by Vendikarr DeWuff
Agent Liberty paced back and forth in his quarters on board the submarine. Having grown up in the Colorado Rockies, he found the sub very confining. He wondered if he had claustrophobia; that would sure put a damper on his work. He took a deep breath and stopped for a moment. No sweats, no shakes. No, he wasn’t afraid of enclosed places.
“Must just be nervous,” he muttered to himself.
Then he heard someone call in from the hall, “Ye might be watching yerself. People are likely to think yer nuts talkin’ to yerself like that.”
Liberty glanced out the door to see his teammate, codenamed Torch. Real names weren’t allowed here, but Torch didn’t seem to care. Torch was really Michael “Matches” Malone, a proud Irish-American, former two-bit hood, and murderer. Given a choice between prison and the army, Malone took the army.
It was not a great choice, seeing as he had a real problem with authority. He ended up killing his lieutenant and was sentenced to death. But the lucky bastard caught another break. A research agency called Project M was looking for volunteers, and he was selected. They were looking for ways to improve the ability of soldiers to withstand poisonous gases, so he was subjected to various chemicals and gases. It turned out that they had screwed up.
When a fire was lit around Malone, he’d light up in a blue flame. It didn’t hurt him, but he could use it to hover off the ground and burn things. That made him just the man for Project Liberty.
Following Torch down the hall was the other American on the team, codenamed Neptune. He, too, felt no need to keep his identity a secret. His name was Neptune Perkins, and he had been born with a sodium deficit that required him to stay in constant contact with sea water. The red suit with trident he wore was designed by his parents so he could survive away from the water.
It turned out that Neptune could also live underwater for periods of time and was an excellent swimmer. It was no wonder, since his hands and feet were webbed like a duck. Rumor had it he could talk to the underwater mammals, but Liberty didn’t ask, and Neptune didn’t volunteer.
“Where you guys headed?” asked Liberty, walking toward his door.
“Our Brit friend says we’re almost there, so we thought we’d check it out,” replied Torch. Being an Irishman on board a British sub, there was no love lost between him and the sailors.
“Captain Mercer?” asked Liberty.
“No, our captain,” replied Neptune.
Agent Liberty then reflected on their Australian teammate, which they’d picked up when their transport touched down in Canberra. His code-name was Captain Boomerang, and he was a weapons expert, especially with that ancient weapon. He even had some special ones gimmicked up, saying he had got the idea from reading about the Yank mystery-man Green Arrow.
It was no wonder he was good with that throwing stick; he looked to have Aborigine blood. He stood as tall as a white man and had blue eyes, but his coloring was dark, and his bone structure matched the Aussie natives, too. He at least respected the requirements of keeping to himself and hadn’t given the others any additional information.
Once they had arrived in Australia, they were taken to a waiting British sub and had set out for their rendezvous.
“Wait up. I’m coming, too,” replied Liberty.
Boomerang had an uncanny sense of time and direction, but it was checked out and verified that it was not magical in nature. They couldn’t have any magic around where they were headed.
As they got to the bridge, Captain Mercer was standing and talking with Boomerang, who sounded quite educated; Liberty would not have been surprised if he had been educated in England.
“Ah, Liberty, I was just going to call your people to the bridge,” said Mercer. “We’ve reached the arranged coordinates.” Liberty smiled at Boomerang, and Torch just grumbled.
“Up periscope,” called the captain, and the metallic tube rose out of the floor. Captain Mercer turned his cap around and began walking in a circular pattern around the deck. “There he is.”
The orders were given to surface, and once the all-clear was given, they all exited the submarine onto the deck.
“Ahoy,” called a voice not twenty feet from the submarine.
“Ahoy,” called Captain Mercer. “Captain, we have orders here to take your crew off your boat. You are to captain it with Project Liberty as your crew.”
“That wasn’t part of my orders,” called the PT boat captain.
“Bring your boat in, and we can do the transfer,” said Mercer. “I can give you your orders then. Once we’re away, you and your new crew can open your sealed orders.”
“Aye-aye,” called the voice.
A few minutes later a small PT boat pulled close to the sub, and a makeshift ramp was set up between the two. Crossing had to be done carefully so no one ended up in the drink. Soon the crews were transferred, and the plank was hauled back in.
Captain Mercer called out, “Good luck,” and his sub moved off, readying itself to submerge.
The PT Captain turned to his new crew and said, “Well, we might as well get acquainted. My name is Storm.”
Agent Liberty leaned over and shook Captain Storm’s hand. “William Storm, we’ve heard a lot about you and your harassing enemy shipping throughout the Phillipines. Quite an accomplishment.”
“Thanks, but just doing my duty,” replied Storm. He then looked at their orders and said, “Well, let’s get these opened so we can see what you boys are up to.”
Storm then walked over to the doorway to the interior of the PT boat and tore into the envelope. He started reading a sheet to his attention and handed another to Liberty.
After reading the orders, Liberty said, “Well, looks like we’re headed to Manila. Says here the Japs and the Nazis are parading their mystery-men around the occupied territories to show that resistance is futile. Our job is twofold. First, we take out as many of the mystery-men as we can. Second, one of the mystery-men wants to come over to our side. We are to rendezvous with him during the battle and bring him back to the States.”
“Ah, Christ, is that all?” said Matches sarcastically. “Why don’t we just capture the Emperor while we’re here? Would be just as tough.”
“I have to agree with him, Liberty; this sounds impossible,” Neptune added. “Do we even know what kind of abilities we’d be facing?”
“Well let’s see…” Liberty scanned the orders and found the details. “One’s named Overman; another pair are the Great Horned Owl and the Bat; there’s an archer named Usil; someone called Gudra.” He scanned some more. “Sea Wolf, Kamikaze, and Tsunami. It doesn’t say which one will be joining us, but we have to take them all out, if possible.”
Matches said, “So, when one of them switches sides, it’s seven against five in their favor, and they’re playing at home. I wouldn’t take that bet.”
“Well we are taking that bet.” Agent Liberty said to Storm, “Captain, the gathering is in Manila in two days. Can we make it?”
“I need to stop at my base and re-supply my boat; I didn’t expect the need for action so soon,” replied Captain Storm. “But I expect we’ll keep your date.”
Neptune then asked, “Captain, where exactly are we? Captain Mercer wouldn’t tell us anything about where we were headed.”
“Neptune, is it?” asked Storm; Neptune nodded. “We’re in the middle of the Sulu Sea, about an hour from my base located near Puerto Princesa on Palawan island. My crew and I had found a little grotto there we have been provisioning.”
“Thanks,” replied Neptune.
“Well, Captain, let’s head out,” said Liberty. “We have a long way to go, and not a lot of time to do it in.”
It was almost dawn when the PT boat pulled within sight of the grotto. Captain Storm peered through his binoculars and exclaimed, “Damn!”
“What’s the problem, Cap?” asked Agent Liberty, straining to see the shore himself.
“The Japs — that’s the problem. They’ve been hunting for us for months, and looks like they found my base while I was out. No way I can drive them out of there with one boat.”
“Can we just go on without stopping in?” asked Neptune.
“I need to refuel. I don’t want to take a run up through the islands without a full tank and arming this boat with as much munition as she’ll carry.”
“Well, then, let’s go take it back,” said the usually silent Boomerang.
“Excuse me?” asked Storm.
“Captain, we have a tight schedule; you said so yourself,” said Agent Liberty. “The rendezvous sub will be out here again in seven days. That gives us just enough time to complete this assignment. We can’t take the chance of missing it.” He turned to his team. “Torch, take the high road. Neptune, take the low road. Boomerang, the main gun is yours.”
“Well, then, time to light up,” said Matches, who then took his signature match out of his mouth and snapped it against his finger, lighting a flame. He burst into a bright blue flame, then lifted off the deck and into the air. “Let’s go torch some Japs!” he screamed as he flew off in the direction of the grotto.
At the same time, Neptune dived into the water and began swimming toward the shore, outpacing the PT boat. Boomerang took his place at the forward deck gun, with Liberty helping him load it up.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” was all Storm could say as he watched the mystery-men move into action.
The PT moved nearer, and Boomerang opened fire on the soldiers on the cliff above the grotto, killing scores of men before they took cover and returned fire. Matches then flew above them and let out a stream of fire from his hands, killing the soldiers in their cover.
At sea, the boat that the Japanese used to find the grotto started to violently sway back and forth in the surf. Then men began jumping off the boat. As they hit the water, Neptune would strike them until they could no longer remain on the surface, and they would drown.
“I’ll check out the inside of the grotto,” said Liberty as he removed his combat fatigues, revealing his red, white, and blue uniform. Hunching, he took a leap that carried him from Storm’s PT boat through the deck of the Japanese boat. He then swam from the bottom of the sea into the grotto.
Agent Liberty jumped up onto the ledge in the grotto, surveying the interior. He saw about a half-dozen men going through the communication logs and personal effects left there. “Hey,” he called out, and the Japs turned toward him.
Looking around the grotto, he spied a spare deck gun and a string of ammunition. He loaded it up and lifted it toward the approaching soldiers. They suddenly stopped in amazement, given the size and weight of the gun.
A command was given from the rear, and the men advanced again. Must be the officer, Liberty guessed. He opened fire on the approaching soldiers, taking care not to hit anything vital, such as the fuel stores. The men hit the ground, leaving only the commanding officer of the squad. The man walked toward Liberty, hands held in the air.
Agent Liberty put down the gun, and asked, “You speak English?”
“Yes, very well. I was educated in America,” replied the officer. “You realize there is no escape; this cave is surrounded.”
“I’m sorry, but those troops are dead, your boat has been sunk, and you are the only survivor. Problem is, I don’t have the resources to take care of a prisoner. And I certainly can’t let you go.”
“No, of course not,” replied the soldier. “And I cannot be a prisoner.” With that, the officer pulled a dagger from his boot and threw it at Liberty. It hit his chest and bounced off.
“How is that possible?” asked the Japanese officer.
“They grow ’em tough in my part of the States,” replied Liberty.
Then from the opening, another voice was heard: “Liberty, we don’t have time for this. Kill the bastard and let’s be done with it,” was heard from Matches, flying into the grotto.
“Torch, he surrendered; the Geneva articles of war prohibit me from killing a man who surrendered.”
“Aw, forget that, Liberty — you forget Pearl Harbor? These boys don’t play by the rules,” said Matches, and with that, he turned his flame on the soldier, incinerating him.
“That wasn’t necessary, Torch!” shouted Liberty.
“It sure was. Were you gonna stay and keep an eye on him, or did you think we would bring him along? He was a problem waiting to happen. I just eliminated it.”
“You’re nothing but a cold-blooded killer, Matches!” screamed Liberty.
“It’s war, kid — we’re all killers. I just have a better nose for it than you do. Part of why I’m here. You are supposed to idealize America; I represent the actuality.”
“You’re far from the truth, Matches, but this isn’t the place to argue it. Douse your flame, and let’s get ready to load up the PT boat.”
Matches landed and willed his flame off. The two men then started moving boxes of ammunition to the dock to ready them for loading. Neptune then surfaced and joined them, with Storm and Boomerang bringing in the boat last.
“What are you boys? Some of those mystery-men I read about?”
“Sorta, Captain Storm. The real mystery-men run free under the supervision of the president. We belong to the Army, so we’re not really here. Top secret stuff.”
“Well, I gotta say, if we could get a few more like you behind the lines, this war would be over in no time,” said Captain Storm.
Agent Liberty glanced over at Matches and sort of grunted. Storm then docked and handled the refueling as the members of Project Liberty loaded up the boat. After about an hour, they pulled out.
After they traveled for about thirty minutes, a massive explosion was heard, and Storm looked at his new shipmates quizzically.
“Sorry, Captain. The Japs found it. They may have radioed its position. There’s no going back there. You’ll have to find another base once the mission is done.”
“I hate the loss of all those supplies, but don’t worry — I can always get more.”
Agent Liberty nodded, and the boat continued on its way to Manila.