Birth of the Blues

It had been a dull few weeks previously. We had left Liverpool on July 24 and hadn’t even laid eyes on our special passengers. It was strange how that used to happen. We’d be sent on special missions, picking up people and packages and never knowing what was going on, but this time we sure learned.
We had been at sea for two days at that time and it was just getting light. A group of us were gathered around Sam in the radio shack, like we often were. He was a genius with that stuff and he’d finagle around until he picked up music for all of us. Course he was always up to that anyway. He useta tell us about meeting Jordan Louis when he was working at Dekka in New York before he signed up. In fact, he had found a Louis show that morning. I don’t remember if he was picking it up live from somewhere or if it had been recorded, but the man was on fire. I remember it was Louis because the rest of were having to listen to Beefy Guignon rant about how no self-respecting white man would ever buy his music. Beefy was like that. He’d dance at the canteen no matter who played, but he couldn’t stand people thinking he would associate with or support the coloreds. Think I heard his granddaughter might have changed his mind.
That morning was quiet, like I said. But then we heard a commotion on deck. We were under attack. The Germans had a squadron coming at us and they hadn’t even shown up on our screens. Well, it wasn’t the first or last time we’d see something like that. Sam was a whiz with the radio, but it wasn’t up to him to keep everything on the ship working and sometimes things just happened.
So we scrambled, but it was pretty clear we were in trouble. There were a dozen planes and we had no one near us. We were supposed to be running alone so it wouldn’t be obvious we had anyone important on board. Turns out it didn’t matter and we were lucky we had who we did.
I’m amazed to this day that we heard what we did. Even over the explosions, the shouts, the planes, we heard that thing bursting through the doctor’s cabin walls and tearing into the planes. It was seven and a half feet tall, and looked like a naked orange man. No hair, made like a G.I. Joe doll, but it looked at those planes and next thing you knew it took off from the ship like it was just gonna jump off the edge of the world. It leaped up and caught hold of one of the planes, tore off the canopy, pulled the pilot out, and tossed him onto the deck. The fall and impact killed him, and the thing went on to the next. It either figured out or decided to start flying, so after it couldn’t leap from plane to plane anymore it started flying after them. In the end we shot down four from the ship and the thing–Amwerth called it ‘Quantum’–tore apart the rest. He didn’t let any escape, and if they radioed anything back about it I guess their superiors didn’t believe it. It wasn’t until Amwerth was stateside that we started to hear about his mechanical soldier, and by then the home front was so thick with powered heroes he almost got lost. After the war, though, that was a different story–but it’s a story for another day.
You know, for all that chaos that day, we only lost one man, and I don’t know if the Navy ever knew it. See, it was a fella named Razak. He was a Malaysian refugee who had been on his own and travelled all the way from his home to England. He had helped out with the Royal Navy for a while, then he met Sam while we were on leave in Liverpool picking up the doctor. I think they fell in together because they were both orphans–rootless, you know? Anyway, Sam worked a deal with Skipper so Razak came aboard and enlisted, but since he didn’t have any papers, proof of citizenship, or anything I don’t think he ever hit the scrolls officially. Well, during the battle he was too close to the edge and an explosion carried him over the side. By the time we could look for him he was long gone. I felt sorry for the little guy. He’d been through so much I guess I thought he deserved to do more before he went out that way.

So this Quantum creature—I guess you’d call it an android now, but we just called him a robot (although I think Mike called him a golem)—he cut through those Jerry aircraft like the Black Flare or the Swing Sisters, or like the Hipster, the Swing Kids, or Midnight Cannonball were tearing up the Bundists back home. What we had yet to learn, though, was how his energy blasts would affect us all.

He really only let loose with those quanta-blasts once on the deck. After that, Amwerth told him to get in the air to do his fighting. I guess he hadn’t done any field tests and didn’t know how the overspill would react. I know this is supposed to be about Sam, but the only thing to tell about him here is how he was about the only one on the deck that day (besides poor Razak) who wasn’t affected. Eight of us were, though, and since the last of us has pretty much retired from the life we led after that day, I got clearance from the boys to tell our story.

The closer we were to Quantum that day, the stronger, the longer-lasting and the more diverse the abilities were we gained. I was second farthest, and I still have a level of strength a man a quarter my age would be happy with. In 1946, I could lift a tank and use it as a baseball bat. Now any physicist would tell you picking up a tank by its cannon shouldn’t work, so it seems maybe our abilities included some kind of telekinesis or…something. No one has ever fully explained how our quantum powers work, and we’ve had over 60 years to research them. But I’ll let Angel get into that. The point is, I got strong and tough—you still can’t cut me with any regular blade—and called myself Centurion. Vic de Vries became Steelsmith. He could generate and control these organic steel fingers. He could make cages, poles, even arms really. He, Mike Dudek, Greg Reiersen were all about the same distance away. Mike became Lodestone, able to control magnetism—and later, we found out, electronics, which came in damn handy from about the mid-50s on. Even after he retired, he worked for the military. They never found a way to exactly duplicate his powers, but he was invaluable to hundreds of missions. Greg called himself the Golden Ghost; we gave him hell for that, but none of us could come up with anything better either. He could manipulate gravity, as it affected him or anyone or anything else. He was the best flier among us.

Oh yeah. We could all fly. We were all stronger, tougher, and faster than we were before, more than most any other human—excepting some of those guys I mentioned above, and the other heroes of the age. Maybe someday I can talk about some of my old pals and some of the bastards we fought. (Sorry. That’s the Navy in me coming out again.)

So, Greg, me, Mike, Vic. Chet Whitshaw, the southern boy. God, he was a good fella. He picked up energy blasts. Could flatten a battalion all by himself. I know cause I saw him do it. Called himself Howitzer. He was also the fastest of us, which we always laughed about. A good ole boy like that, normally you could see the dead flies dropping off him, and now he was so fast, he’d disappear faster than a case of beer at Beefy’s house.

Ah, Beefy. Y’know, no one liked Beefy. He was a big guy with a small mind, fighting a war for his country while he bitched about having to ‘protect’ a bunch of Frogs, Russkies, Polacks, Stripes, Kikes, you name it, Beefy hated em. Now, remember, that’s his words, not mine; I’m just tryin to show you how hard it was to work with him, even before the powers. But after that, we knew we were stuck with him. If we tried to lock a guy like that out, it would mean we’d have to fight him, and with his powers, probably kill him. I’m not saying we never did that—it was a war—but it would have been tough. His powers? Beefy became Blackball; he could generate these black spheres of energy and use them to construct anything he thought of. Admittedly, that was his weakness—Beefy never could think of a hell of a lot—but he made an impressive opponent, and a time or two when we did have to fight him it was a challenge (yeah, we fought him—mind control. It was the fifties.) Another note about Beefy and his prejudices—I don’t know if he couldn’t figure out his teammates’ backgrounds or if he was one of these guys who hates a whole group of people but can’t deny an individual’s worth when he gets to know him, but he never seemed to catch on that Pete and Mike were Polish (Pete’s folks didn’t even speak English), Vic was Dutch, and I’m Irish-Italian. The best joke is that my wife Linda did some research on Beefy’s family tree after she joined us as Lady Blue, our coordinator, and found out his ancestors were Huguenots.

Pete Novak got a big dose from Quantum, too. He became the Caul, and I always wondered how hard that was on him—he was catatonic during that first fight, and we didn’t have time to deal with it right then. As it turned out, we probably couldn’t have anyway. His abilities were mental; his mind was instantly opened up with telepathy, telekinesis, precognition, postcognition—all that stuff the CIA has fooled with for years just switched on in his head. The way he described it he could reach out to any mind anywhere, human, alien, animal, anything. The overload shut him down for days and he went through the motions of life without communicating. When he ‘came back’ and tried to explain, he quit almost instantly because he could drop the thoughts directly into our heads. He may have been the most powerful of us, and he was certainly the best of us for having to deal with that.

That leaves Eli Feder, Sequoia. He was the toughest of us, even though he was the farthest from Quantum. He turned indestructible, and is able to impart some of that durability to others. We never knew if it was limited in any way, so we never asked him to ‘share’ with us, although Chet and Vic both took injuries during our adventures that led him to do so on his own.

And that’s how the Navy Blues were born. Now in the sixty years since, some of us retired and our kids and grandkids have taken over, since it turned out our abilities could be inherited. They have faded with each generation, but the Blues remain a pretty tough crew—tough enough we all figured it was okay to tell our story.

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