’t run from me. If I have you in my gang, I’ll be invincible! Give up this foolishness. Together we can even take out the communists!”

“You’re small time, Krieg. The Reds are playing you like a trumpet!”

To punctuate his foul words Kingpin Krieg pushed Sylvie off the couch and laughed.

“Shut up! I’m playing them, boy! I got it all figured out!” Krieg shouted. Then he drew a pistol!

Johannes nearly shook, more with rage than fear. He remembered all too well the fate of his precious Gerda.

“Join me, Johannes Jager! Put down your gun or I will kill the girl!” Krieg shouted.

“Don’t do it Johannes! I would rather die than see you working for the men you hate most!” Sylvie shouted defiantly, and she spat on Krieg’s boot. She wouldn’t have known him in his Secret Identity, but she knew of him all the same. What a feisty lass, just like her dad; he owed it to the Lieutenant to get her back safe. He couldn’t endanger her.

But a man like Jager would never Compromise His Beliefs and work with a thug like Krieg!

Jager raised his pistol, but when he shot he fired his bullet aside at the wall!

“What was that, Johannes? A shot of surrender? You gonna work for me?”

Krieg let his guard down — he hadn’t even watched the bullet!

In an instant, the ricochet burst through his foul head, deflating it like a balloon!

Sylvie screamed as Krieg fell aside like a rock! Johannes rushed out, and picked her up, carrying her in his arms. She smiled at him and laughed girlishly at their position.

“To think I would be dragged in here in a bag, and come out in the hands of Johannes Jager! Those men kidnapped me from my father’s own home, Jager! They said if I tried to escape they would kill him, so I waited patiently here. They did all of this to lure you out. I’m glad you are safe!”

She reached up to his cheek with her lips, and pressed a red mark just below his mask.

Jager laughed. “Sorry gal, but you’re too innocent for a rough man like me. You need to find a quieter man to dote on, and stay away from these hemp-smoking types, okay? Promise me that.”

Confident in his final victory over his nemesis, Jager started out of the bloody room; but then he heard an explosion, and the wall bursting behind him! Jager ducked out into the hall, and found several figures abseiling down from the roof into the room — several men and, shockingly, women too, their skin brown as a puddle of oil, their hair long and dark, in a stark contrast with their bright red and gold uniforms! It was the communist KVW!

Brandishing submachine guns, the men and women, had come down from a gyrocopter hovering outside! The Communists had even penetrated Rhinea’s air defenses! But how? How had the Communists achieved this level of power and technology in their tyrannical society? Jager felt equal parts fear and fury seeing his True Foes before him! He could have run, run somewhere with Sylvie and been safe, but he knew that they had gotten this far, then they had everything plotted out. Sometimes, Good Men had to Stop Running.

They were really using Krieg all this time — to get to him. And now they Had Him.

“Sylvie, you better run.” Jager said heroically. “I got a score to settle with these spooks.”

Jager set Sylvie down, and despite her protestations, he walked calmly back into the room. Dead-eyed, the thoroughly brainwashed communist troopers stared him down. Then from the roof abseiled their commander — a woman over 2 meters tall, a fierce grin on her face. Was this the Blood-Red Commissar of the dreaded land of Ayvarta herself?

“Oo know tew much, I’m afoo-raid. Eet is tie-em for oo to die, meestur yay-gur.” She said, her Nochtish thickly accented. Did they know of the Red Spy in the Citadel that had Turned?

Whatever they knew or didn’t know didn’t matter. Destiny Called for them all.

Sylvie screamed out his name, and huddled out of sight at the doorway.

Jager showed no fear as the submachine guns wildly sprayed before him.

 

* * *

“Huh? You can’t just cut it off there! That was barely worth a chapter, the type was so big! I’ve been falsely advertised to!” Karla Schicksal shouted, turning the pages rapidly and desperately to find that the story truly ended there, on a cliff-hanger, for the month. She couldn’t believe this! All that build up and the conflict with Krieg was resolved so quickly!

She searched the pages for some kind of an answer. After the last page of story text there was a form one could fill out to get a real Johannes Jager mask in the mail; then a full-page cigarette advertisement seemingly aimed at the younger readers; and the next story in the Astonishing Tales! paperback was not related to Johannes Jager at all, but was instead a new installment of Secret-Man, back from its short hiatus.

Schicksal wistfully returned to the cover, which had advertised the longest and most suspenseful Johannes Jager story yet — and had accomplished this by increasing the size of the typeface and doing nothing more. There was probably even less story than last issue.

She growled a little in anger. Writers and their low word count and awful cliffhangers!

From the cupola of the Befehlspanzer, General Dreschner looked down at his radio officer with disdain. They were waiting in the command tank for orders to advance.

“What on Aer is wrong with you?” He said. “Are you reading those books again?”

Schicksal froze up. She nodded her head stiffly. “Sir! Yes sir! They uh, they help my morale!”

Dreschner grunted, shook his head, and raised himself out of the tank once again.

Once he was well away, Schicksal sighed and flipped the pages. She didn’t like Secret-Man as much. He was not complicated like Johannes Jager. Dreschner was just too much of an old fogey to understand the appeal of a riveting tale of adventure and beautiful dames. She returned to the Johannes Jager chapter, and started filling out the form for her own Jager mask. Maybe someday she would save the day and get a hero’s reward.