DC Universe: The Race, Book 3, Chapter 1: Unscheduled Programming

by Dan Swanson and Immortalwildcat

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Continued from DC Universe: The Race, Book 2: Parasite

There had been many other times over the centuries that Vandal Savage had disappeared, and the Illuminati had been forced to operate without its founder and leader. Still, no matter how often he disappeared, or how long he was absent, Savage had always returned from his various sabbaticals stronger than ever and had led the Illuminati to new heights of power and influence each time.

In Savage’s absence, pretenders to his power always arose and felt secure in their stolen power — until Savage returned and showed them what real power was. And then they died at his hands, usually in such excruciating agony that they begged for death, an object lesson to any other Illuminati who might be harboring rebellious thoughts.

What most of these pretenders never realized was that Savage had no concern for their personal lives, their fortunes, or even their vices. He didn’t care if his underlings got rich when he was away — or even when he was present. All he cared about was that they never placed their personal agendas ahead of the agenda of the Illuminati — his agenda.

After his temporary setback and imprisonment by Commander Steel, the remaining Illuminati had no reason to believe that Savage would not return yet again. (*) This time, when he did return, he would find the Illuminati being ably directed by a Council of Seven — a Council whose actions he would approve, and which would immediately surrender their borrowed power to him.

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Suicide Squad: Path of the Immortal.]

The members of this Council of Seven — whose members numbered from Two to Eight, since there was no Number One but Savage himself — had carefully studied the fate of the most recent pretenders, a gruesome fate which they had all personally witnessed. They also studied Illuminati history and the fate of earlier pretenders. They realized that each and every one of their predecessors had made the same mistake. Each had assumed that Savage was dead, and therefore no one would ever call them to task over their assumption of power. Each one thought to himself something like, “How fortunate I am that this time, just when it is to my advantage, Vandal Savage has actually died!” They were fools. Savage always returned — and he always would.

And thus this group had no false expectations of retaining control of the Illuminati after Savage returned. Their most fiercely held goal was that when Savage returned, he would approve of their stewardship and allow them to surrender their power and retain their lives.

They couldn’t always be certain of the stand Savage would take on every issue. His long-term outlook sometimes led him to take actions that were incomprehensible to normal humans, for no one had the thousands of lifetimes of experience that he brought to bear. But some things were obvious. Vandal Savage would not look upon them with favor if they allowed a super-hero to become President of the United States.

The entire power of the Illuminati would be mobilized to make sure that Jay Garrick would not win the 1988 Presidential Election.

***

It was a regular spring day like any other in 1988, though meteorologists around the nation all commented on what an unusual percentage of the country had bad weather today. On news shows across the nation, the meteorologists all concluded by reminding their viewers that it was a good evening to stay home and watch television.

There was the usual spread of evening TV, and then the 9:00 to 10:00 P.M. hour began strangely. The 9:00 P.M. shows began at 9:00 P.M., with no commercials between the teaser and the beginning of the show, and there were no commercial breaks at 9:10 or 9:15. And then, at 9:20 P.M. Eastern time, on every broadcast TV in every state and voting territory of the United States of America, the first commercial of the hour was broadcast. It was a very unusual commercial, first because you couldn’t avoid it without turning off the TV, and second because it was perfectly synchronized on every channel.

First, the show faded into black to signal that it was time for a commercial break. Then the black slowly faded to a moving image of a waving flag, which then itself faded to be replaced by an early morning airplane raid on a naval base. At the bottom of the screen was the text Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The shots were particularly realistic and particularly violent. Those sickened by violence turned away, but so real were the pictures that they could not help but look again. These scenes were too real to be cinematic recreations. The photographer must have been there that day to get shots like this. Yet they were in vivid color, not the black and white that was the most common film medium of the early 1940s.

Across the top of the screen in very small type were the words Were these. The next line, much larger, in bright bold type that was impossible to miss, said Unnecessary Deaths? Under that were the labels, Allied and Axis non-combatants. These words remained stationary throughout the commercial. And they were joined by other, more disturbing text, as four columns of figures began to scroll up the screen. The first column showed the name of a battle, followed by three columns of numbers. Historians and non-historians alike who were watched would immediately recognize that these numbers represented the officially documented death tolls for each battle.

Behind the scrolling numbers, the scene changed. As each scene was displayed, the big label on the bottom changed, so viewers always knew what they were now witnessing. Those viewers who had actually survived some of these battles were stunned by the vividness and the historical accuracy, as if the cameras had been part of each battle. But there had been no cameras or camera crews present at the time, so these must have been recreations. But they were too horrifyingly real to be recreations.

And all the while, the column of numbers slowly scrolled up the screen.

There was a battle in the Atlantic, with ships being blown up by torpedoes; a tank battle in North Africa; an infantry patrol ambushed and slaughtered in France; scenes from the Battle of Britain; and a firefight on a tropical island in the South Pacific. On and on and on they went, always with columns of numbers marching slowly up the screen. The set remained silent, with no noise of any kind to distract viewers from the violence blossoming and the flowing columns of numbers. The cinematography was not brilliant, usually resembling home movies made by amateurs, which made the impact all the more real; anyone who ever used a home movie camera could relate to these videographers, and more than one scene ended in a way that suggested that the person using the camera had become a victim of the battle.

There was a death march in Southeast Asia; a group of emaciated prisoners shambling into a building, prodded by the guns and bullying of Nazi guards, fading to another group of emaciated prisoners doggedly dragging dead bodies out of the same building, their expressions too vacant to show tears; and the same guards beating the slackers. It continued with a ground-level view of the firebombing of Dresden, an aerial view of the beach assault on D-Day, and finally two atomic explosions, each devastating a Japanese city.

And then the background scenery changed, but the columns kept scrolling. Again, the scenes mimicked World War II-era newsreels, except they, too, were in vivid color, and they had a flavor of authenticity that convinced viewers they were not recreations but actual movies of the real thing.

Green Lantern was shown on a New York City street with the Empire State building in the background, facing a dozen thugs with machine guns as bullets bounced off his green aura. A glowing green fist swept the guns away and crushed them, while the gangsters were tied up in green knots.

Wonder Woman was depicted playing bullets and bracelets against a group of armed hooligans who seemed to be keen on busting up the Lincoln Memorial. Superman was shown in the New Mexico desert, striding majestically from the hellish inferno of a nuclear bomb test. Starman could be seen using his gravity rod to easily lift a German submarine from Boston Harbor and deposit it at a nearby naval base. The Flash was depicted in a few quick shots running on water, vibrating through buildings, and plucking bullets from the air.

The whole commercial was shown in complete and utter silence, the violence, death, and heroics alike. There was another nuclear mushroom cloud, and as the screen faded to black, the scrolling numbers finally faded as well, to be replaced with much larger words: Final Death Toll. On the next line was a very large number, shocking to many, well over 50 million.

And finally, at the end, was a stark simple voiceover. “They stayed home while others died fighting in the war. How many lives, on both sides, could the so called heroes in the Justice Society have saved if they had only joined the war effort? How dare they name themselves for justice? And now they want us to elect one of them President? Not likely!”

In small letters across the bottom of the screen were the words, Paid for by the Committee to Re-energize American Politics.

The commercial now faded to black and back to the regular TV show, already in progress.

***

In Gotham City, their weekly ritual included a light dinner accompanied by a glass of wine, followed by an evening in front of the television. In an unusual departure, they did not watch the network with which he was associated. Like most of the country, they watched an evening of better-than-usual comedy fare, led off by a legendary comedian who had blended the experiences of his own childhood and of raising children of his own into a show that somehow struck a chord with anybody who had ever been part of a loving family. This was followed by whichever show the network was hoping would find a loyal audience, a show that might have foundered had it not been placed between two of television’s top-rated shows. At nine o’clock, a more adult-oriented ensemble comedy set in a neighborhood pub took to the airwaves. All in all, it was a good evening of television.

Shortly after the nine o’clock show started, he had the sense that something wasn’t right. “Are they trying some kind of publicity stunt, not running any commercials?” he asked. His wife, who also had experience in broadcasting, just shrugged.

At twelve after the hour the telephone rang, and he picked it up. His wife listened to his side of the conversation, trying to figure out what was being said on the other side.

“Speaking. No, I don’t have it on. Why? The devil you say!” He reached for the remote control and changed the channel. “That’s what we’re supposed to be airing, isn’t it? Straight into it, right after the credits? That’s what we saw, too. No commercials at all? What did Jenkins tell you? What do you mean they can’t switch it off?” There followed several minutes, during which time her husband merely nodded and murmured assent, punctuated by occasional curses. Then there was a longish discussion of some technical matters relating to multiple-source switches and local overrides for network programming. At twenty past the hour, the first commercial of the hour started.

“Wait a minute, it looks like something worked. We’ve gone to commercial.”

Together, they watched the accusatory video play out. He started flipping through the channels, scanning over thirty different ones. No matter which channel they viewed, it was the same. Even the channels that didn’t show commercials were showing this one.

“Dan, what the hell is this doing on GBS, or any other network, for that matter? We never had this on our schedule!” He was shouting now.

“Please, dear, it isn’t Dan’s fault,” his wife said, trying to calm him down.

“See what you can find out. I want everyone working on this around the clock. Keep me updated with anything you find out.” He hung up the phone.

“Alan, are you all right?”

Alan Scott ran his hand up and back over his balding head. “Did you see that, Molly? That was a flat-out attack on Jay, and on every costumed mystery-man active during the war!”

“Darling, Jay will know full well that you would never allow something like that on GBS. And the fact that it appeared on all the channels is a sure sign that this was not put on the air legitimately. It has all the earmarks of a misdirection campaign, trying to draw everyone’s attention to one issue, and distract them from another.” Molly Maynne Scott smiled. “Something right up my alley, once upon a time.”

“Maybe,” agreed Alan, sitting down just as the phone rang again. Reaching for it, he grimaced. “Care to take a bet on whether this is Jay, or someone from his campaign?

“Not on your life, mister.”

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