by Doc Quantum and Christine Nightstar
November 8, 1988:
Kompera Lee, vice-president of Bishamon Technologies, turned off the television, disgusted at the election results. “This is an utter travesty,” said Lee. “How could Gunderson have been elected president? He’s an outright criminal!”
“Says the man who, just last week, asked me to — and I quote — ‘steal plans for the new UltraCorp battery prototype, and don’t get caught’,” replied Buffy Winter. The young blonde was already at the dinner table, stirring a bowlful of noodles with chopsticks. “Besides, I never knew you were all that fond of Garrick to begin with.”
“Petulant child. I was one of the first to throw my support to him despite the personal loss to my credibility in the business world, was I not?” said Lee. (*) “I don’t need to like Jay Garrick to know that he would’ve made a better president than Gunderson, or either of the other parties’ candidates.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 1, Chapter 7: Throwing Support.]
“It’s not like we’ve had any really great presidents before now, except for, like, Lincoln or one of those other dollar-bill presidents,” Buffy said. “As Arsenal I’m technically an outlaw wanted by the police and the Special Crimes Unit for numerous brazen thefts, but that doesn’t make me a bad person, does it? (*) Maybe Gunderson will surprise you, father, and end up being a semi-decent prez.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Arsenal Strikes.]
“I truly doubt that,” replied Lee. “As for you, my irreverent daughter, you know why we do what we do. I raised you to be formidable and skilled at what you do, not to be a career criminal or play super-villain with Infinity Inc.”
Buffy ignored that last remark; her father was still angry about that incident a couple of years back. “Oh? I always thought you aspired for me to be a lawyer or doctor, father.”
“Bah,” replied Kompera Lee with a dismissive wave.
“Anyway, I’m more excited about finally having a woman as the vice-president,” said Buffy. “Minerva Schuster is one heartbeat away from becoming prez herself. Maybe she’ll finally get some things done around here.”
“As if her sex makes her automatically qualified for anything,” Lee said. “I didn’t raise you, daughter, to be so facile.”
“I’ve never seen you get this worked up about anything before, father,” said Buffy. “Should I be concerned?”
“Dinner getting cold. Please eat. Argue later,” said Cho Lung, Lee’s long-suffering cook.
“Noodles again?” said Lee, his mood now completely soured. “Cho, how many times do I have to tell you? Pot roast isn’t served with ramen noodles, it’s served with potatoes and carrots, and… what is this?”
“Tofu. It on special at market today,” Cho replied.
“I know what it is,” said Lee hotly. “I just want to know what it is doing on my dinner plate!”
“Remember your blood pressure, father,” said Buffy, chuckling at her father’s uncharacteristic show of temper.
“The Humanist Party controls the White House. My cook doesn’t know how to make pot roast, even after twenty-five years in America. My petulant daughter has no idea how to show her father any respect.” Kompera Lee mumbled something in Japanese to himself as he excused himself from the table. “I have completely lost my appetite for this Brave New America.”
After spending nearly an hour strolling through his garden, Kompera Lee paid a visit to the laboratory, where he saw his head research scientist Mikron O’Jeneus watching Stan Gunderson at a press conference on television. His blood pressure began to rise again.
“Turn it to PBS,” Lee said. “There’s a documentary on in five minutes, and I don’t want to miss the introduction.”
The dwarf-sized scientist chuckled. “Buffy told me you were none too happy about the election, boss,” said Mikron, munching on potato chips. “Anyway, watching a chump like Gunderson get elected makes me think I might have a chance in four years’ time.”
“Very amusing,” replied Lee, who was not, in fact, at all amused. “I told you to turn the channel. Now do it.”
“Just let me hear Gunderson’s closing remarks, sir.”
Lee frowned. “Please tell me you didn’t actually vote for Gunderson. Did you, Mikron?”
Mikron guffawed. “Me, vote? When have I ever? Politics is such a sideshow. Anyway, I can’t really see much difference between Gunderson and any of his opponents. They’re all pretty much lean middle-right in their policies, as I see things, especially if you compare ’em to European politics. ‘Sall a lot of window-dressing, if you ask me. Except I’ve gotta admit that Gunderson’s foreign policy issues do make a lot of sense.”
“Bah!” said Lee. “What do you know about foreign policy, and the strategies necessary to establish security both at home and abroad?”
“Forgive me for saying so, boss, but isn’t your specialty more on the clandestine side of things, rather than public foreign policy an’ all?” said Mikron, carefully treading the line of professionalism with his employer. “I know you can’t be happy about Buffy dating, an’ all, but that’s no reason to take it out on me, boss.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” demanded Kompera Lee with a dangerous-looking frown. “Buffy is not dating, because she knows I do not allow it.”
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” said Mikron, holding his hands up in surrender. “Anyway, you really oughtta do something about Buffy’s taste in guys. Did you know that she’s dating a–? Aw, I can’t bring myself to say it. It’s just too repugnant.”
“What are you saying, Mikron?”
“A super-hero!” continued Mikron with disgust. “She’s dating a super-hero! Can you believe it? And not just any super-hero — but one of those Infinitors she fought a couple years back. I mean, how low-class can you get? A goddamned super-hero, pardon my French.”
“No daughter of mine is dating a super-hero!”
“You really haven’t talked much with Buffy lately, have you?” asked Mikron. “About what’s going on in her life, I mean. I bet you haven’t even met her boyfriend.”
“Buffy is really dating someone?” said Lee with a worried tone as the truth began to sink in. “When the hell did this start to happen? Cho!”
Cho Lung came in from the kitchen with a rag and the bowl she was washing and looked at Kompera Lee.
“How long has Buffy been dating?” he asked his cook. “Did you know about this, Cho?”
“He such a nice boy,” Cho said with a smile and a nod. “He even bought flowers for Buffy last time they go out. Kitchen looks so much brighter with them there.”
“Where is Buffy now?” demanded Lee.
“She on date with boyfriend,” the cook replied with a shrug.
“Sorry, boss,” said Mikron, turning the station to PBS. “We all figured you knew, and just weren’t saying anything. I never imagined she was keeping it a complete secret from you.”
Kompera Lee looked as if his entire world had crashed around him. Not even the opening sounds of Frontline could bring him out of the depression he now found himself in.
In a darkened movie theater, Buffy Winter snuggled up to her boyfriend, a young man with blond hair not much older than her. They were the only ones in the theater, and although an old movie was playing, they weren’t really paying much attention to it. They only had eyes for each other.
A slight buzzing sound droned on and on, until Buffy finally recognized what it was, and broke away from her boyfriend’s attention long enough to check it.
“Your pager again?” he said. “Just leave it, Buffy.”
“I can’t. Could be an emergency.”
“Would you just ignore your Infinity Inc. communicator-thingie if it went off?”
“Well… no, but I’m a hero.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and said, “Just hold on a minute, Ray.” She checked the communication device and, seeing who it was, answered. The face of Bishamon Technologies’ diminutive inventor soon appeared on the small screen. “Mik? What’s wrong? Am I needed?”
“Hey, Buffy! What’s happening?” said Mikron O’Jeneus in a far too cheerful voice. On the screen he wore a strange, guarded expression that didn’t match his tone.
“Uh, Mik? Kind of in the middle of something right now, so… can I help you with something, or…?”
“Look, Buffy. Let me just state outright that I had no idea this was gonna happen.”
“That what was ‘gonna happen’?” Buffy asked, feeling sudden dread in the pit of her stomach.
“Aw, jeez. Well, Buff, I kinda let slip to your dad that you were dating someone.”
“What?!” Buffy cried.
“That — that’s not all.”
“How could it get worse?”
“I kinda also told him your boyfriend’s a super-hero. He’s really pissed off now.”
“What?!” both Buffy and Ray said in unison.
“Oh, hi, Ray,” Mikron said, sheepishly giving him a wave. “Didn’t see you there.”
“Hello, Mik,” replied Ray in a none-too-friendly tone.
“I can’t believe you did that, Mik! Why did you tell my father about this? What business is it of yours, anyway?”
“Just a slip of the tongue, really, Buffy,” replied Mikron. “Your dad was gonna find out eventually, so who better than me to tell him? Just think of it this way: I ripped off the Band-Aid for ya.”
“I can’t believe you — argh! Where do you get off making decisions like that?”
“Buffy, your dad doesn’t want to believe that you’re an ordinary teenage girl, with teenage girl wants and needs. Hey, at least, since I told him, he’ll have to confront it one way or another, right?”
“I should kick your midget butt for that.”
“Hey, now, no need for that kind of language, young lady. We prefer to be called little people, or dwarfs.”
“You are such a turd, Mik.”
“I’m almost family, ain’t I? I’m allowed to make your life miserable,” Mikron said with a wink. “Listen, I’m really, really sorry, Buffy. If I could go back in time and stop myself from telling him, I would. You’ll have to settle for the next best thing: I’ll be your slave for the next week.”
“Next month, more like it — or next six months,” grumbled Buffy. She sighed heavily and asked, “Should I go talk to dad about it?”
“Uh… my professional opinion? Not just yet. Give him a few days to process it. Besides, you have a certain, uh… appointment tomorrow, if I remember correctly. You don’t want to get yourself grounded, do you?”
“Not really,” replied Buffy in a deflated tone.
“I guess it could be worse,” said Mikron.
“Mik, how in the world could it possibly get any worse?”
“You could be Ray. Just imagine what ol’ Sly Pemberton will say when he learns that Ray Terrill has been dating a super-villain — and that he’s been bringing said super-villain on private dates at the theater on the Stellar Studios lot that the team uses as its headquarters.”
“She’s not a super-villain!” complained Ray.
Buffy nodded her head. “Yeah, Ray, I kinda am.”
“Well… you’re the nicest super-villain I’ve ever met.”
“Awww… that’s cute, kids. Also made me throw up a little in my mouth, so I’ve gotta go gurgle some mouthwash or something. Ciao!”
“Bye, Mik,” said Buffy tersely, cutting the connection.
“I guess that’s that,” said Ray.
“Yeah, I guess so,” agreed Buffy.
“I’m going to have to have a talk with your dad eventually, aren’t I?”
November 9, 1988:
Rene Murphy Fortune had been letting things slip at the Secret Service over the last few months. The dark-haired, well-tanned woman in a blue suit had been in a blue funk ever since Alex Holton had cut her from the Secret Service detail for the Garrick family last spring. (*) After Holton was later revealed to be a clone of Alexei Luthor involved in some oddball villainous plot, Rene felt vindicated, but decided she wasn’t fit to resume her duties in the security detail. Two years ago she had been assigned to personally protect the All-Star Party presidential candidate’s wife, and she really enjoyed her job as she followed Joan Garrick wherever she went. But her meta-human powers had really been more of a hindrance than anything.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 3: Dirty Tricks.]
She supposed it could have gone worse. Arn Munro had tried to pull some strings to get Matches Malone on the security detail to protect young John Garrick, the candidate’s son. (*) But not even Munro’s considerable pull could overcome the Secret Service’s strict rule against anyone with a criminal record being in a security detail. Even though Matches’ crimes were ancient history by now, they still counted against him, since he’d been involved in organized crime as a young man in the 1930s. It was a shame; Rene had really liked him during the brief time she’d gotten to know the older man.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 1, Chapter 3: Responsibility.]
Rene had been assigned to other duties, of course, but she still followed the campaign quite closely, and had hoped Garrick could pull through and win the race. But that hadn’t come to pass, and America had become a much darker place because of it.
Now Rene Fortune found herself wandering the streets of Washington, D.C., searching for an outlet to get rid of all the pent-up energy she felt after that bozo Gunderson won the election. Despite having super-powers, she was no super-hero and never wanted to be one, but occasionally those powers could lead her into some interesting adventures, both on-duty and off.
She had been up for most of the night chasing through the streets of D.C. a shadow demon — a creature that had been brought through the dimensional barrier by a sacrifice of life-force by the Black Lotus Society, according to the old Chinese lady who’d told her about it when she was at the market last night. She’d thought nothing of it until she saw the thing with her own two eyes attempting to prey on a group of teenagers smoking in an alleyway, and she knew she couldn’t just sit by and leave it be, or innocents would be hurt. Now, as she felt the shadows receding and the morning light extending, she realized the monster would go into hiding until the next night, and she knew she should go to bed, too. Unfortunately, today was a working day.
“Great. Just great. Thank you, whoever the hell you are, for doing this on a weekday. Not only do I have to chase a genocidal, life-force-eating demon, but I have to sit through eight hours of work afterwards as well.” She sighed and turned to head home.
Rene Fortune was a human lucky charm — only all the luck she generated around her was of the bad kind. She didn’t really understand it all that much, but according to her doctor, she had a meta-gene that enabled her to manipulate probability itself and change outcomes in sometimes miraculously unlucky ways. When she really concentrated, she could direct all that bad luck to an enemy, but most of the time it just randomly manifested itself around her.
No one wanted to work with her because of that. It was true that she was often more of a liability in a security detail than anything, but she was also a consummate professional, and very good at her job. If she could just keep concentrating, she could control her powers enough so that they didn’t impede her work.
That was why she was currently on loan to Operation Liberty, Commander Steel’s operation. They specialized in honing control over powers, and besides, it gave her a chance to catch up with an old friend.
“Hello, toots. Burning the midnight oil, I see.”
The voice had come from an alleyway as she passed by. Rene frowned and peered into the darkness, only to see the dim outline of a man in the form of blue flame. “Matches?” she said. “That you? Hell, what am I saying? Who else could it be? What are you doing up so early? You’re not stalking me, are you?”
“Maybe,” said Matches Malone, also known by his code name of the Torch. “But only ’cause I worry about you, toots. You deserve a better life than what Steel can give you. How’s your nightly adventure coming along?”
“Terribly, to be honest,” said Rene. “Except for one nice old lady on the verge of dementia, no one in Chinatown was willing to tell me anything about the Black Lotus Society’s actions.”
“Yeah, that’s gonna happen,” replied Matches. “No one’s about to admit that they were party to bringing that thing through a portal via forbidden magic in an effort to skew the election results through occult power… unless they want to sound like lunatics.”
“Munro told you, huh?” asked Rene, and Matches nodded. She yawned and rubbed one eye. “How long do you suppose I could sleep before work?”
“Well… it’s only a half-hour before Munro gets in, and an hour before the doors open. Going to try and sleep today?”
“After chasing a shadow demon from shadow to shadow all over D.C.? Why would I want such a petty thing as sleep?”
“You could try calling Doctor Fate to help. This is more his line of work, ain’t it?”
“Oh, yeah, I’ll just ring up the JSA Brownstone and put in a special request to my ‘good old friend,’ Doc Fate,” Rene replied sarcastically. “I’m sure he’ll hop right to it.” She sighed again. “Say, what do you think of the idea of dumping this off in Steel’s hands? Could be the next Suicide Squad mission, right?”
“He’d be madder than a wet cat in a dog pound if you even suggested it,” said Matches with a grin. “Which is to say that, under normal circumstances, I’d pay good money to see that happen. But you don’t wanna be sent back to the Secret Service before you’re ready, do you? Unless you’re hoping to be assigned to Gunderson’s personal detail, where you can make an… ‘accident’ happen?”
“Hey, don’t even joke about harming the president-elect! I’m still Secret Service, after all,” scolded Rene. “No, I’ll figure it out. From what the little old lady told me, it’s just a mid-level demon in corporeal form — no biggie. Besides, I’m holding it responsible for tearing a hole in my leather jacket. See?” Rene turned and showed Matches the long gash down the back of her jacket.
“Damn,” said Matches. “You’ve had that one for what… two weeks now? Gotta be a new record for you.”
“There’s no need to remind me how I have to replace my wardrobe on a regular basis because of these stupid powers of mine,” said Rene. “All I’ve got to say is: thank you, Salvation Army.”
“So, you gonna go out again next night, toots?”
“Yeah, that shadow monster’s not going to catch itself.” She looked at the older man. “Why? Are you offering to watch my back?”
“Maybe,” Matches said with a grin. “It beats staying at home, getting drunk, and wishing I’d made better life choices.”
“You’re a strange man, Malone.”
“You’re an even stranger dame, toots.”