by Philip-Todd Franklin
Outside the San Francisco Bay, the U.S. Army was slowly beginning to press its way forward into the area, and the fighting was impressive on both sides. For hours on the first day of the battle, it nearly seemed as if the task before the U.S. troops was an impossible one, as the Occupation had men stationed in the strangest places, making the assault upon the area harder than anyone thought it would be.
It was by the middle of the third day that one of the army scouts first noticed the number of opposing forces was dwindling, almost as if they were leaving or retreating once again. Thus slowly, block by block, the U.S. Army began its march deep into the last strongholds in the San Francisco Bay area.
Along the ditches of the litter-stained U.S. Route 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco were wrecked and bombed-out cars, the remains of those who had been caught unawares during the first hours of the invasion a year earlier and pushed off the highway into the ditches by the Occupation, which turned it into a supply route. Today, however, there was one more automobile, only this one was moving with great purpose as it rocketed across the landscape. The make of the car was unlike anything anyone had seen on this Earth; it was jet black and seemed to shimmer under the light of day. By appearance alone, it would be nearly impossible to see at night.
But that was not the most important part, for within it sat two people; behind the wheel was Victor Jenkins, and in the passenger seat was Hi-Jack, dressed in a pair of black pants, a multi-pocketed black belt, what looked like a white turtleneck shirt, a mask that covered his whole head, a long black coat, a pair of black boots, and some form-fitting red gloves. Laying across his lap was the same club-shaped mace that he had brought with him from Earth-One; it, too, was now painted black.
As part of the super-villain army that had briefly taken over Earth-X during the Crisis, Hi-Jack had helped transport some of the equipment brought to give the non-powered villains an edge against any super-heroes found there. But since Earth-X had so few heroes left after the long war and the Nazi Occupation in the 1960s and early 1970s, that equipment had not been needed. Luckily for Hi-Jack, it had also not been discovered since he’d hidden it away in Los Angeles before the invasion.
Along with the equipment left behind from the failed villain war was an amazing vehicle donated to the cause by none other than the Joker. It had been a Jokermobile patterned after a recent model of the Batmobile, with several features copied from the Batman’s fabled car. With Jenkins’ help, Hi-Jack had been able to find it, and the two men painted it black and quickly oriented themselves on how to use it properly. Knowing the Joker’s often fatal sense of humor, Hi-Jack checked the vehicle carefully to ensure that it wasn’t booby-trapped before using it. Once he was sure it was safe, he dubbed the vehicle the Jack of Clubs.
As he drove the car down the interstate, Jenkins said, “Should I expect more ‘outings’ like this, sir, with your mystery-man outfit and this odd vehicle? Is this the shape of things to come?”
“Maybe,” said Hi-Jack, not really paying attention to the question.
“I hate to belabor the point, sir,” added Jenkins, “but didn’t you promise General King that you would not get involved and would let the army rescue your sister and her family?”
Hi-Jack sat in the seat and thought for a moment before speaking, but when he did, his voice nearly sent chills up Jenkins’ spine. “Yeah, I told him the senator would stay out of it, but I didn’t say anything about Hi-Jack staying away. And nothing will stop me from saving his family.”
With that, Hi-Jack returned his eyes to the large monitor before him to scan the map of the San Francisco Bay area, trying to pick out the building where the captives were held. He was so driven in his actions that he hadn’t caught his little slip of the tongue, yet the look on Jenkins’ face spoke volumes.
What is going on here? Jenkins thought to himself. Either the doctor was right, or something strange is going on here with the senator. But the butler didn’t voice his thought out loud, just continuing to drive past more destruction on the roads.
As they reached the outlying communities near San Francisco, the equipment inside the Jack of Clubs began to come to life. Slowly, little monitors upon the dash lit up, providing an aerial view of the area, and the radio began to scan actively for any and all reports of the battle. Slowly, Jenkins pulled the car between the wrecks of two tractor-trailers on the highway and put the Jack of Clubs into standby mode. “Sir, you don’t have to do this — you know that,” Jenkins said. “The military will have those held hostage free in a few days.”
Just as Hi-Jack was about to respond, the radio spat out transmissions across many frequencies at once. “Tango One to Fox Hole — we’ve run into major resistance in the Bay point area and are taking a beating. Respond, please.” The message repeated once again, followed by radio traffic from other squads of soldiers having the same problems.
At the makeshift Occupation headquarters, Private Hiroshi Tain was watching as the handpicked execution squad gathered the few prisoners the captain wished to keep. Of those remaining, only Governor Steve Gramm, Ethan Jones, Macy Johnson, and her children Tony and Casey, along with two other women, had been removed away from the other prisoners.
After a few moments, Captain Juno Suto returned from his office and looked at the prisoners before turning to Private Tain. “Why have you kept those worthless children? They should be disposed of with the others.”
At those words, a look of complete calm came across Tain’s face as he slowly looked around, almost as if for the first time truly seeing where he was; yet he did not speak. Suto continued to stare at Tain as he waited for a response, noticing for the first time a slight glow in Tain’s eyes.
Hi-Jack looked over at Jenkins as they continued to listen to the reports that were coming in from the military. “Jenkins, drive us as far into the area as you can. This thing should be able to withstand nearly anything that can be tossed at it. Let me out near Fisherman’s Wharf as close as possible, then go to standby mode and listen for my call for retrieval.”
Jenkins just flipped a few switches as he nodded his head and, pressing the pedal all the way down, began driving down Highway 101 at the safest speed possible. It’s not what will be tossed at us that bothers me, he thought, but who will be doing the shooting, and with what. Yet Jenkins again refused to speak his mind to Jack.
Just before dark, the Jack of Clubs sped through Redwood City, San Mateo, and finally South San Francisco, at times being fired on sporadically by both Occupation troops and U.S. troops, since neither knew to which side the car belonged. The driver and passenger continued to listen to the reports as Hi-Jack begin to look for the possible location of the enemy headquarters in the area.
The last time he was in the Earth-One version of San Francisco, he’d been a prisoner at the Bay Federal Prison on Golden Gate Island. Hi-Jack had made the mistake of joining the San Francisco-based Secret Society of Super-Villains and had been temporarily sent to the other-dimensional world of Limbo by another member called the Wizard. (*) When Hi-Jack found himself back on Earth sometime later, he was immediately imprisoned for his crimes as a member of the Royal Flush Gang. Although he had a bone to pick with the Wizard and the Secret Society itself, he didn’t spill the beans about it to anyone. But when Professor Zoom the Reverse-Flash paid him a visit, Hi-Jack let it slip that the Courtney Building in San Francisco was the Secret Society’s headquarters; he later realized that “Professor Zoom” had actually been the Flash in disguise, and that he’d been tricked into ratting on the team. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Thieves Fall Out,” Secret Society of Super-Villains #4 (October, 1976) and “The League that Defeated Itself,” Justice League of America #167 (June, 1979).]
The radio came alive again, shaking Hi-Jack from his reminiscing. “Repeat — unconfirmed battle taking place in North Beach. Unknown combatants are–” And the radio went silent mid-sentence.
During the last few days, ships of all kinds had been sailing into San Francisco Bay, and platoon after platoon of Occupation troops had been loading up and evacuating the area. Today had been no different until a few moments ago.
After dark, the sounds of heavy gunfire began erupting from a warehouse used as a makeshift base. Several soldiers began running toward the building as if their own lives depended on it, as something vaguely man-shaped slinked between the dark shadows, laughing uncontrollably as it went.
In San Bernardino, the chief coroner went from storage locker to storage locker, tagging bodies and marking upon a pad any items that could be used to later identify the many bodies stored within. To the doctor, an item upon the little finger of one body stood out almost like a beacon.
It was a class ring that had markings etched across it. He stared at it with astonishment for a few moments, then looked down at the class ring that adorned the little finger of his own left hand, noticing that the two were almost identical, with minuscule differences between them. Like the chief coroner, the man had also graduated from UCLA when he was alive, if the class ring was any indication. But his face had been damaged beyond recognition.
“Just who the heck are you, mystery man?” the coroner said to himself, closing the door on the cold storage locker and turning the lights off as he left.
Captain Suto stood staring at Private Tain, waiting for his question to be answered and his orders carried out. For a moment he couldn’t take his eyes away from Tain’s; he was sure that something was different about them.
After a moment, Tain frowned and looked squarely into the eyes of the man who had been his captain since the beginning of the occupation. Ever so slowly, Tain shook his head and spoke, his voice seeming to convey a strength that the man had not shown in days, along with wisdom and understanding that spoke of many years of life. “These brave men and women shall not die today, foul one,” he said in English. “Your rain of death shall end forevermore, just as America shall always regain its freedom.”
Captain Suto’s eyes nearly bulged out as he heard those words come from Tain, and he was immediately overcome with rage. “They will die, you worthless piece of scum,” he shouted in Japanese, “just as all blood traitors and inferiors shall one day die by my hands!”
With those words, the captain quickly removed his revolver from his side pocket, aimed it squarely at Tain, and pulled the trigger. As the bullet struck the young man, its speed and force lifted him from the ground and tossed him into the cage holding the captives. Suto continued to fire the gun, emptying its rounds at Tain while screaming at his men, “Kill them all! All shall die today!”
The two soldiers guarding the cage then lifted their guns, aimed them at two prisoners designated for execution, and pulled the triggers.
The battle around the San Francisco Bay area was truly becoming a costly battle for the U.S. Army, despite the vast evacuation by the Imperial Japanese fleet. As the army commanders saw it, it would be nearly three more full days before the enemy defenses was cleared away to retrieve the hostages.
That was not an option General Walter King was willing to allow. He ordered his men to press on.
Within the hour and under the cover of darkness, Jenkins was able to bring the car to less than a block from the warehouse where General King had suspected that the prisoners were being held.
Hi-Jack looked over at Jenkins and said, “Remember, I’ll radio you when I’ve got Macy and the kids, then you come for the extraction. Got it?”
Jenkins nodded his head as he once again placed the mighty Jack of Clubs into standby mode. Hi-Jack lifted the passenger side door and slowly crawled out of the car, holding his mace in his right hand and slipping the mask down over his face with his left before closing the car door. Between the shadows, the man in black began to run as quickly as he dared toward the building.
The sight of the two female prisoners being shot was the last straw for Ethan Jones. Just as Hiroshi Tain’s body crashed into the bars of the cage, Ethan began to laugh uncontrollably, while his eyes began to glow.
As the last bullet made contact with Tain’s body, the sound of someone whistling The Star-Spangled Banner could be heard, and it sounded as if it was coming from everywhere at once. This sound and Ethan’s crazy laughter unnerved all of those in the building so that they were no longer able to pay attention to everything that was going on.
In the confusion, the glow in Ethan’s eyes had quickly grown and then, just as quickly, turned black as if being sucked into a black hole. His body grew very dark, even as he continued to laugh uncontrollably.
Macy Johnson had been watching the exchange until the strange noise erupted, when she looked at Tain’s fallen body, only to notice that his eyes were still glowing as if lit from within. Not understanding any of this, she slowly made her way back as far as possible toward the far wall with her kids in tow.
As Hi-Jack broke from cover onto Jefferson Street toward the building, he ran into three men wearing Occupation uniforms, each carrying a rifle. Smiling under his mask, he spoke to them in a deep voice, not caring if they could understand or not. “Let’s dance, corpses — I’ve got important people to rescue.” He tapped his mace across his left hand to emphasize his words.
Without waiting for a response from the three soldiers, Hi-Jack swung his mace at the one standing before him, and it passed by with a whoosh without making contact. Not missing a beat, he kicked out his left leg and squarely struck the stomach of the man to his left, sending him crashing onto the ground. The whole time he barely kept himself from being shot by the third soldier, who had aimed his gun at Hi-Jack and pulled the trigger.
Hi-Jack continued his motion, bringing his mace around as he moved, sending it crashing into the legs of the one who had just shot at him as he dived toward the one in front of him, tackling him to the ground. Slowly, the second man was beginning to pull himself to his feet. From the warehouse, the sounds of gunfire could be heard over the battle raging around Hi-Jack as he thought to himself, I’ve got to make it.
All of Ethan Jones’ body was now pitch-black as if he was merely a shadow in the form of a man, his laughter sounding as if it came from far away, even as the whistling of The Star-Spangled Banner continued. The soldiers and the captain, along with the few remaining captives, continued to look around, trying in vain to locate the source of the sound.
No one was paying Tain’s body any attention as he slowly began to stand up, his eyes holding a glow that seemed to shift from red to white to blue. As he took a step toward Captain Suto, he softly sang, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”
Oddly enough, as Tain began to sing, the whistling stopped. As Suto turned to face the singing man, Tain struck out his fist with a roundhouse punch, sending the captain soaring back toward the wall of the warehouse office.
The two soldiers both turned and began to fire their guns at Tain as quickly as they could. Tain’s only response was for his body to glow in what looked like red and white stripes as the bullets made contact. As the glow from Tain’s body continued to grow, the lights in the ceiling began to dim and then extinguish all at once, plunging the room into near-total darkness.
In the darkness, the two women who had been held captive both screamed as something touched their shoulders. Slowly their screams began to fade as the sound of mad laughter became louder, and then it, too, began to fade from the room.