Return To Earth-X
The Trans-Euro Express finally pulled into Berlin.
Happy Terrill grinned, shucked his civvies, pulled on his yellow headmask with the riser, and converted his body into photons. As a light-image of himself, he streaked through the window of the train. Several hundred people were at the station. It was time to give them a show.
The Ray arced through the air of the station house, created faux fireworks from his hands, made a display of the new German and American flags, their staffs crossed in a hopeful sign of friendship, and buzzed the crowd harmlessly. The onlookers were either dumbstruck or applauding. The kids among them seemed to be begging for more. Knowing an exit cue when he saw it, the Lord of Light smiled at the crowd, gave them a big wave, and vanished through the same window he had come through.
"Showoff," smirked Sandy Knight.
"Showoff? Moi?" said Happy, in mock astonishment. "Showman, yes. Showoff, no. The rubes deserve a little entertainment. Wait till they get a look at you in your working clothes. Now, that's entertainment!"
Sandra said, "Flattery will get you somewhere. But not where you're hoping for, tonight."
Roy Lincoln was putting on his white headgear with the glass window for his eyes in it. "Rub it in, Sandy. I guess with you, the phrase ‘international relations' takes on a whole new meaning."
"Stuff a sock in it, Bomb," said the Black Condor. "If you don't like her, get out of the group."
Darrel Dane, still at his six-inch Doll Man size and in costume, hopped between the two. "That's enough, both of you. Nobody's leaving the group, and we can do without all this pettiness...on both sides."
"Oh, I like her well enough," acknowledged the Bomb, rubbing his gloved hands together. "It's just that I'm tired of all the tease-but-no-please stuff she's always pulling."
The brunette heroine turned abruptly to Roy. "And when did you end up giving me orders about how I dress and who I should be with? I'm proud of my body, Roy. I've got a reason to be." With that, she pulled up her red T-shirt, unzipped her blue pants and stepped out of them, and stood revealed in the scanty yellow-and-green uniform of the Phantom Lady. "Wouldn't you agree?"
The Ray gave a great whistle at the sight of Sandy's form, clad in barely more than a bikini. Even the Condor stared, but said nothing. Sandy looked at Roy Lincoln's eyes through the glass slit, and, from the look he gave her for an involuntary second, knew she'd nailed him, too. Inwardly, she smiled.
But the Bomb only reacted that way for a second. "I would agree that your uniform...or lack of it...proved a great distraction to the Krauts for a long time. Now, it just makes you look like you ought to be standing under a lamp somewhere."
Sandra rushed up to him and tried to slap him, at the last moment remembering that she'd only hurt her hand on his helmet.
"That-will-be-ENOUGH," boomed a familiar voice.
Four heads turned to see Uncle Sam walking into the traincar with Martha Roberts. She looked a bit taken aback. Sam just looked angry.
"Do you think I've led you through forty years of battle just to see you battle among yourselves?" Sam raged. "As if you were all a bunch of squalling brats in a woodpile somewhere, instead of the soldiers America depended on through its darkest hours. I swan, I'm about ready to take you men on myself. And maybe take you over my knee," he said, addressing the last to Sandra. She looked at the floor.
"Well?" Sam thundered, standing amongst the four other men. "What've you got to say for yourselves?"
Doll Man spoke. "It's just getting to us, Sam. All the tension of being together. Being together too long."
The Bomb added, "Not to mention the--"
Sam got in his face and gave him an icy look, saying nothing.
"Not to, um..." Roy fumbled.
"You got something to say, young man, you say it to me," said Sam. "I don't cotton to no backstabbing verbal bushwhackers that can't say to your face what they say behind your back."
"Sam, it's all right," said the Ray, trying to reach out a hand to touch Uncle Sam's shoulder, then flinching back. "We just got into an argument, that's all. People will do that, you know. Even family."
"I imagine they do," allowed Sam. "Yes, that's a fact. But arguments within families are best forgiven and forgotten, if the family is to stay together. Now, we've got about half a million people in this town that want to see how these Americans in the funny suits they've heard about, maybe even seen once, briefly, stack up. It hasn't been all that long since they were giving that little stiff-arm salute and saying ‘Sieg heil' while they were doing it. They were standing there with faces freshly-washed in soap made from human fat, ladies and gentlemen. They were sieg-heiling by the light of lamps covered in shades made of human skin. They went home to sleep in mattresses stuffed with human hair. And their wives wore gold wedding rings that just may have been made from fillings extracted from human teeth. That's what we fought against, ladies and gentlemen. And we darned near lost.
"This is the very heartland of all that Hitler created. It was the new Rome, the capital of all the world, for a short and ignoble time. You think it couldn't happen again? Why, that's just what we thought in 1918. Look what happened. You think all the signs of Nazism have been swept away from Berlin, ladies and gentlemen? The deadliest ones still remain--in their hearts. God knows a lot of them have tried to purge them away. But that evil may be as hard to erase as the mark of Cain.
"Those very people, trying to arise from the ashes of that fifty-year nightmare, will be looking to you, and to me, as the symbols of those folks who didn't give in to Uncle Adolf. They're not looking for Happy, or Sandy, or Darrell, or Roy, or Tom, or even Samuel. They want the Freedom Fighters. They want a symbol of justice and liberty in this world, to reassure themselves such things still exist. Not a bunch of backbiting little children who may have just forgotten how many times each one of you laid your lives on the line for all the others of you, and for much more besides. If any of you want out of here, speak up. I'll go out there alone, if I have to. I've done it before and I can do it again. Well?"
No one said anything. Martha, scarcely daring to breathe, was awed by her host's transformation. Only a kindly old man several minutes ago, when they were talking. Now he was something quite harder. And she could see the reason why Darrell and the others had let him lead them on their long, lonely mission.
The Condor said, "We'll keep it together, Sam. We're not gonna let you down, or the Berliners either. It's settled."
Sam turned his face towards the Bomb. "How about you, Lincoln? They say you're related, distantly, to the man I knew more than a hundred years ago. He had more power in his heart than you've got in both your hands. Think he'd be proud of the way you're acting?"
The Bomb looked at the floor, then gazed back at Sam with a bit of defiance. "I don't know, Sam. All I know is that it's 1985, not 1865. I'm not Abe, and he isn't me. But I'm not going to mess things up. You ought to know that."
"I've got to know that, Roy," said Sam, quietly. "You make sure I don't have to doubt it." Then he turned to Sandra Knight. "And don't think I'm unknowing of your part in this, missy. I'm well aware of your wants and needs, but you show your charms a bit too flagrantly for comfort...and for my tastes."
Sandra said nothing, but gave Sam back a cold look.
Martha decided to take a hand. "Sam, if I might--"
"Martha," warned Doll Man, looking up at her from just under her knee.
She plowed ahead. "You've all been together for a long time. Probably too long a time. Ever since the Forties, it's just been one big fight after another. Now that you've got a chance to relax a bit, all the conflicts that you had to keep tamped down are starting to show up. And that's only natural, I mean. I think all of you, after this gig--"
"Gig?" Sam looked at her in bewilderment.
"Job, Sam," said Sandra.
"--you should all take a long vacation from each other, get in contact with your individual selves, find out what it's like not having to fight bad guys all the time. You need the down time. I can see it in, well, Darrell, and I can see it in all the rest of you as well. Even family members have to split up and go their separate ways sometimes. When they come back together...well, you know the line about abscence and the heart growing fonder. But Sam is right about this appearance. You have to put on the smiley faces for the crowd. It's just like acting, or any sort of other performance. They want to see you as heroes--and that's what you have to be."
Doll Man's mouth was open a bit, and he was not aware. He couldn't help but stare at Martha.
After a moment, Sam said, "Thank you for your help, missy. Maybe it helps to have another perspective, now and then. Well, what of it, you all? What are we?"
"The Freedom Fighters, Sam," said the Ray.
"I only heard it from one," cautioned Sam.
"The Freedom Fighters!" echoed the five heroes.
Sam looked at Roy and Sandy. "What about you two?"
Roy stook out his gloved hand, a little unsurely. Sandy took it and pumped it once, then let it go.
"Let's go, then," said Sam. "We've got stuff to do."
"She has been prepared?" said the man in the grey suit.
"As much as she can be prepared, mein herr," answered the man standing to his side. "Her strength will be increased by what is now within her."
"So that she will be more than a match, I would hope, for the one called Onkel Sam. For the five who stand beside him, as well."
"That will be the ultimate stroke, Herr Commandant," the other answered. "As you intended. The six of them, struck down by one of their own kind. As you well know--"
"If I know it, Gerhardt, do not bother repeating it to me," said the commander, holding his black-gloved hand up to halt the other's words. "We cannot wait longer. She must be placed where we have designated her to be."
Gerhardt paused. "There may be residual loss of life, mein herr, if the operation is successful."
The grey man reached out and grabbed Gerhardt's neck with a very firm hand. "That never bothered us before and it will not bother us now. Do not become squeamish on me, Gerhardt. Lest you become the first casualty."
Choking, Gerhardt got out, "I am loyal, Herr Commandant! Loyal! To you, and the Reich! You must believe me!"
"I must believe nothing," said the commandant, and loosened his fingers. Gerhardt lurched away.
The grey-suited man's eyes swept the chamber. He saw fear in the eyes of the others, and was satisfied.
"Go," he said. "Do what must be done."
The mayor of Berlin was one Heinrich Brandt, a former Protestant minister and accountant who had been lucky enough both to disagree with the Nazis and to live, mostly because he kept his dissent private. If he had been a coward, he had also been a wise one.
That did not mean he was overjoyed to see the Freedom Fighters. They were Americans and, though he deplored what had happened to their country, he did not particularly like them. Still, they and the stranger heroes had brought down the Reich, and for that they were to be congratulated.
If only the meddlers would leave Germany alone, now, to clean up its own messes. But the victorious powers did not trust them enough for that. He could see their point.
Now here he was, surrounded by UN guards and local cops, in his official's suit, standing at the steps to the last car on the Trans-Euro train. In his hand was a paper tied up with a red ribbon. He looked towards the battery of reporters and noticed that not too many of them had snapped pictures yet. They were waiting for what was to come.
"I just want to get this thing done, Herman," he muttered to his translator.
"It is not an easy thing for any of us, Herr Mayor," replied Herman. "But did you see the man in yellow? All those tricks he did with his hands and the light? Ach, if only we could hire him for election rallies!"
Mayor Brandt made no answer to that. Then he saw the door of the next-to-last train car opening.
The tall man in the American flag suit was emerging. Brandt sucked in a breath. For a moment, Uncle Sam's eyes met his, and he felt as if the man was reaching into his brain and sifting through his memory cells.
<I was not one of them! I did not speak against them, true, but I was not one of them!>
Then the moment passed, and Uncle Sam looked to the rest of the crowd and waved.
The applause began, a little hesitatntly at first. After all, this man was one of what had been, until recently, the enemy. But the youngsters seemed to like him, and they were prodding their parents to clap. Uncle Sam just kept smiling.
The last car of the train was a platform, ringed by a metal railing. Onto it now stepped a man in a brief, blue-black uniform with a great cape tied to his wrists. His legs and chest and arms were almost bare, and his physique looked like that of an Olympic contestant. The man crouched, then leapt up, and--could it be?--
--flew right into the air.
The mayor gaped along with the rest of them. Though he had heard of such in his history, never had he seen a flying man. Apparently some of the crowd had, when the light-man had strutted his stuff earlier, but he had been too late for that. At any rate, the Berliners on hand gasped, made strange exclamations, and then seemed to laugh and point and clap as if they were at the circus. For that is what the flying man appeared to be: a circus acrobat, complete in abbreviated costume, sans net or trapeze.
The man was smiling, enjoying his flight, and now swooping down like a bird of prey. But it was only to near the sea of upheld hands, and to shake some of them like a politician. If politicans could fly.
The Black Condor was winning them over.
The next one out was the light-man, the one called the Ray. He seemed to be taking in the Condor's actions, mulling them over, then deciding on a course of action. At that, the yellow-costumed man also took flight, staying behind the Condor and pacing him. The Condor seemed unaware of him, though it had to be an act. The Ray made faces at him behind his back, stuck two fingers up behind his head. The crowd laughed. The Condor appeared to be surprised, whirled to see what was behind him. But the Ray whirled with him and stayed behind his back, winking at the crowd, stifling a laugh, and then tapping him on the shoulder.
The Condor turned around again. But he didn't appear to see the Ray, who was now hovering overhead. He looked from side to side, while the Ray floated in a lotus position. Finally, the Condor responded to the shouts from the onlookers and the hands pointing above his head. He looked up, saw the Ray, faked exasperation, and grabbed his fellow by the ankle and pulled him down. Then the Condor appeared to give his friend a lecture in proper bearing and etiquette before guests, while the crowd at the station cracked up. The Ray took it with a bored expression. When the Condor pointed back towards the platform car and flew towards it, the Ray gave him a Bronx cheer, and then followed. Everyone laughed.
After the Condor and the Ray joined Sam on the platform, the next guest emerged. A six foot man with black hair, clad in a blue tunic and trunks and a red cape and boots. There seemed to be nothing remarkable about him, but that was what they had thought of the Condor before seeing him fly. So they waited to see what act this one had in store.
They didn't wait long. Darrell Dane closed his eyes and appeared to concentrate. And quickly, but slowly enough for the spectators to follow it, the six-foot man shrank to four feet, then three, then two, then one, and then to a mere six inches. Uncle Sam stooped, reached down, held out an open palm. The Doll Man hopped onto it, and Sam held him aloft, displaying him to the crowd. The Berliners applauded. There was nothing threatening to them about a six-inch man at all, and that was a nice surprise indeed.
The fifth member of the entourage was leisurely about making her entrance. First, a bare feminine hand appeared on the doorjamb of the penultimate train car. Then a face peered around the jamb. And what a face! Black hair done in a coquettish ponytail, pale skin, eyes that looked gorgeous even behind her green transparent visor, and features that would have landed her on a movie screen no matter what her acting skill was. A hugger-mugger of approval began to circulate, almost drowning out the wolf whistles.
Phantom Lady was smiling, seductively.
She stepped forth, her green cape concealing her body from neck to thighs, and what the crowd saw of her bare legs beneath it made the women jealous and the men pumped full of hormones. With a look of nonchalance, once she had stepped between Uncle Sam and the Condor, Phantom Lady turned her side to the crowd.
Then she parted her cape and turned to face the crowd.
The body she revealed was that of a bathing-suit model, and then some. The two strips of yellow that were fastened at her neck, parted at the middle, and then came together at her belt buckle, barely concealed her full breasts. Her red belt hung about her hips, and her yellow bikini bottom left little to the imagination about the rest of her figure. Her long, perfectly formed legs were revealed from the bottom of her hips to the ankles, with her feet being encased in green boots.
There was a howl of approval and a wave of applause that outdid anything heard before. The thought, Does she have a power?, was quickly replaced by, Does she need one?.
Then the Black Condor tried to put a hand on her shoulder, and his hand passed through her body. It went through her like water, ending up protruding from her chest. Sandra Knight looked down at it in apparent shock, and turned to the Condor with an accusing expression. He looked sheepish, and withdrew his hand.
The crowd cracked up.
She smiled at them, and at him, and when he tried to put his hand on her shoulder again, it was solid and she did not flinch from his touch. She waved, and the crowd was hers.
The last one of the Freedom Fighters finally emerged from the train car. He seemed hesitant, as if he didn't want to be there. And though the other five still smiled, the ones closest to the train could see a flash of nervousness in their eyes.
The man who stepped into view was not a crowd-pleaser.
He was clad from head to toe in a white protective garment, such as the ones used in laboratories where dangerous experiments are carried out. His head was covered with a white hood without openings, though a glass vent allowed his eyes to show through. He was large and powerful and scary-looking, like an alien invader stepped from the screen of a science-fiction film.
Nor was his name reassuring, when the few who knew it sent it circulating through the assemblage: "The Human Bomb."
He stopped before them, peeled off his gloves, and lightly clapped his
The explosion was not great, but it caught the crowd by surprise. They tried to back away, making shocked noises. The other Freedom Fighters turned towards the Bomb, as if awed that he would do such a thing.
A tiny figure was scampering over the Bomb's shoulder. He did not appear to notice. He was about to clap his hands together again.
Just as he was about to do so, the Doll Man landed in his palm and stood there, defiantly.
The Bomb halted, his other hand no more than half an inch above Doll Man's head, and reacted with a double-take. He held the pose for so long, the audience finally caught on and started to nervously laugh. Doll Man sat down on the Bomb's open palm, then yawned and lay back. The Bomb held out the hand to the crowd and rubbed his helmeted head with the other, as if wondering what to do. Then, shrugging, he tossed Doll Man up in the air.
Doll Man yelped, comically. When he was at the apex of his flight upward, Roy Lincoln quickly (and lightly) clapped his hands together, and another burst of light and roar of sound occurred. This time it only gave the Germans a start, rather than a shudder. But he got his catching hand back in position, and Doll Man landed safely in his palm again. The little man turned back to his partner and gave him an accusing look.
The Bomb spread his other hand on his chest and mimed a reaction that said, Who? ME? The Freedom Fighters grinned and the onlookers laughed.
Then the explosive master threw back the hood of his suit, showed them the features of a normal, black-haired man, and smiled at the crowd, waving with his free hand. The applause had a relived sound to it. Doll Man hopped off, landing on the platform with a crouch, and scurried over to Uncle Sam, climbing up his pants leg and his coat until he reached Sam's shoulder, where he perched. Roy put his protective gloves back on.
Uncle Sam stepped up to the microphone which had been placed at mid-car, waited for a few seconds, and then said, in German, "My ladies and my gentlemen, may I be allowed to introduce my friends and yours as well, the Freedom Fighters!"
From the intensity and length of the applause, Mayor Brandt knew that anything he did from here on in was going to be anticlimactic.
"This here little gent on my shoulder is called the Doll Man," said Sam. "I'm just glad he's not a parakeet."
Martha Roberts, watching from within the penultimate car, covered her mouth to keep her laughter from being heard. Enough of the Berlin bunch got the joke to make polite laughter. She wasn't fluent in German, but she knew enough to get the joke. The Fighters knew the language from bitter experience.
"This fellow in the all-white outfit is Roy Lincoln, the Human Bomb," said Sam. "Don't worry, he shakes hands with his gloves on. The lad in yellow with the healthy glow is the Ray. When he's around, we never worry about our lighting bills. Over here is the only guy to play Lindbergh without an airplane, the Black Condor. Have I forgotten anyone?"
"Saaaam," said a seductive but petulant voice.
"Oh, excuse me," Sam said, pushing his hat a bit further back on his head. Sandra was striking a model's seductive pose, fists on her hips, one leg bent inward slightly at the knee, in half-mockery. "I almost forgot...the Phantom Lady! Give her a hand, folks."
The crowd didn't have to be told twice.
Sandra stepped up to the mike. "He forgot somebody else. Let's give an even bigger hand to a guy who's everyone's favorite uncle, no matter where they hail from...our own Uncle Sam!"
Did the Germans remember the battles this man had fought against their kind? Did they take note of the fact that he was dressed in the colors of a nation that had been their enemy for decades, then their prey, and, finally, their conqueror?
They probably did.
But, for the moment, this was overridden by the good vibes of the moment, by the desire to look reformist, and by the fact that, whatever else was to be said, the man had put on a pretty darned good show.
The crowd applauded. The mayor stepped onto the platform, and waited for the noise to die down before he presented Sam with the certificate of honorary citizenship for the Fighters.
One man in the crowd applauded a little less than the others. But he was still smiling.
He wore a grey suit, and his smile was prompted by the thought of what was to come on the morrow.