Sentinels of Justice: Panic and the Pantheon, Chapter 2: Friend or Foe?

by Libbylawrence

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Back in the USSR, a rather hesitant young man in an orange coat and blue jeans faced down a gang of men in dark suits. He stood in front of a worn tenement in Moscow, and he knew he was being watched by loved ones and friends. Indeed, it was for the people he grew up with in this neighborhood that he dared to make such a defiant stand against the criminals that were trying to dominate the area.

“You are not welcome in this neighborhood!” he said. “We want nothing from you gangsters!”

One of the men drew out a gun from beneath his own jacket and said, “Let me silence this stripling!”

His older boss nodded and reached for his own gun. “Take care of him!” he said.

But before they could shoot their guns, the gangsters received a shock as the boy leaped ten feet into the air and landed gracefully behind them. They never had a chance to turn around, since he had hurled two of them into their three allies with an amazing show of raw strength. As they dropped to the pavement, they heard laughter as neighbors watched from behind curtains in the buildings around the fight scene.

“We are not alone, Comrade Titov!” cried the fattest of the criminals. “We came prepared for your freakish powers!” He regained his feet in an awkward manner and gestured to the side street, where three cars pulled up to release fifteen more men.

“Marik Titov, you are not alone, either! Soyuz stands with you!” cried a lovely blonde girl in a one-piece red leotard with a mask that covered her eyes but left her lower face and her long blonde hair uncovered. She led six other costumed teens forward, and they sprang into battle around the startled Marik Titov.

“Soyuz!” he gasped as he realized how fortunate he was. The teenagers had become something of a whispered sensation. They were super-powered action-heroes, but they defied the hardline Soviet government. It was unheard of, and it was thrilling.

Their leader, the lovely blonde Firebird, alias Serafina Arkadin, swiftly concentrated and used her mental powers to temporarily scramble the visual and auditory senses of the nearest thugs. “Do not fear — it is merely temporary!” she said as she danced past the blinded men and disarmed them.

“They can’t hear you! Can’t you remember how your own powers work?” teased a lovely girl with curly brown hair. Rusalka the water nymph, alias Mashenka Medvienko, was a shameless flirt and tease, but she was Sera’s best friend, and all the teasing was done in fun. Using her control over water to dehydrate the three gunmen in her path, she smiled in amusement as they dropped to the ground. “A sweet little girl like me just bats her eyelashes at you, and you faint!” she said with a mocking tone. “And I thought you gangsters were all big bad men!”

Her brother Igor Medviedenko, alias Morozko, froze five others to the sidewalk with a wave of his hand and yelled, “It’s your breath, Rusalka!”

“That was cold!” laughed a third girl as she caused a barrage of thorns to rain down on several thugs. Unlike the others, she was not a Soviet, nor did she wear a red leotard. She had long, platinum-blonde hair and wore strapped sandals with a brief red and gold costume that left her legs bare. She had total control over all types of plant life and used the power as Princess Fern, although her real name was Liana. She originally came from the parallel universe known as Earth-Six, which had died in the cosmic-spanning Crisis on Infinite Earths, and now she fought loyally alongside the teens who had rescued her from a Soviet laboratory. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Superpowers.]

The final members of Soyuz were male and very different in size. Little Vikhor, alias Feodor Piotrovich Sorin, was a human whirlwind, and his legs could not be seen as he hovered on a wildly spinning cloud of solid wind. His childish laugh rang out as he hurled the gunmen into the air.

Nearby stood the silent and serious Perun, alias Ilya Trepilov, who drew electrical power from the streetlights and aimed it at the cars, which erupted into flames, forcing the gunmen to flee on foot. Soyuz was simply too strong for common hoods.

Firebird placed one hand on Marik Titov’s arm and said, “I’m Firebird. We are Soyuz. As our name means alliance, so are we family. Would you join us? We will help you.”

Marik smiled broadly and stammered out an affirmative reply when the scene changed, and five of the members of the brown-costumed People’s Heroes appeared to attack the teens.

“Marik was unwitting bait in a trap, my children!” cooed Pravda. “We knew his emerging powers would appeal to you. We merely set up a scenario in which he would be forced to use them, and thus draw you out like moths to the flame!”

“Surrender, children!” said Hammer. “I will not hurt you too severely!”

As the teens prepared to fight back, Serafina mentally blamed herself for leading them into a trap. Why I had to leave without clearing it first with Agent X is beyond me! she thought. He would have spotted the signs of a trap!

She referred to the American secret agent of CHESS, who mentored them in a house outside the city under one of his many disguised roles. Under the alias of Leonid Koloff, the heroic American posed as a wealthy Soviet citizen who was beyond suspicion by the Communist Party. In truth, Sera wondered if she had ever really seen his true face, since his disguises were amazingly realistic.

CHESS was an international peacekeeping agency whose interests were primarily but not exclusively those of Agent X’s native country. The American risked his life daily, but he never showed fear, nor did his resources ever seem to fall short. Now Sera regretted acting on her own more than ever.

The explosive power of Molotov, the fat, oily, bearded titan, shook them all to their knees as he reformed his durable body and prepared to explode on them again.

Firebird staggered from the force and tried to focus her own telepathic gifts as Pravda probed at her mind.

The super-agile Bolshoi lashed out with a martial arts kick that shattered Morozko’s icy shields.

The blonde and deadly Sickle laughed as she tossed back her head and brought her sickle across to block the electrical bolts hurled by Perun. “I can do this all day, boy!” she cried.

Hammer grinned as he moved closer to the others. “Citizen Titov, you are not involved as yet,” he said. “Stand back, and you will be allowed to join our team!”

Marik Titov looked at the two teams, then made a fateful decision. “Soyuz, I am with you!” he cried. Picturing a bear in his mind, he drew up its power to slap Hammer to the ground.

As the blond brute regained his feet, Marik wondered what animal’s might could tame this human savage. He never got to find out, since both teams were suddenly confronted by a new group that swooped down out of the sky to attack them both.

“We are the Pantheon, and you will surrender or die at the hands of our ruler!” cried one exceptionally beautiful blonde woman who glowed with a fiery nimbus around her body.

The Pantheon? thought Princess Fern, having converted the Russian into English.

***

Aboard the Project X satellite, several of the Sentinels of Justice had gathered in response to Sarge Steel’s summons. In addition to Liberty Belle, Felina, Tomorrow Woman, the Countess, and Guardian, the regal Lady Quark, Captain Atom, Booster Gold, and the pliable Shape listened as news alerts were flashed across the computer monitor system.

“Weird monsters out of an episode of Scary Tales have been seen across the nation,” said Booster Gold. “Uh, no offense, Countess!”

The Countess glared at him and said, “Oh, none taken! How could I be offended by an insensitive crack like that?”

Booster, apparently oblivious to her sarcasm, grinned sheepishly and said, “Good. I was afraid I had opened mouth and inserted foot!”

“Most of the creatures have targeted specific locales associated with U.S. military sites or areas where government experiments are being conducted,” explained Captain Atom, the team’s longtime leader. “The thoroughness of where and when such attacks have occurred means one thing. It is an inside job. Someone who knows U.S. state secrets is behind this.”

“Cap, those monsters all came from Greek or Roman mythology,” said Liberty Belle, the team’s second-in-command. “The captive harpies that faded away moments after we tried to bring them here were real. I think the combination of myth and knowledge of U.S. governmental secrets spells one thing: Son of Vulcan!”

Captain Atom nodded and said, “John Mann has ignored every alert the team has had since our battle with Duplicity months ago. (*) For that matter, he has not been at work in months, nor has his heroic alter ego the Son of Vulcan been spotted, either. Our friend is likely behind this. He could control creatures out of myth, but why would he attack his own nation?”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Duplicity.]

“Power has gone to his head,” concluded Lady Quark. “Some not born to greatness cannot handle such lofty duties. He was not born to rule as I was. He was just a mortal thrust into a position of power at the whim of an immortal!”

Fifi rolled her eyes and whispered, “She never forgets that she was a queen on her lost Earth!”

Guardian replied softly, “She lost her husband, her daughter, and their whole planet. She was not just a heroine there; as you said, she was a ruler. All the heroes came from royalty there. We can’t imagine her guilt and her pain. Give her a break!”

Fifi nodded and said, “I’ve got a big mouth!”

“None of us ever got to know Vulcan that well,” said Booster Gold. “He was always a man apart. I mean, aside from his funky taste in clothes, he was a pretty cold character!”

The Shape frowned, and his whole lower face sagged in sorrow. “I liked him,” said the ever-childlike, shape-changing action-hero. “He told me of other artificial beings like the golden women of Vulcan. I want to help him!” Although the Shape had worked with the Sentinels of Justice a few times in years past, it wasn’t until recently that he had become a full-time member of the team.

“Golden women, huh?” said Booster Gold. “Sounds like my kind of crowd. I guess tracing him by his signal device is a bust?”

“We’ve tried that for weeks,” said Captain Atom. “Other matters kept us from pursuing it. We owe John consideration. As the former monitor for this Earth, he may have stumbled onto something too big for even his power to handle. Maybe he is being forced to order these monsters to attack the USA!”

A new figure in a helmet and brown and white costume emerged from the teleportation portal. “I heard enough of what you said to offer some new information, if you’ll hear me out,” began the veteran hero.

“Anything that could lead you to don that suit again after your retirement must be big,” said Captain Atom with a smile for his old ally.

“This was too major for me to handle alone, and my trainees aren’t ready for this kind of mission just yet,” continued the Peacemaker. As Christopher Smith, he had been training out of his Swiss headquarters a crack team of commandos to carry on for him ever since an injury during the Crisis on Infinite Earths had forced the Peacemaker to confront his mortality. (*) Having begun his action-hero career over twenty years ago when his hair was already graying, Smith had decided that it was no longer feasible to continue fighting crime and terrorism now that he had reached his sixties. His new team of commandos, unofficially known as the Peacemakers, would one day continue his fight, allowing him to retire to an advisory role. (*) Still, there were times when the original Peacemaker was needed. “Something very big is going down in the USSR. A real action-hero brawl is going on. My friend Agent X managed to slip word to me through our mutual connections.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986) and Sentinels of Justice: Fantastic Giants, Chapter 4: Suit Up.]

“Are you saying the commies are being attacked, too?” asked Captain Atom as the semiretired Sentinel drew closer.

“Agent X says the same kind of turmoil is happening there, but the attackers are human, not inhuman,” explained the Peacemaker. “Still, they correspond to mythical types. That’s the real connection. If you remember, Captain, we faced a similar situation in Europe last Christmas.”

“Yes, I remember. That was the case that brought the Paragons together,” noted Captain Atom. (*) “Could my old foe Drako be behind this as well?”

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 1: Visitations and The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 2: World Tree.]

“It’s possible,” said the Peacemaker. “As you know, he disappeared shortly after he was jailed, and he hasn’t resurfaced yet.”

“We have to help them,” said Tomorrow Woman. “I mean, we’re all human — no irony intended. We must help the Soviets battle these mythical monsters or their human counterparts!”

“Look, Mary Sunshine, why should we bend a finger to help the Soviets?” said the Countess. “They would gladly watch us all die!”

Liberty Belle interrupted and said, “We are better than that. We believe in higher ideals. Besides, they need help, and that’s what we’re here for!”

“You know, I agree with you!” said the Peacemaker. “A man who fights for peace can appreciate the nuances of a subtle little bit of irony. Our foes are our friends, and our friend may be our foe!”

“Agreed!” said Captain Atom. “While our remaining members and reservists like E-Man, Nova, and Champion handle attacks here at home, the rest of us are heading back to the USSR!”

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