San Francisco, California:
Billy Dunn settled the Blue Tracer down on the runway of San Francisco International Airport. Overhead fighters were chasing troop planes and their escorts away from the coast.
A lot of pilots will meet Davy Jones today, Dunn thought as he scanned the field.
“I think that’s them over there,” Jones said, cutting through Dunn’s morbid thoughts.
Three monsters in uniform, a lieutenant, and a man in a blue and white costume stood to one side. Trucks pulled away with something in a cage on one. Dunn didn’t want to know what that was.
“It would have to be, wouldn’t it?” said Dunn.
He popped the canopy as he killed the engines. He was supposed to arrange transport for these guys and the Tracer. They were flying back east according to orders passed down the chain of command. The special bullets were to be loaded into the Gatling before they arrived at the mission site.
Dunn climbed down from the cockpit, raising his visor when he hit the asphalt.
“Lieutenant Shrieve?” Dunn said.
“That’s me,” said the ordinary-looking soldier. “What’s going on?”
“I am Captain William Dunn, Special Operations Group,” said Billy, pulling off his helmet. “Got orders to take your squad, and some guy named Quicksilver to New York as soon as I can get a cargo transport to carry the Tracer.”
“What’s the deal?” asked Quicksilver, the man in blue and white.
“Some kind of emergency move, as far as I know,” said Dunn. “Targeting info is supposed to be waiting for us when we get to the forward base.”
“Why us?” asked the soldier in a large pair of sunglasses.
“We’re expendable lab rats,” said Stefan Queen, blowing bubbles in his yellow, blob-like skin. “We’re going where the action is.”
“Take five while the captain and I figure where we are going to get what we need,” said Shrieve, indicating for Dunn to walk back to the Tracer. “Then we’ll do it.”
“Take your time, Loot,” said Queen.
The Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard:
The Red Torpedo brought his craft to the surface carefully. He had ordered his crew to keep a careful watch for the American Navy and Coast Guard. One destroyer would ruin their day for good.
He applied the vertical jets, sending waves from underneath the lifting submarine. The boat headed upward, keeping below the coastal radar. His goal was northern New York State. He had aimed for the Pennsylvania coast, intending to circle the major cities to avoid detection. Then he would conceal the flying sub near the target. Intelligence gathering would be next on his agenda.
The trip across the American states was a series of short hops at tree level to avoid radar and patrol planes. They finally arrived on target. It took a few minutes to arrange adequate camouflage. The ubermensch dressed in civilian clothes and moved to survey the target site.
The Red Torpedo found a tree to use to observe the manor’s walled grounds. He didn’t like what he saw through his binoculars.
Martians patrolled the grounds in sets of three, mock-dueled each other, target practiced with their eye-beams. The Torpedo counted more than a hundred before he stopped. They traded places at will.
He wondered what the others thought of this new development. He didn’t like it. It meant his team would have to fight their way through an army of the most powerful beings on Earth.
It was certain death to try.
He dropped out of his tree. He had seen enough for one day. Now he needed to plan an assault against the most powerful force he had ever encountered that wouldn’t get his own team killed.
New York City:
Control stood at the front of the commandeered room. He looked out at the assembled group and hoped they were up to the job.
“Ready with the slides?” he asked his aide, Harry Winston. Harry nodded silently.
“Someone get the lights,” Control said. “And we will get this show on the road.”
The first slide snapped into place as soon as the overheads were cut. A large house on a walled yard dominated the first picture.
“This place belongs to a Mark Ingram. He bought this place in the Hamptons on Long Island, New York, right after the war ended. The neighbors say he has been charming to them. They did note the large boxes of scientific equipment being delivered by the trucks.”
A picture of a beetle-browed man with chalk-white skin, shaved blond hair, and inhumanly blue eyes took the mansion’s place on the wall.
“This was the Manhunter of the SS Ubermenschen, whom the Nazis claimed was from Mars,” Control said. “But given that he had human DNA — highly altered DNA, but DNA nonetheless — his cover story was most assuredly another piece of propaganda. He was killed about three months ago at a facility in the Southwest.”
“He went to pieces,” said a heckler.
“Shut up, pudding-head,” said another voice.
Another picture of the Manhunter flashed on screen. Eyebeams sliced from his eyes at a tank. The armored vehicle had been caught exploding. Other slides followed.
“According to intelligence,” said Control, “the Manhunter originally only had the strength of a hundred men and was bulletproof to small-arms fire. But shortly before his death, he was given a few more abilities. These included the ability to fly and powerful eye-beams allowing him to kill with a glance.”
Another picture flipped on the wall.
“This is Mr. Ingram’s mansion as of eight this morning.”
An army of pale men were in flight over the grounds, practicing with their abilities.
“I say bomb them from orbit,” said the heckler. “That’s the safe way to make sure they’re dead.”
Long Island, New York:
The Red Torpedo looked over his own pictures. He had a rough plan that would work for what he wanted to do. He had sent a coded message to warn the Reich about what he had found hours earlier.
He had been ordered to find out what had happened to Dr. Mengele, then withdraw and let the Americans deal with it. He was glad to do that. He had the perfect agent to search the place without sounding an alarm.
The Invisible Hood climbed the wall, unseen by the eye, as his teammates waited for his report. It was simplicity to get past the training Martians to get to the door. He got in the big house through an open window. He started his search at the top and worked his way down to the bottom.
He came across a guard at the basement door. He waited patiently for the Martian to move out of his way. When the clone did, he slipped by, opening and closing the door as quietly as he could.
The Invisible Hood smiled.
Dr. Josef Mengele sat napping at a console. His assistant rubbed his face with both hands. Both men looked as if they worn the same clothes for days.
The Hood turned to go. He reached for the doorknob to leave. Distant hands hit a switch. The Hood’s invisibility stopped with a flicker. He looked down at his hands in shock and heard gasps of amazement from the assistant. He froze, trying to capture an idea to get out and report.
The door swung open, the guard’s mouth open to tell the two captives to get back to work. He saw the brown-clad stranger standing in his guard area. His eyes lit up, burning the air with his eye beam. The Hood flung himself to one side, trying to reactivate his power.
The Red Torpedo winced at the sonic scream in his earpiece. The mission was blown, he decided. Time to act quickly.
“Neon, Magno, Ray, pull him out right now,” he ordered.
The three flyers took off at high speed. They crossed the wall easily, spraying energy at the scattered Martians on their way to the mansion. Neon blew out a window as a Martian tried to cut him in half. Magno repelled the enemy with a throwing gesture as he followed his comrade.
The Ray frowned as he flung laser-like blasts at the massed Martian Manhunters. They rushed to rip him in two. He blocked the empty window frame, trying to maintain his cover in the face of being killed.
The Red Torpedo sat at the controls of his flying submarine, lifting off at top speed. He pressed the triggers, gritting his teeth at the slight effect he was having.
A platoon of Martians focused their eyes on the flying sub. An inferno of heat sliced through the armored skin in one bubbling pass. Half of the submarine fell in one direction, the other falling the other way.
The Torpedo scrambled from his console as his part of the ship slid into the ground. A piece of the roof pinned him in place. Then the metal folded down into a cocoon over him.
The Ray took aim, loosening all the energy he had in a bright yellow laser. He sensed something was wrong as his power enveloped the closest Manhunters. Burnt carcasses fell to the ground.
What the heck was that? he thought, hands burning from the channeled power.
Billy Dunn checked his laser designator one more time as the Blue Tracer swept down at the country manor in the Hamptons.
“The target area is lit up,” he said over the group radio channel. “Got wreckage in the yard. Sweeping the entryway clean as I can.”
The Tracer ran at the mansion, the Gatling in the nose firing the special anti-armor rounds he and Bomber Jones had come up with. The dense rounds punched holes through the Martians as he flew right at the large house. Missiles fired from the holding brackets under the plane’s stubby wings, throwing bodies like rag dolls. Dunn pulled up, not quite satisfied with the shark bite he had taken.
Manhunters boiled up after the looping Tracer. Energy tried to cut the flyers down. Eventually they would connect and destroy the special craft.
“Quicksilver, go,” Dunn heard as he spun his plane around through the deadly gauntlet he was trapped in.
Ten seconds later he heard, “Phase two start. Phase three get ready.”
Two groups converged on the grounds. One was the Freedom Fighters, reunited for this mission. The other was Shrieve and his Creature Commandoes from Project M. They didn’t have the power, even united as they were, to stop this menace. Only the Human Bomb and Stefan Queen had an effect.
That was the plan. They weren’t supposed to stop even one Manhunter. They were just supposed to keep the clone army busy so that David Vincent and Margo the Magician could focus the clone’s one inherent weakness on the massed troopers.
That wouldn’t stop the Manhunters from trying to wipe them out as if they were a real threat.
David Vincent and Margo the Magician sat across from each other. Purple tendrils reached out, wrapping around the older woman. She blew into her hands. Ice crystals lifted from her skin. Snow formed into an avalanche.
Ice wrapped around the estate’s walls, invading the air like a giant beast. Suddenly, it grabbed a squad of pale Manhunters in its grip. When it released them, they were frozen together in a block of ice.
“Phase Three has started,” Shrieve said, firing his submachine gun into one of the enemy as the clone focused on him. “Push them back into the house.”
The lieutenant jumped out of the energy beam’s path as it cut the air. He pulled a grenade, tossing it at the trooper. The blast caught the Manhunter, flinging him into the onrushing ice cloud. When it passed, the enemy was frozen in place.
Happy Terrill flew backward into the mansion, firing blasts from his hands. He had a lot of juice for some reason, and he channeled it right at the nearest Manhunters trying to get in his face. He heard a sound behind him. He turned, expecting Neon or Magno. Primus crushed him into the wall with one hand. He slumped to the floor.
“Humans,” he said. “All Martians report to the house immediately,” Primus shouted in a voice of thunder. “Fall back and kill them.”
The Martian army regrouped, spraying heat in all directions. The assembled Freedom Fighters avoided the attacks in their own styles as the cold kept reaching for its enemy.
The Black Condor flew rapidly, swooping in and out of the path of the deadly beams. Phantom Lady remained invisible and intangible, unable to change back for even a moment. The Doll Man, at his six-inch height, remained out of the view of the Martians. Hourgirl dodged the eye-beams with her speed and struck back with Super-Vitamin-enhanced punches while her hour of power lasted. The Human Bomb continued to fight back with explosive blasts of his own. Uncle Sam watched these events from afar, wishing he was in the thick of things like the good old days, but age was creeping up on him; soon it would be time for another man to become the spirit of America.
Primus descended to the basement lab. An array of metal met his approach. He burned a path through with his eyes. Neon the Unknown fired a beam of light at the clone leader. Primus ducked out of the way, backhanding the ubermensch out of his way. He had no time for petty annoyances.
Magno threw more of the lab equipment at the clone. He flew through it, fist smashing the magnetic man against the wall. Now to deal with the invaders outside.
His soldiers massed outside in the halls. Their eye-beams flared into the freezing cloud. That didn’t stop its advance.
Primus snapped out orders, looking for his creator as he came up with an escape plan.
Blocks of dirt were assembled out of the basement floor. The blocks were used to make a wall to keep the cloud out while tunneling out of the lab. Branches were dug away from the main tunnel to maximize their chances to escape from the Americans.
An explosion rocked the mansion as Primus waited for the last man to start down the tunnels. The white cloud reached into the lab. The clone backed into the escape route, cursing the missing Josef Mengele. One blast from his eyes closed the entrance behind him.
He flew down the tunnel and out in the sky, well away from the destroyed mansion. He glared over his shoulder as he flew east. Payment would be extracted from those inferiors for their interference.
Primus flew to the rendezvous point, fuming at being forced from his stronghold before he was ready to attack.
His troops would reassemble, and they would carry out his plans to conquer this wartorn world. He would not allow a small melee with special forces to jeopardize his future as the only ruler of the planet.