"Eyes up soldier, we've received a telegraph for you." The voice belonged to General Jack (Name), known affectionately as "Union" Jack around the military circles for his extreme loyalty to the Royal Crown.
"Thank you, sir. What does it say?"
"We regret to inform you," he read, "Professor Albert Erksine has been killed by a loyalist German immigrant, identified as one Arim Zola, on October 13th. Given the ever increasing possibility on full United States involvement in the Great War in Europe,
the Super Soldier program and the Invader team are to be immediately disbanded and its participants reassigned in an effort to to more fully concentrate on strengthening the US Defense." He folded the telegram. "Looks like your going home for now, soldier.
Though you'll probably be back."
"No! They can't take it away like that! I still have a war to fight!"
"I'm sorry, Captain. The great military beast can make some men's dream, while quashing others. Rest assured you will still be able to contribute to the effort. Unlike many of my colleagues, I do no think this skirmish will resolve itself within the year."
"I know, General. I'm sorry for my outburst, but I just don't want Private Barnes to have died in vain."
"As long as you stay committed to your country and your cause, he won't have."
"Ere I leave the countryside,
My forefathers called home,
And my rifle falls silent,
When I enter history's tome,
I must take action.
When my country assigned me it was justice that they sought,
For our European bretheren, under the Kaiser's boot.
If freedom is in peril, it's our war to be fought.
But what of my comorade, plucked from youth?
Even I am barely a man.
Yet I've seen the evil men can do.
The deviants from His plan. So if I truly seek justice,
For it to run unbridled,
These deaths cannot be in vain And I cannot sit idle."
John Hammond and Captain Steve Rogers met under the cover of dusk.
"They say they're shipping us home until the US really enters the war, Steve. That doesn't sit right with me."
"Nor I. Private Barnes already 'really' entered the war. I'm not sure I can live with myself leaving the Red Skull to the hands of fate for justice."
"Are you talking about going back in?"
"I don't know. Do I just fight for my country or do I fight for what's right? Am I a good soldier, or a soldier on the side of good?"
"We'd be crossing the government, Steve. Are you ready for that?"
"Before he died, Professor Erksine charged us with being an elite strategic fighting squad. We'd be doing right by him, by Private Barnes, and even by our country if we took out that wicked Schmidt.
You don't have to come if you don't want to, though."
"Steve, we're the Invaders. You know whereever you go, ol' Hot Shot'll be right there with ya. Your eyes in the sky, y'know? Besides, like you said, we're doing what's right."
"Thanks, friend. Together we can make sure the German forces don't have an inhumane coward like Schmidt in their ranks. Maybe taking him out can help speed up the end of the war, with luck."
"Here's hoping. When do you want to leave?"
"Tomorrow night, I believe. I'll see what I can find for the state of the German forces, see if I can get a handle on Schmidt before we go in head first."
"You know the rig."
They returned to their separate quarters for the evening.
Captain Rogers was awoken by the call of General (Name) the next morning. As Rogers struggled to put a shirt on the General entered the room, a small folded piece of paper in his right hand.
"At ease, Captain."
"Captain, I know the loss of both Private Barnes and Erksine and the discontinuation of your mission must be a tough pill to swallow."
"It is, sir."
"If you were thinking of doing what I suspect, I would like to officially inform you that I cannot knowingly condone insubordination of an allied force."
"This paper contains the last known whereabouts of General Schmidt and his regiment. I'm not telling you to use this. I want you to be aware he will be brought to justice."
The slightest smirk on Jack's face was all Captain Rogers needed. The mission was on. The Red Skull's actions would have consequences.
Captain Rogers and John Hammond prepared to leave under the cover of darkness, just before daybreak the ensuing day. Hammond's plane, the Torch, was by no means inconspicuous, painted a bright red with yellow lettering and wings, so leaving in the hustle and bustle of the day to day activity of the camp would not have gone unnoticed. "So you say ol' Union Jack gave you the information we needed, no questions asked?"
"When he read me that telegram, I think he knew I couldn't leave the unfinished basement on the continent. Like you said, what we're doing not only does right by Private Barnes, it does right by the whole allied force to take out a general as heinous as Schmidt."
"So where are we headed?"
"Poland. Schmidt is technically AWOL from the Kaiser's army after our little skirmish, though there is a suspicion that there is secret collaboration between the German army and Schmidt."
"There's been a lot of movement of forces to the region Schimdt is supposedly in."
"The report Jack gave me said one of the group of soldiers they've seen was comprised of various soldiers of different (fleets). It seems that the German Army may be giving Schmidt his own force outside the normal scope of their Army. Something's up."
"So that's why Union Jack gave you the info. This Schmidt thing may be even bigger than Private Barnes, God rest his soul."
"Yes, I fear so. That's why we have to act fast."
"Let's fly, then!" **************************
The Torch cruised over the Atlantic, the monotonous drone of its engine serving to break the heavy silence as both men prepared for their mission. As they flew southeast toward Poland, the sun was hovering just over the horizon, creating streaks of orange and pink in the surrounding clouds. John Hammond chewed on a splinter of wood from a crate back on the British base, eyeing his gauges.
"We ought be able to make it to the mainland, hopefully find a field to put her down in. As for getting back..."
"With any luck we can find a friendly face or two, or maybe some grateful Poles willing to help us."
"Heck, if worse comes to worse we can just commandeer a German plane. We are The Invaders, you know!"
"What's left, anyway."
The monotonous drone again replaced the conversation, as Captain Rogers cleaned his pistol and John Hammond fought off gusts of wind. It continued this way for a while until...
"What's that?" John Hammon asked, nodding his to the right side of the plane.
Captain Steve Rogers looked over the side and saw what appeared to be a large flat barge, like something that might be used for hauling refuse.
"The Germans must be up to some weird plan. Their weapons shouldn't be able to hit us if we're at altitude, though. They couldn't get a proper cannon on that rig."
A German biplane swooped in on The Torch from behind, one of its shots clipping the crimson plane's fuel tank.
"Shit, those lousy Krauts must have some sort of guerilla force out here on the sea!"
"We gotta turn it around on him! Evade!"
"What did ya think I was gonna do with this baby?" John Hammond asked as he pulled down on the plane's steering column, sending the plane upward at an impossibly steep angle.
The German plane, seeing this display, banked his wings to circle around and not lose his position. Hammond killed the engine, sending the plane into a freefall.
As The Torch fell toward the earth, gathering speed, Hammond fired up the engine again, using his momentum to execute a full loop and end up behind the German plane.
Hammond fired his guns, causing the German to swerve. Hammond stayed hot on his trail, using his near peerless aviation skills to anticipate every move the German was going to make.
"We'll show that Kraut what an American can do!"
"Be careful, Hotshot!"
"Would you expect anything less?"
The German began to dive toward his countrymen's barge as the men on board raised their rifles.
"Don't follow him too far down, John!"
"Relax, Cap. You think I'm scared of a couple rifles?" Hammond asked as he pursued the German.
A huge explosion rocked the Torch. Though this barge had no cannon that could reach them at altitude, The Invaders had dipped well into the range of the weapon they did have on board. A shell had exploded next to them, the Torch barely avoiding its shrapnel.
"Pull up, pull up!" Captain Rogers yelled.
Hotshot Hammond grunted as he pulled up as hard as he could on the steering column of the plane, things creaking as it suddenly shifted direction.
A second shot disintegrated the tail of the Torch. The Invaders' plane began to tailspin uncontrollably as John Hammond tried to pull up to straighten it out even the slightest bit.
"Bail Cap! It's been nice knowing ya!"
"It'll be an honor to continue serving with you!"
They jumped from the wayward aircraft, all three of them hitting the water with thunderous splashes. The German plane buzzed overhead, swooping in and firing its guns as a final nail in the coffin before circling around to land on the barge at a much more managable speed.
Captain Steve Rogers gasped for breath, struggling against the unrelenting tide of the Atlantic. Salt water stung cuts on his forehead suffered in the crash. His waterlogged uniform and boots were no help as he found a floating piece of the former Torch, a part of the wing. He grasped onto the wood as he sucked in oxygen.
"John? JOHN?!" he tried to yell, when he had enough breath.
"CAP!" John Hammond yelled. He was directly behind Captain Rogers, about 30 feet, also clutching a piece of the wing of his erstwhile vessel. "Thank God you're okay!" Rogers yelled to him, trying to swim to the pilot.
"Yeah, we're okay alright. The Torch is toast and we're gonna die in the middle of the ocean. Sounds alright to me!"
"Listen soldier," Captain Steve Rogers said, using a stern, earnest tone he hadn't yet had to use with Hammond, "we're alive. Right now, that means we're winning. I'm sure we'll find a friendly vessel, or make it to shore the hard way. Are you going to let the German planes shoot down your spirit, too?"
"We might get picked up by an Ally. But you saw that German barge. There might be others out here too. We could be taken as POWs."
"All the better. Why not let the enemy give us a free ride to shore? We can handle being POWs; I mean, we're the Invaders, right?"
Hours passed. Captain Rogers and John Hammond, now together and ahold of a pile of wing scraps they had managed to round up, would make burst to try and swim with the waves in the hopes of maybe making it to shore somewhere.
Once they had thought they heard a ship close by, but they never did see it.
"Cap, I'm tired"
"I know John, but we gotta keep fighting. Stay alive, not just for Barnes, but for America, for everything that made you want to join the military, and be a pilot."
"I became a pilot to impress girls, Cap!"
"That may have been why you started, Hotshot, but there's a reason you became the best pilot in the US, the pilot chosen to be in the Invaders."
"I wanted to be the best."
"Well, now you have a chance, not just to be the best pilot, but the best soldier, a hero. You just have to keep fighting. Do you want John Hammond, the best pilot the US Air Force has ever seen, to be remembered for being shot down and drowning in the ocean?"
"Alright then, we're going to get through this and make it to shore."
The sun was beginning to set, hovering just over the ocean on the western horizon. John Hammond looked at Captain Steve Rogers dejectedly, and even Rogers' face was beginning to show the beginnings of doubt creep in. Then, in the distance toward the eastern horizon, they saw something. Both of them saw it, looked at each other, then began trying to move their makeshift craft towards what they both believed they saw, yet dare not speak its name. They swam, pushing their bodies with whatever energy was left, the sunlight rapidly disappearing behind them. They struggled, being pulled back by tides, then lurched forward. After one such lurch they could see it: a small fishing vessel.
Worn black lettering on the side read "The Mariner". The ship's captain saw the two men floating and walked, almost non-chalantly, to the edge closest to him. He threw them out a line, tying it off.
The Invaders climbed the line and collapsed onto the deck of the small craft.
"God bless you, sir!" Captain Rogers said between gasps for air.
"Yes, thank you," John Hammond added.
"Aye, 'tis nothing. I've found more than my share of stranded travelers in these treacherous waters," the ship's captain said in a thick Scottish accent. "We'll get you back to English shores before you know it." He sounded just slightly perturbed at the developments.
"Fine Captain," Rogers said, standing up shakily, "we were on our way to Poland. We are technically absent without leave, though we've had the blessing of a commanding officer. You see a fellow soldier of ours was shot in the head."
"Aye, such is war," the ship's captain said, indicating the story would not change his course.
"Yes, but it goes deeper than that. The man who did it, he's a German commanding officer, and we believe he may building an elite squad of soldiers to do his personal wicked bidding, even worse than the will of the Kaiser. He has to be stopped!"
The ship's captain squinted at him, his sea worn face wrinkling even further.
"I've been sailing these water for many a year," he said, "and since the war has broken out I've only gone in to the continent a handful of times."
"Please, sir," Hammond pleaded, "our unit is scrapped, our comrade is dead. This mission is all we've got left. If this German is not stopped, not only wll his past trangressions go unavenged, he could form a battalion which could prolong the war by years!"
"Aye," the captain said. He kept his gaze fixed on the water, let out a slight sigh, and began to change course.
Hours passed as the small ship pressed on into the night, the ship's captain still looking headlong into the ocean. John Hammond approached him.
"Thank you for saving us, sir, and for allowing us to continue towards the continent. But I have to ask, why are you adrift at sea, especially during wartime?"
"It nay concern you, boy," the captain grumbled. After a pause, he continued, "I'll tell you for the sake of it, as I've seen neary a soul and been all but mute for the past few weeks.
My name is Namor McKenzie. This ship, The Mariner, belonged to my father, Arthur. I've never known my mother. Being as my father was at sea for weeks at a time, I was put in care of the church. The children there treated me poorly. I already stuck out like a sore thumb on account of being the only kid around with jet black hair, and then they said my mother was a mermaid or a fish; the nuns just said she was a whore. I hated it there. Not just in church, but on land. Any time my father would come into shore and take me back out on The Mariner here, I was free. Free from their judgment and prejudice. I felt like I ruled the waters, I was the Prince of the Seas.
My father, however, drowned after an especially vengeful storm. This was the extent of his estate, so now...my life is the great ocean."
"Well, we appreciate your help when were adrift out there. This man we're after, this "Red Skull", they call him...he's heinous. He must be stopped."
"Aye," the captain said, not even turning his head toward Hammond.
Morning came. The Mariner was positioned a mile off the shore of Poland (need specific name), the visibility nearly limitless. Namor McKenzie looked towards shore with a pair of weathered binoculars, no doubt an heirloom passed down from his nautical ancestors,
his coat, salt stained, his face freshly shorn from a morning shave.
"There's nay a soul on this beach," Namor said to his passengers. "I think we can make it in to let you boys off."