In Mozambique, Captain Juan Morales looked at the list of who had been killed by the explosives and cursed loudly. “I have decided that somehow that Russian faggot booby-trapped the Jeep, and when we find him, he will pay for killing these brave men,” he said to his sergeant, who nodded in agreement.
“All right, let’s move out and locate the others, then head back to base,” Morales ordered.
Nearby, a watcher notched an arrow. This one did not contain an explosive, but merely a steel-tipped head, one upon which she had engraved Morales’ name.
Upon the savanna, Vladimir Vostov and Kwame found the bodies — or, that is to say, parts of bodies — and shattered remains of weaponry.
Kwame’s coal-black face looked paler, and Vostov himself wanted to both throw up and run screaming. But he told himself he was not just an Olympic athlete and part-time rock and roller, but also a highly trained member of a specialized branch of the KGB, and as such he carried with him weapons unlike any he had ever known existed little more than a year ago.
“My friend, this is the worst I have ever seen!” Kwame said. “Never has there been such a horrible scene, and I have seen dead people before, but — Allah preserve us!”
Vostov nodded, afraid to speak. He knew that if he opened his mouth, his words would only disgrace himself. Instead, he looked away, and then he let it all come out. Kwame was soon beside him, puking his own guts out.
In moments, Vladimir Vostov felt totally drained, and Kwame didn’t feel much better. They found a small stream and cleaned themselves of their own vomit, then drank some water.
Kwame then turned to the white man and said, “I have never before seen anyone killed by that creature. Always, when he is heard coming, people flee, and it destroys the village, but never before have I known it to kill people.”
“That was horrible!”
Kwame nodded. “Indeed it was, my friend.” He smiled weakly and lit a cigarette, attempting to calm his nerves. He offered one to Vostov, who refused. As an athlete, he had always felt he should avoid anything that would weaken him, and he knew smoking would negatively affect his lung capacity, making him one of a relatively small percentage of Soviet citizens who did not smoke.
Thinking about what they had seen, Vostov vowed he would find out what had committed such a slaughter and destroy it, if he could.
Then a loud roar caused Vostov and Kwame to raise their heads in dread.
Captain Morales saw his men begin to fall before he even heard the crack crack of rifles or the whizzing sound of bullets. He pulled out his own pistol, then suddenly felt himself being taken off of his feet, and his spine hit a tree with solid impact. His very last sight was of his own blood gushing out of his chest. He never even saw the arrow that had caused his death.
Several camouflaged men emerged from the underbrush, followed closely by a woman of Asian ancestry who carried a quiver full of arrows and a long bow. The Huntress nodded, and her men began to behead the Cubans.
Nearby, calmly lighting a cigar, the leader of this resistance band made notes in a small notebook. John N’kruma’s employer would be pleased to know that this mercenary was most efficient.
“I came here to help with guerilla training and operations, not to be a monster-hunter!” Judomaster said, slamming the folder on Red Crandall’s desk.
Captain Atom looked puzzled. “I hadn’t heard anything about a monster being involved in this situation.”
Crandall sighed, lit a cigarette, and shrugged. “Unconfirmed reports, no sightings, not even an artist’s sketch. For all I know, it could be another Soviet experimental weapon, like those alleged action-heroes of theirs.”
The pacing Judomaster said, “Well, I’ll investigate it, and if there is a monster, rest assured, I will be back here as fast as my feet can carry me.”
Captain Atom chuckled. “I’m due to return home for a briefing on these alleged Soviet counterparts to, well, people like myself, but I might be able to return tomorrow.”
Crandall nodded. “Frankly, Captain, I cannot understand dressing up in Halloween costumes and running around like that. But I must say, I would rather have you on our side than the Soviets.”
Judomaster nodded. “Me too, even though, in my mind, only a year or so back they were our allies. I have to admit I didn’t like them, even then.”
Crandall took a drag off of his smoke. “An uncle of mine was in the Navy during the war,” he said calmly. “His ship was sunk by the Japanese. All aboard were presumed lost. Five years ago, photos were found indicating he was one of several seamen rescued by a Soviet ship.” He blew smoke out. “Rescued… but never returned,” he said bitterly. “It’s believed they all ended up in a Soviet slave labor camp, like a lot of other Allied troops who found themselves guests of the glorious revolutionary forces.”
Judomaster picked up the folder. “OK, Crandall, I will see what I can do.”
Captain Atom put a hand on Judomaster’s shoulder. “I’ll be back as soon as I can arrange it, but before I return stateside, I’ll drop you off at the camp of the CIA contact at your destination.”
Elsewhere, Kwame and Vladimir Vostov listened closely to the roaring sounds they’d heard. “It’s OK,” Kwame said. “Only a lion, not the devil-beast.”
Vostov didn’t relax. “Only a lion? Only a lion? Shouldn’t we be on guard for lion attack?”
“Lions do not attack people, my friend,” said Kwame. “You have watched too many movies.” He laughed, ground out his cigarette, and said, “Come, we go to my village, if it’s still there, of course.”
Vostov picked up his duffelbag. “Let’s go.”
That was when they heard a rifle being cocked.
As Captain Atom carried his friend through the skies toward their destination, they discussed the situation that Judomaster was preparing to jump into. Sergeant Rip Jagger of the U.S. Army had been a soldier trained in guerilla fighting and was a master of the martial arts, but he had not lived through the cultural revolutions of the past forty years.
Some of the early reports had placed sightings of one of the more militant branches of the the African National Congress, or the ANC, the illegal black rights/freedom party, most of whose members followed the examples of the imprisoned leaders of quiet nonviolence in resistance. However, there were those who had lost patience with the pleas for nonviolence and common support in opposition to apartheid, those who felt the need to be more proactive in their quest to be free of the rule of the European-descended Afrikaners.
Not too many miles away was located a well-trained and well-funded outside force invited in-country by black leaders as backup troops in fights against other black leaders. There were also an increasing number of independent and often young outlaw bands of men in camouflage, with guns, Jeeps, and mercenary attitudes. This was only made worse by a growing market throughout Africa and parts of the pacific for khat, which had already drawn the attentions and imaginations of Europeans as an alleged source of higher states of consciousness, leading to smuggling operations. As for the people who lived in these areas, trying just to get by, feed their families, and sleep peacefully at night, life was admittedly hard and getting more difficult each day.
Was there a place for an old warhorse like Rip Jagger in this modern world of the 1980s? At first he didn’t think so, but with Captain Atom’s encouragement, he had explored the possibility. Although technology and cultural values had changed over the last four decades, martial arts were still as pure as they’d been in his time, and a master of the martial arts was always a useful man.
This still-young hero of World War II decided that he could find a place in this modern era, after all. And if his country still wanted his service, he would once more proudly serve. Soon he became excited about the prospect of what he was getting into, along with that fear of the unknown. But thanks to his warrior training, he was able to center on that fear, channel it, and focus it to push him forward. Essentially, his mission was to befriend and embrace the fear and turn it into his strength, just as in judo, where one allowed one’s opponent to move in, then use their force against them. It was all about leverage and balance.
“Leverage and balance is the key to archery,” Vladimir Vostov was explaining to Kwame, who admitted as a child that he had played with the small bows of his people, but couldn’t understand how someone could actually use a long bow, focus on a small target a great distance away, and hit it time and time again. Vostov wasn’t sure if his leg was being pulled — an expression he learned from an American once — as Kwame’s round black face expressed intense curiosity and interest in learning something about archery. But as he talked, Kwame demonstrated his skill by firing three arrows in rapid succession into a circle some three hundred steps away.
Then Vostov brought down a gazelle, and Kwame made a sling so they could carry the carcass to his village. Providing it was still there, of course, there would be a celebratory feast, and the white man would be most welcome. Kwame was sure having a “cowboy” on hand would be useful, just in case that Chinese archer was in the area. Kwame had no interest in becoming another trophy for her or her band, and he felt for sure, based on what he had seen in that other village, that this white man would not be afraid of N’kruma’s panther.
John N’kruma was pleased to have two American visitors to his camp, since that always gave him the chance to showcase his soldiers and their accomplishments, including keeping the Cuban population down and accomplishing any other task their wonderful, generous friends would want them to do.
If these most welcome guests did not have the time to participate in a hunt or a reconnaissance, he would take them for a stroll around the perimeter to see how well the guards prepared for the unlikely intrusion of so much as a jackal. This, of course, would include a carefully worded speech about how much more he and his men could do for their friends and benefactors, and how much more of their dirty work they’d gladly take on themselves to ensure their hands were kept clean.
So N’kruma was wearing his finely washed and ironed uniform, had his beard trimmed, held a fresh cigar not yet lit, and wore a smile as he went to greet his visitors. But as he turned the corner and saw who his visitors were, his smile turned into something quite different.
Now how, he thought as he saw Captain Atom and Judomaster, do I welcome the most powerful being known to exist, and some man in a red and yellow costume and mask? Humph. Americans.
Vladimir Vostov was surprised by the appearance of young men and boys carrying Kalashnikovs, or AK-47s, and dressed similarly to Kwame but also wearing colorful T-shirts having to do with local politics or advertising Pepsi and other American products.
“Allah preserve us — it is my people!”
Kwame smiled and beamed, and everyone smiled back at him. When someone pointed at Vostov and asked a question, Kwame answered him in their own language. “This is a great Russian hunter who can not only take down a large gazelle buck with one arrow — a long arrow, mind you — but he has also won many medals and awards for his people! He is a mighty warrior and here to join our cause! Allah preserve us!”
People began to chant, cheer, and dance as they walked Kwame and Vladimir to a trail that led to their village. To Vladimir’s surprise, this village consisted of several ragged tents and an equally ragged assortment of people consisting of very old men and women or very young children. In fact, Kwame was the oldest male there who wasn’t an elder. Everyone looked haggard, undernourished, and mildly fearful. The young men, who were barely more than children, had a paranoid look to them, along with an uneasy mix of both fear and courage. All around them were yapping dogs and lots of dirt. The only things that looked at all new were the rifles and the T-shirts.
From the young men, Vladimir heard merriment over having the gazelle to roast, as well as grumbling from being ordered to watch the perimeters. The watchers would be unable to hear firsthand the stories that Kwame would tell, and they were deeply interested in the pale-skinned, long-haired man who had killed the buck for them.
Kwame explained the basic situation to Vladimir. His people, Bantu tribesmen, were fighting for freedom in South Africa and in the southeast, and most of the men in Kwame’s village were in prison, dead, or underground because of their support of the African National Congress.
He was sure Vostov knew about that organization, because the Soviet Union had offered moral support to the ANC, and Soviets in Mozambique supplied the Bantus with weapons and jobs, such as Kwame acting as a scout for a Cuban attachment. That position had enabled him to learn much about their fighting techniques; Vladimir thought he caught sarcasm there, but he listened without interruption.
Lately there had been suspected intrusions from across the border by the blacks, mostly Zulus, who supported the white man’s rule of Africa.
“The Zulu and the white came into southern Africa at the same time from different directions and had many battles with everyone already here, like my people as well as with each other,” explained Kwame. “The Zulu could put a thousand warriors into the field, but the white man had weapons that could kill one thousand warriors. In time, the white man won, and the Zulu has an honored place as the number one dog of the master.”
“As the commander of this strike force, I should have some say in who goes on my patrols or not!” John N’kruma shouted. He was arguing with the commanding officer of this military base, which was technically a station of the South African Police.
“And I, Commander, am the bloody chief of operations and base commander!”
This was Robert Walker, the balding, portly police chief whose years of faithful service had brought him to this august posting. Amongst other duties, he determined bounty payments, which meant examining heads of executed Cubans or wanted criminals. This probably explained his foul mood, since he had to be sober to welcome the visiting American and was quite surprised to find himself face to face with the most well-known and powerful action-hero ever, who introduced him to a man the CIA sent in, a man he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do with.
N’kruma himself was unhappy over being told the funny-looking Yank was going with his team and was allegedly an expert on guerilla warfare, despite looking like some sort of circus performer. He also wasn’t happy that a powerful man like Captain Atom had come to this encampment and had not even stayed. N’kruma considered that an insult. In his view, he was a proud Zulu warrior and would have loved entertaining a very noted warrior; he felt snubbed.
Judomaster was inspecting the camp for lack of anything else to do at the moment. People looked at him oddly, and he expected that, but what he had not expected was to come face to face with a tall, wiry, strong-looking Asian woman with a shaved head and facial scars similar to many that the camouflage-wearing men also had.
She walked up to him, stood calmly as she looked him over, then nodded. “You walk like a cat, but dress like a parrot. Who are you, white man?”
“I am Judomaster. And who, young lady, are you?”
She spat upon the ground, sneered, and replied, “Shen Kuei. And do not be getting in my way, judoka!”
“N’kruma has a hired killer — we call her N’kruma’s panther,” Kwame told Vladimir. “She’s Chinese or something — and deadly.”
“I heard the wind-wiffle of an incoming arrow,” said Vladimir. “So possibly it was hers that blew up the Jeep and killed those soldiers.”
Kwame nodded. “It could have been. I thought it was you punishing the Cubans for some reason.”
“What they were going to do to those women was unacceptable!” said the Russian.
“Perhaps so, Allah preserve us, but this is war, and that is a part of war.”
“Not my part!” said Vladimir. “But this archer is probably why I was sent here. I was to hunt down a mercenary the South Africans had brought in. It sure sounds like her.” Vladimir opened his case and pulled out his blue Huntsman costume. “How far away is this N’kruma’s camp?”
“About thirty miles south, across the river.”
“Up north about thirty miles, across the river.”
“Good,” Judomaster said to John N’kruma. “Tomorrow we go that way.”
“We were scheduled to travel west tomorrow to patrol!” N’kruma snapped.
“I cannot afford to allow a build-up there amongst the farm workers,” said Judomaster. “We must make sure they’re staying loyal to their employers. We will check for any ANC infiltrators.”
John N’kruma started to turn away and look around his office, then turned back, his eyes wide. “I can spare one person to go with you… to show you the way.”
Judomaster nodded. “One will be good for a soft probe. Who is he? I want to meet him and get acquainted with him.”
“Huntress,” N’kruma said, opening his office door, where the Asian woman had been standing, listening. “Huntress, you will show our American friend to the river tomorrow at dawn. Please do ensure he comes back to us in one piece. The CIA is very important to our cause.”
The Huntress and Judomaster merely stared at each other.