Nikolai Hoffman raised his hands and said to the person behind him, “I am an officer of the law.”
He heard a chuckle and then the words, “Me, too.” Hoffman turned around to see a tall black man in a camouflaged outfit. “I am Mark M’tumbo, South African Police. We are here to shut down this base. What are you, a European, doing here?”
“I am on temporary duty assisting the people’s government,” replied Hoffman with a sigh, “and you, my friend, are definitely out of your jurisdiction.”
That was when a loud explosion caused both men to hit the ground.
Hitting the ground running, Judomaster, the Huntsman, and the Huntress began firing toward the tan uniforms of the local guards, then at the dinosaur when it had emerged from its pit. The American had an M-16 American issue, but it wasn’t having any affect on the creature. Indeed, the arrows the other two fired merely broke on contact.
Judomaster had the thought of going behind the beast and somehow getting himself elevated to hit it in the eye with a stream of bullets, when he spotted the Huntress take a running leap forward into the air. As she flew upward, the Chinese mercenary fired an explosive arrow straight into the mouth of the monster.
She landed catlike on her feet and looked up, and her eyes went wide as she saw the shadow of the creature heading straight for her. She didn’t have time to react as it crashed onto her and began squirming in pain from its injuries. Judomaster ran over in an attempt to rescue her, but a flailing arm sent him flying backward, and he crashed into a quonset hut.
The Huntsman saw two smaller but no less deadly dinosaurs emerge from the pit and lobbed several of his explosives into it, causing a massive explosion. The flying dirt and dinosaur parts made it difficult to stand anywhere near the location.
When the Soviet hero got to his feet, he saw several men tying to take cover by ducking into a large building. A Zulu with radio equipment on his back pointed to the building, and John N’kruma nodded. Looking around, the Huntsman saw the legs of the Huntress from beneath the beast and went over to where she lay.
N’kruma came over to him and shouted above the gunfire, “We Zulu mourn our dead after the battle!”
“But, comrade, she could still be alive!”
“Even if she is, she would be in no shape to live long,” replied N’kruma. “Come, Russian, you and me, we gather the American and take out the headquarters of this group.” Both men ducked gunfire, and several of N’kruma’s men moved in, firing their own rifles.
Judomaster rolled over the fallen dinosaur’s body and landed beside the Soviet and the Zulu. “We’ve gotta get her outta there!” he shouted.
N’kruma shook his head. “She is dead, my friend, but we still have a job to do.” He turned to hide his own watery eyes; after all, a Zulu mourned the dead after the battle, even if that dead warrior was a close friend and a lover. “My radio man tells me there is strong static coming from that large building several of these people ducked into.” Two more dinosaurs went down under a hail of bullets and grenades. “We will hit hard and fast. My men will back us up. But we are the leaders, so we must go in first.” N’kruma drew his pistol, checked it, and nodded.
The Huntsman notched an arrow, and Judomaster checked his own rifle to make sure it was still functional. The three men ran for the building as bullets whizzed all around them.
They hit the doors and went in firing. This was definitely a kill-or-be-killed firefight, and it was obvious no one was taking prisoners at this point, not the defenders, at any rate. But a bomb-arrow from the Huntsman cleared the immediate opposition and shattered parts of a large metal door frame.
N’kruma looked around and smiled. “We are doing good, friends. For non-Zulus, you have style.”
“You OK, Huntsman?” asked Judomaster. “You look sick.”
“I — it’s just, well, comrade, I’ve never killed anyone before.”
Judomaster nodded. “It’s difficult, and as long as you find it bothersome, you’re all right. If you find yourself enjoying it, then you’ve got a problem.”
N’kruma looked at them. “I kill as part of my job. I am a Zulu, and Zulus do what it takes. Now come on — this isn’t a church meeting!”
The three men cautiously made their way to the metal door, while behind them other men prepared to enter. Outside, the firing became sporadic as opposition became harder to find.
Quickly all three men jumped into the room and hit the floor. What they saw looked like some sort of communications room, complete with equipment the likes of which none of them had ever seen before. But there were no signs of human habitation. Carefully, N’kruma rose to a crouch and looked around, seeing nothing. Then he stood, and a red beam tore a big hole in his chest.
The Huntsman fired an arrow in the direction the beam had come from, and from beside a computer-like structure, a strange being staggered out and fell face forward.
“Alien!” the Soviet exclaimed, looking at the long body, gray skin, large round head, and long slender fingers, not to mention its huge black eyes. The blood running from the chest of this personage was black and looked more like ice water than blood.
The two costumed men circled the room cautiously but found no other evidence of inhabitation. Then Judomaster paused to look at a round piece of metal with odd symbols on it. “What’s this? I–” But as he reached to touch it, he vanished in a flash.
The Huntsman did a double take at that, and as he was about to go where his new friend had been, a large black hand landed on his shoulder.
“We have found what looks like an explosive device, and I would say we have seconds to get out of here,” the Zulu told the Huntsman, who noticed two men carrying the body of their commander out.
“Let’s go,” the Huntsman said.
Outside, as the sun was beginning to rise, there was order amidst the chaos as Zulu police officers began rounding up noncombatant prisoners and attempted to move the bodies of the dinosaurs. The Huntsman heard a motor and spotted a well-equipped vehicle pulling into the base, complete with a smiling Zulu and a white man dressed in what Vostov recognized as the local police uniform with East German insignia.
Suddenly, a massive explosion sent everyone to the ground. As dirt flew around him, the Huntsman thought he was going to be buried alive, when suddenly his whole body ached, and he realized he had been close to the explosion. He heard ringing in his ears, then began to make out individual sounds.
“It is the Man of the Atom!”
“No, his name is, uh… General Electric!”
Realizing he was barely covered in dirt and could once again move, the Huntsman got to his feet and looked around. He spotted a most unusual sight. Captain Atom himself was flying over the base and absorbing into himself the energies flowing from the area where the building had been moments before.
That meant that the building had something, or perhaps several somethings, of radioactive nature, and the American hero was absorbing it, preventing what could have been an incredible nuclear disaster.
“Mein Gott! How can he do that?” Hoffman asked the Huntsman, most likely because the two found themselves standing side by side, watching this scene through hand-shaded eyes.
“I do not know, comrade. I do not know.”
After several minutes, which seemed like hours later, but were probably only seconds, the greatest American action-hero of them all landed on the ground.
By this time, the surviving Zulus had counted their losses, and Mark M’tumbo came forward and offered a salute. Reflexively, Captain Atom returned it, then asked, “Where is Judomaster?”
M’tumbo shrugged. “I just got here. I was scouting the perimeter when I met this white man. As acting commander, because of my rank, I should know their whereabouts of your friend, but no one I have talked to knows. Perhaps the Russian?”
The Huntsman stepped forward and said, “Comrade Captain, I saw him vanish. I can only assume he was teleported somewhere, judging from what he had touched.”
Captain Atom frowned. “Something he touched?”
“I recognized it as similar to something I saw during my training,” explained the Huntsman after a momentary pause. “It looked like an object that had been recovered from a crashed UFO. Tests showed it to be some sort of teleportation device, but where it went no one knew, because those who went in did not come back.” Several men nodded. They had seen this happen and were all glad it had not been them. They were fighting men and would have gladly died in combat, but the thought of leaving this earth for an alien environment, if that was what had happened, did not appeal to them.
“I see,” said Captain Atom. “Well, maybe I can pick up an energy trace and find my friend.”
“If you can, comrade, I would like to go with you,” offered the Huntsman.
“Judomaster is my friend, too.”
Captain Atom attempted to find an energy signature, but none still remained. For all I know, Rip, he thought to himself, you could be anywhere on Earth or someplace else, someplace even I cannot reach.
M’tumbo came running over. “American, perhaps this will help!” He handed the action-hero a map he found. It was a global map, but several areas were marked with odd symbols that the Huntsman said were similar to what he had seen on the device Judomaster had touched.
Captain Atom nodded. “OK, this is a start. Thank you, Corporal.”
M’tumbo nodded. “Now that the static is cleared up, our helicopters are returning, and we will be leaving. The European will take the prisoners. But I wish you luck, American.”
“Thank you,” said Captain Atom. “And, Huntsman, if you meant what you said, then come on. We’ll look over this map and try to figure out our next move.”
Hoffman felt a tingling in his neck just then.
A trained military man, Rip Jagger knew well the necessity of going into a hot spot unprepared, and all they knew was that they were likely to encounter men and monsters at this drop and possibly outside interference or intervention. Making one more final check on his weaponry — the American-issued M-16 and the grenades hanging on a belt around his waist — Judomaster nevertheless noticed as the Huntress stood up with a lightning move and stalked across the chopper floor, moving around men and equipment, heading straight toward the red-and-yellow-clad man with determination.
“Yank!” she snapped at him. The Huntress was a fierce warrior of the Shen Kuei and a paid officer of the South African Police as a highly paid specialist. Her shaven head glistened with sweat, as did everyone’s in this military-style police helicopter, and her eyes burned with anger.
“Yank!” she demanded again. “I want to know one thing before we go into battle together.”
Judomaster’s own blue-green eyes looked up at her dark brown eyes. He was very calm, breathing deeply and slowly preparing himself for action, which she should have been doing. “What? Does it concern me or the Russian?”
“It concerns you, judoka,” she said. “I need to know something about you.” The chopper hit an air current, and there was a slight bounce, but she never blinked or seemed disturbed by it. “I want to know why you dress exactly like the original Judomaster. Not even his successor dared wear his exact costume, and his apprentice was of the same race as he was: Japanese.”
Judomaster sighed. “I dress in this costume because I am the original Judomaster.”
“You lie!” snarled the Huntress. “My sifu told me about the original white warrior he fought alongside, who vanished in the middle of a vital mission and must have died heroically!”
“Kwan Li was a good man and a fine warrior,” Judomaster said softly. “It was a pleasure for Tiger and me to work with him.”
Her eyes widened briefly, and then the fire returned. “No doubt that name would be in the files the Americans had.”
“I never mentioned him by name and referred to him only as a Chinese civilian,” explained Judomaster. “Secondly, he, Tiger, and I were on a mission to free several Allied POWs when I time-hopped.”
She nodded, considering this man truthful, if improbable. Her silence was the only thing that gave assent as she moved to return to her seat.
Judomaster started to rise when the pilot announced they would be landing in moments, telling them to be ready to move out fast. He continued to rise.
Then Rip Jagger opened his eyes to find himself surrounded by tall, slender, gray-skinned beings aiming long, silvery tubes at him. Wherever he was, he was most definitely no longer in a quonset hut laboratory in Mozambique.
“I wonder where Judomaster went to,” the Huntsman said to himself, while nearby the American action-hero Captain Atom was speaking on some sort of communications device he had pulled out of his belt buckle. He was conversing with other members of the Sentinels of Justice. His voice was kept low enough so that no one could hear what he was saying, but the Huntsman did pick up a strange name, which he did not recognize: Gorgo. He wondered if Gorgo, whatever or whoever that was, had something to do with these dinosaurs. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Gorgo,” Gorgo #1 (1960).]
Meanwhile, all around the two colorful action-heroes, men were gathering equipment, tending to the wounded, and attempting to move fallen dinosaurs to rescue the bodies of downed companions, while the ranking non-com, a corporal, was in heated debate with an East German police officer.
It’s absurd, he thought to himself, a Zulu and a German arguing about an alien corpse while a Georgian watches a legendary figure talk to several of his friends. Adding to the absurdity is this legend. This, the most powerful man on Earth, is of necessity, of geopolitics, my enemy, but he is not personally my enemy, and currently, in fact, he is an ally.
The Huntsman was surprised that, when the largest of the dinosaurs was moved, although barely, the Chinese agent called the Huntress was found to still be alive. Captain Atom noticed this, ended his communications, and told the corporal that, by jurisdiction, since Hoffman was on loan to the government of Mozambique, and the South African Police were out of their jurisdiction, the German was to take possession of the alien corpse, presumably to be turned over to the nearest authorities.
“I see one of your crew is still alive,” said Captain Atom. “I’ll rush him to the nearest hospital.” Pausing, he quickly added, “On your side of the border, of course.” He then picked up the Huntress within a energy shield he placed around her body to move her without causing her further injuries.
As far as the Huntsman could tell, the American never physically touched the Chinese mercenary and therefore possibly didn’t even notice anything beyond the fact that the body was secure and ready to be rushed out.
“Secret Asian Man, indeed,” he chuckled bitterly, his mouth full of bile. He didn’t feel good about himself, nor about killing, not even for the purpose of saving lives and preventing further loss of life. No, being trained to kill if necessary and actually doing it were two very different things. He looked up as Captain Atom began to rise into the air.
“I’ll be back, friend, so if you can stick around, I want to talk with you.” Captain Atom directed this at the Huntsman, who nodded.
“I’ll be here,” the Huntsman said to no one in particular, as the American was already flying off with his passenger. “I’ll be here, because, for my peace of mind, I want to know where Judomaster is and if he needs help.”
Where he was Judomaster himself wanted to know, as the situation did not look good at all.
To Be Continued in Sentinels of Justice: Shadows and Light