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Interlude Thirtytwo point Two, Star on the Rise

For most, The Russian Mafia was just there, a fact of life in Resky Park, like the Russian Jews with their pickle shops and clothing stores and the second generation dissidents hanging in the coffee shops and talking about going back to Russia - but never actually doing it.

There were those, however, who thought that the Mafia was not a fact, but a blight that could be removed. A wash of counterfeit $20 bills had flooded Resky Park in the past months, and the people who suffered the worst were the small business people, the people who went to the bank with the week's receipts and found that as many as one bill in every twenty was bogus. On a slim profit margin, that loss of 3 or 4 percent was dangerous.

Siberian Star had been backtracking the counterfeiters for weeks. The first steps were not hard. Everyone knew a few mobsters, it was fear that kept them in line. But with his suit and desire for justice, Siberian Star had slowly worked his way closer to the source of the bogus bills. He had also heard rumours that the Russian Mob was clashing with the established crime lords, and that they might be bringing in specialists to even the odds.

That Thursday night, Siberian Star was sitting on the roof of a converted tenement on the Park. Everything he had learned pointed to this room as the center of the counterfeiting operation. Through the frosted pane of the skylight he could see figures moving below him.

Siberian Star gracefully got to his feet and exhaled sending a puff of breath into the Port Alexander sky. The condensers in his suit soaked in the atmospheric moisture and he smiled. With a step he was airborne as his boots suspended him above the skylight, "All hail Russo-Soviet technology," he whispered with pride before elevating a few meters over the skylight and then plunged through the pane as he dedicated the night to his grandfather.

Hovering in the air he reviewed the scene. He was three meters above the floor, directly above a printing press spewing out sheets of $20s. Two shocked looking bearded men had been tending the press and were now staring at him, slack jawed. The room had a single door and two Mob bruisers stood by it one with a machine pistol of some kind and other a pistol-gripped shotgun. By far the most interesting figure, though, was slouched in a chair near a table by the only window. Dressed in a yellow bodysuit with green stripes on the shoulder, he had a glass of vodka halfway to his mouth when SS made his appearance.

"Dobry vecher my friends," said the man known as Siberian Star, his Russian perfectly accented. "Surrender or face the consequences of your actions."

The hovering hero glanced over toward the two armed men at the door and smiled. With an outstretched hand he sent a blast of cold in their direction. "Good choice," he acknowledged.

The frosty blast dropped the first gunman and a second blast sent his companion to join him.

Quickly he turned and lighted down beside the printing press operators who were recovering from their shock of his entry. "Don't do something stupid that you will regret," he warned.

"That's a mite unfriendly, lad," came a voice speaking with an Irish lilt. Siberian Star turned to see the man in the bodysuit coming to his feet. "Unfriendleeeeee..." his voice rose toward a screech and Siberian Star felt himself assaulted by the sound.

Siberian Star nimbly dove to his right landing in roll and returned to his feet. "Your taste in vodka is to be commended, but your taste in drinking songs is regrettable. A funeral dirge would be more appropriate considering your future."

"A dirge'll sound my lad, but it'll be for you, and Sonar will do the playing," again the sound ratcheted up in frequency and power. Siberian Star was expecting it and rolled clear. "Now for a bit of punch up," said Sonar and charged in at the young hero.

Siberian Star dropped to one knee to avoid the blow. As Sonar stumbled off balance the youngster unleashed a wave of cold into the villain. "Do I detect a brogue? that would explain what a lightweight you are when it comes to drinking. You should really stick to the girly drinks and leave the vodka for real men."

Sonar rocked back and his eyes crossed momentarily. "You bloody Russian poof," he spat out, then began keening at a different pitch than before. The space between the two men took on a slight haze, like a heat haze.

Siberian Star watched his vision distort as Sonar erected some sort of barrier and dove to the side. 'Nyet,' he said to himself, 'you're not keeping me away or out.' The hero tumbled over the printing press to get a better angle so he could press his attack. "What's the matter, can't take Mother Russia's fury?" he taunted.

The barrier, if barrier it was, seemed to surround Sonar completely. With his mouth occupied generating his shield, he couldn't return Siberian Star's taunt, but smiled nastily instead and closed in.

Siberian Star danced away from Sonar's punches, "So tell me, did your daddy scream like a girl too?"

Enraged the Irishman kept swinging.

Siberian Star pointed and a block of ice began to form rapidly around Sonar from the ground up. He could see that the ice was not actually forming on Sonar but was building an inch or two away from his body, at the point where the haze effect was located.

With his target trapped, Siberian Star cut loose with another icy blast. For a moment, nothing happened as the attack was stopped just short of Sonar, then suddenly the haze vanished leaving the villian standing in, but not trapped by, a close fitting block of ice.

"Bloody 'ell, lad," said the man, vaulting nimbly out of the frozen casing, "Not bad. But not good enough." He began to keen and the barrier began to form again.

Siberian Star sighed, "One tune, and its a drag." He glanced over toward the still running press and pointed. "Consider your assets frozen." A beam of energy shot out and slammed into the press.

His shield in place, Sonar bounced lightly onto the wreckage of the press and sailed off to slam into Siberian Star.

Siberian Star gave before the attack and Sonar slid harmlessly to the ground. Sonar got to his feet and began to scream, as he did his shield dropped. Siberian Star wove away from the attack and then dove in to smash a blow against his foe. Sonar spun around into the wall and collapsed in a heap.

Siberian Star shook his fist and mentally reminded himself to put some ice on it when he got home. The irony caused him to crack a smile. Then he went looking for a phone to call the police ... and the press.

While Siberian Star waited for the police and press to respond to his call, he searched the warehouse for any information on who Sonar was working for, or their next caper. The sound of sirens saw the hero smooth out his suit and touch up his hair. Exiting the warehouse, Siberian Star held up his hands amid the flashing lights and identified himself quickly taking an authoritative air.

"These are your counterfeiters, two escaped but I have captured the leader of this group." Siberian Star informed the police of Sonar and his abilities, fully suspecting that they would be unable to contain him once he reached consciousness. After introducing himself, Siberian Star told the officer in charge "The Treasury department can rest assured that the plates and press are unusable, you can find that inside." In a cooperative manner, the hero decribed the events leading up to the conflict and assured the officer that he would be in touch when more information came to light.

"Yes sir, your jobs just became easier," assured the cold warrior. Siberian Star continued to encourage the police until he saw the mobile television new van pull up. "If you'll excuse me."

With a confident stride Siberian Star approached the reporter he recognized from the late news as Irina Guryanova. "Zdravstvuyte, you are here to see me." The Russian reporter quickly recovered from her shock at the man and his boldness, cueing her cameraman to begin rolling. Sensing her concern, Siberian Star comforted her "My outward appearance may say one thing, but I assure you, the man inside this suit brings a different message." She nodded, and began filming.

The usual mantra of station identification, her name, whereabouts, and perfunctory greeting of Carla DiFriccati in the studio flowed out in a professional manner as Siberian Star stared into the bright lights.

"I am here with one of the newest heroes of Port Alexander, " Irina Guryanova prompted.

Siberian Star seized the opportunity. "Correction. I am the hero of Port Alexander. Many of your viewers may recognize me for what was, but the Cold War is a thing of the past just as what this outfit used to represent. Times have changed and now I, the Siberian Star, am prepared to bury the past, restore the present, and assure the future. Nothing can withstand the relentless fury of the Siberian winter, except the stout of heart and those who are dedicated to the forthcoming season of prosperity. Tonight, those who sought to oppress and rob from the worthy; met the fate that lies ahead for all who choose to follow in their path. The cold fury of the Siberian Star." The hero then rattled off the same warning in Russian before taking to the air and disappearing into the night; making sure to leave a light dusting of snow over the head of the reporter as she searched for an explanation from the police spokesman on site.

As his bootjets whirred into the night Siberian Star slightly smiled at how over the top his first appearance came across. It would get easier, he told himself, but there was so much history that needed to be confronted and there was no turning back now. Tomorrow would be a day unlike any other in his life, in a few short hours he would be awake and see what the neighborhood was talking about.

		*		*		*		*
Flex was out patrolling in his usual fashion, when something caught his eye. On a nearby rooftop, angled so that it would only visible from above, was a neon sign which read "FLEX CAN WE TALK?"

Rather taken aback by this, Flex still thought it prudent to scout the immediate perimeter. Moving as efficiently and as quietly as he could he moved around the immediate location until he was satisfied that he was not walking into a trap.

"Once bitten," Flex thought to himself, as he approached the sign cautiously.

He made a pass around the area, and it seemed deserted except for the sign, a small table and chair, and a man in the chair reading by a clip-on book light.

"Wow this does rank as odd," Flex muttered to himself as he wearily approached the man. Climbing down one wall and all the while being cautious, Flex closed in on the man. When he was within a short distanced, he cleared his throat and spoak up. "This is a most unusual way to get my attention. Anyway now you've got it. What is it that you want?"

Flex tried not to sound discurtious, but at the same time he couldn't help an edge creeping into his voice. Having been ambushed a short while ago, he still felt vulnerable patrolling on his own.

The man jumped a bit when he heard Flex'es voice. "Who? Ah, Flex! Good. My name is Agent Jones, I work for IPAC - the International Paranormal Activities Comittee - and we've been wanting to talk to you for a while."

"Who," Flex found himself saying before he forgot, that it probably wasn't wise to show his ignorance. The man didn't seem to notice though.

He pulled a cell phone from a pocket and punched a few buttons. "I'm just on sentry duty here. Mr. Watkins will want to speak to you directly. Ah, here we go." He turned to speak into the phone, "Jones at FP2. Contact has been made, is Mr. Watkins available? Good. Good. Yes. Yessir." He offered the phone to Flex, "He'd like to talk to you."

As the man held out the cell Flex hesitated. Then seeing how absurd it was to fear a simple cell he took it and answered.

"This is Flex, who am I speaking to?"

"Flex?" asked the voice on the phone. "My name is Mr. Watkins, with IPAC. I'd like to meet with you to talk about a few things - explain who we are and what we do, and see if perhaps we can find a way to work together in the future."

For a moment Flex still felt on edge. It wasn't so much that he automatically didn't like authority figures but that from his earliest days he and his family had run afoul of them. First his father always seemed to be at the beck and call of his superiors. Men who told him what to do and what to say, which was the reason that he was often away.

Then there was the kind of unofficial authority that is earned by physical force, or threats of violence. He came across that with the gang he ran with, after his fathers death. Then their was the kind of authority demonstrated by men like Saruva, who thought and acted as if they could do as they pleased. Authority meant being told what to do and lately the only time he hadn't resented that was at the Wander No More House. There authority came because you respected people, not because they demanded it, bought it, or fought for it. There people worked under one another, out of mutual respect and appreciation.

Of the two types of authority Flex couldn't help wondering which one IPAC operated under and what this would mean for him. Still he had taken a new course and so far those in authority had appreciated his efforts. Perhaps some recognition would not go amiss.

"OK, I'm in. When and where are my next two questions?"

"Splendid!" said Mr. Watkins. "Are you available now? Jones can bring you to one of our facilities in Port Alexander and I can meeet you there is, say, thirty minutes?"

Flex had to give them their due, they did seem to be efficient. But that did not alley his fears. "Wait a second. Although I would love to check out your pad, how do I know you, and this offer is on the level? Sorry to seem so skeptical. But how do I know you aren't this weeks super villain, out to get a 'mask' for yourselves?"

"Agent Jones should have shown you his identification, but that might not have done much for you," said Watkins. "We could meet at a place of your choosing, if you'd rather. But let me give you the precis right now. We are, as the name implies, an International group dedicated to dealing with Paranormal issues. We adminster the Para-Normal Detention Facilities, the PNDFs - actually one of our guests is someone you know, William Smith aka Pogo. The police knew they couldn't expect to hold him, so they handed him off to us. You've been making a bit of a name for yourself, and so you came to our attention. We can help you, Flex. We have sources of information, facilities to hold and interrogate para-normal criminals and more. And you can help us, too."

It all sounded very good. Flex had wondered previously what had happened to Pogo and other such Super Villains when they were captured.

Flex continued to debate within himself as he kept Watkins waiting. Although he had not given the issue a lot of thought, it did make a certain amount of sense to work more closely with these kind of people. After all they could well aid him in his mission to help the helpless of Port Alexander.

"Ok - for the moment lets say your on the level. I am not sure of all the details yet, but lets agree to meet. I can be at this facility you mentioned. Jones, here can show me the way. Thirty minuates if fine. Flex out."

Handing the phone back to Jones, Flex indicated to Jones to lead the way.

Jones quickly turned the "Flex-signal" off and broke it down into a suitcase sized package. "This way, Flex," he said and led Flex down to the street. He used a remote to unlock the doors on a car parked there and went around to the driver's side, leaving Flex free to pick his own seat.

A fairly short drive brough them to a two story building near the docks. The bottom floor was a diner, The Odyssey, and a small staircase to the second floor was labelled "Stoikos Importers." Jones took him up the stairs to a fairly non-descript office, nodded to the secretary and stood in front of what looked like a normal door to the backrooms of Stoikos. There was an audible click and the door swung open, Flex saw it was actually made of what looked like solid steel. Behind the door was a clean and modern looking facility at odds with the dingy Stoikos lobby. "Come on in, Flex," said Jones. "Would you some coffee or something while you wait? The food downstairs is really good, and we can get them to run something up."

"Wow did you get all this at Wal- Mart or some super spy discount retailer? Its pretty neat," Flex said, seeking to cover both his own ignorance and fear about what might be in for him in this place. Its not like I cannot handle these guys," He pondered to himself, "Its just that I'm not sure what I might be called up to handle."

Stepping and looking around the room for possible exits - be they other doors, windows or just a ventilation shaft, Flex sat down taking it all in, with a deliberate slow and broad sweep. Then turning to Jones he said, "Coffee, decaff would be great. Thanks."

"Right," Jones tapped an intercom and order the coffee. "Ah, do you have any questions while we wait for Mr. Watkins?"

"Well, now that you come to mention it, yes I do. For instance, why don't you being by tellng me how this organisation came about? And how come I haven't heard of you before? And what is the scope of your opperations? That'll be enough to begin with," said Flex as he leaned back, listening intently to Jones as he spoke.

"IPAC has been around for a while now," said Jones. "It was pretty obvious that normal prisons couldn't hold supervillians. So, something had to be done. We're it."

"Thank you, Agent Jones," said a voice from the door. "I'll handle it from here."

"Yes, Mr. Watkins," said Jones. "Take care, Flex." Jones left quickly as Watkins, a rather non-descript man in a non-descript suit came in and took a seat.

As Jones left, Flex nodded his thanks back to the man. Then he turned back to Watkins, as he listened in to what he had to say.

"As Jones was saying," Watkins continued, "as Para-Normal crime increased, conventional crime-fighting methods and methods of incarceration became inadequate. Attempts were made at a national level to deal with the problem, but Paranormal criminals are even more likely than regular criminals to operate on an international level and require an international solution. However, nations being touchy about things like extradition, sovreignity and so on, a covert solution was deemed appropriate. And, as Agent Jones so succinctly put it, We're it."

Jones put his briefcase on the table and began to remove some items from it as he spoke. "In short, what we do is attempt to co-ordinate all Paranormal activity in our sphere of operation. We have paranormal operatives attached directly to IPAC, and others, like the Protectors, with whom we cooperate as much as possible. We manage facilities for the incarceration of paranormal criminals, serve as a clearing house for information on the same, and so forth.

"In order to do our job, we need to maintain a database of paranormals that we can call upon or advise of situations that might need their attention. That, Flex, is why we are talking today."

"Very Impressive, Mr Watkins. But I fail to see how someone like me, should have drawn your attention. I'm hardly a highstakes player like the Protectors. What good, can I be to you and what is it, you want to know about me to achieve that end?" Flex moved forward as he said this, putting aside the still steaming cup of coffee that had appeared with Watkins entrance.

"Don't underestimate yourself, Flex," said Watkins, "you had good success against ..." he consulted some papers, "Pogo and Skylark. And Sting said you had run up against Dr. Saruva.

"What we would like to do is this. First, offer you one of these," he pushed a small cell-phone looking object across the table to Flex. "It's an IPAC BeeperPhone...

Flex picked up the phone realising that since the last time he had met Saruva he had been without one. Flipping it open he played with the keys to get the ghist of what it did. The shut it back up and placed it in front of him, listening patiently.

"With it you can contact us," explained Watkins, "for instance if you need pickup of a pararnormal criminal. We can also use it contact you if we have a situation that could use a man of your talents. Which brings me to the next point. What exactly are your talents? We've got reports from Pogo and Skylark that indicate some kind of body deformation, what else can you tell us?" Wilkins waited pen ready.

"So they know I can change my body form but not that I can assume another human's identity. OK," Thought Flex as he sought a way out, without lying outright.

"Well, Mr. Watkins, you're right. I am glad to see you files do seem to be accurate. I am called Flex because that is what I can do." By way of demonstration, Flex allowed his fingers to distend so that each of his five digits was spread out over the full surface of the table. "Viola, if you like. With this ability I can jump extended distances, stretch into or through tight spaces and I am also working on some developing finer control."

At this point Flex hesitated. "I'm not happy about saying anymore," He thought. "After all secrets are just that." Then he concluded out loud, "And so if these abilities can help, then I'm willing to lend a hand."

He picked up the still hot cup of coffee with two fingers still stretched out, whilst the others retracted to there normal size. "So have you got a job in mind, or is this just the preliminary discussion?"

"Very astute, Flex, there is something specific we wanted to talk to you about,"

Flex nodded, glad to have got one up in this encounter for the first time.

The Protectors have been missing for a few days, and this isn't the first time, so we wanted to have direct contact with a few other heroes in the area.

Flex had not heard anything about this, equally knew that things had been awkwardly quiet of late. The sudden disappearance of the team, now explained why. Flex thought of interrupting but then decided, on second thoughts to wait until Watkins had finished.

"Second, we wanted to talk to you about this new hero, Siberian Star."

At the mention of the name, Flex drew a blank. He could not recall having heard of the name before. "Another new hero you say. Hmm" Flex drew his hand to his chin in a thoughtful pose. Partially spoilt by the fact that two of digits still remained suspending the cup of coffee away from his face. He continued, "He must be new since I've never heard of him, or come across him for that matter. He sounds Russian! Do have any idea what would he be doing here?"

"Only slightly. He shut down a counterfeiting operation in Resky Park, but his equipment and such looks like a modification of that worn by the Soviet Star. Soviet Star was a thug for the Soviet super-team Hammer and Sickle, before the fall of Communism. If he's back, it could be dangerous," said Watkins. "It doesn't look like he is, but we'd still like to talk to this Siberian Star.

"We're also concerned about villians for hire being used by the Russian mafia. At least one operative of an organization known as the Net was working for them. This is a dangerous sort of escalation to be happening," said Watkins.

Flex listened in intently. The information about the Soviets was new to him but when Watkin's mentioned the Net, his ears perked up. "The Net I've heard of them. I tangled with a few of their operatives not long ago. We captured one Freebird but she had an accomplice that got away. Didn't catch his name.

Watkins consulted a file, "Quantam. We know a bit about him."

Flex notched up and eye brow as he noted the intel. "These guys do seem to be straight up." He thought as he began to consider the possibilities, then filed them away for future reflection.

"Perhaps, since she is like me, she may have ended up with you? If so she may be worth talking to. We tried but she wouldn't talk without a lawyer present. You know the deal." Flex looked at Watkin's with a certain amount of chagrin, he certainly knew the deal, due to his own criminal past.

"We've got her in custody, and have found out what we could. That's the type of information we correlate for heroes who are cooperating with us. We'd appreciate it if you could take a few minutes and add whatever information you have to the file."

"Anyway, it sounds as if the Net is supply the muscle for these the Ruskies. And if I read it right you want me to check out Siberian Star. Find out of he's on our side, theirs or is working another angle, is that it?" asked Flex.

"That's about the size of it," said Watkins. "We're pretty sure he's not working for the Net since he took out one of their operatives, Sonar. But is he working for a rival Russian faction, maybe an old hard-liner Communist one, or is he what he seems to be, a hero trying to make a name for himself and who just happens to have access to what looks like old Soviet super-hardware?"

"OK, I'm game but what leads do we have?"

"Siberian Star seems to be operating out of the Resky Park area, which makes sense given the Russian connection. He's doing all the right things, patrolling the area, shutting down minor operators and so on. You might be able to find him just by patrolling in that neighborhood yourself.

"However, the wild card in this situation is another suspected paranormal. Although we can't pin it down exactly, there have been a couple of suspicious fires including one that destroyed a drug lab. That lab was working in direct competition with the Russian mafia and we think it was taken out by a paranormal working for or with the Russians."

"So we do have something of a 'Molotov cocktail' going on here. If you'll excuse the pun." Flex straightened, getting up from his seat. "Ok, I'm your man. I will look into it. I will report back what I can find and keep you informed."

Moving around the table so as to stand in front of Watkins, Flex leaned over. "One other thing before I go, Mr Watkins. I wear a mask to protect my identity and that of those who depend on me. If I take this," Flex gestured to the cell unit, which still lay untouched on the table still. "How can I know that my private life remains just that?"

"You have to trust us. However, it is very much in our own interest to play straight with you. If we don't, word will get out and we will lose the trust and cooperation of the Paranormal heroic community," said Watkins. "Which would limit our ability to fulfill our mandate."

As he turned this over in his mind Flex realised how attractive this looked. "Maybe I'm just to cynical. Why shouldn't this be something in my favour."

"OK Watkins I'm your man," Flex agreed as he stretched out and withdrew the phone from the table and placed it in a discreet hidden section of his costume.

"Right well, I've got your number I'll call as and when. It'll probably take a few days. Resky is not my usual haunt." With a jaunty wave, Flex leapt out of the door down the stairs and out onto the nearest rooftop.

Last Updated 20 August 2003