by John M. Burt
Camp Truman, Mare Tranquilitatis, Luna, July 20th, 1969:
Dave Clark looked over the dispatches on his desk yet again, the ones that had been there for days and should have been washed for reuse long since, as well as the new ones just off the teletype from Earth. None of them held good news, nor anything that would allow him to avert or even alter the fate of the men and women under his command.
It had all been so different when they’d begun. Seventeen years before, with the Axis in control of the Old World and a long series of fruitless campaigns in a Cold War slowly going nowhere, the breakout into space seemed to promise new hope for the free nations. The Central City Rocket Group, then called the Interplanetary Flight Commission, had a rocket ship built by Professor Hartley Skol and his team that was years in advance of anything the Nazi rocketeer Wernher von Braun had built. They had scientists and a crew of convict volunteers to do the heavy labor on the Moon in exchange for pardons on their prison sentences. All they needed was someone to keep those roughnecks under strict command.
Professor Skol himself persuaded Denny Colt, alias the Spirit, to command the convicts and keep them in line, and he had agreed. So the First Lunar Expedition of 1952 was launched, and the Spirit went to the Moon with his criminal crew, and he brought them back, or at least most of them. They proved that space travel was possible, if extremely dangerous. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Outer Space Spirit: 1952 by Will Eisner.]
But when it came time for the Second Lunar Expedition, the Spirit was unavailable to lead the men, and they went without him. Consequently, the Third Lunar Expedition was set up not long afterward in order to rescue any possible survivors of the second. But this time, they persuaded the man called Midnight to act as a replacement for the Spirit on that third expedition. It wasn’t the first time he’d been compared to or mistaken with the legendary crime-fighter, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Midnight could guess why the Spirit had declined to participate in any subsequent Lunar expeditions. Denny Colt had much more to lose if they went badly; it was no secret to the small community of mystery-men that Colt held out hope to have a family of his own with Central City Police Commissioner Dolan’s lovely daughter, Ellen. Dave Clark had no such earthly ties, except for his group of assistants, who would of course have to remain behind on Earth. The harsh landscape of the Moon was no place for Mortimer “Doc” Wackey, the eccentric scientist; Gabby, the talking monkey; Sniffer Snoop, the bumbling detective; or Hotfoot, the dwarf polar bear. Funny-looking sidekicks had no place in outer space.
So when he was asked to lead a third dangerous expedition to the Moon, Midnight accepted the challenge readily. Anything was better than sitting around waiting for that first German A-bomb, or plague, or resurrected Nordic deity, or whatever else those madmen would come up with to plague the free West.
The Third Lunar Expedition failed to find any survivors of the second, but Midnight proved to be an able commander of the crew. So he went on the Fourth Lunar Expedition just ahead of the first German Moon landing, and he established a permanent base there, staffed not by a criminal crew any longer but by a team of skilled men and women who were specialists in their respective fields. They named it Camp Truman after Harry S. Truman, who had been the Secretary of War under President Wallace.
Midnight defended Camp Truman against the first German attack and the second, led the raid that destroyed the German camp, called Braunstadt, and had even fought the long, painful war of attrition with those hordes of little robots the Japanese had landed. He’d made the Moon U.S. territory from pole to pole, even as America was torn apart by a long conflict across the continent that had begun with the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy by Nazi agents in 1963.
But now, with the Nazis’ mind-control rays in place across the globe since last year, America had finally fallen to the Axis, Earth belonged to the fascists, and before long atomic bombs would be lighting up the face of the Moon, and then the Occupation forces would arrive. The Blackhawks were gone, and Midnight could only assume that Uncle Sam and his Freedom Fighters were also dead or worse. Clark’s people couldn’t return to Earth, couldn’t hide, and would not be allowed to surrender. Was it really true that all they could do was die? Or was there a way to survive the inevitable end?
Jane Jordan burst into Midnight’s office, her eyes wide.
“A ship’s come down at the landing field.”
“Landed? Why would they land?”
“Dave, I don’t think it’s from Earth.”
The landing field was a patch of regolith that had been raked flat and sprayed with silicone oil to keep the dust down. Moving warily across it in his dark blue director’s pressure suit, Midnight looked the strange craft over. It seemed to be a rocket, not too different from the earliest Goddard rockets, streamlined for atmospheric flight, resting on stubby fins. Yet it didn’t look to be able to hold enough fuel to lift off from Luna, let alone from Earth. Had someone finally developed a usable atomic drive?
The rocket was painted a bright red, with a little gold trim. It bore no swastika, nor any other emblem. Near the nose, just behind a broad span of windows that must have marked the cockpit, he could make out gold letters spelling Comet.
As he approached closer, Midnight saw an oval of light dilate near the ship’s middle, and a long tongue extrude from the opening to the ground. A woman (her pressure suit was sufficiently form-fitting to show it) descended to meet him.
He tried his suit radio, but the woman answered with a voice that seemed to come from the air inside his helmet, clearer than radio or helmet-conduction.
“The man called Midnight, I presume?”
“They just call me Dave around here, ma’am. I’m afraid you have the advantage of me.”
Through her transparent bubble helmet, he saw her smile. She extended her hand. “True enough. I’m Joy Daye. Cyclone and I have come to see if we can help you.”
The man called Midnight sat at the Lunar Council meeting table (which was also the Command Center dining table, and the Saturday Games Club play table, and Dave Clark’s sleeping platform when he was too tired to face the tunnel between the Command Center and his quarters) with his fellow council members. They beheld their visitors from the future: Joy Daye, a handsome, fortyish woman in a two-piece green bathing suit and a skullcap with a vertical fin; Cyclone, whose slim body was bulked out considerably by a sturdy red spacesuit; and Blaze Barton, a frail old man in a loose-fitting tunic and sandals of some transparent stuff like lucite. Colonel Daye had already explained that they were members of the Central City Time Group, based in the year 3015.
“Central City doesn’t actually exist anymore, but we named our group after your famous Central City Rocket Group,” said Daye. “It’s such an honor to meet you, Governor Clark, Dr. Richards, Dr. Allen.”
Midnight turned to the old scientists, smiling at their blushes.
Cyclone nodded soberly. “You, the first space explorers, have always been heroes of mine. You were in our thoughts when Joy and I set foot on the first new planet discovered in centuries.”
Daye clasped his hand. “We named it Vito, after his father.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Cyclone, National Comics #1 (July, 1940).]
Dr. Reed Richards’ mobile face showed surprise. “Your father’s name was Vito?”
“Vito Romano,” Cyclone explained. “My real name is Aldo Romano. I hope you don’t mind giving house room to a damned Eye-Tie.”
Dr. Richards laughed and shook his head. “Come outside with me later, and I’ll show you Enrico Fermi’s grave. He died on the second expedition, you know.”
“Even in my time,” Blaze Barton added, “the memory of the Central City Rocketeers and of Camp Truman is honored.”
“And he’s from the other side of the year 50,000 A.D.,” Cyclone said, “which makes you and I practically contemporaries.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Blaze Barton, Hit Comics #1 (July, 1940).]
“Well,” Midnight said, “as you no doubt know, it looks very much as though Camp Truman is indeed about to become a memory. Unless, perhaps, history records some miracle…?”
They all sobered. Finally, Joy Daye said, “I’m sorry. History records that on July 20th, 1969, Camp Truman vanished from the Lunar surface under the flash of a twenty-megaton hydrogen bomb.”