Emil Forsa sat brooding in a cell in a federal holding facility, awaiting his trial. He had been captured by some clowns called LAW, which seemed to be a new group of action-heroes. (*) A special damper had been fitted to his neck to help control his nuclear powers. At least he didn’t feel like he would come apart at the least little thing. Still, Major Force was in solitary for being too dangerous to be around the other inmates. After all, radiation poisoning was a very ugly way to die.
[(*) Editor’s note: See L.A.W.: Origins of Law.]
On the third day of his wait to see a judge, he was eating lunch in a cell. In thirty minutes, a trustee would come by to collect all the used plates in the block and take them back to be cleaned and reused. He had just taken a bite from his Jell-O when his cell wall began to vibrate. Then it fell in loudly.
A small group of men entered and pointed weapons at Forsa, gesturing for him to get to his feet and accompany them. He gulped down the rest of his dessert before stepping through the new door.
Emil was escorted down a service corridor to an emergency exit. One of the masked men tossed a gray coverall to him to pull on over his prison clothes. He slowly put it on. He couldn’t make a break for it and expect to succeed without his nuclear powers.
Once dressed, Emil picked up a box for a vacuum cleaner. He walked with the group through an exit from the hallway and through the main part of the jail. No one realized who he was as he stepped out into the free air unsuspected.
The leader of the men waved Emil into a van for cleaning and repair work. The men got into the van on either side of the ex-prisoner. The van rolled away from Washington and south across the Virginia border. Emil noted they were traveling generally south-southwest from the jail. He wondered about the extreme effort for a convict on his way to a cell for twenty to life.
Emil sat and thought in silence. It was a ride like this that had first led to his becoming Major Force and the nuclear meltdown he was now suffering.
In 1966, he had been a raw recruit for a guy named Professor Danton Koste, a government nuclear scientist-turned-criminal. He had been dismissed as a security risk over suspicions of his activities, but he was still smart enough to keep anyone from finding any hard evidence of his criminal activities. Emil had joined up in Koste’s first major scheme to try a crack at the big leagues. Emil had only been a petty criminal at the time and wanted to score a great heist that would set him up for the rest of his life. He was set up, all right.
The Professor had gone through the big timer welcoming spiel with him and the other hired muscle, telling him and the others that, as long as they were loyal to him, he would make sure they would live in a certain amount of comfort and wealth. Then all eight of them had their heads shaved, were put into full-body green suits equipped with powerful blasters and rockets enabling them to fly, and were ordered to raid an Air Force exhibit for a device labeled Unit X-9.
Naturally, Captain Atom showed up and tried to stop them, but Emil used his blaster on the action-hero. Quickly realizing no firearm would be enough, he blasted a ceiling-mounted exhibit instead, forcing Captain Atom to save the crowd below. The diversion had enabled him and the others to escape, and it had also allowed the renegade scientist Koste to sneak in and grab Unit X-9 while no one was watching. Even better, Emil’s blast had served to damage Captain Atom’s diulustel costume, leading to the famous radiation leak that had caused the public to fear and distrust him for a time.
Not long afterward, while in a weakened condition, Captain Atom had stopped a meltdown at a nuclear reactor and lost his powers. Witnessing this, Professor Koste called his men in to subdue the powerless action-hero. Emil and the others ganged up on the hero, who fought back like a wildcat despite his lack of super-powers, but the numbers proved too much for him. They kidnapped Captain Atom and brought him back to their hideout on one of the Professor’s flying ships. The criminal scientist quickly came up with a plan for the hero.
Emil Forsa was actually the very man who pulled the mask off Captain Atom and exposed his face on live national television. He was also one of the few who saw Atom in captivity. He should have known then that it was time for him to get out and get out fast while the getting was good. Instead, he was among the first to fall after Captain Atom regained his powers — and with them a new costume of impervious, radiation-proof, liquid metal — then came back and arrested Koste, his henchmen, and the powerful super-criminal Iron Arms for breaking the law.
For his part in the Professor’s scheme, Emil received a sentence of ten years, but he got a parole after only serving two. Some of the others had to do the same amount of time. Some did more because they had other crimes awaiting in various jurisdictions. Emil was just glad to serve his time and get out before the 1960s were over.
The second time he went to jail was after he received his powers. He had opposed the combined forces of the Sentinels of Justice and got his head handed to him in the resulting debacle. Emil concentrated on that as much as to relieve his boredom as anything else.
By 1969, Emil Forsa had been living in New York City in a five-story apartment building full of hippies that should have been a feature in Slum Lord Digest. He had gotten a job bagging groceries for the local supermarket after he had made parole and, although he had been keeping out of trouble ever since, he was barely scraping by. He was sitting in his ratty armchair, drinking a Budweiser and watching the Mets stomp the Center City Civettes when the telephone rang.
“Mr. Forsa?” said his caller when he answered the phone.
“That’s me,” said Emil.
“I would like to talk about a business proposition with you,” said the voice.
“Sure, go ahead,” said Emil, scratching his head full of thick brown hair, the hair that he had shaved off in 1966 in order to be one of Koste’s bald henchmen. He would lose that hair permanently when he became a nuclear man.
“I would prefer to talk to you in person,” said the voice. “Could you come to Chloe’s in about an hour? There’s great deal of money in it for you if you accept the job.”
Money had always been his weakness. “Chloe’s? Sure, I’ll be right there.”
Emil should have gone back to his baseball game. Instead, he fixed himself up and walked across town to the bar. He had no fear that the guy wouldn’t know him, if the call was for real. Emil really had nothing better to do at the time. If he knew then what he knew now, he would have watched the Civettes get creamed.
The ex-convict reached Chloe’s right on time. He wondered briefly what kind of job he was going to be offered. He had wondered the same thing most of his trip to the bar but had put it aside. Now here it was again. He knew it couldn’t be anything legal, because he was a felon, and most convicts didn’t get a great job with a phone call and a meeting in a low-to-middle-grade bar.
He walked into the place and looked around, wondering which of the patrons was the voice. He saw a man in the back at a booth. The man waved at him, so he walked back to the table.
“Mr. Forsa?” the man said to confirm what he already knew.
Emil nodded and said, “You had a job opportunity ya wanted ta talk about?”
“Please take a seat,” said the stranger. “My boss wants a crew of muscle to move something from a warehouse to a designated spot. Your name came up when I started looking for men. Mojo Rixon said you went in with him on the same rap.”
“Rixon?” Emil said. “Not short, crooked teeth Rixon?” The recruiter nodded. “How’s he doing?” Emil asked.
The man shrugged. “Someone stabbed him in the eye with a fork in the yard.”
“Damn. Didn’t know. He always seemed a stand-up guy when we was workin’ together. O’ course, no one’ll know who snuffed ‘im.”
“A man named Carlson was identified as the killer,” replied the recruiter.
“Steve Carlson?” asked Emil.
Emil knew Carlson, too. They had gone in together with Rixon on the Koste-Atom job. Emil had served his two and got his parole, while Carlson had gotten multiple sentences for more than that one job, and Rixon had been wanted in ten states. It had always bothered Emil why those two had thrown in with a big-timer like Koste. To find out one had stabbed the other in the eye was a major shock to his system.
“Mr. Forsa?” said the recruiter, interrupting Emil’s reverie.
“Sorry ’bout that,” said Emil. “I was surprised by the news. I thought they was friends. They seemed used ta working together when we got busted.”
“Even friends have a falling out, Mr. Forsa,” said the recruiter. “Would you like to sign on for the job?”
“Sure,” said Emil without another thought. “When do I get started?”
“We’ll call you to notify you about a pick-up place and the time in a few days,” said the recruiter. “Go ahead and enjoy dinner on me, and I’ll see you then.”
The man stood and walked away. He paused to talk to the head waiter. Emil guessed the exchange was about his dinner. Still, a free dinner at a classy place was nothing to gripe about. He ordered as much as he could eat and then took some home in a styrofoam box.
The call came within two days. The terse voice gave Emil Forsa an address in Brooklyn. A dial tone signaled that the call was already over. Emil grabbed his jacket and headed out the door. He took the public transportation system, because he didn’t have any way to buy a car. Hopefully for him, this job would be risk free and give him the ability to buy a set of wheels in one fell swoop. Otherwise, he could envision a set of major problems if his identity was discovered. Just associating with fellow ex-cons could send him back to the block. That was something to be avoided at all costs. He would, of course, end up back in prison.
Arriving at the address, Emil was led to a van with ten other ex-cons. He knew most of them from his own time in stir. He wondered what kind of job was being contemplated as he was bussed across town to a warehouse. The men were told to line up and fill out a form and turn it in to a table of processors. The hard-faced men asked several questions about Emil’s general health before asking him to step into a room made of partitions where he had to undergo a physical exam.
After that, Emil was led to a dorm that looked the same as the examination room. He was told to wait until the results were reviewed and he was called for by one of the processors. Emil lay down on one of the cots that had been set up. What could possibly require a medical exam and a questionnaire?
Emil had an inkling then he should just try to get out and try something not quite so threatening. Unfortunately, armed guards stood in front of the only entrances he could see. He was under no illusions that they wouldn’t shoot him now that he was already deep into whatever the scheme was. All he could hope for was to get through the next few hours alive.
The ex-con waited as patiently as possible. The other ten men were taken to a large cubicle in the back of the large room one by one. A screen did not block the flashes of light being produced by some large device that seemed to reach to the ceiling. The screen also did not block the screams of pain that erupted with the artificial lightning.
Emil stood up. Panic batted at his self-control as he wondered what he could do to ensure his survival for the next few moments, minutes, and hours. Things looked dim for him.
Finally, the guards ushered Forsa into the cubicle. Several guys in lab coats helped strap him into some type of machine. He watched as they applied the juice to this projector descending from the central part of the thing.
FLASH FLASH FLASH FLASH
Emil heard a voice screaming before he realized it was his own. He tried to clamp his jaw shut but only bit his tongue instead. Blood was salty in his mouth as his eyes tried to roll back into his head.
In the present, Emil sat up with a start. He could still feel the blood in his mouth after all these years. He looked around the truck. His guards looked at him but didn’t seem concerned at his sudden change of posture. And why should they? Without his nuclear powers, he wasn’t much of a threat. He wasn’t going to do any action by himself surrounded by ten guys with automatics. He might give it a try if he lost the nullifier somehow.
He closed his eyes once more, thinking about his start in the super-villain enterprise. The initial job put him back in stir for ten years. He still had scars from where the nuclear lightning had fried the wrist straps to his arms.