At the Belmont School in Blue Valley, Green Lantern touched down along with Police Sergeant Bill Malone. A crowd was gathered outside the school, a crowd whose attention was quickly drawn to the costumed hero.
“Nice going, Bill,” whispered another police officer. “How did you manage to pull in the Green Lantern?”
“Just luck, Steve,” replied Malone. “He was here, checking up on Frances Kane. Now, what’s going on here?”
Clearing his throat to make sure he had both Malone’s and Green Lantern’s attention, Officer Steve Turo explained the situation. “About an hour after school started this morning, Principal Strickland had a call on the school intercom. It was Pete Jenkins, who retired as the school’s custodian last month. He directed her to walk down to the cafeteria and look in through the window on the door.”
“What did she find?” asked Green Lantern.
“About forty students, seated at the tables, with Jenkins up on the stage in front. He had a couple of rifles, a pistol, and something that looks like a crude bomb on a table.”
“Good God!” exclaimed the emerald warrior.
Malone shook his head. “Old Pete always did seem a little odd in the head. Scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, I can tell you that.”
Playing a hunch, Green Lantern asked, “Did Jenkins retire by his own choice?”
“No,” said the principal. “I think Pete would work here until he dropped over in his boiler room. State law requires all employees retire at age sixty-five. He held out until the very end. It… it wasn’t pleasant. Now, he says he wants a half-million dollars, to make up for the fact that we won’t let him work anymore.”
“He’s not the first person forced out of a job to try this.” Green Lantern shook his head. “I wish I could say he’s the last one.” The ring on his left hand flared to life as he lifted into the air. The last the officers and school officials saw of him, he was swooping high over the school, then dropping to the roof.
When Jade and Obsidian arrived in the realm of the Silver Phoenix Order, they were met by the spirit of their mother, Rose Canton. She seemed unsurprised at their arrival.
“My children, welcome. We have been expecting you.”
“Expecting us?” asked Jade. “Why?”
Rose looked uncomfortable. “We… well, we have uncovered signs that we made a serious error with regard to Frances. Portents, if you will, that she is not who, or what, we believed her to be.”
“Mama, that’s why we’ve come! We’ve just found out that she wasn’t who we thought she was. The woman we knew was actually a creature from another world, but she hinted that she had taken the place of the real Frances Kane.” As they walked, Obsidian’s face reverted from featureless shadow to the genial features of Todd Rice. “We know you believed her to be the product of the Black Shadows’ blood of thorns project, described in that book you recovered. We’d like to look at that book.”
“Of course, my dear. Ellen has it now; she’s been reviewing it to see if we made an error in our translation.” Rose grew pensive as they walked.
“Mama, this is hard for you, isn’t it?” asked Obsidian.
“Yes, it is. When we found that the Black Shadow Society had used me in an attempt to create offspring with my Thorn powers, the only thing that helped me get over the shock was knowing that Frances had grown into a good young woman.” Rose stopped and turned to face her children. “Now, we find that Frances was some creature. I — I just don’t know what to think.”
For the first time, Todd and Jennie-Lynn saw the quiet, tentative woman Rose Canton had been in life. They reached out to hold her, to reassure her. “Whatever has happened with Frances, it’s not your fault, Mama.”
A short time later, Todd and Jennie-Lynn sat studying the book called The Blood of Thorns. The language on the paper was indecipherable, but a spell cast by a small group of Silver Phoenix mages provided a translation that hovered a few inches off the paper. The book detailed plans to take genetic material from Rose Canton, both when she was in her more passive Rose persona and when in her more aggressive, evil Thorn state, and combine it with material from several males, including Green Lantern and other members of the Justice Society. The outcome of the project, according to the journal, was mostly unsuccessful, with one exception: a child, combining the material of Rose and Green Lantern, implanted as a six-celled embryo in a woman who had unsuccessfully tried for three years to have a second child. Todd closely examined the script under the translation, a puzzled look on his face.
“What is it, twinnie?” asked Jennie.
“Something’s not right here. Can’t you see it?” Todd’s features disappeared in a mask of darkness as he allowed his powers to manifest themselves. When he spoke again, his voice had lost all tonal quality. “That’s not the real script.” He placed a hand over the page, and a miasma of silvery light and pitch darkness flowed from his palm. When it cleared, the text on the page was clearly different. The translation disappeared, replaced by letters of silver flame.
“The project was a total failure. Not only did the Black Shadow Society fail to procure genetic samples from more than a handful of random superhumans — several super-villains and a few All-Star Squadron members, and none of those Dad or any of the other Justice Society members — but none of the implanted embryos ever developed to maturity,” whispered Jennie-Lynn. She looked up at her brother. “How did you do that?”
“I’m not sure. Something in me just told me that it wasn’t right. When I looked at it, I could see it was a forgery. When I combined the light-based magic that I’ve been learning to use with the… I don’t know what you’d call it — the senses I have in my shadow form, I was able to alter Ellen’s spell to force the real text to appear.
“Both the book and the ciphers that the Silver Phoenix mystics used to translate it came from the realm of the Black Shadows. If it was deliberately altered to provide a cover for the Phoenix, then that’s where we’ll have to go to find the truth.” Obsidian stood up, reaching for his sister’s hand. “I think we need to let Dad and Molly know about this.”
Taking their leave of Rose and others of the Silver Phoenix order, Todd and Jennie left for home.
Paul Jenkins stood on the stage in the Belmont School, watching the children in their seats. All of the entrances to the cafeteria, all double doors with panic bars, were securely chained and padlocked. The two doors that allowed entrance to the backstage area from a hallway were locked with padlocks on steel hasps that he had installed during the night. The only remaining entrance, through the kitchen, had been hastily booby-trapped with stout cord and pans that would alert him to anybody opening the door. He had left that in case he needed to get himself or the children out in a hurry.
“Remember what I told you: if I press this button, you all go to the kitchen and out that back door.” He repeated this every few minutes. The button was on a box connected to a bundle of dynamite sticks. “Just like in the fire drills, everybody lines up and walks out, and nobody gets hurt.”
“I’d like to include you in that promise, Mr. Jenkins.” The retired janitor looked up to see a figure passing through the ceiling in a burst of green light. As he reached for the button, a small green hand formed over the switch box, blocking his way. Another green hand grasped the revolver in his hand, ejecting the cylinder and letting the bullets fall to the floor.
“No! I was close, so close!” Jenkins fell to his knees as Green Lantern descended and stood before him.
“No, you never were. If I weren’t here, the police would have come in. Either they would have shot you, or you would have set off that bomb and killed yourself.” Laying a hand on Jenkins’ shoulder, he added, “I know… you didn’t want to hurt the kids. I heard you.”
Jenkins looked out at the scared children. “Go on, out through the kitchen. Just like I told you.” As they moved out of the cafeteria, he looked up at Green Lantern. “So, what the devil am I supposed to do now?”
“Look, I know what it’s like. Despair, feeling useless — believe me, I have been there.” Giving the older-looking man a hand up, Green Lantern said, “I think I can arrange for you to be sentenced to community service. If I pull a few strings, I may be able to arrange for you to do that service in Gotham City, if you don’t mind traveling. There, I can keep an eye on you, give you some support, and nobody there will know what has happened here. I happen to know that Gotham Broadcasting could use some help in the building services department, particularly in the daycare center that they recently opened for the employees.”
Police officers came dashing into the room as the children left, weapons drawn. At the sight of Green Lantern leading Paul Jenkins down the steps from the stage, Bill Malone holstered his gun. “Geez, Lantern, I figured you’d swat him with a giant green hand, or at least seal him up in a big green bubble.”
“I can do that, when it’s necessary.” Looking at Jenkins, he added, “It wasn’t.”
When they got outside, Jenkins was led to a police car and taken away by county deputies. Green Lantern offered Bill Malone a trip back to his station house, which was gratefully accepted. When they arrived, a light was flashing on the station’s answering machine. As Green Lantern started to leave, Malone pressed the button to play back the messages.
“Blue Valley, this is Captain Fred Maynard, Kansas City Police Department. Lee Memorial Hospital just called here about a Jane Doe they’ve had in a coma for the last fourteen months. She just woke up this morning and gave her name as Frances Kane, from down your way. We need someone who can give us a positive I.D. Please give me a call so we can make arrangements.”
Before Malone could turn toward the door, there was a burst of verdant light as Green Lantern streaked into the air, heading east.
When Obsidian and Jade left the realm of the Silver Phoenix, they returned to Todd’s apartment. When they arrived, they discovered a visitor waiting for them.
“There you are! I hoped that you would not be long in returning, for I don’t know how long I could remain here waiting amongst your charming early K-Mart decor.” The visitor was tall, thin, and dressed in quaint, old-fashioned black clothing, complete with a high silk hat. Cradled against his crossed legs as he sat on the sofa was a black cane tipped in silver. He looked at them over the small lenses of his dark glasses. “Do you have any idea of the risks you are taking, young man?”
“The Shade? What are you doing here?” asked Todd. Silver fire danced around his clenched hands. “I know that Jack and David say you’re all right, but I haven’t forgotten that you led those kids to Jade over a year ago!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: JSA Reserves: All This and Earth-Two.]
“Ah, an understandable lack of trust. Truly, Karkull’s desire to use your sister to rejuvenate that colorful lot of criminals and mischief-makers was not entirely unknown to me, and I am grateful that worthless whelp Rayner served the purpose instead.” Lowering his glasses to look at the young lady with the green skin, he added, “To take such beauty from this world would be such a waste.”
Jade gave him a look that clearly said, “Don’t even think about it.”
“So, what’s the deal? From what I hear, you rarely leave Opal City these days.”
“Yes, dear Opal, truly a shining star among cities. But it isn’t this realm I am concerned with today. Rather, it is that world into which I was born that brings me to this rather charming domicile today. Do you know what you risk, tapping the Shadow Realm’s power as you did today?”
“The Shadow Realm? That’s where you’re from?” asked Todd, reverting to his normal self.
“As are you, apparently. Or, at least, you have some link to that world.” Seeing Todd’s incredulous look, the Shade laughed. “What, did you really think the Starheart was the source of your ability to walk in the shadows, and to call upon the psychic emanations of the Shadow Realm to make others confront their own nightmares? Yes, boy, when my long-ago associates tampered with young Rose Canton to create their agent, they infused her with the ability to tap the shadows in a very limited fashion. Surely even one such as you can understand how the darkness can corrupt the creations of nature, no? That link was passed to you, amplified by the power of the Starheart.”
“I came to suspect something like that when we found that the Thorn was created by the Black Shadows — say! You were a part of them?”
“Yes, a long time ago. I made the grievous mistake of falling in love with one destined for Lord Umbra, and found myself banished. In the century and a half since then, I have come to appreciate that their ways are anathema to my own sensibilities.”
“Right, so that’s why you joined up with the Injustice Society!” scoffed Jennie-Lynn, even as she willed herself to resume normal coloration, and her regular clothes reappeared, covering her white and green costume.
“No, I did that because ennui sets in after a while, and I needed a challenge. The heroic mystery-men of the time seemed to have the upper hand, so I allied myself with the underdogs.”
“From what Starman has told us, I can believe that. But why come here now? We’re in the middle of something, and–”
The Shade held up a black-gloved hand. “And you are about to go charging into the Shadow Realm to discover the truth about the woman you believed to be your sister.” He smiled as their expressions verified his supposition. “Oh, yes, I know about her. The Phoenix has had dealings with the Black Shadows before.”
At this point, the phone rang. Todd answered it. “Y’ello. Oh, hi, Dad, what’s up?” A long pause. “Oh, my God. Where are you? We’ll meet you there. Umm, we’ll be bringing someone else along; he has some answers on this, too.”
Hanging up the phone, Todd said, “Let’s go. You, too, Shade. Dad has located Frances Kane — the real Frances Kane — in Kansas City.”