Three hours ago, he had been sitting in his Bellingham apartment, enjoying the warmth of the fireplace and the warmth of the hot spiced apple cider before him. The weather outside was nasty, and he was thankful he didn't have to go out there.
When Bill Sloan knocked at the door, he should've just ignored it. He didn't. Sloan was the grandson of an old friend of his -- Robert 'Sweet Tooth' Sloan -- whom he hadn't seen in fifty years. The younger Sloan seemed agitated, yet greatly relieved to find the old man. Tree invited him in from the cold, and the younger man told him a fantastic story, impleading him to come with him to Oregon immediately.
And so here he was, miles away from civilization, in a jeep which barely held onto the dirt road within the National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. And the weather was just as bad as it had been in Bellingham. While holding onto the inside of the jeep and making every attempt to hold down his last meal, he recalled the story his companion had told him, involving Sweet Tooth and Doc Savage.
The story was fantastic indeed.
It seemed that, many years ago, Sweet Tooth had taken in with a scoundrel by the name of John Sunlight, and the two of them -- and others -- had ventured to the north, to a place in the Arctic they referred to as the Great Blue Dome. From what he understood, the existence of the Dome had been hidden from all but a small tribe of Eskimos, who kept watch over it. Sunlight had gained entry into the Dome, and they had discovered some of the most astounding machines ever created by man. Sweet Tooth had been wandering around within the Dome, and had come upon some blueprints and plans. He was able to smuggle some of these plans out, including one for a machine that would allow an individual to be placed into suspended animation for years. He had hoped to cash in on them on the outside, but Fate chose a different use of the plans.
Sweet Tooth had been a good friend to John Sunlight -- as well as could've been expected, considering the things he remembered of the man's behavior -- and was shocked to hear of Sunlight's death at the hands of the adventurer Doc Savage. Sweet Tooth wanted revenge, and was willing to be very patient in its timing.
Sweet Tooth saw that Doc Savage's security was rooted in his intelligence, his strength, his possessions and gadgets, and his circle of associates. He had been able to cope well enough without them, but not for very long. So he hatched a plan to have Doc Savage placed into suspended animation, waking him up after one hundred years, and make sure that all his security was no more. Sweet Tooth's belief was that the mighty Doc Savage, reduced to an insecure, weak, friendless mortal, would become depressed, and eventually take his own life. Sweet Tooth considered this as grand irony indeed, and a fitting end to the life of the Man of Bronze.
As Sloan told the story, Professor Tree remembered the months he and Sweet Tooth spent constructing the machines from scratch, following every line and curve of the blueprints. Neither of them understood how it worked, but it did. In order to keep prying eyes from discovering the machines, Sweet Tooth placed them on this National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, where the Federal Government itself would protect their secret.
In order to be present to witness the downfall of Doc Savage, Sweet Tooth would himself be placed in the other hibernation chamber, with both timers synchronized to bring them out of suspended animation at the same time. Either way, investments he made in 1948 would net him a fortune when he awoke in the future.
With the preparations complete, there was just a matter of catching Doc Savage alone.
Sweet Tooth had been spending months watching Doc Savage, noting when he was without his cadre and his gadgets. During that time, he discovered the existence of the Crime College. He planted an operative within the organization, who reported back details to him. And Doc Savage himself made the fatal move when he returned to those caves in Maine unarmed and alone. Sweet Tooth subdued him with an odorless, colorless gas, and transported him to Oregon, placing him in hibernation. Then he took the information from the operative within the Crime College, and passed it anonymously to the investigative reporter Edward R. Murrow.
The downfall of the Doc Savage empire was history now. Sweet Tooth had been accurate in his prediction.
But there had been a problem. Two weeks ago, Bill Sloan had checked the site of Doc Savage's chamber, and found the ground disturbed. Upon investigation, he discovered that the hibernation machine was empty, and Savage was gone. He needed to bring his grandfather out of suspended animation prematurely, to seek his counsel in this unusual development.
It had taken him up until three hours ago to locate Professor Tree, who had worked on the machine with his grandfather. He tried to tell Bill Sloan that it was over fifty years ago, and he didn't understand how it worked even then. But, undaunted, the younger Sloan finally persuaded Professor Tree to accompany him. He didn't know how he could help. His years as a physics teacher were far behind him, mere memories in a closet in the back of his mind. But out of obligation to the elder Sloan, he went with Bill to see what was the matter.
The jeep rounded a corner and stopped in front of what appeared to be a side of a cliff. The rain seemed to have stopped for the moment. They climbed from the jeep, their feet squishing as they approached the wall of rock. Sloan got a propane lantern and an odd-looking flashlight from behind the seat. Aiming the flashlight at the wall, a spot glowed under an invisible beam. He pressed his hand against the spot, and there was a distant rumble from within. A section of the wall crept open.
"Amazing!" the professor commented.
Sloan smiled. "Cool, isn't it? Grandfather got the idea from the Egyptian tombs. All done with weights and counterweights -- no mechanical parts to fall apart after a hundred years."
Sloan returned the flashlight to the jeep, then lit the lantern and walked through the opening. The professor slowly followed him. There was a slight musty smell to the air, as they worked their way to the back of the cavern. In the center of an open area was the coffin-like hibernation chamber, surrounded by support systems and power sources.
Then they saw the rock.
It was about the size of a baseball, and rested in a shallow crater that wasn't a natural part of the control panel. As Professor Tree lifted the rock from the panel, it was obvious that something was wrong. Sloan moved in and looked it over. He held his breath until he was sure the machine still functioned, then exhaled with relief and turned over the examination to the older man. After a few minutes of close scrutiny, the professor looked up from the chamber and sighed.
"The rock has damaged the hibernation controls," he said. "Your grandfather is still alive, and in no pain. But I'm afraid the controls are broken. I cannot revive him, even if I knew how."
"Can't you do anything to help him?" Sloan pleaded. "You built the chambers! That's why I brought you here!"
Professor Tree looked at the younger man, and pitied him. "I am sorry. I tried to tell you I didn't know how it worked, but you wouldn't listen to me."
The younger man was starting to panic. "Is there anyone who might be able to free my grandfather?"
"If you revealed the fact of the machine's existence to the world, there might be someone who could help. But I don't think you'd want to do that." He thought a moment. "The only other alternative is to find the person who made the blueprints of the machine in the first place. He would understand how it worked. It was probably the same person who created that Great Blue Dome in the Arctic." Professor Tree looked over at the hibernation chamber and pronounced, "He may be the only other one in the world who can possibly help your grandfather."
TO MY READERS: I INVITE ANY SUGGESTIONS and/or IDEAS YOU WOULD HAVE FOR FUTURE ADVENTURES. CONTACT ME VIA EMAIL AT SKYLAB@E-Z.NET.
June 15, 1999
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