by Starsky Hutch 76
Commander Steel looked over the shoulder of Kritter as the dog-man attempted to hack into the Illuminati’s computer records. As Steel had anticipated, this room had a backup generator to make sure it was never without power.
Kritter’s appearance had changed a great deal since joining Operation Liberty and receiving Dr. Togg’s treatments. He looked more like a dog-faced boy from the circus or a scrawny version of the Wolfman from the 1950s horror movies rather than the anthropomorphic dog he used to be. As a result, he was now forced to wear clothes for the first time in his life. He was currently clad in converse high-tops, faded jeans, and, ironically, a Beastie Boys T-shirt.
“Making any headway?” Commander Steel asked.
“This system’s got security like you wouldn’t believe, boss,” Kritter said, having also been given the capacity for human speech. “But they’ve never seen the likes of me.”
“No, they haven’t, son,” Steel said, placing a fatherly hand on Kritter’s shoulder. Kritter beamed at the praise. Because of the newfound added humanity he’d received while in Steel’s custody, he was fiercely loyal. Commander Steel was even considering letting Togg actually complete his treatment. Chances were that Kritter would stay with the program regardless.
Kritter began barking agitatedly as access denied windows began popping up one after another. Finally, he hit upon the right sequence of digits, and an access granted sign came onto the screen.
“Good job, son,” Steel said, causing Kritter to let out a happy yip.
The two of them watched as the information they had been seeking scrolled down the screen. “Well, I’ll be–!” Commander Steel said. “Savage had his claws sunk into places I never even would have expected.”
Kritter’s haw hung in shock as he stared at the information in front of them. His former Helix team members had told him they had seen amazing things on their missions, but he hadn’t been sure of how much of it to believe.
“Don’t just stand there catching flies, son,” Commander Steel said. “Open a link with Belle Reve and get this stuff downloaded.”
“Belle Reve… that’s in Louisiana, isn’t it?” a deep, distinguished voice said from the doorway. “I’ll be sure to send a crew there with plenty of explosives after I’ve disposed of the two of you.”
Kritter turned in the direction of the voice and let out a canine whimper. Steel followed his gaze and saw the dark figure standing in the doorway.
“The man himself,” Steel said.
“That I am,” Vandal Savage replied. “I believe you two gentlemen are trespassing.”
“How ironic that you would say that,” Commander Steel said, “considering you’ve been trespassing in world affairs for far too long. As a representative of the U.S. government, I’m here to see that stops now.”
“You fool, I am the U.S. government — and that of the USSR, and Britain, and France. I am everything!”
“Funny, I don’t remember anyone voting for you,” Steel said.
Savage gave a contemptuous snort. “I allow the people of this world an illusion of control, because a content populace is an easily controlled populace.”
“The way I understand it, you haven’t had control for quite some time now,” Steel said.
“That is a situation I intend to remedy,” Savage said.
“Over my dead body,” Steel said through gritted teeth.
“How interesting!” Savage laughed. “My files on you said nothing about your being able to see the future!” He suddenly dived toward Commander Steel with a flying side-kick. Steel dodged to the side, spinning on his heel and diving his elbow between Savage’s shoulder blades.
Savage went sprawling across the floor. He rolled over onto his back and launched himself upward back onto his feet. He dodged to the side and blocked as Steel attempted to deliver a right cross to his head.
“I’ve had thousands of years to develop my fighting skills, Commander,” Savage said. “How can you hope to defeat me?”
“I don’t need hope,” Steel said, catching his right wrist with his left hand and backhanding him with his right. “Just these two hands.”
“How terribly optimistic of you,” Savage said.
“Optimism has nothing to do with it,” Commander Steel said, breaking through Savage’s defenses to deliver a right cross along his jaw. His right hand connected with the bearded man’s ribs.
Kritter watched as the men moved across the room, dodging each other’s blows. They were moving so fast, it was hard for him to keep up with the action. He wanted to jump in and help the man whom he was coming to look at as a surrogate father, but he was no fighter. His only weapon was his mind, which was useless in this situation. His only consolation was that his time behind a desk didn’t appear to have slowed Commander Steel down at all.
Savage swung wildly, narrowly missing Steel’s head. Steel drove his fist into Savage’s gut, knocking the wind out of him and doubling him over. Steel’s knee then connected with his forehead, knocking him backward.
It was quickly becoming apparent to Vandal Savage that he was outclassed, even though he had centuries on his opponent. As much as he hated the thought, he would have to flee. His experience upon countless battlefields had taught him that the occasional retreat was just as valid a strategic move in times of war, since it meant that he could fight again another day.
Savage pressed a button on a control belt hidden beneath his black body-suit, and a portal began to open in the air. He dived through, and the portal began to grow smaller.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Steel snarled. “You’re not getting off that easily.” He dived through the portal in pursuit of Vandal Savage before the portal began to blink out of existence.
Kritter dashed to the spot in the air where the portal had been and let out a series of dog-like whimpers. He lifted his communicator up to his mouth and yelped, “Guys! Guys! I need help!”
Johnny Quick suddenly appeared by his side via super-speed. “It might have helped if you’d said where you were. I had to search the entire building.”
“Steel is gone!” Kritter exclaimed.
“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”
“Savage opened some kind of a portal and jumped through it. Steel leaped in after him!” Kritter exclaimed.
“Keep looking through those files,” Johnny Quick said. “See if you can’t find out where he went off to.”
Vandal Savage fell though the portal with an unceremonious thud. As he raised himself up, he found that he was surrounded by blackness. As he rose to his feet, he pondered that it was unusual that Illuminati technology would not still be functioning, leaving him in the dark. At least the air appeared to still be circulating and had not become stagnant. It would be simple enough to get everything else working again. And then the world would tremble once more at the name of Vandal Savage.
Suddenly, he was struck from behind and rendered unconscious. He slumped quietly to the stone floor. His attacker grabbed him by the ankle and dragged him behind him.
As the shadowy, white-haired figure moved through the dark hallway, he mused that he remembered this very moment from centuries earlier. But it had never occurred to him then that his attacker might be himself. This time he would ensure that things went differently.
“We’re in the vicinity of the Illuminati pyramid now,” Robotman said to the crew inside his submarine form as he probed the area ahead with his sonar. “Looks like we’re expected. Enemy approaching.”
“What exactly are we in for?” Agent Liberty asked as he looked through the periscope that would allow him to see through Robotman’s eyes.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Robotman said. “They seem to be employing some sort of cloaking device.”
“Cloaking device?” Vixen said. “You mean like on Space Trek?”
“That old sci-fi show from the ’50s and ’60s with that hammy actor, Gar Logan?” Arak laughed. “Man, that guy lost his shirt, like, every other episode.”
“The ’60s?” Vixen said dubiously. “It… wasn’t that old on my Earth. Gar Logan isn’t that old. He’s young.” Once more she found herself wishing she were home.
“STAR Labs was working on this sort of thing,” Robotman said, sounding almost sentimental for his civilian employer.
“Well, it looks as if someone beat you to it,” Agent Liberty said. “Because we’re coming in on a whole fleet of cloaked nautical warships heading our way.”
“Madre de Dios!” Carcharo exclaimed. “I hope you are happy, Munro. Chu and Steel brought me down here so’s I could be fish-food.”
“Considering what you did to Vibe, I’d call that poetic justice,” Vixen said smiling coldly.
“Don’t start plannin’ the party chust yet, puta,” Carcharo snarled. “Chu goin’ wit me.”
“Nobody’s going to be fish-food,” Robotman said.
“Yeah?” Baby Boom asked. “You got a plan to get us out of this mess?”
“I have an idea,” Robotman said. “Even if it’s not the most orthodox approach. In a manner of speaking, I’m about to give birth.” This drew startled reactions from the crew.
“Gee, Will, I didn’t even know you were seeing anyone,” Baby Boom snickered.
“Not birth in the traditional sense,” Will Magnus said. “I’m going to increase my mass and then split into several smaller fighter ships piloted by you people.”
This drew several outraged protests from the group, to which Magnus turned a deaf ear. Enormous vacuum-like appendages shot out from the underside of the leviathan that Robotman had become and plunged into the ocean floor.
The interior of the craft was suddenly filled with a loud grinding sound as it began to stretch and expand. Its occupants gasped in alarm as they found themselves sitting farther and farther apart.
“Hold on, Magnus!” Agent Liberty said. “This group isn’t exactly military class. Trevor and I are the only ones here who have had any sort of pilot training.”
“I’ve already taken that into consideration. These vehicles will be thought-controlled. Their guns will work the same way,” Magnus answered.
The Nautilus grew larger and larger, its mass moving out in several directions. The ceiling and floor began to indent in the space between each member of the team.
“How do you know that certain people here won’t turn the guns on us?” Vixen said, ducking her head down to peer through the shrinking space at Carcharo.
“Lets just say that the results would be explosive,” Magnus said.
The space between each member closed off completely and began to separate into individual globe-shaped ships.
Agent Liberty was the first to be encountered by the enemy vessels. He was amazed by the swiftness of his new craft as it deftly avoided the other ships’ fire as two torpedoes narrowly missed connecting with his hull. He would have expected nothing less of a creation by one of America’s finest scientific minds. He returned fire, and the craft exploded in a huge burst of fire that was quickly extinguished by the ocean depths.
“Nice job, Munro,” he heard Odysseus say over the comm link, surprising him. He looked at the console above him and realized there was a screen for every member of the team.
“I feel like a tuna in a can!” Carcharo squawked over the comm unit. “Whachu put me in one o’ dese things for? I breathe agua, maing!”
“You can’t be,” Vixen said back over the comm unit. “Fish stay fresh and appetizing in cans. There’s nothing palatable about you.”
“You really want to face those things without a ship?” Baby Boom said. She saw two ships approach her on her view-screen. She concentrated, and the two went up in enormous bursts. “Did I do that?!” she exclaimed.
“These ships also accelerate your own abilities,” Magnus said. In one of the window screens, he could be seen back in his robot form taking on enemy fighters.
“Really?!” Carcharo exclaimed. With that, he reached out as if clawing at one of the ships, and part of his vessel extended with giant talons and tore through that ship’s hull. “Excellante!”
“Awesome!” Arak the Wind-Walker cried enthusiastically as several ships found the waters surrounding them growing wild and turbulent with activity, sending them crashing into one another.
“We need to take the fight inside to whatever is in there,” Agent Liberty said.
“They’re going to do everything in their power to keep that from happening,” Odysseus said over the comm unit. “This bunch wants whatever is in there as bad as we want them to keep from attaining it.”
“Well, we’ll just have to make sure they’re disappointed,” Agent Liberty said.
“The pyramid doesn’t appear to be made of anything of this earth,” Robotman said, analyzing it with his sensors. “I thought Savage was an Earth-man.”
“He is,” Agent Liberty said. “It’s whatever is in that pyramid that’s of unearthly origin. Steel’s theory is that it might be tied to Vandal Savage’s immortality.”
“The dossier on him said that it was a meteorite,” Robotman said.
“Right,” Liberty said. “But there are sometimes more to these meteorites than they seem.”
“Is this anything more than a hypothesis?” Robotman asked.
“This is Steel we’re talking about. Do you really think he’s shared all he knows with me?” Agent Liberty grumbled. On the other end, he heard Steve Trevor give a knowing laugh.
Agent Liberty pushed a button on the comm link panel and said, “Baby Boom, do you think you could blast us through that entrance?” he sent an image of the fierce-looking door bearing the Illuminati insignia.
“I — I dunno, boss,” she said uneasily. “It looks a lot bigger’n anything I ever tried before.”
“I have total faith in you, darlin’,” Liberty said. “Give it your best try.”
“OK,” Baby Boom said. An explosion went up in front of the door. Slowly, the explosive cloud dissipated, carrying away centuries of accumulated sea-gunk, but the door itself remained unharmed. Baby Boom gave an aggravated growl, and three more explosions went up.
“Keep trying, girl!” Liberty said. “You can do it. Everyone who can, add your power to hers. Matches, this should be all the spark you need.”
“I was starting to wonder what the hell I was doing down here,” Matches Malone said. The explosions suddenly doubled, then tripled in intensity as Matches added his pyrokinetic abilities to baby Boom’s. “We make a good team, kid,” Matches said.
“Don’t let appearances fool you,” Baby Boom said in a strained voice as she concentrated. “I ain’t no kid.”
“No offense,” Matches chuckled.
The others did their best to assist as well. Robotman fired blast after blast at the door. Arak created an underwater storm, sending it in the same direction. The few remaining enemy ships found themselves swept up in turbulent waters and turned into projectiles to join the explosive maelstrom.
“Cease fire,” Agent Liberty said. “Let’s see where we’re at.”
The smoky waters cleared and parted to reveal their target. A large crack appeared down its center, slicing through the Illuminati eye symbol. Otherwise, it remained intact.
“Damn it to hell!” Agent Liberty cursed.
“That’s all we did?” Baby Boom said, crestfallen.
Suddenly, Odysseus’ sphere exploded outward as he rocketed like a torpedo toward the enormous door, his sword drawn before him. He landed in its center, and with both hands he brought his enormous blade down into the large fissure in the door and then twisted. The door was no match for the combination of strength to rival Superman’s and a sword forged by the god Hephaestus himself. It exploded in a shower of alien metal.
“He’s in!” Liberty exclaimed. “Everyone! Quick! Before the entrance is too flooded to get into.”
The several crafts soared in hot pursuit, racing through the shattered doorway as thousands of gallons of water poured in with each second. As soon as all crafts were inside, a mental command from Robotman caused them to divulge their occupants and convert to seal off the entranceway and drain away the water.
“Good job,” Liberty said as Odysseus rose to his feet, sheathing his sword. “A little warning would have been nice, though.”
“There was no time,” Odysseus said, wringing out his robe. “In any case, here we are.”
“Yes, here we are. And I had hoped we would be the first ones here in thousands of centuries, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, considering the fight it took to get in here.”
“Can’t believe Steel wouldn’t have anticipated it,” Matches said.
“Of course he did,” Agent Liberty said. “Like you said, why else would he have sent a pyrokinetic on a mission a thousand leagues beneath the ocean?”
“Hmmph,” Matches grunted rather than make any concession to Steel’s abilities.
“Don’t look now,” Baby Boom said. “But it looks like we was expected.”
“I sort of expected this myself,” Agent Liberty said, bracing himself for the coming onslaught. He dropped to one knee and leveled his blaster at the coming troops racing down the large hallway toward them.