Freedom Fighters: 1976: Burning Vengeance, Chapter 1: Wanted Men

by Martin Maenza

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Earth-One:

In the downtown offices of New York City’s district attorney, the heavyset man with white hair combed to one side, a bushy white mustache, and round-lensed glasses glared at a television set in the corner. On the screen, television anchor Clark Kent read the latest news from a teleprompter.

“–escaped from New York police twice today, the result of alleged bungling by the district attorney there. Here with an on-the-scene report is Martha Roberts, GBS special news correspon–“

David Pearson switched off the television in disgust; the picture faded to a single white dot before the screen went totally black. “That’s all I need,” Pearson grumbled, nearly biting through the cigar that was ever present in his mouth, “network coverage of the biggest debacle of my career! I’m going to charge those six clowns with everything from littering to the murder of Wonder Woman!”

The phone rang on the desk; one of the aides answered it while Pearson paced.

“Even though I never liked that Amazon dame, I’m going to milk her death for everything it’s…” Pearson ranted. The office door flew open suddenly, and there stood the aforementioned heroine. “…worth?

“Sorry to burst your balloon, Pearson,” Wonder Woman said, standing confidently with one hand on her hip, “but I’m not as dead as you might wish to believe! The Freedom Fighters saved my life!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Left Hand of Oblivion,” Freedom Fighters #4 (September-October, 1976) and “The Rise and Fall of King Samson,” Freedom Fighters #5 (November-December, 1976).]

The shock caused Pearson to drop his cigar. “Jenkins, cancel the murder charge,” he said, fumbling for the burning item before it set the whole place ablaze, “but everything else sticks!”

***

In a darkened alleyway somewhere in the northern part of Manhattan, six costumed figures waited for nightfall, which was only minutes away. “What do we do now, Sam?” asked a dark-haired woman in a yellow costume with a green cape.

“Can’t rightly say, Sandy,” said a white-haired and bearded man in patriotic colors. “But one thing’s for doggone certain — we’ve got to find the Silver Ghost before the authorities find us!”

“Easier said than done,” said a man with his voice muffled by a mask attached to a silvery white suit that resembled radiation suits. “Every cop in the city’s after us!”

“Maybe we should just get out of the city, then,” said a black-haired man barely a foot tall.

“Good idea, Darrel,” said a handsome, dark-haired man in blue trunks and a cape. From the shadows, he heard a rumbling near the street. A large steel vehicle with a picture of a racing dog on the side rolled past, followed by a cloud of exhaust. “And I think I know how we’ll do it undetected…”

***

Less than an hour later, the last of the three police cars was about to pull away from the New York Historical Society building. In the front seat, two officers talked. “Geez, how did Harris and Williams luck out?” one of the officers grumbled.

“Yeah, really,” the other officer said. “We get called in to pick up some group of villains that the Teen Titans just rounded up, and they get dibs on the babes. Twins, no less! How often do we get to book twins?

“Ha,” the driver said. “Today, three times, I guess. It could be worse, though. That big guy barely made it into the back of Sommers’ car. Thought they’d need to call the paddy wagon for him.”

“True, we’re just stuck with those two back there.” The officer barely glanced in the rearview mirror to the two costumed men in the back of their patrol car. Both men wore blue costumes with red capes. Their goofy hats shaped in an odd way matched the same orange flame insignias on their chests. The police figured the Flamesplasher Twins were hardly a threat anymore.

“I can’t believe it!” one of the villains said. “Two-Face left us high and dry, while those punk kids made fools of us! (*) We’ll pay those punks back, and that split-faced freak, too!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Trouble, Which Rhymes with Double,” Teen Titans #47 (April, 1977) and “Daddy’s Little Crimefighter,” Teen Titans #48 (June, 1977).]

“Shut up, Frank!” the other villain said softly as he fidgeted with his handcuffs near his belt.

Frank noticed what his twin was doing, but wasn’t certain why. “Stan!” he said in a low but firm whisper. His villainous twin brother worked the metal of the cuffs against his belt, trying to pry open the center portion. “What are you doing?”

“They took our wrist-launchers, which Speedy’s arrows gummed up, but not the power supply,” he said. “If I can just…”

One of the officers up front turned around and glanced through the grating. “Hey, what are you doing back th–?”

An explosive blast of flames ripped through the front section and the roof of the police car. The driver lost control of the wheel, and the car swerved off the road and jumped the sidewalk. It crashed through a fire hydrant before running headlong into a brick wall.

Groans came from the cab as the two officers, injured, were pinned inside. The two costumed villains rose from the back of the flaming wreckage of the squad car. “Stan, that was great! Now, about my cuffs…”

“Save it and run, idiot!” Stan replied as he darted toward the nearest side street. “We survived the blast thanks to the flame-retardant materials in our costumes! First we run and hide, and then we figure out what to do next!” And the two villains vanished into the night.

***

In the wee hours of the night, a figure flew low northward along the waterway that separated Ulster and Duchess counties. Hanging down from the Black Condor’s arms and holding on very tightly was the Human Bomb.

“Uh, Tom,” the Bomb said, glancing through the eye slit of his mask at the dark river below, “tell me again how you talked me into this.”

“Roy, you know darn… ugh… well your condition makes it hard for you to… ugh… travel incognito,” grunted the flying hero, Tom Wright. “Since only two of us… ugh… can fly, and I’m… ugh… stronger than the Ray, I got the job.”

The hero watched as his flying teammate continued to strain. “Sorry about that,” the Bomb replied, a touch of melancholy in his voice. His special condition that gave him an explosive touch combined with their transition over to this Earth left him with the limitation of wearing his protective suit all of the time. That did tend to make him stand out like a sore thumb.

Black Condor noticed his friend had gotten quiet. He worried about the man, knowing that Roy Lincoln was more isolated than the rest of the group was on this world to which they were not even born. While Roy and Doll Man had been talking about working something up to dampen that effect so he could walk around in normal clothes, so far they had little time to work beyond the theory. “Hey, Roy, you putting on weight?” Condor asked in a jovial manner, trying to lighten the mood.

“No… I don’t think so. Why?”

“Just kidding… ugh… old buddy,” Condor said with a smile. “We’ll touch down in a bit, so you… ugh… can stretch, and I can rest some, too. Then we’ll get the rest of the way before sunrise.”

***

A number of hours later, as a Greyhound bus worked its way north on the New York Interstate, three pairs sat spread out on the crowded vehicle. All six kept to themselves and spoke in hushed tones to their traveling companions, mostly to avoid drawing any notice of those around them.

“I hope Tom and Roy are doing OK,” said a light-haired man sitting near the front section of the bus. Happy Terrill noticed his seat mate was staring out the window as the bus moved quickly past trees and telephone polls. He tapped the dark-haired man slightly on the shoulder. “Earth to Darrel! You with me, buddy?”

Darrel Dane blinked out of a dazed state. “Sorry, Hap,” he said. “I was just thinking.”

“About?”

“I can’t get over how that reporter looked so much like my Martha,” Darrel Dane said softly. Indeed, the red-haired reporter from New York City was the exact twin of his late girlfriend, the one who was killed on Earth-X during the extended war with the Nazis. The heroes knew that sometimes doppelgängers of people existed on the various multiple Earths; some lived very similar lives, while others had radically different ones. “If only I’d got a chance to talk to her more.”

Happy Terrill put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry,” he said reassuringly. “Once things blow over, we’ll get back there, and you can talk to her all you like.”

“You think?”

Happy smiled. “I promise. We can’t stay on the run forever.”

Near the midsection and on the other side of the aisle sat an elderly looking man and a woman with dark hair pulled up in a scarf. The man fidgeted in his seat, adjusting his clothes. “Tight fit, Sam?” Sandra Knight asked.

“Its not that, Sandy,” the man known as Uncle Sam replied. “It just don’t feel right. It don’t sit well with me like my other suit does.”

“Your other suit would be a bit obvious,” she said, thinking of his red-and-white-striped pants and similarly colored hat; it was as obvious as her skimpy yellow costume and green cape. She pulled her long coat closed.

“It’s not the style so much as it’s the circumstances,” Sam explained. “I didn’t feel right just borrowin’ these things, you know.”

Sandy nodded. Her companion was the embodiment of the American spirit, all that was good and right and just. She never knew a man more honorable and upright. He was a rarity in this day and age.

The night before, the group had been forced to rummage through a Goodwill drop-off site to find clothing for them to travel in. Even though the clothes had been left on the stoop for the needy, and the Freedom Fighters were indeed in the category of needy at this moment, Sam still felt uneasy just taking them.

“We’ll make sure they get donated once we get where we’re going,” Sandy said, glancing out the window. “How far is it to Albany, anyway?”

On the far side and near the back of the bus, two more men sat. One wore dark glasses, and his hair was unnaturally greased down and parted to the side. The other wore a baseball cap pulled down low. They each tried their best to distinguish their appearances so that no one would easily recognize that they were twins.

Frank, in the cap, turned to his brother. “Stan, why we going back to Albany? I thought you couldn’t wait to get out of that town after high school.”

“I couldn’t,” the other brother replied softly. “But it’s the perfect place to hide out. No one but that Two-Face rat even knows who we were under our costumes, so we can walk around our hometown without drawing any suspicious looks.”

Frank nodded. There was no arguing with that logic.

“Besides,” Stan continued, “there’s an old score I’d like to settle back there. Once I’ve had a couple days, I can get our equipment up and running. Then it’s payback time!”

The bus zoomed on down the road. There were another forty miles until Albany.

***

When the bus finally pulled into the station to allow the passengers time to disembark and retrieve their bags from the curb, Black Condor, now dressed in jeans and a sweater, was able to get the attention of his four friends easily enough. Eventually, in roundabout ways, they managed to follow him out to the far corner of the parking lot, where he could fill them in on things.

“Where’s Roy?” Sandy asked. “I hope everything is all right.”

Happy Terrill, noticing the hint of concern in her voice, put his arm about her shoulders, in part to comfort her and in part to remind her of his affections toward her. “I’m sure he’s right as rain and well-hid, right, Tom?”

“Yes, Roy is fine, and he’s waiting for us,” Tom Wright said. “So grab your bags, and let’s move out, folks.” Tom reached for Sandy’s bag, but Happy snatched it first to carry it. Tom shrugged his shoulder slightly.

“Where to?” Darrel asked.

“I managed to rent us a house not too far from here,” Tom said as he led the way. “It’s not the Taj Mahal, but it’ll do for now.”

As the five people walked, Uncle Sam noticed the condition of the neighborhood around them changing. The streets were a little less cleaner and had a few more potholes. The buildings began looking a bit older, a bit more run down. Some had damage that never saw repair. The few shops they passed by had large metal gates that could be put up at night to block the doors and windows to deter thieves.

Finally, the quintet approached a row of tenement homes. Tom pointed to one rundown brick-faced building. “There we go,” he said, “number seventeen forty-three.”

“You weren’t kidding about the condition,” Happy said.

Sandy sniffed the dingy air. “It’s not so bad,” she said, but her voice was hardly convincing. She then glanced across the way and saw a fenced-in yard around an old brick building. “Oh, look! At least there is a school here!”

“Lucky kids,” Darrel said with a slightly sarcastic tone.

“Hey, given our current financial position and limited funds, we can’t be choosy,” Tom said, ushering them inside.

The last to enter the dwelling was Uncle Sam, who stopped on the stoop and took one more glance at the neighborhood. Some might have viewed it as a slum, but to those that lived here, it was home. It was all the people could afford, and they no doubt worked very hard to afford what they could.

Uncle Sam didn’t know how long the group of fugitives would be living here, but he was determined to make the best of it for the others and those who lived there. After all, they were heroes. They were supposed to make a difference.

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