Occupied California, September, 1986:
Captain Shiro Nakayama hated Sacramento. His dark eyes watched as his troops worked to fortify the city from assault. Intelligence gathered by the Kite Man had told him the Americans were massing around the territory still held by the Japanese Axis. He ran his hand through his short blond hair idly as he considered his orders.
He was to escort the provincial governor to San Francisco and see him out of the harbor. If the governor could not be safely taken away, he was to be killed to delay any attempt by American intelligence to learn any plan that might be produced to retake the coast.
If the chance arose, they were to capture or kill this new Quicksilver that had risen from the city of Los Angeles. (*) Nakayama had already stated to his special squad, the Divine Wind, that the hero should be shot on sight. The Divine Wind, or the Kamikaze, was the Imperial Japanese version of the Freedom Fighters, just as the SS Ubermenschen was for Nazi Germany.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Quicksilver: Flash of Lightning.]
He had become privy to information on injuries the missing Manhunter had suffered. (*) His team was too important to be sacrificed for some toad in the High Command. If the speedster got in their way, deadly force was to be used.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Quicksilver: The Fall of Los Angeles.]
Nakayama stepped back from the window. He had preparations to make for the governor’s trip home. No doubt the Americans were already preparing to hound the invaders from their land. His job was to hamper those actions as long as possible until his squad was clear.
He didn’t look forward to that with any degree of happiness.
Long Island, New York:
Dr. Josef Mengele smiled at his work. He gestured to one of his assistants to begin the countdown. The Bundist went about his job smoothly. The tube slid in place, drained, and then split vertically. A so-called Manhunter from Mars regarded the scientists quietly.
“As soon as you are dressed,” Dr. Mengele said, gesturing at the clothing laying on a nearby rack, “I have your mission for you to accomplish for the Fatherland.”
“Dr. Mengele, I presume,” said the Manhunter, going to the rack and starting to dress in the uniform.
“That’s right,” said Mengele suspiciously. The other Manhunter had not been like this when he first created him as a supposed emissary from the aryan race of Mars as part of Nazi propaganda meant to prove that the Third Reich was the rightful ruler of Earth. (*) Had something gone wrong with the creation process. Was this Manhunter too intelligent?
[(*) Editor’s note: See Freedom Fighters: The Fight Continues, Chapter 18: Heir Apparent.]
The Manhunter regarded the three men in the room calmly. He stared at the lab assistant that had released him from his gestation tube. Suddenly, the man split apart under a beam from the super-soldier’s eyes.
“Do I have your attention, gentlemen?” the Manhunter asked, fastening the hasps on his uniform jacket.
Definitely too intelligent, Mengele decided as he nodded to preserve his life.
“I would like all of my brothers released quickly, gentlemen,” said the Manhunter, smiling. “Then we shall discuss my plans for the future of Earth.”
“That could take days,” said the surviving assistant without thought. “There are thousands of tubes that have to be opened one step at a time.”
“I suggest you get busy,” said the Manhunter, smile turning cold as ice. “Perhaps I should replace you two and perform the operations myself.”
“No, no,” interjected Mengele. “We’ll just need time to do the necessary tasks. I’m sure you understand the procedure is complicated.”
“Get on with it, gentlemen,” said the Manhunter, gesturing with a gentle wave. “I am sure, as soon as some of my brothers are revived, you will be able to take a break.”
Mengele nodded at the younger man to start the revivification process on the next tube in the rack. As they worked as slowly as possible, screams drifted to them from the security men upstairs. The Manhunter was already securing his base of operations.
Project M, New Mexico:
Roy Miller sat beside his fellow monster. The man with the x-ray eyes had gotten a pair of wraparound sunglasses to hide his transformed eyes. It couldn’t stop his vision flexing through substances like they were clear glass. At least the normal people on base could look him in the eye now.
The other man had suffered through a transformation as traumatic as Roy. He floated in a glowing shell above the bed. His eyes had lost their whites and elongated into ovals taking up half of his skull. His hair had fallen out in a rush as his ears shrank to nonexistence. His skin had grayed as his body tightened into a wire parody of itself.
David Vincent was a new man, hardly human in appearance. Roy hoped the mental changes weren’t as severe as the outer. He knew not everyone had the resilience of the other victims of the Project Manhunter Experiment.
A glance told him that Martin Cove and Stefan Queen were playing basketball in the base exercise yard. The two were cheating each other mercilessly.
Roy focused on the room around him. He wondered what the brass was planning to do to them. Marty thought they would be put out in the field again as a commando unit. He didn’t see it, but didn’t rule it out. They were damaged goods, even more now than before they had become freaks.
The man with the x-ray eyes looked around until he saw Matt Shrieve talking to Colonel Sanchez. Neither man looked happy at the subject of their talk.
Roy wished his hearing had advanced to match his vision. Then he thought he would be deaf, or have ears like a rabbit. Better to be happy with what he had been dealt.
Willie Schultz stood on a corner in London. He watched his surroundings, minimizing his profile as much as possible. A police action was playing out down the street, and he didn’t want to be involved at the moment.
His only concern was the Ray’s safety in case it was discovered he had taken his Nazi double’s place in the SS Ubermenschen, Nazi Germany’s version of the Freedom Fighters. (*) Willie was supposed to pull him out any way he could in that eventuality. As 711, he had to be the man for the job, because there was no other agent who could do it.
[(*) Editor’s note: See SS Ubermenschen: World at War.]
Willie frowned as the local criminals were rousted by the SS Ubermenschen. He didn’t need a fight to involve him unless he had a trick up his sleeve. He certainly couldn’t count on the Ray to break his cover to give him a hand.
He also couldn’t count on the Jester to get involved. The insane genius liked to play, using mechanical contrivances he manufactured to strike at the weak points in the German High Command. The man had saved his life and repaired his face, though Willie hadn’t known it at the time. The ex-soldier knew that he had been used and then discarded, but their paths continued to cross on the English theater. (*)
Willie moved away from the multiple arrests calmly. The Red Torpedo was shouting directions and was observant enough to notice him among the crowd surrounding the action. He watched quietly as he used some other rubberneckers as camouflage.
Neon the Unknown fired several bolts into the hangout. That quelled the resistance almost immediately, as the building caught fire under the assault. The Ray flew near the building, sucking up the fire as he looked for any other man.
Willie watched as soldiers arrived to break up the crowd. He faded back as batons were drawn and used against slow-moving pedestrians. He was a shadow as the victims were loaded into a meat wagon with cracks of batons and shouted orders. The crowd dispersed noisily as the van pulled away.
He stood on a rooftop across the street from the roust. He appeared to be a German captain with a pair of binoculars to his face. He always had a gift for machinery and design, even in the orphanage where he grew up as a foundling.
Once the crosshairs flashed against the inner glass of the specialty lenses, he pressed the button on the side of the instrument. A small laser lit the target, then a microscopic needle flew across the intervening space. A small sting resulted if the needle penetrated through the concealed armor his victims wore.
He smiled as all of his intended marks slapped at some unseen insect. Now he could really have some fun.
Turning away from the scene, he switched his appearance to a dark suit and coat with a click. He walked across the roof to the fire escape and descended behind his post. His car waited patiently for him to trigger the locks and ignition. He got in and drove away.
Laughing softly to himself, he drove out of the city. He had some other things to do before he started the game. He hoped the Red Torpedo appreciated the effort he was putting into this. No one liked a dead audience.
He arrived at his temporary headquarters, humming a tune as he concealed his car behind a hologram. It wouldn’t fool anyone for any length of time, but he wouldn’t need it to. He just needed it to fool the SS Ubermenschen for a few seconds at most.
The man known as the Jester laughed softly to himself as he went inside the building.
David Vincent floated amidst ruined buildings, a junkyard of cars, and a boneyard that seemed to be inches deep in skeletons. Everywhere he looked was more of the same. A torn American flag fluttered by, flame running along a side. Vincent moved out of the way so that it wouldn’t wrap around him.
Moving along the street, he thought he recognized some of the buildings. It seemed to be New York after a bombing.
Vincent paused at the New Empire State Building. It was the only skyscraper still standing as far as he could see. The bank of glass doors gleamed eerily amidst the destruction. He scanned the front of the landmark. The glass in the windows appeared unharmed. He went to the doors, trying to peer through his altered reflection.
The lobby seemed untouched also. The local security guard was absent from behind his desk. Otherwise, it was just as he remembered it from before he was drafted into the army. He had been on a tour with his school of famous places on the island.
Vincent reached for one door’s handle. It moved inward at his thought. He floated inside the building, looking around as he tried to decide what to do next.
An elevator opened with a ding. The cab was empty, like the rest of the destroyed city.
Vincent boarded the elevator, unsurprised that the button pressed itself. The cab headed to the observation deck with a quiet hum. He wondered what he was meant to see in this dream as he waited for the elevator to stop.
He knew he was dreaming for a reason. It was something he had been aware of since he was a boy, and he knew a serious dream from a flight of fancy.
All he could do was wait for the dream to play out and hope he would awake in time to figure out what was going on.
General Timmy Frink looked out of his window. He had won back Southern California with a little help. His troops rested and recuperated, while civilian resistance fighters rearmed and joined the U.S. Army in special platoons. They were undergoing crash courses to help integrate them with the regular forces.
This one moment looking out the window on a Los Angeles returning to normalcy was a welcome break from the reports and orders he had to go over.
He picked up the next thing on his desk and read it. It was a series of overflights conducted by the U.S. Air Force. Photos had been taken, then analyzed by the Air Force’s Office of Intelligence and the Office of Strategic Services. The pictures were sent to him by courier with the relevant breakdowns. He didn’t like what he read.
The spy planes had spotted an enemy operative known as Kite Man in the sky over Sacramento. And where Kite Man went, the Divine Wind went with him. It was as good as a picture of that squad’s commander, Captain Nakayama, would have been. To Frink, that meant that the occupation force planned a fighting retreat out of the state.
How could he take advantage of that?
“Send someone to get that Quick guy,” Frink said into an intercom. “Tell him we need him to help clear the rest of the state.”
Captain Billy Dunn, one of the finest pilots in the world, pulled the trigger on his Gatling gun. (*) His target disintegrated as he watched through the targeting lens set in his helmet. He stopped firing as the tank fell over in the dirt. Holes let light shine through the perforated armor.
“Looks like the special shells work,” he commented to his navigator, Bomber Jones. “They’re not jamming like the first batch.”
“We still have another thousand rounds,” said Jones, checking the ammunition counter. “Let’s fire the belt dry. Then we can start on the assessment reports for the brass.”
“Check,” said Dunn, steering the Blue Tracer to point at a row of obsolete tanks. “Firing the Gatling.”
Dunn walked the Gatling’s fire across the sides of the tanks, one by one. He was rewarded by small tunnels appearing in his firing path. He brought the special craft he piloted to fire head on the tanks. He couldn’t determine what he was doing exactly, but the lead tank began to jump under the bombardment.
After a few seconds, the hot barrels whirred to a stop, smoke drifting from the muzzles.
“Let’s see what we did,” Dunn said, cutting the power on the Tracer. The vehicle drifted to a soft landing to one side of the mechanized targets.
The Tracer‘s canopy slid back with a hiss. The two test pilots climbed out slowly, sliding down the sloped sides of the multiple-use craft. Jones walked over to the targets, clipboard in hand. He examined one of the holes silently. “Looks like we have a winner,” he said, pushing his helmet back slightly.
This would be their most important mission since the Blue Tracer’s inaugural flight several months ago. (*) Billy Dunn vowed they would not fail.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Feature: The Blue Tracer: Blue Traces.]
New York City:
Margo the Magician looked out her window. Her gray-streaked hair floated behind her in a scrunchy. Her top hat sat on the end table at her hand.
Something had called her to the window. She didn’t see an obvious cause to concern her. New York City seemed peaceful despite the recent hostilities. She had heard things through old friends in the War Department.
It had been a long struggle since the red sky event that had spurred Hitler’s new attempt to conquer the world. Just over one year ago, the Axis had taken most of the world while the survivors of the crisis were still trying to recover. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Blackhawk: The Cry of the Hawk and Freedom Fighters: The Fight Continues, Chapter 4: War Zone Los Angeles.]
Now something was forming on the horizon. It felt worse than any Nazi plot she had ever seen.
Margo turned from the window and picked up her hat. She placed it on her head as she walked to the door of her apartment. She decided a walk around the city would help clear her head of her worry.
Premonitions were magnified fears. Either it would come true or be averted by circumstances. Margo could do little until she had some idea of what was approaching.
She locked the door behind her, took the elevator to the street, and waved at the doorman as she stepped on the sidewalk. She paced away from her building, staring at the sky in thought.
Everything looked clear, but she couldn’t explain the nagging feeling that followed her as she searched for the source of her unexplainable fear.
A cloud drifted in front of the sun, eclipsing the city for a few moments before it moved on.