“You must untie me, American!” cried the Huntsman, conscious once more.
“What?” said Judomaster. “Why?”
“Kwame is — was my friend, and he should be buried,” said the Soviet archer. “So should these others, but I have also vowed to kill that monster, and I can’t fight it with my hands tied behind my back!”
The Huntress looked skeptical. “Right, Yank, untie him so he can kill us!”
“I give you my word!” insisted the Soviet super-agent. “I will not attack you!”
Judomaster considered it, then took the Huntsman’s knife and cut the rope loose from the blue-clad archer’s wrists.
The Huntress sneered as the Soviet rubbed his wrists. “You Americans are such weaklings.”
Judomaster shrugged, pulled two protein bars from his pack, and handed one to the Huntsman. “I may be weak, as you say, but then again, maybe I am capable of recognizing an ally when I meet one.” Judomaster looked up. “Choppers coming.”
“From the east heading toward the base,” the Huntress replied. “Obviously someone called in some help to deal with that dragon.”
The Huntsman looked at the sky, and several black pinpricks were noticeable. Within moments, several large military helicopters were flying overhead, and a smaller one that had been following them landed near the threesome.
It didn’t take long to load four corpses, the horse’s livery, and the three living warriors into the chopper, and although he would never admit it, the Huntsman was actually glad for the ride. A thirty-mile jaunt followed by a conflict first with a dinosaur, then with these people, followed by an attempt to make it back to the base these people mentioned was wearing him out, and he was an Olympic athlete.
Judomaster was also feeling the strain, although again he would not mention it. Only the Huntress seemed not in the least bothered by the heat and the long-distance travel. But he did notice she didn’t refuse water. He also noticed something else looking her over, and he smiled when he saw the tiny, almost unnoticed emblem on her bow. It was a demon mask imprinted on the bow. That told him a lot about her. He also noticed a small Chinese character under it, a Chinese pictograph that told him the name of her school. He whistled to himself, impressed.
The South African Police officers who had picked them up only knew that there had come a call for help from Base 131, where the Shen-Kuei and Judomaster were based in, and someone else had called and asked them to look for the two on patrol. They were obviously skeptical when they heard about the gigantic dinosaur that could either teleport short distances or move really fast.
They were only convinced of the existence of the dinosaur when they reached what had been the base, which was now mostly a smoking ruin littered with destruction and bodies in various states of damage, including the corpse of the creature.
Robert Walker was standing near it, a bottle of whiskey in his hand and an unlit cigarette in his mouth. Near him was John N’kruma, who looked angry. When they saw the new arrivals, Walker finally lit his smoke, and N’kruma stuck a cigar in his mouth.
“About bloody time!” Walker said. “You see that beastie! Nearly destroyed this place!” He took a swig of whiskey, burped, and snarled, “I’m just glad someone could kill that thing!”
“Took a couple of high-tech copters to do it, though,” N’kruma said. “Who’s the blue boy?”
“The Huntsman at your service,” the Soviet said.
“He’s one of them,” the Huntress sneered. “But your Yank let him live, and then gave him back his weapons.”
“I swore to kill that beast!” the Huntsman said. “I have seen its capability to destroy before and heard of villages it had destroyed. But now that it is dead…”
“Now, hold on,” N’kruma said, waving a hand. “It ain’t the only one.”
“What?!” exclaimed Walker. “There’s another one of these monsters?”
N’kruma nodded. “We caught a man that had some documents which told us of a place over across the river called Kwizi, and it seems someone is breeding these things.”
“Damn communists!” Walker burped.
“No, whoever is behind it is less concerned with ideology than gaining power for himself,” N’kruma said coldly.
“Then it looks like I’m here to be a monster-hunter after all,” Judomaster said, nodding.
“In the morning you, Huntress, me, and, uh… this little boy blue and a few chosen others will be dropped near Kwizi, and we will take this place out,” N’kruma said, then looked at the Huntsman. “If you want to join us, that is.”
“I shall indeed.”
“Wait!” the Huntress said. “You trust him?”
“We shall discuss that later, Huntress, but right now we need all the fighters we can rally, and from what I have found out about him, we can indeed use his help,” N’kruma said. “Reports are this Huntsman is one powerful commie fighter with many trick arrows.”
“Well, enough standing around, people,” Walker said. “Got a base to clean up and a big croc to dispose of, and…” He hiccuped. “…it’s nearly dark, and I, for one, am exhausted.” He started to walk off, then turned back. “Oh, Judomaster, I heard on the wire this morning that Captain Atom and some of the other heroes over in the States are, or were as of this morning, busy fighting some sort of super-powered bad guys, so we can’t count on him returning before you people head out.”
“So,” said the Huntsman. “Looks like it’s back to Mozambique.”
“Yes, it does, indeed,” Judomaster said, noticing John N’kruma and the Huntress talking quietly not far from them. “But a word to the wise, bowman — be careful of her.”
“I would sooner trust that monster than her, American,” said the Huntsman. “But your word is appreciated.”
Judomaster grinned. “Good. Now let’s get some chow and let the pros handle disposing of this…” He indicated the dinosaur. “…thing.”
“Wonder what it tastes like,” someone nearby said. “If we cooked it.”
“Like chicken,” the Huntsman told him.
Judomaster chuckled, and the African nodded. “Probably does, at that.”
“Base, we have found a village that has been decimated, many bodies of natives, and seven graves with Cubano markings. Also the remains of a motor vehicle which could have been his transport, but still no sign of Vostov.”
The speaker was Nikolai Hoffman, a tall, somber-looking, East German police officer who was standing on the edge of a burned-out African village surveying the damage, absorbing each and every detail. He was that good a police officer. He was speaking into the mobile phone in his own vehicle, an Australian-built dune-buggy, solar and motor-powered, which acted as a mobile base of law enforcement.
The person he was speaking to was his dispatcher at the police station. Hoffman was an officer on duty; his assignment was to investigate reports of missing Soviet bloc citizens who were in Mozambique as teachers, scientists, medical personnel, surveyors, and technicians in a somewhat erratic display of locations, but apparently centering in this sector.
Since these cases involved civilians not connected to the military, these cases were police cases, but of course the Cuban volunteers helping to restore order to this recently liberated people’s republic would always be available to assist in investigations and otherwise as needed.
The bottom line was that people were missing. There were odd reports of destroyed villages and natives terrorized, and only one police officer was available to investigate all of these cases, and the Cubans were, as usual, nowhere around. But he knew where they had been.
“OK, well, don’t worry about Vostov right now. We’ve got sightings of vultures for you.”
Hoffman nodded. “OK, give me the numbers.” As he heard the coordinates, he wrote them down.
The man in question, the Huntsman, was currently sitting in a circle that included Judomaster, an American martial artist and special-ops instructor who at this moment was confronting a person Vladimir Vostov knew as N’kruma’s panther. The Huntress, also in the circle, moved like a cat and was indeed as deadly as a panther. Also sitting there was the Englishman Robert Walker and the Zulu officer John N’kruma himself. Nearby stood several of N’kruma’s men, Zulus from his own village.
“Listen to me!” shouted Judomaster. “I said he is with me, and that means no interrogations!”
“Very well, Yank, but when we go in, you can count on him to look after you,” said the Huntress.
“I have no problem with that.”
“I do!” John N’kruma said, rising. “I will be commanding this strike, and therefore I say who goes and who stays, and I am not sure I trust this Russian to go with my men.”
“He goes,” Walker said, looking at the ground.
“What?” N’kruma said.
“It’s simple,” replied Walker. “I am the commanding officer here, and I say the Russian goes as an ally of ours in this operation.”
“I see,” said Vostov, alias the Huntsman, leaning forward. “Makes for good press. It’s the pleasant face of the operation — international cooperation in dealing with a threat to human life.”
“Yes,” Walker said and turned to N’kruma. “As your commander, John, I have the final say on things, and you know how rarely I do that.”
N’kruma nodded, seeing his point. Walker had a policy of not wanting to be bothered with the details or much of anything else, as long as he could do what he was paid to do, which was acting as the base’s figurehead representative of the the South African Police.
Vostov thought to himself that this was a police station; these people were operating as a military force but were police, which meant he could indeed go along with them as a member of a cooperative effort. It might even look good on his Huntsman resume, helping establish this role as a lawman. That could be very useful.
“OK, then,” N’kruma said after failing to remember a recent time Walker had actually overrode him on anything — or called him John. “Have the helicopters loaded, and let us prepare for the strike. Huntress, come with me. Judomaster and Huntsman, get ready to move, and, uh… Commander, would you care to accompany us in this?”
Robert Walker did a double take, looked serious for a moment, then said as if remembering, “No, this base has to be rebuilt, and someone has to supervise that.”
Rip Jagger, the American known as Judomaster, looked at the Huntsman. “Ready to roll?”
The Huntsman picked up his quiver and nodded. “This shall be interesting.”
“Yes, indeed, it will,” replied Judomaster.
They prepared to enter an attack chopper. It was no small effort to make an intrusion into another nation’s territory to drop off a group of people who were under orders to destroy a laboratory that was somehow creating dangerous dinosaurs. If any papers or documents could be recovered, that was fine, as long as this place was destroyed.
Officer Nikolai Hoffman came upon a scene similar to others he had found in recent times. But this was a first, as the shredded remains were human and were Cuban soldiers. Therefore he had found evidence that whatever was out there had definitely struck humans, and what’s more, military personnel.
“Hoffman to base, Hoffman to base…” Over his radio he heard only static, which became progressively worse. Then, just as it cleared momentarily, he heard a massive roaring sound that came from behind and possibly near Officer Hoffman — very near, by the way his neck hairs rose. Slowly, Hoffman dropped the microphone and reached for his pistol while turning around.
The officer was sweating bullets, but it only took two rounds from his rhino gun and the armor-piercing bullets to take down the thing that had attempted to kill him.
He sighed and dug around his vehicle for a camera. This creature was obviously some sort of dinosaur, and Hoffman was beginning to suspect a link between this thing or a similar beast or beasts and the missing people.
The attack copters were moving fast and low, carrying a total of twenty-four Zulu police officers, including their commander John N’kruma, as well as the mysterious woman known as the Huntress, the Soviet hero called the Huntsman, and the American Judomaster. They flew into the rising sun to help make it harder to spot them, and they flew silent, with no radio communications or personal chatter.
Judomaster and the Huntsman both noticed two things about the tall, well-built, silent black men. First, they all had respect for their commander, and second, they all seemed wary of the Asian. They were respectful but cautious. As for themselves, both men felt eager to go into battle. Adrenaline was flowing, and they were ready.
On the ground below, Hoffman spotted the choppers, made note of their coloration and symbols, and recognized them to be an intrusive force. He attempted to radio headquarters and report the sighting to let the military handle it, but all he heard on his communications system was static. So, with a heavy sigh, the East German police officer prepared to drive in the same direction they had flown. He was first and foremost an honest policeman who followed his orders by the book as much as possible.
The Huntsman couldn’t believe his eyes. At first it looked like an ordinary ranch, until his eyes were drawn to what seemed to be a huge pit covered with a large tarp. His instincts were telling him that this was the most likely target. He glanced over at the American, who seemed to be studying the same area.
“OK, we land, we strike, we destroy — that’s it,” N’kruma said. “Shoot anything that looks remotely like a dinosaur, and kill anyone who gets in your way.”
With the sign of the cross made, he dismissed his men to prepare for the landing, and even as they began to land, men started firing on them, and the chopper crews fired back.
“Gunshots — great! I have to attend to a war zone, with monsters on the prowl, besides!” Hoffman grumbled, but not with sour humor. He checked his pistol and prepared to enter the fray, after he found a spot to survey the situation, of course.
The officers and costumed agents hit the ground running and headed for the tarp. Whoever was shooting at them were natives, and most were not very good shots. Still, with modern weapons, being a lucky shot often made up for not being a good shot.
An officer beside Judomaster went down, and the American grabbed the man’s rifle. He spotted two men running for cover and fired in their direction, more to shake them up than to actually hit anyone. The Huntsman fired an explosive arrow toward a small building, and as it shattered, men fled its cover.
Hoffman found a spot to observe what was going on and began to survey the situation, charting possible courses of action, when he felt cold steel on the back of his neck.
From the pit target in question emerged a very large and very angry-looking dinosaur, whose rolls of razor-sharp teeth and long, sharp claws did not make him look cute or cuddly. He was making a beeline right for the incoming officers. The Huntsman loaded an explosive arrow and an electrical stun arrow and fired both directly at it. The creature roared as the arrows made contact.
“I think you just made him mad,” Judomaster stated.
“Now what?” the Huntsman asked.
Judomaster’s answer, if any, was lost as the creature was suddenly upon them.