[The cover shows a Greco-Roman stylized hand holding a flaming torch against a background of darkness and thunder. Underneath the color layer, the flames, the torch, and the hand are made of newspaper clippings from the early 1950s.]

     An island in the North Atlantic, 200 miles from Newfoundland. On an uncharted mass of land in international waters, scientists have found traces of human habitation. Whetstones, metalworking tools, oil lamps...and a great iron door, set in the ground and inlaid with runes.

     After hours of deliberation, half-hours of bickering and minutes of fistfighting, the scientists decided to pass the buck. Their superiors at the Institute, in turn, decided that responsibility was best placed in the hands of their government funders. And as it turned out, they knew just the right men for the job.

     Thus, one week later, a seaplane touched down at the island's makeshift dock, and out stepped a man named Jack.

     Jack Ripley smiled and shook hands with the members of the expedition. He introduced his assistant, a slight young man named Tom, who hauled over a pack of carefully-engineered tools. The scientists stepped back, clearing a wide circle around the door.

     The assistant went over the door with a Geiger counter, an electro- magnetic field meter, and a forked stick, being careful not to touch the door directly at any point. He gave Jack the thumbs-up.

     Jack pulled on a pair of heavy gloves, sewn with strips of magnetized iron. He gripped the ring mounted in the door and gave it a heave. A rusty creak echoed across the island, and inch by inch, the door was raised.

     Within, there was a small, square object made up of wood, metal, smoked glass and natural crystals. Each surface was carved with intricate runes, and there was no trace of rust or rot. Jack picked it up in the gloves, holding it at arm's length, turning it this way, then that. He nodded and held it up to his assistant. Tom examined it and nodded as well.

     Jack turned to the scientists. "It's a Norse artifact dating to about the time of Erik the Red, to judge from the style of the runic writing. It's been buried in this chamber since then, and, well...it's a radio."

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   COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS - IN ASSOCIATION WITH PREHISTORIC PRODUCTIONS

The scientists of the          CCCCCC
Edison Project discovered     CCC   CC
the power that breaks the    CCC     C  OOO  RRRR  PPPP   SSSSS
laws of the universe!        CC        O   O R   R P   P SS      OF
                             CC        O   O RRRR  PPPP    SS    DISCOVERY
Yesterday's tomorrow         CCC     C O   O R   R P         SS
is in their hands!            CCC   CC  OOO  R   R P     SSSSS 
                               CCCCCC   
Copyright 2010 by
Andrew Perron                         #1 - Tesla Boys!
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[2:30 PM, June 21st, 1950 - Edison Project HQ, location classified, southwest USA]

     "...so I brought it back here," said Jack, standing in a small airfield next to a nondescript group of buildings whose very existence was a closely-guarded government secret.

     The man before him nodded. He sat in a wheelchair and age was taking its toll, but his spine was straight and his gaze was clear. "Good job, Jack. I'll put my boys on it. Are you going to be in town long enough to finally take me up on that dinner offer?"

     Jack chuckled. "Sorry, Harry, I'll have to cut another rain check. The life of a field agent for the finest weird-stuff organization in the country is a busy one."

     "Well, don't think we don't appreciate it." Harry Parker, the man once known as Beacon, took the package with the "radio". "You should at least come in and meet the new fellow."

     "New fellow?" Jack followed the wheelchair into the complex. "Oh, is this the wunderkind you were talking about?"

     Harry nodded. "Comes from the Hawaiian territory. Graduated from the university there at the age of sixteen. He just got here yesterday, in fact; today's his first day in...the...." He had stopped, staring into a room. It was filled with great gray boxes, all part of a bigger machine; and in the middle, a young man had popped a cover off and was deep in the machine's guts.

     "Jim..." said Harry, his voice carefully walking the razor edge between shock and anger, "what are you doing?"

     The teenager slid out from beneath the technological wonder. "Oh, hey, Dr. Parker!" He grabbed a rag and wiped the dust off his vaguely Asiatic face. No matter how clean they tried to keep the computing room, dust was an inevitable consequence of being sited in the hardpan desert. "I walked in and I saw this lovely lady and I had to take a peek! She's along the same lines as CSIRAC in Australia, isn't she? Mercury delay line memory? What a beaut!" He replaced the cover, cheerfully gushing all the while. "Did you know there's a fairly simple cross-wire you can do to get the control unit up to one cycle per instruction? Should 'bout double efficiency. Oh, hi there!" He took Jack's hand and pumped it up and down. "Jim Peterson, at your service. 'Round the lab, though, they all call me Jim Smiley."

     Jack blinked. "Er, yes, I can see why."

     "Yes, and Jim, this is Jack Ripley, the Edison Project's top field agent...and it's still working, is it?" Harry raised an eyebrow.

     "Sure, sure! Hey, you didn't think I'd break your million-dollar megabrain? Not intentionally, anyway. So what's cooking, Mr. Ripley? I assume a field agent out of the field brought back a neat souvenir."

     "Well, Mr. Parker's got that in hand," Jack replied, "and I'm sure he'll tell you all about it. Meanwhile, I really have to take off...."

     "All right, all right," Harry laughed. "Have a safe flight."

     "Nice to meet you, Mr. Ripley!" said Jim. "Don't take any wooden nickels!"

     Jack smiled and waved, turning to whistle a tuneless melody as he left the building.

     "So, then, Jim," said Harry, "ready to solve a mystery?"

     "Am I ever!" His eyes shone with intellectual excitement. "But we should get the rest of the research staff involved, right? I've heard so many rumors! Is it true that we're working with the same aliens that gave Gauntlet his powers?"

     Harry sighed. "Son, we're going to have to give you a nice long briefing. Later. You're right, though; let's see who can spare a moment off their current project." He took off down the hall, the cunning electromechanical motors of his chair barely audible. It had been years since he was physically up to the task of using the leg braces he'd invented, but much of that technology was applicable to less bipedal modes of transportation. "Meanwhile, why don't you tell me what you already know about our operation here?"

     Jim took a deep breath. "The Edison Project is a research arm of the United States government attached to Division 13 of the Office of Strategic Services. Founded in 1942 to research Nikola Tesla's work on the theoretical 'death ray', its role was expanded to the mechanics behind superhuman powers. After the end of the war and the disbanding of the OSS, it moved underground, and nobody is supposed to know that it still exists."

     Harry nodded, wheeling himself along. "Very good; that's more thorough than the usual briefing."

     "Ah, well...half of it came from the driver on the way in."

     "Hm. He deserves either a commendation or a pink slip. Well, that's a good overview, but let me fill you in on some of the details...details that can't go beyond the doors of this complex."

     Eyes wide, one James Peterson nodded his assent.

     "Tesla went beyond simply theorizing on how special abilities worked; he postulated their cause: a trait held by certain individuals which gives one the ability to do, well...Tesla started off by describing it in the scientific terminology of the day, but in the end, he called it what it is. Magic."

     Jim's jaw dropped. "Magic? Really? I mean...I remember Johnny Angel and Malscripto and all of them, but I figured it was a smoke-'n-mirrors job!"

     Harry shook his head. "It's very real. Some humans have what we believe is an inherited ability to affect the laws of reality. Physics, chemistry, probability...that is the secret of the Edison Project: that magic exists...and that America is determined to harness its power."

     The old man seemed lost in reflection, and Jim stayed silent, walking alongside his wheelchair. Eventually, he shook himself out of his reverie and continued, "Well, after that revelation, anything else will seem anticlimactic. But, since you were so interested in Gauntlet...why don't we go meet him?"

     "!?" Jim blinked. "You mean..."

     Harry laughed. "That's right. Just inside that door, in fact." He gestured down the hall, and Jim sprang forward to pull it open.

     Inside, a great engine disgorged a mess of wires, and a man somewhere in the midst of middle age was up to his elbows in them. Jim walked past him, looked left, looked right, looked straight, but there didn't seem to be anyone else in the room. The wheels turned, and he looked first at the man, then at Harry. "So this...."

     He nodded, chuckling, and the man looked up curiously. "Heya, Harry. What's all the ruckus?"

     "Kevin, this is Jim Peterson, the newest member of our crew. Jim, this is Kevin Bakker, AKA the mighty Gauntlet."

     Jim shook the proferred hand with gusto. "Nice to meet you! Um...."

     Kevin laughed, the corners of his eyes crinkling in merriment. "Lemme guess: I looked younger in the newsreels, right?"

     Jim nodded, rubbing the back of his head. "Sort of."

     "Well, that's 'cause I am. One aspect of the powers I have causes my body to age at an accellerated rate. I'm actually only...what, seven years older than you?" He looked up at Harry, who nodded.

     Jim whistled. "Say! That's amazing! But you don't look too broken up about it...."

     Kevin grinned. "I'm light as a feather 'cause I have a new lease on life!" Pushing away his chair, he did a little jig until his joints cramped and he fell back into the seat.

     Harry said, "Mr. Bakker's condition has been one of our big research goals, but we've finally cracked it. He's basically a great electrical generator, and in the past, we'd had limited success in slowing it down by draining the electrical charge."

     "That's what fueled my powers," Kevin noted, "not aliens."

     "But this time, we've used a machine that interferes with the polarization of the iron in his body, completely disrupting any electric currents that might form. It's slowed the aging to normal speed."

     "Even more amazing!" Jim tilted his head inquisitively. "So does this mean that aliens don't exist, or...?"

     Harry shrugged. "We haven't been able to find any direct evidence of non-Terrestrial lifeforms interacting with humanity...between you and me, though, there's enough circumstantial evidence that I wouldn't rule it out. Especially with the rumors coming out of northern Africa. But for now, mum's the word."

     Jim nodded, wide-eyed. Harry tousled his hair and set the 'radio' on top of the wide linoleum table. "Here's our latest puzzle."

     He explained the provenance of the object. Kevin nodded, scratching a spot just behind his left ear. "Mighty interesting. But y'sure you wouldn't want one of the PhDs working on this? Heck, I haven't even finished my Master's yet, and even if I had, I'm only a tinkerer."

     Harry shook his head. "You're not just our prize guinea pig, Kevin. I don't need another theoretician here; I need someone who can take something apart and see what makes it tick."

     "Hey, I've only got a bachelor's!" Jim averred.

     Kevin snorted. "Okay, okay, I get the picture. Just...don't blame me if we get little green men popping up out of nowhere or something."

     They set their noses to the mysterious technological grindstone. The box was opened with the utmost care, parts discreetly laid to the side as they were removed. Circuity was studied and crystals were analyzed; diagrams were drawn and functions were hashed out. Components were carefully labeled and tiny marks that seemed to be pre-existing labels were reproduced with exacting fidelity. Finally, they set aside their voltmeters and milli-ammeters and little tiny pliers.

     Kevin wiped his brow. "Well, Jack was right when he said it was a radio, but it's not the kind of radio we would think of. It's some kind of primitive transmitter. It's meant to take one charge of electricity, deliver one great pulse, and then blow out."

     "But why?" queried Jim.

     "Perhaps it was all they knew how to build, especially if the goal was to create the strongest possible signal in a portable device." Harry stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Or perhaps someone didn't want it to be reused...."

     "Well, it would be simple enough to generate a pulse of the same strength and frequencies," said Kevin. "Heck, I've got something..." he leaned down, thrusting his hands into a rat's nest of cables, and pulled out a heavily modified transmitter, "...right here that could do it. The question is, should we?"

     Jim shrugged. "It's just radio. What's the worst that could happen?"

     Harry laughed. "You're going to learn not to ask that question around here. Still...." He rubbed his chin. "Why don't we keep the power low – so it doesn't go past this room, or at least this building? We can hook up a receiver and spectrograph and see what we get."

     Consensus was reached, and they went back to work. Kevin set up the precise patterns of circuitry. Harry put together two sets of equipment at opposite sides of the room. Jim helped out, floating all the while in a daze of hero worship and curiosity satiated.

     "All right, it's ready." Kevin put his thumb over the switch.

     "Crossing fingers!" said Jim, giving a double thumbs-up.

     "Three...two...." The switch was flipped...and a thump! echoed through the halls. They jumped to their feet as a momentary rumble shook the floor.

     "...that wasn't supposed to happen, right?" Jim asked.

     Shouting came from down the hall, and the sound of running feet. Kevin opened the door and stuck his head out. "What's all the ruckus?"

     A man with a thick German accent shouted, "Something just blew up in Richter's lab!"

     The three looked at each other and ran down the hall, toward a door with billows of smoke pouring out of it. A rather weedy man was on his knees, taking big gasping breaths of air.

     Kevin knelt down. "Richter, what happened?"

     The man replied in an odd, overdone, undentifiable accent. "Well... dude..." he gasped, "I was studying...that kooky rock...and it just exploded!"

     Jim raised his eyebrows. "Is that...Z-Man?"

     Harry nodded. "Zukunftmensch, Man of the Future. Or Hermann Richter, Nazi scientist brought over by Operation Paperclip."

     "So he has magic powers too?"

     "In a way."

     As the smoke cleared, Kevin stepped through the doorway, waving off the last wisps. Bits of rock were scattered throughout the laboratory, a few shards embedded in the walls. Knocked onto the floor was a strange object; twisted metal, colored by soot but with an odd reddish gleam shining through. A few shards of quartz clung to the metal, blackened and cracked.

     As Kevin took a pair of soot-stained gloves off the wall, the others warily entered. He lifted the mysterious, gnarled thing onto the blasted countertop, and they stared in amazement.

     "Did we do that?" gasped Jim.

     "What is it?" Kevin breathed.

     Harry stayed silent, hands folded in his lap, staring intently at the object. After a minute's worth of contemplation, he turned to the others. "Well, gentlemen, what do we think it is?"

     Jim pointed a finger and proclaimed, "An alien spaceship! For, um, really...small aliens."

     "Like, a crystal computer!" theorized Richter. "Blue screen of death, man!"

     "Some sort of natural formation, a geode with metallic ore inclusions?" mused Kevin. "But why would it have reacted to the signal...."

     "Well, then. Jim?" Harry gestured to the young man. "As Edison Project Scientific Administrator, I'm assigning you an open-ended long-term research subject: the composition, provenance and function of these artifacts."

     Jim's jaw briefly unhinged. He snapped it shut and replied, "Uh um wow! Yes, sir!"

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Next Issue:

     Tales of strange adventure that will make you quiver with suspense and gasp in astonishment! SEE the teen of tomorrow! FEEL the shadowy hand of military might! And WHO or WHAT is...CODE NAME Z?

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Author's Note:

     Can't say I'm completely satisfied with this; it seems like it could use some punching-up of the sense of wonder. But hey, it introduces the characters, the setting, and the concept, and I got some good lines and a spiffy ASCII logo in there.

Editor's Note:

     Z-Man was the front man for a lot of Nazi supertech experiments, claiming to be from a future where Germany conquered the world. He used bits and pieces of information brought back by Oberstleutnent Schmidt after his brief stay in 2026 (see ASH #79-81) to bolster those claims. But since Justice kept Schmidt from returning with any hard documentation, Richter had to make do with what dribs and drabs had caught Schmidt's attention while flipping through books and listening in on commercial radio.

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