by Dayton Ward
LAST TIME: SPACE MARSHAL DYLAN McCADE and DEPUTY JACQUELYN BLAKE have arrived on PLUTO and barely escaped the deadly embrace of the DOOM SENTINELS. They venture into a secret passage that they believe will lead them to the underground base of the evil EMPRESS ENTROPIA and her dreadful new weapon, the ICE CANNON. It already has encased NEPTUNE in a shell of solid ice, and even as McCade and Jax make their way deeper into Entropia’s lair, the diabolical Empress is preparing to fire the weapon yet again, this time on JUPITER. As the Ice Cannon powers up for its massive discharge of energy, McCade and Jax suddenly find themselves in tremendous danger....
A monstrous wave of blue-white energy surged from the darkness of the cavern, bearing down on Space Marshal Dylan McCade and Jacquelyn Blake with incredible speed.
“We have to get out of here!” Jax shouted over the rising cacophony caused by the rapidly approaching energy wave.
McCade knew there was no way he and Jax could cross the stone bridge and get into the tunnel at its far end before the massive wave engulfed them. But they had to try!
“Come on!” McCade yelled, grabbing Jax by her arm and pulling her after him. They sprinted across the bridge, all the while keeping an eye on the energy surge rushing toward them. The din was almost deafening now as it drew ever closer, and McCade saw that they would fall well short of their goal before the energy wave engulfed them.
Jax suddenly tripped and fell heavily to the ground. McCade skidded to a stop and turned to help his friend, holding out his hand. “Come on!” he yelled.
As Jax reached up to grab his proffered hand, McCade caught movement in the corner of his eye. The wave was almost on top of them! He instinctively threw his arms up in a futile attempt to protect himself, as if the pathetic gesture could possibly deflect the monstrous behemoth now staring them in the face.
“This is it!” Jax shouted, and then that was all as the energy wave reached the stone bridge…
…and bounced back!
A dome of crackling yellow power suddenly exploded into existence as the energy wave struck the bridge. It formed a protective umbrella over the stone pathway, allowing the incredible blue surge to wash over McCade and Jax and leaving the pair completely unharmed. The wave continued to rush overhead as the adventurers stood and watched, transfixed by the display of naked, merciless force.
“Can you believe it?” McCade asked.
“A force field!” Jax exclaimed. “Of course! Entropia would have something like this, so she could walk through the heart of her creation unscathed and revel in the power at her fingertips!”
McCade sighed. “Thank the stars for enormous egos.”
In the mammoth control center deep inside the mountain beneath her castle, Empress Entropia watched on the imaging screen as the powerful beam erupted from the Ice Cannon, belching forth from the Plutonian depths and streaking into space. She counted the seconds until the image of Jupiter appeared on the screen, and the now familiar blue-white energy beam reached out and struck the gas giant’s atmosphere. It immediately began to expand across the face of the massive planet, blotting out the vibrant Jovian colors. The process took only seconds and then Jupiter, mightiest of all planets in the solar system, hung suspended in space and sheathed in a cold, stark shell of solid ice.
Entropia pumped her fist in triumph. “Yes! Another successful test! The weapon is functioning flawlessly!”
Her longtime friend, Zan, regarded the frozen gas giant on the imaging screen, alternating his observations with those of the consoles controlling the massive weapon. “Not quite,” he said. “There was an energy spike during the firing process. It was minor, but noticeable.”
“Bah!” Entropia spat as she rose from her elaborate throne and descended the pedestal to the control center’s main floor. “It is of no consequence. The Ice Cannon has surpassed all of my expectations. I believe I will advance my timetable and forgo the next test.” The object of the next experiment, Mars, did tempt her, populated as it was by millions of people, along with colonies on its twin moons, Deimos and Phobos, but the ultimate target of her vengeance waited, taunting her: Earth!
Zan said, “I don’t believe that’s wise, my dear friend.” The stern tone of his voice made Entropia turn, a look of disapproval darkening her features.
“Take care, Zan,” she warned. “You are my oldest and most trusted confidant, but do not overstep your bounds. Not even you may address me in such a disrespectful manner.”
The matter was not allowed to proceed further, because a tremendous explosion suddenly rocked the control center. At the far end of the room, a large pressure door set into the wall burst inward, sending smoke, sparks, and debris flying in all directions. Emerging from the billowing cloud of smoke was Space Marshal Dylan McCade and Deputy Jacquelyn Blake, laser guns drawn and ready for danger!
“Hold it right there, Entropia!” McCade shouted as he leveled his weapon at her. “It’s over.”
Entropia actually laughed at that. She looked at the row of workers manning the consoles, though, and the laughter abruptly faded. “What are you waiting for, you fools?” she roared. “Take them!”
A deafening staccato blast from Jax’s laser pistol, however, dissolved any thoughts of rushing the two adventurers which may have been harbored by Entropia’s servant workers.
“Forget it, Empress,” McCade said as he stepped closer. “You forgot to lock your back door. We’re here to make sure your Ice Cannon never gets used on Earth. Surrender peacefully and I’m sure the President of the League of Planets can be convinced to go easy on you.”
“Never!” Entropia retorted, her right hand darting to the bracelet on her left wrist. She pressed a button there, and an alarm immediately began to sound in the control center!
McCade’s attention was drawn to a sound coming from his right, and he turned to see a portion of the wall near him suddenly rise up, revealing a secret compartment and a menacing figure standing within. Unlike the evil machines they had encountered on the Plutonian surface, this ominous mechanism bore upon its chest plate Entropia’s official seal. A grotesque amalgam of flesh and metal, this was Entropia’s personal Cyborg of Death!
“Uh oh,” said Jax as the ominous Cyborg stepped toward them, its vicious metal claws clicking together in an evil rhythm. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“Your time is up, McCade,” Entropia hissed. “You’ve walked into yet another of my traps. Bow down before Entropia, Empress of Pluto, and I assure you your deaths will be painless and quick!”
McCade watched the threatening Cyborg of Death advance slowly toward them, and before Jax could say or do anything to stop him, the brave defender launched himself toward the advancing automaton! He thrust himself between the Cyborg’s grasping metal arms, trying to wrestle the machine to the floor, but it was no use. The Cyborg was simply too strong. In a matter of seconds, the metallic monstrosity had captured the intrepid captain in its clutches. Grunting in frustration as he fought a futile battle to free himself, he heard Jax behind him.
“Nice way to keep control of the situation.”
Moments later, Dylan McCade and Jax found themselves in the most precarious of positions. In the middle of a massive cavern, they lay strapped down and unable to move. The daring adventurers found themselves looking up through a gigantic hole cut out of the top of the rock that had formed an otherwise perfect dome above them. Past the stone barrier, the clear Plutonian night sky beckoned. With nothing to obstruct their view, a breathtaking spectacle of stars hung above them.
“Under other circumstances, this would be relaxing,” McCade said. “Even romantic.”
Jax ceased her efforts to loosen the knots keeping her hands tied over her head. “I can’t believe you tried to wrestle the Cyborg of Death. He only outweighs you by two or three tons.” She squirmed in a futile effort to get more comfortable. “Now there’s nothing to stop Entropia from sealing Earth in a giant ball of ice.”
“Look on the bright side, Deputy Blake,” Entropia’s voice boomed all around them. “You won’t live long enough to see it. It’s a pity, too. After all, I went to the trouble of giving you the best seats in the house.”
Turning his head, McCade was just barely able to see that directly beneath the platform where he and Jax lay trapped, the gaping maw that was the barrel of the Ice Cannon stared back at him. In only a few more seconds, it would yet again pulse with life and spit forth its unequaled energies, sending a beam of frozen destruction toward the one planet in the entire universe that Entropia had been unable to conquer until today: Earth.
“I should have worn my thermal underwear,” McCade said as he worked at his own ropes.
Jax glared at him. “Jokes? Now? That’s all you can do at a time like this?”
McCade started to reply, but he was cut off by Entropia’s voice once more thundering throughout the cavern.
“Goodbye, Dylan McCade, once and for all,” he said to the two adventurers. Then McCade and Jax heard the order they both were dreading.
“Prepare to fire the Ice Cannon on my command.”