by Doc Quantum
Tom Wright and Darrel Dane continued to make their way across America. They’d had to travel conventionally by train after having been mistaken for an enemy and shot at by American troops while flying over Nevada, but Darrel found it hard to be as patient as he’d managed to be. They’d procured for themselves some plain clothes and currency from trusted local friends they’d met during the last war, so they wouldn’t stand out. Although they were considered heroes in postwar America, and their faces were well-known, they didn’t want to be discovered as having returned to Earth-X until they could regroup and assess the situation. They were afraid that the Nazis would take advantage of their presence on Earth-X as they had when they were gone, only this time they were likely to send Nazi agents after them for their assassination.
In the last two days since returning to Earth-X, the two had discovered that it had actually been several weeks since they first jumped into that portal from Earth-Two to this world. The trip through the vibrational barrier had a quirky, unprecedented effect of displacing them in time as well as space. What had been only seconds for them was many weeks on Earth.
The two had also learned what fate had befallen their home in their absence. Just after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the Earths separated once more and the Freedom Fighters had been stranded on Earth-Two, the Nazis took advantage of the situation to re-take what had once been theirs. The world was totally unprepared for what had happened.
From what they could gather, the rumors of a secret Nazi underground were absolutely true. They had been rebuilding their ranks and establishing a secret army, just waiting for the right opportunity. Much of the technology and the brain trust the Nazis had possessed that were believed to be lost after the end of the war were in fact in their possession. The upper hierarchy of the Nazi party — including, some believed, Adolf Hitler himself — had been mobilizing this underground Nazi army for years now.
Europe was conquered in a matter of days. A combination of a number of mind-controlled sleeper agents from every level of government and level of society, a massive army, a technology even more advanced than the Nazis had displayed during the war, and a group of super-powered SS officers won the battle for them. This super-powered Nazi team was led by a mystery-man whom they claimed was a Manhunter from Mars and who had tremendous super-strength as well as heightened senses. In the Nazis’ propaganda campaign, it was claimed that this Martian (whose skin was literally as white as snow), believing in the superiority of the German race, had come to Earth to share his technology with the Nazis in order that they should once again rule the Earth. Tom was skeptical about this point. He had never heard any credible reports that there was life on Mars, let alone a civilization more advanced than Earth’s.
The most shocking detail of this group of super-powered SS, however, were the names of its members. Translated into English, the individual members’ names were the Red Torpedo, Magno, the Invisible Hood, and Neon the Unknown. They seemed to share the same powers and abilities as the original Freedom Fighters from whom they took their names, and who had died during Uncle Sam’s first trip here in 1941. It was an insult to their memory, Tom thought, and he was looking forward to a confrontation with them someday soon.
An even less expected assault was that of the invasion of California. Americans were so focused on the crisis in Europe that they had underestimated the Pacific front. A puppet government had established itself in Japan after a bloody coup and had allied itself with the Nazis, who likewise had staged their own coup in Germany. A combined force of Japanese and German forces had easily taken California, although they had not gotten any further. American, Canadian, and Mexican troops lined the borders of the Axis-occupied state of California and were now prepared for any further action. The Japanese and German troops in California, however, seemed content to possess this foothold in North America and had not made any further attempts to make a push inland.
America was on edge. Security at every stop was increased, and the two Freedom Fighters on the train hoped that they could make it to New York without being discovered. Thus far, with the false IDs made for them by their Nevada friends they had gone unnoticed, but they were ready to take to the air at the first sign of any problem.
“How are you doing, buddy?” Tom asked Darrel, who had been staring vacantly out the window of the moving train.
“Hm?” he replied after a moment, his mind obviously somewhere else. “Oh… I’m — I’m all right. I’m just thinking about Martha and little Violet…” Darrel became quiet for a moment, then looked at Tom, almost in desperation. “You know, Tom, I don’t think I could — I don’t think I could take Martha’s dying — not again. During those first few hours, when we still thought the Nazis may have taken over all of America, I really thought she could be dead. Now, it doesn’t look as if that’s as big a worry, but not knowing of her whereabouts is driving me crazy. Damn this stupid war! Damn the Nazis! Communication’s been largely curtailed in order to thwart fifth columnist activities, but because of that I can’t even phone my wife!
“Martha — my first wife, Martha — when she died, I felt as if I had died inside. I never believed I would ever love anyone ever again after that. When I met the Earth-One Martha Roberts, it was as if I had been given a second chance at happiness. The last few years of marriage with her have been the happiest ones I can ever remember. Our baby girl’s birth was a blessed event I’d never anticipated before. I know that, if I were to lose them, I’d — I could not live on. I would really rather die.”
“Darrel,” Tom said in an effort to relieve his friend, “Martha and Violet are fine. Just fine. I’m sure they’re safe and sound back in New York and worrying about you just as much as you are about them. We’ll see them tomorrow. You have my word on that.”
Darrel smiled. “Your word, huh? And how much faith can one place in the word of a politician?”
Tom Wright, at one time a U.S. Senator during the early days of the war, laughed lightly at Darrel’s joke and was glad to see him finally smile.
Langford Terrill, who called himself by his nickname “Happy” for all of his life, had escaped war-torn Los Angeles days ago now. He had learned of the Japanese-German invasion of California and of the prior revival of the Nazis through scattered bits of censored news here and there. When he had finally made his decision to return home to Earth-X, some weeks after Uncle Sam and the others had left, he certainly hadn’t expected any of this. Now he was glad he had brought his son to Earth-Two during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. He didn’t want his son to have to live through another Nazi occupation.
He had always regretted his decisions when it came to his son. After his wife had died in childbirth, Happy couldn’t bear to look upon his son’s face without thinking of her. And so he allowed his brother Thomas (now why had his parents named him Langford when they gave his brother an ordinary name like Thomas?) raise him as if he were his own son. There were, however, problems with this as well.
On the night that his son Raymond was born, the doctors had brought him in to see an amazing sight — that of his newborn son, his skin shining as bright as the midday sun! He knew then that his son had inherited his powers and had not yet developed any control over them. He had the lights turned off and cradled his son in his arms there in the dark for the last time as the doctor informed him of his wife’s death. He told the doctor everything then. And that was when they devised the lie — to tell everyone that Ray was allergic to sunlight, and that exposure would be fatal. He would have to live in the dark for the rest of his life.
Thomas became his father and did a decent job of it, while Happy was off with the Freedom Fighters fighting the Nazis. Not long after Ray’s birth, the Nazis took mental control over the world with their mind-control rays, and Happy became too busy to even think of his son. After the war was over, Happy thought about making a visit to see his young son but decided against it. And then, not too long after that, he and the other Freedom Fighters had made the trip to Earth-One. It wasn’t until they returned to Earth-X just a few years ago that Happy was in any position to make up for lost time with his son.
Not long before the Crisis, at his brother’s funeral, Happy finally revealed the entire truth to Ray. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant reunion. Ray had lived his entire life as the Night Boy, unable to leave his house or even see the sun for almost all of his life until now. Somehow Happy had convinced his son to come with him to Earth-Two when the Crisis hit. He was afraid that it could have been the end of life as he knew it, and he didn’t want to die never having had a chance to make things right with his son.
Now that the Crisis was over, the situation between he and his son hadn’t exactly taken any turn for the better, but at least he had hooked Ray up with some really good kids in Infinity, Inc. That was one of many things Earth-Two could offer him that Earth-X couldn’t. Young Ray could have become a hero on Earth-X as well, he supposed, but Happy knew his son needed to be with his own kind — children of golden age heroes who were now heroes themselves.
Happy Terrill stopped his reminiscing. A thought passed through his mind. What now?