by CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
Somewhere in the United States:
He had been a hero once upon a time. Then he lost his way. A rebellion against the minor gods that granted him his powers had cost him both his memory and the memory of using those powers. He had been drifting as an amnesiac without purpose for almost thirty years. Then came the Crisis. He had regained all his memories up to the time the gods afflicted him with amnesia, and he had tried to save the day for as many as he could. It had been a liberating experience for him, at least until the gods began sending their super-powered agents after him. Ever since then he had been on the run, fighting back when pushed into a corner but mostly trying to keep out of view.
David Crandall wandered into the workshop he had set up since his return. Most of his mementos had been destroyed long ago by the gods. Crandall sat at his work desk feeling cut off from the idealist he had been in his youth. Where has the time gone? he asked himself, regretting that he might never know where he had been during his nearly thirty-year memory gap.
He looked down to see that a manila folder was under his hand. His name was printed neatly on the tape across the top, but he had no idea who could have written it. He opened the folder and pulled out several photographs. He smiled when he saw that the photographs were images of happier days. There was even a picture of him in his old yellow-and-blue costume when he was Nature Boy. (*) He felt a twinge. Did he even have that old costume anywhere? He was sure he had lost it during his amnesiac wanderings, since it had meant nothing to him then.
[(*) Editor’s note: See the 1950s Charlton series Nature Boy.]
Crandall looked at another photograph. This one was himself in his costume as well, but he was visibly older and decidedly grown up. He was using his powers to stop a flood from destroying a town. He gasped as he read the date that had been written on the back: March 17, 1965. That was nearly a decade after his career as Nature Boy and several years after he had been afflicted with amnesia by the gods. Apparently, he had regained his memory around this time and had acted as Nature Boy again, or — given his age — as Nature Man.
As he studied the photograph, the memory of the event began to creep back into his mind, slowly at first, then as sharply as if it had just happened. Then more memories came. He remembered all of the places he had visited and helped as Nature Man from time to time over the years, as the gods’ amnesia spells wore off during frustratingly brief periods. It was almost as if some of the memories of his long wanderings were coming back to him.
Everything was becoming clear as it had not been in years. Random memories surfaced with minute details and crystal clarity. At one point, an incident from six years ago came back to him vividly. David Crandall wondered what was going on. His mind hadn’t been as clear as this for years.
Then these incidents of strange but familiar weaponry worldwide had begun. He began following them, plotting them on a globe he had in his corner. He frowned at what he saw.
“Somehow I had envisioned you with a huge base of operations,” said the Son of Vulcan to his ally as he looked around the Spartan but very practical headquarters of the Question. It was the laboratory home of Vic Sage’s ally, Professor Aristotle “Tot” Rodor, the inventor of pseudoderm.
“Not everyone can be a millionaire-turned-vigilante,” said the grim Question behind his featureless skinlike mask.
“True,” said Son of Vulcan. “So what did you find?”
“I don’t know yet,” said the Question. “The files are encrypted and booby-trapped. Tot’s computer is having a time trying to read them.”
“Do you mind if I have a look at the program for a moment?” asked Son of Vulcan.
“Don’t break anything,” said the Question as he relinquished his chair.
Son of Vulcan sat and began to study the passing digits the computer was trying to decipher into letters and pictures. He stopped the running program with a jab of a button. He began to type certain commands on the keyboard. The screen went black for a second. Then information began to scroll down the screen as fast as the two heroes could read it.
“How in the world did you do that so easily?” asked the Question.
“I have ways,” said the Son of Vulcan with a smile. He stood up. “What do you make of all this?”
“It seems like Crown City is just a small part of the puzzle,” said the Question, sliding into the chair. He knew what he had just seen was impossible but accepted it. Son of Vulcan was impossible in many ways, not just as a sudden genius of computer knowledge. He typed in commands. “How do you feel about a trip to Africa?”
The Creature Kid was confident that he had found the place he had been looking for. He had even called the authorities. Now all he had to do was wait for the fireworks to be over.
He thought about it some as he raced back to the hidden door. He was a hero. He couldn’t let others go where he wouldn’t. He would have to get into the underground and keep the blighters tied down until the Branch arrived.
The former Kid Kanga waited for a truck to enter or exit the secret supply house. When one finally did leave, he raced down the ramp at top speed. He found himself inside a vast warehouse. He ducked behind a pile of boxes and considered for a moment. The Creature Kid began searching the boxes until he found what he wanted. Using a tiger’s strength, he smashed a panel out of the wooden box.
The Creature Kid smiled as he scooped out the contents of the box into his waiting arms. He held twelve marked canisters. He then breezed through the complex, dropping the cans after pulling the pins out of them. Soon clouds of smoke drifted among the boxes. It was child’s play to drop twelve more in the blink of the eye. Men began to choke and call for gas masks amidst the strangling stuff.
The Australian action-hero put his own gas mask on. Then he zipped here and there, displaying his phenomenal emu speed and lightning-like kangaroo kicks. Blinded by the smokescreen, the mercenaries were unprepared to deal with the action-hero in their midst.
In seconds, the Creature Kid was gathering the men into a pile and handcuffing them together to hold them until the Branch arrived.
Redstar arrived at the secret base. Any suspicions he had about it were confirmed by anti-aircraft fire. He circled at his greater speed as flak filled the sky around him. Svarog came in low, hugging the snowy ground. His hands had changed again, seeming to Redstar to be shaped like miniature guns. The cyborg opened fire, spraying the buildings with energy as he buzzed by. That sent men scrambling out of position as Redstar threw fireballs in the encampment. No one is dead, Igor Kriss thought in amazement as he worked his way through a line of vehicles.
The cyborg punched a hole in the main building with a reshaped limb weapon. He entered quietly, cutting his jet pack and replacing it with an over-the-shoulder cannon. Redstar flew through the hole and landed behind the strange thing.
“Took the long way home,” Svarog sang as he headed down the corridor on what looked liked roller skates. Kriss waved him forward as he took to the air.
The two made their way carefully to the control room. Energy weapons lanced at them in the confines of the hall. Svarog came to a halt suddenly, the shoulder cannon roaring into the control room. A roar of thunder and a cloud of smoke marked its impact on the inside of the barricade.
“Surrender or we come in after you,” said Redstar as his charge folded the cannon back into his body.
“We give up,” said a choking voice. “We surrender.”
“Good,” said the former cosmonaut with a hint of a smile.
Svarog entered the room, hand cannon in evidence as he secured the computer stations. Redstar followed with an energy charge in his hand. The smugglers stood with their hands up against the far wall.
Igor Kriss went to the radio and sent a call for the army to come in and arrest the criminals. He watched with interest as Svarog pulled the keyboard from one of the stations and shaped a finger to fit. The computer lit up for two seconds as the mechanical man worked on the memory in the hard drive. He nodded to himself as he worked. Kriss could hear a whistling as the cyborg disconnected.
Zastrow frowned at the report from his two field agents. The smugglers had been in operation for a long time according to their records. Russia had just been a train stop in a line of them.
At least Svarog had performed better than his technical experts had promised. That was a blessing, since Premier Brezhnev had asked Zastrow to lend assistance to the United States’ Sentinels of Justice, which was working on the same case. He was dumbfounded by the request until the premier had stated an agency of international action-hero cooperation was being formed with or without the USSR, so it was better to be in on the ground floor than out in the cold. Zastrow agreed with great reluctance.