The Imperial Japanese forces rolled back to the ocean. Fires burned in the buildings in their way as the occupation retreated from Sacramento. That was done to delay General Timmy Frink’s northern forces as they marched behind the fleeing army.
Captain Nakayama rode with his aide, Yugi, in a personnel carrier. The Japanese governor rode with him. If anything prevented them from getting to San Francisco, Yugi would put a bullet in the man’s head before letting the Allies capture him.
Kite Man flew above the convoy, while the rest of Nakayama’s team, the Divine Wind, acted as roving guards. All were on the lookout for the new Quicksilver.
Frink would rely on him to help speed the Axis forces to sea. Intelligence had already reported the various members of the disbanded Freedom Fighters were still on the East Coast. The speedster was the only other superhuman on the coast, as far as they knew, though there were some troublemakers in the California Resistance who had donned masks of their own.
Nakayama listened to the radio reports the convoy commander received. So far there had not been any contact. A peaceful retreat would be nice for once. He did not want to lose any more than he had to. The Pacific Theater still needed men to hold the islands the Axis had seized after the red skies.
The convoy entered the hills of San Francisco hours later. Half of the mechanized division headed for the wharves to load the men on ships. The other half headed for the airport to board planes. The army would be clear of the continent in an hour. They would assemble on Hawaii to help fortify Pearl Harbor until some strategy could be devised to retake California.
The Divine Wind would land in Japan after flying across the ocean. A refueling stop at Midway Atoll would see to that.
Long Island, New York:
Dr. Josef Mengele rested his head on his arms. He had thawed out six more of the artificial men before he was allowed to rest. He wasn’t allowed to leave the lab. His assistant slept upright in his chair.
The first Manhunter clone he had released had made it clear that any breach of trust would be painfully punished. This Manhunter had also had insisted on being called Prime instead of being numbered as usual for experimental subjects.
Mengele wanted to get to a radio and warn the authorities — any authorities — about the menace he had unleashed. He had almost two thousand clones ready for release, with another thousand maturing to adulthood by the minute.
That many Manhunters released at the same time could overwhelm conventional armies with their sheer power. Only tremendous numbers would wear the clones down, but that might take days of constant battles.
Normal humans could not possibly compete with Dr. Mengele’s ultimate weapon. Even the Freedom Fighters would be destroyed in a straight combat with the false aliens.
He should have stuck with unintelligent animals, instead of perfecting Germany’s super-soldier. He wouldn’t be on the verge of being snuffed out like a candle, he decided. There had to be a way out of this mess.
Primus entered the room, smiling as usual. “Break’s over,” he said. “Get back to work.”
Project M, New Mexico:
The Creature Commandos got together in Colonel Sanchez’s office. The brusque officer sat behind his desk, a report in his hands. Lieutenant Matthew Shrieve stood against a wall, arms folded across his chest.
The three monsters waited for the bad news. They knew it was bad, because Sanchez looked grimmer than usual.
“Gentlemen,” Sanchez said, “we are sending you to California. Pack your gear, and be at the airstrip in a half-hour. Lieutenant Shrieve is going with you and will handle your briefing in the air.”
“Why us?” said Roy Miller, standing at ease.
“That will be covered in your briefing,” said Sanchez. “Dismissed.”
The three filed out of the office quietly.
“Are you sure this is a good idea, sir?” asked Shrieve after his charges had cleared out of the office.
“My orders are to release those three into your custody for the duration of your mission,” said Sanchez. “The brass doesn’t care what I think, or what you think, as long as the job is done.”
“Understood, sir,” said Lieutenant Shrieve, saluting before he left to get his gear.
Sanchez made sure the plane was ready and waiting before he went back to his paperwork. He still needed to consult with Professor Oak about the comatose David Vincent. That was one monster who seemed content to sleep. The main problem for Oak and Sanchez was that, while he was asleep, nothing could get near him because of the energy he surrounded his bed with. Something had to be done about that. Sanchez was at a loss about what.
The brass wanted Vincent classified and filed. That couldn’t be done if no one could get close enough to figure out what was happening to his body.
London, Occupied England:
Happy Terrill watched the SS Ubermenschen carefully. One wrong move and they would be on him. There would be nothing that Willie Schultz could do about that.
The Ray stood at the back of the briefing room. The Red Torpedo had decided to take a proactive mindset in tracking the Jester. Rewards were posted, increased security surrounded the occupation’s garrisons, and random traffic stops of vehicles were on major thoroughfares.
Happy wondered if that was the right approach. The Jester was a lone man with no confidants and was capable of anything. He was also invisible when he wanted to be. Only the file started by the first attack had information in it, and that was slim.
The English Resistance had joined the hunt with similar results, according to Shultz. Both sides were looking. Neither was finding him.
Now the team was reviewing everything that had been collected in the hopes that something would shake loose. Only the Invisible Hood and the Torpedo seemed interested in the reams of pictures and reports.
Happy knew his doppelgänger had no interest in that type of hunt. He usually went off to fly around and find a likely informant to fry. That was why he had been ordered to stay within reach, Happy realized.
The elevator door opened for David Vincent. He stepped out looking in both directions out of habit. He seemed to be alone in his dream and had met no one to dispute that.
Thinking about the devastation he had seen so far, he didn’t want to meet the guy who had done all that. The world had caused him enough trouble without his dreams adding to it.
Vincent floated across the observation deck. He looked around. More of the same depressing wreckage greeted him. The city was destroyed, including the bridges that led off the island to the mainland. A ferry floated on its back in the bay.
The rebuilt Statue of Liberty had been smashed across the waist. The upper part was gone. The lower part stood on the burning Liberty Island.
Vincent shook his head. A destroyed city with one standing building didn’t tell him much.
Stepping away from the edge of the platform, he turned to get back in the elevator. A statue stood beside the door. He hadn’t noticed it when he got out of the car. He frowned, staring at it.
It seemed to be a woman in a tuxedo, a top hat on her head. She seemed to be middle-aged, but Vincent admitted to himself he couldn’t guess her age from a statue. Her hair had been done in a windswept style, frozen in place as a storm blew around her. The subject was tall for a woman but shorter than Vincent’s elongated body.
Vincent touched the statue’s cheek with a thin hand. Light played on the stone, revealing living flesh beneath it. Color swept over the commando, flowing off the observation deck. The wave dropped in the street after scouring the sides of the building. Vincent turned, walking back to the edge to watch.
The city below came to life, caught in the hands of the wave. The buildings began reassembling themselves as the inanimate began to dance under the softening statue’s grip.
Vincent blinked, expelled from the dream into a gray cloud that became the brightening of light playing over his face.
General Timmy Frink and Quicksilver stood over the map of California pinned to a table in the general’s headquarters. Frink’s callused finger traced a line on the paper as he talked.
“Spotters say that the Japs are pulling out,” said Frink. “They have set a lot of the buildings and homes on fire. We are doing everything to save what we can, but we don’t have the manpower to fight fires and consolidate what they have given up. Additionally, some Japanese special force is escorting the governor general, according to Recon. They are bottled in San Fran, trying to get their troops out of the state.”
“Either you want me to put out the fires or put out the special force, whatever it is,” said Quicksilver, a scar creasing across his cheek at the edge of the blue mask tied to his face. “I would say the special force.”
“You took out that Martian,” said Frink. “According to intel, none of these guys are in the same league.”
“Let me see the file on them,” said Quicksilver.
Frink passed the collected sheaves of notes over. He watched his ally run his finger down page after page before handing the file back.
“Any idea where these guys are?” he asked.
“Sure,” said the general, smiling. “They’re at the airport waiting on their plane to refuel, according to radio intercepts. They are supposed to take off as soon as the plane is loaded.”
“Next time,” said Quicksilver, “give me a little more warning than five minutes, OK?” The speedster vanished from the room in a blur of blue and white.
“Get the Angeles Fleet on the phone,” said Frinks to the radio operators. “Tell them to get as many boats and troop planes as they can. Tell Recon to keep an eye on our guy without exposing themselves.”
“He’s already there, sir,” said the operator. “Quicksilver has just stopped the special team from lifting off.”
“Tell them to only fire if they have a clear shot,” Frink said. “I don’t want them to hit the wrong guy.”
Frink turned back to his map. Now he needed a way to stop those fires. He needed a miracle.
Billy Dunn rubbed a filmy spot off the blue hull of his vehicle as he finished his routine cleanup. Only Dunn and Bomber Jones touched his baby, and Jones only did the software programming they needed to power the Blue Tracer.
Most of the computer systems were Jones’ design, so it wasn’t like Billy could say, “Don’t touch.”
The new rounds had performed better than he had expected. The Gatling was the last defensive/offensive line in the air. Dunn’s modifications to the normal bullet made it Satan’s hole puncher.
Only a battleship had enough steel plate to stop the modified bullet. Anything less would be holier than Swiss cheese.
Jones slumped into the hangar quietly. A cigarette was clenched in his lips. A pad rustled quietly as he flipped through the pages.
“Orders have come down,” Bomber said. “The brass wants us to suit up and run drops to back up the Angeles Offensive.”
“When?” asked Dunn. He tucked the rag in a bag of dirty hand towels.
“As soon as possible,” said Bomber.
“Any special needs?” asked Dunn.
“They want us to take the fire extinguisher chemicals,” said Bomber.
Dunn did some quick calculating in his head. The cargo bay wasn’t that big, but the Tracer could do pinpoint drops with the snuffer, what Jones called the pink stuff Billy had come up with to fight forest fires.
“We’ll load everything on the trailer and carry it over to the operations command,” Dunn said. “That way we can make more of the snuffer if we need it.”
“Right,” said Jones, placing the pad on a shelf. He took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He went to get the dolly out of its closet to begin loading the trailer.
New York City:
Margo the Magician walked along the city streets, window shopping where she could. She maneuvered a coin across the back of her hand with her fingers. Sleight of hand was the mainstay of her act now. When she was younger, she used some of the fancy illusions that others still did. Now she preferred the simple things like the vanishing coin trick, or any of the card tricks she knew.
Her path took her to the Battery. She looked out on the water. The ocean swirled without concern as she stood in thought.
She glanced at her watch. It was time for her to start for her appointment.
Margo decided to take the subway, feeling a train ride would ease the unease she still felt. She put the coin in her pocket as she walked to the nearest entrance to the tunnel system. Hopefully it wouldn’t be crowded this time of day.
She stood on the platform, waiting for her train. A man played a guitar while other men and women waited. Margo sat on the bench beside the guitar player. He seemed lost in his music, eyes staring blindly ahead. She began going through the simpler parts of her routine without saying anything. Coins accumulated in her top hat that she had placed on the ground at her feet.
Margo’s train came in. She stood up, picking up the hat. She reached in its mouth and pulled out dollars. She placed the money in the guitar player’s case before walking away to catch her ride. The guitar player never stopped his music as she went.
The train roared away as Margo sat down. She checked her watch as the iron wheels clattered along the tracks. The car was silent as the passengers kept to themselves. The mood carried until the cars rolled to Margo’s stop. She got off, heading for the city streets. The mood followed quietly behind her, refusing to be shouldered away.
Margo walked to her show, making up her mind to find out what was going on after her performance.
San Francisco International Airport:
Captain Shiro Nakayama sat in his chair, listening to the engines of his plane warm up. Another few minutes would see him over the ocean, heading home. He glanced around the cabin.
Yugi sat beside the governor. Kite Man settled in a seat near the door. Typhoon and Oni played cards at the back of the plane. The Wind Serpent curled its blue length under some of the seats. The Divine Wind was accounted for and ready for combat.
Too bad they would be out of the country without having to do that, thought Nakayama. The minister would be so upset they had not captured the Allied agent. Too bad.
A loud wrenching shook the plane. Nakayama felt the nose drop as he gripped the armrests of his seat. The plane skidded under him as he tried to look out the window. It came to a stop at the end of the runway. The breaking of metal on concrete did not hide the snapping of bone. Nakayama knew Yugi had acted as ordered before the plane had stopped; the governor was dead.
The captain unbuckled his belt, getting to his feet as smoothly as he could. He pushed into the aisle, taking a body count as he headed for the door. Kite Man was at the door, trying to open it with his stubby fingers.
Nakayama grabbed the lever and threw his weight, pulling with the smaller man. The thick door popped open under their efforts. The captain dropped to the ground, pistol drawn. He spotted the plane’s wheels rolling across the runway as he looked for the cause of the crash.
A fist dropped him on his back with a loud slap.
“I don’t remember saying you could get off the boat,” said a man in blue sweats and a white gi who popped into view: Quicksilver.