Title: The Case of the Stolen Helicopter--A Hardly Boys Adventure

Date Written: Copyright (c) December 2001

Written by: Joel T. Kant


Fritz and John Hardly, middle-aged brothers who were slender and fit and had full-heads of hair so still looked like teenagers so were teasingly and inevitably called the Hardly Boys, walked around the white helicopter unexpectedly sitting on Maple Street. It wasn't in the center of the road, but off to the side as though somebody had parallel parked it as though a car! Their chunky pal named Craig Peters stood back on the curb as if afraid of the large, white machine.

Fritz scratched his full, dark brown hair in thought, then speculated, "I'll bet the pilot would have landed it in the yard, but Mom's garden was in the way in the back and Aunt Gail's shrubbery blocked the front."

"Hey, who cares about the helicopter? I smell fresh cookies," Craig sniffed, then said as he hurried for the front door.

Fritz and John followed him. It was hard to keep up with Craig when he was on the way to food. Craig thought he was still a growing boy, but for a couple decades, the growth seemed in the vertical direction.

"Boys, can you come in here?" Benson Hardly's deep voice came from his den.

All three boys entered the den. Fritz and John's father Benson, an athletic man with gray hair sat behind his large oak desk. In a leather chair at the other side of the desk sat a balding, thin black man with expensive aviator glasses. The dark-skinned man was of advanced middle age, with his remaining hair silver in color, although he also looked fit and healthy. The silver-haired man wore a jumpsuit, indicating he had been the one to arrive in the helicopter.

Benson said, "This meeting is not for you, Craig. Why don't you join the women in the kitchen? My sister Gail has a new recipe for cookies that she wants you to taste. She says you're the person whose judgement she trusts most on such matters. She says my wife has no judgement in such matters."

Craig made such a rapid bee-line for the kitchen that he did not seem at all insulted to be left out of the meeting. It was amazing a man as fat as him could move so rapidly. John closed the door that Craig had left open in his haste.

Benson said, "Boys, this is a long-time friend of mine, Doctor Oliver Silver. I studied under him in college."

Both Fritz and John knew Dr. Silver very well since for the past year they had worked for him in a secret government agency known as the Institute, but Fritz shook Oliver's hand as if meeting him for the for the first time and asked, "What's your profession, Dr. Silver?"

"I work for the government," Dr. Silver answered cryptically.

John came over and as he shook Silver's hand asked with a wink, "What part of the government?"

Oliver Silver ignored the question as if too rude to be acknowledged as he turned to Benson and sadly said, "Benson, I'm sorry, but you don't hold a high enough clearance for what I need to discuss with the boys. Thanks for what you told me about them. I've already had the boys checked out and they now have the proper security clearances."

Benson made an embarrassed sound in his throat, then said, "I'll...I'll just go join Craig, Gail, and Lana in the kitchen. I'd like some cookies, if Craig left any."

After Benson left and the door was again closed, Oliver informed the two teenage boys, "I think it is hard for your father to learn you two have a much higher security clearance than he does."

Fritz remarked, "You said that you weren't going to use us on any more cases until after we finished college."

John put in, "That's pretty much a direct quote for how I remember it."

"I need you two because you are both effective detectives and skilled pilots," Dr. Oliver Silver admitted.

John replied, "We learned to fly with Dad's twin-engine plane. My brother also flies helicopters."

Oliver remarked, "That's what your personal records showed. I specifically need helicopter pilots."

Fritz put in, "I've flown helicopters out to oil platforms in a previous case with Dad."

Oliver Silver smiled, "That's the case I was just discussing with your father. How about you, John?"

John bowed his head in shame, his blond hair falling down over his eyes, "Sorry, Dr. Silver. I've not qualified on helicopters yet. I...er...flunked the written part of the test. I'll get it next time."

"I'll help you study for it," Fritz offered to his brother.

Oliver held up a palm and said, "We haven't got time for that. I need an expert helicopter pilot who is also a detective right now. I'm an adequate helicopter pilot myself, but I don't work in the field anymore."

Fritz said, "While John's not a helicopter pilot, we work best as a team, Dr. Silver. You know that."

Oliver said, "Your father said as much too. I've seen you two function together on over a hundred of your previous cases for the Institute. So, you're both on this case."

John relaxed a bit and asked, "What's the situation?"

Oliver informed them, "A secret military helicopter codenamed Sky-Lupus was stolen several months ago. The theft seems to have been carried out by a terrorist named Tendon Falcon and his accomplice Martini. Another agent of mine, somebody you've never met, narrowed down an area in the southwest where the helicopter is hidden. I want you to go in. Preferably, Fritz will be able to fly Sky-Lupus out. If that can't be done, I want it destroyed. It is too dangerous a weapon for somebody like Falcon to have control over!"

Fritz remarked, "Too bad your agent already there isn't a helicopter pilot."

"You're mistaken," Oliver Silver said. "Samuel Dallas can fly helicopters and just about anything else that can go into the atmosphere or even into space."

Fritz gulped as he remember the 1970's and the new coverage of the accident quite well, "Astronaut Samuel Dallas? I've heard of him. He was scheduled to go to the moon, but then Apollo was canceled."

John put in, "I remember seeing footage of Samuel Dallas crashing in an early prototype of the space shuttle. Nobody could have survived that fiery crash."

Fritz nodded, "I've seen the same footage. John and I learned a great deal when about the space program when we we went up in the space shuttle in that one case."

Oliver said, "I read your top secret report of your shuttle flight. You two are the only two private detectives to have been in space. I think you are very qualified for this mission, even though it'd be better if John was a helicopter pilot too."

Fritz remarked, "We were told by NASA that Samuel Dallas had died."

Oliver Silver stood and went to the window, then said, "That was the way we at the Institute needed it done. Sam Dallas didn't die. He is my best agent."

"Even better then us?" John protested.

"Yes, but Sam has assets you two don't, so don't feel too bad about it," Dr. Silver said.

Fritz protested, "Survival wasn't possible from a crash like that!"

Oliver said, "He did survive."

"He must have been severely injured," Fritz guessed.

"He was," Oliver admitted. "However, using advanced medical technology, we were able to help him recover from his severe injuries."

John asked, "How severe?"

Fritz added, "If we're going to encounter and work with him, then maybe we should know his limitations. Is he in a wheelchair? Blind? Missing an arm? I'd expect injuries like that even if he did survive."

Oliver Silver said, "Good guesses, Fritz. He lost both legs, his left arm, and his left eye."

"That's terrible. His life must be so limited by his injuries," John said.

Dr. Silver turned to John, "Far from it. He is now more than human! He's faster, stronger, better than you and me. He's the world's first cyborg. Yet, I've lost contact with Sam. This is a very dangerous case."

Fritz rubbed his chin, "Technology like that must have cost a fortune."

Dr. Silver confirmed, "It certainly did. It cost eight million dollars."

"Wow! That's a lot of money. An Eight Million Dollar Man," John said.

Fritz said, "There are some soldiers with bad injuries like amputations from the Gulf War. If something as miraculous as the recovery of Sam Dallas was done with Seventies technology, then what is being done in the twenty-first century?"

Dr. Silver replied, "Alas, what was done with Sam Dallas won't work for others. We were still allowed to use very minature thorium nuclear reactors in the Seventies. That's how he is powered. Dallas still has it becauses he was grandfather-claused in, but we cannot use that nuclear technology anymore."

John wondered, "If a reactor like that would fit in a human body, then what could it do with powering a regular automobile?"

Fritz replied, "I read about that years ago. The car could go more than the typical lifetime of a typical automobile, about two-hundred thousand miles, before the half-life would reduce the power too much so it would need refueling."

John whistled and said, "Too bad it's banned technology! I'd like to only have to fuel up my car about once every fifteen to twenty years!" Fritz thought, "And all for a mere eight million dollars! That's couch change for U.S. goverment."

Dr. Silver said, "You haven't accounted for inflation to modern dollars. Now, let's get back to the stolen helicopter, the Sky-Lupus."

Fritz said, "I read that already the Osprey program for a combination helicopter with an airplane has cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars...and it has been a flop. How about the Sky-Lupus program?"

"Not as much," Oliver said. "It was only a hundred and twenty million dollars."

John gulped, "You want us to recover a helicopter worth a hundred and twenty million dollars?"

"That's right. Or destroy it if you can't. You should also rescue the Eight Million Dollar Man while you're at it."

Fritz said, "I think we can do it. When do we leave?"

"Right now. I've already told your Dad. He thinks this is the first case you'll be doing for the Institute. He's very proud of you two. Let's go! We haven't got time for you to say goodbye! Every second matters!"

Benson, Gail, Lana, and Craig raced out of the house as they heard the helicopter start. Craig was slowed because of the plate of cookies he held. From the pilot's seat, Fritz gave them a wave. Oliver was in the passenger seat and John was in back.

Fritz flipped some switches and shoved the throttle. The down draft caused Craig to spill all the cookies. The white helicopter lifted from Maple Street. The machine soared above Port City. Instructed by Oliver, Fritz directed the craft to the south.

Halfway across the country, Fritz Hardly brought the white helicopter down at an airport. Dr. Silver had gotten rapid clearance to land, using his government clout to do it. A fuel truck was waiting for them. The three men got out of the helicopter as other men strung a fuel hose to the copter. The men from the helicopter walked around, loosening muscles that had been cooped up for what had already been a long flight.

Dr. Silver said, "Let's go get a bite to eat."

John looked at the fueling operation and asked how much fuel it took. Dr. Silver answered that it was six hundred gallons.

John whistled, trying to imagine how far a car could go with that much fuel.

Fritz asked, "The Sky-Lupus is a military helicopter. It'll have armor and weapons adding a lot of weight. How much fuel does it need?"

"About half a pound. Come on, let's get some food," Dr. Silver answered, leading the Hardly boys away from the men doing the refueling.

As they walked across the cement runway and toward the terminal building, John thought about the answer. He found it strange that the units were in pounds, not gallons. He then realized how small the weight was! It was the size hamburger he was planning to get!

Realizing what that meant, John blurted out, "Holy cow! The Sky-Lupus is nuclear-powered just like the Eight Million Dollar Man!"

Fritz said, "I didn't think reactors could be made light enough for aircraft. Doesn't it require a lot of heavy radiation shielding?"

Dr. Silver replied, "Not really all that much, depending on how much radiation is treated as acceptable. A young man like you Fritz should be okay for a single flight in it. I wouldn't recommend using it for many flights for long periods of time unless you never plan on having children."

John asked, "Is there enough nuclear material powering the Sky-Lupus to make a nuclear bomb?"

"No," replied Dr. Silver. "Not as such. It's the wrong sort of nuclear material for that."

John asked, "Why the great urgency to get it back, then?"

Fritz guessed, "It's enough material to make a dirty nuke, isn't it?"

John put in, "What's that?"

Dr. Silver replied, "What Fritz is talking about doesn't involve a nuclear explosion at all. It just uses conventional explosives to scatter radioactive material around as dust. Various countries in the Middle East have those already. They've been used already in war there too, resulting in what is commonly known as Gulf War Syndrome, but that's not for the public to know. Although dirty nukes aren't as noticable or devastating as a true nuclear explosive, they do cause some damage. People die by radiation poisoning. It's certainly a dirty weapon, as the name implies. That is one of the reasons we need the Sky-Lupus back. The technology in it must not get into enemy hands. Not just the nuclear technology either. The helicopter can fly without hardly any noise. The body and rotors are made of stealth material. We have to get get Sky-Lupus back!"

John said, "I thought how the Sky-Lupus is powered was banned based on what you said earlier, Dr. Silver."

Dr. Silver looked embarrassed, but gave no further explanation. John thought back to some of their earlier cases with the Insitute about how just because something was banned did not necessarily mean it was never done despite the ban. John felt certain small secret parts of the government seemed to have the idea that it was only illegal if you got caught.

* * * * *

Sam Dallas could feel his head pound. He knew something was wrong even before he opened his eyes. His body felt very wrong, and also very sore. His guts really hurt. He took a deep breath, then opened both eyes. He could only see out of his right eye. That was, out of his real eye. What little about him was still human felt bruised, as though he had fallen and tumbled while running at full speed.

A voice said, "Good morning, Mr. Dallas. Well, actually, it's late in the afternoon. You've been out for a full day."

Sam turned his head and saw a tall, muscular man with tanned skin and brown hair in a crew-cut get up from a desk and approach him. Sam realized he was on some sort of cot.

Sam's throat felt dry as he said, "Are you the Falcon's secret partner?"

The man chuckled, "No, no. I don't know who works with Tendon Falcon. I'm Andrew Hurtz. You can call me Andy."

Sam gasped, as he knew that name from the Institutes files of most wanted terrorists. Andy Hurtz was currently number six on the list.

Pleased to see this reaction from him indicating his name had been recognized, Andy continued, "I've been looking for Tendon Falcon myself. Well, actually, I'm not that concerned about Tendon himself. It's the Sky-Lupus that I want."

Sam twisted his head. He saw that his wrists were handcuffed to the bed. He lifted his head and saw his ankles were also bound. He'd broken such bonds many times before. He still enjoyed doing it. It made him feel like Superman. He gave Andy a sly smile. Sam then strove hard, but neither his legs nor his left arm moved. After a full minute of trying, Sam let out an exasperated breath. He should have expected this because of how he wasn't seeing out of his left eye.

"Didn't work, did it?" Andy taunted.

"What'd you do to me?"

Andy stood over Sam and peered down at him, then replied, "Well, I was in a plane surveying a mountain range out in the desert."

Sam thought back, "A Cessna Super 150, right?"

"Very good! I know Tendon has the Sky-Lupus hidden somewhere in those mountains. I thought you were too far away to know what kind of plane I was in, Mr. Dallas. I looked down and saw a dust cloud. It looked like the dust a car would kick up going through the desert. However, there was no car, but a figure of a man running impossibly fast. I had to use binoculars to see that."

Sam said, "You must have been dreaming."

"Oh, no. You see, I've already heard of you, Mr. Dallas. I've searched for you for nearly ten years, but you're very elusive. Most people claim you died in the NASA accident, but I heard otherwise from a certain Russian physicist," Andy said, pointing a finger inches from Sam's nose.

"Well, as you can see, reports of my death were slightly exagerrated," Sam said.

"Only premature," Andy said maliciously, moving back a ways. "From what I learned, I knew you still breathed air like a normal man. I had knockout gas I was going to spray on Falcon's base when I found it. All I did was spray the gas down in an area you were running toward instead. Once you fell unconscious, I landed. I dragged you into my plane. You're much more heavy than you should be, Mr. Dallas."

"I weigh slightly more than three hundred and sixty pounds," Sam admitted.

Andy nodded and remarked, "For your size, if you weren't a cyborg, I'd guess you weighed just under two hundred. It was a challenge, but I got you into my plane. Fortunately, although I'm a mere man, I'm a very strong man."

Sam asked, "Why'd you want me?"

Andy said, "You're the world's first true cyborg, Mr. Dallas. I clocked you running about forty miles an hour. I'm not so sure of your other abilities. I'm a scientist myself. Your name has been spread with various rumors in the scientific community ever since your accident decades ago."

"Are you after the medical technology?"

Andy said, "No, not quite that. It is what gave you the energy to run that fast for so long that interested me. Even the most expensive lithium-ion batteries aren't that good. Your power source had to be nuclear!"

With a great effort, Sam sat partly up. Doing so, he could see that his pant legs had been cut away. The artifical skin had been cut from the right thigh. There were components missing from his leg. He knew what it was. It was the miniature nuclear reactor that powered his artifical limbs! Sam had been sent to stop terrorist from getting the nuclear device from the stolen Sky-Lupus. Instead, Andrew Hurtz had just acquired a nuclear device by taking it from Sam Dallas' body!

Andy Hurtz went to the next room. While Sam Dallas couldn't see him there, and being powerless and tied down to the cot couldn't move to see him better, he could tell Andy was talking on a two-way radio of some kind. Andy argued over how much he was going to be paid, then promised to come make the delivery immediately. Sam listened to hear where the meeting was to be, but Andy didn't mention that, as apparently he already knew where to go.

Andy reappeared in the same room as Sam was trapped on his cot. Andy was hefting a large cylindrical object with various appendages on it. Andy held it with both arms.

"I've got to leave, but you don't have to go running off on my account," Andy said, then laughed.

"You know I can't even walk," Sam commented bitterly. "My throat hurts. It's too hot in this house. Something doesn't feel right inside me either."

"I know about the heat," Andy said with false sympathy. "The air conditioner is broken, and we're in the middle of a desert. I have a fan in the other room by the radio. The breeze from it helps."

Rather than ask for the fan, Sam pleaded, "Please, get me some water!"

"I'm in too much of a hurry right now. Get the water yourself. There's a sink in the room beyond the next room. You'll see the fan on your way. Bye," Andy said cruelly, as though Sam really could simply get up and walk there.

Giving up on pride, Sam shamelessly pleaded for water, but Andy just turned his back and walked away, still carrying the object. A few minutes later, Sam heard the sound of a propeller-driven airplane. He then heard it take off.

"Help me! Help me! Help me," Sam screamed, but that got no answer.

He stopped screaming as his mouth felt so dry. He ran his sandpapery tongue over his lips, but that did not help his thirst. He then thrashed around in frustration, moving the only limb he could, which was his right arm. That arm was fastened to the cot with a handcuff, so he could only move it a small distance. His left arm was also handcuffed to the cot with another pair of handcuffs. His legs were manacled too. His cybernetic left arm was an order of magnitude stronger than his natural right arm. He knew that he would have been able to break even these strong bonds with ease if his cybernetic limbs had power. He had done such deeds before. This time, his cybernetic limbs were useless, lifeless appendages to his body.

He thought about how on science fiction shows about how the captain of an imperiled and powerless starship would order his crew to switch to emergency backup power. The crew would do so, the ship would have life again, then go on to defeat the enemy. Sam sadly knew he had no emergency backup supply that he could magically turn on.

He thrashed his right arm again, but felt it moved a little further than the bonds should have let it! Often when using his left arm to do superhuman deeds, he needed to use his natural right arm to balance the load or other similar actions. Over time, this resulted in his natural arm being like that of a body builder. Yet, he felt there was no way to break these bonds with his natural arm, no matter how much stronger that arm was when compared to the arms of most men. Sam yanked hard with his arm again, then looked down where the other end of the handcuffs was fastened to the cot. It was not the handcuff that had given, but the frame of the cot had a noticeable bend of several inches!

Sam spent the next thirty minutes bending the side of the cot. The bending got easier as the metal fatigued. The metal rail finally parted. His right arm was free, although still dangling an end of a handcuffed not attached to anything.

He then brought his right arm to his immovable left arm. The mechanical arm was undamaged, as the nuclear reactor had been in his artificial right thigh. He tore the plastic skin of his mechanical arm open, gouging this his fingernails. Under the skin, he pulled free various wires. He found one that was of stiff steel rather than copper. He bent that wire into an L-shape. He then went to work on his other bonds. As an Institute agent for the past decade, he had gained much skill in picking simple locks. In another few minutes, he was out of all his bonds.

He then managed to flip himself off the bed, landing hard on the floor. He pulled himself along the floor. This was hard work.

He thought, "Hey, the unit that Andy took weighs about sixty pounds by itself. I only weigh three hundred pounds, not three hundred and sixty. Maybe I can do this!"

Sweating profusely, which only increased his thirst, he inched himself forward. He got to the other room. He saw the spinning fan. It had an electric cord plugged into the wall. Sam had a feverish dream of ripping the cord from the fan, then plugging himself into the wall, regaining power to his limbs that way! The dream seemed so real, so possible. With a start, he was startled to discover he had pulled the fan to him and ripped out the cord. He felt like a fool. The voltages and currents would be totally incompatible, even if he had known where to supply electricity to his limbs. All he'd managed to do was break the fan, his only relief from the heavy heat filling this small house. He was so overheated that he wasn't thinking straight. He also felt like something was wrong inside his guts.

He looked around this new room, and there was the radio. He managed to pull it off the table, being much more gentle then he had been with the fan. He got it down to his floor level without damaging it or unplugging it.

He turned to a special frequency used by Institute agents.

"This is an emergency," he gasped through parched lips.

A voice came from the radio, "This is a restricted frequency. Please identify yourself."

"You go first," Sam replied suspiciously, thinking it might be one more trick by Andrew Hurtz.

"All right. Who I am isn't usually a big secret from the world anyway. My name is John Hardly. I live in Port City, Maine, but that's not where I am right now. I'm not exactly sure where I am right now, to tell the truth. Wait, I looked at the map. I know where I am now. I'm in the middle of nowhere...and I mean nowhere!"

Sam croaked into the mike, "You're one of the famous Hardly Boys, the pair of middle-aged detectives who look like teenagers?"

"That's right. My brother Fritz is sitting right in front of me."

"I've heard so much about you two Hardlys! Thank God!" Sam replied, astonished that in spite of being so parched, he felt a tear crawl down his cheek. "Your boss knows me. This is Sam Dallas."

To Sam's surprise, a different, deeper voice came back on the radio, "Sam, we've been very worried about you."

Sam croaked out, "Dr. Silver?"

"That's right. John, get a radio fix on Sam's location! Fritz, point us that way as soon as John gives you the coordinates. Sam, we're currently in flight in an SKRV-12 helicopter. We should be with you soon."

Sam felt relief flood through him because of knowing that help would soon arrive, but then remembered what had been stolen from him, so said into the mike, "A man named Andrew Hurtz removed and took my power supply. Do you realize what that means? Think hard of the implications."

There was such a long pause that Sam was worried he'd lost the signal, then Dr. Silver's voice said, "I understand what you mean, Sam, but it honestly never occurred to me before now that any foe would do that."

Sam said, "Andy left here about an hour ago. He was flying a Cessna Super 150, which is a slow, inexpensive, single-engine civilian airplane. Depending on where he is going, especially given what you're flying, which is three times faster, you might still be able to catch him. You must go after him first!"

Dr. Silver asked, "We've got your location pinned down, Sam. At full speed, we're slightly over two hours to you at east-northeast. Which way did the Cessna go?"

There was a window in this radio room. Sam knew it was late in the afternoon based on what Andy had said when taunting him. He gauged direction by the shadows.

Sam said into the mike, "It sounded like the plane headed south. I couldn't see it, only hear it, so that's the best I can estimate. I can't tell you it was southeast, southwest, or directly south."

Dr. Silver said, "We're going after the plane, Sam."

Sam then gave the numbers that he had read using his telescopic vision and had memorized off the tail of the plane earlier on before he'd been gassed unconscious.

Dr. Silver then said, "We'll get to you as soon as we can. Do you need medical attention?"

Sam reluctantly admitted, "Yes. I'm much too hot, and I think something is wrong internally. In me, not the cybernetics."

Dr. Silver paused, then said, "The nearest hospital is in a town four hours away for an ambulance. I'll contact them and have them send one. We may get there first, or we may not. Either way, help is on the way. Just hang on a little longer."

"Just stop that plane," Sam demanded, then signed off, knowing his co-workers duty indeed lay in stopping the plane rather than coming straight to him. Stopping the plane was so much more important. He shivered as if cold, although he certainly was not cold but overheated. He lacked the skin area from his missing limbs, which lessened how much he could sweat. He thought of what terrorists or foreign enemies could do with the small nuclear reactor that had until recently been powering himself.

Sam then began struggling toward the distant room that was supposed to contain a sink. He got closer and closer, but he was no longer sweating. Instead, his skin got clammy. He felt dizzy and incredibly hot. He had to get to the water. He made another Herculean effort, but before he even got into the other room, he had passed out.

Fiddling with various instruments, John Hardly said, "I've got two planes on the radar screen. One is directly south of us and the other to the southwest."

From the co-pilot's seat, Dr. Silver asked, "Any other targets on the radar?"

"Just these two are possibilities. The southwest blip is moving at five hundred miles an hour. A Cessna Super 150 can't go nearly that fast. Hold it, I got the transponder code for the fast blip. It's a large, commercial jet airliner. The slow-moving one is the only one it can be. It's transponder is turned off, violating FAA rules. I think it's him!

From the pilot's seat, Fritz Hardly asked, "Where do I head?"

John told his brother the exact direction and altitude to take. As Fritz flew full speed toward the target, Dr. Silver dug out a pair of binoculars.

Dr. Silver said, "I can see it. It's a single-engine prop plane. Get in closer, closer. There, I can read the numbers. That's it, just like Sam said!"

John commented, "This may seem a dumb question, but how do we stop him? I don't see any guns or missiles in our bird."

Dr. Silver pulled out a handgun and said, "All I've got is this. We're so much faster and more maneuverable that it might actually work. Fritz, can you put us right next to him?"

Fritz replied, "I could, but I don't like the idea. If he has a handgun, he could shoot back. Since we're not armored, we might go down before he does. Look, that's just a wimpy little civilian plane. I've got a better idea."

Dr. Silver asked, "What?"

Fritz said with a smile, "Just think of why a helicopter flies."

Fritz then brought the helicopter above the small plane. The plane curved down, in a sudden dive the pilot surely didn't intend. Some distance lower, the pilot bought the plane out of the dive, leveling off.

Looking through the binoculars, Dr. Silver said, "I recognize Andrew Hurtz from photographs that I've seen in our archives. He's sticking a handgun out the window!"

Fritz rapidly flew in above the small, lightweight plane again. As before, the plane plummeted. The hand brought the gun back inside, as Andy needed both hand to try to retain control. This time, Fritz mercilessly stayed above the plane. No matter how Andy tried to get away, the far faster and more maneuverable helicopter turned his air into a choppy, turbulent down draft. The small plane came in closer and closer to the ground. Fritz still didn't let up, sticking to the plane almost like a tick on a dog. The plane came down into the desert sand in a rough but survivable landing. The front landing gear of the plane snapped off. The plane dug a furrow before coming to a rest.

Andy Hurtz kicked open the door. He climbed out. Cradled in his left arm like a baby was the stolen reactor. In his right arm was a handgun. Dr. Silver popped open the window of the co-pilot's door. He had his own gun out.

However, rather than pulling the helicopter away, Fritz pulled in closer to Andy. Clouds of stinging sand were driven into the man. Andy took a few random steps as though temporarily blinded by the flying sand, which he almost certainly was. He finally dropped both the miniature reactor and his gun to the ground. He raised his hands in defeat.

* * * *

Sam felt his face and chest covered in blessed coolness. He realized it was wet towels he was feeling. He wondered if he was in the hospital already. He opened his eyes, but was disappointed to see that he was still on the floor in the building out in the desert. He saw a concerned, familiar male face peering down at him.

The man said, "Take it easy, Sam. It looks like you have heat stroke or heat exhaustion, as well as other injuries. Still, you look amazingly healthy for someone who crashed the prototype for the space shuttle into one huge ball of flame all those years ago! Until today, I thought you were dead."

Sam said, "I know who you are. I taught you to fly, Tendon!"

Tendon Falcon laughed warmly, "You did a great job of that, too! I'd never have been able to do half of what I've done if you hadn't taught me so well."

"I'm disappointed in how you turned out. You're a criminal," Sam said with all the volume he could muster.

"I don't think of myself as one. Hey, Martini? Do you think of yourself as a criminal?"

Sam turned his head to see a white-haired bear of a man bringing more wet towels.

Martini said, "Not really, but I've been called worse things during my long life."

Tendon wiped off Sam's forehead, then said, "Whether you think that Martini and I are criminals or not, we're here to help you."

Sam said, "You're supposed to have stolen a military helicopter, the Sky-Lupus."

"I prefer the term borrowed," Martini put in.

"Taking it when we did saved lives," Tendon said, "but that's a story that can wait."

Sam said, "What's important right now is not how you got it, but that you have it! Is it armed?"

Tendon replied, "Oh, yes! Sky-Lupus has enough guns and missiles to take out the entire air force of some small countries."

Sam requested, "If you care at all about humanity, there's an airplane that must be shot down! It's more important than whatever crimes you may have committed! The plane has a nuclear device on it! Not a nuclear bomb, exactly, but it could be easily converted into a dirty nuke."

Tendon took more wet towels from Martini, then used these on Sam. As he did so, he said, "Relax. Your boss, Dr. Silver, and his apprentices, the Hardly boys, already took care of that. Earlier, I'd intercepted your radio conversation with them. Given the seriousness of what was taken from you, Martini and I were already on our way to blow that plane out of the sky, but Dr. Silver and his boys found it first. By radar and by intercepting the SKRV-12's intercom transmissions, we saw that the problem was already taken care of. They've got the nuclear device back and captured Andrew Hurtz alive. So, we detoured to come help you."

"Why would you risk capture just to come help me?"

Tendon shrugged, then replied, "I'm repaying a debt for your being such a good flight instructor, I suppose. Also, whether you define me as a criminal or not, I try to do what I think is decent and honorable. Now, we need to know what's wrong with you before we get you on the stretcher."

"I haven't got working legs or a left arm," Sam snapped.

Tendon said, "Those cybernetic limbs are obviously not brand new, so that's not a recent injury. I assume that resulted from the prototype shuttle crash long ago when it was reported you had died. What's wrong with you that's new? Any back or neck pain?"

"Not so much my back, but my guts hurt. Also, I got much too hot. The wet towels help, but can you please give me a glass of water? I'm parched."

Tendon said, "Looking at you, I can see your face, back, and chest are bruised. Is that from Andrew Hurtz torturing you?"

"I don't think so. I was running at top speed through the desert, then quickly became unconscious from gas that Andy had released. I guess I fell pretty hard."

Martini shook his head, then said, "You got that banged up from falling when running? That doesn't make sense!"

Tendon peered at Sam's mechanical legs, the right leg which had a gaping hole where the reactor had been. Tendon asked, "How fast do you run with legs like that, if they were working?"

Sam said, "I can't tell you. It's classified. Faster than you, though. A lot faster. It'd be about like you jumping out of a car moving at a pretty good pace. If I hadn't been running over sand, I'd probably have been gotten hurt much worse."

Martini declared, "I've got the glass of water."

Sam held up his right arm, but Tendon prevented Martini from handing over the glass.

Tendon said, "Sorry, Sam. You can't have it. Those pains in your gut might be internal injuries. I'll let you suck on a damp rag, but drinking more will have to wait until we get you to the hospital."

Sam did this sucking on a wet rag, feeling like an overgrown baby and a fool, but it did relieve the dryness in his mouth. Martini and Tendon got Sam onto the stretcher.

As Martini lifted, then put the stretcher back down, he complained, "Wow, Sam, you need to lose some weight! You're a lot heavier than you look!"

Sam pulled out the rag and said, "It's my artificial limbs. They add more weight than normal limbs."

Martini whistled as he looked from the cot to the radio. He realized Sam had gotten all that way pulling himself with only one arm. Now that he'd lifted Sam, he realized what a feat that had been.

Tendon said, "Come on, Martini. You're a big, tough guy, even if you are getting a little old. We can do this. Now, lift!"

Tendon and Martini transported Sam outside the small building. A huge, angular black helicopter was parked there, its rotors still slowly turning. Tendon and Martini got Sam inside. Tendon and Martini then strapped themselves in. They threw switches and pushed buttons with a practiced grace that almost looked like a dance. In mere seconds, the rotor was spinning faster and faster. The Sky-Lupus lifted off.

Having once been an astronaut, Sam Dallas had been in faster vehicles than the Sky-Lupus. However, he'd never been in a helicopter that nearly approached the top speed of this one. It seemed only a few minutes had passed when the Sky-Lupus was coming down at the heli-port of a hospital. Martini was talking on the radio to those at the hospital, evading questions about who they were and stressing the emergency nature of their appearance.

Hospital workers rushed out from the hospital. They did not concern themselves with whether Tendon and Martini were criminals, but focussed on the immediate needs of the patient. Sam was soon on a wheeled stretcher, being rushed away.

Martini tugged Tendon's arm, then pointed at the sky. Still small but getting larger was another helicopter.

Tendon asked one of the hospital workers, "Is that a Life-Flight helicopter coming in?"

"It's not one of ours," he replied. "Neither is this big, black thing of yours."

Martini suggested to Tendon, "Let's get out of here!"

Tendon and Martini leaped in their helicopter. The other helicopter, a white one, was getting close as the Sky-Lupus leaped off the heli-pad like a rocket being launched.

In the white helicopter, Fritz said, "There's the Sky-Lupus directly in front of us! Now what am I supposed to do?"

A voice came over the intercom of all three men in the white helicopter saying, "Dr. Silver and the Hardly boys, this is Tendon Falcon. My partner and I just brought Sam Dallas to this hospital. We'd like to depart in peace."

Dr. Silver said into his mike, "I can't let you do that, Tendon."

Fritz clicked off his mike, then whispered to his boss, "We've got no guns or missiles. How can we do anything about it?"

Tendon laughed, then said, "I've got a dozen ways I could swat you out of the sky, but you're no threat. If you come after me again, don't come in an unarmed toy like that!"

John said, "The Sky-Lupus's transponder just shut off! It's radar signature just disappeared!"

Tendon's voice came back over the earpieces of those in the white helicopter saying, "You don't need to be so shocked, John Hardly. I just had the transponder on and allowed a radar signature to be emitted to make things easier when landing at the hospital's helipad on this mercy mission with Sam Dallas. I assume that's how you found me. I didn't want to panic anybody there."

The Sky-Lupus disappeared almost as fast as if had been a rocket.

John stated, "No radar signature at all. Audio tracking is picking up nothing anymore. It had a muffled kind of whisper noise, but I lost it when it got too far off. I've even lost the Sky-Lupus off the thermal imager!"

Tendon's voice came over one last time, "Take care of Sam. He was a great flight teacher. Bye, now!"

Fritz aimed for where he had last seen the black helicopter. He shoved the throttle forward as far as it would go.

Fritz complained, "I'm giving her all she's got, but it's hopeless."

Dr. Silver said, "This is like trying to race in the Indianapolis 500 in a Volkswagen Beetle! Take us back to the hospital, Fritz."

As the Sky-Lupus became a mere small dot in the sky, the white helicopter cut a big arc in the sky as it turned back to the hospital. Privately, both Fritz and John were glad to abandon the chase as they had lost interest in catching Tendon since they realized how he had risked capture to help an injured fellow Institute secret agent.

At the hospital, they visited with Sam Dallas. Dr. Silver soon had Sam's mechanical limbs powered up again, which improved Sam's mood greatly. It had turned out that Sam had injuries more minor then it had initially appeared, the main problem being bruising from the falling when running at forty miles per hour, combined with dehydration from the desert heat. He did not have internal injuries after all, but only had pulled muscles in his abdomen.

However, Dr. Silver had sad news. The nuclear reactor was not to be replaced. Instead, Sam Dallas was now merely powered with lithium ion batteries. He could only keep moving for about six hours before recharge, and much less if he moved at superhuman speeds or superhuman strength.

Dr. Silver explained, "We just cannot risk others figuring out what Andy Hurtz figured out with weaponizing your power source." Sam replied, "I understand." It seemed Sam would recover fast. Rehydrated and with all his limbs working, he gobbled down food at a rate even chunky Craig Peters would have found hard to match.

Fritz and John gingerly hinted at their feelings of not wanting to continue with this case. Both were relieved when Dr. Silver decided that Sam Dallas would stay on the Sky-Lupus case one he recovered, but Fritz and John would head back to Maine.

As Fritz and John were leaving the hospital room, they overheard Sam Dallas suggest to Dr. Silver, "I wonder if it is possible to turn Tendon and Martini into secretly being agents for us at the Institute."


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