by Libbylawrence and CSyphrett
A few hours earlier, Captain Atom and Lady Quark approached the satellite called Project X in orbit around the Earth. The structure seemed peaceful in the darkness and silence of space except for the cluster of metal-clad men and women who swarmed over it like so many mechanical bees.
Armored commies, thought Captain Atom as he drew nearer to the blue-and-gray-clad figures.
They turned as one and faced him. No doubt some internal sensory system had alerted them to his proximity. They raised their arms, and Captain Atom felt pressure across his chest as an unseen force crushed in on him. Some type of compression weapon. I can stand up to it, but with so many of them attacking at once, I’m going to need to take them down quickly, he thought.
Before he could act, Lady Quark’s nuclear energy nimbus blazed brighter, and she blasted away at the nearest pair of armored men.
She’s a real atomic age spitfire, thought Atom as he flexed his powerful muscles, breaking free of the force that threatened to crush him. He slammed into an armored figure and noticed a Russian word on the armor. Tokamak — Russian for nuclear reactor. I guess this Tokamak Squad means business with a name like that, he thought.
Lady Quark smiled coldly as her raw power drove the attackers away from the satellite. This rabble owes its existence to the experiments their masters performed upon me during my captivity. I will teach them to defile a Royal, she thought.
Captain Atom flew forward and knocked a few more of the Tokamak Squad into space. They must be able to get around up here, since I see no sign of any rocket that might have brought them up, he thought, ducking as two more of them — a man and a woman — tried to grapple with him. He was simply too fast for the heavier foes, and he grinned as their momentum led them to crash into one another.
He entered an airlock as Lady Quark followed. “Some of them got inside — we must stop them!” he said as they reached an atmosphere of sorts due to the life-support system within the satellite.
Lady Quark said, “They will be stopped. I see my poor child’s face in their armor. I recall my Lord Volt’s death-cry when I hear their voices. They represent all that I oppose.”
Captain Atom knew that her family had died in the Crisis, which was certainly not of Soviet origin, but he said nothing and allowed her to work off some of her pain through action.
They flew deeper into the satellite, and he stopped as he saw an impressive sight. Three costumed figures stood over a battered and defeated remnant of the invading squad. He recognized the blond man in the red-and-blue costume. He recognized the costumes of the other two figures. However, he didn’t know the women within the outfits.
“Thunderbolt! How the heck did Nightshade convince you to help out?” he asked. “Well, I’m certainly glad to see you. But how’d you and your lady friends get up here?”
The reluctant action-hero named Peter Cannon — known in costume as Thunderbolt — said, “Nightshade called Son of Vulcan, and — with a little help from Tabu — he convinced me that my assistance to the old team was needed. He brought us all here before leaving for some more important crisis. As our Earth’s Monitor, he is one busy man.”
Captain Atom turned to Lady Quark and said, “Thunderbolt is my friend and a reserve member of the Sentinels of Justice. You may or may not recall him from the Crisis. I’m afraid I don’t know the other two ladies, though.” He pointed at a platinum blonde beauty who wore a red, white, and blue costume consisting of a mini-skirt, boots, and a sleeveless top. “You wear Liberty Belle’s costume, but I know Caroline Dean died during the Crisis. (*) She was the leader of Femme Force One as well as a reserve member of the Sentinels, and we were all at her funeral last year.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Liberty Belle was murdered by Captain Stingaree in DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War, Chapter 11: Executions, and her funeral was held in Sentinels of Justice: The Calm Before the Storm, Chapter 2: Nightshade.]
“You don’t have to tell me that,” the woman replied. “I knew her better than you did. Let’s just say I’m carrying on her legacy.”
Thunderbolt shrugged and said, “I can vouch for her skills. As for her motives — surely we may allow her to keep her privacy. Vulcan brought her, and he isn’t easily fooled.” He added, “As for our statuesque ally here, she wears equipment that once belonged to the trio of heroes called the Sentinels, but she clearly isn’t the rather demure Mentalia.”
The tall blonde woman, who towered over the pair of heroes, said, “I’m not going to keep you guessing. While you and your pals call yourselves the Sentinels of Justice, the trio you mention called themselves the Sensational Sentinels before you even formed. Sarge Steel worked with them back in the ’60s. Well, when that team reunited to face the Crisis, they also realized once and for all that three folk singers were not cut out for a life of action-hero peril. They gave their equipment to Sarge Steel, and he selected me to use all three items — the tiara, the belt, and the gloves as a one-woman Sentinel. To avoid confusion with your team, I’m calling myself by the meaning of the word sentinel — Guardian.”
Captain Atom extended his hand to both women. “Well, welcome aboard. Perhaps with new heroes like you two ladies, the idea of a Sentinels of Justice team isn’t as moribund as I’d believed.”
Thunderbolt said, “But what of this crisis that drew Son of Vulcan away? Could it be something this attack was meant to distract us from?”
Captain Atom adjusted a console and scowled. “You have a talent for understatement. While we were playing tag with those armored Reds, a creep named Blackguard tried to assassinate the President. I’d say the timing is too precise for the events not to be tied together.”
“He tried to assassinate him?” asked Guardian. “Who stopped him? E-Man? Blue Beetle? Peacemaker?”
Captain Atom shook his head. “From what I can gather from the broadcast I just picked up, it was another new hero. The media is calling this champion Booster Gold.”
The new Liberty Belle said, “Thank goodness. He sure showed up at the right time.”
Lady Quark said, “So where is your Son of Vulcan?”
The angry and pained Mikhail Arkadin could have answered Lady Quark’s question. The scientist had been lost in a blinding blur of emotions following his transformation into the incredible being called Pozhar. He had flown across the Soviet Union, and his speed had been remarkable. Now he hovered over Moscow without any true awareness of his past or his purpose. Somehow, with every use of his power, the scientist had also lost control of his new form. If there was any trace of the caring and paternal Mikhail Arkadin beneath the gleaming golden form of Pozhar, he could not be heard or seen.
The People’s Heroes led by Redstar had tracked his path, and now they rushed to attack. Redstar flew in front of the brilliantly gleaming figure and spoke in a commanding tone. “Stop! You may not continue this flight. You will land, and we will learn what you seek.”
Before he could continue, Redstar was knocked halfway across the city by the furious Pozhar. He landed and stood still as the other non-flying members of the Soviet super-team tried to stop him.
Hammer smiled. In truth, the blond strongman relished seeing Redstar fail. He resented him and had no desire to surrender his team to the control of Zastrow’s favored agent, whether or not he was the Soviet Union’s most well-known hero. He tackled Pozhar but gasped when his body connected for a second, and then he collapsed as the golden figure faded into a roaring inferno that took the place of his rapidly flying form. “Bah! He flees like a coward!” cried Hammer.
Sickle leaped into the air and aimed a flying kick at Pozhar, who caught her in a crushing embrace and dropped her stunned body on top of Hammer.
“Is she dead?” gasped Bolshoi.
Hammer cradled her in his arms and said, “No, she is not even burned. He drew all warmth from her body until she passed out. He is a fiend.”
Molotov roared in anger and said, “I will blow him to ashes.” He exploded and re-formed, only to see Pozhar standing unshaken in the rubble. “He is like some kind of machine!” cried the fat man.
Pozhar raced forward and slapped him to the pavement before turning to face the agile Bolshoi and the arrogant Pravda.
“I will not fight one who so easily deals with Hammer and Sickle,” said Bolshoi as he raised his hands and backed slowly away.
Pravda sneered at him and said, “Your wisdom surprises me. Your fearfulness does not.” She concentrated, and her power to stimulate fear based on memories taken from her victim’s mind swept over Pozhar. He turned to face her, and as her eyes grew wider, she cried, “He has no mind. He is merely a living engine of destruction.” Pozhar stepped closer to her, and she fell to the ground and crawled desperately out of his path.
He had started to grab her leg when a newcomer landed in his path and spoke in a stentorian tone, “Halt this rampage! Your power is not meant to be used in such childish displays or ire. Would you misuse the very fire of the gods?” He was a tall man with rippling muscles and ornate armor like that of an ancient Roman centurion. The alter ego of John Mann stood before the Soviet elemental as the heroic Son of Vulcan. He said, “I detected your birth and came as soon as possible. Your creation was not a mere accident. You have been touched by one of the elemental forces of the cosmos. The Olympians themselves lower their eyes when faced with such beings.”
The Russian fire elemental scowled and raised one flaming fist, but all the heroic Son of Vulcan did was stare at him through cold and unyielding eyes. “All fire is my father’s to command,” said Son of Vulcan. “Thus, by force of will alone, I weaken your power and bring you to your senses once more.”
Pozhar’s glow dimmed, and slowly the light of reason returned to his white eyes. Mikhail Arkadin blinked and saw clearly through the burning nimbus around him. He remembered his wife and his kids, and he shook with emotion. “What madness has possessed me?” he said.
The Son of Vulcan placed one hand on his arm. “Do not flinch. You cannot harm me. I can only control your power for a brief time. Now that you are in control again, I urge you to think. You are a man of science. You are a family man. This I sense from the power of Virtus within me. You cannot deceive me. Thus I ask you to return to your loved ones and in time exercise your new power again with wisdom and mercy. Do not fear your new role. Embrace your power and use it for the good of this planet.”
Pozhar nodded and rubbed his eyes slowly. “I thank you. I had lost my very self. Now what can I do?”
The Son of Vulcan said, “You must find your own path. However, you must realize that the humanity you still possess is as powerful a force as the raging inferno you’ve become. Temper the one with the other, and you will not need my help in the future. Indeed, should your path veer to the ways of chaos, then we will meet again as foes.”
Pozhar flew away and left the beaten People’s Heroes in his wake. He saw Redstar streaking back, and he knew he had no wish to fight. He vanished by flying at speeds beyond Redstar’s range and then reverting through force of will to the form of Mikhail Arkadin. He staggered into his street and prepared to lose himself in the love of his wife and children.
He thought, Pozhar will live again, but not until I am the master. I will not risk losing myself in a show of rage and anger. My destiny will be of my own making, or I will end my life.
Son of Vulcan returned to U.S. air space and sighed in sorrow. “I fear Pozhar will be but one step on that poor man’s future path of evolutionary change,” he said.
In the Blue Beetle’s secret laboratory in Hub City, voices awakened Booster Gold hours after he’d fallen asleep. One was clear, while the other was jerky. It took him a minute to recognize both of the voices’ owners.
“Hello, sleeping beauty,” the Blue Beetle said. “Your robot here said you stole it and your equipment from the future.”
Booster Gold was astounded. Despair sank into him. He was sure the Blue Beetle would turn him in to the authorities. He had to get away.
“Hold on,” said the hero. “I’m willing to give you a chance to explain. You did save the President, and you helped against the Squids. I’m willing to listen to the truth, if you’re ready to tell it.”
“It’s all true,” said Michael Carter. “I am a fugitive from the future.”
“The robot said you wanted to be a hero,” said the Beetle. “Try to get some glory and feel good about your wasted life.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Booster said, protesting.
“How would you put it?” the Beetle said.
Booster Gold opened his mouth. Then he shut it. The Blue Beetle was right. He was a wanna-be hero in a world that didn’t need him.
“Look, don’t get me wrong,” the Beetle said. “This is a dangerous profession, and not for someone who has problems and who doesn’t know the lay of the land. Why don’t you just go home and leave this to the professionals?”
“I’m going to prove to the both of you that I am as good a hero as anybody,” said Booster as he ran off.
“Wait!” said the Beetle, watching as Booster dived into the water. “Damn it. I knew I shouldn’t have brought him back to my headquarters.”
Booster Gold soon ascended from the murky Hub City River. He flew high above the city, his radio tuned to the local emergency channels. The Squids would be in action again — he could feel it. Their leader would want to keep on the offensive until someone found out where his lair was located. Then he would move. Hub City was easy pickings at the moment until the Blue Beetle could figure a way to short out their new capabilities. He expected them to attack, knew it in his bones. The only question was where.
A radio report alerted Booster Gold to the expected robbery. It was in a high-rise overlooking the river. He flew over as fast as his antigravity harness would allow. He would prove he was good enough to be a hero.
Booster arrived on the scene in seconds. The Squids had posted a lookout that gave them a second’s warning before the action-hero blasted him away from the window. Then Booster was in the room, confronting the rest of the orange-suited men. He wished he could tell which one was which so that he could take out their leader first. He realized that was the reason the armor looked the same as he surveyed the battleground.
“Take care of this do-gooder,” one of the Squids shouted to the others.
That was enough to paint a bull’s eye on the man as Booster Gold launched himself across the room. Black beams tried to knock him from the air, but the action-hero evaded the net, smashing against the man who had spoken, sending him flying through the air.
Booster Gold turned and faced the rest of the Squids gang. Luckily, most of the would-be victims had enough sense to start for the door. All he had to do was buy them time. Booster grabbed the leader of the gang from the floor and held him like a shield in front of his body.
The Squids paused in consternation. “Shoot through Van!” shouted one of the more ambitious henchmen. He followed his words with a force bolt.
Booster dropped the Squids leader — the unfortunate Todd Van III — in front of the bolt and threw himself clear. He made sure to blast the guy with initiative out of general principle as he took to the air. After all, that one would keep them organized against the hero’s onslaught.
A radio signal attracted Booster Gold’s attention. He smiled when he heard it. “You clowns couldn’t hit the broad side of an asteroid,” he taunted, randomly firing his blasters at the group as he evaded their efforts to knock him out of the air.
“I’m here,” said a new voice by the window, drawing everyone’s eyes but Booster’s. A tremendous burst of light overwhelmed the Squids as the Blue Beetle made his presence felt. The Squids were blinded by the Blue Beetle’s light pistol.
Booster Gold and Skeets began firing into the group with full-strength lasers. Armored forms flew in different directions as the two struck repeatedly. A token resistance wasn’t enough to stop the fledgling hero and his robotic aide. The Beetle stood by the window and watched, making sure no one escaped that way. The room was wrecked by the time the heroes from the future were done. So were the Squids.
“Are you sure you want to stay in the hero business?” the Blue Beetle asked him after all the commotion was over.