Retroactive Heroics




The Retro Jetpack Chronicle

He couldn't see, but his other senses were sharply alert. He could feel the cool water lapping against his abdomen. He could hear the gentle splashing and light, labored breathing of the others very close by.

He turned slowly, his arms outstretched, listening as the ripples fanned outward, like waves of aquatic sonar.

He took a slow step forward, waving his arms in front of him. He drew in a quick breath, tasting the chlorine-tang of the water. "Marco!" he yelled.

Around him, he heard the answering call like a dyslexic echo, "Polo!" He cocked his head to the side. One of them was very close. He lurched forward, reaching blindly. He heard frantic splashing. His hand waved through empty air before slapping the surface of the water. He had missed.

He stopped, mentally regaining his bearings. "Marco!" he called again.

This time, the answering replies sounded further away. He had frightened his prey, who now were now keeping a cautious distance.

He rotated, trailing his fingertips along the surface of the water. Suddenly, he blurted out unexpectedly, "MARCO!"

The water became turbulent, churning violently as "Polo!" resounded all around him. He spun quickly, his arm outstretched and felt it strike flesh!

Panting, he pulled off the blindfold. The two-time Olympic Gold Metal Marco Polo player from the Reunified Democracy of Russia stood before him, a red welt on his left shoulder. Retro smacked him on the back good-naturedly. "You really gave me a run for my money that time, Gregor."

* * *

Nobel Prize winning Rocketologist, Professor Jacob Jetpack peered at the computer print-out. Reams of perforated paper trailed from it along the floor. The data on each and every one of the sheets led to the same conclusion; Someone was using a massive, super-heated ray projector from orbit to melt the Northern Polar Icecap.

As one of the world's most renowned scientists, he didn't need to guess twice about who was responsible. He picked up the phone and dialed the operator. "Get me the Earth Defense Alliance Headquarters in Washington. Now! It's urgent!"

* * *

Retro finished rubbing his hair dry and tossed the damp towel into the locker-room hamper. On his belt, his Skyforce Ranger Wireless bleeped, signaling a "Danger Call". He grabbed it, extended the aerial and twisted the dial to the secret SFR frequency. It buzzed as he pressed the talk button with his thumb. "This is Commander Jetpack. What's going on?"

* * *

Lord Xang sneered as he watched the polar icecap being bombarded by ultra-heated energy waves from his orbiting Fortress Invincible sky-station. The Magnasolar Ultrabeam Omega was working perfectly, just as the kidnapped earthling scientist had said that it would, just before Xang had him killed (quickly, as a reward for a job well done).

He was watching it from elsewhere, of course. As invincible as his flying fortress was, there was still the remote possibility that it could be defeated. He had learned that with the demise of his submersible Fortress Indestructible. He hadn't become an archvillain of staggeringly epic proportion by taking foolish risks.

The ice glared white hot as it boiled away into great billowing clouds of superheated steam and boiling water. Great chunks of ice sloughed off into the churning ocean. It wouldn't be long now. Soon he would contact the Unified Earth Government and make his demands. They would have no choice but to agree to his terms.

His evil, maniacal laughter filled the halls of his hidden base, the secret, subterranean Fortress Impenetrable.

* * *

"It has to be him," Professor Jetpack addressed the assembled Unified Earth Government Council. "The signs are unmistakable: the high-technology of the assault, the devilishness, the blatant disregard for all that is good and decent! These are not theories, gentlemen! These are scientific facts!"

As a well respected man of science, this brought nods of agreement from the assembled world leaders.

"It has to be Xang the Heartless! Only that vile creature would dare evil of this magnitude!"

His audience was silent until a quiet voice spoke up. "Couldn't it be Valabrax the Destroyer?"

The Professor nodded. "Valid question, Councilor Canada. Actually Valabrax's evil typically measures 7.2 or less on the Sini-scale. This has been estimated at being at least 12.8." He paused, "Also, my son's Skyforce Ranger Squadron fought and trapped the Destroyer in a mountain cave in Tibet only two weeks ago. No, gentlemen, this beyond a shadow of a doubt is Lord Xang."

Another councilor spoke up, "How can you be so certain?"

"You mean aside from the indisputable scientific evidence I've already presented? Well, there is this..."

He motioned and the lights dimmed. On the huge screen behind the podium appeared a large photo projection of the polar icecap enduring its relentless assault. Etched by the beam on the side of one of the half-melted glaciers were the gigantic words, "Xang was here".

The lights came up. The projector shut off. Professor Jetpack looked out over the now silent assemblage. "Any further questions?"

* * *

"... The target has been identified by the high-powered telescope at the Galileo Observatory. It is a large orbiting structure hovering far above the icecap. It seems well defended and appears to have a high-energy lightning shield, but we think it can be penetrated."

Lt. Gabby Hade raised his hand. "Do we have enough firepower to take over a base of that size? It looks massive."

Admiral Morgan clicked the button on the projector control and a slide of sleek, well-armed aircraft snapped onto the presentation screen. "The 4th and 7th EDA Rocketplane Squads will be flying support. If it turns out the base has anti-personnel death-rays or an airborne defense, they will keep you covered while you punch a hole in the field and storm the installation."

Commander Retro Jetpack smiled and nodded in approval, as did the rest of the 23rd Skyforce Ranger Squadron. "Those are good men. We've flown with them before, Admiral."

"Good. Now the alpha strike will take place here at the..."

Cadet Hapgood, the newest recruit into the "Raygun Revengers", raised his hand. "Why not just shoot it out of the sky with Neutron Missiles?"

The Admiral glared at the Cadet and then glanced at Retro. The Commander returned an "I'll talk to him later" look.

"The reason, Cadet, is that if we were to just blow it up with Neutronic Rockets, it would likely plummet into the North Pole. The explosion could destroy the icecap completely. Even if it didn't, the ice could be contaminated with deadly neutron radiation... which could eventually spread to every water supply on the planet. There is also the danger of destabilizing the Northern Magnetic Pole of the Earth. Our top scientists can't agree on exactly what effect that would have, but they do agree on one point: it would be catastrophic." He drew a deep breath and fixed Hapgood with an icy stare. "Do you have any further questions, Cadet, or can we continue with the briefing?"

Hapgood squirmed in his chair uncomfortably and said quietly, "No, sir."

Retro almost felt sorry for his new recruit, but this had become a traditional rite of passage. Hapgood was a good man, a crack shot with a raygun and an ace jetpack-jockey. He had recently graduated at the top of his class at the Academy, which was why he was here. Only the best even had a chance of joining the 23rd Squadron. Still, he had to learn this the hard way like the rest of them. Admiral Morgan always explored every conceivable option before the briefing, had a memory for facts like a computer data-tape... and he hated to be interrupted.

If Hapgood managed to avoid death at the hands of the enemy, when he returned he would be looking at KP duty for at least two weeks. They had all had to endure it when they were raw cadets and made the same mistake.

* * *

The news-reel sputtered onto the screen, the warbling music and narration a split-second out of sync with the picture.

"North Pole under attack!" the crackling voice of the narrator announced. "Are we doomed? At a press conference, Unified Earth President Marlow announced that there is no cause for alarm. The military has already been mobilized and the situation is well under control. When asked who is responsible, he replied that the top scientific minds agree that the alien warlord from planet Zed, Xang the Heartless, is behind the cowardly attack. Let's just hope Santa is vacationing in Florida this July, or that's it for Christmas! In other news..."

* * *

Retro looked out of the drug store window. People were going about their daily business, living their everyday lives: the old man on the park-bench feeding the pigeons, the housewife carrying home a bag of groceries, the newsboy on the corner.

The lives of all of them depended on him and his men. He knew they were up to it. They had faced much worse, but before every mission where the fate of the entire world hung in the balance, he still felt a twinge of nervousness. What if one day...

"Jotpaski?" his fiancé, Meg, looked at him across their shared chocolate soda. She always called him by his un-Americanized last name. She preferred not to use his first name because she said Retro sounded too much like the word that meant "the man who cleans the toilets" in the native language of her family. "You seem a million miles away. You'll be up there soon enough."

Retro smiled and took a sip from his straw. "I'm sorry, Meg. I was just thinking about the mission."

"What else would it be? You'll save the world again... like you always do."

Retro sighed, "I know. I'll have good men up there with me. Just to have so much, so many lives, hanging on what we do up there... it just sometimes gets to me sometimes, you know?"

Meg reached across the table and took his hand. "You always say that."

He smiled and squeezed her hand tightly. "I just have a strange feeling about this one."

She smiled back. "You always say that too."

They both took a sip of the soda from their respective straws and stared into each other's eyes for a long moment.

He lifted her hand and looked at her engagement ring. "When I get back, why don't we get you a new one of these? This one's getting kind of old."

She was speechless for a moment, but nodded and leaned across the table to kiss him on the cheek. "Oh, Retro. That sounds wonderful."

* * *

He tapped the fuel meter on his jetpack, tested the straps and blew some stray lint out of the cooling vents. He placed it gently on the bench and looked around the room. These men, his men, were the best there were.

Hade was testing the sites on his ray-rifle. Booster was polishing the visor on his helmet. Murray was sticking a worn picture of his sweetheart into the top pocket of his jacket. The others seemed equally occupied with mundane, pre-mission preparations. Yeah, everything would be fine. Everyone would be home in time for dinner. It was just another day at the office.

Even though the 18th Amendment prohibited the possession of alcohol, Lt. Lance Laserson, the oldest veteran of the "Raygun Revengers", always kept a flask of bathtub gin tucked away inside his jacket. There was always enough for each man to take a belt. It had become part of the mandatory pre-flight ritual. Jetpack, fueled and polished: check. Raygun, charged and sighted: check. Laserson's hair-curling homemade hooch: check.

Retro, as the commander and the last man who would leave the scene after the job was done, would drink last.

* * *

The tradition had begun years ago. Former leader of the "Raygun Revengers", Commander Rex Rayburn was the best of the best, a scarred and grizzled veteran, one-hundred and seven times decorated. He had personally logged more flight hours than the rest of them combined. He could handle anything from a one-man Whirligig to an immense Sky-Stronghold Dirigible. He had flown in eighty-seven campaigns and had killed and bled many times in defense of the Earth.

He lost his left eye in the invasion of the Moonlocks and the middle finger of his left hand battling the forces of the fiendish Princess Xazbara. He also had every fiber of his body hair plucked out one-by-one by a sadistic interrogator while a POW of the Thranz Death Armada. All of these he survived and always returned home from battle triumphant.

He was a true hero, beloved of widows and orphans everywhere.

The fateful day arrived when the 23rd Squadron was commissioned to put the kibosh on the activities of the terrorist organization known as the Cadre of Carnage. Tension was high and for the first time Laserson offered them all a swig from his secret supply. Every man took a drink, except Rayburn. He said as the mission commander, he should keep a clear head.

Later, in the heat of the battle, his glass eye suddenly popped out, his toupee slipped down over his face and a stray shot punctured and ignited his fuel tank. In a blazing fire-ball, he plummeted out of the sky and crashed straight through the roof of a poverty stricken orphanage. Forced to abandon chase of the fleeing enemy, the squadron managed to save the orphans from the resulting inferno, but Commander Rex Rayburn was never seen again.

* * *

After each man had taken a slug, Lance passed the flask to Retro. He tipped it back... but not even a drop touched his tongue.

He handed it back to the Lieutenant. "It's empty."

Lance up-ended it then slapped his forehead. "I forgot about the new guy, Boss. I'll go get..."

Retro put his hand on his comrade's shoulder. "It's okay, Lance. It's time to get into the air."

He stood up, strapped on his jetpack, buckled on his sidearm and tucked his helmet under his arm. He shouted, "Okay, 'Raygun Revengers'! Let's go do what we do best! Time to save the world!"

* * *

He flipped the switch on the tele-viewer screen. Warlord Xang's face flickered to life on the small, static-riddled monitor.

"Yes, Lieutenant Verg? What is it?" Xang hissed at his underling, "I trust everything is well aboard the Fortress Invincible."

"Our radar has detected at least twelve heavily-armed Earth aerospacecraft and thirteen self-propelled infantry headed toward our position, closing fast."

Xang's lips twisted into a wicked grin. "They will never get past my lightning field. It is a futile, last ditch attempt. Maintain position, Verg. Double the voltage to the lightning shield!"

* * *

Hovering high above the clouds, they sighted their target. The orbital station loomed before them like a behemoth of twisted girders, foot thick glass and steel plates. The habitation and command modules rose like rusted spires from the semi-spherical base. Worn, steel gargoyles crouched on every ledge. A leaping, electric aura blazed ominously around it, arcing and snapping savagely. It was putting off enough power that Retro felt his hair tingle even from a half of a mile away.

A blinding ray of searing heat lanced from an immense turret set into its base, boiling away the cloud-layer as it sliced mercilessly toward the Earth.

He heard Tex Coltrane's voice, an ace pilot in the 4th Rocketplane Squad, crackle over the radio. "Holy mother of heck! What is that thing?"

"That's our target," Retro replied. "Arm your rockets. Fire-up your weapons. We're going to get a lot closer. Stay clear of that heat-ray."

"Well, I'll be a one-eyed, bow-legged son of a goat-herding calliope player!" Tex gasped in disbelief.

"Cut the chatter, Coltrane," Commander Jake "Blaze" McValor's gravelly voice cut into the channel. "We're here to baby-sit these jetpack-jockeys long enough to for them to get inside that station. Once they're in, we mop up and withdraw. The station is not our concern... just anything that comes shooting or flying out of it. It's your show, Jetpack. Whenever you give the word."

Retro nodded in response toward 4th Squad Commander's rocketplane then said into his helmet mike, "Halley? Are your men in position?"

Commander Jacklyn “Jack” Halley's voice buzzed over the airwaves. "Yeah, my people are ready, Jetpack. Can we get this show on the road? We're starting to get bored up here."

Halley's "Comet Killers", the 4th EDA Rocketplane Squadron was made up of the sharpest flying, scrappiest, and craziest rocketplane pilots ever to come out of the Academy. It also consisted entirely of women. They were holding back behind a thick cloudbank to avoid detection, waiting for the signal that the 23rd Squadron was coming out. It would be their job to clear the path and be the escort home.

"We'll try not to be too long, Jack. I know the dishes must be piling up at home." Retro snickered as he heard her growl into her headset mike.

He looked around at the twelve men, jetpacks idling, hovering in a half-moon formation behind him. With the radio silent, he raised his right thumb into the "go" signal. One by one, his men answered with their own thumbs-up.

"Okay, folks. We're good to go. Let's do this!" he shouted into his mike, hit the afterburners on his jetpack and went into a screaming dive toward Xang's Fortress Invincible.

* * *

"Sir, those rocketplanes are armed with anti-electron missiles! They're depolarizing the lightning field!"

"WHAT?" Xang roared, "These pathetic earthlings have more resourcefulness than I credited them. Charge the death-rays! Launch my Skyblade Warriors! Scramble the entire Wardog-fighter fleet! I'll show them why I call this my Fortress Invincible!"

* * *

The lightning field dropped suddenly. For a moment, Retro thought that the anti-electron missiles had finally taken their toll. A moment later, an overwhelming force launched from the fortress.

First, the countless, steel gargoyles' eyes began to glow as rapid-fire death-rays lanced out of them toward the attackers. Next, a legion of black-armored soldiers with huge, metallic, bat-wing jetpacks rocketed toward them, death-ray rifles and twin wing-tip turrets blazing relentlessly. These were followed closely by countless small sinister-looking aircraft, black and sleek, bristling with weaponry. The station was disgorging death in an endless torrent.

"Bull's-eye" Murphy's rocketplane went up like a torch. Another pilot weaved to avoid a ray-blast and clipped one of Xang's Wardog-fighters. Both lost control and began an uncontrolled spin downward in twin spirals of burning smoke.

Retro jinked to shake a Skyblade Warrior off his tail and spotted Hapgood being dogged by three. He was trying to shake them, but wasn't having much luck. Explosions and ray-blasts blocked his every turn. Retro hit his afterburners and rocketed toward the cadet. "Laserson! Murray! Hapgood's in a pinch! Try and draw them off!"

Laserson appeared from out of no where and with a single blast of his rifle, one of the cadet's pursuers vanished in a hot cloud of vapor. Seeing their comrade vaporized, the other two hesitated a split-second. Jetpack and Murray quickly put an end to their evil military careers.

Retro yelled into his mike, "Change of plan, Jack! We could use you ladies now... if you're not too busy!"

He received an acknowledgement from Halley that they were on their way. They had hidden some distance away to avoid detection, so it would take them a few minutes to arrive. They would have to hold out until then.

The rest of the men were fighting fiercely against incredible odds. Hawk Henderson had landed on the cockpit of one of the fighters and was melting the thick glass with quick bursts from his raygun to get to the pilot. Booster Kinkade was swerving wildly, drawing the enemy's fire onto their own allies in an attempt to bring him down.

As Retro took out one of the fighters with a quick blast, he heard a strangled cry in his helmet earpiece. He hit his maneuvering thrusters and spun around just in time to see Hade's jetpack explode. His corpse fell like a meteor, consumed in a funeral pyre of his own rocket-fuel.

Commander Jetpack narrowed his eyes and scanned the fray. He spotted a Skyblade just lowering his smoking rifle. Momentarily ignoring the other foes all around him, he rocketed at full speed toward his target and grappled him bare-handed. Caught completely by surprise, the villain didn't have time to respond. Retro caught him in a one-armed choke hold, enough to restrain him, but not enough to cut off the supply of oxygen to his brain. He wanted him to be completely aware of what was going to happen next. With his left hand, he slipped the buck-knife out of his boot and cut the straps of the other's jetpack. It rocketed away out of control, impacting on the side of the fortress in a small explosion. Retro waited a long moment... and then released his hold. The Skyblade Warrior plummeted toward the earth screaming, a slave to gravity once more.

McValor's men fought bravely, but one by one they were being picked off by the sheer force of numbers. Of the original twelve, Retro could see only five remaining. Through the firestorms of explosions, cross-fire of ray-blasts and missile vapor trails, Retro spotted twelve rocketplanes burst through the cloud-cover, weapons spitting hot death-rays at the enemy. Halley's "Comet Killers" had arrived.

"The cavalry’s here, boys!" he heard Commander Halley's voice echo over his radio. "Let's clean up this mess! Hey, Retro... what are you doing out here? Get inside!"

He fired off a few shots and shouted into his mike, "'Raygun Revengers'! Sound off!"

After a few moments, he had heard each man shout his name... except Hade and Hapgood. Angry that he had let a new recruit die on his first mission, Retro rolled the rage into a small, fiery ball and shoved it away in his gut. He would save that for Xang when he caught up to him.

"Ok, it looks like you have everything under control here, Jack. We're going in." Having caught the enemy by surprise, the 4th Squadron had shaved off a quarter of the attacking force before they even knew what hit them. Their breakneck flying and dare-devil tactics threw the enemy into disarray. In the chaos, McValor's remaining pilots were able to help turn the tide and avenge their fallen comrades. The enemy force was still strong, but under control. The "Raygun Revengers" had a job to do.

* * *

They slipped quietly through an open hanger door. Pilots were still suiting up and boarding the Wardog-fighters. The hanger still seemed to be about half full. The 23rd Squadron unleashed a barrage on the unsuspecting miscreants. A large number of them were taken out in the first strike before the others began returning fire.

Lt. Kinkade took full advantage of the diversion and planted and primed a small, timed explosive on the belly of one of the fighters. He whistled and they all charged forward, blazing their way through the bay. Lt. Turbo Garrison took a hit in the shoulder that spun him completely around, but gritted his teeth and pressed on with his comrades.

They skidded to a stop in the corridor outside, slammed the door and Laserson blasted the locking controls, seizing them closed. A moment later, they heard the thunderous roar of a chain-reaction of explosions.

Booster Kinkade chomped down on his cigar and smiled. "That should make life a little easier for Halley."

* * *

Excerpt from the Metro Times front page:

Reported by Dexter "Scoop" O'Grady

Far above the North Pole, Earth Defense Alliance forces are locked in a bitter fracas with the legions of the diabolical Lord Xang. Will our brave men and women prevail against the sinister alien foe?

This morning, elite squadrons of Skyforce Rangers and ace rocketplane pilots engaged the so-called Fortress Invincible of the evil Zedian Warlord. Just prior to the attack, the villain made his demands known to the Unified Earth Government: he would ceases his attack on the Northern Polar Icecap only if he was immediately delivered the Earth's entire mined supply of raw uranium. In response, President Marlow responded with, and I quote, 'Not on your life!’

The battle still rages far above the clouds. Photographs taken from the Galileo Observatory show heavy causalities on both sides. Scientists estimate in less than two hours, the Earth will be irrevocably damaged if the beam is not disabled...

* * *

The firefight in the corridor outside the Magnasolar Ultrabeam Omega's control room had been costly. Lt. Garrison, weakened by his wound, was the first to fall. Then they lost Murray. For every one of Xang's armored Thundertroops they brought down, three more seemed to appear in their place.

Retro ducked behind the crates they were using for cover and slammed another powerpack into his raygun. "We can't hold out here for long. We need to advance!"

Cadet Frank Galloway pulled a small canister out of his utility belt. He looked a bit sheepish as he said, "We could use this."

Retro's eyes widened. "A Supra-Obscura Smoke Grenade? It looks like the restraining cap's been filed off too! You know that's illegal, Cadet?"

"Yes, Sir!" Galloway went to put it back into his belt.

Retro stopped him. "As long as we're clear on that. Toss it!"

The thick, greasy smoke filled the corridor. The enemy was confused, their shots going wild. The 23rd Squadron stood as a unit and took advantage of the chaos, setting their weapons on full-auto and unloading powerpack after powerpack into the cloud of gray vapor.

When the smoke cleared, the corridor was littered with unmoving armored bodies.

Retro turned to Galloway. "Consider yourself on report... and field-promoted, Lieutenant."

* * *

The resistance inside the control room was minimal and eliminated quickly. The last and largest guard was taken down by Lt. Henderson. He slammed his rifle-butt into the Thundertroop’s stomach, cracking the armored chest plate, then smashed his adversary’s head through a computer bank. To say Hawk Henderson was as “tough as nails” would make nails nervous.

Within moments, Lt. Bunsen, their resident electronics specialist, had shut-down and disabled the weapon's main reactor. Lt. Laserson blasted the console for good measure.

Retro turned to his remaining nine men. "Our job here is only half done. We still need to find Xang and make sure his evil stops here, today."

As if in answer to his challenge, a large screen flickered to life above them. Lord Xang's half-robotic face looked down on them mockingly. "I'm sorry I couldn't be there to kill you personally, but I had urgent business elsewhere and am now relaxing safely in my secret Fortress Impenetrable.

You may have shut down the Magnasolar Ultrabeam Omega, Jetpack, but now you only have 20 seconds before my Fortress Invincible and your interfering selves are blown to kingdom come!"

Swearing under his breath, he and his men cranked their jets to full overburn and blazed through the base’s corridors looking for a rapid egress. It seemed thoroughly locked-down. Alarms blared all around them as a metallic, genderless voice slowly counted down to doomsday.

18... 17... 16... 15...

Retro shouted into his helmet mike, "Halley! McValor! Fall back! The whole place is going up! We'll join you as soon as we find a way out!"

12... 11... 10... 9...

A series of thunderous explosion rocked the fortress! At first they thought the self-destruct had started pre-maturely. Then they looked through the smoking hole gaping above them. Commander Halley's rocketplane, missile ports still hot, hovered above.

"Waiting for an invitation to leave, boys?" She shouted over the air-waves and then turned, her main rockets flaring to full-power to join her squad already jetting away from the smoking ruin.

Their jetpacks already overheating, the "Raygun Revengers" pushed their tolerance meters into the red-zone and blasted-off through the opening.

4... 3... 2... 1...

The sky shook with the apocalyptic fireball as the Fortress Invincible exploded!

* * *

Retro slammed his fist against the conference room table. "I lost four good men up there, Mr. President! Our air-support lost even more! Why didn't we know about the army Xang had hidden in that base?"

President Marlow turned to his Secretary of Defense. "That's a good question, Larry. Why didn't we?"

Lawrence Keller swallowed hard and loosened his tie. He was sweating bullets, as if the glares of the others were heat lamps all trained on him.

"Well, Secretary Keller?" As Retro stared at him, the man's face grew increasingly flushed. Smoke seemed to be rising from his collar.

The President put his hand on his shoulder, "Are you okay, Larry? Do you need a doctor?" Strangely, the smoke coming from his neck was joined by a fizzle of sparks.

Retro shouted, "Everyone down!” grabbed the President and threw him to the floor, shielding his body with his own.

Secretary of Defense of the Unified Earth Government, Lawrence Keller exploded!

When the smoke had cleared, it seemed Retro's warning had been in time. The headless torso of the man leaned against the charred table, his limbs jerking weakly, the exposed circuitry of his neck and upper chest melted and still sparking.

Commander Jetpack poked the smoldering remains with the barrel of his sidearm. "One of Xang's robots."

The President stood and brushed the dust from his jacket. "Well, that answers that question."

* * *

"I've done extensive analysis of the robot's internal components," Professor Jetpack announced to the others assembled in his laboratory. "I have asked that only you two attend this briefing, since we can't be certain who else Xang has replaced with duplicates."

Retro and President Marlow both nodded. "Understandable," the President said. "Have you learned anything?"

The Professor picked up a small copper coil between his thumb and forefinger. "There wasn't much to be learned from most of the circuitry. It's the kind of electronics that can be bought at any Radio Shanty... but this," he held up the coil, "This is a very specialized piece of equipment, a dual osculating delta-converter."

"In English, Dad. What does this mean to us?" Retro asked.

"Well, in itself, not too much. But there are only two companies in the world that make this particular type of component. One of them, Neo-Fangle Corporation, only produces them for government contracts. I contacted the other, Electro-Radionics Inc., and they recently delivered a large quantity of these to what appears to be a disused warehouse in New York City. They were paid for in advance with money wired from an account under the name Xavier Angsmith."

"That must be Xang's Fortress Impenetrable!" Retro exclaimed. "Mr. President, after some basic recon to confirm, I'd like to stage a full scale raid on that warehouse."

* * *

"My Lord," the Lieutenant entered Xang's throne room and bowed before the ruthless, alien warlord. He looked anxious.

"Yes, Thurg? What is it? I'm busy hatching my next nefarious plot, so this better be important." Xang snarled at his subordinate.

"The base is being raided, Lord Xang. Unified Earth forces are swarming the upper levels. The sentries were caught entirely by surprise! It is time to make our ... I mean, your escape, Majesty!" the words flooded out of the Lieutenant's mouth. He kept glancing back at the throne room doors as if he expected them to burst open at any moment.

"WHAT?" Xang roared. "This is my Fortress Impenetrable! It cannot be penetrated!"

"Apparently it can," Thurg muttered.

"Prepare my Escape Rocket! I will retire to my Fortress Undiscoverable to regroup and contemplate my revenge!"

"It's been discovered," Thurg said quietly.

"WHAT?" Xang raged. "Am I surrounded my idiots? Have any of my secret bases not been compromised?"

Lieutenant Thurg consulted a nearby computer bank. The computing machine flashed and whirred, its data-tape spinning wildly. After a moment, he consulted the print-out. "It appears that your Fortress Abominable hidden in the Himalayan Mountains is the only viable option."

Xang considered, tapping his fingertips together. "My top secret research facility! Excellent! Has Doctor Van Nostrum made significant progress on Project-X?"

* * *

Retro launched a final grenade which blew Xang's throne into smithereens. "Gosh darn him to heck!" Retro swore, "He got away again!"

The lead the robot’s component had given them had led to the abandoned warehouse in New York. Storming it, they discovered it was another of Xang's bases, but not the one they were looking for.

After an intense (and not entirely humane) interrogation of one Xang's captured minions, they learned that they had raided his Fortress Undiscoverable, the robotics and weaponry manufacturing center of his evil crime empire. They also managed to squeeze Xang's current location out of him... the location of his Fortress Impenetrable... then the top of his head had unexpectedly blown off. No doubt some sort of explosive implant placed in his skull by Xang's scientists to prevent betrayal.

Mustering a gargantuan force of nearly every active Skyforce Ranger and the best and bravest every branch of the armed forces had to offer, they invaded the base and swept it clean of Xang's malevolent forces. Somehow, however, the evil alien Warlord managed to elude them once more.

* * *

He had been on active duty for over a week since the initial raid on the Zedian Warlord's flying fortress. He had managed to send a telegram to Meg to let her know he was still alive. Aside from visits to the loved ones of his fallen comrades to bring them the solemn news, contact with the outside world was limited. Ambushes and sneak attacks during this type of operation were common, so it was best to keep civilians out of harm's way.

Lt. Tex Coltrane had been recruited into the 23rd Squadron as Hade's replacement. McValor had been reluctant to see him go, but as Gabby had been his room-mate during his Academy days, Tex wanted to crack some heads in honor of his fallen chum.

Hapgood would be replaced by another promising cadet fresh from training, but not until the current crisis had been averted.

"That fella is slicker than a greased weasel in an inner tube factory!" Tex exclaimed as they poured over the mission debriefings from the Fortress Impenetrable raid.

Laserson nodded, yawning. Galloway put down his copy of the report and stood to open a window to let the room air out from the clouds of Booster's cigar smoke.

Lt. Hans Bunsen reviewed a series of slides taken during each of the three raids through a small, handheld viewer. As he popped out the last white disk and inserted the next, he muttered, "I've been through these four times and I'm still not seeing anything new, Commander."

Retro stretched, "I think we're all burned out for now. Go hit the sack. We'll start again at seven hundred hours."

* * *

Retro was dog-tired, but just couldn't seem to get comfortable or close his eyes for more than five minutes at a time. Eventually he gave up and just stared at the ceiling.

He wished they could have gotten more out of the captured alien soldier, but after his head had exploded, further interrogation had become problematic.

It had always been assumed Xang's troops were aliens he had brought with him from Planet Zed. They resembled earthlings almost exactly except for their pronounced, downward pointing eyebrows and the strange inverted triangle on their foreheads. Since they wore helmets with nearly opaque visors, it was difficult to tell if they were Zedians or Earthmen.

Some of the defeated enemy troops had turned out to be human, however. Most were typical street-scum, but there were a few infamous mercenaries, bounty hunters and trigger-men among the fallen.

It was a long-shot, but Retro knew a downtown speak-easy frequented by that kind of sordid clientele: Le Piqué Seedy. As one of the hot-spots for criminals to congregate in the city, it might be the best place to pick up a scent.

* * *

The air was thick and smelled like a burning wino. Retro edged through the crowd. His fedora was pulled down over his brow and crooked at a slightly disreputable angle. An unlit French cigarette dangled out of the side of his mouth. He made a conscious effort to end every sentence with either "buddy" or "doll-face" depending on who he was addressing.

He scanned the room. It was filled with petty criminals, ladies of questionable virtue, drunks and some otherwise reputable citizens just looking for some nefarious excitement. He didn't immediately spot any of Xang's stooges on recruiting drives, but kept his eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.

Retro elbowed up to the bar. "Move it, buddy," he said to the mountainous thug he shoved in next to. The suit-wearing tough scowled and gave him the once-over. He decided to let it pass and went back to making small talk with the lady in the very short-skirt sitting next to him. Retro guessed he felt making time with the loosely goosey was a better use of his limited intellect than getting into a bar fight.

Retro was overcharged for a glass of something that smelled like turpentine and sat holding it while he nonchalantly looked over the crowd.

* * *

Eventually, the glass in his hand had to be emptied, even though he had been trying to just let it wash against his upper lip for appearance. After an hour, when the bartender spied his nearly full glass, he poked at the sign tacked up behind the counter which read, "DRINK OR GET THE HECK OUTTA HERE!”

Retro didn't have a choice. He raised his glass in a toast and drained it. When he could speak again, he ordered another.

Three hours and two drinks later, he decided it had been a dead-end. He collected his overcoat and stumbled through the Speech Therapy Center that was the front for the speak-easy. As soon as his foot hit the pavement outside, a large lead pipe hit him on the back of the head. The stars dancing before his eyes entertained him for a moment, until the street rudely rushed up and slammed him in the face.

* * *

His mouth felt like it was full of soggy cotton. His head felt like it had just gone twelve rounds being introduced repeatedly to a prize-fighter's glove.

"Retro Jetpack!" A familiar voice bellowed at him. "So we meet again at last!"

He opened his eyes slowly. Lord Xang loomed over him. His robotic left half whirred and clicked menacingly, his robotic eye glowed with an unholy light, and his ebon cloak billowed around him ominously.

Retro was chained to a stalagmite. He struggled against his bonds, but it was useless.

"Ever since you destroyed my aquatic Fortress Indestructible, I've been counting the days until I could get you in my clutches once more!"

"Maybe you should consider a different naming theme for your bases, Xang! I destroyed your Fortress Indestructible, defeated your Fortress Invincible, discovered your Fortress Undiscoverable, and penetrated your Fortress Impenetrable! And now, I'll overcome your Fortress...?”

"Fortress Abominable, actually... and no! This is your final venture into one of my secret lairs! You have no weapons, no allies, and no connection to the outside world. You are completely at my mercy... and will soon learn why I am known as the Heartless!"

"Xang, you gutless coward!" Retro snarled, "Unchain me and let me pound some old fashion justice into your worthless hide!"

The alien Warlord roared with laughter. "Your justice-dealing days are over, hero. The only thing keeping you alive is my indecision with the best way to kill you. I have so many slow, painful ways to choose from... this may take a while."

Xang licked the fleshy-side of his lips, "I could skin you alive and then dip you in a vat of salt and vinegar... or give you a million paper-cuts and then submerge you in a tank of lemon juice... filled with piranha!

I could cut off your arms and legs and toss you into a pit of starving ferrets... "

"Or you could let me go and I could kick your alien backside into next week," Retro suggested.

Xang laughed again, louder and more maniacally. "Oh no. You will remain here until I decide upon the manner of your demise. I just hope you don't starve to death before I make up my mind."

He turned, his cloak whirling around him and stalked from the small cavern, laughing wildly. Just before the door slammed shut, Retro heard, "Or I could take a cheese grater and slowly grate off your nose, then your ears, then your..."

Retro shuddered. Well, he had successfully found his quarry. If only he had his jetpack, his raygun, his SFR wireless and wasn't chained to a spike of rock in an unknown cave. He realized he didn't even know what country he was in or even how much time had passed.

He looked around the room. It was a small, natural alcove of a larger cavern, the walls buttressed by wood braces and sealed off by a wooden door. It looked hastily constructed. A weak, bare bulb flickered from a socket above his head. Stripped wiring trailed from it across the ceiling, sparking randomly.

The air was cold and damp and Retro guessed that the ground above these caves was covered in snow and ice. Alaska? Siberia?

* * *

The acoustics of the cavern were excellent and he could hear, from somewhere outside the door, bits of a conversation.

"Yes, we certainly could use him to test it, but it would be such a boring death... and it could work and he could escape me again!" Retro recognized the malevolent Warlord's booming voice.

Another voice answered, "I could set the gateway for the Dimension of Infinite Torment and even if he did survive, he would be trapped, living throughout all of time continuously wracked by indescribable pain and anguish from which there is no release. He would beg for death, but it would never come."

There was a long pause. "That doesn't sound half bad. I'll think about it."

Then silence.

* * *

Retro could still feel the buck-knife in the hide-away sheath in his boot. The heavy chains prevented him from reaching it, but merely knowing that he wasn't entirely weaponless helped ease the gloom of his capture.

If only he could get a message to his men, to the Government, to anyone. He had never in his entire life felt so helpless.

* * *

The pair of black-armored Thundertroops prodded him awake with the barrels of their rifles.

"Xang wants to see you. Now!" one of them shouted.

The other unlocked the large padlock holding the chains together. Retro got stiffly to his feet, his knees cracking loudly and his back rigid. He briefly considered yanking the knife from his boot, but thought better of it. He was weak and sore and hadn't had food or water in what felt like days. He was in no conditional to take on two well armed guards.

Each evil soldier was wearing black, glossy body armor, a sturdy helmet and carried a death-ray rifle, complete with electro-bayonet. Emblazoned on the left breast of their chest plates was the lightning framed, bat-winged skull insignia of Xang's forces.

The Skyforce Ranger Commander let himself be shoved out of his cell into the main cavern. The area was littered with technological debris of every description. Tapes whirred and lights flashed on macro-computers. Electricity arced and buzzed from many strange apparatus. Chemicals boiled and smoked in beakers and a sickening toxic odor permeated the cavern. File cabinets overflowed with bent manila folders and chalkboards with indecipherable scientific scribblings were scattered randomly throughout the chaos.

The centerpiece of the chamber was a huge metallic ring standing on a dais carved from the remains of a gargantuan stalagmite. It stood about twenty feet tall and its outer edge was notched like that of a gigantic gear. At its base was a mass of clockwork consisting of smaller gears, levers and pistons. The machinery shuddered and clacked loudly as it slowly rotated the great metal ring. A metal grated staircase lead from the floor, over the grinding machinery and up to the very brink of the hollow of the circle. Electricity crackled across the interior of the ring, leaping and writhing. The entire contraption hummed and reverberated with an unearthly tone.

Unrattled, Retro stared at the spinning monstrosity before him and said, "I think your washing machine is on the blink. You should call your super."

Xang whirled toward him and yelled directly into his face, "Mock while you can, Jetpack! Soon you will be screaming for death!" His breath smelled like a combination of garlic chicken and motor oil.

The diabolical Warlord turned to his chief scientist, a tall, gangly human with wild hair and wilder eyes, "Is Project-X ready for testing?"

The scientist flipped a few toggle switches, tapped a couple of gauges and then turned and slammed down a huge 'Frankenstein Switch' on a tall control-bank behind him. The overhead lights flickered and dimmed as the large metal ring began to rotate progressively faster, the electrical discharge growing angrier with each revolution. Professor Van Nostrum lowered his tinted goggles and nodded.

Lord Xang threw back his head and laughed the laugh of the victorious madman. "Soon, Retro Jetpack, you will be thrown into an abyss of torment and agony the like of which no one has ever known... or your atoms will scattered throughout all of time and space. Either way, I will finally be rid of you!"

Retro stared at the machine, now spinning so fast that it was little more than a giant, blurred pin-wheel of electrical fire. The lightning dancing inside it coalesced into a blazing ball of energy at its center. It grew brighter and brighter until it burned like a tiny, electrical sun! At its edges, it started to burn away the very fabric of being. It looked like the view of the cavern through the ring was a painting that had caught on electrical fire. Its edges curled and were scorched away!

Soon, an entirely different scene was seen through the gateway, that of a scorched and barren landscape. Fiery geysers belched spews of molten magma high into the air. Inferno-like lakes of fire were visible between the jagged, black mountains. A heavy, smokey atmosphere loomed under the starless sky. The electrical charge danced evenly along the rim of the whirling ring. A waft of sulfur filled the cavern.

Xang raised his arms in triumph and cried, "Behold! The Omnicronical Reality-Transmogrifier! And your gateway into the Dimension of Infinite Torment!"

"Like heck, you backpedalin' alien sicko!" a voice echoed from the other side of the chamber. Retro would recognize that southern drawl anywhere. Lt. Tex Contrane! With him Lance Laserson, Jacklyn Halley, Booster Kinkade and Hawk Henderson stood in the main opening of the cavern, their ray-rifles smoking and bodies of blasted guards all around them.

Xang roared and moved toward Retro, but stopped short as a barrage of ray-blasts scorched the ground in front of him. He backed up slowly, glancing around for re-enforcements.

Retro's comrades rushed forward. Commander Halley moved to cover the retreating villain. Laserson tossed Retro a jetpack and sidearm. "I'm sick of lugging these around. You carry 'em for a while."

"How did you find me?"

Booster chomped down on his cigar and said, "Your old man figured you would go AWOL looking for clues, so he stuck a homing beacon in the heel of your left boot." He held up a small, black box with a flashing light and compass. "All we had to do was follow this."

"So, what took you so long?"

His rescuers looked at each other, then at Retro, than back at each other. Halley spoke up loudly, "It's a long flight to the Himalayas, buddy! We had to violate four no-fly zones and steal rocket-fuel seven times from hostile outposts just to get here!"

While she was distracted by the conversation, Xang made his move. He spun the location-indicator on the Omnicronical Reality-Transmogrifier, smashed the controls with his robotic arm and dashed up the stairs toward the portal. The foreboding scene melted away and was replaced by another unfamiliar locale just before the fleeing alien Warlord leapt through and vanished in a flare of electricity!

Halley swore under her breath and started for the gateway. Retro stopped her. "Thanks for coming after me, guys, but I need to go after him alone."

The scene was already starting to waver, the spinning wheel slowing and the controlling machinery sparking and smoking.

"Now, wait just one gosh darn minute, Retro!" Tex stammered.

Halley glanced toward the fading gateway and yelled, "If you think we came all this way not to see this through, you have another thing coming, you stupid jetpack-jockey!"

Lance Laserson said nothing. Retro smiled and put his hand on his shoulder. "The world needs you. There will be other alien invaders, other attacks from rogue world powers and criminal masterminds. If you all follow me to who-knows-where, who will protect the free people of the world from them? No, I'll go alone. Besides, Xang has made this personal."

The others hesitated, but knew he was right. "Lance, you're acting Commander of the 'Raygun Revengers' until I get back. Call Meg; Let her know I'm okay and that we'll go shopping as soon as I return. She'll know what it means."

He ignited his jets and gave a long, last salute to his comrades. They returned it crisply and together they recited the Skyforce Ranger oath, "For Earth! For Freedom!"

He turned and blasted toward the shimmering scene, passing through just as the portal gave its last spin, the lightning faded and the ring tottered and fell with a resounding crash!

* * *

He had no idea where he was. It looked like an ordinary street, but something was different. Everything was so vivid! Unknown colors screamed at his retina. He blinked, but the alien spectrum was burned into his brain.

He looked down at his clothes and hands. He was entirely colored in shades of gray, his hands a pale white. He had never noticed before. In his world everything was black and white. Where was this place?

Slowing his heartbeat, he noticed that smoke was coming from his jetpack. He shrugged it off and examined it. It had been badly damaged in the dimensional crossing, but it could be repaired.

The Zedian Warlord Xang the Heartless was no where in sight, but eventually, Commander Retro Jetpack of the 23rd Squadron Skyforce Rangers would track him down and bring his evil to a final end... even if he had to track him across this strange reality and the next.

Retro Jetpack
31 AR/Dev Blaster, Champion



(( Incredible story! Tempts me to finally finish my own character backgrounds. Thanks a lot :-D))

Welcome to Paragon, Retro!