Jock MacGraw moved silently through the underbrush. He had learned that certain people were meeting here that normally did not meet at all. It had aroused his interest enough to see if the rumor was true.
He paused in the shadow of a tree. Sentinels walked the grounds with automatic weapons. He waited until he had an opening, then moved from dark patch to dark patch until he was standing alongside the outer wall of the manor.
He moved gently around the building until he found an open window. One quick movement and he was inside the building.
Jock O'Kent looked up from his polishing. A sound had attracted his attention. There it went again. He tossed down his polishing rag.
"Can you finish this for me, Monty?" he asked one of his crew. "I have to see a man about a barker."
The crew man nodded. His boss frequently disappeared and returned. He also worked when he was there like two men. Monty sometimes thought his boss could work even faster if no one was around.
O'Kent vanished as soon as the man's back was turned. It only took a moment for him to change into his working clothes as he called them.
The strange repeating noise led him to Edinburgh. He paused in his high speed run to access the scene.
Police armed with limited means versus a group of bank robbers with some high tech guns. The sound of the guns punching holes in everything around them.
'Time to stop this,' he thought quietly.
O'Kent flexed his fingers in their padded gauntlets as he drew a bead on the leader of the thieves. He leaped quietly.
His massive shadow fell on the man as the giant descended feet first. He looked up in shock and sudden comprehension as the massive boots came down. He couldn't dodge out of the way. O'Kent's blow sent him slamming into the side of a building. The hero landed on his feet. He turned to the next man in line with a face breaking jab.
Several of the rifles cracked at the same time. The bolts struck O'Kent in the chest, sending him to the street.
"We got him!" crowed one of the men. "We got O'Kent!"
The giant got to his feet, black T-shirt ripped in places. He fingered the material with anger on his face.
"This shirt will come out of your hide," the hero said, frowning darkly.
The men opened fire in earnest at O'Kent. He moved as they pulled the triggers, letting the bolts slide by. One blow, two blows, three, and the men lay on the ground in pain and varied conditions of consciousness.
"Stupid gits," O'Kent said, looking at his handiwork.
The police ran up with plastic handcuffs at the ready. In minutes the group was trussed to wait for something to take them to the hospital.
"Where did they get the toys, Constable?" O'Kent asked. His exposed skin was unmarked by the multiple blasts.
"Don't know," said the Constable. "Word is that a flood of these things are coming into the country."
"Hmmm," said O'Kent. "Maybe I'll look into it. Something has to be done about this."
"I'll say," said the Constable. "Here comes the Branch now that we don't need them."
"Then I'll be going," said O'Kent, jogging away quietly. He had had words with Leeds, the superintendent in charge, and did not want to get into another row with the woman.
The last time he had wanted to break her neck with an abandon he had rarely felt. No need to let her get under his skin and try to limit the way he did things.
O'Kent ran back to the dry-dock, changing clothes and returning to work.
Jock MacGraw slipped room to room before he found the conference room. He listened at the door quietly.
"We don't mind supplying our technology at cut-rate prices, Mr. McKinley. In fact, we hope to expand into existing markets as fast as demands warrant it. You will have the finest firearms that money can buy."
"Twenty million seems a bit steep," said the other man.
"I know, but we have to meet our manufacturing price," said the salesman. "A million a gun is not really that bad."
"I'll go along," said McKinley, "since I know you gave Palmer the same type of weapon."
"Almost the same price too," said the salesman.
"Hey!" said a voice from down the hall.
MacGraw looked over, raising his hands above his head.
"What have we here?" said a guard, with his pistol leveled.
"A broken jaw," said MacGraw, leaping across the space between the two, bringing a hand around in a chop. There was a loud crack as bone broke from the blow. The guard dropped, eyes rolling up in his head.
MacGraw heard chairs scraping on the floor. He kicked open the door. There were several guards pulling at weapons as he leaped into the room. He jumped on the conference table, and then behind the salesman in the room. An arm snaked around the man's neck and pulled him close.
"Don't shoot!" the man screamed. "Don't shoot."
"Hello, Comrade Zastrow," said Igor Kriss, who as Redstar was the Soviet Union's world famous hero. "What can I do for you today?"
The older, bold man frowned at the good cheer in Kriss' voice. He felt the man did that just to irritate him.
"We're field-testing a new operative," Zastrow said in his sour voice. "The committee would like you to oversee his performance."
"What is the assignment, if I may inquire?" said Kriss.
"Someone has built a base of operations to smuggle weapons into the country. The base is inside our Southern border. Our agent is to neutralize the installation to the best of his abilities."
"Wouldn't someone else be better for this type of operation?" asked Kriss. He disapproved of killing to say the least.
"You will understand why you were picked when you meet the agent," said Zastrow. "Come with me."
Akira walked home from school lost in thought. He did not have many friends so he spent a lot of his time tinkering with things as he put it.
He had a pretty good design for a portable jet system that was based off films of the Peacemaker in action. He just needed a way to get materials to build it.
Wouldn't the guys be envious if they saw him fly down from the sky? The problem was how to build it with his limited resources.
Zastrow led the way deeper into the complex. His permanent frown seemed to fit his lean face.
He paused at a door with a glass window in the top half. Kriss noticed there was a lock on the door and it appeared to be four inch thick steel.
Kriss looked through the window. The room had a single occupant who was amusing himself by playing two sides of a video fight game.
The man, it seemed to be a man, had a body made of metallic threads. Two cables extended from his hands to the game console. He glanced at the window with an almost featureless face. One red eye was larger than the other, and his mouth was a small slit.
"He was code named Svarog," said Zastrow.
"How appropriate," said Kriss.
Bruce Savage raced across the Outback accompanied by dust devils stirred by his slipstream. He had become one of the world's fastest men in an accident, of all things.
Now Bruce had trailed a set of lorries across the continent for the authorities. He wondered what was going on that the Special Branch needed a part-time hero like him to follow along through the desert.
The trucks pulled into a side road shrouded from Bruce's line of sight by a stand of trees. He slowed until he could look down the road. The trucks had vanished.
The four men unloaded their crates on the docks of Shanghai with furtive looks in every direction but the one where he was standing. Of course he was standing at the top of a flag pole four stories above the workers.
Lu Lei Long bounced on the pole for a second before throwing himself downward. One hand still gripped a cord attached to the pole. He swung down lightly, dropping on top of the crates.
The men saw him then.
They went for concealed weapons in their clothing. To the thunder dragon, they moved in slow motion as he struck with his green gloved hands. The fight was over a few seconds after it started.
Policemen ran up to take charge of the prisoners as Long smashed a crate open with a concentrated blow. Energy weapons spilled out on the ground from the blow.
"You have some explaining to do," he said coldly to the apparent leader of the men.
Jock MacGraw smiled under his featureless black mask. He wondered if McKinley would listen to the salesman.
"No way," said McKinley. "I've lost too many deals to this freak. Now that I have him where I want him, I guess the Mars people are going to be needing a new salesman."
"Wait!" screamed the salesman.
MacGraw kicked the meeting table up on its side. He used the move to hurl his hostage on top of McKinley. The bodyguards began to spray the room with bullets as the masked man threw himself through a nearby window.
It was against his grain to run, but he needed to the element of surprise back on his side.
MacGraw ran around the corner of the house. Once out of sight of the other men, he pulled himself to the roof of a porch, and slid into a window. He jogged to the room's door, listening to the sounds of alertness his appearance had generated.
He stepped back as the doorknob started to turn. A thug opened the door. He didn't even get a chance to look around before a fist shut his eyes for him.
MacGraw dragged the intruder over to the bed. He tied and gagged him with the sheets. A non-too-gentle foot shoved the guard under the bed.
MacGraw cautiously checked the hall. It seemed to be empty. He slid down the hall to the head of the stairs. Guards milled down below.
He descended three steps and then jumped the rest of the way. He landed feet first on the rear man's back. The man was propelled into the rest, knocking them all down. The commando landed lightly on his feet. He made sure none of his opponents could get up in the immediate future with swings of his terrible fists.
Akira noticed that someone had left a door open in a small storage building. He walked to the fence and looked through the links.
Debris was scattered inside the little room. No one was in sight. Akira clambered over the fence with the agility of a monkey. He jogged to the open room.
He was amazed at what lay inside the room. He had enough tools and equipment to build twenty jet packs. He laughed. All he had to do was move it to his own home.
How hard could that be?
Akira picked up one of the things on the floor, recognizing it for an anti-grav unit that was ten years ahead of its time.
A plan came to him fully formed.
Bruce Savage slowed to a walk.
How the heck do you lose three huge Mack trucks and trailers in the middle of the Australian desert, when you are only two minutes behind them?
Bruce jogged down the road, looking for a clue to what was going. His sharp eyes told him he was all alone to the horizon. He retraced his steps back to where he had lost his quarry.
He stood for a long time lost in thought.
Akira found a tool kit among the remaining equipment in the storage room. He quickly disassembled the grav unit. He reassembled the core around a battery pack. He used the gravity generator to lift the supplies into the air.
He spread the field around his body. He lifted gently off the ground. He used the generator to push himself over the fence. He ran towards home pushing his salvage in front of him.
He could set up a lab somewhere behind his small house. He would have to use his father's garden for camouflage.
Akira decided to dig up part of the ground to bury his new materials to start. He could add a work area later when he had time away from his other responsibilities.
Now he had to do homework and practice his violin.
He sighed as he replaced the plug of earth over his new equipment. He smoothed the dirt over as best that he could. He placed a circle of rocks around his site to show his father this was a work that was just beginning.
Now to take care of his responsibilities so that he could work on the gravity generator.
Bruce Savage inspected the road again. He found something that seemed out of place. A crack ran across the road.
It was a wide crack in the asphalt. He ran his finger along its length. It didn't seem natural to the speedster.
He wondered how to test his theory. He couldn't vibrate through the asphalt like his comic book hero The Flash.
He needed something to cut with like a pick. He decided to run to the next town on the road and procure one.
He took notes of the location. Then he ran off at top speed. He needed to find those trucks as rapidly as he could.
Bruce returned to the scene minutes later with a hand pick. He began to chop at the road with his speed. Underneath the road was a metal sheet fashioned into a garage door.
Now what? the Emu thought to himself.
"Briefing," Zastrow said, tapping on the glass.
"Give a little," said the metal man, as he turned back to his game.
"Now," said Zastrow.
Svarog disconnected his hands from the game console. He exited the room, mumbling to himself.
"Here I am," he said clearly.
"Let's go to the briefing area," the agent said.
"You're so cold, like an ice cream cone," Svarog said as he walked behind the grim Zastrow.
Kriss hid the smile that tried to light his face. He was glad he was at the rear of the line.
"Enough," said Zastrow.
"You can go your own way," the robot said, "call it another lonely day."
"He seems to have a idiosyncratic speech pattern," said Kriss.
"It's all rock and roll to me," agreed Svarog.
"Never mind that," said Zastrow. "You are to depart as soon as the briefing is over."
He led the way into the operations room called the Theater.
Lu Lei Long regarded the leader of the four men he had captured at the docks. They were sitting across from each other in an interrogation room at the local police station.
The man's papers and identification lay on the table between them. They were impeccable forgeries, but forgeries none the less.
"We will start with your real name," Long said. "What is it?"
"Lin Wu Wong," said the man. That was the name on the forged documents.
Long grabbed the man's earlobe, as fast as a snake. He pinched hard with thumb and index finger.
"The name your father gave you, pig's ear," Long demanded.
"Bao Chan," the man said through gritted teeth. "Bao Chan."
"Who employs you?" Long said.
"I work for myself," Chan said.
"Another lie and the ear comes off," said Long. "Who do you work for?"
"Mars," said Chan. "I work for Mars."
Long released the ear.
Jock O'Kent worked for several hours before giving in and calling someone who would know about the weapons coming into Scotland.
"Leave a message," a recording said.
O'Kent hung up the phone and settled into his chair. He closed his eyes and listened, filtering anything that was not of interest to him at the moment.
Finally the sound of a hunt and the mention of his colleague's name gave him a location to lock on. He disappeared from his dry-dock office and reappeared miles to the west in a new T-shirt and his jeans and boots.
A wall blocked his way for about the length of time for him to hurtle it. He landed lightly and headed for the manor in the middle of the grounds.
"It's Jock O'Kent," exclaimed one of the men on the grounds as he passed.
Men began to come out of the house armed with the same type of energy weapon O'Kent had encountered that morning.
This time he didn't wait for them to start shooting before jumping in their midst and swinging about him with his heavily muscular arms. Men fell with the cracks of breaking bones. A car pulled passed the giant in an attempt to flee.
One hand grabbed the bumper of the car and flipped it over smoothly. The driver tried to climb out but seemed to be too dazed to move properly.
"What are you doing here?" asked the black mask as MacGraw jogged from inside the house.
"Just wanted a talk," said O'Kent. "Then these sassinachs began to shoot at me. Can you imagine my dismay to find myself in a den of criminality?"
Luckily, Macgraw's featureless mask hid any emotion he might have felt.
He grabbed McKinley by the neck, and lifted him off the ground, before slamming him against the side of the flipped auto.
"Shall we have a more peaceable discussion about where the arms are coming from and how you are getting them?" MacGraw asked.
"Reports from the 5th army deploying at the Afghan border," began Zastrow, "led to a satellite reconnaissance of this area. An extensive use of camouflage was noted as were various shipments from inside the state.
“It was deemed to costly for an assault by conventional forces."
Kriss could see numerous batteries of artillery and missile launchers in the various pictures Zastrow flipped through on the huge screen at the end of the room.
"High Command feels this would be a perfect test for Svarog, but wants someone to accompany him."
"Walked on some thin ice, but never like this," said Svarog, studying the raw data the satellite had sent back to 5th Army HQ.
"How did they get that much material inside the country?" asked Kriss.
"The committee believes that they bribed certain officials to look the other way. If the 5th had not stumbled over the facility, they might have been able to disguise it as one of ours."
"I see," said Kriss. "When are we supposed to leave to arrest these people?"
"As soon as possible," said the intelligence chief.
"Yes, comrade," said Kriss. He headed from the room to the launch pad at the top of the building. Svarog followed, humming a song Kriss was sure was American rock and roll.
Where had Zastrow gotten the man to be a test subject for this extensive an alteration? Kriss was almost afraid to ask.
Redstar took to the air in a golden stream of energy. Svarog tensed and a set of jets opened in his back and lifted him into the air. He flew after the much faster Kriss as swiftly as he could.
The Emu paused for a moment. Who in the world would put a garage door under a public road?
All he had to do now was report this and keep track of the villains until the authorities arrived.
The door opened quietly as Bruce watched. He ducked out of sight behind a bush. Another truck slid out of the ground. It pulled away as he watched.
He was torn by indecision for several moments. Finally he raced after the lone truck. He opened the back doors and quietly climbed inside, pulling the door loosely shut behind him. The cargo trailer was empty.
Bruce swung down from the trailer and headed to a telephone to call the Branch. It seemed he had found his objective.
Akira hurried through his house work. He played his violin the best he ever had. His father seemed amazed by his industriousness. Akira retired to his room after his dinner.
He had work to do before he went to bed. He spread a work cloth out on his desk and disassembled the gravity generator with care. He pulled out some paper and a pen from a desk drawer and began to sketch and design and calculate for many hours.
Akira put everything back together and wrapped it in his cloth before putting it away. He waved good night to his mechanical dog, and went to bed.
It had only taken a little persuasion to wring some information from McKinley. That led the two Scots to a wharf in Glasgow.
"McKinley didn't lie about this at any rate," said O'Kent. "I wonder why this sudden increase in armament."
"Mars has been selling to both sides," said MacGraw. "Escalating the tension. Sooner or later a war will start out over who has the most."
"I don't fancy the thought of those things being fired in a crowded area," said O'Kent.
MacGraw looked through his binoculars at the peaceful scene.
"Let's go talk to them," he said as he placed the glasses in his rover. "Maybe they will give us someone else."
"I'm for that," said O'Kent, vanishing in a slipstream.
MacGraw jogged down at a slower pace. O'Kent would save him half the effort of rounding these gits up and securing them. He picked up a man trying to escape the sudden fury that had been unleashed and threw him into the cold water.
MacGraw went in the open door of a warehouse. He went right for the records he knew must be kept in the small office in the back.
A man was already there and seemed upset to see the faceless mask. He pulled a pistol and emptied it through the window at MacGraw. He turned back to the computer on his desk to erase everything.
A gloved hand smashed into his face, knocking against the far wall. He shook his head trying to destroy the records when a boot put out the lights.
MacGraw copied everything on discs, before picking up the phone.
"Hello, police?" he said in a different voice. There's a commotion going on at the wharf. You had better send someone down to get these jobbos. Right. Good-bye."
MacGraw hung the phone up and headed out of the warehouse. Men lay everywhere from his giant colleague's fists and feet.
"You done?" he asked O'Kent.
"This lot couldn't fight their way out of a paper sack," The giant said in mild disgust.
Edward Constant peered around as he opened the door of the small antique shop he maintained. It wasn't much, but it covered his expenses. It also let things find him when they needed to.
"Hello, Edward," said a chilly voice from within the shop.
A man in a long coat, scarf, and hat stepped into the dim light cast through the shop's windows.
"Don't do that," Constant said. "The last thing I need is a heart attack."
"I find that hard to believe," said the Mysterious Traveler. "How did everything go?"
"The kid found the stuff," said Constant. "Do you think it's wise arming Moto's nephew?"
"We need heroes now," said the man in black. "I foresee an upsurge of darkness that will plunge the world into a Crisis level event. This time our earth might not survive.
"I feel that young Akira is a hero through and through. He will be needed to counter what I hope to prevent."
"Still, he could crack and snap like his uncle," said Constant.
"You could stop making bad deals," said the Traveler with a smile.
"The point is yours."
He had been a hero once upon a time. Then he had lost his way. A battle with his younger self had cost him his powers and his will.
He had began drifting without purpose for the last twenty years.
Then came the Crisis.
He had tried to save the day without his powers for as many as he could. It had been a liberating experience for him. He had regained the desire to help his fellows again.
Too bad he would have to do that without his Wizard powers.
Akira wandered along the street. He held the mechanism for the gravity generator in his hand. Equations danced in his head as thought about ways to vary it's effects and work more efficiently. He had already been able to miniaturize it to some degree.
A loud bang made him look up at his surroundings. Smoke roiled from the doors of a nearby bank. Akira stepped back, snapping the device together.
What should he do?
A man in a black suit and coat walked out of the bank. The afternoon sun glinted from his dark glasses. Smoke rolled from the bottom of his coat as he walked to his car.
What should he do?
Akira waited for the man to get in the car, a plan already in mind.
As soon as the man seated himself in the Mitsubishi, Akira pressed a button on the wand he held. The auto began to float in the air. He reversed the polarity suddenly. The car slammed into the ground with the crash of bending metal.
I hope I haven't made a mistake, Akira thought, as he switched off the gravity generator.
The door flew off its hinges with a bang. The man stepped obviously angry. His sunglasses zeroed in on Akira and the wand he held.
Time to run, Akira thought, taking action to suit the decision. The thief came on, smoke trailing behind like the wake of a ship at sea.
I should have left things alone.
Akira used the wand to make a prodigious leap to the top of an apartment building. He ran on, a single glance telling him that the man was coming after him in a cold fury.
Think, think, think.
Akira ran like the wind under the light gravity. A solution eluded him for the moment.
The Russian landscape flew by as Redstar and his charge raced to the border. Kriss wanted see for himself about this hidden base before letting the strange machine man carry out his mission. He reined himself in, exercising the patience he had learned as a cosmonaut before the rocket launch that had created him.
Zastrow obviously saw a threat, but how massive a threat was it? As a prototype, was Svarog capable of handling this thing on his own. Would he even try, or would he keep going to the border and try to escape the committee?
Where did his own duty lie in all this?
At least Svarog was quiet and still following as fast as he could.
Another question popped into Kriss' mind.
How did a Russian cyborg/robot come to be programmed with American music lyrics?
The Jade Thunder Dragon moved gracefully across the rooftops of the city. He had been trained in Tibet by his father and had brought his skills home. He was one of the only two or three men in the world that had undergone training to become a Thunderbolt by the lamas. He had lost that privilege to the reluctant Peter Cannon.
He had retained his training and had gone into service as a hero for China. Although he hadn't been trained to his full potential, he had worked hard at improving himself every chance he had gotten.
He had dueled with the Mars Council before as had other heroes around the world. They were premiere arms dealers and smugglers. The Peacemaker had become their primary opponent in the last few months, even capturing the Weapon with the help of some investigator in New York.
All of this was history.
The Peacemaker was not going to be in China to assist Lu Lei Long in the next few minutes. He was on his own until a program could be put in place to recruit or create metahumans as the other world leaders had done.
Still even a yankee like the Shield was welcome at a time like this, thought Lu Lei Long as he ran to the edge of the current roof and leaped through a window two stories below on the next building in line.
Sometimes he wondered if he was doing the right thing. He had sources of information, but those could be wrong. He stood in the shadows and considered quietly why he had decided to begin meddling after all this time of noninterference.
The Crisis had shaken him. He had never before thought a force capable of wiping out existence before the Anti-Monitor and the battle at the dawn of time to preserve the five universes.
He had joined with Fate, the Phantom Stranger, and others newly met to help defeat that menace. That had been the first step on this damnable road he had started on.
He had foreseen another catastrophe in the future. That had prompted his move to recreate the Mighty Crusaders. He had caused Darkling to return home and Mr. Justice to be on hand so that she could begin recovering to meet the threat he had seen.
Now this meddling with Akira Moto.
He had never doubted himself before he had began to take steps. He had never played a hand where he had done such meddling either.
The Mysterious Traveler observed, but never warned until now.
The Crisis had taught him a valuable lesson, and one not so easy to ignore or cast off.
"Somehow I envisioned you with a huge base of operations," said the giant Jock O'Kent to his comrade.
"Not everyone can be millionaires turned vigilantes," said the grim Jock MacGraw, behind his featureless black mask.
"Point to you," said O'Kent. "What did you find?"
"I don't know yet," said MacGraw. "The files are encrypted and booby trapped. Rob Roy is having a time trying to read them."
"Do you mind if I have a look at the program for a moment?" asked O'Kent.
"Don't break anything," said MacGraw as he relinquished his chair.
O'Kent sat and began to study the passing digits Rob Roy was trying to decipher into letters and pictures. He stopped the running program with a jab of a button. He began to type certain commands on the keyboard.
The screen went black for a second. Then information began to scroll down the screen as fast as the two heroes could read it.
"How in the world did you do that?" asked MacGraw.
"I have a way about me," said the giant with a smile. He stood up. "What do you make of all this?"
"It seems like Scotland is just a branch off the main trunk in Europe," said MacGraw, sliding into the chair. He knew what he had just seen was impossible but accepted it. O'Kent was impossible in many ways, not just as a sudden genius of computer knowledge. He typed in commands. "How do you feel about a trip to Africa?"
Akira Moto regretted taking action now. He should have just left the thief drive away. Then he wouldn't be running for his life from rooftop to rooftop. He glanced over his shoulder and the man was still coming and gaining ground.
Akira made one more leap before he had a sudden idea. He ran halfway across the roof, before seemingly stumbling and falling.
The thief smiled as he leaped into the air. He was halfway across when Akira turned the gravity wand on the man at full strength. It was like handing him an anvil in mid-air. The thief crashed into the ground below in a cloud of smoke.
Akira wiped the sweat from his brow in relief. His sudden idea had paid off.
Redstar arrived at the secret base. Any suspicions were confirmed by anti-aircraft fire. He circled at his greater speed as flak filled the sky around him.
Svarog came in low, hugging the snowy ground. His hands had changed again. They seemed to be shaped like mini guns to Redstar. The machine opened fire, spraying the buildings with energy as he buzzed by.
That sent men scrambling out of position as Redstar threw fireballs in the encampment.
No one was dead, Kriss thought in amazement as he worked his way through a line of vehicles.
The machine punched a hole in the main building with a reshaped limb weapon. He entered quietly, cutting his jet pack, replacing it with an over the shoulder cannon.
Redstar flew through the hole and landed behind the strange thing.
"Took the long way home?" Svarog asked as he headed down the corridor on what looked liked roller skates.
Kriss waved him forward as he took to the air.
Lu Lei Long always saw things slow down when he called upon the Thunderbolt training. The glass from the broken window flew through the air as he landed and rolled. Men seemed frozen in position as he moved.
They were just starting to return to normal speed as he attacked with hands and feet. A simple leap carried him over a table where his feet sent a smuggler into the wall with broken ribs. A hand flick set the table up as a shield as the rest of the men were moving at half speed. Long picked up the table and rammed two men into the wall as they finally cleared weapons from holsters. The pistols dropped to the ground as the men whimpered.
The last man ran for a computer on a desk in one corner of the room. One hand stretched for the keyboard. A green clothed hand grabbed a wrist and sent the man flying across the room.
The Chinese hero placed a blank CD in the driver and copied the database. He methodically secured his prisoners for the police to take away while the CD was filled with the weapon dealers records.
Maybe this was the beginning of the end for the smugglers.
Bruce Savage was confident that he had found the place he had been looking for. He had even called the authorities. Now all he had to do was wait for the fireworks to be over.
He thought about it some as he raced back to the hidden door. He was a hero. He couldn't let others go where he wouldn't. He would have to get into the underground and keep the blighters tied down until the Branch arrived.
Bruce waited for a truck to enter or exit the secret supply house. When one finally did leave, he raced down the ramp at top speed. He found himself inside a vast warehouse. He ducked behind a pile of boxes and considered for a moment.
Bruce began searching the boxes until he found what he wanted. He smashed a panel out of the wooden box with a super punch.
The Crusaders had been busy securing a facility since their reformation. It had been set up in the heart of New York City in a small building located by Thomas Troy. The members themselves had handled such things as security systems, and computer linkages, and other things.
On this day only one member was present. A special meeting had been asked and he had agreed to allow the place to be the new Crusaders headquarters.
Joe Higgins waited patiently in the star spangled armor of the Shield. His first guest arrived a few minutes before the meet. Joe went to the roof, and escorted Captain Atom to the meeting room.
A small van arrived moments later. Joe let the newcomers drive their van in the walled parking lot. Three men got out of the car. Joe knew these three by their reputations. He frowned slightly that a war-horse like Hank Hennessy had been called back to duty.
The five men took places around the Crusaders round table with Sarge Steel standing to speak.
"Gentlemen, the reason I called this meeting is several known vigilantes and foreign powered agents have begun independent operations against the Mars Council group of weapons smugglers. Reports are coming in from agents in the field that Redstar, Jade Thunder Dragon, and a vigilante named Jock MacGraw are spearheading this multiple attack in Asia, and Europe.
"The people I represent want to help them covertly in some way without an expenditure of massive resources. We also want to set up a world wide agency to make future operations feasible and possible with a certain amount of coordination.
"That's why I have asked for this meeting as you are leaders of the premiere teams in the U.S."
"What exactly do you expect?" asked Captain Atom. "The Sentinels aren't a team like the Crusaders. We tend to get together to handle emergencies when something happens and we can respond before anyone else."
"Speaking for the Crusaders," said the Shield. "We just got back together. I don't think we're ready to train some newcomers just yet."
"My assistant is speaking with my Russian counterpart to see if a joint effort will be worth the time and expense.
"Then we will put it up for a U.N. vote and hope we can convince the international community that a metahuman agency will help to relieve some of the crisis spots without a direct hand by the world powers."
"The Crusaders and the Sentinels are prime examples of heroes that act impartially to protect everyone," said Hennessy. "A lot of the world leaders know you guys saved the world from the red skies event, even if no one knows the whole story."
The Shield and Captain Atom glanced at each other. They were among the few who knew the red skies had been an attack by a being intent on destroying all creation. The day had been saved but not without cost.
"What exactly do you want?" said Atom.
"My agency wants you both to support any agency that comes into being. Additionally, any aid you can give if and when it is up and running would be appreciated it."
"Who is going to command this agency, if you don't mind me asking?" said the Shield.
"The agency is going to put my name up as their choice for the top spot," said the fifth man.
"Do you know what you're getting into, Chris?" asked the atomic hero.
"A little," said Christopher Smith. "It will be a chance to help more people than what I can with my gadgets and weapons. Hopefully Zastrow will see things our way and go along."
"Doubt it," said Atom, having met the severe spymaster. "Still if they put Redstar up, they will be putting up their best man for the spot. Loyalty to the mother land won't sway him from doing the right thing for those concerned."
"We agree," said Steel, "but we would like our own man for the job."
"I'll lay out things for the other Sentinels. I'm sure they will back me up and support any group of heroes you can assemble for your group," said Captain Atom.
"The Crusaders will back up any law enforcement group that comes out of this," said the Shield. "Good luck."
"Thanks," said Christopher Smith, the Peacemaker.
Blaine Whitney wondered into the workshop he used to maintain when he was a hero. Most of his inventions and discoveries had been destroyed long ago by the Crusaders. He couldn't blame them really. In the wrong hands, his hands, they were devastating weapons against mankind.
Whitney sat at his work desk. He felt cut off from the idealist he had been in his youth.
Where has the time gone? he asked himself.
A computer disc was under his hand. His name was printed neatly on the tape across the top. He hadn't made a disc, and hardly used the computer he did have.
He took the tape to his computer station and put it in the slot. He turned the machine on and began running the program on the disk.
He smiled when he saw that the tape held images of happier days. There was even a picture of him in his old tuxedo. He felt a twinge.
Did he even have that old costume anywhere?
He had stored it away in his workshop when he had adopted his newer costume. The memory was as sharp as if it had just happened even though Whitney had not thought of that suit in years. He even remembered all of the places he had patched it from the miscalculations that had happened the years he had worn it as the Wizard.
It was almost as if his singular total recall was coming back to him.
Akira Moto peered at his opponent over his makeshift mask. The man was not moving. Akira briefly wondered what he should do.
He decided to check to see if the thief was alive. He hadn't wanted to hurt the man, but at least he had stopped him from hurting anyone else.
Akira used the rod to drop into the alley gently. He walked over to the thief and placed a hand on the man's neck.
A strong hand wrapped around Akira's neck. His air was cut off as he was being choked. Panicked by the sudden attack, Akira fired the gravity rod in a narrow beam into his attacker. The man slammed into the wall and did not move.
Akira took a deep breath and rubbed his throat.
Bruce Savage smiled as he scooped out the contents of the box into his waiting arms. He held twelve marked canisters.
Bruce breezed through the complex, dropping the cans after pulling the pins on them out.
Soon clouds of smoke drifted among the boxes. It was child's play to drop twelve more in the blink of the eye.
Men began to choke and call for gas masks amidst the strangling stuff.
Bruce put his own gas mask on over his emu brown mask. Then he zipped here and there, displaying his phenomenal speed and lightning-like punches. Blinded by the smokescreen, the mercenaries were unprepared to deal with the speedster in their midst.
In seconds, Bruce was gathering the men into a pile and handcuffing them together to hold them until the Branch arrived.
Jock O'Kent and Jock MacGraw had flown from Scotland to Kenya on a public airline. It was the first time O'Kent had left the country. He was seemingly amazed by the experience.
MacGraw led them west to a hidden facility. He was at home if out of place in the setting with his black mask and army fatigues.
The pair watched for a while as men and vehicles went back and forth under camouflage netting.
"Wouldn't even know it was here, if not for the map from the files," said O'Kent.
"Let me guess, you create a distraction while I take a look around," said MacGraw.
"You see, that's why we're such good chums," said O'Kent with a broad smile. "We think alike."
"Right," said MacGraw. "Give me a chance to get next to the wall and then cause your ruckus."
Redstar and Svarog made their way carefully to the control room. Energy weapons lanced at them in the confines of the hall. Svarog came to a halt suddenly, the shoulder cannon roared into the control room. A roar of thunder and a cloud of smoke marked it's impact on the inside of the barricade.
"Surrender or we come in after you," said Kriss as his charge folded the cannon back into its body.
"We give up," said a choking voice. "We surrender."
"Good," said the former cosmonaut with a hint of a smile.
Svarog entered the room, hand cannon in evidence as he secured the computer stations. Redstar followed with a energy charge in his hand. The smugglers stood with their hands up against the far wall.
Igor Kriss went to the radio, and sent a call for the army to come in and arrest the criminals. He watched with interest as Svarog pulled the keyboard from one of the stations, and shaped a finger to fit.
The computer lit up for two seconds as the mechanical man worked on the memory in the hard drive. He nodded to himself as he worked. Kriss could hear a whistling as the cyborg disconnected.
Zastrow frowned at the report from his two field agents. The smugglers had been in operation for a long time according to their records. Russia had just been a train stop in a line of them.
At least Svarog had performed better than his technical experts had promised.
That was a blessing, since the premier had asked Zastrow to second his two operatives to some vigilante group sponsored by the U.N.
He was dumbfounded by the request until the premier had stated the agency was being formed with or without the U.S.S.R., so it was better to be in on the ground floor than out in the cold.
Zastrow agreed reluctantly.
Lu Lei Long waited patiently for his chief to speak. He had not been told what was in the discs he had liberated, but he knew something huge was going on.
"The Committee has stated that you will be our representative on a new task force sponsored by the U.N.," Comrade Ku said. His face was as placid as a Buddha. "The Russian representatives will arrive in Shang Hai in twenty four hours. You are to join them and carry out your duty."
"If it pleases the Committee," said the dragon, ready to argue, even though he knew it would do no good. He already had a mission. Watching foreigners was not high on his list.
"Everything will be explained when the Russians arrive," said Ku.
Lu Lei Long waited patiently at the Shang Hai airport for his guests. The black half mask he wore did not cover his frown. The Russian plane descended on time and Lu Lei Long went to meet his guests.
The first was the world famous Redstar. He smiled warmly when he saw the agent coming to meet the plane.
The second was a stranger. His metallic limbs gleamed like bronze in the tropical sun. Long saw that a smile was impossible for that cast-iron face. He waved at the Oriental when he stepped off the plane.
Jock MacGraw stealthily crept closer to his goal. He easily crept by the security arrays in place. He checked his watch. One more minute before his distraction was started. He waited patiently on the plain, blending with the grasses.
There was a sonic boom at ground level.
MacGraw ran forward as his comrade attacked with ham size hands and football long feet. Crunches and the shearing of steel carried to the Scot as he went for the nerve center of the place as surgically as a scalpel.
He shoved open the door with a gloved hand as the men inside was trying to bring mechanical firepower to bear on the giant O'Kent. One man tried to shout a warning, but a foot silenced him suddenly.
The others recognized the threat but reacted too late as the masked man fell on them with commando training and disposed of them efficiently and quickly with hand and foot.
MacGraw loaded a floppy disk into the drive and waited patiently. A pirated signal sent everything he found to several security services he had dealt with before becoming the person he was now.
Sarge Steel looked at the satellite pictures that were being loaded on his operation center's monitors. A portable phone was at his ear.
"We're getting it too, Zastrow," he said. "Africa. Pictures show that big Scot is on the ground, ripping things up. His buddy is probably the one sending the transmission.
"My team is ready to launch as soon as we get a clear target.
"China? I forgot Ku. Long? Heard of him. Supposed to be good.
"I can arrange transport. Cost you? Nothing. It's a favor. Don't be a paranoid.
"Right. A plane will be waiting in Sydney for transport to wherever the final spot is.
"No problem. See you in New York in a few days."
Steel hung up the phone. He smiled slightly.
Zastrow was no-nonsense and a pro. He would cooperate in the short term to advance Russia. The world was as far out of Zastrow's view as Steel's own.
He was only interested in helping the world as it applied to furthering America's interest against its enemies. That was something he had learned at the cost of his hand and something he expected from his people.
Blaine Whitney ran a small media empire built from a single paper he had owned when he had first started out. He had the top stories sent to his former lab over the phone as he thought about what was happening to his mind.
Everything was clear as it had not been in years. Random memories surfaced with minute details and crystal clarity. At one point, an inventory from six years ago came back to him in all its dull monotony.
Whitney wondered what was going on. His mind hadn't acted like this in years.
Then these sightings arrived. He plotted them on a globe he had in his corner. He frowned at what he saw.
A Sgt. Benson from the Australian Special Branch met the intrepid Communist heroes with a hearty "G'day, mates," as they deplaned from the short range Soviet jet. He wore a broad smile as he waved for the agents to follow him across the airport to an American jet waiting to leave.
A man in a brown and tan costume and bird-like helmet waited for the trio patiently.
"Hello," said Redstar, smiling. "Where are we going next?"
"Don't know, mate," said the newcomer. "F.O. is supposed to send the details while we are in flight."
"Tell us, commander, what do you think?" asked Svarog.
A one armed, one eyed man walked up to the jet. He wore army fatigues with a five at the shoulder.
"Name's Hennessy," said the veteran. "I'm your escort for this flight."
"You work for the American security?" asked Long. He was amazed they would allow an obvious over the hill agent out in the field for any reason.
"Yep," said Hennessy. "Shall we board? We have to make one more pick up before we get ready for the real thing."
"Where is this pick up?" asked Long. How did the Russians stomach this? America was the enemy. His training came back to him and he pushed his patriotism aside for the moment.
He was to use his training for good, not just in the service of his country.
"Africa," said Hennessy. "Shall we go, gentlemen?"
Akira Moto had gathered his things and stood at a distance from where the police had gathered to arrest the bank robber. He was glad the man was led away in manacles that looked strong enough for ten men.
Two feelings warred in Akira's mind.
The first was relief that he had taken a challenge and survived beyond expectation. It was something he would never forget. It was a feeling of invincibility.
The other was amazement.
Standing on that corner, he found himself asking what had he done, and was he crazy to do it?
Jock MacGraw stood with his hands on his hips, surveying the damage his giant partner had done. The place was leveled as far as he could see. Men were wrapped in pieces of metal and wire.
O'Kent dusted his hands as he walked away from his handiwork. He wore a wide grin.
Macgraw's eyes picked out an approaching jet. He dropped into the grass, becoming one with the landscape as he had been taught. He was surprised to see American markings on the plane as it flew over.
The plane descended and dropped to a landing on vertical jets. A door opened on the side and a folding ladder was kicked out.
A man with one arm stepped out of the plane first. He stepped out of the way to let Redstar and a man in purple and green descend.
Redstar? MacGraw thought to himself.
Jock MacGraw stepped into the open as two more strangers disembarked. He was confident that O'Kent was more than a match for the forces of international law and order represented.
Jock O'Kent walked up to the strangers, towering over them with a friendly smile.
"What can we do for you?" O'Kent asked mildly. "Pleasure to see you again, Redstar."
"Pleasure is mine, I am sure," said the nuclear man. "We want you to help us in this endeavor and then we want to talk to the both of you about an invitation to a U.N. sponsored team."
"That's kind of sudden, isn't it?" said O'Kent.
"We have been tracking you”, said the one armed man. "Your efforts have paralleled the others here, and we thought we would pick you up on the way."
The assembled heroes waited patiently for things to begin. Hank Hennessy stood in front of a briefing screen. Final approach data had been deciphered and sent from Steel in Washington.
"We have a target location," Hennessy said, lighting up the screen. "As you can see, the base is in Antarctica. We have positioned a satellite to give us some kind of reconnaissance before we land.
"Our LZ, depending on weather conditions is right here. We hope to land the jet and travel overland to the site. We then hope to arrest everyone we can grab."
"This has been approved by whom?" asked MacGraw, blank, black mask hiding his features, if not his suspicion.
"The U.N. security council," said Hennessy. "A motion has been put forth about a protective world agency, and the member countries want to see what a prototype run will be like."
Blaine Whitney had learned various skills when he was younger. Flying was one of them. He went to the airport and checked the company plane out.
His news service had been tracking various reports from around the world. Something had clicked in his head and he had asked for the jet to be serviced and readied for flight. He had already arranged for fuel stops along his route.
He did his walk around and started the engines. He went through the preflight taxiing and clearances and roared down the runway and into the sky.
Time to see what was really happening to his head, and if his guesses were right like they used to be before he became an egomaniac, and lost to his younger self.
The man who used to be known as the Wizard took his plane to its operational ceiling and predicted air currents as he glided south, keeping fuel use to a minimum.
Whitney had plenty of time to reach his destination. He felt as he traveled that he was correct in his guess. Something was wrong in Antarctica.
He stopped in Tierra del Fuego for a final fueling and pit stop. He took to the air and soared through the clear skies on the final leg of his journey.
If he was correct, he would see a base that didn't belong on the ice.
If he was wrong, he would fly back to civilization, knowing what the truth was.
Whitney's jet was picked up by the satellite surveillance and relayed to the WEB jet flying from Africa.
They watched as the jet was fired upon by a concealed artillery piece. The tail came apart as the pilot fought desperately to bring the plane down safely.
"At least we know the intelligence was right," said Jock MacGraw, as he donned cold gear.
"Great balls of fire," said Svarog as he went to the door.
"What about the pilot?" asked Redstar.
Men in armor surrounded the crashed plane section. They escorted the pilot away at gunpoint.
Only O'Kent noticed the pilot seemed to be smiling as he was led away.
"This doesn't change a thing," said Hennessy coldly. "We still have to go in, even if there is a bystander there."
"That's why I am going in first, mate" said the Emu. He passed through the closed jet door in a vibrating blur. He spun in place to gently land on the ice and snow. Then he was gone in a plume of white drifting slowly back in place.
"Blast it," said Hennessy.
"He'll need help," Redstar said.
"I've got it," said O'Kent, laughing in his giant frame.
He undogged the door and swung it in. He let Svarog grasp the door in his mechanical hands before leaping clear of the jet. He hit the ground and vanished on the trail of the speedster.
"Ooh wee," said Svarog as he forced the door shut.
"He won't catch him," said Lui Le Long unexpectedly.
"The Emu is on file in Peking," said Long. "He is capable of supersonic speeds in seconds. No one knows what his top limit is."
"I wouldn't rule O'Kent out yet," said MacGraw. "He is a master of the impossible feat."
"Doesn't matter," said Hennessy. "We have to improvise now. Star, Svarog, you might as well provide air support until the rest of us can get to a strike area."
"Da, tovarish," said Redstar, smiling. "To have the impetuousness of youth again."
"Driving that train high on cocaine," said Svarog as he forced the door open again. Wings extended from his back and he took to the air.
Redstar was puzzled by the comment for a moment. Then it struck him as he followed his mechanical charge.
"You are too cynical, my friend," he said to Svarog as he passed the cyborg and proceeded in a trail of energy sparks.
Redstar flew after his two new comrades. He was a distant third in the race. Twin trails of steam and slush marked their passing.
The enemy went on alert as the Emu and Jock O'Kent crossed the permafrost like comets in the void of space.
Machine gun towers and heat seeking rockets were activated to no avail. Their targets were just too fast for anything short of another speedster meeting them and keeping them from the base.
The Emu vibrated through a wall and began searching the inside of the base for the captured pilot.
O'Kent hit the wall like a deadly projectile and kept going, punching a hole through and through the installation before any defense could be brought to bear.
Blaine Whitney felt his guards become distracted as a huge multiple crash rocked the building. He brought his hands together, crashing the heads of the two forward guards together. As they went down, he knelt and grabbed the legs of the two behind him. He stood up, dumping them on the floor.
The guard on Whitney's right swung his rifle like a club. The former hero seized the weapon and the two traded places with the exception that the Martian was flung into the last guard, sending him to the ground.
Whitney used the butt end of the weapon as he read which way his target would move and forestalled it. Six swings, six knock-outs.
Now how do I get to the command center? he asked asked himself as he jogged away.
Hank Hennessy frowned as he stood by the jet's door. The landscape passed by smoothly as Chuck and Andre brought the plane low to the ground for a hover.
As soon as the plane came to a stop, Hennessy leaped clear of the jet wash. Mercenaries tried to draw a bead on the operator as he moved to cover.
Then one of the artillery batteries blew as Redstar flung a fireball into the missile supply. Svarog came in from the other side, hands transformed into miniature gatlings. Holes appeared in a trail that went along the ground and up the wall of the central building.
Hennessy used the distraction to spray two of the guards from cover. That made them turn towards him as he expected.
Then the Jade Thunder Dragon leaped from the plane and everything was frozen in time.
The Emu searched the building rapidly, dealing with knots of resistance with super fast kicks and punches. He found the taken pilot heading up the stairs to the main control room through a rain of bullets.
The Emu passed the pilot on the stairs, snatching weapons as he went. He tossed the gathered rifles over the railing with a smile.
Jock O'Kent was among the enemy on the bottom floor of the base. Every time he swung a man went down and didn't get up. Soon he had cleared the whole level with his ham sized hands.
Now for the next floor.
Redstar and Svarog circled the main building. They targeted air defenses and transport with energy projectiles. U.N. forces would have to come in and sort things out after they were done. The Martians could not be allowed to leave, nor could they be allowed to target the U.N. planes when they arrived.
Jock MacGraw leaped from the plane as Lu Lei Long sliced through the nearest security squad like they were standing still. The Web jet took off as he blended in with the snowy waste around him.
The Scot headed for the building, dealing with whomever got in his way viciously. He took aim and released a small piton into the building from a wrist launcher. A simple arm gesture and he was on his way to the roof as the rope rewound.
Hennessy and Long punched a hole to follow as fast as they could.
Once on the roof, MacGraw had a problem. There was no visible entrance to gain the inside of the building. He would have to make his own door.
He clamped a small charge on the surface of the roof, and set the timer for thirty seconds. A small explosion punched a hole in the building. He leaped through, ready for trouble.
A command staff was taken by surprise by the move. They were in the process of deleting everything in their memories.
Hank Hennessy and Lu Lei Long entered the building through the impact entrance that Jock O'Kent had created. Fighting drew them upwards as the giant made mincemeat of the agents.
Redstar landed on the roof and dropped down inside the hole. He found a group of men trying to shoot Jock MacGraw as the faceless commando pulled the plug on all of the systems in use.
The outer door exploded inwards, revealing the Emu and Blaine Whitney.
Then the wall shattered as Svarog punched through it to enter the room.
"We surrender!" shouted the apparent leader of the Martians. "We give up!"
"O'Kent won't like that," said MacGraw, voice a burr.
Sarge Steel met Zastrow and Wu after the U.N. vote in Switzerland.
"We're agreed?" he asked the sour faced Russian and placid Chinese.
"Two agents from the our respective countries, with budgetary considerations provided by our agent programs," said Wu.
"Recruiting is to be handled internally by the group," said Zastrow.
"Thank you," said Steel, with a smile. "Chris Smith will do a good job leading them."
"We'll see," said Wu. "I'm personally glad they are responsible for natural disaster relief. An intrusion into sovereign nations would be frowned upon."
"Especially with Smith as the leader," said Zastrow.
"Just think of it as a new era of trust in international relations," said Steel.
Blaine Whitney walked toward his building with a mixture of relief and enjoyment. He didn't have all of his abilities back, but it felt good to accurately predict the way things would move.
He saw a man standing on the corner ahead. The stranger's hat was pulled low and his coat and ascot drifted in a vague wind.
Blaine stared at the man almost sure he knew him. The stranger turned and walked away and vanished before Whitney could reach him.
The man once known as the Wizard smiled. He was sure his unknown benefactor had been pleased with the results of giving back of some of his powers.
This time, Whitney vowed, I won't go off track.
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