by Doc Quantum and Immortalwildcat
In Washington, D.C., Star Sapphire flew over the British Embassy — built in the style of an English country house of the Queen Anne period — making herself invisible as she approached an open window on the top floor of the Ambassador’s Residence. She stopped before she could see inside and took a quick peek. A green desk lamp illuminated the room, and sitting at the desk was her friend, Jeffrey Pierce, son of the British Ambassador, Sir Virgil Hawkins Pierce. Jeff was busy studying his textbooks at this late hour. Amanda sighed in relief, glad she had not witnessed anything too embarrassing.
She flew through the open window and made herself visible again. “Hey, Jeff.”
“Gah!” Jeff exclaimed, startled at the glowing girl suddenly standing behind him. “God, Amanda, don’t sneak up on a fellow like that!”
Amanda leaned on his bed and grinned, finding the situation highly amusing. “So what are you up to?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” laughed Jeff, finding the humor in the situation after all. “Actually, I’ve got a history exam I’m studying for this week, as well as an essay on the causes of World War One.”
“Wow. When’s that due?”
“A week from Wednesday.”
Amanda laughed. “You’re such a workaholic, Jeff.”
“Better than procrastinating.”
“Touché. I should introduce you to my friend Bonnie. I have a feeling you two would get along really well.”
“Really? Is she cute?”
“Hmm,” Amanda said, frowning. “Or perhaps not. I think the both of you would be, like, too busy competing with each other for anything to happen.”
“Oh, damn,” Jeff said shrugging. “Another one bites the dust.”
“Oh, damn!” Amanda said in a mock-English accent. “Pip-pip and all that rot!”
Jeff laughed. “Stop that!”
Amanda lowered her voice, mimicking that of an Englishman’s, “Stop being silly!”
“I mean it, Amanda.”
“I’ve got as much of a sense of humor as the next man…” Amanda continued.
“You do a terrible Graham Chapman,” Jeff stated flatly, rolling his eyes. “Now stop arsing around.”
Amanda grinned. “I suppose I should stop now. After all, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for, like, another British invasion.”
“I don’t know why I put up with you,” Jeff said, grinning despite himself.
“Because I can always make you laugh,” she replied.
“So, you said you had something you wanted to, like, talk with me about?” Amanda hoped it was something particularly juicy.
“Ah, yes,” he said, rising from his chair. “Wait there one moment. You won’t believe this.” He walked over to his closet, picked up a duffel bag, and brought it over.
“What’s this?” Amanda asked, somewhat disappointed.
“Open it up!”
“OK…” she said, her star sapphire glowing as the bag rose and seemed to open itself up. A bundle of fabric with what looked like electrical wires enmeshed through it came out of it. To Amanda, it smelled very old and dusty. “So… what is this stuff?”
“This ‘stuff,’ as you call it, is a gift from my granddad,” Jeff said, beaming proudly.
“The one you were named after?”
“Well, sort of. My first name’s Jeffrey, while his name is Jefferson, like one of your founding fathers. He was actually born and raised in America. Met an English girl named Lynn Stewart — my grandmom — during the War and became a naturalized citizen.”
“So was he, like, really into electronics or something?” Amanda asked, wondering why in the world he seemed so excited about this old junk and trying halfheartedly to sound enthusiastic about it.
“Not really. This was actually a gift.”
“Don’t sound so enthusiastic,” Jeff said sarcastically. “This is actually quite advanced equipment for the 1940s.”
“So what does it do?”
“It stores electricity, like a battery, while protecting the wearer from the current. And with it you could literally shoot bolts of lightning from your fingertips!”
“Hell-ooo… uh, you’re talking to the girl with the star sapphire?”
“Not all of us are fortunate enough to be given a magic jewel or be given cryotuber powers, Miss Junior JSA.”
“So where’d your grandfather get it, if he didn’t make it himself? He wasn’t a mystery-man back then, was he?”
“No, but he certainly could’ve been, if he hadn’t decided to settle down and raise a family. It’s a long story, but basically it started when granddad was sent to Italy while in the U.S. Army. He saved a man’s life there, an Italian inventor named Pietro Gambi, who swore to him that he’d be forever grateful. Well, after the War was over, Gambi tracked granddad down while he was living in France and gave him this!” Jeff pointed at the contraption.
“What did he do with it?”
“There wasn’t much he could do with it. He used it only once, and then grandmom made him swear never to use it again.”
“Huh. Weird. Did it, like, work?”
“Of course! Gambi was a genius — far ahead of his time.” Jeff looked around and spoke in a quiet, conspiratorial voice, “Actually, don’t tell anyone this, but… I’ve actually tried it out, and it still works.”
“Jeff!” Amanda said reproachfully.
“Are you, like, crazy?” she said, still shocked he would take such a risk. “You could’ve been electrocuted!”
It was Jeff’s turn to grin.
“What?” Amanda asked. “Did it, like, give you a shock or something?”
“Mmm… you could say that.” Jeff still grinned.
“What’s so funny about that? I doubt your parents would’ve been too happy to find their son’s electrocuted body lying cold on the floor.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. The safeguards still work… mostly. No serious damage could’ve happened. It was more like static than anything.”
“I still don’t see why you find this so funny.”
“You will in a moment.” Jeff turned around and clicked off his desk lamp.
“Jeff?” Amanda heard some rattling noises, and a moment later the light came back on.
Well, some light was back on, only it was not plugged into any lamp. It was a light bulb that Jeff held in his right hand.
“Whoa…” Amanda muttered.
“Rather brilliant, eh?” Jeff said. “Apparently, that little static shock changed my metabolism or something like that. I don’t even need the suit anymore. And this light bulb? Simplest thing in the world to light up. Now, the appliances downstairs in the laundry room — that’s another story. If my dad knew I was the one who burned them out, I’d be in a lot of trouble right now.”
“Jeff, what does all this mean?”
“I think that’s fairly obvious, my dear,” Jeff said. “We’re not so different any longer. I’m a meta-human like you! Just call me Static from now on!”
It was already well past midnight when Beth Kane said, “I think I’ll turn in, Grandmom.” The teenage girl slid the book she had been reading back into its place on the library shelf. She had taken to reading a chapter each night of a book about the costumed mystery-men of the World War II era, intrigued by the stories behind the various heroes, even if writer Jonathan Law had been forced to leave out all the important (and most interesting) details to protect the secret identities of the heroes involved. She understood the need for that far better than most people her age.
“You go ahead, dear,” said Kathy Carson, who was quite used to late nights. “I want to finish this book before I go to bed.” She turned back to her novel, looking up again as Beth came to wrap her arms around her and give her a kiss on the cheek. “What’s that for, dear?”
“For urging me to ask Jason to the dance next Friday,” replied Beth with a grin. “He said yes!”
“I thought he would. He’s a little rough around the edges, but Dick is straightening him out. He’s shaping up rather nicely, actually, in school and in costume.”
“Yeah, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the bad boy of Towering Oaks Academy was actually Red Robin’s sidekick!” They shared a laugh before Beth made her way up to her room.
An hour later, Beth was still awake as she heard her grandmother come up the stairs and walk to her room. The big old house echoed at night, the slightest sound seemingly amplified many times over. Tonight was no exception.
Sleep was not coming easy this night. Each time she started to drift off, she began dreaming of the heroes from Jon Law’s book. Each time one of them appeared, they seemed upset with her. Vaguely, she heard them accusing her.
“You could have warned them.”
“It was your fault.”
“Why didn’t you die with them?”
An hour after her grandmother went to bed, Beth tossed and turned in her bed. “No, it wasn’t my fault! Nooo!”
Beth bolted upright in her bed, sweat running down her face and neck. “I don’t get it. Why would those heroes, some of them long dead, try to blame me for my parents’ deaths?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Flamebird: At Grandmother’s Beck and Call.]
“Because you don’t deserve to be one of us!” came an answer that was clearly not part of her dream.
“Who is that?” asked Beth, jumping to her feet in the bed.
“They died because of you, yet you think you can be a hero?” asked a rasping voice. In the dark room, Beth spied a pair of glowing eyes. She reached for the light on her headboard, but it would not come on.
Only one thing to do, thought Beth. Sorry to wake you up, Grandmom! Beth closed her eyes, clenched her fists, and concentrated on summoning her grandmother. There was a sound like a flame igniting, and where Beth Kane had stood was now the glowing figure of Flamebird.
“Beth? What’s going on?” The voice in her head of her grandmother sounded groggy.
“Sorry about waking you up like this, but there’s something in my room!” replied Beth without speaking. A glowing hand pointed to where the eyes had been. The part of Flamebird that was Beth Kane saw a huge, menacing figure clad in a ragged cloak, with gleaming eyes and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth.
“What are you talking about?” replied the Kathy Carson portion of her shared consciousness. “There’s nothing there!” Flamebird blinked her eyes, and the creature was gone. The room brightened, lit now by moonlight streaming in through a window.
“What the–?” sputtered the young heroine. “I don’t understand.”
“How about if we separate, and we can talk about it?” suggested Kathy. Together they focused on each drawing back their own psyche from one another, and with a burst of light Flamebird split apart into two women.
“Now, what’s this about seeing something in the dark?” asked Kathy skeptically. “Aren’t you a little old for that?”
“Come on, Grandmom — you’re making me sound like a little kid!” Beth took a seat on the bed. “I was dreaming about the members of the All-Star Squadron from the book I was reading. They were mocking me, telling me that I failed my parents, and that I didn’t deserve to be a heroine because of it.”
Kathy sat next to the teenager and put her arms around her. “Honey, we all have times of self-doubt. Lord knows I went through enough periods like that as Batwoman. But that’s no reason to power up like that. We could have set this whole room on fire.”
“It wasn’t just in my dream! I woke up, I sat up, and something was there, still talking to me. You had to have seen it there when we merged!” Beth’s voice was pleading, begging for verification of what she had seen.
“No, I’m sorry, Beth. I didn’t see anything in here but us.” Kathy lifted Beth’s chin so she could look her in the eye. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t here.”
Beth let out a sigh of relief. At least Kathy didn’t think she was going crazy. “So what do we do now?”
“I think maybe we should talk to some other folks who are used to dealing with the bizarre,” said Kathy with a grin.
On the outskirts of Gotham City, a solitary figure made his early morning rounds. Laundry hampers were emptied into chutes leading to a basement laundry room, breakfast dishes and cutlery were laid out, meals were prepared and placed — ready for cooking — within a walk-in refrigerator. A discreet look through barely opened doors revealed that his charges were still sound asleep, so Alfred Beagle retired to his rooms to indulge himself in one of his few guilty pleasures.
“M’word, those Two Ronnies are quite rum!” he exclaimed, laughing out loud at the antics of the two British comedians. As a small light bulb flashed on a panel near his door, he stood and switched off the video cassette recorder. I must truly remember to thank Master Dick once again for this recording device, he thought, and for having tapes of the BBC shows sent over for me. Such a delight in these quiet hours.
He made his way up to the second-floor room once occupied by the current master of Wayne Manor. He knocked lightly on the door, speaking softly, “Master Jason? If you’re up, I’ll start your shower for you.” He waited for the boy’s usual drowsy reply, but none was forthcoming. Odd, he thought, the indicator light is supposed to come on when he speaks loudly enough for the sensor to hear. Curious, he opened the door a crack.
Inside, Alfred saw a strange sight. Jason Todd stood upon his bed. In one hand, the boy held a candlestick lamp, its shade and bulb gone. In the other, he clutched his pillow with an underhanded grip so that it hung from his clenched fist like a shield, covering his forearm.
“Back off, Dollface! You aren’t getting anywhere near Red Tornado!” He ducked to one side, raising his improvised shield as if to ward off an attack.
Alfred, puzzled, looked around as best he could but could see nobody else in the room. “Upon my word, the lad must be dreaming.” Opening the door wide, Alfred turned the light on and walked into the room.
As the light came on, Jason Todd turned to glance at the door. Rather than shake out of whatever state of mind he was in, as the butler expected him to do, Jason made a dive for the faithful retainer. “Get down, Alf — she’s got a gun!” Jason collided with Alfred, sending them both sprawling on the floor.
Alfred grabbed hold of the boy, slapping his face lightly. “Wake up, Master Jason! You’re having a nightmare, and you’re drawing me into it!”
“No, I’m — she’s… I… ahh,” Jason sputtered, looking around. By the light of the twin overhead bulbs, he could see that he and Alfred were the only ones in the room. “Alfred, are you all right?”
“A little rumpled is all, young sir. Trust me, I’ve had much worse done to me in these halls.” Checking over the young man, he asked, “What about you? How long were you gallivanting around the room?”
“I-I don’t know. I woke up to hear someone calling my name. I tried turning on the light, but it wouldn’t work. I saw a pair of glowing eyes by the fireplace, and a voice started talking to me, taunting me. The pitch of the voice got higher, and higher, and then Dollface stepped out of the darkness. She was trying to shoot me, and I tried to stop her.”
Jason looked around, noting the closed windows and the shirt lying rumpled against the bathroom door, each indicating that nobody had been in or out since he had gone to bed four hours earlier. “She wasn’t here, was she?”
Alfred shook his head.
“Boy, Dick is gonna let me hear about this, isn’t he?”
Alfred Beagle merely nodded.