“OK, Sly,” Surge said. “You’re the leader. So lead. What do we do now?”
“I still say we need to talk to the Keith woman,” Patriot said.
“Talk to her?” Jade said incredulously. “I say we go in there and bust her! What more proof do you need?”
“We still don’t know for certain she’s involved,” Patriot said. “Her company is, obviously, but we don’t know for sure that she knows what’s going on.”
“But her name!” Jade insisted. “She’s toying with us, daring us to figure it out! She’s got to be the Thinker’s daughter, or his protégée, or — or something!”
“And if her name were Briana Weaver, would you think she’s the Brain Wave’s daughter?” Patriot asked. Jade opened her mouth to reply, but Patriot held her off with a raised hand. “Jen, I admit the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. But that’s all it is right now, circumstantial. We’ll send a team of four to interview her. If she is the mastermind, maybe she’ll tip her hand.”
“I should be on that team,” Jesse Quick jumped in.
“I agree, Syl,” Red Arrow said. “It was her super-fast vision that caught the subliminal trick. If Keith is the mastermind, she may have more such traps at her home. It’d be good to have advance warning of them.”
“Good point,” Patriot said. “All right, Jesse. Roy, how about you go, too? And Ray and Al. That’s a good quorum.”
“Check,” Nuklon said, eagerly.
“What about the rest of us?” Aquaman asked. “What do we do?”
Patriot turned to the prince of the seas. “We tell the world what’s going on,” he said. “The JSA, Commissioner O’Hara, D.A. Sims, CNN, even the President and the Attorney General. We blow the whistle on this subliminal message scheme. That’s what we do.”
Aquaman smiled slightly, and nodded. “Good plan.”
“Come on, gang, I’m driving,” Nuklon said, heading out the door to the hangar where the Star-Rocket Racer was kept. “Next stop, Seattle.”
The Star-Rocket Racer soared over the skies of the West Coast of the United States. Nuklon expertly piloted the vehicle toward Seattle and the home of ReNee Keith.
“Al?” Jade’s voice chimed in as her face appeared on the comm-screen on the instrument panel. “I’ve done some computer background checking, and I have some news for you.”
“Fire when ready, Jennie,” Nuklon said.
“Well, I may have been wrong about Ms. Keith,” Jade reluctantly admitted. “About her being the Thinker’s daughter, anyway. I found birth records, school records, tax records, everything. I still think she’s behind this, but she appears to have grown up independently of the Thinker.”
“What about the Thinker himself?” asked Ray, who was copiloting. “Did you check on him?”
“I did,” Jade said. “Nobody seems to know just where he is now. Even his parole officer hasn’t heard from him since we fought the Thinker with the Injustice Society back in January. (*) And get this: he did have a daughter, Karla DeVoe, born about the same time as Ms. Keith. She dropped out of sight about the same time; nothing on her since then, either.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Infinity Inc: Ancient Prophecies and Malcontents, Chapter 1: Body and Soul.]
“Born about the same time, eh?” Nuklon asked, provocatively.
“Al, there were millions of baby girls born twenty-six years ago,” Jesse Quick said. “I mean, geez, I’m twenty-six!”
“Point taken,” Nuklon said. “Whoops. Attention, passengers, we’re making our final descent. Please fasten your seatbelts and return the stewardess to the upright position.”
“I have got to take that copy of Truly Tasteless Jokes III away from him,” Red Arrow muttered.
Nuklon expertly landed the Star-Rocket Racer on the grounds of the large house. It was built in the Victorian style and stood alone on a large hill. The grounds were immaculately kept; the lawn looked as trim and regular as a carpet. Ornate statuary lined the cobblestone walk to the house.
“So this is a super-villain headquarters, nowadays?” Red Arrow commented.
“I imagine a hollowed-out mountain in the shape of a skull is hard to find in this district,” Jesse Quick replied.
“We don’t know for sure that ReNee Keith is a super-villain yet,” Nuklon advised. “Come on; let’s see if she’ll grant an interview.”
“I understand she doesn’t see anyone,” Ray said. “Conducts all business and interviews by teleconference.”
“Well, maybe she’ll see us,” Red Arrow said, hopefully.
The quartet of young heroes approached the front door. Nuklon reached out and touched the bell.
The floor of the front landing instantly fell away under them, plunging the four heroes into a dark shaft.
“Nice to know some things never go out of style,” Red Arrow joked as they fell.
The pit the Infinitors fell into was not deep, but it was pitch dark. Some strange magnetic force held them fast to the floors and walls; they could not move beyond the merest twitches.
Suddenly, a video screen on one wall flared into brilliant life. The Infinitors saw a full figure view of ReNee Keith on the screen, standing smugly with her arms folded across her chest. She wore a conservative navy blue business suit that fitted her curvaceous form snugly; her long red hair flowed down her shoulders.
“I knew someone would figure me out sooner or later,” she smirked. “I assumed it would be the JSA, not their youth auxiliary. But one can’t expect everything.”
“We only came to talk, Ms. Keith,” Jesse Quick said. “But I guess you’ve answered our questions.”
“I suppose I have,” Keith said. “Now, let me indulge you. I know you long-underwear types aren’t comfortable unless you’re fighting someone with a Halloween costume and a silly name. As for the name, I guess you can call me Medulla. And the costume…” As the young heroes watched, the image on the screen morphed smoothly, and Medulla was wearing a form-fitting black costume, with yellow trim and a stylized M over the chest. “Video images are so easily manipulated,” she commented. “Reality is a bit harder to manipulate. But I’ve proven it can be done.”
“Jesse?” Red Arrow whispered. “Is it OK to look at that monitor?”
“I haven’t seen any subliminal messages yet,” Jesse Quick returned.
“And you won’t, for a while anyway,” Medulla promised. “I guess I’ve seen too many James Bond films; I feel like bragging about my success before I finish you off. Probably my father’s influence.”
“Your father?” Nuklon asked. “You mean — you are Karla DeVoe?”
“Of course,” Medulla said, genuinely surprised. “I thought you’d figured that out.”
“But — but Jade found evidence that Karla DeVoe and ReNee Keith are two separate people!” Ray declared.
Medulla giggled shrilly. “And you don’t think someone who could mastermind the downfall of the JSA through subliminal computer images could falsify such records?”
The heroes were silent for a moment. Jesse Quick broke the silence.
“It seems, gentlemen, we’re dealing with a true master of the computer age.”
“Oh, indeed,” Medulla agreed. “How do you think I got the money to start my company, not to mention build this house?”
Red Arrow shrugged as much as he could. “Secured the patent on a better trapdoor?”
“Not quite,” Medulla said. “Bank statements are issued by computer these days. If your monthly bank statement came up five dollars short, do you think you’d even notice? If you did, would you bother to complain about such a small amount? Most people wouldn’t. And there are millions of bank statements issued every month.”
“Computer piracy,” Nuklon whispered.
“On the grandest scale imaginable,” Medulla said. “I stole more money than the Injustice Society ever dreamed of, without leaving my home.”
“Your father must be proud,” Jesse Quick said.
Medulla’s expression turned to one of disgust. “Ask him yourself when you get where I sent him.”
“I don’t understand,” Ray said. “Where did you send him?”
“For the Ray, you’re not very bright,” Medulla snorted. “I mean I killed my father!”
“But why?” Nuklon asked.
“Why?” Medulla demanded, her voice thick with rage. “For robbing me of my childhood! His only reason for having a child was to train his successor, his instrument of revenge against the JSA! Other children got to play, go to regular schools, have friends! But not I! My entire life was study and drudgery! I was learning computer programming while other girls were playing with Easy-Bake ovens! I never had friends, birthday parties, a boyfriend, none of it! I finally repaid my father for my wasted youth by killing him and dancing on his grave!”
“If that’s the case,” Jesse Quick asked, “why go after the JSA? Isn’t that just what your father wanted you to do?”
“Yes,” Medulla admitted. “But I have as much of a grudge against the JSA as I do against my father. If it hadn’t been for them, their stupid costumes and outdated Galahadian notions of righting wrongs, my father would never have brought me up the way he did! I suppose the Thinker gets what he wanted after all; and much good may it do him, in Hell!”
“What about Senator Barclay?” Nuklon asked. “Is he in on it, too?”
Medulla giggled again. “Senator Barclay! He’s an actor! I found him doing dinner theater in Wilmington, Delaware. You should see his Willy Lohman. Once I recruited him, I used my computers to give him a fake record as an attorney and professor of law at a tiny university nobody ever heard of. Then I ran him for senator and, of course, rigged the election results. He’s my tool; once I’m done with him, I’ll probably give him what my father got. We’ll see how I feel, when the time comes.”
“I have just one more question,” Ray said. “What about the Scarecrow? How does he fit into your plans?”
“That idiot!” Medulla snorted. “Do you know, I went to five washed-up villains with my offer, and he was the only one dumb enough to bite? I told him I had a plan to take out the JSA members one by one. I gave him a special gun; I told him it fired a burst of compressed air that could knock any man off his feet. I suggested he lure Red Robin onto a rooftop and knock him off with it. Thankfully, he didn’t have the know-how or the foresight to examine the gun. It fired a burst of compressed air, all right — from the back of the gun! When Scarecrow used it, it knocked him off the roof, not Red Robin! And the gun was rigged to completely disintegrate sixty seconds after firing, leaving no trace! I effectively framed Red Robin for the Scarecrow’s death! Timed perfectly with my subliminal messages, and Barclay’s stirring up of anti-hero feelings, it makes the perfect beginning of the end of the JSA!”
Nuklon turned his head as much as the magnetic force allowed, to look at the Ray. “Heard enough?”
Ray nodded. “I think so.”
Suddenly, the Ray’s body blazed forth with brilliant light, and he lifted himself off the wall, into the air.
“What?” Medulla gasped. “Impossible! How?”
“I guess your childhood of intense study skipped over sixth-grade science,” Nuklon said, as the Ray bathed him in a golden glow. “Heat decays a magnetic field.” Nuklon flexed his mighty muscles and was free. Ray and Nuklon then combined heat and strength to free Red Arrow and Jesse Quick.
“All right, that’s one on me,” Medulla admitted. “But you’ll never leave this house alive!” And the image on the video screen blinked out to black.
The tiny chamber went dark, but just for a moment. The Ray lit up the chamber.
“Well, now what?” Nuklon asked.
Jesse Quick sped around the small room, tapping the walls with her fingers. She came to a spot on the wall opposite the video monitor. “I think there’s empty space beyond this one, possibly a chamber.”
“Say no more,” Red Arrow said, notching a blast arrow. Nuklon shielded the Ray and Jesse with his dense body, and the arrow blew a hole into the chamber beyond.
The four young heroes stepped out into a darkened hallway. Red Arrow shot a plain arrow down the hallway; a lattice of laser-beams shot out as it passed. One beam struck the arrow, vaporizing it.
“Primitive,” Jesse Quick snorted. She took off down the hallway and was at the other end before the lasers went off. She found a control switch on the wall and turned off the lasers.
Her three friends joined her. The hallway branched off in two directions there. Nuklon and the Ray took one direction, Jesse and Red Arrow the other.
“Looks like a turn up ahead,” Red Arrow said, pointing.
“Yes; no way to go but left,” Jesse Quick confirmed. The two young champions continued on their journey.
Just as they were coming to the bend in the hallway, Red Arrow heard Jesse gasp. The next thing he knew, he was around the bend and halfway down the connecting hall.
“What’s up, Jess?” he asked. “Why’d you whisk us down so fast?”
In answer, Jesse pointed at the way they had come. A sprinkler head in the ceiling was dousing the bend in the hall with a corrosive liquid that caused the walls and floor to smoke and pit where it struck.
“My super-quick vision saw the first drops leaving the sprinkler head,” Jesse explained. “I didn’t know what it was, but I figured it wasn’t Kool-Aid.”
“Bend up ahead,” Ray said, pointing. “No way to go but right.”
“Let me scout ahead,” Nuklon said. “Anything’s going to happen, let it happen to me first.”
“Whatever,” Ray shrugged. He hovered in air as Nuklon pounded down the hallway.
As Nuklon reached the bend in the hall, Ray’s keen ears heard a spring somewhere. He watched and saw something flash out of the wall at the bend, headed right for Nuklon. Quick as lightning, a bolt of heat-energy lanced from Ray’s hand, striking the gleaming silver blade. Nuklon gasped as the molten metal struck the wall on either side of him.
“Nice save,” Nuklon said.
“Guess all those video games improved my reaction time,” Ray grinned.
Red Arrow and Jesse Quick turned the corner and soon came to a large steel door with a round knob.
“Probably locked,” Jesse said, reaching for the knob. “But let’s see.”
“Wait!” Red Arrow snapped, grabbing Jesse’s wrist. He lifted a blunt-headed arrow from his quiver; holding the arrow by the hard rubber head, he touched the end of the arrow to the knob. A sizzling crackle of electricity and a sharp tang of ozone filled the air.
“Nice trick,” Red Arrow said. “Stand back, Jess, I’ll blow the door.” The youthful archer notched a blast arrow, drew, and fired. In a shattering explosion, the steel door caved in.
“Hope that’s the last of these things, Jess. Jess? Where are you?”
“Right here,” Jesse said, from behind Red Arrow. “Shall we go in?”
Nuklon and the Ray rounded the corner and came to a large steel door with a round knob.
“Probably booby-trapped,” Ray said. “But let’s see if it can stand up to a melting!”
The Ray summoned up his heat-energy and sent a golden bolt toward the shiny steel surface. Nuklon watched as the bolt struck the door and rocketed back at the Ray.
“Look out!” Nuklon cried, leaping. He grabbed the Ray by the legs and yanked him out of the way just in time; the steel-melting bolt sizzled over his head.
“What happened?” Ray asked.
“I dunno,” Nuklon said. “The door reflected your bolt somehow! Hey, when the JSA first fought the Injustice Society, Brain Wave used a glass box that reflected any force used against it, even Green Lantern’s power ring! Maybe he shared the technology with the Thinker, and his daughter incorporated it into this door!”
“Nice touch,” Ray said. “Well, let’s see how the doorframe holds up!”
It didn’t hold up well at all. After a few seconds’ bombardment, the solid door collapsed from the ruined frame, and the two youthful heroes entered.
It turned out both doors opened into the same room. But that was not the biggest surprise awaiting them within, not by a very long shot.
The four heroes entered the room simultaneously from the two entrances. The room was dimly lit; they saw a bank of computer consoles and video monitors along one wall. What caught their attention was the bed in the center of the room and the figure lying in it.
“I told you, video images are easily manipulated,” she said. The woman in the bed was emaciated, probably not over eighty pounds. Her skin was waxy and yellowed. A few wisps of thin hair clung to her skull. She looked up at the Infinitors with undisguised hate. They merely stared at Medulla in shock.
“Do you understand now why I hated my father and the JSA so much?” she asked, in a thin reedy voice. “I have AIDS. I’m dying. I’m twenty-six years old, and I’m dying; and I have nothing to look back on but a life of toil and drudgery. I have no happy memories to take with me, no friends to be with me in my last days.” She paused, letting that sink in. The Infinitors did not move, did not speak. “But at least now,” Medulla continued, “I’ll have company on my journey!”
Her thin arm moved beneath the sheet; the heroes could see the bones through the thin skin as it moved. When nothing happened, a perplexed look came over Medulla’s face. She pulled her arm out from under the sheet to reveal a control device similar to a nurse’s call-button; she stabbed it repeatedly with her thumb. “What’s wrong?” she demanded. “Nothing’s happening!”
“That’s my doing,” Jesse Quick admitted in low tones. “While Red Arrow was blasting the door, I searched the house at super-speed for more booby-traps.”
Medulla looked up at the young woman, venom in her eyes. “And you found the explosives under the house and disconnected them.” It was not a question. The hatred resolved itself into acceptance. “Oh, well, the bad guy is thwarted on the final page. I should have seen it coming.”
There was silence for a moment; then Nuklon spoke. “You understand, we have to take you into custody now.”
The woman called Medulla laughed shortly, a laugh that turned into a violent, hacking cough. When it was finished, she smirked at Nuklon. “Go ahead. What do I care? Look at me! A year would be a life sentence!” And she began laughing again.
The Infinitors looked at one another, then back at the dying woman on the bed. They did not speak, nor did they need to. They silently held the same thought. Winning didn’t always feel like it was supposed to.