He walked across the desert with a slight limp. It was an old wound that surfaced occasionally to remind him how human he remained after all these years. Dan Hayata wiped the sweat from his brow, remembering when it hadn’t been like this. He had walked without a pain or scar then, and he had been proud to be picked as one of the pilots for the fledgling Star Patrol. He and Shimata had dreamed of flying the new jets that the Star Patrol was secretly developing for the United Nations. They had become the ones who could go anywhere in the air. Dan smiled at the memory.
“There’s a light over there, Dan,” said a voice inside his head.
Dan looked in the direction indicated. Something flickered on the horizon. It looked like a light. He staggered toward it. Remember how we met? he thought.
Dan felt the sweat begin to cool on his brow as the desert night flowered in full force. He knew that usually happened. The Patrol had been given training to operate in different environments.
I wonder what that light is, Dan thought, tired from the miles he had already crossed.
“It looks like some type of bar.”
Some saki would be good now, thought Dan.
You’re just mind. You don’t need saki.
“When we merged, I learned to like it. Like many things, it just needed a period of adjustment.”
I’ll say, thought Dan.
By 1952, the world had become overrun by menaces of the like never before seen until the 1940s, such as monsters and alien invasions. The discovery of an island south of Japan populated by mutant monsters, a veritable monster island, had made the situation all the more urgent.
A plan had been put into motion in the postwar years by the United Nations to build an internationally based, peacekeeping air corps to protect the world from monsters and aliens. The Marvel Family had saved the world many times by then, but nobody knew what would happen if they ever disappeared. So the plan was made a reality, and the Star Patrol was born that year.
The organization’s name was a bit of a misnomer that often led to some confusion. Star Patrol sounded a lot like Space Patrol to most people, which implied that they operated throughout the solar system like some science fiction concept; that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the Star Patrol was more like a foreign legion of the air equipped with the most advanced weapons available to combat the most dangerous threats to the world. Most of the Star Patrol’s weapons had been developed from inventions seized from mad scientists over the years, from death-rays to earthquake machines to giant robots. And while they did have a few operating spaceships in their arsenal, they were rarely used and were kept a secret from the public. Conventional aircraft — albeit conventional aircraft equipped with amazing weapons and gadgets — did the job just fine.
At the end of 1953, the worst fears of the world occurred when the Marvel Family and most of America’s greatest heroes disappeared, while the menaces they routinely battled from month to month still remained to plague the world. Luckily, the Star Patrol helped to fill the void in those years, when a few second-tier heroes and new heroes surfaced to protect the world, such as Master Man, Shiva and Kali, Marvelman, and the Super Squad. But with the exception of the British hero Marvelman and his allies Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman, these heroes usually confined their heroics to the United States, while the Star Patrol operated worldwide.
Dan Hayata was a founding member of the Star Patrol from Japan, working out of the Star Patrol Headquarters there. Six months before the Marvel Family’s disappearance, Dan had been flying a routine search pattern over Tengu Lake, his jet performing better than he expected. He turned in an arc to repeat his circle. Then two meteors crashed through the atmosphere; the blue one went into the lake, and the red one hit Dan’s plane, destroying it instantly.
His plane destroyed, Dan Hayata had found himself floating in red radiance, and he found that he had left his body behind with the fragments of his plane.
Dan found himself staring at the plain silver giant that floated in the radiance with him. He wondered at this first contact. Was he even still alive?
“Partially.” The giant’s voice was steady, almost flat, but soft.
“Who are you?” Dan asked. “What happened to me?”
“Our crafts collided in midair. Yours was destroyed by the impact. I rescued what I could. Unfortunately, you will die if you are returned to your people.”
“The Patrol will be able to fix me,” Dan asserted. “They are the best from all over the world.”
A picture formed in Dan’s mind of what was left of his body. No human could repair the wreck his body would be if he was placed back at the site of the crash.
“I have an alternative…”
“What kind of alternative?” And Dan listened to the giant’s proposal.
Dan Hayata was deposited beside Tengu Lake after accepting the giant’s offer for another chance. He was a bit stunned by the encounter. He sat down, waiting for daylight and the search parties that would surely come looking for the remains of his jet. M-78, as Dan came to call him — for that was the star system from which the silver giant had come — was a reassuring presence for the young pilot as he stared at the lake, thinking about how he felt and how the world had changed for him.
Tengu Lake began to bubble gently, and blue light danced just under the surface of the water. Suddenly, waves rushed toward the shore as the thing from the other shell emerged and began to grow to an enormous height.
A Star Patrol jet soared down from Dan’s left. The unit’s star arrow insignia glowed as missiles fired into the creature, wounding it. It swung its mighty arm, clipping a wing off of the bothersome Star Patrol vehicle.
Dan pulled out the triggering device — the cylinder given to him by the silver alien he called M-78 — and activated the change for the first time. Together, they became Ultraman.
In the present, Dan staggered to the bar’s door. It had been a long partnership for the two — almost thirty-five years.
“Thirty-three years, six months.”
Nobody likes a perfectionist, Dan thought as he stepped into the bar.
Dan was aware he drew stares as he looked the place over. His normally neat uniform was ripped and torn, and his face had been sliced by shrapnel when his jet had crashed.
He staggered to a table and sat down. It had been a long walk across the desert. He decided to get a beer. Saki would be in short supply here.
“These people are in the kill zone.”
It’ll be all right, Dan thought, resting his head on his arms for a moment. Let me get some strength back.
“Are you OK, mister?” asked a local. He had been used cruelly by the desert sun and wind, becoming as craggy as a mesa.
“You need to get clear of this area,” Dan whispered. He wanted to say it out loud but had lost his voice to dehydration. “There is going to be trouble later.”
“What are you talking about?” the local asked.
“Trouble,” whispered Dan. “Big trouble. Here in minutes.”
“Who are you?”
“Star Patrol,” Dan managed. “Get out of here.”
The men and women started filing out, staring at the battered pilot as he tried to sit up straight in his chair. He ignored the chatter, trying to focus on getting enough strength to get to the bar and getting a beer before the main event.
Dan dragged a beer bottle closer and opened it with a trembling hand. He took a sip, enjoying the cool taste. Ever thought about retiring? Dan asked his alter ego.
“I can’t ever retire. You know that. It’s coming, Dan. Get ready.”
Just a thought. Dan sipped some more beer, holding himself up with the bar. He felt a little better, but not quite at full strength. He wished he hadn’t gone this alone now. Shimata would kill him when he found out.
“Captain Shimata will be lenient.”
It’s hard to be a pessimist with you around, Dan thought.
The desert began to shake around the small building. Dan saw a cloud of dust scratch against the windows as he finished his bottle. He placed the glass container on the floor before pulling out a small cylinder from his dark orange jacket.
“Let’s get this over with,” Dan said, holding the cylinder in the air.
The pilot was surrounded by a glow from the cylinder. When it cleared, a man of silver stood in his place. A fin formed on its otherwise bald head. Glowing ovals were the alter ego’s eyes. He had become the hero known as Ultraman.
Something exploded from the dirt, looming into the sky. It roared in glee. Then a giant foot crushed the roadhouse flat.
“How many monsters have we battled over the years?” said Dan in the hero’s mind.
Mind on the job, thought Ultraman, enlarging his size to match the thing that had crushed the roadhouse.
“You’re in the pilot’s chair,” said Dan.
“M-78,” said the monster telepathically, a thing of scales with crab claws for upper appendages and a spreading, insect-like head. “Why do you oppose my kind?”
“It’s my job,” replied the giant Ultraman. “Do you wish to surrender, Belten, and make this easy on the both of us?”
“I think it will be hard.”
“Why do we bother?” said Dan.
The Belten opened its claws, and coherent light ripped the night air. Ultraman shoulder-rolled under the blasts, snapping to his feet and slicing across the alien’s torso with the edge of his hand and a shower of sparks. The giant staggered from the assault.
“They never give up,” said Dan.
Do you have a suggestion? thought M-78.
The Belten laughed, splitting into three equal fighters. The trio raised their clawed hands, causing the ground around Ultraman to explode. The silver giant fell over, flipping backward to his feet.
“Give me a second.” Dan Hayata stared at the Belten from the back of M-78’s conscious mind. He was just a passenger in the here and now. It allowed him to step back and analyze things as he had when the partners had first acted.
“You remember that trick we did with the water the first time we met?” thought Dan.
I think so, thought M-78. A different application would need to be applied in this desert.
The Belten triplets fired vertical rings at the silver giant. Their laughter rang out as Ultraman was blasted off of his feet. Dan winced, sharing the falling feeling and sudden stop. “Get up,” he said. “They are coming to finish us off.”
Backseat driver, complained M-78.
The Belten surrounded the fallen giant. Lambent charges played inside their claws as they powered up for the killing blow. Their insectoid faces seemed to be smiling. Ultraman’s hands pressed against the dry earth. The aliens fired their massive killing attack at the hero as he soared upward. Dirt flew in the air, forming a cloud drifting slowly out from the point of impact. Their laughter carried over the dust cloud mockingly.
“Hai-yah!” roared Ultraman, standing away at a small distance, arms crossed, fingers extended. A beam of sparkling light leaped from where his wrists crossed. It played on the dust cloud, turning the sand into something that resembled glass.
Shells formed over the Belten warriors before they could move. Their eerie laughter ceased as the shells covered them completely. The alien invaders locked in place as the glass hardened, forcing them to conserve their energy until they were freed.
“Man, that went easier than I thought,” said Dan.
Speak for yourself, thought M-78. Let’s take them where they can be taken into custody and switch back. I am at my limit.
Ultraman raised his hands, generating a glowing platform under himself and his foes. He looked straight up in the sky. With a roar, the platform vanished into the night.
Captain Takao Shimata arrived in the desert the next morning aboard a Star Patrol jet, a small team with him when he landed. Captain Amanda Waller from the American staff had arrived with him. She began to bark out orders to the detail to find out what happened.
Dan Hayata finished his beer slowly as he sat in the shade from a makeshift lean-to. He stood at attention when the officers came to rest in front of him.
“Report,” barked Waller, irritating Dan for an undefined reason.
“There was a fight and the good guys won,” said Dan quietly. “Do you need to know anything else?”
“Dismissed,” said Shimata, waving his hand. “File your paperwork as usual, and get some rest. Then we’ll talk about the violations that you committed.”
“Yes, sir,” said Dan, saluting. He pulled off his battered jacket as he headed for the transport.
“You’re getting too old for this,” said M-78.
“Tell me about it,” Dan said quietly.