Taps For Blackhawk

 An Earth 1.75 story

 by DarkMark

DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story are property of DC Comics.  No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.

 =B=

Zinda was watching Bart, Jr. and Linda playing tennis on the court not far from the airplanes.

The kids had style and power to spare.  Bart hit a volley that aced into Linda’s corner.  The blonde girl stuck her tongue out at her brother, then went to fetch the green ball as it bounced off the back wall of the court.

It had taken her long enough to make them.  She was glad they were twins.

Zinda turned, walked away from the library room, and went down the hall, stopping to glance at the wall mirror on the way.  She still looked good enough, even pushing 50.  But it had been a long time since she tried to squeeze into her old Lady Blackhawk outfit.  When Chop-Chop had found out about it, he’d had alterations secretly done on it until it was a more comfortable fit, then laid it on her bed with a “Try it now!” note pinned on it while she was out.  She had smiled after getting into the old black short-skirted suit.  It fit.  But, hell, she had borne two children, and she figured she was entitled to a little hippiness after that.

She opened the door to Bart Senior’s office.  No one there.  She thumbed on the intercom, talked to the guys at various places on the island, and all of them reported back that he wasn’t with them.

There was, logically, only one other place he would be.

Her intrusion into the small movie theater was not warmly received.

Bart Hawk sat there, in the darkness of the theater, his cane between his knees, and watched the Blackhawks battling the War Wheel.

His hair was shot through with grey, but he touched up all but two streaks over his ears with black dye.  His muscle had not gone quite to flab, thanks to his sessions with the exercise machines and free weights on the compound, but he had to cut back on workouts recently.  It was to be expected.

Her husband, Bart Hawk, aka Blackhawk, was 68 years old.  Objectively, that is.  Subjectively, he had lived many lifetimes in that span of time, and was now content to relive them.

“Bart.”

“Hmm?  Oh, Zinda.”  His tone was neutral.  He did not look at her.

She came and sat down beside him.  “Why don’t you just put these things on a loop?  Then you can watch them all day and night.  I’ll put an IV drip-feed in your arm.  Get you an underseat potty.  You’ll never have to move.”

“Zinda, that will be quite enough.”

“Bart.  I want to talk to you about something.”

“So talk.”  He studied the screen, watching the motion of the great metal wheel, ninety feet in height, with its tread-spikes each as big as a man.  His squadron’s planes blitzed it, and it finally went over on one side, spewing fire from the control chamber.

That film had earned the photographer a certificate of recognition from President Roosevelt himself.  It was more than the Blackhawks got, but they were just doing their job.

Zinda got up, stepped around a row of seats, and stopped to face Bart when she was directly in front of him.  Her shadow blocked off a large part of the screen.  “Bart, I want you to look at me when I’m talking.”

He stopped and took his glasses off, massaging the bridge of his nose.  “Zinda.  I’m really not in the mood for one of your moods right now.”

“Oh, really?  What the hell are you in the mood for, Bart?  Watching these old newsreels till you forget there’s a sun up in the sky, or that we’ve got kids?  Or that you’ve got me?”

Bart Hawk placed his glasses in his jacket pocket.  “I haven’t forgotten you, Zinda.  Or the children.  I’ll be out there in a few minutes.”

“That’s not what I want to talk to you about, Bart.”

“Well, then?”

The look he gave her was that of a commanding officer staring down one of his men who was being insubordinate.  But she’d gotten used to it.

Zinda knelt on the seat before her, resting her arms on the back of the upright portion of it.  “Bart, I want us to move back to the States.”

In a controlled voice, he said, “If you want to go back and see your family, that’s fine by me.  You’ve got money, we’ve got planes.  Stay as long as you want.”

“No.  Bart, aren’t you listening?  I said I wanted to--”

“--You wanted us to move back to the States,” finished Bart Hawk.  “No, Zinda.  Not me.  I’ll go for a visit, but there’s little in the United States anymore that interests me.”

Zinda grabbed for Bart’s collar.

He grabbed her wrist as she did, and, with gentle force, pushed her arm back to her side.

She took in a deep breath.  “I’m sorry, Bart.  About trying to come on strong like that.  But I want you out of this...tomb of film.  It’s not good for you.”

“The real world isn’t good for me these days, Zinda.  Or for anyone else.  In measured doses, the children may be able to come back with a reasonable portion of their minds intact.”

“The children are doing just fine, Bart.  No thanks to either of us.”  Zinda sighed. “Bart, talk to me.”

“I thought I was.”

“You know what I mean.”

He waited.

“Why can’t you let any of this go?  Why do you always have to be a Blackhawk?”

He looked at her, not without kindness, and said, “Because I am a Blackhawk.  I always will be.”

“Till the day you die, Bart?”

“Probably.”  He shifted in his seat.  He wasn’t in uniform, just in pants, slipons, and a red robe.  But you could still see the military in his bearing.  If you went through the Big One, it never really let you go.

She said, “Like Chuck?”

His expression shifted to that of dark wrath.  He said nothing.  She caught herself.

She sighed.  “My God, Bart.  My God.  If I’d known what it’d be like now, twenty-five years ago, I don’t know if I ever would have done what I did.”

“But you did, Zinda.  But you did.  You were the one who wanted to join our outfit.  You were the one who wanted to be the eighth Blackhawk.  You succeeded.  But to succeed, you had to accept everything about being a Blackhawk.  And you did.”

“I even accepted you,” she said, softly.

“Yes,” he said.  “You did.  That’s the toughest part of the whole deal.  I’ll come see the children in a few minutes, Zinda.  Give me a little more time.”

Saying nothing, she got up from the seat and walked out of the theater room.  She was either too tough to cry, or her ration of tears had been exhausted for the duration.

She had never seen Bart Hawk cry.

 =B=

The history of the Blackhawks was known to most vets of World War II, practically all the civilians alive at that time, and succeeding generations of schoolkids, presidents, premiers, and assorted crooks and dictators.  All of the details weren’t gathered in one place, and probably Bart Hawk didn’t have all the facts at hand without consulting his voluminous Combat Diary.

The facts were these, within norms of interpretation:

Bart Hawk was an American born to Polish immigrant parents during World War I.  The family name was dumped for the English name of a bird his father had seen on the passage over sea.  He’d had a brother named Jack and a sister, Connie.

When war threatened, both Jack and Bart had joined the RAF and learned how to fly.  Jack had to lie about his age to get in.  He also lied about his name.  Connie had volunteered to work as a nurse in her homeland.  The three of them reversed their parents’ immigration and were all back in Poland at the time of Hitler’s attack.

At that time, Bart and Jack had come up against Col. Von Tepp and his squadron of Luftwaffe fighters.  The two of them were still too green, and the others in their outfit didn’t fare too much better.  Jack went down in flames, and Connie was in a big Red Cross tent whose red-and-white insignia didn’t stop Von Tepp’s bombers from blasting it.

Bart was brought down, too, and looked up and saw the butcher’s squadron leaving, and saw the burning place where the tent had been, and knew what had happened to both the people who shared his name.

“You killed them, Von Tepp,” he whispered, looking at the retreating aircraft.  “Just like I’ll kill you, someday.”

On that day, Blackhawk had been born.

Hawk quit the RAF, went back to America, consulted several wealthy men, got their backing, and told them flatly that they would not control him.  He would take their money and use it against Hitler.  They said that was all right by them.

He had in mind an elite squadron of men who were more than soldiers, more than flyers.  They had to be an unstoppable force, more ruthless than the Nazis, faster-striking, harder-hitting, but on the side of the Allies.  Von Tepp would be part of the equation, to be sure.  But even after he got Von Tepp, he intended to give the Nazis hammer blows from the air that they would be unable to absorb, unable to survive.

His uniform was black leather, with a hawk’s head in a yellow circle on his chest.

His planes were Grumman Skyrockets.

His base was an uncharted isle that quickly became known as Blackhawk Island, even though few knew where the hell it was.

Before long, he had his men: Stanislaus.  Olaf.  Andre.  Chuck.  Hendrickson.  Boris, who was soon lost.  Chop-Chop, last of them all.  They were the ones whom he could count on, whose abilities, strength of character, and anti-Nazism almost matched his own.

With them, he struck at the Nazis, and sent the enemy reeling back in their own blood.

Two years after the death of Connie and the loss of Jack, Blackhawk found Von Tepp again.  Or rather, Von Tepp found him.  Blackhawk had been weakened by a medallion the Nazis had managed to get him to wear, one which was gimmicked to broadcast waves of brain-breaking torment to him.  Blackhawk had been captured, bound, left in a room with his sister’s murderer.  After suitable gloating, Von Tepp, not knowing of the medallion’s power, had assumed it was a decoration for bravery and put it on himself.  Then he had raised a Luger and pointed it in Blackhawks’ direction.

He never fired.

The brain-blasting power poured through Von Tepp in one full stroke.  He had suffered a brain aneurism and dropped dead on the spot, with Blackhawk watching.

It felt good.

So good that Blackhawk knew, come what may, that he was never going to stop doing this thing he had begun.

They had fought the great battles, done the undercover work, come against the counterparts Hitler tried to create to foil them, and won out every time.  The Black Knights of the Air were known to all, and feared by everyone.  Even, often, their allies.

The Blackhawks had struck a liason agreement with the Allied high command and went out on many missions for them, while retaining their independence.  This continued right through V-E Day and V-J Day, when the swastika was struck down and the rising sun finally sank.  A couple of the squad members were unnerved by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Blackhawk was not.
“Civilian deaths are a terrible thing,” he had said.  “But so were Pearl Harbor, the march at Bataan, the POW camps.  They allied themselves with Hitler.  If they’d had this bomb first, don’t you think they would have used it on us?  And Hitler was trying to make one.”

Some of them agreed.  Some of them did not.  They all agreed with the notion that the bombing would stop the war.  The sheer majesty, power, and horror of the Bomb, though, unnerved most of them.  But Blackhawk was the leader, and they still wished to follow him. So they got over it.

With the end of the war came reconsideration.  Should they disband as a unit, try to fit in with the returning GI’s, return to their native countries?  Should the Blackhawks be consigned to their honored places in the history books?

Blackhawk didn’t think so.

There were dictatorships aplenty still.  Stalin would soon lose his mask of alliance with the Americans, now that the common enemy was beaten.  Tyrants abounded in other countries, and there were wannabe dictators arising in destabilized nations.

There would be work for the Blackhawks still, if they chose it.

So Blackhawk had said to his men at their long dinner table one evening, “I’m keeping the unit in operation.  Any who wish to leave may do so now.  It’s been a long haul, and you all deserve the chance to go home and start a civilian life, if you want to.  I’ll understand.”

The other six doubted he would.

Some of them took a couple of weeks off to visit what was left of their families and former lives.  They filtered back, almost immediately.  The Blackhawk thing had gotten into their blood.  They would not leave the team.

Blackhawk smiled, and began drawing up plans for postwar operations.

For a long time they fought Communism.  Then the American government, from which their greatest support came, asked them to help out on Stateside supercrime.  It wasn’t what Blackhawk wanted to do, but they did it, and they did it well.

And they did it alone.

The Blackhawks didn’t work with the idiots in the longjohns.  Except for one small incident in which they had been united with the other heroes of Earth to battle an alien threat and had an almost comic adventure with Plastic Man and Jimmy Olsen, they kept to themselves.  They liked it that way.  Let the Justice League of America wear the fancy costumes.  The Blackhawks wore uniforms.  Real uniforms.

Somewhere along the line, Zinda Blake had arrived.  She was a secretary in her civilian life, the daughter of a World War II vet who had spoken highly of the Blackhawks.  The seven Grim Reapers of the air fascinated her, and their leader fascinated her most.  So she created her own version of a Blackhawk costume, but with a short skirt rather than pants, and attempted to aid them on a case against a villain called the Scavenger.  The men weren’t too happy about it, at first, and she did flub up, as a rookie inevitably does.  But she also helped bring the enemy down.

So Zinda was allowed to wear the uniform, and call herself Lady Blackhawk, and participate in a few more cases.  She fell in love with Blackhawk.  It was hard for her to tell, but she thought perhaps he felt something for her too.  But his first love was his job, and she could understand that.

Or at least she thought she could.

Then came the time in which she was brainwashed by Killer Shark, one of the Blackhawks’ direst enemies, and became his lover and his ally against the Blackhawks.  Some of the team regretted ever having taken her on in the first place.  Blackhawk, surprisingly, thought otherwise.  It didn’t stop him from going after both of them.  But it did allow him to take her back, once her mind had been restored to normalcy.

By this time, over 30 years had passed since the end of the war.  Though the Blackhawks were still dedicated, they were old.  No new recruits had been taken on, outside of Zinda’s semi-official status.  The Blackhawks were given a review board by the American government, whose guests included four Justice League members.  That rankled the most.  Blackhawk had nothing but disdain for the Longjohn Legion.

But, like it or not, the squad had failed the tests set up for them, though Zinda had been recovered and her mind restored during that time.  The rumor came back that the Justice League had branded them “junk-heap heroes”.  It was expected the Blackhawks would announce their retirement.

They just didn’t know Blackhawk that well.

If the world wanted super-heroes, then by-gosh the world would get them, said Blackhawk.  His men had donned new, individual outfits designed to give them more-than-human powers.  Stanislaus, Olaf, Hendrickson, Andre, Chuck, and Chop-Chop had become the Golden Centurion, the Leaper, the Weapons Master, M’sieu Machine, the Listener, and Dr. Hands.  The only concession Blackhawk himself made was to sometimes go by the code-name of “Big Eye”.

Thus empowered, the Blackhawks had conquered new foes, and were given assignments from GEORGE, an American secret agency.  The cognoscenti called it the New Blackhawk Era.  The squad tried to get used to the new suits and the powers.  Anything to keep them in operation.

Then, one day, while the Blackhawks were on furlough, with their shiny super-suits in the labs of GEORGE for retooling, a squad of terrorists had attacked GEORGE’s main installation and wiped it out, and their suits with it.

The seven had gone back to the black leather outfits, and felt a lot better about it.  But, without the suits, they grudgingly admitted what the government and the JLA had told them: they were getting old.

That wasn’t the worst of it.

Blackhawk soon learned that the leader of the terrorists was a metal-masked character called Black Mask.

And Black Mask was his very own brother.

Jack had survived the attack of Von Tepp, but at the cost of one arm and much of his face.  He blamed Blackhawk for not being able to protect him.  He had operated in secret until then.  Now, he confronted his brother, and wanted his blood.  He didn’t get it, but he did get a piece of Blackhawk’s soul.

Black Mask escaped, after that one confrontation.  Blackhawk had never seen him again.  The team took one more assignment, completed it, then faced facts.

They disbanded.

A few years after that, inactivity sat heavily on them.  They reformed the unit, had a go of it as mercenaries in what they determined were the right causes, and had a few more adventures.  But they were just too damned old.

In one of those adventures, Chuck died.

The Blackhawks had seen death aplenty in their war years.  But Chuck’s demise finally let the air out of the group.  They were no longer young.  Their hands were too often tied by American poltics.  They were outmoded, in an era of costumed super-beings and black operations.

The world had no more need for the Blackhawks.

They had money, individually, even Blackhawk himself.  Thus, the seven old men came to a mutual agreement, and went out no more to battle the enemy.  There were others able to do that.

Some of them left to try and find wives and raise families.  It would be hard, perhaps, but they had money and fame, and the Blackhawks had never had much problem at finding women to bed.  Blackhawk and Zinda had been sleeping together quietly for years, and finally made their union legal in a quiet civil ceremony.  They came back to a wedding bash thrown by the others on Blackhawk Island.

The two kids were born in a Stateside hospital.  As soon as Zinda was well enough, Bart Hawk had jetted them all back to the island.  He oversaw their education himself.

Some of the men had found wives.  Some had not.  They filtered back to the island, either on permanent or semi-permanent basis.  The outside world was difficult to adjust to.

Hendrickson, older even than Blackhawk, had passed away not long after Chuck’s death.  Chop-Chop and Andre got married and had kids, and tried to make lives for themselves in the civilian world. Stan and Olaf came back and stayed back.

Zinda, after a few years, had asked Bart if they could move back to the States on a semi-permanent basis.  Blackhawk had said no.  She went for long stays on the mainland, but always came back.  She took the kids with her, afraid that they would know nothing more of life than an island with a big airfield and trophies like the War Wheel.  But she always brought them back, too.

She was still in love with him, and, probably, he was with her, too.

It was hard to tell, with Blackhawk.

He resisted the appeals to make speeches to historical groups.  He would not be interviewed by the documentary makers.  Access to Blackhawk Island was not given to anyone outside of the squad and their families.  The American government did not bother them, and the other governments of the world were no longer concerned with them.

That was fine by Blackhawk.

So he stayed, and he played his rounds of golf, and he flew, and he exercised, and he read, and he raised his children, and he occasionally bedded Zinda and did quite a good job for an old man.

He also watched a lot of old newsreels in the darkness of his projection room.

That was routine for him, by now.

That was life, for Blackhawk.

 =B=

Elsewhere, on the mainland, something happened.

A large government building in Seattle was exploded, showing its cut-away interior like cake layers, killing over 100 people and injuring many more.  It made worldwide news, and the FEMA and the FBI were quite busy and assumed that they would quickly have suspects to pursue.  They did, as the perpetrator mailed a short videotape to a local TV station 24 hours after the blast.

It showed a metal-masked man in a dull gray-green uniform, one of whose arms had been replaced by a saber.

“I am the Black Mask,” he said to the camera.  “No one but Blackhawk knows my real name.  We have been too long apart.  Unless he meets with me, that we may settle accounts, more destruction will result.  I did it in years past, as he and the government well know.  I will do it again, if my demand is not met.

“Both of us are dying.

“It is only fitting that we die together.”

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