This story is based in the 5 Earths Project continuity, and is built on what was written before by myself, Brad Cobb, and Martin Maenza. For those unfamiliar with the setting, it assumes that there were 5 earths left after the great Crisis on Infinite earths. Earth 4 is a combination of Charlton and MLJ/Red Circle characters.
Christopher Smith sat behind his desk, looking at the file of his three recruits. Then he examined each of them, gathering his thoughts. Being an administrator for a group of heroes and support staff was almost more than he had bargained for.
He wondered silently how had he allowed Sarge Steel talk him into this.
The States had finally sent him their initial members after UNITF had helped stopped that giant beanstalk in Cuba. Neither one had much experience. He hoped they at least knew how to watch out for trouble.
China had sent an army officer named Song Lo Wang. That was understandable since their only hero was Lui Le Long. He had heard that a defense program was underway in both China and Russia to match the metas in operation in the United States and other parts of the world.
He didn't know if that was a good idea.
Still he had to take what the UN could give him and defend the world with it, no matter if the countries involved liked each other or not.
The only ideology he subscribed to was keeping the peace, and stopping anyone who would threaten it.
"I am going to take you to the training area so that you can meet the team," said Smith. "I want you to be able to work with the veterans fluidly before we get a real emergency."
"Yes, sir," said Captain Commando, having stood at attention as Smith went over the assessments.
"At ease," said Smith. "We don't have a formal military protocol here."
"I thought this was a military unit, sir," said Commando, falling into parade rest, puzzled look on his face.
"You would think so," said Smith, standing and leading the way out of the office. "Unfortunately, other than Red Star, we only have one military man present, even if he won't say which branch he served in. So we have to take advantage of what we do have."
Christopher Smith led his three recruits to the training area. The building was still being repaired after an attack by genetically created supermen. So far nothing new had come out of the investigation.
Smith hadn't given up hope.
If they could pin down the identities of the two men, they could try and trace the men's movements before arriving in Switzerland.
Smith paused at the thick door that led into the gym, checking his watch. He opened the door with his hand print.
His team had decided that today was Tag, and Jock O'Kent was it. They tried to cut off his escapes with speed and dexterity, but he blocked every move to touch him. Even the Emu had problems as O'Kent shifted his frame fast enough to leave an after image.
"Listen up, everybody," Smith called out. "Come meet your new team mates."
Captain Wang studied the heroes he was to join through veiled eyes. He was supposed to gather as much information as he could, and send it back to his superiors. His talent made that easy at first.
The backgrounds of these metahumans filed through his mind as he looked at each one. It was almost too easy until he came across the two Scots.
MacGraw's mind was filled with diagrams, pictures, pressure points on Wang's body. There was nothing of personal value there. The commando hid himself, becoming as faceless on the inside as his mask was on the outside.
Then Wang touched Jock O'Kent's mind. Numerous voices filled his head with shouting and screaming. He winced and broke contact quickly, smelling blood, hearing screams, feeling agony upon agony all over his body.
The Knight caught him with her delicate hands, as he staggered backwards.
"Are you all right?," Smith asked the recruit.
"It has been a long flight, sir," said Captain Wang, covering the unpleasant contact with Jock O'Kent's mind. "I guess I am tired."
"Right," said Smith. "Go ahead and rest. We'll start with training sessions tomorrow."
"Yes, sir," said the Oriental telepath.
He touched the last person on the team's mind as he left. He was slightly disturbed by Svarog's translation of normal language skills into a vocabulary of American Rock and Roll.
Wasn't Svarog a Russian, he mused to himself. At least he had information on the rest of the team. His superiors would be happy with his partial success as soon as he found a way to report to them.
The Knight stood to one side, observing as the members of the international team went back to their training. She had worn a dress and jacket to this meeting, not anticipating that Christopher Smith would ask them to join the group so soon.
She winced as Captain Commando was thrown halfway across the room by the giant O'Kent. CHESS had collected a small file on these people, but reading about it was not the same as actually seeing it.
She excused herself and went to the quarters that had been provided for her stay. She pulled out her case, and opened it. She quickly changed into the black body suit and golden helm inside the case. She strapped on her thigh and wrist holsters before returning to the gym.
"Is this our lassie?," O'Kent said when he saw her step into the room.
She smiled underneath the vented helm as she pulled the extending staff from the thigh holster and vaulted into the fray. O'Kent laughed in surprise as he ducked.
In central China, a man wearing peasant clothes centuries old walked into a village. On his shoulders, was a wooden yoke with two buckets of water on either end. He placed the yoke on the ground in the village square, taking a sip of the water with a small ladle.
The villagers approached the stranger in the square. Where had this man walked from was the common question. The nearest town was ten miles across some heavy jungle.
The stranger smiled, dipping into his buckets of water. He tossed the water into the air, smiling as the droplets changed as they fell. Green scaly things formed as the water touched the dirt.
"I have come to give you liberty," the stranger said, as his water demons attacked.
The report arrived at UNITF's headquarters three days later. For some unknown reason, seven hundred people had left their homes in the Chinese jungle. Even the local officials that kept watch on the region had vanished without a trace.
The Chinese Army had made no headway in their investigation, according to the reports from the security agency in charge. Comrade Wu had asked for his team to find out what had happened.
Smith went over the problem, finally deciding a small team should look the situation over. He decided that his new recruits should work this case. He conferred with Red Star on options. The former cosmonaut was happy to take some time away from Svarog for a while.
An hour later, Red Star, Captain Commando, Captain Wang, and the Knight left with their equipment to look into the problem.
The UNITF plane descended vertically in a clearing in the Chinese jungle. Captain Commando made sure the wings were clear of trees before gently dropping the last few feet. He pulled the black beret he wore from the epaulet on his camouflage shirt, and fitted it on his head after he shut the engines off. He grabbed his equipment rack and rifle, before following Red Star out of the cockpit.
The last thing he wanted to do was serve under a Russian, but he had been ordered to join the UN's team, and do his job. That was something he was familiar with, and an order he was prepared to carry out. He wandered about the others he had met, why they were doing what they were doing, but kept his questions himself.
If it became important, someone would tell him what he needed to know. The Army had taught him that, even as it taught him to trust, but verify, the intelligence he was given for a mission.
A pencil pusher's definition of need to know tended to vary greatly from a soldier's for some reason.
So the captain shouldered his pack, slung his rifle muzzle down, and waited silently for the duties he was going to have to perform.
Comrade Wu waited in a jeep at the edge of the clearing. He nodded at Captain Wang in greeting as he approached Red Star and shook the Russian hero's hands. Igor Kriss nodded at the Committee member's greeting.
"How bad is the situation?," asked Red Star, in English. "The report in Geneva was sketchy at best."
"We don't know," admitted Wu, in the same language. "If you will come with me, I have a temporary headquarters set up in the nearby village. The forensics units are still going over the scene."
"My comrades and I would be honored, Comrade Wu," Red Star said.
The group piled into the jeep, Captain Commando instinctively getting behind the wheel. Red Star hovered beside the vehicle, then flew beside it as Comrade Wu pointed the direction of travel for the soldier.
Minutes later, the small village came into view. Chinese army units wandered the area in a state of readiness. Field hospitals had been set up just outside the village proper for the bodies.
Red Star landed beside the jeep as it halted.
"Sir, we have another report," a soldier said, running to meet the jeep. "A village was just attacked and destroyed."
"Where?," said Red Star.
"Ten miles north of here," said the soldier, without asking permission to speak as he normally would. He pointed in the direction of the village.
"Wang, get air transport for you and the Knight," said Red Star. "Let's go, Commando."
The Russian hero grabbed his comrade under the arms and took to the air. The soldier grabbed his beret before it flew off into the shimmery trail thrown off by the atomic ace.
"Is that it, sir?," Commando said, pointing at a pillar of smoke rising in the air over the jungle.
"Distance looks to be right," said Red Star. "Maybe we are in time to put a stop to this."
The heroes descended toward the dying fire hastily. Red Star dropped his comrade in the burning village, before flying in a circle to find anyone or thing that might provide a clue. Captain Commando held his rifle at the ready as he started his own search for survivors.
Captain Commando found a set of footprints leading into the jungle. He followed them slowly, rifle at the ready. He didn't want to be caught by surprise and mauled like those villagers were.
Being ripped limb to limb was not on his to do list.
He found a piece of clothe on a branch that pointed him north. He paced along. If he had been in charge, someone would be watching for authorities up ahead. Maybe he would have left a rearguard depending on the size of his force.
He heard a sound like water sizzling up ahead. He stopped to listen and look more closely. He saw a small mist unravel among the bushes and trees in front of him. He pulled his rifle to his eye to look through the scope it was fitted with. Something moved through the trees ahead.
He followed at a slow pace. He looked out for snares and pitfalls as he tried to keep the other man in sight without alerting him.
This could be the break they were looking for to find out what was going on.
Captain Commando took aim at the moving figure down range. He couldn't quite see the whole man at the same time. It bothered him that the figure was so slippery. Other people he had shot were not that gifted in using the terrain as a shield.
The soldier walked forward slowly, senses alert to trouble.
He wandered why the target had not cleared the area faster than this. It must have took an hour for the report to reach Wu's camp. Was the Chinese spotters that fast? He hadn't seen a radio back at the village when Red Star had dropped him off.
Suspicion made him uneasy.
Something was wrong about this.
Red Star flew over the destroyed area. He was also thinking something was wrong with the situation in front of him. The report had came in too fast for the Chinese not to have known what was going on, but they had done nothing.
They had waited on his team to land.
What was wrong with that picture?
Now he had lost sight of Captain Commando on top of his other worries. He should have brought Svarog too. The machine man would have been an asset in case they had to defoliate the jungle.
Now he and his team was chasing an unknown in a hostile country with no backup.
He needed to find Commando, and then get the rest of his team together. It was time to bring their various talents together and solve this problem before any excuse could be used to halt what little progress had been made.
Red Star zoomed down in the last place he had seen his teammate. He spotted a deliberately broken branch heading into the jungle. He followed the direction left for him by Commando, hovering over the ground. He sped along, leaving a sparkling trail behind him as he avoided the undergrowth and trees.
Red Star slowed down when he saw Captain Commando standing behind a tree. He slowed, landing in a slow walk so that he would alert his comrade so the man wouldn't start shooting out of surprise. The American gestured for silence, after glancing at the noisy intrusion.
Obviously the soldier was watching someone further down the trail.
After a few minutes, he wiped the sweat off his forehead.
"This guy is the only survivor from the village," Commando whispered. "I don't know if he can hear us, but he's just been walking along for a while. Guess the Chinese army isn't that big of a deal to him."
"Maybe they aren't," said Red Star. "Keep on him while I get the others. Something is not right here."
"Yes, sir," said Captain Commando. He slipped away from the tree to continue his pursuit.
Red Star flew south from the spot. He arrived moments later in the government camp. He spotted his two comrades easily. The Knight stood alone as Captain Song Lo Wang talked to Comrade Wu in Mandarin. The atomic crusader landed in a puff of wind.
"Captain Wang, Knight," Red Star said, holding out his hands. "We're leaving."
"Excuse me, sir?," said Captain Wang.
"Take my hand," Kriss said. "Captain Commando is alone, and following the person we believe responsible for these crimes."
Captain Wang took the offered hand reluctantly. The Knight held on to the other, baton in her free hand. Red Star exploded straight up, dragging his team members with him. He turned north, heading where he had left Commando on watch.
The Russian hero dropped into the tree line. He lowered his colleagues slowly to the ground.
"Commando went that way," said the Knight, hand to the side of her helmet, pointing.
"How do you know?," Captain Wang asked.
"Image intensifier," said the Knight. "He's moving slowly towards some kind of valley."
Captain Commando was aware of his team mates approaching cautiously through the trees. The Knight was quieter than he was, but both Wang and Red Star needed lessons.
He idly wondered where the Chinese security agency had plucked Wang. He was dressed as a simple Army captain. That didn't quite ring true to the American hero.
A guy like that had political officer written on him, the same as Red Star had ex‑Air Force showing.
Commando cut his speculations short as the trio took cover where he waited. Time enough for that later when they got back to base.
"He's still going north as far as I can tell, sir," reported the soldier. "How do you want to handle this?"
"I think Captain Wang should approach him and place him under arrest," said Red Star.
"Who should approach him?," said Captain Wang, destroyed villages and army outposts flitting through his mind.
"We'll protect you, Captain," said Red Star. "I just want to see if we have the right man, and this isn't a wild goose chase."
Captain Wang regarded his colleagues. All he felt was a willingness to trust him, but caution against his failure to live up to expectations.
Even Captain Commando was willing to give him a chance, despite the reservations he held privately.
"Right, I will go down and talk to him," said Wang, squaring his shoulders. "I am depending on you in case it is the right man."
"One wrong move and it will be lights out," promised Commando.
Wang nodded in reply. He pushed out from behind his tree. He headed down the jungle trail jerkily. He felt Commando take aim with his rifle, felt the man's concentration like a solid thing as he hailed the other walker.
Whatever happened, he knew the others would try to shield him from harm.
He didn't know if he would do the same for any of them if the positions were reversed.
"Sir, are you from the village south of here?," said Captain Wang, putting on a face of bluff courtesy for the other man on the trail. "I have some questions about that village if you don't mind."
"I am not from any village south of here," said the man, lowering the yoke on his shoulders to the ground. Buckets of water were tied to the ends of the yoke by colorful cords. "I do not think I can help you."
"Have you seen anything strange in the last few hours?," Wang asked, probing gently at the man's mind. He hid his revulsion as pictures of horror drifted by his mind's eye. "Anything that seemed out of place?"
"Only you," said the peasant, straightening his plain cotton jacket. He touched the dipper in one of the buckets, grasping the wooden handle.
"Don't do that," Captain Wang said, reaching for the pistol at his waist.
"I'm just getting some water to drink," said the peasant, the long braid of his hair swaying when he moved. It was a hairstyle that had been gone for many years since Chairman Mao had started his rule.
"Don't make me shoot you," said Captain Wang, pulling his pistol with a shaky hands. "I know you use the water to kill people. Please stand up, and let go of that spoon."
"Surely, Captain," said the man, straightening and holding up his hands. "Jundar always cooperates with the authorities."
Captain Wang stepped forward to move the bucket away from the man. His eyes glanced down at the wooden yoke and buckets for a second as he looked for a place to grab the farm tool. He was taken by surprise when Jundar kicked him in the face.
Captain Commando winced as the two men started struggling against each other. He didn't have a clear shot unless he was willing to shoot through Wang to get the target.
He thought that would be frowned on by Red Star and Smith.
"Come on, Knight," said Red Star, taking flight. "Let's put a stop to this, and take the man in. Keep watch, Captain."
The black‑garbed Knight leaped forward, staff in hand. Her helm glittered in the light as she jogged forward.
Wang blocked another kick with his crossed arms. He had taken some Wu Shu training when he was younger. It was the sport of the country. He had not been that good in competition.
It was amazing what came back when someone was attempting to kill you with his hands.
Jundar brought the palm of his hand down on the back of Wang's head. That sent the officer sprawling to the ground. He gave the captain a kick to the chest to send him rolling away.
He spotted the two heroes approaching and kicked one of the buckets over. Sparkling water poured out in a humanoid shape, as Red Star watched. The water grew yards tall as he froze in midair.
Jundar stepped to kick the other bucket. He brought his foot back. Before he could strike, the bucket shattered under a bullet's hammering blow. He looked up, trying to see where the bullet had come from.
Obviously he was at a disadvantage while the sniper was undercover and undetected. Time for a hostage.
Jundar grabbed Captain Wang by the scruff of his neck, jerking him to his feet. He applied a neck grip to hold the man in place in front of him. That would have to do against the sniper while he retreated from the scene.
His water giant flailed with its arms at the flying Red Star and the Knight. He made a fist gesture to indicate what it should do.
The water giant wrapped its hand around Red Star. It squeezed against the metallic costume that kept his radioactivity in. His vision fuzzed around the edges as he tried to wrench himself free from its grip.
The Knight circled the battling duo. There was nothing she could do for Red Star. She didn't have the physical power to make a difference. The only thing she could think to do was confront the enemy and hope that Wang wasn't killed by her, or the water wizard.
Jundar held Wang in front of him, half strangling him in his grip. He was wary of the sniper in the trees, but this woman with her staff didn't look like much of a threat.
"Stand back, woman," Jundar demanded, "or I will kill this government lackey and the red man."
"You have killed hundreds," said the Knight, contracting her staff and placing it in its holster on her leg. "I can't let you go even if I have to kill Captain Wang. You know that. Stand down, and at least you will get a trial."
Red Star raised his hands against the water giant's hand. Energy surrounded his fingers. He released his nuclear blast into the liquid limb. Water boiled away under the violent assault, releasing him into the air.
He ducked under the next blow easily as Jundar focused on the Knight and Captain Wang. He summoned up his force and blasted a hole in the center of the watery colossus.
Jundar looked up at the damage. His grip tightened on Wang's neck, choking him.
"Last chance," said the Knight. "Stand down, or be killed."
"Do you think that bluff is going to work?," Jundar said. "You will let me go, or I will break this lackey's neck."
Red Star had half of his attention on the giant, and half on the stand off. He was ready to inflict more damage on the giant where it stood, wracked by the villain's indecision.
Captain Wang looked into the veiled eyes of the Knight. He knew she wasn't bluffing. He also knew that Jundar thought that he could break the officer's neck and have the water giant slam Red Star and the Knight in one move. Then he could escape from the sniper in the confusion.
Wang wished he hadn't been ordered to keep his ability secret. It would be a big help to be open and be able to coordinate with the others.
Orders were orders, so his broadcasting was out.
Wang decided he had to help his colleagues out. All he needed to do was get out of the way. He brought both of his hands up, grabbing the man's wrists. He jerked down, collapsing his knees. Jundar's balance was thrown off by the move.
Jundar tried to drag the captain back in position. He found himself looking down the barrel of a pistol. He made a move rip out Captain Wang's throat. Two bullets ripped through him. One was from the pistol held by the Knight. It went into his shoulder, throwing him back. The other had flown from the barrel of Captain Commando's rifle. It went into the water master's head, dropping him to the ground.
Captain Wang took a deep breath, rubbing his neck. Maybe he should disregard orders and tell them what his real reason was for being sent to Geneva.
The New Guys Epilogue
Christopher Smith looked over the after action report filed by Red Star. He shook his head slightly.
The Chinese Government had filed a grievance with the United Nations over Captain Commando's action. They had wanted the man alive for their own reasons, ostensibly for punishment in his role in destroying the villages he had targeted.
Red Star's team had not found any reason for the attacks. The Chinese had no file on the dead man, no identification, no way to check his movements across the jungle.
Everything was at a full stop, until something more came out of the investigation started by Comrade Wu. Smith wouldn't hold his breath for any forthcoming information.
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