by Dan Swanson
Benington, Colorado, had been a city with almost no crime for many years, but last year, during the first inventors’ convention, there had been several robberies. One of the banks, Furr’s Grocery Store, one of the saloons, and a couple of local citizens had all been victims. As the driving force behind the convention, Wayland Steele had been blamed for these robberies over and over again, almost daily, ever since. Finally, he’d decided to do something about it. He couldn’t change what had happened last year, but he was absolutely determined to prevent anything similar from happening this year. He’d spent six months preparing for this night.
He pulled on his dark maroon over black, almost-bulletproof nomex bodysuit, adjusted his cowl with its built in infrared goggles and headphones, carefully checked the nomex glider wings to be sure they would deploy properly when he needed them, fastened on his gadget-packed utility belt, and pulled on his specially equipped boots. He stood up straight, looked in his mirror, and announced proudly, “Look out, world… here comes Night Sentry!” He wondered if he’d really have the nerve to actually let other people see him dressed this way; how did other heroes do it? I suppose it’s easier the second time, he tried to convince himself. And if I don’t get started, there never will be a second time!
The new mystery-man climbed the stairs to the roof of his garage. His shop was on the edge of the city, and he wanted to get downtown before anyone saw him in costume, so nobody would associate him with this location. On the roof, he faced the taller building across the street. He crouched and touched a control on his belt, and the special springs in the soles of his boots uncoiled explosively, throwing him high into the air. He did a flip, spread his arms to control his path, and landed gently on the roof of the higher building. He jogged across the roof, then repeated the process with the next building, this time ending up four stories above the streets. Finally, from four stories up, he launched himself as much higher as his springs would take him, spread his wings, and started gliding downtown. His infrared vision helped him pick out warmer areas where he could catch thermal updrafts, and he was able to extend his glide all the way downtown without having to land and spring again.
There was an entertainment district in Benington comprising two saloons, the Benington Arms Hotel, and a pub. That’s where the troubles last year had started, and that’s where Night Sentry now headed. There were about a dozen people on the sidewalks when he flashed by overhead, making a sweeping turn. Now only a few feet off the pavement, he suddenly jerked his arms down, forcing the wings to flare and bringing him to an abrupt halt as he rotated into a vertical position and then dropped straight down on his feet to a graceful landing. He was relieved; he’d practiced the landings more than anything else, and he still stumbled about half the time. He so wanted to look cool on his first landing in public.
“Hey, look, honey!” a young man said to his dinner date. “It looks like that Red Rocket guy from Chicago! (*) Wonder what he’s doing here?” She had no idea who he was talking about, instead grabbing his arm and dragging him frantically back into the pub, while yelling for the police. Some of the people nearby pulled out pistols, and he was quickly at the center of an ominous armed crowd.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: Times Past, 1953: The Origin of Red Rocket and Tom Atomic.]
“Hey, hold it!” he protested. “I’m one o’ the good guys! You must’a seen the announcement in the Record about the Chamber of Commerce getting special security for the inventors’ conference this week!” He’d chosen the synthetic fabric nomex, because it would give him maximum protection, but he was pretty sure it wouldn’t stop half a dozen bullets at point-blank range. “That’s me — I’m Night Sentry! I’m here to prevent the bad things that happened last year.”
“Oh, yeah?” snarled one of the women holding guns. “Why ain’t we heard of you before? How do we know you’re not the same guy that robbed us all last year?” Several others muttered agreement, and he heard snitches of such awful whispers as, “shoot him!” and “hang ‘im!” He couldn’t believe it; some of these folks were his neighbors. He noticed that the crowd was growing larger as people went into the surrounding establishments and told the folks inside what was happening on the street.
One of the armed men added mockingly, “Nobody reads that rag, anyway. If somebody’d really wanted to alert the public, wouldn’t there’d be posters all over town?” There was more agreement, and the circle started drawing tighter.
“Think with your brain–” Night Sentry said, about to say the man’s name, but instead stuttered, “B — uhhh… buddy! The mayor’s son owns the Record. Free story in the paper, or payin’ for posters? Whatta you think they’d do?” A few of them looked thoughtful at that. He continued. “If I was the thief, would I have landed near the buncha you, right out on Main Street and just walked up t’ you? Even a crook’s not that dumb!” he said scornfully. Some of the inner circle nodded their heads and started putting away their heat.
“Umm… Bob?” one of the women spoke up, addressing the guy who’d made the disparaging crack about the Benington Record. “I read that ‘rag,’ as you call it, every day, and so do a lot of other people in town.” Several of the others nodded their heads. “This here masked man… Night Sentry…” She pointed at him. “…is right — the C.C. was gonna hire special security this year, but the story also said they were way short on funds.”
“So they got a mystery-man nobody’s ever heard of?” Bob was sarcastic. “We’re supposed to feel safer with this guy protecting us?”
Wayland decided he’d heard enough from his neighbor, so he literally leaped into action. His hand dropped instantly to his belt, triggering the springs in his boots, and he was suddenly launched into the air. He did a flip and a half-twist and came down behind the startled Bob before the would-be vigilante could make a move, wrapping his arms around the loudmouth and forcing him to drop his gun.
“You haven’t heard of me before tonight,” he said, right into Bob’s ear. “But you have now — and you’ll hear more in the future!” He raised his voice, speaking to the whole crowd, which had now swelled to almost a hundred. “The name’s Night Sentry, folks — the new mystery-man in town!” There was a smattering of applause and some scattered cheers, and the inner circle had now put away their sidearms. “I’m glad t’ see you folks are all set t’ protect yourselves — seems like Benington’s prepared this year. Tell all your friends there’s a new ally on your side this year, too.”
Someone had been pushing through the crowd, and Police Chief Slade Mason stepped up to Night Sentry. “Don’t want no masked vigilantes in my town, mister!” he spoke quietly but forcefully. “Gonna have to ask you to move along.”
Night Sentry wasn’t going to get in a ruckus with the Benington Police on his first outing, but he wasn’t going to let them run him out of town, either. “Can we speak privately, Chief Mason?” he asked, just as quietly. Mason was a little surprised to hear his name, but as long as this hero was being polite, he would be, too. He prided himself on the good reputation of his force, and he was the prime example. Almost every citizen in Benington thought of the BPD as friends and good neighbors.
“OK, folks, move along. Everything’s under control here,” he announced to the crowd. As people went back to their varied entertainment spots for the evening, Mason and Night Sentry walked slowly toward the chief’s squad car.
“Chief, I’d really like t’ help out around here the next couple of days. And maybe keep on helping out after that…” he said, pleading his case.
“Son, we already got us police to help out the people here in Benington, and we sure don’t need no masked mystery-men — or women — to help us out. We ain’t a big city like New York or Chicago, and we don’t have any of them darned ‘super-villains’ — and I sure don’t want any of them in my town, neither! ‘Sides, I don’t know nuthin’ about you — how do I know you’re not some would-be super-villain yourself?”
Night Sentry stepped into a recessed entranceway, which was darker than the rest of the street. “You do know me, Chief. Don’t tell anybody!” He pulled back his cowl for a second, revealing his identity as Wayland Steele to the startled officer. “I got tired of hearing how I’d brought so much crime to the town — from you and everyone else — so I decided to do something about it. It’s every citizen’s duty to fight crime, right? I’ve heard you say that before.”
In fact, Chief Mason used that line all the time, whenever he addressed a group like the Chamber of Commerce, Junior Women’s Club, the Lion’s Club, Elks, Masons, an assembly at the school, or gave a speech, like when he was the grand marshall of the Fourth of July Parade. It was his personal catchphrase, and he’d always believed it. He stammered and hemmed and hawed, and kept trying to object.
“You aren’t trained, and you’ll get hurt!”
“I was trained as a shipboard M.P., trained to deal with drafted soldiers, right out of basic training, heading for Korea, and veterans returning from that hellhole. I was a Golden Gloves fighter before I went in the Navy, and a good one. And don’t give me that ‘get hurt’ stuff — every cop and jake takes that risk every day — and it don’t slow none of them down a lick!”
Mason wasn’t sure what to do; he realized he couldn’t actually force his friend to give up his mystery-man role unless he did something illegal. And then he started thinking long-term; Benington would be the only city in Colorado with its own costumed hero. If it worked out, it sure would be great for the city’s image. Maybe there were some good sides to this he ought to consider.
“It’ll be dangerous — and you might get in trouble that the BPD can’t help you out of. If you put any of my men in danger, you’ll end up in my jail!” he emphasized strongly. “I sure hope you don’t end up dead.”
“I hope not, too! Thanks, Chief. Gotta go finish my patrol!” And with that, Night Sentry took his leave.
Climbing buildings using the spring launchers in his boots to get high enough to glide was tedious, so Night Sentry went to an alternate method of transportation. Another touch of a control, and recessed wheels in the heels of his boots extended. Powerful high-speed motors whirred to life, and the new hero swept off silently and swiftly down the street. He was very pleased so far with the performance of the spring and his heel wheels, which he’d machined from a metal alloy he called electrium.
There wasn’t much traffic in Benington, even this early, and he finished his patrol quickly. The planned route ended near his shop. Every time he passed a group of people, they pointed at him, and some continued to run away, but nobody interfered with him. He passed a couple of police prowl cars, but they didn’t try to stop him either. Apparently, Chief Mason had already radioed an alert to them.
He hadn’t expected to find anything on his first patrol. He hit the hay for a nap and set his alarm for three A.M. and his next patrol. This time, he didn’t bother leaping; instead he wore a long trenchcoat and walked a couple of blocks, then left the coat concealed in a hedge. With no traffic at all, he drove his wheels to higher speeds than before. He quickly realized that thirty miles per hour was about the optimal speed to balance visibility and the hazards of the road.
In a parking lot behind a warehouse on the edge of the city, he heard and then saw a crowd of people cheering and booing, and zoomed in to see what was going on. He pushed his way through the crowd. There was a circle of people, and inside the circle, two men were beating the snot out of each other.
“All right, guys, break it up!” He pulled one guy away from the other and stepped between them. “All the rest of you, go on home! This fight is over!”
The crowd didn’t look relieved, they looked angry, and started muttering. Night Sentry suddenly had an uneasy feeling, and began to realize what was actually going on here. He might actually be in trouble.
“The heck it’s over!” yelled the fighter who had been on the bottom, and launched himself at the fledgling hero. “The betting was just getting started, you no-good buttinsky!” He smashed a powerful roundhouse right to Night Sentry’s jaw. The hero hadn’t been expecting this, and he saw a black flash filled with bright explosions while he staggered backward. The other fighter tripped him, and he fell to the ground. Both fighters jumped on him. In the crowd, new bets were being placed.
“Fifty bucks on Panther and the Killer!” a man yelled, and the money holders quickly started accepting wagers. From the betting, it looked like the odds were about four to one against Night Sentry. The two fighters were smashing blows to his head and body, and the hero had just barely managed to get his arms up to protect his vulnerable chin.
What the fighters were just learning was that his costume had some internal padding, and their blows were having only minimal effect — and the rough surface of the tough nomex fabric was taking its toll on their bare hands. When the Killer realized the knuckles on his left hand were bleeding, he backed off just a little, and that was all Night Sentry needed to make his move. His hand flashed down to his belt, and he lashed out with a solid kick to the Killer’s chest, and just the slightest use of the launching spring in the sole of his boot added the extra power needed to throw the bare-knuckled fighter into the air, and he flew backward into the crowd. This startled Panther long enough for Night Sentry to scramble to his feet. The crowd cheered loudly, and pushed and jostled and shoved the Killer back into the ring.
“I’m not here to fight…” Night Sentry started to say. “Oohmph!” he finished, as Panther landed a solid left to his stomach.
“Too bad, masked man! Me and da Killer is here ta fight, and weese gonna give deese guys dere money’s wort’! Right, Killer?” The crowd cheered more loudly. Night Sentry dodged a wild swing to his head by Panther, and the Killer managed to hit him in the side, below the ribs. It was time to start taking these guys seriously.
Boxing wasn’t the appropriate fighting style against two opponents, but Night Sentry had some other tricks in his bag. He decided not to use the gadgets built into his costume unless he needed to; they’d be more effective against future opponents if they were still secret. He’d picked up a good bit of Asian martial arts training on board the C.C. Balloo, taught by combat veterans returning to the States from Korea who were bored with doing nothing on the long trip home. That training, plus the protection his costume gave him, plus the electrium brass knuckles built into his gloves, should give him enough advantage against these two — he hoped. It would be a bad omen to lose his first battle as Night Sentry.
He stood facing his two opponents, crouching slightly, his arms lifted in front of him, his hands open. There was very little science in their fighting styles; they usually swung as hard as they could, and they were perfectly willing to trade being hit three times to land one solid blow of their own. All three fighters were being worn down, though Night Sentry was sure he would outlast his opponents. The crowd was certainly getting their money’s worth, and the betting was brisk. Night Sentry kept watching for his chance, and there it was. The end came quickly.
Panther, to his left, swung a roundhouse right at Night Sentry’s head. The hero moved his head enough to dodge, then reached his left hand for the fighter’s right shoulder and pulled, adding his own momentum to that of the punch, spinning Panther between himself and the Killer. He pushed off with his right leg into a clockwise spin, pivoting on his left foot, then planted the right leg and continued spinning on it, dropping his shoulders and raising his left leg for a powerful kick to the back of the Killer’s head. The fighter was wide open; he’d never seen a move like that before. He flew forward, waving his arms and thrashing his legs, and again crashed into the crowd. This time, he didn’t get back up.
“Fifty more on the masked man!” someone in the crowd yelled, but this time there were no takers. Panther moved more cautiously now, and everyone could see he was a little nervous.
“Hey, pretty boy, how ’bout a real fight, man to man, none of that sissy kickin’ stuff?!” he jeered at the hero. “You got what it takes?” He was repeatedly jabbing now with his left and circling as he talked. “Mark of Queens rules — or are ya yellow?”
Night Sentry had to laugh at that. As he did, Panther moved in almost as fast as his nom de guerre. He made a quick one-two to the solar plexus area, then stepped back and launched a deadly right at the head. Night Sentry knocked it outside with his upraised left and stepped in for a short right to the jaw, delivered with all the power he had. And he hadn’t been a blacksmith for the last few years for nothing. The electrium brass knuckles in his glove smashed squarely into the side of Panther’s jaw, snapping him around in a complete circle before he fell to the pavement, unconscious.
The money-holders tried to slip away, but those who had bet on Night Sentry wanted their winnings, and little knots of shouting betters formed in the larger crowd. Night Sentry took advantage of the confusion to slip away quietly. Bare knuckle prizefighting was illegal, but he knew it wouldn’t be prosecuted, and it was not the type of crime he had planned on fighting. Still, he was proud of his effort; he’d never fought two men at once before in a serious fight, and it was good to know that he could do it. Rather than waste his time messing around here any longer, he leaped into the air with an assist from his boot launch sprints, and glided back toward downtown. He finished the second patrol of his career with no further action, and went to bed for the rest of the night.