January 7, 1940: Nova Scotia Pvt. Scot Crenson adjusted the bulky headset and wrapped his mittened hands around his coffee cup, hoping to soak up some of the excess heat. He hated this assignment. Bad enough he had to sit for 12 hours a day and listen for German radio signals that never came, but it had to be in a shack that was about as well insulated as a cave in the middle of winter. He checked his watch: 12:07 a.m. Another hour and 53 minutes til his relief was supposed to show up. Of course his relief was always late. He sighed and sipped his coffee. His eyes were drooping dangerously shut when the bleating screamed through his headphones, jerking him wide awake. Instinct took over. Dropping his coffee cup to splash in his lap, he scrabbled on the desktop next to the radio for his paper and pencil while checking his watch. He noted the time at the top of the paper: 12:11 a.m. Head cocked to the side in the universal attitude of "listening to something" he scribbled a series of dots and dashes on the pad. This activity continued for ten minutes before the signal ceased for a period of two minutes. Then the signal began to repeat. Pvt. Crenson looked at his pad. He knew the body of the message would be unintelligible to him as it was likely coded. But the beginning of the message, the identifier... Shakily, Pvt. Crenson reached under the desk for the handle of the field radio. He checked the settings and cranked the thing up. "Sergeant?" he called into the set. "Pvt. Crenson, Listening Station Q-27. I've just intercepted a transmission I think you should look at." He listened a moment. "Yes, sir. I believe we have a German sub off the coast of Maine." Yesteryear Fanfiction Group Presents: Secret Six Issue #1 Written by Joe Conat Edited by Tommy Hancock The YesterYear FanFiction Group acknowledges that Captain Marvel, Nick Fury, the Atom, Hourman and Sargon the Sorceror are the properties of their prospective companies. The YesterYear Fanfiction group is using these characters WITHOUT PERMISSION for NO PROFIT but rather from a desire to peer into these characters in a combined continuity. January 9th: Turku, Finland. SS Uberleutnant Hermann Goervaldt clapped his gloved hands together in a vain effort to get the blood flowing in them. Damn this cold, he thought. I should have tried harder for that transfer to Algiers. The damn sea wind didn't help either. In the middle of winter the Gulf of Bothnia may as well have been the Norwegian Sea. He glanced sourly at the tramp freighter moored next to him. Soon his phase of the mission would be done. As he watched the crane offload the giant tarpaulin-covered shape he thanked God that in another week he would be aboard a zeppelin to Berlin. And from there, he prayed, to warmer climes. He kept a watchful eye on his men, all out of uniform and dressed in the rough clothes of a seaman, as was he. They couldn't run the crane, but they, rather than the usual dockhands, had hold of the guidelines dripping from his precious cargo. He had explained to the captain of the freighter how the Fuehrer himself had asked for secrecy. The captain had been all too willing to pass the command to stand down to his men, who were equally as willing to let someone else do the work for once. With as gentle a thud as possible the cargo settled on the flatbed railcar. His men scrambled over the fifteen foot tall, tarp-shrouded shape undoing the crane, and lashing the cargo to the railcar. Satisfied, Goervaldt climbed the gangway and made his way to the bridge. There, he handed the captain his payment, a thick wad of Deutschmarks. He also told the captain that the other part of the cargo, the two crates of scotch, had been left in the hold for he and his men. The captain smiled broadly, revealing the grey wreck of his teeth and thanked the SS man profusely. Goervaldt smiled graciously, shook the man's hand, and headed back down to the dock. A shame, really, he reflected. Money and scotch were not enough to ensure a man's discretion. A U-Boat waited in the Baltic Sea for the freighter. Thousands of Deutschmarks, two crates of scotch and a hundred and twelve men would soon be resting on the cold ocean floor. Their cargo secured, he posted two of his men on guard next to the cargo, to spend a hundred and fifty kilometers in the freezing cold. Those two would be relieved in Tampere, and the next in Jyvaskyla and so on, east from there to curve around the Finland/Russian border and stopping finally in Nurmes. From there to Kuhmo by truck and the handoff. Then he and his men could go home. Goervaldt walked the length of the train to the engine car. He swung himself into the cab and gave the engineer a nod. Pity, he thought, watching the engineer direct the stoker and get the train underway. He would regret having to shoot these men when they reached Nurmes. All part of the cause, he consoled himself. Long live the Third Reich. The train chugged away. The sailors headed back onto the ship, grumbling. Usually they were allowed leave, but the captain had said they would have to take it at the next port. One man, however, did not join them. Instead, he ducked into the shadow of a stack of crates. In his pocket was a microfilm camera. When the crowd subsided, he peeked out to make sure no one was around and headed into town. January 12: Kuhmo, Finland. Goervaldt brought the semi-truck to a halt. Checking his watch he saw that it was past midnight. He was several hours late, because of the damn roads. Still, he was here. His men waited for him in Nurmes. Once the cargo had been loaded on the truck, he simply had to drive it to Kuhmo and wait. There was a tapping on the driver's side window. Goervaldt started from his reverie and fumbled for the door handle. He stepped down out of the truck and looked up at the immensely tall man wearing a woolen trench coat standing there. "A pleasant season for skiing, yes?" the man asked. "I wouldn't know. My legs are no good for it," Goervaldt replied. The countersign. The tall man smiled. "It is good to see you again, Hermann," he said. Goervaldt smiled in return. "And you, Captain," he replied. "You are late," Captain Nazi chided him. Goervaldt spat. "It is these damn Finnish roads. They're bad enough without five feet of snow piled on them." Captain Nazi laughed. "Ah, my dour Hermann. Always a complaint." He gestured to the back of the truck. "This is the Traveler, I take it?" Goervaldt nodded. "Ja, Captain. I don't know how we'll get her off the truck." Captain Nazi smiled again. "Allow me, Hermann." He vaulted onto the bed of the truck and twitched aside a section of tarp, revealing what appeared to be tank treads. Goervaldt restrained the urge to flinch away from seeing it. He was one of the few men cleared to know what the Traveler was. Still, living so long in secrecy, he had developed an almost superstitious feeling about the Traveler, as though to see it would assure his death. Captain Nazi wriggled under the front of the Traveler. Moments later the huge form shifted and began to lift. Slowly it raised into the air, borne on the broad shoulders of Captain Nazi. With a nimble leap, Captain Nazi flew into the air to land surprisingly gently on the snow covered ground. He sank to his knees and the Traveler settled to the Earth. Captain Nazi crawled out from under. "No matter how many times I see it, I still never believe it," Goervaldt said. Captain Nazi shrugged modestly. "It is nothing." Goervaldt snorted. "Maybe to you. To the rest of us, believe me, it is something." He moved to the front of the tarp. "My turn," he said and crawled under. There was a scrape and a clank, then Goervaldt came crawling back out. "There. The transmission is disengaged, she should roll freely now. There is a chain on the bed of the truck." Captain Nazi leapt back onto the bed and returned seconds later with a fifty foot length of chain, the links as thick as a man's arm. On one end there was a snap clasp. Goervaldt grabbed that end and climbed onto the Traveler. Feeling through the tarp, he finally located a particular bump. Pulling his SS dagger, he slashed a hole in the tarp, reached in with the clasp. There was a click. Climbing down, Goervaldt said "There. Now you are good to go." Captain Nazi looped the chain over his shoulder. "Good. Tell the Fuehrer that when next he hears of me, it will be to report a successful mission. Those cowards in America will be ours." He slapped his right hand to his chest and extended it. "Heil Hitler." Goervaldt returned the salute. "Heil Hitler. And Godspeed to you, Captain." With a smile Captain Nazi lifted into the air. He began to fly northwest, towing the Traveler after him. Goervaldt watched them disappear into the snow and dark. After they were gone, he climbed back into the truck and started back to Nurmes. January 16: Miami, Florida Jake's was a sleazy rathole of a bar, sweltering in the unseasonable heat. Fat Louie, a Cuban immigrant and low-level criminal since '35, sat at his usual table. He wiped his sweaty forehead with a soiled handkerchief and gulped down his sweating beer. "Another beer, Louie?" Charlene asked. He nodded, his eyes riveted to the door. Charlene sauntered off. "Somethin's up with Fat Louie," Charlene told Jake. Jake looked up from wiping down the bar. "Why ya say that?" he asked. "He hasn't pinched my ass all night. First time in months that I'll be able to sit down when I get home." Jake laughed. "Prob'ly tryin' to get in with Robby Giovanni." It was a well known fact that Louie had been shut out of the local Mob action since he arrived. He handed Charlene Louie's beer and she took it back to the nervous Cuban. Halfway through his seventh beer of the night, the door opened. A medium height blonde man walked in, surveyed the room, and headed back to Louie's table. "Giovanni get some new help?" Charlene muttered to Jake. Jake just shook his head and shrugged. The blonde man sat across from Fat Louie. "You have them?" he asked in a thick Teutonic accent. Louie nodded. "Yeah, yeah. Right here." He patted the worn briefcase resting next to his chair. The German extended his hand. Louie shook his head and laughed. Well, he tried to laugh. He was so nervous it came out more of a stuttering croak. "The color of your money, first," Louie said. The German shrugged, and, with an affable smile reached into his jacket and produced a thick wad of bills. He laid it on the table and pushed it over to Louie with his finger. Louie snatched up the bundle and counted. Satisfied, he reached down and brought the briefcase up to the table. He undid the snap-clasps and opened the case, coming out with a sheaf of official looking documents; passport, birth certificate, driver's license. "Ya just gotta put your picture in the passport," Louie said. "That should do ya." The German nodded as he examined the papers. He paused with the passport. "This says I am from Sweden," he commented. "Yeah. They're watching Germans really hard. Thought you might like the additional anonymity." "But I do not sound Swedish." Louie chuckled. "You're in America, now, buddy," he said. "Nobody'll notice the difference." The German grimaced, then shrugged. "O-kay," he said. It sounded stilted. "How about a drink?" "Sure, yeah," Louie said. He held his hand up. "Charlene, honey another beer, and..." "Whiskey." "...whiskey. The good stuff." Charlene nodded and headed for the bar. Moments later she returned with another beer and a shot. "To successful business," Louie toasted, and raised his glass. The German did the same, but stopped before the glass touched his lips. "You make a good point," he said. Louie stopped, confused. He licked his lips, eager for the beer. The German set down his shot and reached into a side pocket. Louie tensed for a second, but relaxed when the German came out with another wad of cash. He offered it to the Cuban. Louie reached out and took it. "A...tip," the German explained. "To encourage discretion." Louie nodded, smiling stupidly. He turned to stuff the money in his pocket. Quick, so quick nobody noticed, the German flicked his hand over Louie's beer. A thin film of dust settled on Louie's beer, disappearing quickly into the foam. Louie turned back. The German lifted his shot of whiskey and Louie did the same with his beer. "You were saying: 'To successful business'," the German said. "You said it," Louie chortled. He downed his beer in two gulps. The German knocked back his shot. Standing, the German said "Now, I must be going. Thank you, Mr. Louie. And remember...discretion." Louie nodded and gave him a thumbs up. The German waved and walked away. "Yeah, discretion, sure...ya lousy Nazi bastard." He thought about the additional reward he could get off the FBI when he tipped 'em off. Ten minutes later Charlene walked over to Louie's table. "Louie," she said "another round?" No answer. "Louie?" She prodded him. Louie slumped over the table. Charlene dropped her tray and screamed. January 22: Buffalo, NY "And what do we have here?" Officer Pulanski of the Buffalo P.D. straightened up and looked around. For half a second, he had thought it was the body he had been kneeling over that had spoken. He turned. Behind him stood a short, squat man wearing the fedora, overcoat and shoulder-holster that had become the unofficial uniform of G-men across the nation. Next to him stood a taller version of the same outfit. Where Shorty had the pugnacious stance and manner of the terminally small-statured, Tall had the easy-going manner that comes with confidence. Shorty yanked his wallet from his front pocket and flipped it open to reveal a badge. "Agent Schmidt, FBI," he said, confirming Pulanski's suspicions. The taller man leaned forward and offered his hand. "Thompson," he introduced himself. Pulanski glanced at the badge and shook Thompson's hand. "We have a body, sir," Pulanski reported. "From what I can see, he was shot point-blank in the back of the head. He has no identification, no money. No offense, sir, but it looks like a robbery. Don't see the need to make a, if you'll excuse the pun, federal case out of it." Schmidt snorted. "Yeah? Well, let's let me decide that." He sauntered over to the body. Pulanski glanced over to Thompson, who shrugged and rolled his eyes as if to say "What can you do?" "Thompson!" Schmidt barked. Thompson ambled over. Schmidt gestured to the body. "What do you see?" Thompson knelt. "Victim's on his face. Star-shaped eruption of the skin at the wound indicates Pulanski was right, he was shot point blank." He looked up at Schmidt, who grunted in agreement. "Flip him over," Schmidt said. Thompson slipped a hand under the corpse and heaved. The body rolled over stiffly. Pulanski sucked in his breath at the sight of the victim's ruined forehead. "Hell of an exit wound," Thompson muttered. "Nine millimeter?" Schmidt nodded. "I'd bet. But, more importantly, look there." He pointed at the corpse's legs. Thompson took a look. "Dirt. So what? The whole front of the body's covered in it." Schmidt snorted. "But there's more at the knees." He turned to Pulanski. "Rained last night, did it?" Pulanski nodded. "Yeah, for about three hours." "What time?" "I'd say 10 o'clock to one in the morning." Schmidt nodded. "That gives us a rough time of death. Coroner'll back that up." Thompson grinned up at him. "How the hell you figure that, Schmitty?" Schmidt grimaced. "It's obvious, ya dope. Look: victim's knees are caked in dried mud. Raining last night between 10 and 1. You figure it out. Now, what else do the knees tell us?" Thompson shrugged, playing along. "Ya got me." "He was on his knees. Put that with the wound, you have an execution style killing. Not Mafia, because you have to try harder to find their bodies, generally. 'Sides, victim doesn't look like a wop." Thompson laughed. "I've seen some blonde wops." "Roll up his sleeve. On his right arm." Thompson complied, rolling the sleeve up as far as it would go, just past the elbow. Nothing. Impatient, Schmidt stepped forward and grabbed the sleeve at the shoulder seam, yanking. The threads gave way and the sleeve slipped down, revealing a small tattoo: a skull impaled on a knife, a swastika above it, flanked on either side by two "s"s stylized to look like lightning bolts. "Goddamn," Pulanski breathed. Schmidt sighed. "Thought so." He cocked an eye toward Pulanski. "Federal case?" Pulanski threw his hands up. "All yours, bub. All yours." January 24: The Oval Office. The two most politically powerful men in the United States, possibly even the free world, regarded each other across the massive oaken desk through a haze of cigar and cigarette smoke. "I don't like it J. Edgar. This is bigger than your G-men can handle." "I disagree, Mr. President. I think my boys are more than up to the task." FDR sighed. Hoover was a pain. A highly effective pain who ran the government's premier law enforcement agency with an iron fist. Ego assuagement was called for. "It's not your men's abilities that are being called into question, J. Edgar," the President said soothingly. "But this threat‹" "What is this threat?" The President sighed again. J. Edgar knew damn well what the threat was. He had probably known before FDR himself did. But, if he wanted to play the game... "Two days ago your men found a dead man in the woods near Buffalo, N.Y. This man, it seems, was a German spy. We think he was dropped off by submarine around January 7th. On the 7th, we intercepted a transmission from the sub, but couldn't decode it. Yesterday we found a one-time pad sewn into the lining of the spy's jacket. Evidently his killers forgot about it, or didn't think to look for it. "With that one-time pad we could work back and decipher the sub's transmission. It reported dropping off at least one spy, possibly more. And it referred to a project called 'Kalter Reisender'. That translates from German as 'Cold Traveler'. "Now, we have no idea what this project is, but it certainly involves action on our continent. "What I need to know, J. Edgar, is this: how many others are there?" Hoover shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I don't know what you--" "Can it!" FDR snapped. "I know you've got more information on this. You always do. And I don't have time to pussyfoot around with you for it. There is a Nazi operation going on in our country. It threatens everything we hold dear. Now...who was he?" It was Hoover's turn to sigh. "I don't know." He looked up at Roosevelt's baleful stare. "Really." The door opened. "I might, gentlemen." FDR straightened in his seat. Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan stood in the door, a manila folder under his arm. "Bill," Roosevelt said. "Your OSS have anything for us?" Donovan strode across the room and took a seat next to Hoover. "Yes, sir, I believe we do." He opened the folder and extracted a photograph which he passed across the desk to the President. FDR looked at it, gave a small shrug and handed it to Hoover. "Look familiar?" he asked. Hoover took the picture and regarded it. "Yes," he finally said. "That's our dead spy." He turned to General Donovan. "Who was he?" The general never took his eyes away from the President. "That man was Franz Kossendort. One of the SS's top occult men." There was a very pregnant pause. "What was he doing here?" Roosevelt asked. Donovan inclined his head. "We don't know for certain. He had contacted us through our European network. He wanted to turn himself in, cooperate. Our men were supposed to be there to meet with him and pick him up. But they were too late. "Kossendort was understandably reticent about what he wanted to talk to us about, so we never did get the full story. However, our informants in Berlin tell us that Project Kalter Reisender is very hush-hush. And very, very big." "How big?" Hoover asked. The general still gazed at the President. "Inhumanly big. "There's more," Donovan said. "I think we have a security leak." J. Edgar straightened up in his chair. "Now, where the hell do you get that?" Donovan continued to direct his remarks to the president. "The simple fact that Kossendort was killed indicates a possible leak. He was exceptionally paranoid. I don't think he'd slip up to his former cronies. Plus, we're reasonably certain, from the submarine message, that the spies were dropped a long way apart, all up and down the east coast. So the likelihood of Kossendort having been followed goes down considerably. Nonetheless, he was met by his killers precisely where we were to meet him. Someone had inside information." J. Edgar puffed on his cigar agitatedly. "If there is a leak, it's not in my organization--" Roosevelt held up a hand. "We'll deal with that issue later. There are higher priorities." FDR considered. Finally, after a few minutes, he heaved a great sigh. "Alright. I'm authorizing a new form of counter-intelligence. J. Edgar, you know what I'm talking about." Hoover scowled. "Mr. President--" FDR cut him off with a wave of his hand. "I know your objections. But this country needs extreme protection right now. And we have it, in these 'mystery men'. All we need to do is organize some of it. "Hoover, I want you to put someone good in charge. The best cop in the country. Get him from any department, I don't care. I'll authorize it. We'll need a foreign intelligence liaison too, so Bill, we'll be borrowing one of your guys. One of the best. "As to the, ah, extreme assets, leave that to me. I'll get them. "This team must be extremely hush-hush. Aside from a very few people, hand-picked by myself, and the team assets themselves, no one, I stress no one, is to know of the existence, and make up of this team. "J. Edgar, I hate to do this to you, but once you pick your man, he is to report directly to me, and nobody else. Not even you." As Hoover settled back into his chair, grumbling, FDR turned to Donovan. "Same for you, Bill." Donovan just nodded. The President looked from one man to the other. "I know neither of you like this. Neither do I. But, gentlemen, I tell you this: I may not allow these 'heroes' to fight our wars for us when the time comes, but by God I will use anything and anyone to protect our shores. Am I understood?" Hoover nodded. "Yes, Mr. President." Donovan saluted. "Yes, sir." Roosevelt sat back in his chair. "Dismissed, gentlemen." Later that evening: The phone on the bedstead rang just as Mr. Phillips was adjusting his tie to go out for the evening. He sighed, dropped the ends of his black bow tie to dangle under his collar and picked up the phone. "Phillips," he answered curtly. He listened for a moment, intent. "Yes, Mr. President. I understand. Fawcett City, New York, Calvin College. By the end of the week. Yes, sir." He hung up. Looking at himself in the mirror he heaved another heavy sigh. Looked like Ms. Grable would have to do without his charms tonight. He had another mission. January 25: Fawcett City. Captain Marvel flew above the art deco skyline, exulting in the sensation. Although he appeared to be a full grown man, the World's Mightiest Mortal, deep down inside he was still 13 year old Billy Batson. And he never grew tired of flying. Still, it was about time to wrap it up for the night. He had only snagged a couple of muggers, and Sivana seemed to be keeping a low profile no matter how hard the Captain dug. So, with a small twinge of regret, Captain Marvel lighted on the roof of WHIZ radio station. Someday, he thought, I want to work here. He shrugged his massive shoulders. Time to do it, he told himself. He took a small breath. "Shazam," he muttered. The lightning struck, bathing Marvel in an unearthly crackling light. When it faded, less than a second later, Marvel was gone. Young Billy stood in his place. Shaking his head, he headed for the opposite edge of the roof towards the fire escape that would take him to the street. Judging by the low angle of the sun, he figured the evening edition would be out soon, and if he wasn't on the corner to pick it up with the other newsies there wouldn't be any left and he'd go hungry again tonight. This whole double identity thing, he thought to himself, is for the birds. As he passed by the giant air vent, lost in thought, he missed the subtle scrape of shoe leather against the gravel of the roof. The first, and last sign he got that trouble was afoot was a rough hand on his neck and another pressing a foul smelling rag to his nose and mouth. "shhhhh..." was all he got out before the fumes started to overcome his senses. Chloroform, he thought. Didn't they talk about this in chemistry class? He came to in darkness. In fact, it was so dark he wasn't sure he had come to at all, at first. But as his eyes adjusted he could make out small details, differences in the gloom. The walls seemed close, the air smelled dusty and the taste... The taste was like cloth. "What the hell?" he tried to say, but what came out was "Whmmf fmmf hrrr?" Oh, no. He was gagged. His mouth had been stuffed with rags and covered over with tape. He couldn't say his magic word. He was in deep trouble now. He tried to move his hands and was not at all surprised to find they were bound to the stout wooden chair he was sitting on. Same for his feet and there even appeared to be a rope binding his chest. Still, he had to try didn't he? So he rocked and shook and managed only to knock himself over. This wasn't how it worked in the movies. There was a click and he squinted against the sudden light. He appeared to be in a bare room, cracking plaster and peeling wallpaper. Wooden floors. No windows. Suddenly he was moving. Someone behind him had picked the chair up and righted it. He craned his head back to see who it was, but it was only a shape silhouetted against the brilliance of the bulb. Too tall to be Sivana, but maybe a henchman or...Black Adam. Then the figure came around to the other side. He was just a man, though a rough-looking man in a well-tailored suit and trenchcoat. The man drew another wooden chair from the corner and straddled it so the back was facing Billy. He reached into his coat, and Billy tensed for a second, but the man only came out with a cigarette and a Zippo lighter. He lit up, blew smoke in Billy's direction. Then he spoke. "First," he said "let me apologize for the manner of our first meeting. However, since I was a kid I've been afraid of lightning and I didn't want you flying away. "Second, let me introduce myself. I am Mr. Phillips. As to why you're here..." He drew on his Lucky Strike again and exhaled slowly. "Mr. Batson, the United States government has something to ask of you." January 26: Bannerman Chemicals, New York. The lab was dark as the cloaked figure slid in the window. Groggily the man in the cape made his fumbling way across the room to the workbench and flipped on a light, revealing his black and yellow attire. Wearily, he stripped back the yellow hood and undid the clasp at his throat to let the cape fall to the floor. Hooking a stool with his foot, he dragged it over and slumped down onto it. Jesus, he thought. That Miraclo comedown is a bear. He rested his head in his hands. What am I doing? he thought. I'm a grown man, a respectable scientist. Why do I get all dressed up and fight people like the Icicle? 'Cause it's a kick, he answered back. Because once you become the Man of the Hour one time, how can you not do it again? The strength, the speed, the confidence... "Is it worth it?" he muttered. "Let's hope so," a voice answered. Rex Tyler froze. Slowly he turned his head toward the door. There was the click-scrape of a lighter and a flame briefly illuminated the craggy features of a man's face under the snap-brim of a fedora. Then there was only the feeble light of a cigarette ember as the man walked forward. Rex sighed. The theatrics, the trenchcoat and hat, the arrogant manner. "Another Fed," he spat. "Not quite, Mr. Tyler. My name is Mr. Phillips. I've come to ask you something for your government." "I've already told you people I won't give you the Miraclo formula." "Yes, I know. I don't care about Miraclo. I only care that you take it." "What?" Mr. Phillips grabbed another stool and sat on it. In doing so, he pulled a Thompson machine gun out from under his jacket and cradled it in his lap. Other than the gun, his manner seemed relaxed, casual. "What do you mean?" Rex demanded. "Your government wants many things from its citizens," Phillips replied. "Income tax, participation in the voting process. But from you, it wants more." "Miraclo--" "Not Miraclo. Hourman." Over the next few minutes Phillips outlined what was wanted from Rex Tyler. Rex sat on his stool, half in his Hourman uniform, stunned. "Of course," he eventually replied. "I'd be happy to." Phillips smiled. "Good. I thought you would be." Rex eyed the Tommy gun. "Then what's that for?" "In case I was wrong." January 26: Somewhere in Northern France. "Yeah, you Kraut bastards. Burn!!" Sgt. Nick Fury grinned maniacally at the flaming ruin of a Nazi outpost and slapped Rene on the back. The French Resistance fighter grinned back at him, just as gleefully. "M'sieur Fury!! M'sieur Fury!!" Nick looked around and saw Claude, their radioman, gesturing with his radio. Nick hurried over. "This is Angel 1, reporting in. Mission successful!!" He had to use codenames. He wasn't supposed to be here. The Army had sent him in, alone, to aid the Resistance and provide field intelligence on Nazi strength in France. His "unit" moved too fast and frequently to make the use of one-time pads or other cryptography equipment viable, so the policy was to use a roster of code names that changed weekly and keep radio contact to a dead minimum. "Angel 1, congratulations." The voice at the other end was British, probably an MI-6 guy holed up in a garrett somewhere. "New orders." "Shoot." "You are to make your way to Pickup 12 by no later than the 29th. From there to the roost. Do you copy?" Nick paused, stunned. The roost. But, but... "Angel 1, do you copy?" "Yes. Angel 1 copies. Out." Nick slammed the microphone down onto the field pack and fumingly searched his clothes for a cigar. Finding one, he lit up, still steamed. "M'sieur Fury, what is wrong?" Nick puffed for another moment. Then he grated out "Boys, we go to Paris, goddamn it. "I'm going home." January 26: The Top Hat Club, New York. Sargon the Sorceror stepped into his dressing room, the thunderous applause fading behind him as he shut the door. Slumping into the chair in front of the dressing table, he removed his turban, held together by a fist-sized red stone, and became John Sargent once again. He gave himself a weary smile in the mirror. "Another stunning show, John," he told himself. He glanced sideways at his turban. "Of course, I have you to thank for it," he told the Ruby. He reached out and stroked the blood red gem with his thumb. As he always did, he reflected for a moment on the strange affection he felt for the stone. Not surprising really. After all the Ruby of Life had been the first thing he had seen when he was born, and had given him powers beyond the ken or mortal man. He made a comfortable living on stage as one of the premiere show magicians of the country, and he could also attend to...other things. "What do you think, Ruby?" he asked. "Adventuring tonight?" He cocked his head as though listening to it. "You're right, maybe a drink first and then we'll decide." He turned and began rummaging in a drawer of the dressing table. "Ah, there it is," he declared and came up with a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass. "Now," he said, turning back to the turban. It wasn't there. "Mr. Sargent," a voice said behind him. He looked in the mirror. A man in a fedora and trench coat stood there, a gleaming .45 in one hand and his turban in the other. Sargent paused. "You know, I can control the Ruby from here," he said. The man looked down at the stone. "No," he admitted. "I didn't know that." Sargent twisted the cap off the bottle and poured himself a finger of whiskey. "You obviously don't really mean me harm, or the Ruby would've taken your arm off already." The man chuckled. He slipped his gun back into its shoulder holster and stepped forward to lay the turban down back on the dressing table. "Got another glass?" Sargent fetched another glass from the drawer. "What's your name, friend?" "I'm Mr. Phillips." January 27: Calvin College. "HeeeYAAAAAHHH!!!!" The four men loading crates into the back of a truck looked up at the throaty battle cry. They had a glimpse of a small figure dressed in a yellow shirt and a blue mask and cape before the Atom landed in their midst. "What is this?" George "Turtle" McClosky asked. He pointed jeeringly at the Atom. "Super Midget?" "Awww," said Frankie "Horse" Terwilliger. "This poor tyke thinks it's Halloween already." "Hey, Junior." Randy "Don't Give Me No Stupid Nickname" Cross gave the Atom a little shove. "We ain't got no candy apples fer ya. G'wan home." Harry "Professor" Gerlach laughed, a stupid guffaw. "Yeah, uh...shorty..." Harry had no concept of irony. The Atom laughed good-naturedly. "Aw, guys," he said. "You're funnier than radio." Three minutes later he clapped his hands in satisfaction. All four thieves had been trussed up, after having been beaten thoroughly unconscious. Now to go home and bone up for that Lit 101 test. That was, until he heard the distinctive "click-clack" of a Tommy gun being ratcheted. He turned slowly. A man in a trenchcoat smiled charmingly from the shadows. "Mr. Pratt, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr. Phillips." January 27: FBI Headquarters, Washington D.C. "Whoo-hoo!!! Alex is back!!! Bank robbers beware!!" Alexander Jamie walked between the office desks and waved, ducking his head embarassedly. Other agents clapped him on the back and shook his hand in congratulations. "Hey, Captain G-Man, how was Kansas City?" "Lousy," Jamie growled back. "But we got the bastards." He finally reached his desk. On it stood a bottle of champagne. Tied to the bottlew with a bow was a small card. On the card was a crude cartoon of Jamie bodily throwing a man dressed in the cliche black and white striped shirt and domino mask of a 'crook' into a jail cell. "Hey," Agent Hammond leaned on his desk. "Congrats. You get the money yet?" Jamie shook his head. "Naw," he said. "But the K.C. boys are interrogating 'em. Little weasels should crack any time now." "Anyway, the chief wants to see you." Jamie grimaced. "Probably wants the paperwork already. Haven't been back ten minutes and Carson wants to chew my ass..." "Not that chief, Alex." Jamie squinted up at Hammond. "Hoover?" "Yep." Jamie stood up. "Damn. Wonder what he wants." He brushed at his vest and straightened his tie. "How do I look?" "Not good." "Don't make me hit you, Hammond." "You look great. Knock 'em dead." Three hours later, Alexander Jamie walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, his head spinning. Hoover hadn't needed to see him but a minute. Just a "remember who you really work for" speech, and Jamie was off to the White House. "Are you sure, Mr. President?" he had asked once the assignment had been laid out for him. "I mean, Eliot..." "Your brother-in-law is a fine officer," Roosevelt had responded. "But, one, he is no longer a federal employee, as you know; and, two, he's something of a glory hound. And this assignment requires exceptional discretion. "This thing is so Top Secret that we can't even give you clearance. Just giving that to you might indicate that there is something going on, and we don't want anyone else to know that. "Officially, you are being reassigned to another office. Your desk is already being packed. Not even your family is to know what you're doing. Understood?" "Yes, sir." Jamie knew his wife would understand. He was often gone for extended periods on assignment. "Who's my team?" And then the president had told him. As Jamie walked through the blowing snow, he shook his head. I don't like this, he thought. Damn 'mystery men'. You can't trust a man who wears a mask to work. "You're in charge," Roosevelt had told him. "These people are good at what they do, I guess, but they're not agents. We'll make it known to them that you're the leader." I'm the leader, Jamie thought. Sure. Two guys who can, by all accounts, pick up trucks or bench-press locomotives. One guy who kicks serious ass, but according to his dossier is a loose-cannon. A magician, for the love of Pete. The only one I think I can relate to is Fury. And we're supposed to foil a Nazi plot that nobody knows about. The price of success. Jamie shook his head. Then he looked for a cab. Time to go home and tell the wife he'd be away again. January 29: New York City, near the docks. Alexander Jamie surveyed his team under the harsh bare-bulb light of the warehouse. Hourman, in his black and yellow. Right now, he didn't look like much as he lounged in a folding chair. He had an air of forced casualness which pointed to, rather than cloaked, his obvious tension. Jamie guessed that, despite his reported enthusiasm, he didn't want to be here. The short guy, the Atom, was another story. He practically bounced in his chair, he was so excited. He was ready to fight, and they didn't even know who the enemy was yet. Fury slouched in the corner. Jamie knew he'd been pulled out of covert duty in Europe for this job, and it looked like he resented it. He glanced at Jamie with his clear blue eyes and shrugged. He was a soldier. He'd do what he was told. Sargon looked ill-at-ease. He was a strange mix, as far as this team went. A 'mystery man' who didn't wear a mask. And, aside from that rock on his forehead, he was just a regular guy like Jamie or Fury. It looked like he didn't know where he fit in. Then there was Captain Marvel. Standing, back straight, arms crossed over his massive chest. A perpetual confident grin plastered across his handsome face. Hard to believe that this giant was only thirteen years old. Hard to believe any of this. Jamie was starting to have serious doubts about the sanity of the president. How the hell could he think this would work? Jamie cleared his throat. "Alright," he said. "Let's get started." There was a general shuffling and coughing, the usual noises of a group gearing up to pay attention. "First," Jamie said "let's introduce ourselves. I'm Alexander Jamie. I've been assigned to this team from the Justice Department." "Hey, I know you," the Atom broke in. "Sure, I just read about you. You busted those bank robbers in Missouri." Jamie nodded. "Yeah, that's right. The president assigned me to this team as, uh...the leader, I guess." "About that," Hourman said. Jamie held up a hand. "Let's get to that in a second. "Now, I been doing some thinking about this team. I decided I want to be up front about a few things. "First, I don't like this. It's too weird. Superpowers, masks, the whole bit. But, we don't have much of a choice and this is an important mission, so...no bullshit. We are going to be a team. That means no secrets." He grabbed a chair and straddled it backwards. Turning to Hourman, he said "Let's start with you." Hourman blinked behind his mask. "Uh...well, I'm...Hourman..." Jamie gestured impatiently. "We know that. What's your real name?" Hourman shook his head. "I don't think that that's--" Jamie leaned forward. "No bullshit. I can't fire you, and you can't leave. Now, I know your name, I know what you do..." "So do I," the Atom chimed in. "...so if you don't tell the group, I will." Hourman growled. He hadn't seen a need to take his Miraclo and hadn't wanted to waste the hour, so he wasn't 'powered up'. After an internal struggle, he gave in. "Fine." He slipped back his hood. "My name is Rex Tyler. I'm a chemist and work at Bannerman Chemicals here in New York. I get my...powers...from a chemical I developed. I call it Miraclo, and it gives me great strength, speed...but only for an hour. And I can only take it once a day." "Why's that?" Fury asked. "Well, it puts an incredible strain on the system. It leaves behind toxic by products that take a day to be flushed out of you. Taking it more than once can result in a lethal level of by-products." "Oh," Fury said. Tyler laughed nervously. "Feels strange to just...talk about it like that." "Okay, moving on," Jamie said. He pointed at Fury. "You." Fury shoved off from the wall he'd been leaning on. "Nick Fury. I work for the OSS. I do covert operations, and intelligence work." "What, exactly, does that mean?" Captain Marvel asked. Fury shot him a sarcastic look. "I'm a spy," he said. Marvel nodded. Jamie pointed at Sargon. "Next." Sargon stood, tugging at his suit jacket. "My name is Sargon the Sorc--" He stopped, catching Jamie's look. "John Sargent. I get my powers from this," he pointed at the jewel in his turban. "It's called the Ruby of Life. I can do...well, pretty much anything with it." He sat back down. "Atom?" Jamie prompted. The Atom stood up and took off his hood. "My name is Al Pratt. I'm a student at Calvin College. And I, uh...I fight." Fury snorted. "You 'fight'? What the hell does that mean?" Pratt shrugged, embarassed. "I...fight. That's what I do." Hourman piped up. "He's good. I can vouch for that." Fury shook his head. "Ooh, great. Stopwatch-Man vouches for the 'fighter'." Atom stepped toward Fury. "You wanna take me on, secret agent?" Fury responded. "Yeah," he said, headed for Atom, "let's go 'Tiny'." As Atom prepared to leap, there was a gust of wind and suddenly Marvel was between them, holding up his hands. "Come on, guys," he said. "Knock it off." Fury tried to bat the hand away, and flinched. Marvel's arm didn't budge a millimeter. "Damn," he said, fluttering his hand "it's like hitting a rock." As Atom and Fury backed away from each other, Jamie pointed at Marvel. "And you?" Marvel shuffled his feet. "Well, my name is Billy Batson. I'm, uh..." "It's okay, Billy," Jamie said. Marvel sighed. "I'm thirteen years old," he blurted. "What?!" Fury yelled. There was a general hubbub as the others also shouted out their questions. "Hold it! HOLD IT!!" Jamie yelled. When everyone had quieted down, he gestured for Marvel to continue. "I was given my powers by an ancient Egyptian wizard. I have the strength of Hercules, the speed of Mercury...y'know, like that and all." Fury cradled his head in his hands. "Oh, Lord. A kid. The most powerful of us is a kid." He looked up. "We're doomed, you know." Jamie pointed at him. "Shut it, Fury." He looked around at his team. "Okay. Not a good start. "Here's how it is." He stood and began pacing. "We don't have a choice. The president himself has ordered us to work together. There is a Nazi plot that threatens American soil. So, like it or not, we are a team. And, by God, we will ACT LIKE A TEAM!!" The team was quiet now, stunned by his outburst. He stared at each of them in turn, giving them his best baleful eye. "We all bring something to the table," he said. He pointed at Hourman. "You're a scientist. You're smart. You also, for however long, have incredible powers. So you are useful in combat and out of it." He turned to the Atom. "Combat, and, from what I know from your dossier, damn good at it. Fury," he turned to the OSS agent. "Covert ops, intel. Impressive resume." He faced Sargon. "Magic. From the little we know of this assignment, magic probably plays a large part in it. We need your abilities, and your knowledge. And Captain Marvel." Marvel stood with his head down, embarassed. Jamie clapped the boy/man on the shoulder. Marvel raised his head and looked down at him. "Son, you've got more than enough ability to make up for being young." Marvel smiled gratefully. Jamie stalked back to his chair. He took them all in with his glare. "There is not a one of us who doesn't contribute something valuable to this effort. Now, stop bickering. You sound like a bunch of old ladies. We've got more important things to do. Unless," he turned to Hourman. "I believe you had something to say when I mentioned that I'm the leader?" Hourman shook his head. "No. No, sir." Jamie nodded. "Let's go over what we know," he said. Two hours later they were at a loss. "Again," Jamie said, wearily. "Run it down again." Fury sighed, ran his hand through his hair and sipped some coffee. "We don't know a damn thing," he said. "Kossendort was one of the SS's top occult guys, heavy into 'pragmatic magic', as he called it. Wild theories about merging old world magic and modern technology. But, he was reputedly always more of a 'lab man' than a field agent. Squeamish." "Helps explain why he tried to turn," Jamie commented. "Yep. So, that's what we got. A sub dropped him and four or five other spies off. Somehow, they got wind of his intended defection and killed him." "How did they hear about that?" Hourman asked. Jamie stood, stretching his back. "The president indicated to me that there was speculation of a security leak. That's why we're on it. Nobody else is supposed to know." "Great," Atom growled. "We've got four or five spies, and they've been here for just over three weeks. They could be anywhere by now. We have no idea what they're here for, or where they are. "I'm lost, guys. I have no idea where to start." Hourman piped up. "It's obvious we don't have nearly enough information. So our first priority is to get some." Fury nodded. "Right. I'll try and get in touch with my European contacts. Discreetly, of course." "I'll have to break into my office and see what I can get. Sargon, maybe you can try to get some magical info." "Of course," Sargon replied. "I'll get right to work on it." "Hourman, how about you? Know any German scientists?" Hourman shook his head. "Not since 1936. Though, come to think of it..." "What?" "Well, in '35 I was at a science summit in Paris. I met this German, Kleinholdt I think his name was. And he was talking about something...something to do with magic and human potential. Lemme see if I can dig up some notes, or find someone who attended his seminar." "As good a lead as any," Jamie commented. "Captain Marvel, Atom, unless you can think of anything I've got no assignments for you." Captain Marvel raised an eyebrow. "I, uh, actually might have a source," he said. "Wonderful," the Atom grumbled. "I guess I'm the big dummy here." "If you were a dummy, you wouldn't be here," Jamie said. "Alright, I think that does it for tonight. Any more thoughts?" Everyone shook their head. "Any doubts? Anyone want out?" Fury chuckled. "Could we get out if we tried?" "No." Captain Marvel spoke up. "I don't want to speak for everyone, but I don't want out. And I get the feeling nobody else does either." There were nods of assent all around the table. "See you guys tomorrow, then," Jamie said. Two dark figures in an alley off Times Square. "We have a problem," one says. "Go ahead." "Kalter Reisender has been discovered." "You told us Kossendort didn't have time to divulge the full story." "He didn't. They have other sources. It gets worse." "What?" "They've assembled a team." "What sort of team?" "I don't know. 'Special assets'." "What does that mean?" "I don't know." Silence. "Find out. We can't have have the Traveler compromised." "Yes, sir. Heil Hitler." "Heil Hitler." The Rock of Eternity. Marvel lit the brazier and waited. Soon, Shazam appeared. "What troubles you, Billy?" the wizard asked. "It's this team I'm on now, Shaz. I just feel so..." The old wizard smiled gently. "Young?" he supplied. "Yeah." Shazam rose from his granite throne and stood in front of the World's Mightiest Mortal. "Billy, I didn't choose you for your experience. I chose you because you are a good person. And, I'm sure your teammates feel the same." "I don't know. I had to tell them who I am. They didn't like the fact that I'm thirteen too much." "Well...I'm sure they will feel the same way." "I'm thinking of bowing out. I can do more good in Fawcett. Sivana's loose, Black Adam's out there..." Shazam shook his head. "No, Billy. I feel this is too important. Something dark is waiting to be reborn. It threatens more than your country. It threatens the world." Marvel looked at the old wizard. "What? What is it?" Shazam shook his head. "I do not know. It is well hidden. But, Billy, this is far too big to turn away from. Especially just because you feel intimidated in the presence of adults. "You command more power than any...well, almost any mortal on the planet. I trust you with that power, Billy. In time, so will your teammates." He rested his hand on Marvel's shoulder. "Trust yourself, Billy." Marvel looked into the old man's eyes. "You're right. As usual. I can't just run away. "I'll stick with it, Shaz." Shazam smiled. "Good, Billy. Once again, you justify my belief in you." January 30th: Rex Tyler's apartment. Al snored loudly on the couch. Rex just shook his head. It hadn't made sense for Al to go all the way back to Calvin City. They'd have to think of some way to cover for his absence in class. Well, Rex figured, he had to able to cover his 'mystery man' activities somehow. No reason they couldn't this time. Rex went into his bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed. I can't sleep, he decided. He stood and opened his closet door. He reached in and came out with a box brimming with notebooks and scraps of paper. He thumped them on the bed and went to work. Kleinholdt. Back in 1935 he thought the old scientist had been out of his mind. Magic and human potential. What a crock. But Tyler was too much the scientist to deny what he saw with his own eyes. And ever since '38 the rules had changed. Magic was almost commonplace, at least in certain circles. Hell, he was now working with someone the government was convinced could make the stuff work. All sorts of strange things had come to pass. Rumors of a 'super-man' wandering the country, stories of men who raced faster than the wind... ...Miraclo. He hated Miraclo. He loved Miraclo. There were times, late at night, when he studied his notes. And didn't understand how the damn stuff worked. One little pill. A super-vitamin. But bullets bounced off his chest. He could run faster than any Olympian. He could lift cars and trucks. Humans can't do that. No matter what vitamins they take. What did I make? he wondered. And then there it was. Notes from the '35 conference. 'Norse/Teutonic Mythos, Magick, and the Human Ideal'. That was the name of Kleinholdt's seminar. The brief descriptive paragraph said: 'Dr. Gunther Kleinholdt's theories on potential advances in 'magickal' conjuring and neurological applications.' Rex hadn't attended the seminar. But he thought Perkins, from Princeton probably had. Always talking about fringe stuff; mermen from Atlantis and Dr. Knight's 'gravity rod'. Right up Perkins' alley. Mermen from Atlantis. And hadn't there been rumors of a 'Starman' in Star City, Knight's hometown? I'm working with a magician and a...a 'superhero'. Guys who can fly. Lends some credence to mermen and gravity rods. I take a pill and can lift trucks. Rex shook his head. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was after 2 in the morning. He'd have to call Perkins in the morning. Tyler changed into his pajamas and crawled into bed. He was dog tired. But, somehow, he still didn't sleep very well. The sky over New York. Sargon the Sorceror flew over the Hudson River. The night seemed quiet, probably because it was so damnably cold. He stopped, hovering in midair, and crossed his legs into a lotus position. He took off his turban and regarded the Ruby of Life. "What is this threat, Ruby? What are we up against?" His head was filled with disturbing images; a final battle for the universe, a giant man with a flaming sword, metal with the crooked cross of a swastika emblazoned on it. Overlaying it all was an overwhelming miasma of sick fear. Then it faded to dark. "That doesn't tell me much," he noted wryly. The Ruby was silent. He could almost swear it exuded an air of innocent ignorance, a child saying 'who me?' Sargon laughed. "Well, keep on it," he said. He placed the turban back on his head. "Let's call it a night, eh?" he said, and flew back in the direction of his hotel. Sidetracks, New York. Alexander Jamie and Nick Fury slouched over beers in this after-hours bar Nick had known about. Their demeanor was not cheerful. "No bullshit," Fury lobbed Jamie's own words back at him. "How bad is this 'leak'?" Jamie sighed. "Beats hell outta me. I know Hoover's a bastard, but that's what makes the Bureau so tight. And I find it hard to believe that anyone in Bill Donovan's group would be less than patriotic..." Nick laughed. "Let's not worry about organizational loyalty. There's always some prick who'll sell out for the right price. Could be OSS or FBI. People are people." Jamie laughed and relaxed. "Yeah. Okay." He sipped his beer. "My bet is OSS. Not 'cause of loyalty; it just seems to me they'd have better information." Nick nodded. "Makes sense. Hoover keeps you flatfeet pretty much in the dark, doesn't he?" Jamie laughed again and slugged Nick on the shoulder. "'No loyalty' ya mug? Alright. "Seriously, though...I don't know how bad this affects us. If it's OSS they'll know about you, me." "The others?" "No. Roosevelt picked them himself. Neither Hoover or Donovan know about them. I mean, they know they're 'masks' but not which ones." "So you and me'll have to watch our backs, huh?" "Yep." Jamie raised his glass. "I'll watch yours, if you watch mine." Fury clanked his mug against Jamie's. "You got a deal, brother." Reading, Michigan: The Mello Acres farm. It had cost a lot, primarily in gold. And that was just for the paperwork. As Dolph Wresche drifted down through the dark and cold, the canvas harness biting into his underarms and crotch, he couldn't help but marvel at the brilliance of the SS. Buying a plane, a DC-10, making it up to look like a Pan-Am transatlantic flight, filling it with German agents trained to speak English and French. Buying a paper trail from Paris to Chicago for a whole flight of agents, most of whose purpose was simply to sightsee for a week or two and return home. The whole thing to deliver him, Leutnant Wresche, to the United States undercover. The moon was overcast, providing little light. He sensed, more than saw the ground rushing to meet him. He tucked his legs a bit, relaxed his knees, prepared to roll. His landing was flawless. An hour digging a hole to bury the parachute. It would be months until a plow would dig it up. By that time, America would be under Nazi rule. He allowed himself three seconds with his cigarette lighter to take a compass reading. He wasn't sure exactly where he was, but south and east would be a good bet. Eventually, he'd find a town or city. From there he could catch a bus or train. He had a week to make the rendezvous. He headed out of the fallow cornfield. There. A road. From the look of it a small, rural back road. Easier travelling. Maybe he could hitch a ride off an overtrusting American. He barely heard the click of the hammer, before he heard the roar of a shotgun and felt fire lance through his right leg. It gave out and he fell to the ground, screaming in pain and surprise. "God damn hobos!! I told you to keep the hell off my land!!" Another click and there was a light in his face. Training overcame shock and Wresche clawed for his sidearm. Just as he freed it from its holster, it was kicked out of his hand by a slippered foot. He scrambled after it, but the farmer was faster. "George? George what's going on?" The farmer was short, but well-muscled from his hard work in the field. He held the shot gun unwaveringly at Wresche's neck as he clumsily examined the Luger in the flashlight's beam. "Well, Harriet," the farmer answered. "I thought I'd caught another damn hobo. But, now..." George made a big show of clicking the other hammer of the double-barreled shotgun back. "Looks like I caught me a Ratzi spy. "Harriet," he called over his shoulder. "Get on the phone to Sherriff Johnson. And have him call the FBI." February 1: New York. The Warehouse. "Boys, looks like we caught us a break!" Hourman, Atom, Marvel and Sargon looked up. Fury was holding open the door and carrying a reel-to-reel recorder, as Jamie dragged a man with a bandaged leg in. "This man," Jamie said, rudely tossing his prisoner into a chair "was caught parachuting onto a farm in southern Michigan. He's SS, we're pretty sure, but other than that we don't know anything. However, it seems likely he has something to do with Kalter Reisender." The SS man tried his best, but couldn't help a tiny flinch at the mention of the super-secret project. Jamie smirked at the reaction. "He's good," Fury commented. "He's been awake for damn near forty-eight hours, interrogated by the best. Didn't give up a word. Finally, Donovan heard about him and made sure he came to us." "Have you tried sodium pentathol?" Hourman asked. "Everything. He's a tough cookie." Another three hours. More sodium pentathol. Leutnant Wresche did his country proud. Finally, the Atom stood up. "Get out," he said. "What?" Jamie asked. "Get out. Give me half an hour. Go grab a burger or something." Fury grabbed the Atom by the arm. "Look, kid," he began. Then he was trying not to yell. The Atom had his arm in a complex, and surprisingly strong, grip. His face was unreadable under his mask. "Trust me, Fury," he said, his voice eerily calm. "And don't ever...EVER...call me 'kid' again." He released his grip. Fury shook his hand, trying to restore feeling. "Okay. Okay." He looked at Jamie. "Give us a minute, Atom," Jamie said. As Hourman and Marvel changed clothes in another section of the warehouse, and Sargon removed his turban and cape, Jamie set up a fresh reel on the recorder. When they were all ready, he set the tape to spinning. "You sure, Atom?" The Atom cracked his knuckles. "Yeah. I'll get him to talk." The group filed out. As the door swung shut, Marvel caught a last glimpse of Wresche's terrified eyes before the Atom stepped between them and the door closed. There was a moment of silence, then a sickening 'whump'. Wresche began to scream. Jamie jammed his hands in his pockets. "Let's go," he said. They returned forty-five minutes later. They had gone to a corner diner, but nobody'd much felt like eating. Wresche slumped, unconscious but alive, in his chair. As they walked in, the Atom was using a rag to wipe blood from his hands. Jamie noticed the recorder was stopped. "Did he talk?" he asked. "Yeah. Part of it was in German, but he spoke pretty good English." Marvel was kneeling by Wresche. He noticed that the German's limbs were hanging at odd angles. Wrong angles. "What did you...?" "I. Got. Him. To. Talk." There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Finally, Fury stepped forward. "Good job, k--Atom," he said. Once again, no one could tell what Al Pratt's face was doing under his mask. "Thanks," he said. "If you'll excuse me, I gotta take a minute." "Sure, Al," Jamie said. Fury and Sargon took the recorder to the back of the warehouse to listen to it. Marvel stood, shaking. Jamie came up to him. "Something the matter, Captain?" Marvel spoke through clenched teeth. "He--he..." Jamie nodded. "He got him to talk." Marvel glared at him. "He tortured him!" Marvel slung a hand at the unconscious spy. "Look at him!! He's all busted up..." "Yep. War is hell." Marvel stared at Jamie. "We're not at war," he reminded Jamie. "Not officially. Not yet. But soon enough, one way or the other, we will be. "And remember this, Billy. He's a foreign saboteur. He's not here on vacation. And he intends to do something horrible. You know it." Marvel nodded. "But..." "No buts!" Jamie barked. "I don't like it, nobody does! But we don't have time to play nice. This isn't one of your 'super bad guys'!! This isn't someone you drag to jail and feel good about!! Whether or not you like it, this. Is. War. "And it's awful. That's why they call it war." Hourman shifted. "I'm going to check on Atom," he said. Jamie waved him off. "Go ahead." He never took his attention off Marvel. When Hourman was gone, he spoke again. "I'm sorry, Billy. Really. But, ask Fury sometime. This isn't for fun. And sometimes...sometimes you have to be less than what you want, just to get the job done. Sometimes, less than you are. "I know it sounds sick, but, in a way, I admire Atom for what he did. Well, not for what he did. But that he recognized it had to be done, and he did it." "I don't think I can do it," Marvel whispered. Jamie clapped him on the shoulder. "I know, Billy," he said. "And, believe me, I admire you just as much for that." Marvel looked at Jamie. As old as he appeared, the Captain's eyes were still that of a young boy. "What about later?" he asked. "What if..." "We'll deal with that when it comes," Jamie answered. "You'll deal with it." Marvel stood silent a moment. "I hope so," he said. "And I hope not." Hourman looked around the warehouse and couldn't find Atom. Finally, he went outside, to the alley beside the warehouse. Al sat beside a trashcan. His hood was pulled back and his head was cradled in his hands. As he got closer, Rex could see his shoulders shaking. "Al...hey." Atom didn't hear him. He was sobbing, as quietly as he could. Rex knelt beside the young man. "Al...Atom...you shouldn't..." "I can't help it!" Atom cried. "I just...what I did..." "Hey, I know," Rex said. "But you beat other guys worse." Al took his head out of his hands. "It's not the same. Those other guys, well, I was fighting, I was mad, it was the heat of the moment. But him," he waved at the warehouse behind him. "I wasn't mad. Not, y'know...the same way." He looked up at Rex, his face streaked with tears. "I knew what I was doing. He screamed and screamed and I didn't stop. I could've, but I DIDN'T STOP!! "What am I?" Rex put his arm around the young man's shoulders. "You're a man, Al. A man in a bad situation." "How can I live with myself?" "I don't know," Rex admitted. "But you shouldn't..." "I know," Al interrupted. "I shouldn't cry. I'm not a kid anymore." "Actually," Rex said "I was going to say you shouldn't be outside in costume." Al looked at him, amazed confusion creasing his face. Then he started to laugh, the near-hysterical laugh of the emotionally wrought. Rex laughed with him. Finally they got themselves under control. "You're right," Atom said. He stood up. "Let's go back in." Inside the rest of the team was gathered around the recorder. As Atom and Hourman entered they looked up. "Doctor's on the way," Jamie said, cocking a thumb at the unconscious spy. "They'll isolate him and then bury him in Leavenworth." Atom, mask back in place nodded. "Good." Sargon pointed at the recorder. "This is bad," he said. "Leutnant Wresche's testimony is garbled, somewhat. But the gist of it is this: "The Nazis are somehow smuggling a device into America. A large device. Using the best of armored infantry technology, rocket science, munitions, you name it." "That's not so bad," Hourman said. "Hell, me and the Captain here could probably take out anything they could throw at us." "Not this," Sargon retorted. "It's not just some weapon. It's a...housing unit. A host." "For what?" Atom asked. "Surt." Hourman shrugged. "I'm a chemist not a magician. What's a Surt?" Sargon began pacing in the manner of a lecturing professor. "Surt comes from Norse mythology, a fire-giant. In the myths, he will burn the nine worlds to ash with his flaming sword during Ragnarok, the Viking 'end of the world'." "And the Nazis are gonna put him is this...thing?" Atom asked. Sargon nodded. "Yes. That's the plan, at least." Fury snorted. "Bullshit." Hourman straightened up, a look of horror on his face. "Perkins!" he exclaimed, slapping his forehead. Jamie was perplexed. "'Perkins'?" Hourman nodded. "Remember I told you I'd met that German scientist? Well, I talked to Perkins yesterday, a colleague of mine who'd attended the seminar. He said that Kleinholdt claimed that the Germans, the Nazis in particular, had been dumping tons of money into occult research. And they had a good chance of summoning things, things from other realms." "'Something dark is waiting to be reborn'," Marvel muttered. "So, let me get this straight," Jamie said. "The Nazis are going to summon this 'fire-giant' or whatever and put him in some big weapon." Sargon nodded. "So, our next question is: where's this weapon?" Fury said. They all looked at the spy. "He didn't say," Sargon said. "I don't think he knows," Fury added. Jamie grabbed a chair and slumped into it. "Great," he muttered.