Mac Maine adjusted the heavy vest he wore over an insulating bodysuit. Running a cord from the portable generator on his back to the huge keypad that was affixed to the surface of the vest, he plugged the cord in, getting a green light. He pulled the welder-type helmet on, then took a moment to breathe, glad the device had not blown up. His partners were also getting ready for the mission ahead.
Harry Hutchinson wore a white suit and tie that turned black as soon as he activated his absorbing power. Even Hutchinson’s fair skin and white hair became as black as a walking shadow. He pulled on a white hood and placed a tie clip in the shape of a black star on his tie. The Black Star, as he was known, was as ready as he would ever be.
Hal King worked the action on what looked like a telephone dial on his belt. Satisfied, he pulled on a jacket to cover the dial.
Johnny Constantine took a drink from a flask, glad his wife Betsy and teenaged son Thomas were waiting in England for his return from this mission; he only ever felt normal around them. Putting the flask away in his hip pocket, he straightened his green vest and short coat. He then lit a cigarette, hoping that his troubled son wouldn’t pick up the habit. God knew Tom had enough problems of his own with that loose girlfriend of his, Mary Anne. He hoped he could straighten him out before Tom ended up passing on his problems to the next generation.
Harvard “Doc” Yale held a book three times the size of a Gideon Bible in his thin hands. He flipped through the yellowed pages with a movement borne of long practice. He pushed his glasses back on his nose as he jammed the book in a pocket of his gray coveralls.
Roland DiGrasso flexed his hands as he concentrated. Metal formed in small hexagons over his clothes and body. The metal ran up his neck, terminating into a helmet resembling a cat’s head. A steel tail whipped into existence. He flexed his hands again, and blades sprang from his knuckles. The man known as the Stainless Steel Cat relaxed, letting his claws retract.
The creature called Number 99 sat in a heap on a bench as his comrades went through their rituals. Bilious eyes peered from under a pile of moss it used for hair. It waited patiently for the order to move out.
The seven had originally assembled to help the Allies during the war. They had been called the Sentinels of Magic by the press, since they could do things that no one had ever accomplished before, and the name had stuck. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, they had remained together.
They had also adopted a boy psychic into their ranks, a twelve-year-old orphan with impressive abilities, but Gary the Miracle Boy wasn’t going on this mission. A back-up of some sort was needed, and he was going to pull that duty. Mac sympathized, but Hutch had put his foot down. The kid was to stay behind as a monitor and mission control.
Of course, Gary had pitched a royal fit. Hutch had just smiled and told him no in that calm way of his. The boy had glared at Black Star with ice-blue eyes before finally nodding and leaving the locker room.
The Sentinels of Magic walked to a building overlooking the airstrip. They had to be briefed and then flown to their destination by one of the high-flying Blackhawks.
As he listened to the whine from his backpack, Mac noted that the base had a temporary feel to it. Once the mission was over, he knew he would have to check the generator for wear and tear. A nuclear device capable of reducing a person to atoms in seconds was nothing to sneeze at.
Mac entered the briefing room last, standing by the door. He felt paranoid, but wanted to be sure to be able to leave in a hurry if he needed to. Of course, any blast would be at least a mile wide, so he didn’t know how much help that would be unless Hal could turn into something useful in the nick of time. Mac doubted the group’s luck on that kind of outcome.
“Hello, gentlemen,” said the army officer at the makeshift podium that had been set up. “I am Captain Richard Exeter, and I am pleased to meet you.”
“For how long?” muttered Constantine.
“This is the mission in full,” said Exeter, ignoring the interruption. “One of our new planes spotted something happening in the Pacific. He took photographs before undertaking the actual mission he had been assigned. When the film was developed, these pictures were what prompted our calling you.”
He dimmed the lights and put on a slide projector, then activated it. Soon, upon the wall was displayed a film of an island rising out of the ocean.
“What’s causing that?” asked Doc Yale. “It certainly isn’t natural.”
“We don’t know, Doctor,” admitted Exeter. “As you can see in the pictures, there are no volcanoes on the mass or nearby that would cause an upswell like that. We’re calling it Grim Island.”
“It seems strange enough to warrant investigation,” said Harry Hutchinson. “But why call us? Only the Doc and M.C. are any kind of experts in the sciences.”
“M.C.?” asked Exeter.
“It’s short for Molecular Converter,” said Mac Maine by the door.
“Ahhh,” said Exeter. “The brass think you are the right men for this job, I suppose. Otherwise, the Blackhawks or someone else would have been sent in.”
“‘Cos we’re bloody expendable,” said Constantine.
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Exeter.
“How do we get there?” asked Hal King.
“One of the Blackhawks will take you over to the island and airdrop you. In twenty-four hours, the same pilot will extract you. Hopefully, in that amount of time, you will be able to find the cause of this anomaly.”
Mac Maine admitted to himself that he was the team worrywart. On the face of it, it looked like a simple rush job. Get in, get the goods, get out. But he had a feeling that disaster loomed ahead. He kept silent about the feeling, though. Hutch and Doc would just downplay it and try to take it easy when they needed to be sharp. Anyway, even if they agreed with him, the feeling would persist. It was the nature of the beast.
Falling in behind old Number 99 at the end of the line, Mac listened to both the whine from his generator and the sound of 99 shuffling across the tarmac without legs. He watched the surrounding field from behind his protective visor, wondering how bad things were going to be.
Mac took a seat near the door, watching as the others tried to settle in. He knew that Hutch hated to fly, but Number 99 loved it as much as a kid on a roller-coaster ride. Mac could take it or leave it. It was just something to endure until it was over.
“Gary!” said a raised voice. Constantine glowered at the boy through a cloud of cigarette smoke. A chance encounter with a storage locker had dislodged the boy from his hiding place. Mac almost smiled.
“I thought I told you that you’re back-up for this mission,” Harry said. “Stowing away is not being our back-up.”
“You’ll need me,” Gary the Miracle Boy said, ice-blue eyes glaring at the group.
“Off the plane,” Harry ordered, pointing to the door with one hand.
Mac almost stopped Harry but decided at the last moment not to say anything. After all, he didn’t need the headache of dealing with the man’s cold anger or watching out for the boy. Mac watched the boy go silently.
Waiting patiently as the plane slowly came to life, Mac Maine wondered sometimes what he would do when he hung up his generator for good. Maybe he would grow tomatoes or some vegetables to feed the world.
The pilot, the American Blackhawk named Chuck, taxied the plane down the runway and into the air. Mac held onto the strap provided until the ride became smooth as a calm lake. Picturing the island in his mind’s eye, he could think of nothing natural that would cause that type of behavior in rock. Not even a volcano would create such a phenomenon the way the pictures suggested. He supposed Doc agreed with him, because the man was scanning his book for answers to the question.
“Get ready for the jump,” said Chuck over the intercom. “Target is five minutes away.”
Mac watched Hal King work the dial on his belt. He was always amazed at the transformations the dial caused. This time, a winged barbarian took Hal’s place. “Conan the Hawkman is ready,” said Hal in his new form.
“Let’s go,” said Harry Hutchinson. The Black Star waited as the cargo door opened for them to jump to the island below.
Hal King, as Conan the Hawkman, grabbed Johnny Constantine’s hand in one hand and Harvard Yale’s in the other. Doc Yale hastily held his book close as the winged warrior hurled the trio into the air.
Roland DiGrasso waited for his team to clear. Then the Stainless Steel Cat grabbed Number 99’s back as the walking heap pushed to the door. The two vanished over the edge with the sound of flying leaves.
Harry Hutchinson waited his turn patiently, watching as 99 hit the ground with a splash. The Stainless Steel Cat had caught several tree branches and clawed through the trunk of a tree to bring himself unharmed to the ground.
The Black Star jumped, becoming a black silhouette. He fell into the tree line, and as he hit vegetation and then ground, the matter simply vanished in a human outline like a hot knife through butter. Cutting off his powers, he climbed out of the hole he had inadvertently dug. His suit was still white as he joined his comrades.
Mac frowned as he surveyed the passing ground below. He threw himself out of the plane, counting to three. Touching the keypad on his chest in a preset numerical code, he heard the generator on his back whine loudly. It’s going to explode, he thought.
A set of rings resembling an atom enveloped him in a brief flash. Suddenly, the man sometimes known as the Molecular Converter had wings. He glided through the air with a sigh of relief.
Mac glided down to the ground and set foot on Grim Island, dispersing the wings with a single button push and flash of light. He looked around at the island, wondering when the grass and trees had appeared.
“Unnatural development,” Doc Yale said, touching the grass that was reaching for the sky.
“They… are… screaming…” Number 99 said, frowning darkly. “The Green is… screaming…”
“If I was aged like this,” said Doc, “I would scream, too.”
“Crom,” said Conan from a spot above the tree line. “There is something going on toward the center of the island.”
“Let’s check it out,” said Harry. “Cat, take point.” The ferrous feline bounded forward, his claws extended as he looked for any enemy to attack and rend.
Mac brought up the rear as the Sentinels moved toward the trouble spot. He wondered what they would find when they reached the ruckus. He hoped it was some kind of animal migration. Of course, then he would have to explain how land-born animals could have been on a deserted island. One thing at a time, he told himself.