T.J. Dalton lifted the corner of his pillow and cracked an eye open. He focused in on his alarm clock and let a low moan escape his lips.
“Ah, man. What kind of idiot goes pounding on somebody’s door at five A.M.?”
The young man sat up and ran his hand through his red hair. “Hold on!” he yelled.
As he climbed out of bed, he grabbed his robe and walked through the open doorway and down the hall. He slid the chain free and unlocked the door. He pulled it open to reveal an older gentleman waiting impatiently with a package under his arm.
The stranger looked to be in his mid-forties physically, and in very good shape for someone his age. His outfit, an overcoat and fedora, however, suggested that he was older than T.J. suspected.
“May I come in? We need to talk.”
Before the young man had a chance to react, his visitor slipped past him and entered his apartment. “Nice place.”
T.J. was still holding the door open when the man plopped down in a chair. “Do I know you?”
“You may or may not have heard of me.” After a short pause, the man gave his host the information he was waiting for. “I once knew your mom’s uncle.”
T.J. thought for a moment as he closed the door. “I have heard Mom mention an uncle once or twice, but he supposedly disappeared back in the early ’40s.”
“In December of 1941, to be precise. Would you happen to have any coffee?”
The young man shook the dumbfounded look from his face. “Oh, uh, sure. I’ll put it on.”
The man stood up. “You get dressed, and while you are doing that, I’ll take care of the coffee.”
T.J. wasn’t sure why, but for some reason he felt he could trust the stranger. “The coffee pot is on top of the ‘fridge, and the coffee is in the cabinet over the sink.”
As his unusual guest went into the kitchen, he walked back into the bedroom to get dressed. After slipping on an old pair of jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, he found the stranger sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for the coffee to finish percolating.
“So,” T.J. asked as he turned a chair around backward and sat down, “how did you know Mom’s uncle?”
“We met a couple of times.”
T.J. was confused. “What do you mean? Did you guys pal around or something?”
The gentleman laughed. “I would probably have to answer that with ‘or something.'” When his host showed no sign of understanding, he continued. “We were mystery-men, what you would call super-heroes. I am called Doctor Occult, though my friends call me Richard. Tom, your great-uncle, went by the name Magno. The local press called him Magno the Magnetic Man.”
T.J. said nothing.
Occult sighed. “I figured as much,” he said. “You have no idea who I am talking about, do you?”
“Honestly? No, not really.”
“Not many people do remember him, to be honest,” Richard said, with a hint of sadness in his voice.
T.J. shrugged. “He must not have been very good.”
Doctor Occult shook his head. “Don’t you believe that. Your uncle was one of the best.”
T.J. held his hands up. “I didn’t mean nothing by it.”
Richard looked into the young man’s eyes and knew he was telling the truth. Before he could say anything else, T.J. got up and poured them a cup of coffee.
“Obviously, you knew him pretty well,” T.J. said as he set the cup down in front of Richard.
“Like I said, our paths crossed a time or two.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you know of his disappearance,” T.J said as he sat back down.
Richard took a sip of his coffee. “Do you believe in multiple Earths?”
T.J. nodded. “After what happened in ’85, it’s hard not to. Why?”
“Because,” Richard answered, “that’s where Tom ended up.”
Richard could see that he was finally making some progress. “I’m sure you have heard of Uncle Sam, haven’t you?” When he received a nod, he continued. “If you know any of the history from World War II, then you have heard how he gathered some of our world’s heroes together and traveled to another Earth to help defend its America. I believe he took the Black Condor and the Ray with him as that world’s Freedom Fighters.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “That Earths May Live,” All-Star Squadron #35 (July, 1984).]
“And Mom’s uncle?”
“Not that time. Apparently, he made a trip before that one with an earlier group of Freedom Fighters. Magno, along with Miss America, Neon the Unknown, the Red Torpedo, and the Invisible Hood were part of this first bunch, as well as Hourman. From what I learned, they appeared somewhere over the Pacific right in the middle of the Japanese fleet. They must have put up a pretty good fight, because Pearl Harbor was never attacked on that world on December 7th, 1941. Anyway, they were trying to figure out what to do next when one of the Emperor’s boys decided it would be more honorable to die than return in defeat, and crashed his zero into Torpedo’s sub, killing everyone aboard, with the exception of Uncle Sam and Hourman, although they didn’t know he was alive until Sam returned with his second team of Freedom Fighters.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis on Earth-X: The Prequel,” All-Star Squadron #32 (April, 1984).]
“How do you know all this?” T.J. asked.
Richard took another sip of coffee as he reached into his coat pocket. He removed the Symbol of the Seven and laid it on the table. “Through this.”
T.J. took a sip of his coffee. “What’s that?”
“This was given to me by my masters. It holds many secrets.”
“Aside from what I have already told you, I know where Torpedo’s original sub, left behind on this Earth, is being housed. It also led me to this.” He picked his package up from where he had put it beside his chair and handed it to his host.
T.J. slowly unwrapped the brown paper and found himself looking at a hooded tunic of some sort.
“That belonged to the Invisible Hood — a spare cloak doused with an invisibility formula. It still works.” Richard waited for the young man to react. “Try it on.”
“I don’t know. Shouldn’t you have given this to his family?”
“I would have, but unfortunately, he has no living relatives that I could find.”
“Why me?” T.J. asked.
“I need your help. How would you like to carry on a legacy?”
Doctor Occult placed his hand on T.J. Dalton’s shoulder to steady him. He knew that most people suffered a mild case of vertigo after their first experience of teleportation.
“So,” T.J. asked, trying to forget that his stomach was doing its best to climb up his spine, “where are we?”
“There is another who agreed to help. This is where she lives.”
She? T.J. thought. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. “She who?”
“Kelli Lockhart. She’s the Torpedo’s granddaughter.”
“What’s her story?” T.J. asked. “How did you convince her to join your legacy team?”
“She knows where her grandfather’s sub is and says nobody is going to work on it but her. Kelli’s pretty good with things like that; she inherited Jim’s knack for inventing.”
“So she thinks she knows enough about it to keep the sub operational?”
Richard smiled. “She knew enough to graduate with high honors from MIT.”
T.J. was impressed, although the visual image in his head was beginning to change from a Power Girl look-a-like to bookworm lab-rat with thick glasses wearing her hair in a bun. “I can’t wait to meet her,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Richard ignored T.J.’s comment and walked the few short steps that led to the apartment building’s front door.
T.J. fell into step behind Richard.
Occult hit the button for the intercom.
“Who is it?” asked the sweetest voice T.J. had ever heard.
“Richard,” his companion answered. “I’ve got company with me.”
“Give me a couple of minutes,” the voice responded. “I’m getting dressed.”
The visual image reappeared in T.J.’s mind. It was slowly returning to the Power Girl look-a-like, although this time he was having a hard time picturing her in costume. The voice, accompanied by a buzzer, brought him back to reality.
“Quit daydreaming, son. Let’s go.”
Richard pulled the door open and led the way inside. T.J. followed him up two flights of stairs and to the end of the hall. He raised his hand to knock, but a voice from within told him it was open. Richard turned the knob and pushed the door open. Once inside, they could hear someone moving around in one of the other rooms.
“I’ll be right out,” the voice called, and, true to her word, within seconds a young woman walked into the living room.
The image of Power Girl faded completely from T.J.’s mind and was replaced by the girl who stood before him. She was slender without being skinny, curvaceous, yet well-proportioned. Her long brown hair fell just below her shoulders and held a hint of natural curl. Her tanned skin appeared soft and flawless. Yet, despite the fact that she had, to him, the perfect build, it was her face that he couldn’t help but stare at. Her hazel eyes met his, and she gave him absolutely the most beautiful smile he had ever seen.
“Since the cat’s got his tongue,” he heard Richard say, “I’ll introduce my companion. This is…”
“Thomas John Dalton,” he finally spoke up. “My friends call me T.J.”
“It’s nice to meet you, T.J. My name is Kelli Lockhart.” She shook his hand, confirming what he thought about her soft skin.
“Are you ready?” Richard asked her.
“Just let me grab my keys,” she said, “and then we can go.”
“Now where are we going?” T.J. wanted to know.
Kelli locked the door behind them and led them to her car, a black ’69 Camaro. She unlocked the passenger side first then walked around to the driver’s side. T.J. opened the passenger door and crawled into the back seat. Richard got in and closed the door as she fired it up.
“So,” T.J. said as they pulled out of the parking lot, “your grandfather was a mystery-man. I bet you were surprised to find that out.”
Kelli shook her head. “Not really. I’ve known for some time. When I was a little girl, my dad once showed me an old newspaper clipping of Grandfather posing with his sub. From that point on, I wanted to build one of my own. It’s what kept my focus all through school. When Dad passed away, his lawyer gave me some papers that had belonged to Grandfather. He told me that he had kept them in his safe for Dad with instructions to pass them on to me in the event of his death.”
“What was in the papers the lawyer gave you?” T.J. asked.
“At first, I thought it was just the usual stuff. You know, a copy of the will, deeds, stocks, that sort of stuff. Amidst all of that, however, I was surprised and delighted to find a copy of Grandfather’s blueprints for the sub, and directions on how to find it.”
It only took a few minutes for them to reach their destination. As they pulled up and parked beside what appeared to be a deserted warehouse by the river, Doctor Occult spoke. “I could have easily teleported us.”
Kelli smiled. “I saw how green around the gills T.J. was when you arrived at my place. No thanks.”
The trio got out of the Camaro, and Kelli led the way to a side door. Sliding her hand into her hip pocket, she retrieved a single key and fit it into a padlock. Instead of the door opening when she turned the key, a hidden panel on the left wall popped open to reveal a keypad. Kelli entered a short series of numbers, and the door slid noiselessly open. She turned the key farther, and the panel on the wall closed.
“You boys just going to stand there all day, or what?” Kelli asked as she walked into the warehouse.
“On,” the two men heard Kelli say a second before rows of overhead lights flared to life, illuminating the warehouse.
A whistle escaped T.J. lips. He glanced at Richard. By the look on his face, he knew that the older man wasn’t expecting the scene that was spread out before them.
What appeared to be a riverside warehouse on the outside was actually a state-of-the-art laboratory on the inside. Tables covered with various gadgets and gizmos were scattered throughout. A bank of computers was partitioned away from the rest of the lab in a glass room. The one thing, however, that dominated the visitors’ attention was the large red submarine sitting in dry-dock in the middle of the room.
“How can you afford all of this?” T.J. asked as he tried to take everything in.
“Grandfather made quite a few bucks by doing submarine designs for the government a year or two before the war,” Kelli answered as she walked over to one of the tables and laid her keys down. “That, plus a few odd projects that I have worked on since college and keeping a tight rein on my finances, has helped me get by.”
“Well,” T.J. said.
“Yes?” was Doctor Occult’s response.
“We’ve got a souped-up submarine, a costume that can make me invisible, and a headquarters of sorts. Now what do we do?”