1954: Final Stand of an Age
0300 hours at Los Alamos, hours before dawn, the air is cold and the sky full of stars. For William and Henry, the two guards on duty, these were boring long hours. Neither talked, having exhausted all subjects hours earlier. That was when several trucks of a military bearing approached the outside gate.
The two guards looked each other, checked their schedules, looked back at each other and shook their heads. As William got on the horn to the base, Henry approached the vehicle. He looked inside the vehicle and started. Quickly recovering, he stood at attention and saluted.
"Beg your pardon, Sir," exclaimed the young guard. "Did not know you were off the base, Sir!"
William could not hear the person in the truck's reply, but seeing the response of his fellow, he approached the vehicles.
"What's going on Henry who is it?"
William stopped short when Henry pulled out his gun and pointed it straight at him. Henry's lips quivered a bit, and he pulled the trigger of his pistol. Once. Twice. The sound of gunfire cutting through the night. Henry unlocked the gates, and the man in the first truck waved the others on by. When the last truck passed the gates, Henry walked over to the first truck and handed the man inside his gun.
"Very well done, Henry," hissed the man before he shot the guard in the chest.
Men quickly started pouring out of the trucks. Although calling some of them "men" was being charitable. Many had the looks of regular hardened gangsters and thugs, and the way they held their guns, it was obvious they didn't put a high price on anyone's life save perhaps their own. Others had masks and colorful costumes and muttered with foreign accents. Then there were monster men, men whose bodies were freakishly and devilishly formed such as the dimunitive Fly and the muscled Rodent. One man the others stood clear of. He was over six feet tall and had a military bearing and a military hair-cut. However, where his jaw should have been was a fiendish one made of metal with jagged teeth. Iron Jaw had a nasty reputation and no one stood too close. Out of the first truck's cab climbed two men. One was bald and short and was wearing dark shades even at this hour of the morning. The other was lanky and tall in a robe and a wide-brimmed hat that hid his features. When he looked up revealing an angular face but with only a single eye, large and in the center of his forehead.
"Stopwach, how are the men holding up," asked the robed man softly to his compatriot.
"Good, considering their conflicted loyalties and hatreds," whispered Stopwach, the bald man. "But, Satannus, they're getting restless, their aggression's building we won't be able to control them much longer."
"We won't have to they've been primed and now we're going to set them off."
Satannus smiled and turned to the gathered throng.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he called out with a booming voice. "You are being paid well to obtain the secrets in the compounds and to destroy Los Alamos completely and ultimately. So, see to it and remember no one gets out alive!"
The crowd cheered and surged forward. Satannus smiled as he watched over 100 of the worse that the world had to offer descended on the base. Soon, the base was in an uproar. The soldiers spilt out of barracks and buildings but put up only a token defense against the attackers. The sounds of gunfire and the wounded and dying mingled together in the night. Stopwach looked at Satannus. He was positive their forces were having an easy time due to some spell. Something that deadened the soldiers' responses, much the same way that their own forces' had been kept in line. Until now.
Within minutes Los Alamos was ablaze and other trucks arrived. Trucks laden down with equipment and machinery. A turbaned man of Far Eastern descent got out of the lead truck and greeted Satannus and Stopwach.
"Hurry up, Ramun," said Satannus. "The machinery and spells must be ready before they arrive "
Shorty Wilson tossed and turned as he slept. In his dreams, he was the Black Dwarf once more. A tall tanned man in a dark suit and fez faced him. The Black Dwarf had met this man once before. He was a mystic of some sorts; called himself Zanzibar thought the Black Dwarf. As if he could sense his thoughts, the being nodded affirmitive. The Black Dwarf was not really a dwarf but was barely over five feet tall. The mystic Zanzibar loomed over him as he would naturally, but the Black Dwarf suspected if he were a giant, Zanzibar would still seem taller.
"A great evil is descending upon this land," said Zanzibar. "The heroes are being summoned. I measured your soul once and found it capable. You are needed."
The Black Dwarf snorted out a laugh.
"I'm needed? I'm just a retired athlete, good with his guns. If that's all you need call the Marines."
Zanzibar just shook his head and faded into the mist. With that, Shorty Wilson woke up to the sound of the telephone ringing and the morning sun yet to stream through his apartment window. He groggily reached over and picked up the phone.
"Did you have the dream," eagerly asked the voice on the other end.
"Ken, is that you? What time is it?"
"Yes, yes. It's me. Did you have the dream? Are you going to go?"
Shorty was suddenly alert. Somehow, he knew the dream was true, not just some weird fantasy a whiskey-addled mind made up.
"That damn spook he invaded my mind," he said
"Our minds. Plus, who knows how many others. The question is, though, what are you going to do?"
Shorty pulled out a drawer from his bedside table. In it reposed two silverish colts. He sighed.
"Yeah, I'm going. And, I'm giving that two-bit showboater a piece of my mind. I'll be by to pick you up in twenty."
The home of Kendall Richards was befitting a man of his seeming place in the world. A quiet split-level in the suburbs seemed appropriate for a middle-aged big-city journalist turned author, with a wife and a toddler daughter. It didn't quite fit the other life that Ken had once led. Shorty, or the Black Dwarf as he was now dressed, chuckled at the thought of "other life." For few heroes was that term more appropriate than Ken Richards. He had become the masked Bogeyman only after a murder attempt on him had failed. Richards preferred to let the world think him dead as he tracked down his "murderers" and other predators of society in his few years as a hero.
As the Black Dwarf pulled up he saw his friend standing there in the pre-dawn dusk in his dark suit, hat and mask. Ken Richards, the Bogeyman, got into the car.
The two talked a bit about this and that. Small things such as "How's the wife?" "Can't believe little Sandy's already 3" "how many months has it been" type stuff. Anything to avoid the strangeness of their situation. To avoid thinking about how the Black Dwarf knew where to turn but really no clue as to their final destination. After about a quarter of an hour the two heroes grew silent. Another five minutes of the Dwarf steering the car into the countryside, he broke the silence and the taboo subject
"This is nuts with a capital 'N,'" said the Black Dwarf. "We gave up being masked men a long time ago. We don't even have special powers!"
"Is that what's bothering you? That we don't have powers? We did ok in the old days."
"Emphasis on old. Dammit, Ken you have a wife and family! Why do you want to throw it all away like this. Me, I got nothing other than shadowing estranged spouses for divorce cases. At least I do still get to throw a punch every now and then. When's the last time you mixed it up with somebody?"
"Shorty, that's exactly why I'm here. Another year or two, and I couldn't think of doing this. Right here, right now I can do it. I still feel the old fire, that rush of adrenaline at times. But, in a few years when my little girl starts school, when I've lived in these Godforsaken cookie cutter suburbs doing the barbecuing on the weekends for who knows how many weekends. I don't think that fire will be there anymore. I already see it happening. I catch myself more worked up over my drought stricken perfectly weedless lawn than I do over the growing influence of drugs in society. All because I can do something about my lawn I want that feeling back. That feeling of empowerment, that I am making a difference."
The Black Dwarf looked at his friend in stunned silence for a few moments before both men exploded with laughter.
"Richards, you are so full of it," said the Black Dwarf. "Is that the malarky you plan on feeding Helen when you get back and have to explain your absence? If that's the best you can do, I can suggest a few of the nicer hotels for you to stay when she tosses you out on your ear."
The two men were still chuckling when they turned off the road onto a drive that ran to an old abandoned airfield. Since the gate was open, they drove straight through. They drove past the silent husks of hangars and decrepit planes towards a gathering on the landing strip. Other heroes had already arrived. Some by auto, some by planes and others by some strange way of their own. Shorty knew most of these only as well as joe schmoe off the street would, by reputation and fame only. He was sure that most of them had never heard of the Black Dwarf. Off to one side was Zanzibar, not quite as tall as he appeared in the dream, chanting and marking the ground with arcane sigils. He glanced up at the two latest arrivals and silently nodded before going back to his work.
"Drive to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night on the strength of a dream, and that's the welcome we get," mumbled the Black Dwarf before being elbowed by Bogeyman.
"What's Zanzibar doing," the Bogeyman asked a hero standing near them.
"Getting ready for a mass transport," replied the hero. "As I understand it, with this many people to move, he can only transport to locations that he's been to before and set a mystic link. And, even then it's going to be draining on him and the other sorcerors who are doing the same for other heroes. And they are already a bit tapped for contacting everyone and bringing those who, like me, couldn't get here under their own power in a timely manner."
"Oh, where are you from?"
"My apologies I'm the Green Turtle. I operated out of China back in the day. Although I did get to serve a few missions with Liberty Company."
The Black Dwarf looked around at the twenty or so heroes, the most he had ever seen gathered in one place. "So, this isn't everyone?"
"No, there are several other groups scattered about centralized locations. Looks like he's ready."
Indeed Zanzibar had stood up from the tarmac and was gesturing the heroes over to him. The various conversations dropped to a very low murmur. With a "remain calm" and a wave of his hands, reality dropped away.
When reality shimmered back into view, there were costumed men and women as far as the eye could see. They were in what appeared to be a large hastily constructed military tent. A podium was at one end, and there stood several men. On one side was a man in green hood and cloak, on the other stood a man in a naval commander uniform. The man in the center with his cape, mask and tri-cornered hat was unmistakably the Fighting Yank. The leader of Liberty Company back during the war.
The Yank tapped the microphone twice to get everyone's attention. When he spoke, it was with a clear calm voice.
"Thanks for arriving. You are the last group to be briefed. The others are scattered about. Early this morning around 0300, a group of villains, many known adversaries of mysterymen, attacked Los Alamos. A list is being passed out of the ones that we know are on the scene. The sorcerors alerted me and I gave them the go ahead to gather Liberty Company once more."
The Black Dwarf thought briefly about bringing up how he and several other heroes never served in that august war-time group and then decided against it. To his surprise, he saw his friend the Bogeyman raise his hand to be recognized by the Fighting Yank.
"You said Los Alamos? Now, I don't know why these jokers are working together instead of going at each others' throats, but surely this is something that the atomic heroes should be facing? They're the government's official heroes these days, especially with something of this nature."
"I think I can answer that," replied a man in a red t-shirt with a yellow lightning bold arcing across the front. Captain Future was the name thought the Black Dwarf.
"Atoman, Atomic Man, Captain Flash, and the Thunderbolt were already at Los Alamos. There has been some rather strange discoveries made recently and a special research facility was installed there. They, plus the American Crusader and myself, had been tapped to handle some of the research and be on hand in case of something needing a super-powered approach. Crusader and I had some experiments to wrap up and were coming down this weekend. If Los Alamos was captured, then those four are captured or dead. And some possibly very powerful discoveries are in the hands of the enemy."
"I'm afraid it's even worse than that," said the Fighting Yank. "By the time the government contacted me, I had already been alerted to the threat by our mystical friends. Some dark, world threatening spell is being worked. Something that uses magic and science. However, it requires power and blood sacrifice. We fear the fortuitous location of the nearby atomic bomb testing grounds, and the atomic powered heroes proved too good an opportunity to pass up. Green Lama, if you will "
The man in the green outfit and hooded cloak stood and took the podium.
"Here's what we can expect. Once in the thirties and again during the War, a Nazi wizard named Guran tried to open a gateway to some old gods. However, such spells require lots of preparation and magicks that opposition was alerted and able to rise up and stop him. Each time the barriers between us and such realms were fortified and strengthened. Guran died in '44."
"Something similar is being done here. A gateway is being constructed for an elder god. The weakening of the barriers alerted the sorcerors and mystics. There are various ways to work the spell and certain mechanics depending on the realm one is striving to bridge. However, it is almost universally true that both the sorceror and sacrifice are to be near the gateway. Sometimes there are several sacrifices. One, whose blood opens the gate and another to serve as "food" for the god when he manifests on this plane."
"We don't have too much time to get fancy with our plans," said the Fighting Yank. "So we are keeping it fairly simple. The more powerful heroes will launch a multi-pronged attack on the villains, to take down as many as possible in as short a period of time. The sorcerors and mystics will try to see what exactly kind of spell is going on and try to counter it. The low to non-powered will divide in several groups. Along with the speedsters, your jobs will be the most important: rescue and prevent the slaughter of any victims if possible, take down the mystic or mystics performing the spell, and destroying the physical manifestation of the gateway if there is one. You will delay your onslaught until after the rest of us have engaged and distracted the enemy and our magicians can see what's up."
"You will be given weapons and ammo. This mission has been classified as military action, the enemy is to be taken down permanently if necessary. This also means, as I no longer have official standing with the government, the leader in the field will be Commander Winslow here. Any questions?"
"When and where," asked the Green Turtle.
The Fighting Yank gave a grim smile. "In about 30 minutes, two miles east.
The majority of the thirty minutes was spent passing out the weapons and dividing up into groups. The Black Terror noticed (and he was sure he wasn't the only one) that the small squads were all led by career military and government men, masked and otherwise. He didn't doubt it was because of the secrets that were contained on this base; that they had their own orders depending on what was found when they got there. Not that the Black Terror didn't trust the squad leaders. They were all capable men, men he had fought beside in the War. However, that was almost ten years ago, he thought. How much have they changed? How much could he still trust them?
Pyroman didn't use his powers much anymore. After the War, he had managed to clear his name, marry his sweetheart and settle down to a quiet existence. He wondered what it said about him that he jumped at the chance to throw himself into the fray once more. He and several others who could fly and attack from a distance, raced through the clouds. He smiled as he heard the slight sparking noises his electrical aura made going through the clouds. He glanced to one side at Captain Future. Future seemed oblivious to the joy of flying under his own power. Then again, maybe he didn't give it up thought Pyroman. Off to his other side flew several flaming heroes. Pyroman knew Vulcan, the Flame and the Red Blazer. But the Blue Flame was new to him. Captain Future motioned to Pyroman and they flew down to lead the attack.
He gasped at the view that greeted him. There were hundreds about, a good many of them soldiers. The soldiers' heads lolled limply about, many were missing limbs. A grim sight, but Pyroman had seen walking deadmen before. Behind them was a huge machine. Wires, cables and large gear wheels seemed to be half here and half somewhere else. The wheels turned with a steady clockwork jerky motion, and from recesses of the machine, steam and dark smoke spewed forth. Some human bodies were bound to some huge prongs, electrical arcs danced madly around them. Working at the machine were gaunt figures wearing black robes, some dark wires running from under their bodies off to somewhere else. As hard as Pyroman looked, he couldn't see exactly where those wires led; they just seemed to fade from view. But each one's end-point was stationary. As the figure would move away, the length of wire would extend as if something unseen fed them more line. As it moved towards its end-point, the length would shorten, taking up the excess slack.
Pyroman looked over his shoulder to see one of the newer heroes, Captain 3-D was what the press dubbed him. The Captain looked pale and horrified. Then again Pyroman had never met him before. He might always look like this he thought.
"They are the Urgblaanku. I think the closest translation would be..uhm Never-never men. They are a type of bogeymen where I come from. We tell tales of them to our children to teach and warn them of the shadows of the cosmos. That means the gods they're channeling must be no! That machine has to be destroyed!"
Already the other heroes were raining down flames and energy blasts sending the villains scattering. From his vantage point he could see the various super powered heroes approaching the villains from three sides, keeping them boxed in. Pyroman nodded affirmitively to Captain 3-D and flew down towards the machine. Within twenty yards, his body convulsed, electrical energy pulled out of him into the machine. He screamed and tried to pull his energy back in only to have it forcibly and painfully extracted. To others, it looked like he was launching lightning bolts at the machine at first. That is until cables from the machine swam up the lightning bolts like massive sea snakes, grabbed Pyroman and drug him down into embrace of the machine. He struggled against the inexorable pull. Pyroman realized that none of the powered villains stood near the machine and this must be why, out of a fear that the machine would target their own powered forms. The Never Never Men went about their work and Pyroman noticed he could see partly through them now that he was up close. None seemed to pay him any attention. Spots of colors swam before his eyes and his last thought before blacking out was, "Please it can't end like this. It just can't."
Captain 3-D pulled up when he saw Pyroman attacked. He managed to phase his own form enough to avoid the worst of an attack on himself, but realized he would not be able to get any closer none of the powered heroes would. He broadcast a warning to the other heroes via the mind-network that Spectro, Zanzibar, and Marvello managed to set up. Their best option lay in defeating the villains and clearing a path for the normals. As he looked down on the battlefield below, he saw the first waves of their ground-forces descend upon the villains. The heroes were numerous and powerful, but the villains were fighting with an unmatched ferocity and lethality. And, they with their zombied legion of soldiers outnumbered the heroes at least two to one.
Already, several flyers were flying down, lending their fists to the fray. Dynamic Man in his descent, flew too close to the machine and energy arced out, striking him in the back. Cables and wires quickly enveloped him and started dragging his struggling form to Earth. Captain 3-D looked in horror when he saw the winged hero Airman fly to Dynamic Man's aid. However, Airman wasn't attacked and 3-D realized with a start that Airman's power of flight was artificial. He yelled, "attack the machine! That's our only hope!" With that, Captain 3-D flew into the villains with all his strength and speed to even the odds.
Captain 3-D plowed through the crowd, the strength of his blows scattering the villains. For a moment he smiled, thinking they just might have a chance. Then he realized the heroes were gone. As he swung his fists, he glanced around. Where were the heroes? The villains piled on top of him, he kept knocking them back but he realized he couldn't hold the throng off by himself.
The tableau that greeted the Hood's squad was confounding. At first it looked as if everything was going to plan. Suddenly, the mind network was gone. When they looked at the battle going on, it was a bit off.
"It looks like a bad western saloon fight," said the Black Dwarf. "Why are the heroes fighting each other as well as the villains?"
The Hood pulled up a pair of binoculars and scanned the area. He fixed on one area and focused the binoculars tighter on the area. He muttered a small curse, put down the binoculars and pointed.
"I think I see the cause over there, to the left of the large gateway device you can see a small platform in front of some smaller machines," said the Hood. "There are several men, all psychics. I think the small machines behind them are amplifying their power. The box among them, contains a villain I once faced, the Death Head. I wager they're forcing the heroes in some way to do battle against each other. We need to take them out fast before they realize we're here and before there's a fatality on our side."
"It may be late for that," said the Bogeyman.
They looked down on the field and saw several of the small squads charging across different flanks. And, each one, part of the way across the battlefield broke up, joining the chaotic battle already in progress.
"If it's speed you want, I'll take out the pyschic yo-yos."
The speaker was a man in a yellow costume with purple mask, gloves and boots. A bold red "Z" streaked across his chest. What made him odd was the belt he wore that was connected to a wheel on each foot. Zippo. Inwardly, the Black Dwarf groaned.
"I can speedily sneak around and attack them before they know what hit them."
The Hood nodded. "Fine. Daredevil and I will back you up. The rest of you, take out the gateway at all costs. Place its location now in your minds and charge it. Don't deviate from your goal no matter what you see. Give us one minute before you charge."
With that, the Hood, Daredevil, and Zippo quickly descended back down the hill climbed into a jeep and sped away. The Hood drove a big arc around the battle, hidden from the villains by the hills, the general wreckage that dotted the landscape from the pitched battles, as well as the fight in progress. He stopped about a hundred yards behind the mentalists and they climbed out of the jeep. The Hood nodded to Zippo and slapped him on his back. With a nod, he turned and with a couple of strides he was speeding on his way. Daredevil and the Hood broke into a run, their guns at the ready.
Zippo knew that he was considered a joke. If he hadn't been moderately effective as a mystery-man he'd have never kept up with it. He became one because they were fashionable and he thought it might help his private-eye business. His costume was garish and his gimmick, seemingly lame. However, he had some success, taken on some fairly nasty powerful foes. He hated always having to prove himself though. As he sped towards the mentalists he could feel a tickling across his brain that extended to the roots of his hair. He focused on them and moved faster. One of them, a guy in a white coat and bushy red hair spotted him and pointed. The others turned to look as he leapt up the steps onto the platform. In an instant he had them scattered like bowling pins. He kicked at the mentalists' machines, his speeding wheels sparking and screeching as metal met metal.
"NO," screamed the bald mentalist Stopwach who launched himself at Zippo.
Zippo swung a fist but Stopwach ducked and delivered a blow of his own that dazed the hero. Zippo fought for consciousness as he could feel Stopwach's fingers tighten around his throat. Something whizzed by, hitting Stopwach and with a groan he crumpled, releasing his hold. Zippo looked down and saw a grinning Daredevil, boomerang in hand. The Hood kept up a barrage of gunfire, holding the villains back. Zippo saw with satisfaction the heroes were regrouping, no longer fighting each other. The villains also acted as if they were coming out of a daze, the spell forcing them to work together wearing off.
A scream caused him to look over his shoulder towards the large gateway machine. It's large gear wheels were turning, ghostly pendelums swung, and large weights on chains moved in up and down jerky motions with a clanging. What had evoked the scream was one of the gangsters, held aloft impaled on some kind of partially visible tentacle. The gateway was opening, and something was starting to manifest here. Tentacles like the one with the gangster were appearing scattered about. Some of them were lined with soul-less fish like eyes, others had small barbs. The thing's body (if those tentacles belonged to just one body) appeared as if Picasso had decided to paint a picture of a jelly fish. And, give it numerous eyes and mouths with jagged teeth with no rhyme or reason. He saw a tentacle emerge from the ground behind the Hood and Daredevil. Even as he yelled a warning, Zippo leapt from the platform, grabbed both heroes and sped away.
When the minute they had been ordered to wait expired, the remaining heroes of the Hood's squad charged forward towards the gateway machine. As they got closer to it and the raging battle, the Black Dwarf noticed heroes fading from view, being replaced by villains. What was worse was the gateway machine also faded from view. He ran straight ahead, trying to dodge foes that broke off from the battle to intercept him. Once, twice, he swung the butt of his gun against a jaw sending someone falling to the dirt. Someone grabbed him from behind and the two went rolling across the ground. By the time he disentangled himself, his bearings were lost. He spun around, chaos and fights between hellish beings surrounded him. He fought down the urge to bring his guns into play. Then, just as quickly, the spell was broken and the heroes and villains were discernible once more.
The Black Dwarf spun and saw the Bogeyman almost to the gateway machine. The Dwarf saw a gangster swinging around with a machine gun, intent on mowing down his friend. He automatically drew a bead on the gangster and pulled the triggers of his colts. His aim true, the bullets lethally slammed into the machine gunner. He had barely hit the earth, when the Dwarf was in motion running towards the gateway machine. Three times more he fired his colts as men and things rushed to intercept them.
And then they were upon the machine. Or among it might be more accurate as it seemed to be built through the ground. Gear wheels turned though their lower half was not visible, disappearing into the very ground. They saw the gateway opening and the unreal creature manifesting itself. Suddenly one of the Never-never men was in front of them, making some kind of ominous clicking noise. It raised two robed arms and filaments and strands shot out from its sleeves enmeshing both heroes. The strands tightly wound them and seemed to be razor sharp as they sliced through their jackets and shirts. The Never-never man tugged and pulled the heroes off their feet. The Black Dwarf struggled, feeling the strands slicing deep into his arms and he winced. Suddenly the bonds went slack and the Dwarf looked up in time to see the armored Iron Ace pulling his sword out of the Never-never man. The robed man crumpled as if his body suddenly deflated. The robe and strands began to flake and turn ash gray before dissolving into an oil pool that smelled of someone combining spoilt milk and rotten eggs.
Other robed Never-never men began their way towards them, appearing from behind parts of the machine, some walking across invisible vertical planes as if they were part of an Escher print. Iron Ace swung his sword in a high arc and around and sent another one crumpling. The Black Dwarf opened fire with his guns, clearing a path for them.
"We don't have much time," grunted the Ace, his voice echoing inside his helmet. "Find someway to destroy this thing."
The Bogeyman found a large metallic pipe surrounded by wires running from the pronged contraption that held the atomic heroes to another part of the machine. He put his arms around the pipe and his muscles knotted. It moved slightly and energy arced around them. The Never-never men clicked loudly and angrily. The Black Dwarf backed up towards him, emptying his guns into one the Never-never men. He saw that the Iron Ace was surrounded, several of the men had entangled him in their strands. Soon he'd be overcome. The Black Dwarf turned to the Bogeyman and nodded. Grabbing the other side, he added his strength to his friend's and they pulled. At first it resisted, then it slid just a bit before halting with an audible click, and finally the pipe pulled free, the wires whiplashing around as they became unbound. The Black Dwarf had barely time to look at his friend and smile before the gateway machine gave a loud groan, and then a roaring noise like an unfettered rush of ocean and a blinding flash of white swept everything away.
The Black Dwarf slowly became aware of the strange fact that he wasn't dead. There was a slight cool breeze and he was lying uncomfortably on his back, something small and hard like a rock was pressing against his back. He opened his eyes and at first thought he was blind as all he saw was darkness. Then he realized he was staring at a cloudy night sky. "How long was I out," he thought.
He slowly got to his feet looking at the ruins of the great machine. He saw great lights being turned on and the sounds and shouts of activity as the base they were in was coming to life. Somwhere an alarm began to blare. He heard a sound of gasping breath and a slight moan behind him. He turned around and saw Bogeyman lying a few feet away. A huge piece of metal seemed to protrude through his torso. He gasped and ran towards his friend.
"Oh my God, Ken!" he cried. He knelt beside him, taking off the man's hat and mask, revealing sightless eyes. "Help," he screamed. "We need a doctor here! Now!"
"Shorty? I can't see you Shorty what happened? Did we do it? Did we win?"
"Save your breath, we won. Everything's ok. We made a difference. I'm getting you some help now" The Black Dwarf turned his head and saw the other heroes scrambling through the wreckage. The Doctors Frost, Darkness, and Nemesis as well as Patsy Parker aka the War Nurse made their way to the front and knelt down beside him.
"Good," coughed Kendall Richards. "Because it hurts like hell."
And, with that, the hero breathed his last.
The doctors shook their heads and the Black Dwarf numbly stood up. He saw a slightly rumpled looking Zanzibar standing with the other mystics. Roaring, he ran towards the mystic and tackled him. With great effort, Marvo and the Green Lama were able to pull him off. The sound of a gunshot echoed and everyone looked for the source. And noticed for the first time that they had been surrounded by armed American soldiers. A paunchy middle-aged general stood there with his pistol pointing towards the sky.
"Don't make any sudden moves and explain what the Sam Hill you're doing on my base."
It was a lengthy meeting between the General and Commander Don Winslow. An hour later, a few MPs came and asked for the Green Lama and the Fighting Yank. The heroes requiring medical attention were taken to receive the care they needed. The rest spent their time in a hangar and talking. Some were speculating on what happened to the villains. The general consensus was they somehow mystically took a powder during all the confusion. With the psychics on their side, it wouldn't have been too hard. Others speculated about where they were. It looked as if the Los Alamos base had been rebuilt. Only it was off, in little ways. The design of the light fixtures, the uniforms of the soldiers. However, it was night and many of them were emotionally and mentally numb from their collective experience. Captain 3-D probably knew the most but he kept it to himself. If it was night, he should've been back in the book he "lived" hours ago. Also, some charge had shorted out his belt. And something had killed all the Never-never men, leaving them just oily pools. He suspected a dimensional time jump. The Never-never men could not survive being cut off from their home-dimension, this one being so alien to them. And, such a thing could fundamentally change him and his relationship to this dimension as well
The Fighting Yank had said that about three times now. The Green Lama had not said a word but had lowered his hood and scarf revealing his still handsome though no longer youthful features. Commander Winslow, with his right arm in a sling, looked downright pale.
"I have to go back and tell those men that the year is two..thousand and..one? That almost fifty years has somehow passed? There has to be some sort of a mistake."
General Morris shook his head. "Wish it was Yank. Wish I could tell you that you fought the good fight and you can return to your families and friends. Your lives. The reality is that it has been fifty years. You and your men have been missing and presumed dead for damn near half a century. There's even a commemorative statue by the entrance honoring your great sacrifice listing all of you that was thought to be here. Although by your amount of you on my base, I think we were short a couple."
"Fine," said the Fighting Yank. "Well, magic and sorcery got us here. It can take us back. We got some of the most powerful magicians on the planet with us and some of the smartest most powerful men. As soon as we're rested, we'll put our heads together and go back."
"I don't think that's wise," said the Green Lama. "The general just said we disappeared and were presumed dead for the last fifty years. If we were to be successful, then that would not be the case. And, it's not like time is a door that just needs opening to walk through. Getting here almost destroyed the world. Who knows what would happen if we attempted to go back. "
"And the villains." They turned to Don Winslow. "They're here as well. We can't just let them run havoc across this world. I hate to say it, Yank. God, I want to go back as well. But, what GL says makes sense. I don't know, maybe the science guys can make sense of it and figure out if such a thing is possible. Or desirable.. If we could go back to 54, what's stopping us to go back earlier and stop Hitler before he rises to power. Think of the lives we could save."
"And the damage to history," said the Green Lama.
"To Hell with history," yelled the Fighting Yank. "To Hell with Hitler! All I want is to see Joan again. To see my kid being born."
He had stood up with the outburst. He closed his eyes and got control over his emotions and sat back down. He took a couple of deep breaths as he thought about it all. When he opened his eyes they were a bit moist.
A few days later, Kendall Richards received a military funeral. It was a big funeral as most of the heroes had turned out for it, taking a pause in putting their lives back together. The honor guard, elder soldiers of several different wars came up to talk to his daughter, her husband, and their daughter. Shorty Wilson in his dark suit stood to one side, approaching them after the guard had left. In truth, after the falling out with his friends, Richards' family had been the closest to family he had those decades ago. He had helped them out with the funeral arrangements as much as he could. Truth was, the government had kept most of them busy the last few days, setting up and or restoring identities for them all as well as hour upon hour of debriefing.
Sandy, Richards' daughter was a tall proud looking woman of middle-aged years, with the dark hair of her father. Her own daughter, was more fair, looking a bit like her grandmother when she was in her twenties. When she and Ken had gotten married, thought Shorty.
"I wish your mother could've made it."
"She said she had mourned his death twice now. A third time was not necessary. Plus, truthfully, she's not as mobile as she used to be. I barely remember him myself. I do remember mom always reminding us that he was a hero. That he always tried to do the right thing.."
Despite herself, Sandy started getting choked up. Her husband put his arm around her and muttered something and they turned away. Richards' grand-daughter lingered for a few minutes, not quite willing to leave just yet.
"You were a mystery man alongside him, his best friend." It wasn't a question just a statement as she gathered her thoughts, so he just nodded. "I guess most of the people here also were masked heroes." Again, a nod. "It was nice of them to come. I imagine it would've made him happy. I talked to some of them at the wake. " She was starting to ramble, but Shorty could think of nothing to say, so he didn't stop her.
She stopped herself and bit her lower lip before beginning again. "I um never knew my grandfather, only a bit what grandmom would share. And, copies of his articles and books. Some written by him, others about him. The others that I talked to last night didn't really know him that well, though I loved hearing their stories of those years. I'd love to hear more, to know more about him if you wouldn't mind talking about it."
"Sure. I'd love to."
She smiled slightly and fumbled for a card in her purse and handed it to him. "Just give me a call or shoot me an e-mail sometime when the craziness calms down. I know you must be busy, being gone for so long and all. "
She turned and walked back towards the black limos, and Shorty reminded himself she was a good 10-15 years younger than he. Or sixty depending how you did the math. Then his brow furrowed when he was struck by a thought.
"What the heck is e-mail," he wondered.