by Christine Nightstar, Immortalwildcat and Dan Swanson
The day after his visit to the laboratory, Pat Dugan was visited by a Treasury Department official for work on his Super Secret Service detail. The agent was dressed very sharply in a very outdated style, wearing a Panama-style hat, black suit, white shirt, black tie, and very dark sunglasses.
“Mr. Dugan, my name is Alex Holton, your liaison to the Secret Service.”
“I didn’t think anyone your age dressed like that anymore,” said Pat. “You look like someone from my era, Mr. Holton.”
“I understand the surprise, sir, but I like this style. It has a class that I just can’t seem to find in certain fashions anymore.” After he was permitted to enter the Dugan home, the young man removed his hat, revealing a bald head.
“You look familiar, Mr. Holton. Did I know your father?”
“I think you may have run into him once or twice, but we have to concentrate on laying out Mr. Garrick’s protection detail,” Alex responded without missing a beat.
“I just got the call from the Treasury Department telling me I was going to have to deal with a liaison,” said Pat. “But I was expecting some pencil-pusher, not a young man such as yourself.”
“Good afternoon, Miss,” Alex said, standing as Courtney Whitmore Dugan came into the kitchen to raid the fridge for something to drink.
“Hello… Dad, I didn’t think we were going to have any visitors.”
“Courtney, this is Agent Alex Holton from the Treasury Department. He’s going to be working with me on the Flash’s protection detail.”
“I didn’t think anyone from the Treasury Department was so young.”
“I’m actually older than I look. I just age gracefully. Nice to meet you, Courtney.”
Something was bugging Pat about this Agent Holton, though. He swore that he could have seen that face somewhere before. But when and where? He liked the sorts of fashions that were popular forty years earlier, he was polite and courteous, and he even stood when Courtney entered the room.
After spending the evening talking to Pat Dugan and Courtney about the protection detail, Alex Holton picked up the car phone and dialed a number.
“Phase One is in motion. Commence with Phase Two.” A click at the other end of the line indicated the conversation was over.
Seconds later, Alex dialed another number. “This is Agent Holton reporting in from initial meeting with Dugan. Everything’s looking good. I’ll join the Garrick detail at their next stop. Have a plane ticket ready for me at the airport. I’ll finish report in person to Supervisor Barr. Thanks, Darleen.”
“Miss Bertinelli? Ms. Chase wants you in Room 412.” Helena Bertinelli looked up from her magazine, got up, and walked over to open the door.
“I’ve told you before, Mark. You can call me Lena.” The dark-suited, middle-aged man in the hallway just shrugged. “I know,” she added, “part of the training. But I’m working with you and the other agents. Save the formality for the Garricks and the other VIPs.” She locked the door behind her and walked down the hall as the Secret Service agent resumed his position outside the door to the candidate’s room. Had she looked back, she might have been amused by the small smile that curled his lips or the raised eyebrow as he watched her long black hair sway just below her waist as she walked.
Or maybe she wouldn’t.
She stepped into the room where the coordinator for the Garricks’ security detail was speaking on the phone. Once the door was closed, Cameron Chase put the call on the speakerphone.
“Good evening, Lena. How goes the work?” She recognized the voice of Commander Steel, the man who had arranged for her presence with the campaign.
“Quieter than I expected, Steel. After the press conference and that newspaper report, I thought we’d have the nut-jobs crawlin’ out of the woodwork.” Helena pulled a knife out of her boot and dug at something caught under her fingernail as she spoke, earning her a scowl from Cameron.
“It isn’t going to get any better. You heard the news about Savage?”
“He bought it in prison. Since you’re bringing it up, I assume it has a connection to the campaign?”
“It does. Mainly because he didn’t, as you put it, buy it. He’s escaped, but we don’t want that widely publicized. And we think that he or his Illuminati organization might have been trying to tinker with the campaign back before we captured him. He might try again.”
Helena extracted a bit of compressed urethane foam from under her nail, realizing it must have come from the inside of her sparring gloves. She flicked it into a trash can, slipped the knife back into her boot, then stuck her tongue out at Cameron. “Garrick won’t lay off the bus trips because of Savage. You know that, right?”
“I know, so we’re sending out a couple more specialized agents. You’ll meet them tomorrow — Pat Dugan and Marty O’Brien. Secret Service is sending a new detail leader as well — Alex Holton.”
Cameron stood and paced as she spoke. “Dugan is an old-timer who got caught in a kind of time warp. Called himself Stripesy back in the day. Goes by the name of Americommando now. Armored costume, lots of weapons; the two of you should get along great. O’Brien is the son of Plastic Man. Inherited his old man’s stretching ability and worked for the NBI. Lost his powers for a while, but now he has them back.”
“What about this Holton guy?”
Steel and Chase responded at the same time. “Haven’t got a clue.”
“Anybody think to ask Jay if he knows him?”
Cameron answered. “I did. Never heard of him.”
“Since Chase is in charge of the overall detail, he might not open up with her,” said Steel. “You, on the other hand, Lena, are technically a subordinate. Maybe you can loosen up his tongue a little.”
“Yeah, I’ve been known to do that a time or two,” said the vigilante-turned-spook known as Nemesis.
Something still didn’t sit right with Pat Dugan about meeting Alex Holton. So Pat called up some friends in the government to check up on the agent. Within a few hours, Pat got a response; Alex Holton graduated MIT at age eighteen; had a Master’s Degree in electronics engineering; joined the Navy, where he was an electronics warfare specialist; did a stint in the Navy Seals, all files sealed by presidential order; left the Navy; joined the Treasury Department; spent most of the time in cold case department traveling from place to place; transferred to Secret Service three months ago; promoted to Special Agent in charge of detail Thunderstrike. There were too many files that weren’t available to be viewed.
He had seen files like this plenty of times — ex-covert operatives trying to stay out of the business, but still using the skills and tools that made them who they were. Was this Alex Holton another ex-spook or was there more to it? Pat Dugan didn’t know. All he knew was that there was something wrong about that young man, even if he couldn’t put his finger on it.
The Illuminati Council of Four staged an emergency meeting with a very short agenda — what to do about the assassin who appeared to be stalking Council members, and what to do about the mess their attempted sabotage of Jay Garrick’s presidential campaign had become. They started with the easy issue — the assassin.
In a way, the latest news about the assassin was heartening. Illuminati experts had positively identified the assassin as a former slave of Number Three, classified her powers, and theorized about her origin. Her speed, strength, and resistance to injury seemed to be about ten times that of a normal human, she didn’t seem to have any other powers, and she was likely the result of experiments that Number Three had been performing in her immortality research.
Across thousands of years, the Illuminati had developed foolproof protocols for protection against meta-humans, since Vandal Savage’s ancient enemy Immortal Man reincarnated as a meta-human each time he died. With this report, the assassin moved from a potentially deadly threat to an easily managed risk. The Council members initiated Level Three personal protection protocols and went on to the next agenda item.
Their carefully orchestrated plan to discredit Jay Garrick was blowing up in their faces. Each time they gave the voting public another reason to fear and distrust Garrick in particular and all super-heroes in general, his popularity only grew. And now this exposé by Lois Lane Kent linking Vandal Savage to the Committee to Re-energize American Politics and the Weekly Star Enquirer News super-hero exposé issue. How had she done that?
Savage was still in the custody of the U.S. Government in a medically induced coma. To make certain, they contacted their spy in Commander Steel’s organization. The spy worked for the Illuminati but had no inkling that Savage was the ultimate master of that organization.
The spy was part of the medical staff that tended Savage constantly, and he confirmed that he had just come from Savage’s lockdown, where he personally had verified that the dosage of the various drugs was maintaining the dangerous patient in the proper unconscious state. In the beginning, they had been forced to monitor Savage constantly, readjusting dosages every few hours, and even changing drugs several times, as Savage’s uncanny physique adapted and began to overcome each combination. Lately, though, they seemed to have hit on just the right combination and dosage levels, and he had been stable for several days.
Since Savage had not ordered the actions against Garrick, it seemed unlikely that anything Lane had learned in her raid on the Weekly Star Enquirer News building could have established the connections she exposed in her story. Lane must have other sources of information. Number Eight was assigned to investigate; there had never been a Number One in the Council of Seven.
The remaining issue was how best to salvage the Garrick fiasco. After some heated discussion, they realized that had only four feasible alternatives. They discussed each and discarded all but one.
Killing Vandal Savage was too dangerous. Even though Savage was currently presumably helpless, those who attempted to kill him usually regretted it for weeks before Savage finished torturing them. Secretly monitoring this meeting from a hideout not far away, Savage approved. His ability to rule by fear was undiminished, even after his long absence and recent misfortunes.
Going into hiding was perhaps an even worse option. They would live in fear the rest of their days, and Savage would eventually discover them — and his treatment of them would be far worse than anything they could imagine. Savage roared with laughter at this. Oh, how right they were.
Mass suicide now before Savage could escape and come after them would save them from torture but seemed pointless. They had not been chosen to be Council members because of cowardice, and until Savage actually caught them, there was still hope that they might survive. What none revealed to the others was that each was already equipped with several methods of quick, painless suicide in case the worst happened.
That left one option: fix the damage, free Savage, and take their medicine. Now that Lane had exposed Savage, there was no further reason to let him remain captive. Until now, they had the flimsy excuse of keeping Savage’s name out of the news, but even so they had all been uneasy about that excuse. Their only chance of retaining their lives was to bust him out of government custody now and hope that he wouldn’t kill them before hearing their revised plan.
At that moment, they heard a blood-curdling sound — a deceptively mild sound like a single wind chime. What made this sound into a thunderous pronouncement of doom was that it signaled that Savage himself was about to join the meeting via video. A jaw clenched over a hollow tooth, a ring was twisted so that a hidden needle was revealed, an asthma inhaler was raised, and a hand drifted to the secret switch concealed in a belt buckle. For a frozen instant, no one moved.
“I approve of your discussion and the decision you have reached. You have chosen the single option that could spare your lives — for the moment!” Savage’s voice, deceptively mild, filled the room as his larger-than-life visage was displayed on the video screen. “I have escaped from Steel; your spy is a fool and may also be a traitor. In any case, I will deal with him personally!” The evil anticipation in his voice practically stopped their hearts. They almost felt sorry for the spy — or they might have, if they weren’t so relieved to remain alive.
“I have once again been out of touch. Consider this a regular staff meeting and bring me up to date on everything, including everything you know about Number Three’s mysterious assassin.”
The various councilors didn’t let their relief show. For the next four hours they conducted an extensive briefing, bringing Savage up to date on everything that had happened in his absence. They reported their failures as factually and completely as their successes. Savage could overlook failures occasionally, but hiding something from him was as unforgivable as betraying him.
Finally, Savage sat back. “Meeting adjourned!” And the monitor went blank.
The surviving councilors looked at each other with disbelief. Number Eight suggested, “I need a drink!” And they all agreed. Incredibly relieved at still being alive, they headed for the sideboard. As the last councilor left her chair, there was a tremendous explosion, and the building was totally destroyed, killing all four councilors and their entire support staffs.
In his hidden location, Vandal Savage smiled grimly. The rest of the Illuminati would assume that their deaths were the work of the mysterious assassin. For the present, it suited his purpose to remain unannounced to the rest of the Illuminati. In fact, he was looking forward to see how his now-leaderless organization handled the current chaos. There must be some among them who were competent; now they would have their chance to prove themselves. The incompetent spy would survive a little longer to keep the organization misinformed of his whereabouts.
He hadn’t yet decided if he needed to get personally involved in this election thing or just wait it out. In his lifetime he had learned patience — even if Garrick got elected, four or even eight years was such a trivial span of time. He would consider his options carefully before making his next move. After all, he had plenty of time.
“Let’s go, girl!” called Pat Dugan. “We ned to get on the road, so we can meet up with the campaign bus in Omaha!”
“Just a sec!” replied Courtney Whitmore Dugan. “I want you to see something before we go!” Pat stood in the doorway, looking outside, and he heard his daughter coming down the steps. “Just call me American Girl. What do you think?”
Pat Dugan turned around and stopped dead in his tracks. Where he had expected to see his fifteen-year-old stepdaughter in the jeans and knit pullover that she’d been wearing earlier, there was something out of a music video.
He realized what he was seeing and looked her over with a critical eye from the feet up. She wore bright red boots with just enough heel to make her seem taller without being a hazard. The tops of the boots were folded over loosely. Above them, blue leg warmers stretched from ankle to knee. Above those, she wore pale white stockings. He could see more of them than he liked, because the blue skirt she wore was damned short. Still, he’d lost that argument before when she dressed for school. The skirt was topped off with a loose-fitting white belt with a gold star emblem on it.
Courtney’s upper body was covered, more or less, by the same red-and-white-striped jersey she’d worn when she fended off the strange visitors a week ago. She’d torn the collar off, ripping it open enough that her bare shoulders were visible, and she’d torn off the lower part as well, leaving her with a bare midriff. She wore the neural-pulse bracelets, though she’d somehow tinted them red.
Her head bore the biggest surprise — literally. Pat was accustomed to the hairstyle that Courtney called old, though it was still new to him — a sort of pageboy cut that she said was inspired by an ice skater of a few years earlier. That was nowhere to be seen — her head was adorned with frenetic spikes of blonde hair that seemed to have a life of their own. A blue mask covered the upper part of her face.
“Please, please tell me that’s a wig,” he said.
“Of course it’s a wig,” replied Courtney, pulling it off. The mask came with it. “Attached to the mask in the front and a band around the back, so it can’t come off while I’m flying.”
“Lord, oh, Lord, your Mom is gonna kill me!”
“Oh, come on, Dad. We’re working with the Flash — you think anybody is going to notice me?”