by CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
October, 1985, two months later:
The Son of Vulcan stood peering over huge, strange-looking cauldrons in a large room built with classical Roman architecture. The adoptive son of the god Vulcan had been appointed as the overseer of the world — also known as the Monitor, one of five such Monitors on five parallel Earths. It was up to them all to ensure that a great disaster such as the Crisis on Infinite Earths would never occur again. This room was his domicile on Mount Olympus, where he lived with the gods and kept watch on the events of the world and in various places around the universe. His own adoptive father, the god Vulcan, had built or obtained all that he would need for fulfilling his duty as the overseer of the world. He had mystical scrying cauldrons allowing him to view almost any scene on Earth, giving him an even greater surveillance capability than any monitoring system built with technology. He also had contact information and numerous methods both mystical and technological to reach the Sentinels of Justice and the rest of the world’s action-heroes at a moment’s notice. He had a large database of information on the world and various places in the universe at his fingertips, which he had begun compiling at breakneck pace. Yet, for all this, he was bored.
It had only been two months since he had taken up his current position, but already he envied the ordinary action-heroes of the world. They were free to live their lives and follow adventure as they pleased, but the Son of Vulcan had to contend with holding the ultimate responsibility for the entire universe. Sometimes he just wished for a challenge to come up and a foe to defeat. He wished that responsibility and freedom were not mutually exclusive.
He looked up from his reveries. A sound had attracted his attention on one of the many active monitoring cauldrons. He stopped and listened for a moment. There it went again. He walked around the room, seeking the scrying cauldron in question. Vulcan had imbued the cauldrons with personality and enough intelligence to focus in on possible areas of conflict. Often the cauldrons were wrong, but sometimes they picked up battles or superhuman conflicts. If it was an ordinary human war or conflict, he was forbidden to interfere. But if any unusual or overly powerful factors were in use — such as superhumans or super-technology like those used by extraterrestrials — he was allowed to intervene.
Son of Vulcan zeroed in on one cauldron focused on Scotland. As he approached it, the strange repeating noise grew louder even as the other cauldrons grew quieter. He looked and listened carefully as he surveyed the scene, realizing it came from Edinburgh. He saw police armed with standard firearms trying to stop a group of bank robbers wearing nigh-invulnerable armor and carrying high-tech guns of some type. The sound he had heard was the sound of the guns punching holes in everything around them.
This was no ordinary bank robbery, he knew, and the heavily armed criminals could not be stopped by local law enforcement. In cases like these, the Son of Vulcan knew his role at monitor was to search for a local action-hero to intervene, but none were currently available in this part of the world, and it would take too long for the Sentinels of Justice to travel there. Only the Son of Vulcan could put a stop to this. It was time for him to take a direct hand in the affairs of man again. The thought brought a smile to his face. Within moments, he had stepped through the mystic portal that could take him anywhere he wished to go.
Now on the streets of Edinburgh, the Son of Vulcan gripped his fingers around his weapons. His left arm grasped his trademark shield emblazoned with the letter V, while his right gripped a mace, the ball of which he had begun swinging in an arc over his head. As he drew a bead on the leader of the thieves, he almost felt sorry for them — almost. He leaped quietly, and his shadow fell on the man as the action-hero descended feet first.
The armored bank robber looked up in shock and sudden comprehension as he saw the Roman hero descend upon him. The Son of Vulcan was an imposing figure in gold and red, with a red-crested golden helmet and a red cape, looking for all the world like a Roman centurion of old. The boots came down, and the robber couldn’t dodge out of the way. The blow sent the man slamming into the side of a building, while the hero landed on his feet. He turned to the next man in line with an armor-cracking swing of his mace.
Several of the men fired their energy rifles at the same time. They shot at the Son of Vulcan, bolts striking him in the chest and sending him to the street on his back. “We got ‘im!” crowed one of the men. “We got the bastard!”
The centurion arose, his golden armor singed in places and his cape torn. He fingered the scarlet material with anger on his face. “And I just had my cape pressed this morning,” the hero said, grinning darkly.
The men opened fire in earnest at Son of Vulcan. He had already moved into action as they pulled the triggers, blocking most shots with his huge shield and dodging several others, letting the bolts slide by. One blow, two blows, three, and the armored men lay on the ground in pain and in various states of consciousness.
“Amateurs,” Son of Vulcan said, looking at his handiwork. His exposed skin was unmarked by the multiple blasts.
The police ran up with plastic handcuffs at the ready. In minutes, the group was trussed to wait for something to take them to the hospital.
“Where did they get the toys, Constable?” Son of Vulcan asked as the police officer in charge approached him.
“Don’t know,” the officer replied with a slight brogue. “Word is that a flood of these things are coming into the country.”
“Hmmm,” said Son of Vulcan. “I’ll look into it. Something has to be done about this.”
“I’ll say,” muttered the constable. He turned and recognized approaching vehicles. Gesturing at them with his thumb, he said, “Here comes the Branch — now that we don’t need ’em.”
“I’d better be going,” said Son of Vulcan, leaping away into the sky. Chances were that these weapons had already been shipped to various entry points around the world. They needed to be traced to a single point of origin, but first they had to be stopped where they were. He would need to contact the Sentinels of Justice immediately and put them on alert, but he didn’t want to simply hand over the case to them without participating in it himself.
He had a feeling that monitoring the world at the same time as he played action-hero would keep him busy, and it might even be risky. But for now it was a risk he was willing to take.
Crown City, USA:
The Question moved silently through the underbrush of a private estate at the edge of town. Through his contacts as reporter Vic Sage, he had learned that certain people were meeting here that normally did not meet at all. It had aroused his interest enough to see if the rumor was true. He paused in the shadow of a tree, counting on the dark trench coat and hat he wore to keep him well-hidden. He had no visible features to see if they happened to catch a glimpse of his face.
As he watched, he saw guards patrolling the grounds with automatic weapons. He waited until he had an opening, then moved from dark patch to dark patch until he was standing alongside the outer wall of the manor. He moved gently around the building until he found an open window. One quick movement, and he was inside the building.
The Question silently slipped from room to room in the ornately furnished, Edwardian mansion before he found the conference room. He listened at the huge oak door quietly.
“We don’t mind supplying our technology at cut-rate prices, Mr. McKinley. In fact, we hope to expand into existing markets as fast as demands warrant it. You will have the finest firearms that money can buy.”
“Twenty million seems a bit steep,” said the other man.
“I know, but we have to meet our manufacturing price,” said the salesman. “A million a gun is not really that bad.”
“I’ll go along,” said McKinley, “since I know you gave Palmer the same type of weapon.”
“Almost the same price, too,” said the salesman.
“Hey!” shouted a voice from down the hall.
The Question looked over, raising his hands above his head. The guard who had shouted moved forward to get a better look.
“What have we here?” said the guard from a few feet away, his pistol leveled.
“A broken jaw,” said the Question, leaping across the space between the two and bringing a hand around in a chop. The bone cracked loudly from the blow, and the unconscious guard dropped, eyes rolling up in his head.
The Question heard chairs scraping on the floor and quickly kicked open the door before they were ready for him. There were several guards pulling at weapons as the crime-fighter leaped into the room. He jumped on the conference table and then behind the salesman in the room. The Question snaked his arm around the salesman’s neck and pulled him close. “Don’t shoot!” the salesman pleaded the guards. “Don’t shoot.”
The crime-fighter’s smile was imperceptible beneath his featureless pseudoderm mask. He wondered if McKinley would listen to the salesman.
“No way,” said McKinley. “I’ve lost too many deals to this freak. Now that I have him where I want him, I guess the Mars people are going to be needing a new salesman.”
“Wait!” screamed the salesman.
The Question kicked the meeting table up onto its side. He used the move to hurl his hostage on top of McKinley. The bodyguards began to spray the room with bullets as the masked man threw himself through a nearby window. It was against his grain to run, but he needed to get the element of surprise back on his side.
The faceless crime-fighter ran around the corner of the house. Once out of sight of the other men, he pulled himself to the roof of a porch and slid into a window. He moved to the room’s door, listening to the sounds of alertness his appearance had generated. He stepped back as the doorknob started to turn. A thug opened the door but didn’t even get a chance to look around before the crime-fighter’s fist shut his eyes for him. The Question dragged the intruder over to the bed. He tied and gagged him with the sheets. His none-too-gentle foot pushed the guard under the bed.
The Question cautiously checked the hall. It seemed to be empty. He slid down the hall to the head of the stairs. Guards milled down below. He descended three steps and then jumped the rest of the way. He landed feet first on the rear man’s back, and the man was propelled into the rest, knocking them all down. The crime-fighter landed lightly on his feet. He made sure none of his opponents could get up in the immediate future with swings of his terrible fists.
A buzzing pager in his pocket distracted him briefly. It was a Sentinels alert, he realized, wondering why he still carried the thing around. Yes, two months ago the team had agreed to become more active than it had been before the Crisis, but the Question’s nightly activities always came first. Well, whatever they wanted, he was sure it had nothing to do with the case he had been pursuing for three months now. It could wait.