by Dan Swanson
Ted Knight, a leading citizen of Opal City, had donated his private astronomical observatory to the Opal City University Department of Astronomy, which had in turn named an academic residency for him. Decades earlier, he had constructed a research facility in the bedrock below the observatory, and before the university took possession, he needed to verify that nothing remained that might link Ted Knight to Starman.
The trophy room, in particular, could have revealed many secrets. In addition to a series of exhibits tracing the evolution of Starman’s weapon from the original gravity rod to the current, much more powerful and sophisticated cosmic rod, the case containing the battle armor of Vic Valor might connect him to that mysterious hero, and it was possible that something about the Xenon armor would link it to his uncle-in-law and mentor, Woodley Allen, who had recently died of old age. (*) That Woodley had been kidnapped and brainwashed into wearing the armor as a villainous stooge for the evil Doctor Doog was a closely held secret, and Ted was determined that no one would ever learn it from him.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Times Past, 1949: Vic Valor, Invincible.]
There had been so much stuff here, in fact, that it would have taken years for Ted Knight to move it, but fortunately Starman had access to resources that Ted might not. Doctor Fate magically whisked the entire contents of the underground facility to a new subbasement beneath the Justice Society of America’s brownstone headquarters in Gotham City, leaving Ted the much simpler task of making sure nothing had been left behind.
Even using all the advanced powers of his cosmic rod, Ted could detect nothing left but dust. Good enough. He hadn’t given up astronomy — far from it — but the viewing was so much better from his new orbital observatory, and the cosmic rod allowed him to fly to orbit in less time that it had taken him to reach this earthbound observatory by car. It was satisfying to know that these facilities would be used productively by the university, rather than lying almost abandoned, waiting for his infrequent visits.
As he wandered the echoing halls, he felt an almost unnatural chill as he realized just how many memories lingered here. Could there be ghosts remaining? Would ghosts associate themselves with a scientific facility, a bastion of rational thought? If there were ghosts here, how would they react to their new landlords?
He shook his head, bemused by this train of thought. He didn’t want to believe in ghosts or the supernatural, but the evidence of the Spectre was hard to ignore or explain in any other terms. But what was important now was that there was nothing remaining to give him away, and that it was now time to hand over the facilities to their new owner.
Yes, a good deal all around. Satisfied that his secrets were safe, he headed off upstairs to host the press conference and celebration, during which the bequest would be officially announced to the public.
Yes, siree, Bat! Best seat in the house, as usual, Bat-Mite thought smugly to himself. The magical mite from another dimension was seated high in a corner of a large room, on a comfortable cushion of air, arms crossed, closely watching some drama unfolding in and around the esoteric equipment scattered throughout the room. Though the choice of leading man doesn’t do much for me, and some of the scenes aren’t pleasant!
Two caped athletic figures were engaged in furious combat on the floor below. The smaller of the two, dressed primarily in purple, suddenly whirled and aimed a sweeping kick at the other’s cowl. The kick connected with a whack that was clearly audible, and the larger, black-clad figure tumbled backward.
“Way to go, Hel!” Bat-Mite yelled at the top of his squeaky voice. This unexpected cheering surprised and distracted Helena Wayne, the Huntress, and that bare instant of hesitation was enough for her opponent to tackle her. Bat-Mite winced as Blackwing slammed her to the floor. Mite didn’t know Blackwing’s civilian identity, and didn’t really care, either, not when he was beating up on Helena.
“Hey! That’s cheating!” he yelled, forgetting that Blackwing couldn’t see or hear him. Helena glared at him for an instant before returning her attention to the fight, and he didn’t need to read her mind in order to know he was going to hear about this later.
It’s not fair! he thought to himself. I should never have promised not to use my powers to help her! He looked on forlornly.
She hadn’t said a word, but he wouldn’t have heard her, anyway. Sonia Alcana, Helena’s foster child and soon-to-be adoptive daughter, had introduced him to the wonders of the Walkman, and Helena’s boyfriend Bat Lash had hooked him on Clapton and Steppenwolf, and he was rocking out as he watched the woman of his dreams show off her fantastic moves. Life had been good ever since he had reunited with Helena several days ago. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman Family: The Wedding March, Chapter 3: Bats at Play.]
The Huntress squirmed and twisted, managing to wedge her feet against Blackwing’s chest, then explosively straightened her legs, launching him up and away. He was off-balance when he landed, and the Huntress sprang forward and knocked his legs out from under him with a stunning sweep of her own left leg. Mite started to cheer again but quickly thought better of it.
Blackwing turned the fall into a backwards roll, pushed off with his hands into a backflip, and landed squarely on an acrobat’s springboard. He was launched straight up, much higher than the Huntress would have believed possible. Of course, she had never seen anything from him like that backflip before, either — he must have been practicing. At the top of his flight, he shot something from his hand, and a harpoon of some kind flashed across the room, trailing a wire, and stuck into the ceiling behind her. An instant later, Blackwing was swinging toward her like Tarzan, with both legs outstretched. If she didn’t move fast, she was toast.
The Huntress ducked as he thundered by at high speed. “That would have hurt!” she whispered softly to herself. “You’re getting better, Mr. Bullock. Good to see some results from these workouts.” An almost evil smile crossed her face as she flowed into her next more. “Still, it’s my turn now!”
She sprang to her feet, pulled a collapsible batarang from her utility belt, turned and threw in one smooth graceful motion, and an instant later, the razor-sharp edge sliced through Blackwing’s line, leaving him tumbling high above the floor.
This wasn’t completely unexpected, however. He did a quick forward roll and came out of it under control, using his cape like the wings of a glider. He dived to pick up a little more speed and then pulled into a tight turn, and came around for a strafing run. The Huntress stood still, as if stunned by his acrobatics.
Sorry, Helena. I know you better than that! he thought to himself. Question is: which way do you dodge? I’m betting on straight up! He had another fancy new maneuver up his sleeve, one he’d picked up from a great movie, and if she did jump, she had a real surprise in store.
But the surprise would have to wait for some other time, as this workout was brought to an abrupt end by a shattering explosion.
Blackwing almost had time to pray that the blast wouldn’t alter his trajectory before he crashed into the Huntress, as he had hoped. He wrapped both arms around her, which wrapped them both in his Kevlar cape, offering them some protection from the blast. As they touched the floor, the Huntress began turning their fall into a roll. If they could just move a little bit more to the side, the concussion ought to blast them through the swinging doors of the gym, and there would be less debris to fall on them in the hall.
Even with the protection of Blackwing’s cloak, the two were battered as they were tossed into the hallway. They added their own efforts to the momentum provided by the blast, and in only a second they were twenty feet past the door and rolling to a stop. Neither could hear over the ringing in their ears. They immediately untangled from each other and headed back to the gym, but quickly realized it wouldn’t be safe to enter, and that move was unlikely to be helpful, anyway, since the room was filled with debris and dust still falling from the ceiling and walls. The only saving grace was that there were no fires that they could sense. That was strange — an explosion with no fire?
“Mite! Where are you?” Helena wasn’t worried about him; he was a pest, but it would take a lot more than a surprise explosion to hurt the other-dimensional elf-like being. But he might be able to tell her more than she knew.
Bat-Mite popped up in front of her, a relieved look on his face. He started talking as fast as he could, but she couldn’t hear.
“Can’t hear you!” said the Huntress. “Do you know what happened?”
Blackwing could see that Helena was talking, but he couldn’t hear anything. He shook his head and pointed at his ears, but she was talking to someone else. He wondered if she had taken a blow to the head that might be confusing her. He looked again, and following the rest of the evening’s strange events, he wasn’t that surprised to see dark blue letters floating in the air in front of her.
“It was a missile!” he read. “It blasted through the floor and then out the wall toward the front of the building! Boyoboyoboy! This is going to be great!”
Blackwing wondered if he might also be suffering from a concussion. But Helena’s next actions seemed to indicate that this was real. She held her hands out in front of her, shook her head, and shouted a single word. Even though he couldn’t hear what she said, Blackwing had never in his life seen body language that more clearly communicated a message.
“No!” her body shouted, and he heard it almost as loudly as he had heard the explosion.
The original text faded and was replaced. “Aww, gee! I never get to have any fun!” Somehow, though he could see nothing but some script, in his mind’s eye, he saw an eight-year-old boy, hurt in his voice, turning his back to hide his tears.
Helena was made of stern stuff, however. She once again said, “No!” Then she said a few more words, turned, and headed up the stairs. They had to search for survivors. “No! You promised you wouldn’t use your powers to help me. Take care of yourself. I have to go!” With that, Helena turned and ran to the stairs.
Bat-Mite stood there, pouting. “It isn’t fair! I can help! It’s not my fault this world is so flimsy!”
Helena hadn’t wanted to hurt his feelings as she protected herself and her world, so she had convinced Bat-Mite that, even though he was a magnificent hero, and incredibly competent and noble, in this dimension his powers were too strong to be used safely. Even something as casual as a sneeze could be disastrous when it had fifth-dimensional magic behind it. Bat-Mite wasn’t used to flattery, and flattery from Helena had extra impact — she was so beautiful.
So he had promised that he wouldn’t use his powers to help her while he was here this time. He stood there for a few seconds, wavering. He wanted to help. But he couldn’t break his promise. Suddenly, he had a revelation.
“I can help her without my powers! After all, I’m Bat-Mite, and I know all the tricks of the world’s greatest detective!” His chest puffed out, and he seemed to grow a foot taller — no, wait, he really did grow a foot taller. He would use his deductive abilities to follow the trail of the missile, discover where it had come from, and see if could learn something to help Helena. “Heck! She didn’t say I can’t use my magic to help me! Just wait ’til I solve this case! I’ll be a hero! Maybe she’ll even give me a kiss as a reward!” He turned and stomped off into the shattered gym, just daring anything to get in his way.
“Any discussion?” Joanna Andre asked her audience as she finished her presentation. She hoped so, as she usually found the discussion much more interesting than the lecture. A hand immediately shot into the air. “Yes, miss?”
A woman, an attractive redhead in a stylish suit, stood, and asked, “Can we please have another look at slide twenty-three?” She paused as Joanna quickly flipped back to that slide. Joanna chuckled to herself as the screen showed an action shot of a newer entry in the costumed super-heroine game, Mighty Isis. She had felt sort of strange about including her own costumed identity in her presentation, but any talk about the many ancient artifacts of power that had been found in Egypt that did not include Isis and her amulet would be suspiciously incomplete. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Hawkman and Doctor Fate: The Deeds of the Disturber.]
Besides, her doctoral thesis on this topic was what had ultimately convinced the chair of archeology at Gotham City University to hire her. Assistant professors wore many hats, and one of them was giving public presentations in their areas of academic interest. If she had to stand in front of a group of unknowns and talk to them about ancient Egypt, she might as well talk about something she knew well.
Other artifacts of power she had discussed included the Helm of Nabu, the Scarab’s sacred scarab, and Hawkman’s Nth metal. She could have mentioned the mask of Set, but she figured that powerful evil artifact was best kept secret. During her thesis research, she had also found references to other talismans powered by Isis and others, but she had as yet not been able to locate these other talismans.
“You say this woman, who calls herself Mighty Isis, is not actually the goddess, but a mortal who has received powers from the amulet she bears? How can you know that?”
Before Joanna could answer, another woman stood up and started shouting. This one was dressed just like Mighty Isis in the slide, in a simple white shift that came to mid-thigh; well, it would have been simple except for the massive leather neckpiece and belt, both decorated with inlaid silver. However, while Mighty Isis was built like a runner, this woman looked more like a bodybuilder.
“Heretic! Of course Mighty Isis is the current incarnation of the great Egyptian goddess Isis, patron of women, and all that deny her godhood will regret it! The International Sisterhood of Isis Servants demands that you withdraw your blasphemy and acknowledge our goddess!”
Joanna had learned of the Sisterhood during her research. It had existed for centuries, but had never before been anything other than a very loose organization with vague goals and very modest membership. Ever since Mighty Isis had appeared, ISIS had attracted new members, and the tone of the organization had become increasingly strident.
A half-dozen other women, all dressed in identical Isis outfits, rushed into the lecture hall from the various exits and joined in the shouting. Several people headed for the exits as the tension level in the lecture hall continued to build. When the members of the Sisterhood blocked their way, it seemed certain that this confrontation would quickly escalate to violence.