by CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
A blond masked man dressed in a red-and-blue costume watched the docks as four men unloaded their crates with furtive looks in every direction except the place that he was standing. Of course, he was standing at the top of a flag pole four stories above the workers. His name was Peter Cannon, but he was known as Thunderbolt.
The action-hero bounced on the pole for a second before throwing himself downward. One hand still gripped a cord attached to the pole. He swung down lightly, dropping on top of the crates.
The men saw him then. They went for concealed weapons in their clothing. To Thunderbolt, they moved in slow motion as he struck them in multiple places with his hands. The fight was over a few seconds after it started.
Policemen ran up to take charge of the prisoners as Thunderbolt smashed a crate open with a concentrated strike. Energy weapons spilled out on the ground from the blow. “You have some explaining to do,” the hero said in flawless Cantonese to the apparent leader of the men.
Later, Thunderbolt regarded the leader of the four men he had captured at the docks. They were sitting across from each other in an interrogation room at the local police station. The man’s papers and identification lay on the table between them. They were impeccable forgeries, but forgeries nonetheless.
“We will start with your real name,” said Thunderbolt. “What is it?”
“Lin Wu Wong,” said the man. That was the name on the forged documents.
Thunderbolt grabbed the man’s earlobe, as fast as a snake, pinching hard with thumb and index finger. “The name your father gave you, pig’s ear,” he demanded.
“Bao Chan,” the man said through gritted teeth. “Bao Chan.”
“Who employs you?” Thunderbolt asked.
“I work for myself,” Chan said.
“Another lie and the ear comes off,” said Thunderbolt. “Who do you work for?”
“Mars,” said Chan. “I work for Mars.” Thunderbolt released the ear.
“Hello, Comrade Zastrow,” said Igor Kriss, who as Redstar was the Soviet Union’s world-famous hero. “What can I do for you today?”
Zastrow, an elderly, thin-faced bald man who was never seen without his customary dark-tinted glasses, frowned at the good cheer in Kriss’ voice. He felt the man did that just to irritate him. “We’re field-testing a new operative,” he said in his sour voice. “The Committee would like you to oversee his performance.”
“What is the assignment, if I may inquire?” said Kriss.
“Someone has built a base of operations to smuggle weapons into the country. The base is inside our southern border. Our agent is to neutralize the installation to the best of his abilities.”
“Wouldn’t someone else be better for this type of operation?” asked Kriss. He had often made it known that he disapproved of killing, to say the least.
“You will understand why you were picked when you meet the agent we have in mind,” said Zastrow. “Come with me.”
The Soviet spymaster, whose permanent frown seemed to fit his lean face, led the way deeper into the complex. He paused at a door with a glass window in the top half. Kriss noticed that there was a lock on the door, and it appeared to be four-inch-thick steel.
Kriss looked through the window. The room had a single occupant who was amusing himself by playing two sides of a fight-based video game. Kriss frowned. The man — it seemed to be a man — had a body made almost entirely of metallic cables. Two more cables extended from his hands to the game console. He glanced at the window with an almost-featureless face. One red eye was larger than the other, and his mouth was a small slit. Dr. Yomorov’s work in creating the newest Soviet super-agent had been more than adequate.
“He is code-named Svarog,” said Zastrow.
“How… appropriate,” said Igor Kriss, feeling deeply disturbed at the sight while recalling that Svarog was the Russian deity most closely identified with the god Vulcan, the blacksmith of the Olympians.
“Briefing,” Zastrow said, tapping on the glass.
“You’ve got to giiive a little,” sang the metal man as he turned back to his game.
“Now,” said Zastrow.
Svarog disconnected his hands from the game console. He exited the room, mumbling to himself. “Here I am,” he sang clearly.
“Let’s go to the briefing area,” the Soviet spymaster said.
“You’re so cold… cold… cold like an ice cream cone,” Svarog sang as he walked behind the grim Zastrow. Igor Kriss tried and failed to hide a glimmer of a smile. He was glad he was at the rear of the line.
“Enough,” said Zastrow.
“You can go your own wayyy… go your own way,” the cyborg sang, “you can call it another lonely dayyy.”
“He seems to have an idiosyncratic speech pattern,” said Kriss.
“It’s all rock and roll to me,” sang Svarog in agreement.
“Never mind that,” said Zastrow. “You are to depart as soon as the briefing is over.” He led the way into the operations room called the Theater.
Zastrow flipped through various pictures on the huge screen at the end of the room as he spoke. “Reports from the Fifth Army deploying at the Afghan border,” began Zastrow, “led to a satellite reconnaissance of this area.” He pointed at a location on an aerial photograph. “An extensive use of camouflage was noted, as were various shipments from inside the state. It was deemed too costly for an assault by conventional forces.” Kriss could see numerous batteries of artillery and missile launchers in the photographs.
“High Command feels this would be a perfect test for Svarog,” said Zastrow, “but they want someone to accompany him.”
“Walked on some thin ice, never like this,” sang Svarog, studying the raw data the satellite had sent back to Fifth Army headquarters.
“How did they get that much material inside the country?” asked Kriss.
“The Committee believes that they bribed certain officials to look the other way. If the Fifth had not stumbled over the facility, they might have been able to disguise it as one of ours.”
“I see,” said Kriss. “When are we supposed to leave to arrest these people?”
“As soon as possible,” said the intelligence chief.
“Yes, Comrade,” said Kriss. He headed from the room to the launch pad at the top of the building. Svarog followed, humming a song Kriss was sure was American rock and roll. Where had Zastrow found the man to be a test subject for such an extensive alteration? Kriss was almost afraid to ask. He probably didn’t want to know the answers.
Redstar took to the air in a golden stream of energy. Svarog tensed, and a set of jets opened in his back and lifted him into the air. He flew after the much-faster Kriss as swiftly as he could.
The Russian landscape flew by below them as Redstar and his charge raced to the border. Kriss wanted to see for himself about this hidden base before letting the strange machine man carry out his mission. He reined himself in, exercising the patience he had learned as a cosmonaut before the rocket launch that had created him.
Comrade Zastrow obviously saw a threat, but how massive a threat was it? As a prototype, was Svarog capable of handling this thing on his own? Would he even try, or would he keep going to the border and try to escape the committee? And where did his own duty lie in all this? At least Svarog was quiet and still following as fast as he could.
Again the disturbing question popped into Kriss’ mind: How had a Russian cyborg come to be programmed with American music lyrics?
The lone warrior known as Thunderbolt moved gracefully across the rooftops of the city. Peter Cannon had been trained in Tibet from an infant and years ago brought his skills to his parents’ homeland of America. There he had become the reluctant hero Thunderbolt, prodded into his training uniform by his old friend Tabu only when his skills were desperately needed, as they were now.
While visiting Hong Kong on a book-signing tour, he had gotten wind of a possible arms deal taking place. He would personally have been happy to let the police deal with it, but Tabu once more pressured him into donning the Thunderbolt costume and using his unique skills to fight crime. Coincidentally, after learning that the Mars Council was behind this particular arms deal, he had received an alert from the Sentinels of Justice that the Mars Council seemed to have begun an aggressive expansion worldwide with dangerous high-tech weaponry. He instructed Tabu to contact the Sentinels about his own altercation in Hong Kong and promptly left for the address Bao Chan had given him.
Although he preferred to retire quietly at his hilltop mansion outside New York City and pursue his burgeoning writing career, Peter Cannon still received the occasional security briefing from the Sentinels, even though they rarely met. Thus he had heard of the Mars Council before and knew they had plagued several other heroes, including his fellow members of the Sentinels of Justice. The Mars Council was a premiere arms dealing and smuggling operation.
He also knew that the Peacemaker had become the Mars Council’s primary opponent in the last couple of months, even capturing the Weapon with the help of a private investigator in New York. (*) All of this was history. Neither the Peacemaker nor the other Sentinels would be able to assist Cannon in Hong Kong in the next few minutes. For now, the lone warrior was on his own.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Michael Mauser, Private Eye: War and Peacemaker.]
Peter Cannon ran to the edge of the current roof and leaped through a window two stories below on the next building in line. He always saw things slow down when he called upon his training. The glass from the broken window flew through the air as he landed and rolled. Men seemed frozen in position as he moved.
They were just starting to return to normal speed as Thunderbolt attacked with his swift hands and feet. A simple leap carried the lone warrior over a table where his feet sent a smuggler into the wall with broken ribs. A flick of his hand set the table up as a shield as the rest of the men were moving at half-speed. Cannon picked up the table and rammed two men into the wall as they finally cleared weapons from holsters. The pistols dropped to the ground as the men whimpered.
The last man ran for a computer on a desk in one corner of the room, stretching his hand for the keyboard. Thunderbolt grabbed the man’s wrist and sent him flying across the room.
Thunderbolt placed a blank floppy disk in the driver and copied the database. The reluctant action-hero methodically secured his prisoners for the police to take away while the disk was filled with the weapon dealers’ records. Maybe this was the beginning of the end for the smugglers.