by Starsky Hutch 76 and JSAGL
“Looks like Infinity Inc. has been making the news lately,” Sylvester Pemberton said enthusiastically, tossing various magazines and newspapers to the members of the team. “People love my new name and costume,” he said, grinning broadly.
“Well, Patriot sure beats that Skyman thing you were going to call yourself.”
“Ha-ha-ha, Silver Scarab,” Syl said.
“What’s wrong with Silver Scarab?” Hector said defensively.
“What is this… teen heartthrob?” Arthur Curry Junior asked, pointing at a line in a magazine article, which sent the room into an uproar of laughter.
“It means if we stuck both you and Menudo in a mall, all the teenyboppers wouldn’t know which way to run,” Rick Tyler said, drawing more laughter.
“I don’t understand,” Arty said.
“Fashion disaster of the year?!” Beth Chapel said, looking at a caption beneath her picture in a tabloid.
“Don’t feel bad,” said Rick. “I got the same in the male category.”
“Don’t worry, guys,” Syl said reassuringly. “I’ve hired a designer to try and help you out in that area. In another, there’s the matter of your names — Doctor Midnight and Hourman. Now that your namesakes are coming out of retirement, you might want new code-names as well. Beth, you spell the Midnight part of your name differently than Charles. Couldn’t you drop the Doctor? It might help alleviate some confusion.”
“Confusion?” Beth said. “He’s a white male in his seventies, though extraordinarily preserved. I’m a black female in my twenties. How could anyone be confused? Besides, I am a doctor.”
“Your names and modus operandi are almost identical,” Syl said. “It could happen.”
“Technically, my dad’s a doctor, too,” said Rick, “but he doesn’t go by Doctor Hour.”
“OK,” Beth said, sighing. “Midnight it is.”
“Great,” Syl said. “What about you, Rick?”
“I’m going to need a little more time. The solution’s not so simple.”
“I guess that’ll be OK. Don’t take too long, though. People are going to need to know what to call you.” He turned to Arty and said, “So I heard you saying that your sister is on the surface now, too.”
“Yes,” Arty said. “Apparently, she stowed away upon my leviathan. My father was not very happy. She is staying with the JSA in the hopes that it will teach her some responsibility.”
“This would be a good P.R. opportunity,” Syl said. “We should have pictures taken of the two of you together.”
Arty coughed nervously. “Perhaps later. I’d like to give her some time to adjust to her new surroundings.”
Syl turned to the Infinitor known as Brainwave, who had by now dropped the Junior from his name. “So, Hank, where are Jennie and Todd?”
“They’ve gone to Gotham to visit their folks for a few days.”
“I wish they’d told me. We should all be here when the public meets our latest members, the new Aquaman and the Ray.”
“I hope you have room for one more,” a voice boomed from the doorway. They all turned to see Johnny Chambers, AKA Johnny Quick, standing with his daughter, who was in full costume. “Everyone, meet my daughter — the one and only Jesse Quick!”
“It took me a while to get here, but I’m glad to finally be here,” said Jesse, smiling proudly.
The Patriot returned the smile. “Welcome to the team, Jesse.”
Rick Tyler sat in his hospital gown upon the butcher’s paper-covered bench in the doctor’s office awaiting his personal physician, who was also the woman he happened to be dating, Dr. Beth Chapel. She knocked first, then walked in carrying his file.
“I like the long hair,” Rick said. “It makes you look really hot.”
“They’re just extensions, of course,” she said. “But I’ll eventually let it grow out for real. I figured if I’m getting a new costume and name, I could use a new look all around. But that’s not why I called you here.”
“I know,” Rick said, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her to him. “You called me here so we could play doctor.”
“Rick, would you cut it out?!” Beth snapped.
“What?” Rick said. “The door’s locked, and no one can hear us. It’s not like we haven’t fooled around here before.”
“Not now,” Beth said.
“What’s wrong?” Rick asked, noticing her serious expression.
“It’s your tests,” she said. “I’m afraid the news isn’t all good.”
“What do you mean?” Rick said. “I’m as healthy as a horse — a whole team of horses. And sometimes as strong!”
“You’ve hit on the problem right there, Rick,” Beth said gravely.
“The Miraclo?” Rick gulped. “Why? My dad’s been taking it for years, and it hasn’t done anything to him. I thought I inherited the same gene that made it work for him!”
“You inherited what makes it work for him, all right,” Beth said, “but not what makes him immune to its other effects.”
“What other affects?” Rick said nervously.
“Have you ever noticed yourself in a slump after taking it?” Beth asked.
“Sometimes,” Rick said. “But my dad’s said the same thing. He’s felt emotionally exhausted afterwards.”
“But physically, have you?”
“Yeah,” Rick said. “And when I’ve had to use it repeatedly, I’ve felt really shaky. Like I was getting the flu or something.”
“That’s because you’ve only inherited part of the genes that your father has to make Miraclo work for him. So you’ve got the ability, but not the immunity. Your children probably won’t be able to use it at all.”
“But what are these effects you’re talking about?” Rick asked.
“Miraclo accelerates your abilities, such as strength, adrenaline, speed, coordination, et cetera, for your father, and now for you. But in your case, it also accelerates exhaustion, depletion of resources, and susceptibility to disease. In other words, it’s like that old saying, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
“You mean I’m burning myself out,” Rick said miserably.
“I’m afraid so,” Beth said.
“What happens if I keep being Hourman? If I keep taking Miraclo?”
“Wha–?!” Beth gasped irrately. “Didn’t you listen to what I just said? I can’t believe you would even ask me such a thing!”
“But what would happen?”
“You could die, Rick! We’re not just talking about your catching a cold easier than most people. We’re talking the big diseases — cancer, leukemia, and heart disease. Disease would eventually begin to rear its ugly head. It would feed off of those Miraclo pills you’ve been popping like Tic Tacs so you could put on spandex and fight crime to get your father’s attention. For God’s sake, Rick, you could suffer cardiac arrest at any moment because of Miraclo!”
Rick stared at her with genuine hurt in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Rick,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck and stroking his hair. “I just don’t want to see you self-destruct over a need to prove yourself to that man.”
Tears began to well up in his eyes. “I guess Syl doesn’t need to worry about me coming up with a new name after all.”
Hector Hall slammed down the phone in anger. This was the fifth time in as many days that he tried to call Lyta Trevor, and the fifth time that he received no answer.
Hector picked up the table and threw it across the room, where it impacted on the wall into a thousand different pieces.
“OK, Hec, I give. What did that table ever do to you?”
Hector whirled around to see his boss, Sylvester — AKA the Patriot — standing in the doorway. Hec stopped for a moment, looking very much like a deer caught in the headlights. He ran his fingers through his golden hair and collapsed on the couch.
“I’m… I’m… damn, I’m so screwed up right now. I’ve been trying to get ahold of Lyta for weeks, now. It’s like she’s ignoring me. I only saw her once since she got back from Paradise Island, but that was a couple of weeks ago, now, and she hasn’t returned any of my calls.”
Syl entered the room. “Look, I know it’s not–”
He was interrupted by the phone ringing.
“It’s Lyta!” Hector grabbed the phone so hard he nearly pulled the cord out of the wall. “Lyta! Oh, God, I thought you’d never–” Suddenly, a strange look came over Hector’s face. Emotions played over him like a kaleidoscope before he finally became calm. “Yes, I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes.”
Hector hung up the phone calmly and walked over to his closet. He gently picked up a suitcase and headed out the door past Syl.
A confused Sylverster Pemberton put his hand on Hector’s shoulder. “Hec, where are you going? How’s Lyta?”
Hector looked back and brushed Syl’s hand off. “Forget Lyta. I’m going on vacation… with Helene.”
Syl was about to ask Hector just who the hell Helene was, when he heard a sound not heard by him in many a month — his JSA signal device.
“Wow! This must be something pretty big if they need me.”
Elsewhere, Helene Astor sank back in her bed as she hung up the phone, licking her lips in delight. The plan was progressing perfectly, and Lyta’s absence from Hector’s life made it even easier to seduce Hector than she thought.
“And just in time, too.” Helene’s gaze turned to the television set, where a certain winged hero was making a grand reintroduction. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 4: Twilight of the Gods.]