by Philip-Todd Franklin
In the holding cage in an old warehouse at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, the prisoners were trying to relax after what had been a long week of more interrogations. For some of them, it was nearly a repeat of when they had first been captured a year ago. The number of those left had dropped from forty to nearly twenty, and that was counting Macy Johnson and her two kids, who had also been interrogated by a couple of the American sleeper agents that had joined the forces of the Occupation with glee. These traitors were both sadistic and had no compassion in their hearts, caring only for the thrills they got from hearing people scream. They were both muscular and had short dark hair and penetrating blue and green eyes, respectively. Both wore the black and gray uniform given to all of the sleeper agents who had joined the Occupation forces after the invasion.
Only one of the captives from the governor’s entourage was now left, and his mind was nearly completely shattered, as he had been forced to watch each of his colleagues die one by one, along with any other prisoner deemed unnecessary to the Occupation. His name was Ethan Jones, and he had been the governor’s chief of security; he had fiery red hair and hazel eyes, and at one time he’d had an excessively bubbly personality. Now, as anyone could see, he was a completely broken man, and even those among the remaining captives and a few of those sleeper agents who had to deal with them daily felt compassion and pity for him.
Of all the men who came and went from the makeshift holding cells, one of them stood out the most to Macy and the governor. The short man with green eyes of Japanese and Scottish descent named Hiroshi Tain had said nothing as he watched other agents and guards bring food and remove prisoners at unscheduled times, but he always continued to look at those in the cage and walk away with fresh tears in his eyes at the sight.
As he went off again to report to the captain, Private Tain thought to himself, Why did I join them? Never have I had anything but great opportunities in this land of my fathers, and mom did so love dad that she was willing to forsake home for him. It would break their hearts if they were alive today. But what can I do to change anything? And, for that matter, why do I even care so much? He continued to entertain these confusing, conflicting thoughts on the way to see Captain Suto.
Each death had an effect on Macy and her kids, for each loss only reminded them that at any time they could be considered worthless, and the same could happen to any of them. Young Tony Johnson had already decided to himself that he would do anything he could to spare his little sister from the monsters on the other side of the cage. As for little Casey Johnson, she had slowly become quieter and less responsive to each death, almost as if she was seeing each person die before her eyes. Macy did what she could to comfort and protect her kids from what was happening, all along praying for a miracle of a rescue, though she could hardly believe it would happen anymore.
“Be well and take it easy, Jack. You’re still going to be weak and disoriented for at least the next few days and don’t need to do anything too strenuous,” said Dr. Tom Williams. As an afterthought he added with a wink, “And, Senator, that’s your doctor’s orders, too.”
Hi-Jack looked at him, just slowly nodding his head before replying, “Thank you, Tom… for a lot of things. I’m sure if I need anything, I will contact you. Take care.”
Dr. Williams shook his had as he left the man he believed to be Senator Wellington alone with his thoughts in the room.
Now what to do about General King, thought Hi-Jack as he walked to the closet and began to decide on what he would wear. Don’t know how long I can continue pretending to be this world’s Jack Wellington.
In the parlor, Victor Jenkins carried a silver tray with a serving pot of coffee and four cups, as well as some finger-size sandwiches. “The senator shall join you shortly, sir. He asked me to attend to any of your needs while you wait,” said Jenkins as he sat the tray down.
General Walter King reached over from his seat, took one of the cups, and poured some coffee before the butler could even move. “Jack always has set a nice table since he became a senator. Thank you, Jenkins,” he said, slowly drinking his coffee. Looking at the two soldiers who had accompanied him into the room, he added, “Drink up, boys. You never know when you’ll get it this good again.” He grinned at both of them as they each quickly grabbed a cup of coffee and a few sandwiches.
As Hi-Jack donned a light blue, three-piece suit, he looked around the room and glanced at the desk, longing to just forget anything else at the moment and dig through its drawers to see what could be found to solve his confusion about this place. “Oh, well,” he said quietly to himself. “Guess that will just have to wait, like so many other things.” He then turned and walked out toward the parlor.
As the general and his boys were polishing off the rest of the sandwiches, Hi-Jack entered, wearing his best pokerface as he spoke. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit, General?” he asked, at first seeing only the back of King’s head.
Slowly, General Walter King sat the cup onto the table near his chair and turned to look at Hi-Jack, before grinning from ear to ear. “Jack, you old card, it’s me!” he said, standing and walking toward him. “You know you don’t have to be so formal around the boys.”
Hi-Jack just looked at him and waited for him to continue. This man was nearly identical to the Walt King that he had known since childhood on Earth-One, but on his own world the two men had been juvenile delinquents who had grown up to become super-villains. Walt had become King of the Royal Flush Gang, and he’d worn an almost-permanent scowl on his face ever since. This Walter King, on the other hand, genuinely looked like a honorable man. It was very disturbing.
Without another word, the general quickly wrapped his arms around him, gave him a quick hug, and said, “Now, Jack, relax. This isn’t a formal visit, or at least I’m trying to not make it one.” As he backed up a little, he looked right into the other man’s eyes as a sad look came across his face.
Hi-Jack took another moment and then finally spoke. “Walt, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I’m just not myself. Seems nearly getting shot will do that to me,” he said, grinning at him.
Walter just nodded and said, “Sorry about that. We didn’t know you were in the area.”
Hi-Jack slowly walked over to the tray and poured the last cup of coffee before sitting down on the chair beside Walter. “I don’t even know why I was there now myself, if that helps matters,” Hi-Jack said, taking a sip of his drink.
Walter looked around for a moment as if trying to find the right words to say. Then, without waiting, he just opened up and spoke. “Jack, the last time you and I talked, you told me that Macy and the kids had been captured, and you were going to get them out.” He took a quick sip of his drink and continued. “I know I tried to tell you to leave it up to me or one of the other military bigwigs in the area, but knowing you, you couldn’t. I know she and your niece and nephew are all the family you have left and that they mean the world to you, but…” Walter’s voice trailed off uncomfortably.
Hi-Jack, not sure of his grounding here, threw caution to the wind and spoke. “Walter, if you have some information, just let me have it,” he said to the man he now knew twice over. “Don’t make me have to drag it from you,” he said, giving the general a very hard look.
General Walter King returned the stare, only with less fervor, coupled with pity. Taking a moment or two to collect his thoughts, King glanced around the room, catching sight of an oil painting that hung above the fireplace; it was a picture of the senator’s sister Macy.
“Jack, you and I have known each other since we were kids, and we’ve almost never kept anything from each other,” said Walter, taking a long and deep breath before slowly blowing it out. “Hell, what I’m about to tell you could end my career, but both of you have been like family. Jack, the scouts have found Macy and the kids. They’re being held in a warehouse at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco,” he sighed. “Please, Jack, leave this retrieval up to the military and just stay here,” Walter pleaded.
Hi-Jack looked at him with mixed emotions before replying. Even though this was not the same King he had always known, he hated to lie to him. “OK, Walt. I don’t want to, but I will. Let it be known that Senator Wellington won’t interfere with your military operation.” With those words, he rose from his chair and extended his hand toward the general.
Walter King responded in kind, nodding to Hi-Jack as he said, “Thank you, Jack. I promise to see to it that they are brought home safely.” Shaking his hand, he turned to the two soldiers with him and said, “Come along, boys. We’ve got hostages to rescue, and the rest of a state to free.” At that, the general and his soldiers quickly exited.
Hi-Jack waited until the front door slammed shut before calling out to the butler, “Jenkins, would you come here, please? There’s something I need you to do for me.”
After a few moments, Jenkins walked into the parlor and said, “Yes, sir, what can I do for you?”
Hi-Jack stared at the pictures of Macy and her family, then slowly turned to face Jenkins. “Ah, now this is what I need you to do…” With a devilish grin, he explained exactly what he needed.
After a few days of watching their guards, the prisoners in the governor’s entourage could tell that things were not going according to their leader’s plans. Also, the one they now knew was named Tain was spending more and more time looking at them as if he was lost.
Just before the captives were supposed to receive their midday serving of food and water, Hiroshi Tain found himself once again just looking at them and thinking, I can’t let anything happen to the children. I know in my heart that a mistake has been made, and God help me, I shall set it right somehow. Then the captain found him.
Moments ago, Captain Juno Suto had been thinking of the last report he had received. The war was going badly, and nearly all of the Occupation troops had either been routed and captured or destroyed, or were evacuating California. San Francisco contained the last bastion of the Imperial Japanese Occupation left in the state, and the enemy was harshly pounding on the area.
Looking around in his office, he quickly stood and headed out the door, walking with a brisk pace as he thought, If we must retreat, then there will be no one for the enemy to question left alive. I’ll have that worthless Tain see to it. And for the first time in days, a small ghost of a smile crossed his lips as he walked up to Private Tain.
“You will see to it that the rest of the prisoners are bound and gagged,” Suto said, speaking in Japanese. “We will pull out in less than a day, and I will not leave any here for the enemy.”
Hiroshi Tain looked at the captives and then back at his captain. “Will we take them with us, then?” he asked.
“No, you worthless worm,” Captain Suto retorted. “There are only a few worth keeping. The rest will be liquidated. You will follow my order and be prepared to leave in less than three days; do you understand me?”
Nearly all the color drained from Tain’s face as Suto spoke those words, and he replied in English, “But, sir, why does anyone else need to die if we’re just going to abandon the base?”
Without even taking his eyes off of Private Tain, Captain Suto lashed out with his balled fist and knocked him to the floor, saying, “You forget yourself, and you disgrace your worthless ancestors by speaking the language of weaklings. Should I have you placed with them and disposed along with them, or can I count on you to follow orders?”
Still on the floor, Tain kept his eyes turned down to the floor as he replied in Japanese, “Yes, my captain. For honor I will do as you command.”
From their holding cage, the remaining captives watched the whole event, and a few were shocked when the young Private Tain had spoken in English and not Japanese. Governor Steve Gramm and Macy Johnson exchanged knowing glances, having already guessed that they would not live much longer if they were not rescued soon.
Macy looked at her two children and thought, If only they could have a chance to grow up and experience more out of life. I wish to God there truly was hope of being rescued. Nodding once to the governor, she walked over to the small corner where her kids were resting and sat down beside them, gently falling into a dreamless sleep herself.