by Christine Nightstar, Dan Swanson and Immortalwildcat
Jay Garrick was the two major parties’ worst nightmare personified since that broadcast. Not only did he have the president and vice president denouncing the attack on his past, but also he was gaining popularity. The press conference in which tabloid reporter Lonny Ziffelheim had asked difficult questions of Garrick and was later attacked didn’t really hurt Garrick’s popularity, either — even though Garrick was prime suspect.
The other stories attacking the other members of the Justice Society of America did, however, throw some problematic enquirers their way, muckrakers of the highest caliber and lowest denominator. Every member of the JSA was under attack, even the iconic American hero Superman. The late Batman was attacked as well in a story in which he was called a sexual predator, pedophile, and worse.
Jay Garrick was frustrated by the attacks on his friends and insinuations of his poor judgment in a football game over forty years earlier. He had lived through the likes of this in the 1950s with Senators McCarthy and O’Fallon and their Communist witch-hunts, which had forced several heroes into temporary retirement rather than reveal their secret identities to the committee.
He was looking at the newspapers scattered across the table of his campaign bus when he noticed a shadow slowly growing on the floor. From the shadow emerged his old-time sparring partner, the Shade.
“Tell me, Jay, how are you holding up?”
“What do you want, Shade?”
“What do I want? Nothing more than to help you. Quite unsporting the way your friends and such are being attacked and drawn into question because you are running for president.”
“Why would you do that, Shade? We’ve been enemies for years.”
“That’s true, Jay, and that’s exactly why I’d do that — because I know you, and you know me. It’s always been a game between us — a battle of wits to decide the victor.”
“I’m listening, Shade. What do you want in return?”
“For now, nothing but to help. Later, when you start to consider a running mate, I’d like consideration, though.”
Jay Garrick laughed out loud at the suggestion. “That’s crazy, Shade. Even if you weren’t a super-villain, I don’t know where you stand on certain issues. Heck, I don’t even know your name or if you’re an American citizen!”
“I said consideration,” replied the Shade, a wry smile on his lips. “The honor of being on your short list for running mates will be enough for me.”
“Why would you want that?”
“Because playing behind the scenes for decades on end gets boring every so often, and because it would upset the right people.”
“How do you think you can help?”
“By giving them a true view of your character, Jay, in a commercial. Here is my card. My number’s on the back.” Into the shadows the Shade disappeared again. Jay looked at the card. The thought was ludicrous — fantastic, even. One of his arch-enemies was willing to help. But how could Jay even consider such an offer?
Jay looked at the Shade’s card twice, then at the attack stories focusing on his friends in the JSA. The Shade knew him well; Jay had even respected the Shade in the odder moments of his career and felt respect from his long-time enemy. But there were others who knew Jay and knew the Flash equally well — men and women who not only fought beside Jay but worked beside him as well.
He couldn’t call on his friends in the JSA, but he could call on other friends to help him — coworkers and employees, neighbors and family — people who were embracing his run for the presidency.
Amanda Waller, Jay’s campaign manager, was practically yelling at him, trying to remind him that this wasn’t some local or state race that could be won with friends and family endorsements.
“I have spent over forty years helping people across the world as the Flash and as Jay Garrick. We can use friends endorsing me, because as the Flash I have made friends across the world. Don’t focus on my JSA friends, because they are under attack by these muckrakers now, but those whose reputation is beyond question. Leaders of state and country, heads of countries and corporations — even if they don’t agree with me, they can give me a hope at winning this.”
“Jay, I think that is the craziest thing I ever heard,” said Amanda. “Asking those who could be your potential enemies to give you a character endorsement?”
“We are at a point where my judgment and my character are under fire,” said Jay. “Let’s show them what sort of person I really am. Call these people. I’m sure that a few of them will be able to spare a few days for shooting a commercial.”
Outside the bus in the shadows, as the Garrick for President campaign bus refueled at a truck stop, nobody noticed the Shade warming himself with a cup of hot coffee.
“We have far to run and race, Jay, before this is over. You’ve passed but one hurdle with a little nudge. There are more to come. I await your phone call yet.”
Mitch Mercury, the teenage super-speedster and criminal known as Bluestreak, was getting reamed out in a way he hadn’t since he was a kid. He hadn’t enjoyed it then, either.
“You fool! Ziffelheim was supposed to die in that accident!” The screamer was some mucky-muck in the Committee to Re-energize American Politics, and Mitch was sure the name he had been given was false. And he had been screaming since Mitch walked through the door two minutes ago. “If you want your money, you better go back and finish the job!”
When Mitch had been a kid, he had been forced to put up with screaming. But Bluestreak had other options. If this kept up, he was out of here, even if he hadn’t been paid yet. Still, he reasoned, a little diplomacy never hurt.
“You know, buddy, as old and fat as you are, you oughta keep that temper under control. I’ll bet you’re this close–” He showed the man crossed fingers on his right hand. “–to a heart attack right now.” He waited a second, but the man was sputtering and couldn’t get any words out. “Nothing in our deal said I had to kill him. I don’t kill for money, you know. But every once in a while, when someone really pisses me off, I do it for free.” Well, that wasn’t actually true, but in this guy’s case he could definitely start today.
The other man didn’t look worried about the threat in the least. Was he too mad to hear what Mitch had just said, or too stupid to believe him? Suddenly, a very strange thought struck Mitch.
Suppose he isn’t afraid because he thinks he’s safe? I wonder what could make him think that? Mitch wasn’t used to considering options; he normally relied on his speed to avoid situations that required thought. He would have been dismayed to realize that this simple thought showed a baby step toward maturity.
“OK, jerk-face, you just blew any chance at that pay-check. Beat it; don’t come back — and if you ever tell anyone you were ever near this place, you’re dead meat.” The mucky-muck was trying to get rid of him? Well, diplomacy hadn’t worked, which left him one option.
Mitch pretended to be hurt. “Aww, do I at least get to keep the neato costume?” He was wearing blue pants, a red shirt, and a winged helmet that resembled a soup plate, and his face was blurred by constant high-speed vibrations. “I so like the winged booties!”
The man blinked — and when his eyes popped open, he was standing in pitch blackness, which lightened slightly as some battery-powered emergency lights came on. He felt a little chilly but didn’t have time just yet to pay attention to that. Mitch was handing him an electric lantern. On the floor in front of him the lantern light showed a pile of knives, blackjacks, wires, guns, and tasers, all of them dismantled or broken. And now that he could see again, he realized he was naked.
“Now, I’m not a rocket scientist, or hotshot engineer,” Mitch said in a deceptively mild voice. “I leave that kinda stuff up to my pal Savant. So I couldn’t tell you what most of that electronic crap you got in here is for, but some of it looks like it could be dangerous — if it wasn’t all smashed up. Oh, yeah, and, if there was any electricity.
“One thing I did recognize, though, was those big diesel generators.” He smiled. “I think you might want to get your money back on those things. Brand new, but I don’t see how they can work with all those broken wires and stuff. You know, nothin’s built to last anymore. And those big old oil tanks leak like crazy! If I were you, I’d probably think about getting out of the building, like, right now. There’s, like, four inches of diesel oil on the floor in the basement, and if any of that busted stuff sparks when the power comes back on, this place won’t be safe.”
He tilted his head and tried to look thoughtful. “Actually, I suppose if you were me, you wouldn’t worry about hurrying, would you? I sure don’t!” He was on a real roll. “Well, since you aren’t me, you probably worry — and hurry!” He looked smug. What a great exit line. And then he disappeared.
Before the now-terrified guy could run, Mitch was back. “Oh, yeah — there was just enough cash in the building to cover my time and expenses. I’m thinking we’re good, ya know? Nice doin’ business with you. Don’t call me again!” Once again he was gone, and this time he stayed gone.
As he ran, Mitch was a little nervous. That pay-phone trick they’d pulled on him before had been more than a little scary. Still, he did have a friend who had some magical resources of his own. It seemed like it might be time to drop in on the Junior Injustice Society and catch up with his old friend Faust.
“Interesting. Most interesting.”
Gazing out over Metropolis from a penthouse office while listening to the news report on a television behind him, a hulking, brooding figure paced back and forth before the windows.
“Somebody else has entered the game, and whoever it is, they’re good — too good. Pirating all of the television feeds at the head-ends. A planted reporter at a press conference where he had no business, with information about Garrick’s past so obscure that even my own studies of the JSA members’ histories missed it, followed by an attempt on the reporter’s life. Ludicrous so-called news stories about the heroes, with just enough basis in reality to make them plausible to the mindless masses. Fah!” A massive fist slammed into the floor. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I put that all together myself!”
The Ultra-Humanite strode over to the oversized desk that dominated the room. Pressing a button on a speakerphone, he asked, “Is he here yet?”
“He just came in the door, sir,” came back a refined, English-accented voice through the intercom. “Shall I send him in?”
One of the doors in the office opened, and Stan Gunderson walked in. “I came as quickly as I could.”
“You’ve been following the latest on the Garrick campaign, I assume?”
“Hell, yes! I just got the latest poll numbers, too. Look at this!” Stan pulled a sheaf of papers out of his briefcase. “He’s up by five points over everybody.”
“Sympathetic backlash.” The Ultra-Humanite ran a finger down the sheet. “Forget him — if his two brothers hadn’t been killed, he’d never have been elected dog catcher, much less senator. This rube from Tennesee is another one for the books; his father bought him a seat in the Senate, but he can’t buy a national election. This other one from Massachusetts might make it, but I think we can twist some of his views on the military against him. The playboy, here, is going to find someone talking about him very soon, though, so we can discount him. And this country will never elect a minister as president, much less a minority minister.”
“What about the Republicans?”
“The vice president is still the strongest one they’ve got. Reagan has been a very popular president. Hell, if he named that twit senator from Indiana as his preferred choice for the office, people would vote for him. Though this fellow, the ex-CIA Director, gave a good run against Reagan eight years ago. I figured him for the likely vice president at the time.”
“Still, I’m holding my own — fourth place in the polls so far.”
“Yes, and there are still over six months to go.” Sitting back in his chair, the Ultra-Humanite gestured for Gunderson to help himself to a cigar from the desktop humidor. “So far, we’ve managed to keep your, ah, indiscretions quiet, Rudy.”
Gunderson’s hand paused as he was putting the lighter back on the desk. “I’ve asked you not to use that name.”
“What would you prefer, then? Mimic?”
“If you like. Rudy Jones died a year ago. For all intents and purposes, I am Stan Gunderson.” His features melted away to be replaced by those of a blonde woman with high cheekbones and blue eyes. “Or his wife.” Another shift, and there sat a teenage girl with her mother’s eyes and her father’s brown hair. “Or his daughter.”
“Or any of a half-dozen technicians in my employ who came into contact with you before we realized your abilities, yes. And please refrain from imitating the Gunderson girl. Even I was disgusted over that incident.”
Once more, Stan Gunderson sat before the desk, taking a leisurely draft from the cigar. “OK, so that was a mistake. After all, she isn’t really my daughter, and there she was parading around in those skimpy swimsuits, and–”
“Enough! The public relations people have been successful in planting the story of her breakdown, and that she and her mother are in seclusion in Europe while she recovers. There had best not be any more incidents like this. Do I make myself clear?” The Ultra-Humanite was leaning over the desk, his massive face mere inches away from Mimic’s.
“Umm, yes, uh, yessir. Very clear!” said Mimic backing his chair away.
“Good. Now get out! I need to figure out our next move!”
Moments later, the Ultra-Humanite again stood looking out over Metropolis. “Women. They seem to be at the heart of every downfall.” He raised a cigar to his mouth and took a thoughtful puff from it. “Just as you thought you would be at the heart of mine, Alexis. Where are you now, I wonder?”