Freedom Force: The Price of Freedom, Chapter 2: Enter Max Mercury

by Philip-Todd Franklin

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Aboard the destroyer Sun Tzu, Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian Islands, 0600 hours:

The ship sat completely dark beside the port, and not a single man could be seen responding to the warning whistles blaring all over the naval base. As the military shore patrol arrived to the gangplank of the mighty ship, the two lieutenants quickly got out of the jeep and ran, having noticed that the two guards stationed before the great ship were lying face down on the ground. As Lieutenant Takei turned the ensign over to get a look at his face, a black substance began to pour from the man’s mouth, quickly evaporating as it hit the open air.

Screaming at the sight, Lieutenant Takei began quickly fumbling away from the bodies, tripping over himself as he backed away. Grabbing his belt radio, he spoke quickly, his voice shaken, “Lieutenant Takei here! Both guards for the Sun Tzu are dead! Repeat: both Sun Tzu guards are dead! Recommend someone from medical be sent immediately.”

Over the radio, a voice replied calmly and with a self-assured tone, “Lieutenant, have either of you boarded the ship yet?”

“No, sir,” Takei said, trembling uncontrollably. “And even if you threatened to shoot me and my whole family, I shall not board this ship!”

As Takei reported in, Lieutenant Mori had turned the other man over and, having marginal medical training, began checking for vital signs. As he placed his fingers along the neck to check for a pulse, there could be heard a madcap laughter that seemed to come from everywhere at once. Mori tried to remove his fingers from the body, but found that he was held tight, as if his skin had grafted to the body. His screams interrupted Lieutenant Takei’s report.

Just as Takei turned to ask Mori what was going on, he saw a blackness darker than anything he’d ever seen before begin to cover Mori from head to toe, and a voice began to speak both menacingly but also tenderly, “All who wage senseless war shall find themselves at death’s cold door.”

Takei stood there for a moment more, watching as the darkness started pouring itself into Mori, who slowly suffocated. Without another moment’s thought, Takei jumped up and began to run away as fast as his feet would carry him.

But as he fled by foot, he turned back to look for a moment, then looked forward again and stopped too late. He’d already run headlong into a black shape that looked like a man. It said to him, “Going somewhere, are we, corpus? The party has just started, and you are next upon the list.” Hands seemed to appear from the blackness and shot out, grabbing Takei’s throat and tightly closing over his windpipe.

Takei’s last thoughts as his life began to fade were, I should have stayed at home and gone into acting as mom recommended.

After what seemed like an hour, four more jeeps and an armored personnel carrier pulled up near the jeep left behind by the now-deceased lieutenants. Men wearing the uniforms of the Japanese Imperial Army began to unload from the personnel carrier as a team of doctors began to get out of one of the jeeps.

“What in the world has happened here, and how do we stop it?” one of them said to the others, while in the background, almost too quiet to hear, the sound of madcap laughter could be heard if anyone had cared to stop and listen.

***

Earlier that morning, on the aircraft carrier Yamato:

Captain Juno Suto’s uniform was now shredded beyond the point of even rags, and his body was laced with more cuts and bruises than any man should have been able to survive. His voice was raw from many hours of screaming, and he had long ago lost all hope of being rescued from the doctor who had been working him over.

“Ah, I see that you have awakened once again. Good, good. It’s much more fun to play with an animal when it is awake, don’t you agree?” said the doctor, beginning to shuffle through some items in his little black bag. “You have surprised me, young man. I would have expected you to die a few hours ago, but it seems that you are made of sturdy stuff. Not to worry, though. Your fortitude gives me a choice opportunity to try something.” The doctor pulled out a syringe, along with an unmarked bottle filled with a multi-colored liquid. “I wonder what will happen from this little experiment, hmm?” He chuckled to himself.

Walking over to Captain Suto, the doctor immediately plunged the syringe deep into the captain’s forearm and emptied it.

The results were instantaneous. The captain’s bruised eyes flew open as he looked around wildly and in stark terror, thrashing violently but futilely against his chains as great pain went through his body.

***

September 15th, location unknown:

For just a moment, the world seemed to blur for Hiroshi Tain as he followed USA the Spirit of Old Glory through the vortex she had created. But just as he had begun to notice it, the effect was gone.

When his eyes cleared, he found that they were now standing in another room. Quickly glancing around, he noticed that they were no longer alone, and for just a moment he thought he recognized a few of the other figures there, at least by reputation. “What have I walked into?” Tain asked himself under his breath.

The room appeared to be made out of poured concrete reinforced with steel. A door and a window were in the wall to his right, and beyond those he could see people who were also wearing what looked like the same uniform he was wearing.

Sitting around the table were four individuals. At the head of the table was a man with mutton chop sideburns and sandy brown hair beneath a top hat, who was dressed like an old-time English squire, wearing a vest emblazoned with the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom. Looking appraisingly at Tain, he said to Old Glory with a strong British accent, “Lady, who is this that ye’d bring into our mist? How can ye expect us to trust one o’ his blood?”

Old Glory gave the man a hard stare for a moment, before her face softened, and she wore a small smile as she dragged the reluctant Tain toward the table. “John, be nice to this young man. He’s going to be of great help to us all.”

Not knowing how to handle any of this, Tain simply let Old Glory lead him to a chair, where he promptly sat down.

“Now, if you will let me, John, I shall do the introductions,” she said.

A man with coal-black hair wearing a red bodysuit with a black-and-yellow-striped belt and white goggles grinned and said, “Yes, please do, Old Glory. I’d like to meet this man if you find him important.”

Without missing a beat, she nodded her head and began introducing the men around the table. “Gentlemen, this young man is Hiroshi Tain, and he is my prodigy. Tain, the man in the red costume is called Plastic Man. The man next to him in the blue and white costume with a red mask is known by many names, but you may call him Max Mercury. To Max’s left, wearing the brown military uniform, is the Vagabond. And the man draped in the Union Jack, who spoke carelessly earlier, is John Bull, the United Kingdom’s answer to Uncle Sam.”

“I daresay it’s the other way round,” John Bull said haughtily.

“Now that the introductions have been taken care of, gentlemen, let’s get down to the business at hand, shall we?” Old Glory said with a smile. The others quickly nodded and agreed.

***

Room 309, Royal Arm Hotel, Grantsville, Utah, September 13, 5:45 P.M.:

Macy Johnson sat in one of the overstuffed chairs provided in the room near the balcony and, for the third time that day, re-read the papers in the folder. This just gets more and more fascinating the more I look into it, she thought to herself. Once again she opened the box and went through the photos and blueprints within.

Glancing at her watch, she got up from the chair, walked over to the phone, and dialed a number. Seconds later, she spoke a string of words and combinations before her connection was placed. “Hey, Jack, how are things in Washington? Yes, I understand.” Macy quickly frowned. “He didn’t!” she said angrily into the receiver. “Jack, I am a grown woman. I know how to take care of myself. Yes, my flight leaves in less than three hours, so I’ll see you back at the mansion soon. Yes, you take care, too, bro.”

Hanging up the phone, she quickly packed the box and put the papers back into the folder. Stuffing both box and folder into a bag, she grabbed her car keys and quickly made her way to the underground parking.

Across the street from the hotel sat the same black sedan that had followed her earlier. A young man wearing a blue suit looked at the watch on his arm and started to count. “Five… four… three… two… one…” As he finished, there was a large explosion that caused the front of the hotel to shatter outward, raining destruction on the street below. As the sedan sped away, he began to laugh and quickly dialed a small portable phone.

“Yes, the trouble has been taken care of. No, sir, she will not be bothering the cause again. Heil Hitler.”

***

Grantsville, Utah, four hours later:

Standing in a public phone booth was a shadowy figure. The booth’s lights were out, as the individual had smashed each one. A slender hand grabbed the receiver and began to dial a long string of numbers, waited for a few seconds, and then spoke. “Caught her within her hotel room, you say? So we should not be having any more trouble from Miss Johnson, then. Yes, that is good; you have done an excellent job.”

On and on the slender shape continued speaking, until at the end the figure said, “I will have all that the fool Fortune had, and nothing will ever get in my way — not the law, nor even old friends.” With that, the figure returned the receiver to its place and left the booth laughing, entered a midnight black Jaguar XJS, and started the car. Slamming the pedal to the floor and causing the tires to squeal, he took off out of the city.

***

Grantsville, Utah, September 13, 5:20 P.M.:

A white and blue blur could be seen crisscrossing the country. To those who were able to see the motion of light, they would have made out the form of a well-known mystery-man who was also a war hero. This was Quicksilver, who was deep in thought as he crossed the Utah state line.

It’s good to find that California’s been freed, but I can’t believe I was unable to find that mysterious other speedster who was in the area — the new Quicksilver. (*) It can’t be helped. I was gone for far too many years this time, so it’s no wonder everyone figured I must’ve been a casualty of war when I disappeared in 1949. The truth, that I actually ended up in the Old West and have been a speedster hero under several names in different eras as I’ve made time jumps, is just too strange to explain. Anyway, I can’t continue searching right now, as I’ve got an important meeting to make shortly. For the life of me, I still can’t figure out how Old Glory plucked me out of the time stream just a few days ago! If not for her, I might’ve ended up in the twenty-first century or beyond this time! At least some of my old friends are still alive in this era!

[(*) Editor’s note: See Quicksilver: Flash of Lightning and Quicksilver: The Fall of Los Angeles.]

Just as he was crossing through the city of Grantsville, he noticed something that made him stop as he passed by the Royal Arms Hotel. “What the heck?” Quicksilver said to himself as he turned around and headed back toward the hotel at full speed. Still moving at nearly the speed of light, Quicksilver heard a high-pitched whine just before an explosion began to tear through key places of the hotel. Without a second thought, he took off into the hotel, thinking, I’ve got milliseconds to get everyone out of here before this building is scrap.

A blue blur, Quicksilver ran from room to room, quickly removing the occupants of the hotel and depositing them across the way. After a few seconds had passed, he ran through the only parking garage of the hotel and noticed a young woman dressed in a red dress and a black trenchcoat. She was running quickly toward one of the cars and had a carry bag slung over her shoulders. She was just about to reach it as the first explosion rocked the garage. Quicksilver quickly picked her up in his arms and ran through the exit, as she screamed all the way.

Macy had almost made it to her car when the floor below her began to shake. As the ceiling started to crumble, she lost her balance. “What is going on?” She started to scream just as she felt a force lift her up, and the next second or so she was standing across from the hotel next to a man dressed in a blue and white costume, and he was speaking to her.

“Are you OK, ma’am?” the man asked as he watched the building start to fall in on itself.

“Yes, thank you — at least I think so,” Macy said as tears began to pour from her eyes. “Who — who are you?”

“I’m Quick–” the man began, before stopping himself and starting over. “No, just call me Max — Max Mercury.” Inwardly, Max thought to himself, Let the new kid keep the name. I was beginning to get tired of it, anyway. Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he said, “If you’re going to be OK, ma’am, I’ll be going, as I’m already in a hurry.”

Macy just nodded at him as the paramedics came over and began to walk her toward an ambulance.

In the background, the sounds of sirens could be heard as the local fire department and police began to arrive. A few minutes later, after the police had begun investigating the scene of the crime, Max Mercury was talking to the lieutenant in charge, tapping his foot impatiently and hoping this wouldn’t take too long. “Actually, officer, I was just passing through the area when I saw the beginnings of the explosion.”

“Can you tell me what kind of explosive it was?” the officer asked.

Shaking his head, Max replied, “No. I’m afraid I don’t know much about that. I’m just glad that I was able to help those people here.”

The officer wrote quickly on his pad of paper, taking notes on everything he’d said. He was slightly nervous; after all, he was speaking to a famous war hero who had fought the Nazis alongside the Freedom Fighters for several years. “If there is anything else you can tell us, Mr. Mercury, sir, please don’t hesitate to do so.”

The hero nodded politely, and in the blink of an eye, Max Mercury was off in a blur of white and blue, once again heading eastward.

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