by Dan Swanson
Doctor Fate had, in fact, just popped back to check on his wife Inza Nelson and baby daughter Celeste in his tower in Salem, Massachusetts, when he received the emergency call from the Huntress. Fate no longer drew his power from Nabu, as he had in the past, though he held the full knowledge, power, and memories of Nabu whenever he donned the Helm of Nabu. Doctor Fate was a new Lord of Order, now gaining his power through the union of Kent and Inza Nelson. Still, either Kent or Inza could don the Helm alone and operate as Doctor Fate, leaving the other in his or her ordinary form. With a baby to take care of, Inza bowed out of participating in Doctor Fate’s adventures most of the time these days.
Kent looked at his wife, who was rocking little Celeste to sleep, and smiled. The strange and unexpected birth of their daughter had been a blessing in more ways than one. (*) Inza had been so lonely for so many years, feeling like a prisoner in the tower whenever Kent was absent, his body being controlled by Nabu. After Nabu passed on to the mystical realm where Lords of Order went after they died, Kent and Inza spent a few months as a merged being, becoming closer than they ever had been before. But after Celeste was born, Inza was just as happy to remain behind in the tower to care for their little girl, since she was lonely no longer. It was now a rare occasion for Inza to merge with Kent as Fate, and an even rarer occasion for her to act solo while donning the Helm of Nabu.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Doctor Fate: Children of Fate.]
With a single long stride, Doctor Fate reached the scrying table and waved a hand over his crystal ball. The ball quickly clouded and then cleared, giving Fate a quick glimpse of the battling behemoths. The Huntress was right; the best way to stop this potential disaster from occurring was via his magic. He normally traveled in a more dignified manner, but there wasn’t time for dignified spell-casting right now. Instead, he raised his hands to the height of his head, snapped his fingers, and vanished.
The Lord of Order was immediately floating above Pound Ridge Road, just north of Stamford. Earlier that night, Vic Valor had left the fight scene near JSA Headquarters before Fate had arrived, and Fate had then concerned himself with other matters. Now, however, as he saw the danger and destruction Valor was causing, Fate was displeased with his earlier lack of action. Still, he now had a chance to correct his mistake.
Decades ago, Doctor Mid-Nite and Green Lantern had examined Ted Knight and the Vic Valor battle armor. They had concluded that a side effect of the Ian Karkull energy that had extended Ted’s life had precipitated a breakdown. Driven by his guilt at his role in the development of the atomic bomb and subsequently giving up his heroic identity as Starman, Ted had unknowingly created the armor that concealed his real identity and gave him super-powers. Although Kent Nelson had not participated in Ted’s recovery process, only learning about everything after he came out of retirement as Doctor Fate, Ted seemed to be better by the next time he encountered him.
Doctor Fate supposed that Ted must have had a relapse after all these years, but that didn’t explain why he was fighting with Superman. During his last appearance, Vic Valor had been one of the good guys. But explanations could wait; Fate needed to stop this mindless battle now. He raised his arms, and his magically amplified voice carried out over the landscape.
“Superman, Vic Valor, hear me!” With a gesture, the two were immobilized. “I demand that you cease this mindless combat! Fate has spoken.”
He lowered his arms, and the two bound goliaths were deposited gently on the ground. Fate drifted closer, and he was about to make another pronouncement when Vic Valor simply vanished.
“Doctor Fate, please release me,” Superman requested calmly. “There is no further danger from me. And my super-senses tell me that Valor is no longer nearby.”
Fate hesitated for only an instant. He had many years of reasons to trust Superman. “The explanation for this evening’s events will be… interesting.”
The Man of Steel recognized the implied command. Under normal circumstances, he might have found this presumptuous, but he normally didn’t endanger many thousands of people with irresponsible actions, either. He quickly recounted the entire story, starting with his approach to Valor and the mysterious bolt of lightning.
“And just why were you fighting like a street thug?” Fate asked sharply.
“Same damn thing I’d like to know!” Both heroes were started by the voice of the Huntress, who had just landed a small, very quiet Batplane nearby. Fate was startled to see Bat-Mite sitting in a saddle astride the fuselage, holding a set of reins that were attached to the nose of the small plane. He winked at Fate and held his finger to his lips. Helena Wayne was still talking.
“If I’d wanted a macho, testosterone-laced steel cage match, I would have called on Kara!” She almost grinned at the joke, and Kent Nelson was probably grinning as well, under his mask. “I was sort of hoping for ‘good Kal,’ who inspired a generation of heroes, but I got ‘bad Kal’ instead, like the one who once destroyed an entire slum to prove a point! (*) What’s up with that?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman, Action Comics #8 (January, 1939).]
“That’s not the only thing I don’t understand,” Superman responded. “Where did that lightning bolt come from? How is it that Valor was able to hurt me? How’d he get away from Fate’s magic?”
“Um, Kal, I think I have those answers.” The two men were surprised at how meek the Huntress sounded, almost as if she was embarrassed about something, certainly nothing like the assertive, confident heroine they knew.
“You probably don’t know that I’ve had a house guest recently.” Superman did know, and he wasn’t sure he approved, but Helena could take care of herself. And besides, she wasn’t talking about Bat Lash. “You know Bat-Mite, right?”
Over by the plane, Bat-Mite’s ears perked up, and he got a big smile on his face. Of course Superman and Doctor Fate knew him.
“Then you know how, whenever he uses his powers, everything goes wrong?” Bat-Mite’s smile drained away, leaving him looking forlorn. “Well, I made him promise not to use his powers to help me out in any way. He thought he spotted a loophole, and he used someone else’s powers instead. Earlier this evening he pretended to be Colonel Invincible. He got the idea from watching videos with Sonia. All the weird things that happened to Superman must have been due to some malfunction of his magic!”
Hearing his beloved Helena talking like this about him was pure pain for Bat-Mite. He slumped lower in his saddle and raised the back of his forearm to his eyes. Fate could make out tears rolling down his mask. Even the single unbent bat-ear on his cowl began to droop. He was such a pitiful sight that even a Lord of Order would be touched. Still, Fate disapproved of such awesome power combined with such immaturity, even though he knew that Bat-Mite never intended any harm to anyone.
“Yes, his antics are tiresome and often dangerous.” Doctor Fate was looking right at the invisible imp when he said this.
Bat-Mite slumped even lower, and actually started sinking through the saddle and the fuselage. He was sure glad Helena didn’t know he was there. Fate was aware of the pain his words were causing the other-dimensional elf, but he wasn’t through talking.
“Yet his heart is pure and his intentions noble.” The invisible imp’s head jerked up, and his eyes were big and round. “He is yet very young. He will one day be a powerful force for good in the universe.” Bat-Mite’s body now floated above the saddle, and his chest was starting to swell.
“Yes, Doctor Fate, I’m sure someday he will be more like you,” Helena agreed.
A light bulb popped into the air over Bat-Mite’s head, and flashed into brilliance. He raised one hand over his head and spun around on one toe, and somewhere during that single spin, his costume changed. Fate almost chuckled to see a chubby, eighteen-inch-tall Doctor Fate standing where Bat-Mite had been.
“Introducing… Fate Mite!” the mini mystic intoned, in a squeaky imitation of Fate’s deep, sonorous voice. Fate almost hurt himself trying to conceal his mirth. It wouldn’t do much for Doctor Fate’s reputation to burst out laughing, would it?
Fate Mite faced the mystic mage, straightened to his full height, and saluted, a salute whose effect was somewhat lessened because he used his left hand and gave the three fingered Boy Scout salute (it wasn’t really his fault, though, since he didn’t have four fingers). He then shot into the air and back toward Gotham. Fate sighed; he knew the hero worship would wear off the instant the impulsive imp caught site of Bat Lash and his deck of cards. But maybe Bat-Mite had heard something this evening that would stay with him. One could only hope.
“Well, now that you know that Bat-Mite was involved, my work here is finished!” the Huntress said, grinning, and headed back to her plane. “Boy, is he going to get it when I get home!” she added.
“Please be gentle with him. For all his great powers, his love for you makes him unable to defend himself from you.” This was very unlike Fate’s usual manner; in fact, this was Inza Nelson’s remote influence, as Kent always shared telepathic contact with his wife whenever he became Doctor Fate these days.
“I do know that, Doc. After all, I’m one of the best detectives alive!” The Huntress smiled as she fired up the Batplane. Even with his super-hearing, Superman was barely able to detect the muffled sounds of the engine. She advanced the throttle, and then she was gone.
Doctor Fate turned to leave, but Superman wasn’t finished yet. “Hold on, Fate! You know as well as I that Vic Valor may be Ted Knight. If it is Ted, he needs help. Yet earlier this evening, when you could have tried to find him and help him, you didn’t. I want an explanation!”
Not many mortals dared to talk to Doctor Fate that way. But then, not many mortals had the stature of Superman. Fate almost decided to ignore the impertinent question, but then realized that his own respect for the Man of Steel required him to answer.
“I’m sure that there have been times when your duty as an icon have conflicted with your duty as a hero, correct?” he asked, speaking softly.
The Man of Steel nodded. He understood, although he was not totally satisfied with that answer. The good that Fate did in the world was a byproduct of his status as an icon, a Lord of Order. His concern for his cause almost always superseded his concern for individuals. In a way, Superman was almost Fate’s direct opposite. Superman’s iconic status as a champion of good arose because of his concern for individuals.
Still, Fate’s humanity was on display tonight. “Fear not, man of might. I shall find Vic Valor, and, if he be Ted Knight or other, offer my assistance.”
With Fate’s assurance, Superman’s thoughts turned to home. As he headed for Kansas at multi-Mach speed, he hoped Lois was still awake.
Back again in his tower sanctum, Doctor Fate contemplated his situation. If he was going to keep his promise to Superman, he needed more information. Well, he would soon have that information. He made his preparations, even as his wife and daughter slept in a nearby room.
Long ago, Doctor Fate had anchored a pocket universe of his own design to his sanctum. He cast the spell that activated the portal between universes and stepped through a full-length mirror mounted on one of the walls. That mirror might have looked familiar to Doctor Occult. It was magically adjacent to our own universe, yet subject to completely different physical laws, so no matter how long Fate remained in the pocket universe, no time passed on Earth. When he needed more time than our universe allowed him, he had often spent a lot of time in the pocket universe. Fortunately, Lords of Order were immortal, and Kent and Inza Nelson were no less so for their long association with Nabu. Now that he could utilize time at his leisure, he began his investigation.
The senses of Doctor Fate, enhanced by powerful spells, were far beyond human comprehension. What we could understand, in a general way, was what Fate discovered, using a powerful yet delicate scrying spell to track the Vic Valor entity through time.
Fate watched the whole story unfold in reverse order, then ran it back again in normal sequence, stopping to rewind and view again those scenes of exceptional significance. What he discovered was astonishing.
Years ago, in 1947, on a day that was no different than any other day, an energy entity suddenly appeared in this universe as if from nowhere. Try as he might, Fate could trace it no further. There was a very unimpressive puff of energy, which dissipated so quickly that even Fate’s magic could not analyze it, and there it was. It was suspicious, Fate thought, that this entity had materialized so close to Earth.
At that point the entity could hardly even be called a being. It had no memories, no thoughts, and certainly no purpose — nothing, in fact, but potential. Fate observed that it was nourished by infra-energy, and it was quickly drawn to Ted Knight as the most powerful source of infra-energy nearby. The fact that it had appeared close to Ted could not be interpreted as a coincidence. Someone whose identity Fate was unable to track had sent the entity to Ted Knight.
Ted’s mind was becoming unstable because of a side-effect of the life-extending Ian Karkull energy. The entity set up house, undetected, in Ted’s subconscious. It learned a lot from Ted, and eventually discovered it could, from time to time, control his body. So, using information from Ted’s mind, and a lot of imagination, Vic Valor had been created. Because it had no background of its own, because it had never known anything else, the entity believed that this fictional history was true. Fate stopped thinking of it as the entity or the Valor entity and began to think of it as Vic Valor, because that was what the entity itself thought.
Through all of this, Fate could detect no malicious intent.
Doctor Doog’s Destructo-Ray had nearly killed Vic Valor. He had escaped into the complex circuitry of the Valor battle armor and had remained dormant for almost forty years. The suit was designed to collect infra-energy, and even deep underground in Ted Knight’s secret laboratory sanctum, it was able to collect a trickle, enough to sustain the sleeping Valor. And then the armor was moved to a subbasement of the JSA Brownstone. Lacking so many feet of stone insulating it from the sky, the suit quickly absorbed a maximum charge. The shock of the event brought Valor back to awareness, though he had himself become mentally unstable during his long sleep. This was followed by Vic Valor’s first public appearance in decades.
Having learned all he could from his instant replay of Valor’s life, Doctor Fate turned his attention to the present. Casting another spell that blanketed the Earth, he searched for a powerful source of infra-energy. And there it was near San Francisco, though he couldn’t understand how Valor had gotten there.
Replaying the moments of their earlier near-confrontation, he examined it more closely and realized that the residue of Bat-Mite’s magic, coating Vic Valor, had reacted against his own magic almost like two fingers squeezing a wet watermelon seed, with Valor being the seed. A more detailed examination showed him that Valor was no longer infected by Bat-Mite’s wild magic. That was good; he didn’t want anything else chaotic to occur during his next meeting with Valor. He had enough information, and now it was time to act.