Pedaling as fast as their tired legs could propel them, the four members of the Tin Can Society whose mission it was to get to Stonegood Park — Dominic, Throttle, Ham, and Rodney — raced against time through the quiet streets of Stratton. Arriving at the park, they dropped their bikes at the edge of the trees and ran toward the location of their secret stash. In the rush, they had abandoned all of their usual careful safety measures designed to protect the location from prying eyes — such was the urgency of the danger they faced.
A few minutes later, breathless, they arrived at the spot. The giant trees loomed sentinel-like over the cave, as always. Aside from the tweeting of birds and the sound of their own footsteps on the forest floor, there were no other sounds. They had arrived in time.
“We made it,” Ham said breathlessly.
“It sure looks that way,” said Dominic. “Let’s get the film.” He began to move cautiously toward the hidden cave formed by the exposed tree roots.
Suddenly a crashing, snapping sound came from their left. They turned to look as dappled sunlight glimmered on a shiny metal surface. A moment later, a frighteningly familiar squat shape emerged from behind a log.
“It’s one of Reichelmann’s robots!” said Throttle, pointing.
Before anyone else had time to react, the four boys heard similar noises from their right . . . and then behind them . . . and in front of them too. They turned to face each new sound, discovering in mounting fright that four robots were now trundling through the forest undergrowth toward them, their cold black claws extended in their direction.
Instinctively, the four boys stepped backwards until they were all back-to-back, surrounded with no escape.
Between two of the robots, a figure appeared from behind the shadow of a tree, then stepped forward. It was Reichelmann, holding some kind of remote control box with two antennas poking through the top.
“Tell me where the film is, or I will order the robots to pry the information from you!” he shouted.
Each of the boys thought the exact same thing: Never! But each of them was too terrified of the robots closing in on them to utter a sound.
“Tell me now!” Reichelmann shouted more urgently. The robots marched stiffly toward them until they were less than ten feet away from the huddled boys. Their claws opened and closed with menacing metallic snaps. The boys squeezed their eyes shut, preparing for the worst.
Then, suddenly, just when it seemed like the next snap of a claw would take off their noses, the robots stopped. After several moments of unexpected silence, Dominic and then the others dared peek with one eye, then the other. The robots had indeed frozen completely still. At first, they feared it was simply a trick by Reichelmann, to build suspense or to get them off their guard. But one glance at the traitorous scientist showed that he was as baffled as they were. He frantically twisted knobs and flicked switches on his remote control box, shaking it in growing frustration.
“Freeze! Police! Don’t move!” came a shout from Reichelmann’s right. Dominic and the other boys turned to the sound and smiled as Chief Wilson, his police revolver drawn and pointed at Reichelmann, led four other officers through the trees. They spread out as they cautiously advanced on the lone scientist, all of them keeping their firearms leveled at him. “Hands up! Slowly!” Reichelmann, the sadistic sneer wiped from his face by the surprise, complied meekly.
With the other officers covering him, Chief Wilson got close enough to Reichelmann to snatch the control box from his upraised hand. “I’ll take that, you traitor. Come on, move.” He shoved Reichelmann toward the other officers, who handcuffed him and pushed him by the shoulder in the direction they had come. He said nothing — no final threat, no warnings of revenge.
“You kids alright?” Chief Wilson said, holstering his pistol.
Dominic, Throttle, Ham, and Rodney ran from between the robots toward Chief Wilson, laughing and cheering. They crowded around him, all asking questions at once. Chief Wilson laughed and patted them on the head. “One at a time, boys! One at a time.”
A moment later, Debbie emerged from the woods in a run. “Here’s the heroine of the day,” Chief Wilson said as Debbie ran to her twin brother and hugged him. “She charged into the precinct and wouldn’t stop until she got to talk to me. Your sister is a very determined young lady,” he said. “You should be proud of her.”
“I am,” said Dominic, giving her another hug. “We all are! She’s a member of the Tin Can Society, after all.” Dominic tousled his sister’s hair as Debbie beamed.
Throttle lifted the visor of his oversize space helmet. “But how did you stop the robots?”
“That was me, I’m afraid,” came a familiar voice from their left.
“Mister Finchley!” the boys shouted in unison as Finchley, smiling, approached through the woods. As he reached the throng of excited kids, Chief Wilson handed him Reichelmann’s control box.
“I used this,” Mr. Finchley said, holding up a device that looked like a pistol with a bowl-shapted dish antenna on the end of it. “It’s a portable radio jamming device. It interfered with the signals from this control box,” he said, holding up Reichelmann’s box in his other hand. “Now we can take these robots back to NASA to figure out how they work. Ironically, Reichelmann’s work on robotics is years ahead of ours. Why, these robots might end up going to the moon for us someday.”
“That’s about far enough for me,” said Ham, giving an involuntary shudder as he looked back at the squat bulk of one of the paralyzed robots. “Those things give me the creeps.”
Dominic snapped his fingers. “The satellite film canister,” he said, turning toward the secret lair.
But then all of a sudden, a sound like a swarm of large, angry bees filled the air. Everyone looked around in puzzlement, unable to pinpoint the sound as it grew louder. Then Debbie looked up and pointed into the air. “Look!” she shouted.
Six radio-controlled planes swooped out of the sky and dove between the trees, arcing over everyone’s heads by only a few inches. Everyone ducked. Chief Wilson automatically drew his pistol.
The planes turned around, nimbly dodging the trees as they swooped lower. Everyone — the Tin Can Society, Mr. Finchley, and Chief Wilson — took cover behind trees and fallen logs as the planes released their loads and firecracker bombs exploded around them.
“It’s the Radio Boys!” Dominic shouted over the din. “They found our hideout!” He ducked again as a new group of planes zoomed inches over his head.
And then, undaunted by the attack, Phillip bounded through the trees toward them, waving a backpack.
“Phillip, get down!” Dominic shouted. “We’re under attack!”
Phillip kept running and leaped over the log behind which Dominic and the others were huddled. “Sorry I’m late!” he said breathlessly. “I ran by the house to get these just in case,” he pointed to his bag. “Looks like it was a good idea!”
He opened the bag and Dominic peered inside. After a moment, he laughed. “Brilliant, Phillip!” He shook Phillip by the shoulder and pulled out of the bag a homemade tin can rocket. The others gathered around as Dominic continued to pull out more rockets and handed them to the eager members of the Society.
“Prepare to counterattack!” Dominic ordered. “Phillip, you and Ham take that tree over there,” he pointed. The boys nodded and ran. “Throttle, over there.” Throttle nodded so vigorously his helmet visor fell down, then as soon as the planes disappeared for a moment he grabbed his handful of rockets and a lighter and scrambled over the log. “Debbie and Rodney, you defend the hiding spot.” They saluted and crawled on their knees and elbows to their right. Waiting until the latest pass of dropped their bombs, Dominic leaped over the log and, between exploding firecrackers, sprinted to another tree to set up his first rocket volley.
The rockets were made from tin can bodies, with short stubby fins and a long wooden dowel which Dominic shoved in the ground, leaning the rocket in the direction of the oncoming planes. He looked around to ensure that the others had prepared their volleys too.
Dominic waited for the planes to circle around for another pass. As they dove, he yelled, “Fire!” He touched his lighter to the short fuse at the base of the rocket and quickly stepped back. With a loud hiss, his rocket leaped off the ground, its trail of blue smoke pointing directly at an incoming airplane.
A moment later, a series of hisses marked the launch of the rest of the volley. Dominic’s rocket clipped the wing off one plane, while another rocket hit a plane square on, snapping the engine off. Both planes careened wildly into the ground. The Tin Can Society cheered with one roaring voice.
“Prepare your next volleys!” Dominic shouted, shoving another rocket’s pole into the ground as if staking a flag onto a conquered hill. More planes passed overhead, coming faster and lower this time in hopes of dodging the rockets. “Adjust your traverse!” Dominic shouted, tilting his rocket lower as the planes buzzed just inches above the ground.
“Fire!” Again, four rockets hissed away, leaving trails of acrid blue smoke. One passed harmlessly overhead — no time to adjust the angle of fire — but two hit a single plane, disintegrating it. The fourth nicked the rudder of another plane, sending it up into the trees.
“A hit!” Throttle shouted, jumping up from his hiding spot, waving his hands in the air. The plane that had lost control stalled and fell right on Throttle, bouncing off his helmet as Throttle plopped to the ground, dazed. “Ouch!” He quickly scrambled back behind the tree.
“Prepare your third volley!” Dominic shouted. They were down to their last rockets. This would be their final stand.
There was a moment of silence. Apparently, the Radio Boys were regrouping and rearming. Tensely, the Tin Can Society planted their next round of rockets and waited, straining to hear anything.
Mr. Finchley ran to the tree next to Dominic. “Here,” he said. “Try this!” He tossed his radio jamming gun toward Dominic, who caught it just as the sound of the next wave of planes began to waft through the air.
“Thanks!” Dominic said, then pointed behind Mr. Finchley. “There they are!” Dominic shouted. The Radio Boys were slowly advancing through the forest in a line, holding up their radio controls like shields. They wanted to see their planes in action, the better to control them against the unexpected rocket barrage — and also to beat up the Tin Can Society once their last rockets were expended, and steal their treasury.
“Volley at the ready!” said Dominic bravely. The planes swooped down like dive bombers, and automatically the boys swiveled their rockets up to point at them. “Fire!”
But this time the planes were too fast and all four missed, roaring harmlessly past the diving planes as they released their bombs directly over the Tin Can Society’s hiding places. Firecrackers boomed all around them and they dodged rocks and twigs thrown up by the attack.
“They’re coming around again!” said Phillip. Indeed, a second wave of planes was already speeding low and fast toward them as the previous wave sped off.
“They’re close enough,” said Mr. Finchley to Dominic. “They should be within range.”
Dominic nodded, swallowed hard, then jumped out from behind his tree pointing the radio jammer at the advancing line of Radio Boys. He pulled the trigger.
To everyones relief, the attacking planes kept on going right over their heads, not releasing their bombs. They kept flying straight, as if paralyzed, until one by one they hit trees and broke up. The Tin Can Society, facing inevitable defeat only moments earlier, stood and cheered lustily as the Radio Boys shook their control boxes futilely.
“That’ll teach you to come after the Tin Can Society!” shouted Rodney. The rest of the group shouted in agreement.
Amid the Radio Boys, confusion reigned until Eddie, their leader, regained his composure. “Drop your boxes, boys!” he commanded, and they did. “Charge!” The gang took off at a run, shouting and whooping war cries. Now it would be an all-out fist fight — and the Tin Can Society was outnumbered two to one!
And then, as they leaped over a fallen tree, they found themselves face to face with a line of four robots marching toward them, their claws outstretched!
The charge turned instantly into a rout as the suddenly-terrified Radio Boys clambered back over the fallen tree and ran screaming from the woods, abandoning their gear. Eddie tried vainly to order his men to hold the line, but the sight of four menacing metal monsters was too much. Clearly the Tin Can Society possessed secret weapons of awesome power — not just rockets, but radio jammers and even killer robots — and the Radio Boys were no match for them.
At least, not this time . . .
As the last of the Radio Boys disappeared out of the woods, the members of the Tin Can Society came out from their hiding places, wiping the dirt from their clothes and faces. They shook hands with Mr. Finchley and Chief Wilson.
“Thanks, Mister Finchley,” said Dominic. “Activating the robots was a great idea.”
“Looked like you could use the help,” Mr. Finchley said, patting Dominic on the shoulder. “The Army will be along to take the robots.”
“Aw. Couldn’t we keep one?” asked Debbie.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Mr. Finchley responded with a chuckle. “You kids certainly earned it, didn’t you?” They cheered in agreement.
Phillip ran up to them carrying the film canister, which he handed over to Dominic.
“Now, finally, here is the film,” said Dominic as he handed the canister over to Mr. Finchley with appropriate ceremony.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Finchley, receiving it with appropriate solemnity. “NASA thanks you, and your country thanks you. You have all done a great service today. Congratulations to the Tin Can Society.”
Beaming with pride, Dominic, Debbie, Throttle, Ham, Phillip, and Rodney all shook hands with Mr. Finchley, then turned to face each other.
“The Tin Can Society forever!”
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