by Starsky Hutch 76 and Doc Quantum
Al Pratt knocked on the doorframe of the hospital room, getting Grant Emerson’s attention. “I think you and I need to talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Grant said. “I know the truth now.”
“And what truth is that?” the man known as the Atom said.
“That you’re my father,” Grant said in a low voice trembling with restrained anger and hurting. “That you and Mary abandoned me.”
Al Pratt was clearly stunned. “Would that it were true,” he said. “The part about you being my son. My… our son died in childbirth. It was the hardest thing Mary and I ever went through. The war… the Crisis… nothing compares to losing a child. Nothing ever prepares you for that kind of pain. He sat down on the side of the hospital bed as the full weight of the memory came back to him. “If he had lived, he would’ve been about your age.”
Al turned to Grant and suddenly saw his wife’s eyes staring back at him. “Oh, God,” he gasped.
Thirty minutes later, Al Pratt and Grant Emerson showed up at the shadow-filled office of a weary Dr. Charles McNider. He, too, was feeling the weight of memories, though his were far more recent. He sat at his desk with his head in his hands. When he raised his head, his expression changed from one of sadness to surprise. Both his visitors looked as if they had been crying.
“Charles?” Al said. “I know this is a really bad time, but I was hoping you could run some tests for us.”
In Keystone City, John Garrick was on his way to meet his new girlfriend, Henrietta, when he saw her walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Strangely, she didn’t seem to be heading in the direction of their usual rendezvous.
“Henrietta!” he called out. “Wait up!”
As he began to cross the street, he saw her roll her eyes and continue walking in the same direction. What was going on?
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“What business is that of yours?” she said coldly.
“Well, we usually meet at the coffee shop about this time,” he said.
“Well, we won’t be doing that anymore,” she said.
“What? Why not?” he gasped.
“Look, you’re a nice kid and everything, but it would never really work between us. I mean, just look at you and look at me. The only reason I associated with you was because I needed an egghead to get me through my science classes.”
“B-but… you and I…” he stammered in hurt confusion, reaching toward her.
She pulled her hand back and screached, “Eewww! Don’t touch me! Did I say you could touch me? Go on! Beat it!”
A horrified look came into his face, and he turned and walked off in the opposite direction. He waited until he was sure he was out of her line of vision before he broke into a high-speed run. He wanted to be as far away from her before the tears came. He wasn’t going to give her that satisfaction.
Savant sighed as she began to walk back toward her flat. She had used her abilities to make men fall in love with her before, but never was it so distasteful. When she would look into their heads, what she saw would make what she eventually did to them all the more enjoyable — particularly their thoughts toward her, which were usually disgusting. This time, she had liked what she saw in her victim’s head, especially his thoughts toward her. Rather than repulse her, they had made her feel warm and safe. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she brought her hand up to it. She cursed herself for an emotional fool, gritted her teeth, and continued on.
His body aching, Grant Emerson lowered himself into the wheelchair. He had wanted to leave on his own two feet, but it was hospital policy for all patients to leave in a wheelchair. So he allowed himself to be rolled out as someone else carried his crutches.
As he rolled through the halls, his thoughts were with his teammates. Star Sapphire was recovering but badly shaken. He’d never forget the way she had shrunk away as he tried to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder. He had also heard that that Superboy was missing. It occurred to him that it was more than likely tied to the attacks on him and Star Sapphire. He worried how his team would handle a threat that could take out Superboy.
All thoughts and worries fled his mind as the exit doors opened, he proceeded down the exit ramp, and he saw Mary Pratt’s teary-eyed, smiling face beaming up at him. Next to her stood Al Pratt with an expression mirroring hers. Grant felt tears welling up in his own eyes as well.
Leaping from his wheelchair, he moved quickly down the ramp toward them, despite the cast on his leg. Mary and Al caught him in a hug.
Mary took his face between her hands and looked at him. “My beautiful boy,” she said in a choked voice, pulling him to her again. “My beautiful boy.”
As they helped him into the car, it dawned on him that taking such a beating may have been the best thing that had ever happened to him. For the first time in his life, Grant Emerson was going home.
Bonnie Jones-Carter rose from the hospital bed of Amanda Martin, who had been going by the name Star Sapphire when she was beaten by an unknown assailant or assailants. The best guess of the police was that she had been beaten up by one of D.C.’s gangs, as she was found in a pretty rough area of town. Her Star Sapphire costume was so dirty and torn that she wasn’t recognized as the heroine but was assumed to be dressed in a casual outfit. Exactly why she had left her school after curfew and gone all the way to that part of town where she was beaten up was still a mystery to them, though.
But Bonnie knew. She had been patrolling as the Junior JSA member Star Sapphire. She was caught, however, by someone powerful enough to subdue her, despite her powers over the nervous system and her power gem. But who could have done it? And why?
After returning back home to Star City that evening, Bonnie called her friend Beth while feeling very depressed. They talked for a long time. Apparently, the feeling was mutual. Amanda had become their close friend in recent weeks, and they had been inducted into the Junior JSA at the same time as her — Bonnie as Arrowette and Beth as Flare.
“I’ll talk to you later,” said Bonnie as she began to hang up the phone. “And thanks for listening.”
“No prob. See you soon,” she heard Beth say before they finally hung up.
Bonnie, as Arrowette, had been in the habit of going out on patrols along with Flare almost every night lately, but after what happened to Amanda, they were both much more cautious. Hearing what had happened to Grant Emerson, alias Damage of the Junior JSA, had only confirmed the growing fear that they were being hunted — or toyed with. Amanda could easily have been killed once she’d become unconscious and lowered her shields. And yet, whoever had beaten her within an inch of her life had chosen to let her live. A warning? she thought bitterly. From who? And why? None of this made any sense at all.
She turned off her bedside lamp and crawled into bed. But somehow, she couldn’t feel comfortable enough to close her eyes. It was probably nothing, but she had the eerie feeling that she was being watched.
Bethany Harper, simply called Beth by all her friends and Flare by the newspapers when she fought crime with her partner Arrowette, was working late on her homework. Bonnie’s call had been over an hour ago now, and she had decided to catch up on things now, with finals coming up and all. Somehow, though, she found it hard to keep her mind on her work, and she found herself having to go over sections and questions over and over again, as she kept on thinking about what happened to Amanda and Grant. Finally, after reading the same paragraph for the seventh time, she slammed the book shut in frustration and gave up for the evening.
She wasn’t tired, though, and she had no desire to go to bed. It was only eleven o’clock in the evening, and as she was quite a night owl, she decided to stay up a bit later than usual. She lit the candles she had for just such an evening like this and opened up her bedroom window, sitting in front of it and breathing in the cool night air.
It was a full moon, and so it was bright enough outside to see all the way down the street. She lived in a pretty sleepy suburb of Star City, and the only people outside at this hour were dog owners getting one last walk in before going to bed. God, this is a boring town, she thought. But it’s times like this that I love it.
She closed her eyes and found herself relaxed on the windowsill.
A breeze suddenly wafted inside, though, and all her candles blew out. “Oh, shoot,” she mumbled as she reached to shut the window. Then she noticed the moon disappearing behind several clouds, or at least what she assumed to be clouds. Little did she know that the entire city was slowly being cloaked in a similar darkness.
“What’s her condition?” Dr. Charles McNider asked his stepdaughter’s doctor, trying his best to keep his voice from cracking. His wife Myra Mason McNider stood at his side, holding his arm close to her.
The doctor looked concerned. “Well, the fact is, Dr. McNider, that she should be healing by now. I can’t explain it. There’s been no recovery at all since she became conscious.”
“What do you mean, no recovery?” Myra said frantically.
“Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s like her body itself is preventing her from being healed.”
“What are you going to do? She’s my baby!” said Myra, thinking of her daughter in her hospital bed, her pretty face now a bruised, purple mess. They’d had to break her nose again in order to set it properly.
The doctor considered for a moment. Then said, “This may be an unorthodox idea, but…”
“What is it?” said Charles.
“It may be that she’s not allowing herself to be healed. She’s been through a terrible trauma, and she feels absolutely powerless. That’s the only thing that I can think of that could possibly explain this. I’m sorry, but until she decides to get better, I don’t see any changes happening. I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. McNider. I am very sorry.” At that, he regretfully walked away.
“My baby…” Myra said, weeping in Charles’ chest. “My baby…”
“Don’t worry, Myra,” Charles said, trying to believe it himself, “she’ll get better. She’ll get better…”
But in his heart, Charles McNider, alias Doctor Mid-Nite, couldn’t see a way out of this. And he still had no idea who it had been who attacked her. But considering that she had her powerful Star Sapphire gemstone to protect her, as well as her power over the human nervous system, her attacker or attackers had to have been powerful, indeed. Something had to be done, but what?
It was much later, and Star City lay enveloped in darkness.
Nary a star could be seen in the sky, even though it was nighttime. No clouds were visible, either. And the streetlights were too dim to carry their light very far. It was as if there were a heavy fog obscuring view within a radius of ten feet everywhere. Yet there was no such fog present. All that could be seen and felt was the cold darkness that surrounded all, outdoors and indoors.
Beth Harper was freaked out — very freaked out. She didn’t know why — she had never been afraid of the dark, at least not since she was a little girl, and she couldn’t think of any reason why she had this creepy feeling. She just did. It was time to call Bonnie.
The telephone rang. Bonnie picked it up before her mom woke up, although the telephone in her bedroom was on her own line. “Hello?”
“Bonnie, did I wake you?” Beth’s voice was hushed, but sounded strange.
“N-no, no, Beth, I couldn’t sleep,” she replied. “Um… are you OK? You sound a little weird.”
“Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”
Normally, Bonnie would have attributed Beth’s feeling as just being the fact that she was home alone this weekend. But she had the same feeling. “I know… I can feel it, too.”
“Can you come over?”
“Sure, Beth. I’ll be over as quickly as I can. Don’t worry.”