The project was nearly complete. It was a work of art, its long, supple, perfectly formed limbs augmented with steelsteel, so much stronger than human skin. True, some of the skin tone had been lost, leaving the exposed flesh a rather greenish hue, but what was a mere cosmetic issue next to the immense achievement of the whole? Here was a creature that would never disobey, never stop. It was inexorable; it was implacable; it was all that man aspired to.
It was also dead. But that was little more than an inconvenience for Doctor Herman von Klempt.
It was March 1936. With the aid of Heinrich Himmlers Sonnenrad Society, a Nazi organization devoted to occult research and experimentation, von Klempt had set up this laboratory in the abandoned stronghold of Ernstadt, deep in the Austrian mountains. Here he was able to continue his work without the bothersome presence of his former colleagues and their persistent, insipid questions regarding the "morality" of his scientific pursuits.
Thinking about this as he worked over the creature, the doctor harrumphed. Morality! Such primitive ideas had been laid to rest with God Himself decades earlier, as far as von Klempt was concerned.
He bent over the corpse, fiddling with several of the wires on the head. In life, the body had belonged to a young German soldier; von Klempt had never known his name, he'd simply chosen the body out of the lot they brought him. Tall and lean, it was a promising specimen.
At over six feet, von Klempt himself was not physically unimpressive, but his long face had rough, craggy features, and his slicked brown hair was beginning to thin.
Something growled in a dark corner of the lab, and von Klempt smiled. It was a disconcerting expression.
"Soon, Trebonius," he said. "Very soon we will be ready to begin the experiment. This one will work, I am sure."
"Yes, master," came the response from the shadows. The voice was very deep, and the words seemed almost wrenched from the speaker's throat, as if he were unaccustomed to speaking.
Von Klempt turned from the body and moved to the control panel at the side of the operating table.
"We are so very close," he said. "Don't you agree, Doctor Leiber?"
He directed this question toward a large glass bell jar that rested on a nearby table. It was filled with a hazy green gas, and suspended inside the jar was a human head, brown and shrunken, its features pockmarked with various bits of metal and wires.
Its yellow, milky eyes swiveled in von Klempt's direction. The lips quivered, but all that issued from the speaker at the base of the jar was inaudible murmuring.
Von Klempt smiled mirthlessly. Josef Leiber was one of his mixed successes. At one time, Leiber had been his fiercest critic within the German scientific circles. Then, shortly after von Klempt joined the Nazi party, Leiber had met with an unfortunate accident that left only his head intact.
Citing his reluctance to lose such a valued colleague, von Klempt had worked feverishly to keep the disembodied head alive. He had been...somewhat successful. A little more research and he would perfect the process, he was sure.
He left the control panel and walked back to the table.
"Don't take another step, monster," said a voice behind von Klemptnot the speaker in the shadows or the muttering head, but a new voice, one that spoke not German but English.
Von Klempt smiled again.
"So, you've found me," he said in English. "I wondered when we would meet."
"Turn around, slowly," said the voice.
Von Klempt turned. Before him was a man dressed in what looked like a pilot's outfitblack trousers, high black boots, and a double-breasted leather jacket. The top part of the man's face was hidden by a leather cap and a pair of orange goggles. The front of his jacket was emblazoned with a large blue symbol in the shape of a lobster's claw.
"The Lobster," said von Klempt. "You're a long way from America."
"There is no place safe from the justice of the Lobster's Claw," said the Lobster.
"Ah, justice," said von Klempt. "A word often found in the mouths of Americans, though as with all things that pass through their mouths, they have no appreciation for the subtleties of its flavor."
Von Klempt turned toward the operating table.
"Don't move," the Lobster warned.
Von Klempt sighed. "You've been a very busy man," he said. "You have met many of my colleagues, yes?"
"They were monsters, like you," said the Lobster, his .45 automatic still trained on the doctor. "I brought them justice."
" Judge, jury, and executioner, are you?" said von Klempt.
The jibe seemed to have no effect. "Some are beyond the reach of the law, but none can escape the Lobster's Claw."
"Very pretty. Like a children's rhyme," said von Klempt. "You have detailed files on me, yes? You have studied me thoroughly before entering my fortress alone, armed only with a pistol?"
"Enough talk," said the Lobster. "The time has come for just"
The Lobster turned and firedto his credit, he'd seen Trebonius coming. But his bullets did nothing to stop the four hundred pounds of silverback gorilla that came crashing into him. Trebonius, also known as "Kriegsaffe Seven," the latest in a string of mechanically-enhanced apes from von Klempt's earlier experiments.
The American pumped all seven rounds of his .45 into the gorilla, to no avail. It grabbed him with two huge mechanical hands, lifted the struggling man off the ground, and hurled him into a wall. Before the Lobster had time to recover the beast was on top of him, trying to pummel the man to paste with his metal fists.
Von Klempt did not pause to watch the action. He turned to the operating table and pulled a lever; the rounded metal sides of the table slid upward and closed around the body, sealing it in an enormous tube.
The doctor carelessly kicked the tube. It rolled off the pedestal and onto the floor, then balanced on four wheels attached to its surface. As von Klempt grabbed a walkie-talkie off the control panel and pushed the tube toward the door, he spared a quick glance at the combatants.
The Lobster had managed to evade the ape's deadly hands and retreat to a corner of the lab. He was trying to reload his gun, but Trebonius did not seem interested in giving him enough time to do so.
With a thin smile, von Klempt pushed the tube out the door. On the other side were his two guards, dead. There were burn marks on the foreheads in the shape of a lobster's claw.
"Why a lobster, of all creatures?" von Klempt muttered. He clicked on the walkie-talkie. "Marcus! Are you there?"
"Yes, master," came the reply after a pause.
"Prepare the helicopter for immediate departure!"
In the lab, the Lobster was still trying to avoid the mecha-ape's hands. The ape was fast, very strong, and apparently, not particularly bothered by bullets. He had a large metal plate on his forehead, preventing a shot to the brain. Aside from that, the Lobster knew, gorillas had particularly thick skulls, and there was no guarantee the bullet would even penetrate.
The ape roared and charged. The Lobster leaped aside, knocking over several racks of lab equipment. Various liquids and other substances crashed on the floor, sending a frothing, potentially deadly miasma of chemicals into the air.
The Lobster ran to a window on the other side of the lab. He slammed the hilt of his gun into the glass, shattering it, and took deep breaths of the crisp mountain air.
The ape stood in the chemical fog. It sniffed, snorted, then began to cough violently.
The Lobster used the respite to slam another cartridge into the .45. He aimed at the ape, then paused. Through the window came the whine of a helicopter's engine.
The Lobster turned toward the doorand the ape roared. Apparently the chemicals weren't as bad as they'd seemed.
Trebonius charged at him. He fired; the bullet bounced off the metal plate on the beast's skull. He fired four more shots, each thumping into the gorilla's chest or nicking its face.
It was nearly upon him. He took careful aim and fired.
The bullet entered through Trebonius's eye socket and bounced around inside the impervious skull, turning his brain to Swiss cheese. Propelled by its momentum, the body of the now-dead ape crashed into the Lobster.
He paused to catch his breath, then heaved the ape's body off him and turned to the door. Before he could take a step, he stopped.
He could hear a low, muttering sound, like...like...
The Lobster scanned the misty lab. It was getting close to dusk, and the only light came from a few flickering bulbs. The helicopter's engine was a low hum outside.
Then he saw the head. It had survived the fracas and was still sitting on the table, suspended in its jar, its yellow eyes staring right at him. The lips quivered, and small sounds whispered from the speaker at the bottom of the glass bell.
The Lobster put his ear to the speaker.
"Tote mich...tote mich..."
Kill me. The eyes were pathetic, beseeching.
There were many kinds of justice, the Lobster knew.
He took a step back, raised the .45, and fired. The bullet shattered the jar and struck the poor wretch in the forehead.
The head tumbled off the table, stopping when some of its wires caught. It hung upside-down a few inches from the floor, rocking gently as it dripped black blood.
The Lobster reloaded his gun, turned and ran out the door.
"Quickly! Quickly!" von Klempt cried. "Get it on the helicopter!"
Marcus, an orangutan, grunted as he hefted the large metal cylinder into the helicopter. Meanwhile, the Nazi pilot watched anxiously from the cockpit window.
Finally the ape got the thing into the copter. Von Klempt leaped in after them, slammed the door and shouted, "Take off!"
The pilot didn't need to be told twice. The engine of the helicopter growled as it kicked into high hear. They began to ascend.
Von Klempt laughed. He'd lost his laboratory, but his work was well stored in his brilliant mind. It was almost worth the satisfaction of having foiled the annoying American killer.
Something plinked into the side of the helicopter, and a small, bulbous dent appeared in the metal hull beside him.
More followed. Some struck the cockpit, shattering the glass. The pilot screamed, and the helicopter began to pitch and yaw crazily.
"I'm hit!" the pilot cried in German. "I'm hit! The goddamned American shot me!"
Von Klempt slid open the helicopter door; they were still only a few dozen feet off the ground. He risked a peek; the Lobster was there, standing on the landing pad, pistol aimed at the helicopter. Von Klempt yanked his head back as more shots peppered the hull.
Swift action was required. Von Klempt was reluctant, but he had no choice.
"Marcus!" he cried.
Without a word, the orangutan moved past von Klempt and leaped out the door.
The Lobster fired at the ape as it plummeted. The doctor noted with satisfaction that Marcus landed on his feet and, with only a brief moment to recover, launched himself at the American.
"Go now!" von Klempt screamed at the pilot.
The injured pilot pushed the stick to its limit. The helicopter roared into the sky. After a minute or two, von Klempt risked a glance out the window; he saw two forms, a black and an orange one, struggling on the tarmac. Abruptly the orange form stopped moving and lay still.
Von Klempt clenched his hands into fists. He was shaking with rage. He'd escaped the American maniac, but it had cost him Kriegsaffes Six and Seven.
No matter, he told himself. Soon his work would be complete. The glory of the Third Reich would sweep across the globe.
And when the time came, he, Herman von Klempt, would brush aside Hitler and all the other fools and assume lordship of the Earth. Mastery of science was but one of his ambitions.
"Where are we going?" the pilot called from the cockpit.
"To the nearest base," said von Klempt. And after that, Hunte Castle, where his associate, Karl Kroenen, was working on a similar project
Von Klempt patted the metal tube beside him. It was a fatherly gesture.
With the orangutan dead at his feet, riddled with bullets, the Lobster watched the helicopter vanish into the sky. His expression was unreadable behind the orange goggles.
He strapped his pistol into its holster and vanished into the twilight shadows.