Freedom Force: The Price of Freedom, Chapter 4: The Dinner Act

by Philip-Todd Franklin

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Wellington Estate, Los Angeles, California, September 14, 9:51 A.M.:

Jack Wellington slowly drove his car toward the mansion that had become home not too long ago, continuing to replay through his mind the news he’d received after his plane had landed. He’d been told that there was an explosion at the hotel in which Macy was staying, along with the reports of several casualties and missing persons. Nowhere had there been any mention of Macy at all, neither as one of the dead or even as a missing person, so there was no way to know where she was. What made matters worse was the fact that no one had claimed responsibility for the explosion, which was likely to have been set off intentionally.

Parking his car in the garage along with all the other vehicles his counterpart had collected over the years, Jack quickly retrieved two small packages and headed into the house. He hadn’t made it any farther than the mud room when he was nearly tackled by a pair of young kids, both of them shouting at him at once.

“Uncle Jack, you’re home! You’re home! Yay!” said Tony and Casey Johnson, their voices hard to distinguish from each other.

To keep from dropping either of the packages he was carrying in his arms, he quickly set them down, then grabbed Casey and Tony in each arm, picking them up and throwing them on the big soft couch. Grinning, he said, “I’ve missed you both, too — so much that I brought a couple of surprises back with me.”

Quickly adopting a serious tone, he frowned and said, “You two have been behaving while your mom and I’ve been out, right?” He could barely keep from cracking a smile as they both nodded quickly in reply. “Good, ’cause I’d hate to have to return these.”

Taking the first package, he handed it to Casey and watched her eyes grow large as she tore into the paper and then the box to find a doll within. Cuddling it tightly, she said, “Thank you, Uncle Jack! She’s beautiful!” Giving him a quick peck on the cheek, she ran squealing down the hall to her room.

Tony took a bit more time opening his package as he slowly removed a few books and a little home chemistry set, and a bright smile crossed his face as he looked up. “Uncle, thank you! I’ve always wanted one of these,” he said, hugging Jack once again and heading off toward his room.

As Jack stood up, the butler Victor Jenkins appeared in the doorway and said, “Sir, I’ve got all of the papers you asked for and have laid them out in the study in the west wing of the house. I’ve not heard any word from Macy, either. I do hope she is OK.”

Jack nodded for a few moments as he worked to keep from falling into despair, and then said, “I do, too, Jenkins. I do, too.”

After a moment of silence, Jenkins said, “I can get you some breakfast if you would like, sir; it wouldn’t take me but a few moments.”

Glancing at Jenkins for a moment, Jack started to walk toward the west wing of the house. “No, I don’t think I need any, Jenkins. Thanks for asking. But some coffee would be wonderful.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll meet you in the study with it,” Jenkins said as he headed toward the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Jenkins entered the study, where he found Jack poring over the stacks of papers and quickly scribbling onto one of the new notebooks that lay upon the table.

Setting the coffee down, the butler took a moment to quietly walk to the study door, shut it, and lock it before he said another word. “Have you had any luck with all of this, Jack?”

Looking up from the papers after a moment, Jack replied to the one man in this world who knew his secret, “Yeah, I think there is something to all of this. Though I’ve had to fill in some of the blanks.”

Nodded sagely, Jenkins walked over and quickly began to leaf through the notebook Jack had been writing in. “I see you have a list of people here; any reason why you’ve written the general’s name?” Jenkins asked.

“Yeah, I have my reasons, though I think I can already mark him off the list,” Jack said. After a moment, he continued, “The people on that list, Jenkins, are those who, like myself, worked with Amos Fortune on my Earth.”

A blank look passed over Jenkins’ face for a moment or so before the reality of what Jack had said finally hit him. “You mean that these people…?” Before he could continue, Jack interrupted him.

“Yes. They were in my world’s original Royal Flush Gang, and I intend to see if all of them have doubles here,” Jack said with conviction. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: As Hi-Jack, formerly known as the Jack of Spades, Jack Wellington of Earth-One was one of the founding members of the Royal Flush Gang, who first appeared in “The Card Crimes of the Royal Flush Gang,” Justice League of America #43 (March, 1966).]

Jack appeared to have more to say, but before he could continue, an alarm began to blare through the mansion. Both men quickly and silently ran from the study toward the garage. What in heaven’s name is happening now? Jack thought as he ran.

Reaching the garage, Jack and Jenkins walked to the rear entrance and stood there for a moment as a panel slowly slid out from the wall, revealing a passageway. Both men entered.

In the room against the back wall was a small bank of monitors, and beside those stood two very large computer processors, with two chairs on wheels before them. Standing against the wall they’d just come through was one of the most technologically advanced pieces of telecommunication equipment on Earth.

Sitting down before the monitors, Jack began typing at the keyboard. “I hope all of this works right, as we haven’t actually had much time to test any of this,” he said as different displays of the estate began to come up on different monitors.

Jenkins had just started to sit down in the chair beside him when Jack gasped in shock, and he said, “No, this isn’t possible!”

“What is it, Jack?” Jenkins asked sharply, his eyes quickly scanning the different monitors before he also finally noticed what Jack had seen.

On the one of the monitors stood four strangely dressed individuals, each of whom were wearing what looked like full bodysuits of white emblazoned with diamonds from head to toe. The only thing that distinguished them was the large letters on each of their suits; each one also carried a mace with a diamond-shaped head and a kind of gun on each hip.

Jenkins turned toward Jack, whose shocked eyes were staring at the monitor. With a long, drawn-out breath, Jenkins said, “Who are they supposed to be?”

Pulling his eyes from the monitor, Jack said in a near-whisper, his voice completely serious, “Well, it sure as hell isn’t the circus come calling.” Quickly rising from his chair, he headed toward a locker standing against the south wall, opened it, and began to don a strange-looking suit. Glancing at Jenkins for a moment, he quickly reached for the club-headed mace he owned and said, “Keep Casey and Tony safe with your life as I try to see what these clowns want.”

And with that, Hi-Jack of Earth-One walked through the portal and quickly headed toward the back yard of the estate, hoping to meet the four individuals before they made it anywhere near the house.

Hi-Jack had left the room so quickly that he had completely missed Jenkins’ response. “I always do my best, Jack, but it’s good to see you live up to your true potential.” A gentle smile played across his face as he pressed a button on the wall beside the portal and exited the room in order to quickly round up both of the kids and bring them to safety.

***

Aircraft carrier Yamato, 0800 hours:

Two of the ship’s guards had been ordered to locate the doctor who’d performed the interrogations. As they walked the darkened corridor leading to the holding cells and the interrogation room, the smell of cooked meat and hair hung in the air, and it wasn’t a pleasant scent.

One guard looked at the other and said in Japanese, “What is that awful smell?”

His companion turned and shook his head, saying, “I do not know, but the smell is getting worse as we approach that one room.” He pointed at the room in the far corner. As they reached the room, the smell almost became too much for them, but nevertheless they pressed on.

The first guard opened the door to the room, and when it popped open, the air inside reeked so badly that he quickly fell to his knees and emptied the contents of his stomach onto the deck.

Seeing his companion’s action, the second guard quickly covered his nose and mouth before gently stepping over the man and looking into the room. Before he could help it, he gasped at the sight.

Lying on the deck floor were three bodies, one wearing the smoking remains of a white coat, another who had apparently been one of the emperor’s personal guard, and the third between them wearing the tattered and ragged remains of a naval uniform, though there wasn’t a single burn mark on the whole body.

After the shock had passed, the second guard walked over to check the bodies, searching for any signs of life. None of them were alive. He looked at his companion.

After a few moments, the first guard stood up, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and said, “Oh, that is truly nasty. What about that one, anyway?” He pointed at the naval officer. “Are we going to get an answer from him?”

The second guard stood up from Captain Suto’s body and slowly shook his head. “No, that one’s a waste, too, it would seem.” He reached to his side and took his radio from his belt. “Security to bridge.”

Across the radio, the response was, “Bridge here. Report. Were you able to locate the doctor?”

“Yes, we found the doctor — or at least his remains — along with that of an emperor’s guard, and the former Captain Suto’s body, too.”

“Is there anything else?”

The guard thought for a moment and said, “Well, sir, all of them except Captain Suto were completely burned, but there isn’t one mark on Suto himself.”

The reply over the radio came quickly. “Say no more. Dispose of Suto’s body and say nothing to anyone about ever seeing him. Do you understand?”

“Aye-aye, sir. Understood,” the second guard said before replacing the radio back to his belt. Looking at the first guard, he said, “Well, let’s hop to it and get rid of this, shall we?” The other man nodded and looked quite ill once more.

***

The first meeting was long and, at times, quite complicated. Many of the things that were discussed had left Hiroshi Tain completely lost, and he began — not for the first time — to wonder why he was there at all.

After nearly twelve hours, USA the Spirit of Old Glory interrupted what she was saying to look over at Plastic Man after he had raised his hand. “Yes, Plas? You have something important to say?” she asked.

The hero in the bright red costume with a yellow-and-black-striped belt said, “Yeah, I do. When does the dinner act start?” With his powers he stretched his face to create an extra-large yawn as his head angled back toward the ceiling. After living with terrible guilt for the last ten years, Eel O’Brian had finally found peace after coming back from the dead for the second time in his life, and was now unusually happy to be back to work despite the dire circumstances of the world at war. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Feature: Young Allies: Choices, Chapter 2: Heroic Offspring, Feature: The Clock Strikes, Chapter 4: The Dollman, and Feature: The Clock Strikes, Epilogue: The Spirit of America.]

Tain watched as the golden age mystery-man called Plastic Man stretched his arms in an exaggerated yawn until they were wrapped around several pipes in the ceiling.

Old Glory gave Plastic Man a sour look and then looked at each of the others seated at the table. With a sigh, she said, “Well, I agree that we could do with a break. I think we should end for tonight, and meet once again at nine A.M. That way, everyone can have time to relax, refresh, and get some much-needed sleep.”

All the others seated at the round table nodded their heads in agreement, all but Tain, who still just felt lost in this gathering. He just kept sitting there, trying to work out all the events that had occurred to bring him here. He had been a young Japanese-American man — a nisei born of a Japanese mother and a Scottish father — who had been going to school in Japan when he was forced to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army and participate in the invasion and occupation of California.

So lost in thought was he that he didn’t notice when the others all left the room, leaving only himself and Old Glory behind.

The elderly looking Spirit of Old Glory sat down beside Tain and said, “You seem troubled and concerned. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

The look on her face was so gentle and caring that, as soon as he looked at her, he began to feel immediately relaxed and calm, as if a great weight was being unburdened from his shoulders. “Lady, I do not think I belong here. I feel that in the present company I have nothing to contribute.” After speaking, he fell quiet and started staring at the floor.

Inwardly he trembled as he felt her hand rest upon his shoulder, and she lightly chuckled as she said, “Do not worry about belonging with those of us in this room, child. Just know that you have been allowed to sit in the meeting of those who wish to change the world.” With a smile, she continued, “There are others with whom you will feel better connected, and they are here for the same reason you are. Each has something within that has made them worthy of the sponsorship of those at this meeting.”

As Hiroshi Tain looked up at Old Glory for a moment, their eyes locked for just a second. In her eyes he could see everything and nothing. It was as if he could see the complete passage of time, along with the first moment she’d stepped into the world, yet something else was hidden there as well.

Seeing his reaction, she broke the contact and said with a kind smile, “Some things should not be known.” With that, she stood up and offered him her hand, which he took without a second thought, then walked with him from the conference room through a few corridors into a large mess hall.

Before she released his hand, she said to him, “Hiroshi Tain, there is so much within you that you have to offer this project. Tomorrow when you wake I shall see that you are introduced to the others who are here. Now enjoy the food, and may you find some time to relax.”

With those words, Old Glory released Tain’s hand and slowly walked over to the table where her colleagues were eating. Addressing the Spirit of Britain, she said, “Young Tain needs to meet the others with whom he will be working tomorrow. That will help him to relax.”

John Bull looked up from his food and stared at Old Glory, and without any noticeable emotion he said, “I’ll see to it that one of the young men, here, have it set up.” Quickly grabbing his drink, he walked away.

That went rather well, all things considered, Old Glory thought to herself as she sat down and began to chat with the Vagabond and Max Mercury, formerly known as Quicksilver.

Tain began to feel a little out of place once again now that Old Glory had left his side, so he quickly got some food, ate it, and with some help located the room that would be his quarters.

Once he was inside, he took a quick look around and walked over to the bed. Without even taking off his clothes, he pulled himself under the sheets, and before his head hit the pillow, he was already fast asleep.

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