Terri Rothstein was enjoying lunch very much. It wasn’t often she got to spend her lunch break with three of her favorite people in the whole world. Al Pratt and Danette Reilly-Arthur, her godparents who had brought her up from infancy, sat across the table from her in the NASA commissary. Albert Rothstein, her son, loomed above her as he sat next to her.
“It’s so good to see you again, Al,” Terri said. “It’s been so long. How’s Mary?”
“She’s just fine,” Al said. “She’s attending a seminar in London this week, so I’m a bachelor again.” He punctuated this remark with a wink that made Terri smile. “By the way, Danette,” Al said to his lifelong friend, “some of the professors at Calvin were discussing your book.”
“Vulcan’s Forge?” Danette asked. “What was the general consensus?”
“Most of them agreed it was a brilliant study of volcanoes in ancient religion,” Al said. “Dr. Solomon said it was drivel, but he pretty much says that about everything — except his own work, of course.”
“Of course. Did you tell him you knew me?” Danette asked, taking a sip of Poland Springs.
“Nah. I started to, but he’d of asked how I knew you. I couldn’t very well say we were in the All-Star Squadron together, and I’ve never been a convincing liar.”
“Yeah, that’s what Mary says,” Danette joked.
Just then, the sound of music began to filter into the lunch room from outside, muffled by its passage through walls, but still quite audible — loud, raucous, unrestrained music, the kind usually termed heavy metal.
“That’s funny,” Terri said. “Nobody’s allowed to have private radios on the base. They disrupt the communications signals.”
Al’s eyes grew suddenly wide, and then he galvanized into action. “Danette, get Terri out of here!” he snapped. “Al, come with me!”
“Huh? OK, Uncle Al,” Albert began, confused. “But what’s–?”
But Albert’s diminutive godfather was already sprinting for the men’s room. Albert knew better than to question the Atom when he sensed danger. He leaped from the table to follow Al.
“Come on, Terri,” Danette said, hustling her goddaughter out of the lunch room. “Let’s get you someplace safe.”
“But Danette, what’s going on?” Terri asked, bewildered.
“I don’t know,” Danette said, eyes narrowing. “But I intend to find out!”
As soon as Danette got Terri safely ensconced in the security office, with stern instructions to the officers not to let her out of their sight, she dashed into the nearest women’s room to change. She took a moment to reflect on the oddness that a semi-retired super-heroine — even one who had retained her youth — still wore her working clothes under her civvies. Then Firebrand streaked out of the bathroom window, to arc around the building and follow the source of the music.
She didn’t have long to search. There on the space center grounds stood Death Metal, the super-villain headbanger from television, locked in battle with the Atom and Nuklon. The villain was using his guitar to create channeled bursts of sonic energy, which Nuklon was slowly pushing his way through, like a fish swimming upstream. Firebrand felt herself growing angry. Those men. Who did they think they were, sending her off to get Terri to safety while they had all the fun? She had a good mind to–
Quickly, Firebrand veered away from the music, covering her ears. Al had told her about Death Metal’s music, how it made you feel angry, outraged, even at people you’d been close friends with for years. She didn’t know how the Atom and Nuklon were managing it, but somehow they had overcome its effects. She would have to keep her distance, until…
Firebrand noticed something out of the corner of her eye. All the nearby security personnel had turned out to watch the fight. That left a hangar, clearly marked off as No Access, unguarded. Firebrand could have sworn she saw a young woman slip into the hangar. And didn’t Death Metal have a female accomplice on TV?
She decided a closer look was in order. Firebrand flew to the window of the hangar and peered in. Sure enough, it was the young woman from television. There was a large satellite in the hangar, and the woman was trying to attach something to it.
“Hold it right there, honey,” Firebrand demanded, flying through the now-melted window.
Bright-Eyes turned to look at her. “Oh, wow,” she said, “a history book come to life! What was your name again? Firebug?”
“Firebrand,” the heroine corrected. “And I may be a has-been, but that’s better than a never-was. Will you come quietly?”
“Oh, sure,” Bright-Eyes said. “I’ll be very quiet. You’ll be doing all the screaming.” Twin bursts of crimson flashed from her eyes to punctuate her remark. Firebrand barely dodged them in midair. She heard the sizzle of melting metal, and looked behind her. The beams had burned twin holes in the metal wall of the hangar, fused smooth-edged by their passage. Her eyes widened. From what she saw on TV, she had assumed the woman’s eye-beams were simple heat-beams. But to do that to a thick metal wall, they must be more — lasers, most likely. So stunned was she by the import of this, Bright-Eyes nearly caught her with another laser-blast. Firebrand dived for cover, putting the satellite between her and the villainess. She needed a plan.
“Olly-olly oxen-free,” Bright-Eyes sang as she walked around the satellite. “No sense trying to catch me flat-footed, grandma. Sooner or later–”
As Bright-Eyes came around the side of the satellite, she suddenly saw a woman-shaped fireball headed right for her. “No, you don’t!” she shouted as her laser-vision blazed forth. The beams sailed right through the fireball, which dissipated in air. Before Bright-Eyes could recover, something struck her from behind, and she crumpled like a marionette with clipped strings.
“I figured your laser-vision impaired your own eyesight,” Firebrand said to the unconscious woman. “You thought my fireball was me, surrounded by my flaming nimbus. I don’t know if I’m getting smarter, or if you villains are just getting dumber.”
Firebrand walked out of the hangar with the unconscious villain slung over one shoulder, carrying her device under one arm. She was sure the police or the JSA would figure out what it was supposed to do.
She soon saw the fellows and noticed they, too, had been victorious. The Atom was holding Death Metal’s guitar in two broken pieces. Nuklon had his huge hand on the villain’s shoulder; Death Metal himself was held by handcuffs Nuklon had improvised by twisting a metal gate-pole around them. Death Metal looked terrified.
“Hi, boys,” Firebrand said. “Look what I found. She was trying to attach this to a satellite that was supposed to be under heavy guard. Your playmate lured the guard away.”
“Is that so?” Nuklon asked. “You’ve been a very naughty boy, Death Metal. You do know this is a government facility? That means you’ve committed a federal crime!” The villain visibly sweated at that.
“I was coming to help you guys, but this loony’s music made me feel so angry I veered off,” Firebrand said. “How’d you overcome it?”
“Simple,” the Atom said. “Doc Mid-Nite figured his music somehow fed our inner, buried frustrations, multiplying them. The way to beat that was to focus on our frustrations at Death Metal himself, how he humiliated us, ruined the Youth Center, et cetera. So his music fed our hatred against him, and he actually helped us beat him.”
“L-look, guys,” Death Metal stammered. The Atom noticed that he was suddenly speaking without a Liverpool accent. “You’ve gotta gimme a break! I-I didn’t mean any harm! I was just playin’ around, having a joke, you know?”
“A joke?” Firebrand demanded. “You destroyed a five-million-dollar youth center as a joke? And attacked a government installation?”
“Th-that wasn’t me!” Death Metal stuttered, pointing a shaking finger at Bright-Eyes. “It was her! She did all the destruction! I-I was just playing my guitar!”
“Tell it to the judge,” the Atom suggested. “Maybe you’ll only get twenty-five years.”
“Oh, man!” Death Metal stammered, visibly horrified. “You’ve gotta help me! I-I can’t go to prison! I-I’ve seen Brubaker! I know what goes on there! Please–!”
“You should have thought of that before you became a super-villain, Dork Metal,” Nuklon sneered.
“Look, you gotta gimme a break! What if I squeal? Rat on my buddies? Will that help?”
“Don’t try to weasel out of anything, twerp,” Firebrand said gruffly. “You’re–”
“Wait a minute,” the Atom said, holding up a hand. “Your buddies, you say?”
“Sure!” Death Metal said, seizing a straw. “The others from the TV, the ones who wrecked JSA Day! They’re planning something big; me and Bright-Eyes were just the first wave! I-I’ll tell you all about it! Where, when, everything!”
The Atom, Nuklon, and Firebrand silently looked at one another.
“Go on,” the Atom encouraged.
The sun glittered brightly on Sky Angel’s modified Harley-Davidson as he zoomed through the Virginia skies. He looked down and smiled; it was beautiful country around here. Hard to believe it was just a couple dozen miles from the center of Washington, D.C., one of the highest crime-rated cities in America. And that wasn’t even counting income tax, which Solomon Quinn had always considered to be legalized robbery. He smiled again and shifted his weight in the motorcycle seat, feeling the black sphere nestled behind his back. Well, very soon the murder rate in Washington would experience a drastic jump. He had to hand it to Madame Mayhem; she had it all over Alexis Luthor when it came to grand schemes.
Sky Angel’s thoughts were interrupted by a steady BEEP BEEP BEEP from his cycle. It was the special radar Mayhem had installed, which sensed the approach of a flying object the approximate size and shape of a human being. One or more of the flying super-heroes was on his tail. He grinned in his beard; this would be fun. He was prepared for any hero he might encounter, he believed. The special gun strapped to his left leg fired the sticky sawdust particles that had immobilized Green Lantern before. In the pocket of his leather jacket he had a fragmentation grenade, the casing of which was solid kryptonite — sure to handle Superman or Power Girl. And the special anesthetic exhaust should take care of anyone else.
He peered in his rear-view mirror. At first he saw nothing, but then what looked at first like a giant, majestic bird of prey swooped down out of a cloud — Hawkman. Hadn’t that old geezer learned the first time? Sky Angel’s hand moved for the control that would turn on the anesthetic exhaust.
“Not so fast, Junior,” Hawkman cried, spinning a leather slingshot around in his hand. “I’m afraid your cycle failed to pass the emissions test!” With a mighty heave of his muscled arm, Hawkman let fly. The missile sped true to its mark and securely plugged up the exhaust pipe of Sky Angel’s cycle.
“Oh, man!” Angel growled. “You’re making me mad, geezer!” The cycle executed a stunning aerial loop and came out facing down Hawkman. The winged wonder watched the motorcycle headlight slide back, revealing a machine-gun barrel.
“Bye-bye, birdie,” Sky Angel sneered. Before he could fire the gun, however, scarlet beams of light melted it into slag. He looked up just in time to see Power Girl streaking down out of a cloud. She winked at Sky Angel as she passed, ripping off his front wheel as she did.
“Hey!” Sky Angel shouted. “My bike! Come back with my wheel, you–”
Sky Angel was so distracted by his anger, he didn’t notice Hawkman until it was too late. He felt the feathered fury swoop past, grabbing the black sphere.
“He’s all yours, Power Girl,” Hawkman called.
Sky Angel could do nothing but sit helplessly. Power Girl became a blur, darting back and forth across the sky, stealing piece by piece of his bike. He reached for the grenade in his pocket, only to have that snatched away by Hawkman. Finally, he was sitting on just the motorcycle seat; every other bit of it had been taken away. Gravity caught up with him, and he began to plummet.
Hawkman, cradling the black sphere under his left arm, caught Sky Angel by the wrist.
“You know, we never did find out what you call yourself,” Hawkman said as he flew the captured villain to the ground. “Air Biker? Flying Punk? Something like that, I bet.”
“Sky Angel,” the villain grumbled.
“Of course… Sky Angel,” Hawkman said. “Green Lantern figured that you probably got your technology from his old punching-bag, the Sky Pirate. What is he, your father? Grandfather?”
“I see. Well, we’ll see if we can’t arrange a family reunion — in prison.”
“Oh, just shut up and fly, will you?”
Wall Street was the heart of New York City’s financial district. Every day, billions of dollars passed through the offices on this street in the form of electronic data and magnetic ink. A few keystrokes, and a million dollars were transferred from a holding account in Hong Kong to an active account in Chicago. A few more, and a new account was set up for an old customer of a bank that had been bought out by another bank. If money was the lifeblood of a capitalist society, Wall Street was its heart, pumping that blood to keep the body alive.
In the throngs of people walking up and down this street, nobody noticed a man in trenchcoat and hat carrying a duffel bag. He walked with head down, face shaded by the brim of the hat. Certainly not the most unusual sight in New York.
As the man passed an alley, however, something unusual did happen. Something, some kind of projectile, was fired from the alley and pierced the man’s duffel bag. A thin, almost-invisible wire attached to the projectile was suddenly yanked, and the bag flew from his hands.
“Hey, what the–?!” the man exclaimed as the bag left his hands. He stared into the alley to see a tall, striking woman reeling in his bag. He recognized her from pictures in the newspapers and on television. She smiled at him, a thin, tight-lipped smile.
“The Huntress!” the man exclaimed. His surprise lasted for eight seconds; then he raised his hands and aimed them at her.
Suddenly, someone from behind grabbed his wrists. Fingers tightened on his wrists like iron clamps; he yelped in pain and surprise. Mighty muscles lifted him off the ground; his feet flailed in midair, trying to find purchase.
“Nice disguise, Fusebox, but it was simple to find you with a voltmeter. You have quite a shocking personality,” the booming voice of the man holding Fusebox announced.
“He’s all yours, Huntress.”
The Huntress nodded and stepped aside to reveal a large cylindrical tank with a hose and nozzle attached. “Cover your eyes, Hourman,” the Huntress said as she aimed the nozzle at Fusebox. She twisted a dial, and a thick stream of viscous gray fluid spurted forth. Before he could protest, Fusebox was covered from head to toe with it.
Hourman dropped the villain on the ground. “Good idea you had — the liquid rubber,” he said to the Huntress. “He’s out of the fight now.”
“Did the rubber gloves protect you from his power?” the Huntress asked, stepping out of the alley.
“Even through them, I felt it,” Hourman said. “Not enough to make me let go, though.”
Fusebox lay sputtering and writhing on the ground. “Geez, I feel like that guy in Ghostbusters! I’ve been slimed!”
The Huntress chuckled at that. “They’ll probably have to cut it out of your hair, too,” she said. “Oh, well, they usually give you a close haircut in prison, anyway.”