by Christine Nightstar
Alex Holton didn’t sleep like most people. The programming that he had undergone to be the perfect Alexei Luthor clone overwrote what would have been a normal dream cycle. He didn’t know how the other clones dealt with this, but to him this programming was the equivalent of nightmares. The plan had been flashed into his brain over and over. Memories that had been programmed into him were the equivalent of peaceful dreams. Tonight, on the way to Gotham City, it was the plan of nightmares.
He could feel his breathing and heart take off like a jet, while the original Luthor’s voice rang through his mind. Over and over, the plan was all that was important — the plan that would vindicate the genius of Alexei Luthor to the world. Detail upon detail of the plan flashed before his mind’s eye until he could barely take it any longer.
Alex Holton awoke with a start and long, uncontrollable scream. He checked the time; it was 3:53 A.M. An instant later, Jay Garrick was in Alex’s compartment, followed shortly after by Pat Dugan, Courtney Dugan, Helena Bertinelli, and several others that had heard the commotion.
“Sorry to disturb you all. Bad dream,” was all that he could say. His face and torso were drenched in sweat.
Jay Garrick was one of the last to leave Alex’s compartment, and before he headed back to own compartment, he said, “If you need to talk about it, Alex, you can always come to me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. Garrick,” was the response Alex had as he took a glass of water and drank it down to cool off his system.
“Call me Jay. You’ve earned that much.”
“I’ll try to remember that. But if I don’t get up, get dressed, and get back on the job soon, I’m going to be in trouble with the Gotham Secret Service Director. We arrive in Gotham in an hour.”
“We don’t need that, Alex. I’ll see you at breakfast, then.”
“If I’m not suspended.” Or worse, thought Alex. As he rubbed off some of his sweat, he noticed it had a faint, unnatural odor. Had something gone wrong the cloning process? There was no way to tell that now; the laboratory in which he was created had been destroyed. What if there was something more wrong with him than just a failure to load all of the memories?
He’d need a laboratory of his own to tell for sure. There were so many memories of places that Luthor had laboratories hidden, yet he couldn’t pin down one, where it was, and if there were any way to see if it was active or destroyed. He cursed his faulty memory in this instance. He couldn’t go to the other clones with this news, since it would jeopardize the plan, and they would possibly kill him before cellular decay could claim him. It could be months before any real problems came from the slow cellular decay. It would start out as a disease, something easily attainable, then grow slowly worse until the end. At least Joel Kent would be going through the same things as well; he disliked that clone.
“I’m Agent Marissa Trail, Secret Service. Welcome to Gotham City, Mr. Garrick.”
“Thank you, Miss Trail,” said Jay, looking at Marissa like he’d just seen a ghost. This Secret Service agent was the spitting image of his friend Lois Kent. “Uh, hiding off in the corner is my son John. My wife Joan is still making herself presentable. That’s the Americommando behind me with Agent Holton, Helena Bertinelli, and American Girl. If what I was told is correct, we might be getting a new member to the detail here in Gotham?”
“Well, we’ll be switching out a lot of your regular agents as well. I’ll go over the changes with Agent Holton personally. Americommando, here are the copies of the files you asked for. The originals are sealed. These are for your eyes only.”
“Understood, Miss Trail,” said Pat Dugan.
“Are there any places that your family might want to visit, Mr. Garrick? So that we can provide adequate protection for them while you are in town?”
“Not that I know of. We visit Gotham regularly, as you know. I just know what is on my own personal itinerary, and that is a series of meetings with various Gotham businessmen this morning, lunch with a friend at noon, preparing for the debate after that, and the first debate at seven tonight.”
“Very well.” Marissa turned to his teenage son. “John, is there any place in Gotham that you would like to visit?”
“I don’t know,” said John Garrick, “but it would be nice to get out and stretch my legs some more as it is.”
Jay Garrick had just concluded a meeting with All-Star Party Co-Chairmen Maxwell Lord and Amanda Waller, who was also his campaign manager, along with Darius Gleason, the campaign consultant they had brought on board earlier this year.
As they left the train car, Gleason pulled Jay aside to speak with him privately, and he had brought up an old argument once again — an old argument Jay had thought he had put to rest days ago.
“Jay, I tell you that these are going to be the questions asked of you tonight during the debate,” said Gleason, holding a sheaf of papers before Garrick. “You might as well have some response for them before you get blindsided by them with no riposte. Isn’t that what you and Amanda brought me on the campaign for?”
“Darius, how many times have I told you that I don’t like the way you got those questions?” said Jay, angrier than he’d been in a while at Gleason’s betrayal.
“I heard you, Jay, but unless you prepare for these questions, you are going to lose this debate and possibly whatever lead we have in the polls gained by that first attack ad.”
“No, Darius, no,” said Jay, waving off his campaign consultant’s objections. “I’m not going to stoop to the level of the Committee to Re-energize American Politics, and that’s final. What they did was reprehensible. I’m going to do this as clean as possible — and that means no more of those courier packages will be accepted at all. I’ve already talked to Agent Holton about this. They’re going to be considered on the same level as threatening packages.”
“But, Jay,” pleaded Gleason, “you do want to be President, don’t you?”
Jay sighed again, frustrated that he couldn’t get Gleason to see eye to eye with him on this matter. “Not if it means that I have use illegally obtained information.” He looked at Gleason and said, with some measure of sadness, “I’m sorry, son, but this isn’t working out. You explicitly disobeyed my orders about those packages and put my entire campaign in jeopardy because of it. I’m going to have to let you go.”
Darius Gleason pursed his lips and nodded. He turned to walk away, then turned back and retorted, “You are blowing the campaign, you know?”
Jay nodded. “And that’s where you and I can’t see eye to eye, son. I want to win as honestly as possible. If I don’t win, I want to be able to congratulate the winner without the guilt of having stolen things from him.”
Gleason nodded and walked away. It was a setback for Voteman, as he had marketed himself, but at least his reputation for never being on a losing campaign was intact, if a bit tarnished.
“That was very noble of you, Jay. But you might actually listen to some of his advice and prepare for some of the questions you might receive tonight,” said a voice from down the train station’s platform.
Jay Garrick looked over to see an old friend and smiled. “Alan, I wondered if I was going to see you this morning,” he said as he walked up and greeted his friend, Alan Scott. “Hi, Molly, how are the kids?” he asked as Molly Maynne Scott hugged him.
“They’re a handful, Jay,” said Molly Scott. “I see John, but I don’t see Joan. Oh, there she is.” Jay’s wife stepped off the train and waved at her.
Alex Holton listened to Marissa Trail as she talked over Secret Service business with him. It was bad enough that the plan was the overriding connection between the three clones. But the agent in charge at Gotham City had given her authority over him while he was in Gotham.
“Are you listening to me, Agent Holton?” Marissa asked as Alex looked over the transfers.
“You may be in charge while we’re here, Agent Trail, but I have other things on my mind, as well you know.”
“Is that a threat I hear from you?”
“Just a reminder. I know what your part of the plan entails, not to mention his part.”
“You wouldn’t dare turn against us, now, would you?”
“Treat me like a child, and I’ll be leaving enough behind to implicate both you and him before you can have me handled by your oh-so-talented dream team, spider-girl,” Alex said as he pointed to the golden spider earrings hanging from Marissa’s lobes.
“That the way you want it, Alexei?”
Alex Holton’s face just met hers with his own intense stare. “Let me handle my part as I’m supposed to, and I’ll let you handle yours.”
“We could do our parts together.”
“We each work better alone, and we both know it. We’d kill each other before the plan comes through to fruition.”
Just then, a red dot went off on Alex’s watch, signalling that John Garrick was coming down the hall of the train.
“Hi, John! How are things?” Alex shouted as John walked by.
“Not bad, Alex… I guess.”
“You’ve met Agent Trail already, haven’t you, John?”
“Hi, John,” said Marissa. “How about we go to the Junior JSA Headquarters, and you can go talk with your friends there,” she suggested.
“That would be great! I haven’t had a chance to hang with them much since this whole campaign really swung into high gear.”
“You really must introduce me to them,” she said, smiling.
“You a super-hero groupie?” said John, grinning.
“Reluctantly,” said Marissa. “My favorite has always been Superman, though. But your father has done great things in his own right, and I’m hearing good things about you, too,” she added. John’s face went from disinterested to intrigued.
The Shade knew that Jay Garrick was too clean to accept questionable sources like the packages the Shade had sent his campaign via courier. But it had the desired effect of poking the nose of the Illuminati and Vandal Savage from an unforeseen source.
The political parties were in chaos, as were the various campaigns. Nobody had seen the Darklings he had sent empty the various safes of money and other valuables. Nobody suspected that the Shade had also been rerouting a percentage of all incoming campaign donations to the various candidates to several Swiss bank accounts. The Darklings he posted at the many banks had several purposes — learn the computer passwords, break into the vault, withdraw daily deposits to the campaigns at night, and bring the money to the Shade via portal when they were done.
It would look like either the bank was embezzling the money, or the candidate was. Either way worked for the Shade. If the candidate was nailed for it, so much the better. The Shade was making millions, and his only real competition was out of the game. Sixty banks daily for the thirty various candidates — what a sweet deal.
Alex Holton had planned the encounter before the debate to perfection. At eight o’clock, the targeting computer would activate and await Jay Garrick’s arrival. As Garrick started to walk down the red carpet, the electrostatic force-shield would seal them in, and three laser bursts would be fired at Jay Garrick as he entered the auditorium, grazing the shoulder of his coat. The electrostatic force-shield would prevent the Americommando and Nemesis from responding to the threat. By the time that Plasticman would be able to get through the force-shield, the automated firing mechanism would go back into cloak form, looking like a normal wooden crate sitting by a window. The bursts were two red beams of solar infrared energy mimicking Superman’s heat-vision and set at the perfect distance apart to make the fastest man alive doubt the Man of Steel’s friendship.
It was timed down to a fraction of a second. Neither Garrick nor his family would be hurt as they entered, but the attack would put serious doubts in their minds. Green Lantern was also in this city, as were the successors of Batman, so precision was a must. The position was chosen perfectly so that no costumed interloper could get to it in time to make out the attacker.
Alex didn’t want to hurt the Garrick family yet, but to put a wedge in their relationship with Superman and Superboy. It was the perfect plan.
Having lunch at Chez Mazan, Jay Garrick — oblivious to Alex Holton’s plans — was talking with his friend Alan Scott over the first course of a fantastic lunch.
“Alan you’ve had experience with the problems of romancing a super-villainess,” said Jay. “You’ve done it twice, and married them both.”
“I guess I’ll have to admit that,” said Alan, “even though it doesn’t make me look all that good. So did Bruce, if you remember. Why the interest?”
“John is the reason. He’s fallen hard for Henrietta King; calls herself Savant.”
“What makes you think he’ll listen to an old codger like me?” said Alan, whose youthful looks belied his true age. “I’m a friend of his father and could be considered the enemy in this subject.”
“I know, but I don’t know what else to do,” said Jay. “He told me that he tried to change the past for her — that Doctor Fate stopped him. I’m just worried that–”
“I understand, Jay. Believe me, I understand more than you think. He’s at that age where he’s got to try to redeem the bad girl, at least, before he realizes that it won’t work, and even then he’ll try it from another perspective. You can’t force him to give up on Savant, so why not try giving him something to think about besides Savant?”
“If he’s anything like his father, I’ll bet that he can’t resist a good challenge of his intelligence. Ask him to work out a problem that you need help with. Give him something to do to occupy his mind besides the lovely Ms. King.”
“And you think that will do the trick?”
“No, but it will give him something else to worry about besides his would-be girlfriend,” said Alan. “Speaking of youngsters, who’s that kid travelling with you? Black suit, black hat, dressing like we did back in the day?”
“That’s my Secret Service team leader, Alex Holton,” said Jay. “Real bright kid. Good with electronics. I don’t think Dugan likes him for some reason.”
“There is something about him that makes me think I’ve seen him before, too,” said Alan, so deep in concentration that they barely noticed when Molly and Joan returned to the table from the ladies’ room.
“I know what you mean,” said Jay. “This Gotham Secret Service agent, Marissa, looks really familiar, too — just like Lois when she was young.”
“You don’t say…” Alan shrugged and added, “Well, anyways, aren’t you supposed to be focusing on your debate tonight?”
“Focusing on that is about as interesting as watching paint dry.”
“Granted, but possibly more productive. Unless you want to get creamed in this debate?”
“Boys, we’re going to go freshen up at the bar,” said Joan, realizing that their husbands still hadn’t even acknowledged their return to the table. “So you two can be yourselves.”
“I’m sorry, Joan, I didn’t mean to neglect you,” said Jay.
“I married a super-hero. I’m used to it by now, don’t worry.” Joan kissed her husband on the cheek as she and Molly Scott went over to the bar.
“How bad do you think we screwed up this time, professor?” Alan asked.
“Bad enough that no amount of flowers are going to get us out of the doghouse,” said Jay. “It’s going to be easier for you, because you aren’t travelling around the country with the show.”
“I didn’t think of that, but I just got out of the doghouse with Molly, anyway.”
While the two super-heroes were talking at the table, Joan Garrick was talking with Molly Scott. “We have them worried, I think,” said Joan. “They’re talking like they’re planning something.”
“Will they ever grow up?” asked Molly. “I know I expect the kids to act like that, but do they have to as well?”
“I hope not — the shock would be too much for their systems. Besides, can you honestly say that you want them acting like grown men their ages?” Joan asked.
“Acting like men their ages? No, but I would appreciate it if Alan remembered to take out the trash himself instead of having the kids or his ring do it.”
“I’d be happy if the Nutty Professor over there would mow the grass or shovel the walk more often.”
“Isn’t that what John is for?”
“John’s almost as bad as his father.”
“Shall we go shopping and drive the men in our lives crazy with our outrageous new purchases?” The question was answered with a silent nod.
“Uh-oh, buddy. The girls are leaving. You know what that means,” said Alan.
“Shopping spree,” Jay replied. “Here’s to hoping they don’t charge us out of hearth and home.”
Alan nodded. “Here’s to hoping we can get into the house when they get back.”
Marissa Trail and John Garrick talked as she drove the young super-hero to the Junior JSA clubhouse at the JSA Brownstone. John was oddly quiet, and mostly they talked about music. John was surprised that she claimed to like that band with cross-dressing transvestite or whatever he or she was — Marissa’s words, not John’s. John said that he liked that band ZZ Top and loved their videos.
“I bet you like watching the videos for the girls in them,” Marissa jibed as they sat at a red light. John Garrick blushed almost as red as the light. “So does our young hero have a romantic interest, or is that secret, too?”
“There’s a girl I like…”
“Don’t worry. I won’t pry further, unless you want to tell me.”