by Dan Swanson and Immortalwildcat
On the evening of the day after the commercial, the All-Star Party held a jam-packed press conference to address that commercial. Presidential Candidate Jay Garrick made a short statement and then took questions. “Ladies and Gentlemen, by now you have all seen the commercial that was originally aired yesterday evening, suggesting that I am not fit to be president of our great country because of my lack of contribution to the Allied cause in World War II. While the facts related in this commercial are true, they don’t tell the whole truth.
“World War II was a very difficult time for me and for my comrades in the Justice Society of America and the All-Star Squadron. Some of these super-heroes have powers that might have ended that war almost instantly. Many others, myself included, felt that our active intervention could have shortened the war by months or even years. And every one of us felt tremendous pain for every death that occurred, which we were sure we could have prevented. That pain remains with all of us today.
“That pain is one of the reasons I am running for president. I want to ensure that there is never another world war, that all the people of the world can live together in peace, and that the United States is a leader on the path to that peaceful world.
“The wire recording of President Roosevelt that was recovered in the presidential archives and played yesterday confirms that Roosevelt ordered the mystery-men and women of the United States to stay out of the combat zones in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific Theater. At the time he was our commander-in-chief during the largest war in history, and we felt that it was our duty to obey his orders. I can’t give you a magical answer regarding this issue.
“If I had disobeyed Roosevelt’s orders, could I have hastened the end of World War II? I think so — in fact, I know so. Should I have ignored Roosevelt’s orders and joined combat with our troops overseas? I can’t answer that, because even today I don’t know all the reasons Roosevelt had to consider. Then, I had doubts. Today I believe he was wrong. Still, only history can ultimately answer this question.
“Were his reasons sufficient? FDR clearly thought so, regardless of what we think. Would I obey that same order today in a similar situation? I doubt it. At the very least, I would demand that President Reagan convince me in person, face-to-face, so that I could make up my own mind.
“Am I fit to be the president? I think so, or I wouldn’t be standing here now. To me, one of the most humbling things about being president is that you have to do the right things and make the right decisions time after time after time, regardless of popularity, polls, and controversy. I’ve always tried to live by the principle of doing the right things because they are right, regardless of polls, popular opinion, or controversy. If I am elected, I hope that one day history will record that principle as my legacy.
“Thank you for listening. I’m done speeching, and I’m ready to answer your questions as best I can.”
“You sure you’re all right to drive, honey?”
“I’m fine, Pat. It’s been five weeks since the baby was born, and Dr. Peterson told me on Wednesday that I’m clear for all my usual activites.” Lynda Dugan looked up from the car window at her husband. “All of them,” she said with a wink.
“Yeah, uh, look, you just be careful. And Mike, you behave yourself, you hear me? Don’t give your Stepmom a rough time at the store.”
“OK, Dad,” said a husky red-haired boy of eleven from the back seat.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours!” called Lynda as she backed out of the garage and down the driveway.
Pat Dugan reached for a broom and started sweeping out the garage. As he worked, he thought about the phone call he’d received the day before, and the family conference that had followed. The offer was tempting, and he certainly believed in Jay Garrick’s campaign. Still, with a new baby and a family business in Blue Valley, Nebraska, he was hesitant to leave, even if it was only for a few months. It had taken him a long time to find a place to call home, and now that he’d found it, he didn’t want to let go of it.
Even absorbed in thought while cleaning out the garage, he heard the low purr of a well-tuned, high-performance engine as it pulled into his driveway. He turned around and saw two men, both in gray suits, getting out of the Mercedes sport coupe.
“Pat Dugan?” asked the one getting out of the passenger side.
“Yeah, that’s me.” Pat put the broom aside and ran a hand through the unruly mop of red hair atop his head.
“If you don’t mind, sir, we’d like a few minutes of your time. It’s regarding the position with the Garrick campaign, and–”
“Look, guys, I appreciate the interest. But I told Ms. Waller when she called, I need some time to think this over and discuss it with my family.”
“You misunderstand, sir. We aren’t with Mr. Garrick’s campaign. We represent, ah, an interested party.” The two men took up positions on either side of the open garage door. Pat’s experienced eye noticed the bulges under the left arms and on either side at the waist. Backup pieces, and backups for the backups, he thought.
“Well, I don’t know which party you’re with, but nobody is strong-arming me out of Garrick’s campaign, either.”
“Oh, nothing like that, Mr. Dugan. We want you in–”
“Hey, Dad! Can I — oh, sorry. Didn’t know you had company.” All heads turned toward the door leading into the house. Pat noticed that the driver, who hadn’t spoken yet, twitched just a bit, enough to show he’d been ready to grab his gun. A slender blonde girl in her mid-teens was framed in the doorway.
“Courtney, not now. Go in and see how the baby’s doing downstairs in the nursery.” Pat waved at her to close the door.
When it was closed, he turned back to the visitors. “Sorry about that. Teenagers, you know?” he said with a shrug.
“Right. What we want, Mr. Dugan…”
In the kitchen, Courtney Whitmore Dugan paused. “In the basement? The nursery is up here. What’s he–? Oh!”
She broke into a run, dodging furniture as she dashed through the kitchen and den, to the small room next to her mother’s and stepfather’s. She scooped up the sleeping infant and grabbed the diaper bag from its place under the changing table. Then she reversed course into the den and pulled open the basement door.
Without turning on the light, she went downstairs, then came around to the back of the staircase. There was a keypad mounted on a post. “8428679,” she whispered as she typed it in. “Victory.” The cinderblock wall next to the post swung open, and she stepped inside. When she pushed the wall back into place, lights came on.
Directly under the garage, where most homes would have a solid concrete slab, lay a twelve-by-twenty-foot workroom. She remembered her stepfather explaining that it was originally a bomb shelter. Now it had his equipment for jobs that he couldn’t work on at his garage. The special jobs, he called them, the ones that Courtney’s engineer mother sometimes assisted on. While she was familiar with most of the tools, most of the items they created or fixed were alien to her. One, however, she recognized.
“The belt. Pat said that Uncle Sylvester sent him the old one, and there it is.” She lifted the crimson belt with its large, circular buckle, from the workbench. “If there’s trouble up there, maybe I can help him out.” Looking around, she spied the three cartons that she remembered so well. She remembered laughing when her mother opened one and pulled out the red and white jersey. She wasn’t laughing now as she pulled one out and slipped it over her clothes, then tore a strip off another to wrap around the lower part of her face.
“So let me get this straight. You want me to work in Garrick’s campaign, and wear a wire so your group can hear everything I hear, right?”
“And if I say no, what are you going to do? Kill me?”
The driver walked back to the car and opened the trunk as the other replied. “Of course not. That would be useless.” As the driver approached with a pair of small canisters with wires protruding from them, the other smiled wolfishly. “We need you. But we don’t need your family, do we?”
“That’s enough!” All three men looked up as a red and white blur dropped from the rafters above them. A golden glow exploded from the petite figure and bowled over the men in the gray suits.
“What the hell?” The driver dropped one of the canisters, and it rolled into the yard. He and his partner scrambled to their feet. He reached for the figure in red and white, only to receive a sneakered foot in the stomach. “Whooof!”
The other reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. His finger was squeezing the trigger before he’d even brought it down to aim. The first shot went up into one of the rafters, but the second shot went directly at the small fighter. There was a burst of light, and the bullet careened off at an angle.
Before he could fire again, his arm was struck a sharp blow with a broom handle. “Like she said, that’s enough. Now get out of here, now!” yelled Pat Dugan, bringing the broom back over his shoulder for another swing.
The two men ran for the car, climbing in and screeching out of the driveway as fast as humanly possible. It was too fast — as the car rounded the corner at the end of the block, it slid across the road and into a tree. When it struck, the car exploded in a fireball thirty feet across.
“Oh, my God! Pat?” Courtney turned away from the explosion and found her stepfather’s arms waiting for her.
“It’s OK, Court. One thing’s for sure: they can’t hurt us now.” Pat reached down, put a finger under her chin, and lifted her face up to look into his eyes. “Patty’s downstairs?”
“In the workroom.”
“And you cooked this rig up yourself?” His blue eyes twinkled as he stepped back and looked her up and down. The red-and-white-striped jersey hung past her knees. The band she’d wrapped around her face had slipped down around her neck. Her short blonde hair was askew, flying every which way. “You done good, kid, for spur of the moment. You done real good.”
“And Mom’s going to kill me, isn’t she?”
“Well, she ain’t gonna be real happy, but we have to tell her. Because this made up my mind. I’m going to take that job I told you about last night. And since they said I could bring the family along, and they’ve already got a tutor there for Jay’s son, I’m bringing you with me.”
“Yeah, I have to figure out where Mom and the younger ones can stay, though. It won’t be safe here.”
“But why me?” Courtney pulled the improvised mask and the jersey off.
“Because I like to have an ace in the hole. But this time,” Pat said with a smile, taking the cosmic converter belt as Courtney took it off. “This time, you’re going to be prepared.”
John Garrick was bored. It was so boring to ride the train from place to place, taking hours to go places he could get to in instants on his own. At least when they stopped at hotels he had his own room, and everyone left him alone when he went inside and closed the door. Before he’d realized that he had super-speed, the idea of being able to move around and take your home with you wherever you went would have been fascinating to him. Now, though, wherever he went, he could be home in less time than it took a normal person to speak the word — so why bother with the work of taking it along? And, of course, the train could only go where there were rails, while he could go anywhere.
Still, he had promised to keep Whiz Kid out of the limelight while his dad ran for president, so he couldn’t just go anywhere. So he mostly hung out on the train or the campaign bus and was bored.
He suddenly realized he was stuck in sort of a mental loop. Starting with being bored, thinking things through, and coming back to being bored, and starting over again. Surely a kid as smart as he was, with super-speed, could find some excitement without causing any problems or getting into the papers or anything like that. So, what would he really like to do?
In his mind, he pulled out the list of things he had always wanted to do with his life. Professional athlete was out. He supposed he could still be a mountain climber, but it just didn’t have the same attraction any more, knowing he could just run right up to the top. Stage magician was similar — even without any further training, his sleight of hand would be undetectable to virtually everyone on Earth.
As he thought it over, he began to realize with some chagrin just how many of the normal human challenges had been removed from his life. He could easily humiliate the one or two bullies who had made a point of picking on the quiet smart guy he had always been, but he had never really wanted revenge — just to be left alone. He had always had a fascination for fast cars, but he could easily outpace even the fastest car ever built.
Like other teenage boys, he had always been fascinated by the female form, and he realized he could now easily fulfill one of his fantasies. But his upbringing by a super-hero dad and his experiences with the Junior JSA had taught him respect for the privacy of others. Just because he could do something didn’t mean that he should do it. So the collective girls locker rooms of the world were safe — at least from him. He didn’t even want to think about how that slime-ball Bluestreak might abuse his powers.
Of course, now he was thinking about girls, and whenever he thought about girls, he thought about Henrietta King — AKA Savant. He had known that no prison would be able to hold her — just as no prison would be able to hold him, other than the prison of her heart. Not that he would ever be in prison, but still, he wondered if the pain in his own heart would ever go away.
One thing he had learned from his parents was that most people were good when given the chance, and that even bad people usually had some good inside them somewhere. Oh, there were people with no humanity in them, such as the Joker, but even most of them had started out as just people who had encountered circumstances that had driven them insane. The born sociopaths were rare.
He didn’t think Henrietta was a sociopath. He believed that a part of her had truly cared for him, and to attain her goals she had ruthlessly suppressed that part of herself, but that somewhere inside she was hurting as much as he was. He hoped that he would never become that ruthless in pursuit of his own goals.
Suddenly, he knew what he was going to be doing today. He was going to go back in time and fix Henrietta’s life.