The Red Torpedo assembled the members of the SS Ubermenschen at a briefing room usually reserved for special weapons units assigned to attack Resistance cells when they were discovered. Ever since their leader, the Manhunter from Mars, ostensibly abandoned the team last year to bloody himself in California, the Torpedo had filled in the leadership role. It was a role he hoped would be permanent.
He made a quick mental survey of his team. The hot-tempered Magno had electromagnetic abilities, able to magnetically control metal as well as manipulate electricity. The Invisible Hood, who was opposite in personality from Magno, was a calculating killer with the ability to become completely invisible. The Ray, who had the same light-based powers as his now-dead American namesake, had been on special assignment in England for the past six months. And the brash young Neon the Unknown had similar powers as the Ray, able to fly and shoot laser beams from his hands. Each of the German supermen possessed some kind of personality disorder, a side-effect of their powers, he supposed, but none were a danger to the whole team as the Manhunter had been. The Red Torpedo knew the team needed his own intelligent guidance.
The special agent of the SS waited for the small talk to come to an end before turning on the slide projector. “This is what I found in the English Channel yesterday,” he said, showing a picture of the dismembered crab. “It’s a miniature robot equipped with an explosive device. It and a swarm of others tried to cut through the Torpedo‘s hull. The others self-destructed. I recovered this one because the explosive charge failed to fire.”
“What’s that got to do with us?” asked Magno.
“All of the components that comprise this robot were shipped to this address,” said the Red Torpedo, displaying a picture of a small fenced-in factory. The gate was chained and padlocked, and it looked deserted. “I believe the terrorist called the Jester is using this place as a base, so we are going to raid it and capture him. Then we can deal with 711 and the other English rebels.”
“Any proof?” asked the Ray.
The Torpedo frowned. “A man has been seen entering this place several times with small packages,” he said.
“Is he there now?” asked the Invisible Hood, visible now in his brown coverall and hood.
“According to the surveillance people, he was seen going in, and he hasn’t left.”
“Let’s fry the clown and get it over with,” said Neon the Unknown.
Happy Terrill didn’t think it would be that easy.
The SS Ubermenschen arrived on target within minutes of their briefing. Seeing the building in person did not make Happy Terrill happy. It looked like a trap to him. According to plainclothes men on watch, the target had gone inside and not come out since he had come on duty. The Ray kept his thoughts to himself, merely saying as eagerly as he could muster, “Let’s raid the place already.”
“Hood,” said the Red Torpedo, looking through a pair of field glasses. “Check it out. Disable any security devices you come across.” The Invisible Hood vanished from sight with a nod. “Neon and Ray, get ready to attack through the upper-story windows. Magno, take the back. I’ll go in the front. I want him taken. Alive if you can, dead if you can’t.”
The question is — who is really being taken? thought the Ray.
The Invisible Hood found it childishly simple to bypass the simple alarm and motion sensor hookup his target had in place. He slid up to the building confident in his invisibility and knowledge of security systems. He could take out the target by himself. He guessed the Red Torpedo had turned into a coward after the beating he had taken from the Unknown Soldier last year. It was obvious that this Jester had left himself wide open to a tactical assault and was easy pickings.
Slipping up to the building, the Hood peered inside a dirty window. His target seemed intent on a work table. One shot through the window, and this would be over. He signaled for the others to come forward. This would be the easiest raid he had taken part in since he had started wearing his brown costume. Six superhumans versus a gadget man wasn’t exactly a fair fight, but it would be a good change of pace.
The SS Ubermenschen surged forward to take their victim before he did something tricky.
Not far away, Willie Schultz watched the operation from the safety of his Land Rover and winced when he saw the German supermen burst into the abandoned factory. He hoped the Ray knew what he was doing as he made sure his automatic was ready for use.
The Jester seemed like a nut, maybe was a nut, but he was also a genius of destruction and gimmickry. He hoped he didn’t have to rescue the rotters to save Happy Terrill. That would just be the perfect day, wouldn’t it?
Willie waited patiently for things to play out.
The Red Torpedo burst through the door. He heard glass breaking and knew the others had also broken in at their designated points. But he paused when he noted that the Jester had not moved from his table. Something was wrong. He knew instantly and instinctively that he had made a mistake.
Suddenly, steel sheets slid down over the windows and the door, and concealed plates covered the skylight before the Ray could fly back out of the building.
The figure at the table turned silently. It seemed to transform from an ordinary-looking man to a shadow with a yellow head under a dark hat. The yellow head had two dark eyes and a large smile.
“Glad you could drop in, my dear fellows,” said the Jester, cackling softly.
Neon the Unknown fired a laser-like blast into the man with the deformed yellow face. The beam passed through and pocked the wall behind the image.
“Control yourself, sir,” said the image mockingly. “Let’s get down to business without any more stupidity, shall we?”
“The ball’s in your court,” the Torpedo said quietly, his quick eyes having pinpointed what was creating the image. What he wanted was on the other end. “What do you want?”
“I would like for the German Army to withdraw from Great Britain as soon as possible,” said the image. “In return, I will cease my attacks on said army immediately.”
“You are certainly sure of yourself,” said the Red Torpedo calmly. “What makes you think we’ll do that?”
“There’s a piece of paper on the table,” said the image. “All the names on that list will be crossed off in a week. I will then give you a new list.”
“You’re crazy,” said Magno. “We’ll stop you first.”
The image began to laugh uncontrollably before it faded away.
The Red Torpedo sped to where the projection had been playing and noted the device used was tinier than he was used to seeing.
“Torpedo,” said Magno, examining the piece of paper on the work table. “We’re on his death list.”
“What?” the Red Torpedo and the Ray said at the same moment. Terrill cursed himself silently for his blunder.
“I think we should get out of here,” said the Invisible Hood, examining the metal plate over one of the windows.
The Torpedo took the list from his colleague, trying to come up with a fast escape from their predicament. He was getting a bad feeling about being locked in a building where a madman had threatened to kill him.
“Ray, Neon,” he said. “See if you can cut through this steel. Hood, Magno, see if you can find another exit.”
The Red Torpedo went back to the desk, going over the scattered papers for clues. But all he could find were plans to the various German bases on the island.
Happy Terrill was not very happy. He was stuck with his enemies in a death trap by a mental case. His back-up was outside with no way to help him out of this mess. Concentrating on the steel plate over the door, the Ray fired a laser-like beam of light to cut through the metal. He realized instantly that if a bomb was counting down, they were dead. His blast was not cutting the steel fast enough to allow for an escape. Not for all of them, anyway.
The Ray almost had enough of a hole to slip through as a beam of light. That would leave the SS Ubermenschen at the mercy of the Jester. It would tick off Quiller but would still keep him in place to relay information.
Something fizzled behind Happy. He poured even more power into the blast, actually melting the metal away from the contact point. How much time did he have left?
Neon the Unknown stepped forward, pouring his own power into the cutting.
“Cease fire,” said the Red Torpedo, hurrying up. “Gas attack.”
Happy rushed forward to examine the hole. It was almost big enough for a man.
“Magno?” the Torpedo asked his subordinate.
“I can’t move whatever these things are made of,” said the magnetic marauder, shaking his head. “But if there was something heavy outside I could pull on…”
“We don’t have much time here,” said the commander.
Magno peered through the hole cut by Neon and the Ray. Seeing a car he could use sitting outside the fenced yard of the abandoned warehouse, he exerted his will on it, magnetically pulling it toward him at a tremendous speed. The car crashed into the steel-like plate with great force, but the plate still stood defiant against his efforts.
“Again, Magno,” said the Red Torpedo, watching the spreading cloud of gas move toward his team.
Magno exerted his will, lifting the car and pushing it back far enough to build up speed, then pulled on it with all of his might. The car shattered against the plate, which ripped from the rails holding it upright.
“Everybody out,” ordered the Torpedo, watching the cloud at the far end of the room eat at the desk and chair.
The Nazi supermen ran from the building as the gas began to fade away in the open air.
“This doesn’t feel right,” said Happy Terrill. “He had us cold. Why the slow-moving gas and not a bomb?”
The Red Torpedo thought the same thing and was afraid of the answer.
Willie Schultz nodded to himself when he saw the SS Ubermenschen step out of the building. German Army investigators arrived to process the building for clues, but Schultz didn’t think there would be much for them to find. The Jester wouldn’t leave much.
He quietly walked away from the scene, figuring Terrill would be safe there as the place was inspected. He didn’t need to betray his presence and didn’t want them to think the only guy walking the street was the guy who put them in the box.
Vanishing into the city proper, Willie found himself hoping for a ray of light to dispel the darkness he found himself living in. He knew that he would never be free as long as Nazi Germany controlled the island. If he helped free Britain, could he go back to a normal life as a civilian, with civilian problems? He doubted it. Someone had said that the price of freedom was everlasting vigilance. He knew what that meant now.
Willie stopped to really look at his adopted city. After a few moments, he walked on.