by Dan Swanson
Blackwing had returned to the battle scene a little too late to get in on the grand finale. He introduced himself to Insect Queen and Corona. Lana Lang choked back a laugh when she heard Corona’s heroic name.
“You picked your name after…?” She didn’t get to finish, as she was interrupted by Alex DeWitt.
“I get so tired of ignorant people asking me if I named myself after a beer. And from somebody who’s the queen of bugs? Give me a break!” Now Lana interrupted her.
“Hey, hold your horses, lady! You’re the only one who mentioned beer, here. I was going to say, ‘a glow enveloping the higher potential electrode, often accompanied by streamers directed toward the lower potential electrode, in a coronal discharge.’ No need to be rude.”
“Oops… no, actually, I was thinking about…”
Blackwing interrupted this time. “A colored luminous ring appearing to surround the sun, caused by diffraction of light from very fine water droplets suspended in the air.”
Alex was stunned. These two had to be pulling her leg, but she had no idea how they had done it. They laughed, and she laughed with them. She was still hurting over Kyle Rayner’s death, and ever since her friend Buffy Winter had returned to the West Coast, it seemed like her social life had just about vanished. (*) She needed some friends, and these two seemed like good bets.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: JSA Reserves: All This and Earth-Two and The Brave and the Bold: Corona and Arsenal: Girls’ Night Out.]
The Huntress was hunting. She wanted to have a long talk with that new hero in silver. She found him pretty much where he had fallen when Zephyr’s wind had torn him away from Vic Valor. He was just struggling to his feet. She reached out a hand to help.
“The dynamo in Danskin? Colonel Invincible? C’mon, Mite, give me a break!”
“I beg your pardon, Miss? I am indeed Colonel Invincible. And you are?” There was nary a squeak in his voice.
“Listen, buster, and listen good. I’m going to adopt Sonia, you know. What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t know what her favorite movie was? Now, you’ve got one chance. Come out of there now, and take your medicine like a mite, or I’m tossing you out of my house forever. And don’t even think about coming to the wedding!”
Bat-Mite thought about it for a second or two. He never doubted that Helena Wayne would find a way to keep him from the wedding; he knew he was much more powerful than she, but he would never lift his hand against her. And she was good friends with Doctor Fate, the Spectre, and Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt. And he knew if he did take his medicine, she’d forgive him — she always did. But this wasn’t going to be fun.
“You’ve got maybe one more second, Mite!”
“Hold on!” he squeaked. A panel door appeared in the front of Colonel Invincible’s uniform, popped open, and Bat-Mite floated out. He dropped to the ground and moved around behind the now-free-standing uniform, as if for protection.
“But, Hel! I kept my promise! I didn’t use my powers — I used his!” And he pointed. “It was the dynamo in Danskin, not me!”
Helena’s voice conveyed anger. “Even if that was true, you know you broke the spirit of the promise, Mite! And it’s not. You used your powers to create Colonel Invincible, and you created him to ‘help’ me.” The anger vanished, and now she projected sadness. “I’m really disappointed — I don’t know how I can ever trust you again.” She almost felt guilty at manipulating the little guy this way — almost, but not quite. He had a good heart, but he needed an occasional scolding if he was ever going to grow up. She had to believe that he was still growing up, because the thought of a whole place full of brats like him, with powers like his, terrified her.
“But what did I do that was so wrong? I did help you, IdidIdidIdid!”
“Look around you, Mite! You almost destroyed the city! Look at the street! Look at the buildings! Look at the windows, the fire hydrants, the streetlights, the shattered cars!” She knew what she was doing, because each item she pointed out was suddenly, magically restored, saving Disaster Inc. a lot of work, and incidentally almost giving the mayor apoplexy. She pretended not to notice. “Your powers, Mite, are just too awesome to be used safely here on Earth. Now, look — you want to hang at my place until the wedding, right?”
He nodded so hard and fast he floated up into the air. When he stopped nodding, the little parachute popped out and returned him safely to the street — the now-repaired street. He twisted his hands together behind his back. “I do. I love watching movies with Sonia, and Bat Lash tells me my poker is getting better, and someday soon I’ll start winning back all my gold nuggets from him, and you know I just love watching you beat up the bad guys. Please, please, I promise to be good!” He swung his right hand around in front of himself again, and handed her a bouquet of fifth-dimensional flowers, easily the most stunning bouquet she had ever seen.
Helena relented, as they had both known she would. “I never could resist a sweet-talker who gives me beautiful flowers! OK, Mite, one more chance. But it’s the last time. And no more dynamo in Danskin!” She took the flowers in one hand, and his outstretched hand in her other, and they walked away. Bat-Mite was literally walking on air, more than a foot off the ground in order to reach Helena’s hand. Or was it just because they were holding hands?
“So, Hel, didja see the fight? Wasn’t I great? I was weaving and dodging like Ali! If I hadn’t stumbled and got caught in that magical tornado, boyoboyoboy, would he have gotten it!”
The Huntress smiled at Bat-Mite warmly. She never could resist a smooth-talker whose heart was in the right place.
Zephyr wasn’t surprised when Doctor Fate recognized her as the former Mighty Isis, just as the goddess Isis had never been able to hide much from Nabu in ancient Egypt. “I heartily approve of your new look, avatar of Isis. ‘Tis best to distance yourself from the ancient worship, as long as controversy rages around your name. I look forward to a long association.”
That was Fate’s host Kent Nelson speaking. Nabu, for all his devotion to order, and the fortunate correspondence between order and what humans perceived as good, had never been someone who projected warmth and friendship. Indeed, Nabu was no longer in this plane of existence, having wholly passed on his responsibilities as Doctor Fate to the Nelsons. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Doctor Fate: Fate Revealed.]
“And I also approve of your own current manifestation, heir of Nabu!” said Zephyr. “I think I am well found, here in the twentieth century!”
Vic Valor was confused. Nothing in the last couple of hours had made any sense to him. As far as he could remember, three hours ago he was trapped in Doctor Doog’s Destructo-Ray, prepared to make one last escape attempt, and knowing he would be dead if he failed to escape. And then, somehow, he was out of the Destructo-Ray trap and under attack by Doog’s henchmen. And then there were the visions, flashes of memory, in which he was strapped down on a table of some kind, and someone was operating on him, but when had that occurred? He hoped everyone would leave him alone long enough for him to figure things out.
First of all, where was he? He used his super-senses to scan the city about him, and he became more confused than ever. The city was a jumble of the familiar and the strange, the comforting and the distressing. The more he saw, the more confused he became.
He recognized the larger details around him. He was in a city, a human city. But the details were subtly different from what he expected. It was more crowded and much more dirty than Opal City. There were bags of garbage piled in places on the sidewalks, and the bags were plastic. Yes, wherever he looked, he saw plastic. Plastic, when he would have expected metal, paper, glass, even stone. And there were cars, but not the cars he recognized. He was used to big, blocky vehicles that were mostly black. The streets here were crowded with a bewildering variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. The numbers were incredible, as well.
It was late at night, yet there were more cars on the streets than Opal City had during the busiest times. And nobody bothered with the signals on streetlights, and none of the pedestrians bothered to cross only at street corners. He was amazed at both the chaos and the lack of accidents. Women were wearing short skirts and tight pants that would have marked them as chorus girls or worse in his city. Less than half of the men were wearing suits, and very few were wearing hats. And the air — it stank, and with his microscopic vision he could see that it was filled with small, soot-like particles. How could these people stand to breathe this polluted poison?
This city was like a parody of the cities he was familiar with. This couldn’t be Earth, could it? Maybe he was still dreaming. He needed to get away and think. He flew straight up for miles, watching the city grow smaller beneath him. He began to make out the larger geological shapes. This was Earth — or a world with identical geography — and the city he was escaping was in the same location as Gotham City. He thought about flying back to Opal City, but he was too upset. He needed to calm down before he began any further exploration of the world.
About ten miles up, he hovered in midair and cast his thoughts back through the past. Was there any explanation in his memories for what he was experiencing?
Vic Valor remembered fighting for his life, trapped in the spotlight-beam of Doctor Doog’s Destructo-Ray, and then he died. And then there was a long period of darkness, broken by occasional flashes of awareness. He thought back on those flashes. His memory wasn’t clear, but how could a dead man have memories of the time after he had died? And now to be alive again. Logic dictated that he hadn’t actually died after all, but he had sure been trapped in some kind of hell.
He had returned to consciousness several times, he realized, but he couldn’t tell how many. During his brief periods of consciousness, there had never been any events that could be used to distinguish any of those occasions from any other.
First a painful struggle to achieve consciousness. Like a swimmer who had dived too deep, clawing desperately to reach the surface, then bursting the barrier between being unconscious and awake, gasping with painful self awareness. Alive — yes, still alive, but still trapped. No sensory impressions touched him; his mind was alone in a universe of silent darkness. There was no sensory data from his body, no hot or cold, pain or pleasure– nothing. And then, as he searched desperately for something, anything beyond, his own mind he found his memories like a cool pond, and he plunged into them and swam among them, playing with his memories like an otter would play on the muddy bank of a pond, consumed by the pure joy of past existence. And each time, a sense of urgency would grow, starting as a small spark that he could easily ignore, growing into a raging fire, consuming his memories as if they were gasoline instead of water.
When he could ignore the urgency no longer, he would turn his mind back to his current situation. He still couldn’t feel his body, yet in some ghostly way he realized that he was aware of it. Through some sense other than those few granted to humans, he could feel it nearby, and discern its condition. And each time, as he became aware of that condition, he had been thankful that he wasn’t more closely connected.
During each interval of awareness, his body was lying on a table, somehow disassembled. Someone had pinned him down and pulled him apart and splayed him all over the table and was now poking and prodding into his component parts. And yet he felt no pain. He felt a sense of outrage — it was his body that was being mistreated in this way — even as another part of him insisted that the body wasn’t that important. And then, every time, the fire of his consciousness would burn out, leaving him without energy, and he would slip quickly back beneath the blackness of unknowing.
The last time he had awakened — this time — things had been different. He knew, somehow, that he had been undisturbed for a long time. He struggled with the concept. It had been many years, whatever that meant. Once again, his mind had seemed strangely disconnected from his body, even though he sensed that the body was near, and whole, and stronger than ever before.
As he had struggled toward consciousness, now he struggled toward his body. It seemed to be denied to him by some kind of barrier. Instead of a swimmer, he became a digger, with giant, razor-sharp digging claws. He attacked the barrier, ripping into it, shredding it, pushing through the shreds, and ripping some more. A distant portion of his mind, sort of an observer, noted his metaphors — swimmer, otter, digger — and his use of alien concepts — year, body, heat, cold — and puzzled over the significance.
And then, just as he had burst through the barrier between unconscious and awareness, he burst a second barrier between disembodied and incarnate, and his connection with his body was restored.
Awareness of his body seeped into his mind. Yes, it was whole, but the feeling was different than in the past. He felt somehow… hollow, whatever that might mean. He tried to turn his head, make a fist, bend his leg, open his eyes, and nothing happened. His tormenters must have damaged him somehow during their constant intrusions into his body. So he tried harder. He probed and pushed and pounded and twisted. He forced his way through internal barriers and squeezed through long unused channels and found new ways to do things. And eventually, he succeeded. His eyes popped open, and he could see. After that, the rest was easy.
He was in a cage. Next to him, his former opponent Xenon was in another cage. And they were in the middle of a large laboratory, which was filled with electronic gear. Well, whoever had caged him had made a mistake. A simple energy blast, and he was free. Another blast freed Xenon, but he could detect no signs of life in his unfortunate former enemy. As he looked around him, a rage grew.
What kind of monster was Doctor Doog to pen up two beings as he had, to experiment on them for years, to kill one who had been his partner and ally. He didn’t know why he, Vic Valor, had so far been spared, but Doog had made a mistake by leaving him alive, and he would certainly pay. His anger grew and bubbled within him, and he used his super-senses to probe his surroundings. He was in a subbasement of some kind of fortress, probably Doog’s headquarters, though he sneered to himself at the feeble armor and defenses — defenses that a Xadamite would shrug off like raindrops.
Doog wasn’t around. Well, that was fine. He would burst out of imprisonment and find his former captor, and Doog would pay. And no one had better stand in his way.
But they had, and so he had defeated them as he escaped. He puzzled over the identity of his attackers, but he recognized none of them. He had made a thorough study of the heroes of Earth before he had entered into Earth society, and none of these was familiar to him. Thus they must be villains, part of Doog’s underworld army. He had a horrible thought. Perhaps Doog now ruled the world. How else might the clean, bustling, friendly world he had known have degenerated into this dreary, crowded, polluted, and, most of all, plastic parody? If he had been thinking more clearly, Vic Valor might have realized that if he wanted a quiet place to think, he probably wasn’t going to find it floating in the sky ten miles above the tri-city area of Gotham City, Metropolis, and New York, especially right after he had finished battling against a group of heroes with close ties to the Justice Society of America. He was startled out of his reverie when his radar sense detected a missile approaching fast from the west.