by Tynnechris and Dan Swanson
Somewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere, December, 1985:
Canary was hungry — very hungry. Several days of nutro-bars just weren’t convincing her system she had eaten. At least Horus had stopped hallucinating, which was the only pleasant detail of a thoroughly disgusting day. Gina Lance knew that their mission so far had not gone well. Her team had materialized way off course, perhaps due to the inexperience of Greenfire. Weary and lost, their morale was dangerously low.
Theresa Knight and Drake Burroughs had gotten news that the Ragnarok event had occurred, and for a while all their efforts went into trying to fix the time-cube, but no luck. She was a crime-fighter, not a time-scientist. Star Lass was able to keep its communication channel open, at least. When news reached that the JSA had returned from the event, they all knew there was no more time. The warning and aid had to come now, while Mekanique’s influence over future events from this time was still in a window of low ebb. Drake, wonder of wonders, looked to be their salvation. Who’d have ever thought that would happen?
“I’m sorry, Canary. I really am. I know you think I’m just being a jerk again, but I’m serious. The most I’ve ever been able to do with this blasted Starheart power is blast and fly. Maybe the accident that merged it with me changed it so it’s all I can do.” Greenfire’s odd crackle of a voice sounded worn out and despairing instead of the hot tone it usually took. His visor seemed dimmer than ever. It was time for a little of Canary’s patented tough love.
“Bull-crap! The power you hold is one of the mightiest mojos in the entire multiverse!” She went right into his personal space, and he flinched back, which was odd, since he claimed that his physical sensations were nil. Well, that was too bad. “The Green Lantern could use his power to create objects, people, grow, shrink, walk through walls, translate languages, you name it! And the power could definitely take us to the JSA Brownstone in an instant! You just have to have the will and the belief, Drake!”
“I… this power is too much. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t even deserve it. I’m just an idiot who got caught in an accident. Why can’t you see that?! I’ll fail — like I’ve done before.”
He had never said anything like this before. He sounded sincere, sounded contrite. Canary was surprised to feel her cheeks wet. Tears — lovely. “You… you aren’t a failure, Drake. You’re just intense and try too hard to seem… Oh, I don’t know how to put it. You do try, even though you hate it. You help us. That’s not failure, it’s strength — it’s heroism. I admire you… when you do that.” She thought she heard him gasp. Or was that her? She felt a light pressure on her shoulder, and she looked up. His gloved hand was on her shoulder, just slightly.
“Get Theresa and Horus. I’m going to take us to the JSA. I have the power, after all.”
She smiled, just for a moment. “It’s about blasted time!” she thundered next.
Horus, the one called the Hawk Lad by his people due to the strange resemblance he bore to the look of the armor and helm once worn by the legendary Carter Hall, was confused. He tried to connect to the here and now. He was the first Feitheran member of the Legion of Justice. They were on a mission to save the great heroes of the past, including the inspiration for them all, the JSA. If they failed, Amgov would be replaced by an even worse regime, the twenty-third century transformed into a place where all were under the boot of the fascistic reign of Vandal Savage. It was the Legion’s most important mission yet, and he must concentrate on getting it together, he realized.
But if he let his mind wander, suddenly that seemed like someone else’s life, someone else’s problem. He was above a city like one seen in the twentieth-century holo-room at Knight Base. He was soaring, a helm over his face, the most beautiful woman in the world soaring beside him. They were so happy together, knowing they were meant to be eternal mates. Shiera…
“Horus?” It was Star Lass — Theresa Knight. She was by him, serving as a reminder of the mission to warn the JSA here and now. “Join hands with Drake and I, Horus. We don’t want to risk losing anyone.”
He joined hands with her and Greenfire. His eyes were drawn to the star-field pattern of her costume; it was fascinating. Like the stars over the desert sky… in the palace made of stone… the Pharaoh’s gods took a dim gleam underneath them… Horus shook his head hard.
Greenfire concentrated his magical flame about them, and soon they were awash in cool, flickering green. It felt alive with purpose, with his will. There was a moment of intense brightness, and then a sound:
Then they were somewhere else. It was a brightly lit room full of wonderful and strange artifacts and figures.
“The JSA trophy room!” cried Canary. “I could kiss you, Green!”
“Too bad I don’t have lips, then, huh?”
His ears must have been deceiving him. Horus would have thought Drake had just told a joke if he didn’t know better.
“We finally did it!” Theresa was flushed with wonder. “We’ll be able to warn the forebears — and probably help them save the day, too, if Cathy’s team did their part! This may sound goofy, but I’m really looking forward to our first team-up!”
Horus had to laugh, and so did the others. The prospect of a great battle after all the hopeless waiting actually seemed sweet.
“You’re right — it does sound goofy!” a harsh voice at the other end of the room injected. The Legionnaires turned as one. Perched on a model of the All-Star Squadron Perisphere was a girl dressed in a scarlet robe, a fragment of an old gold mask covering one eye.
“Psycho Queen,” said Canary. “Perfect.”
Canary’s movements seemed slow and casual, but they were deliberate. “I’m not going to ask how you got here or what you’re doing,” said Canary. “I already know–” Before she finished the word know, she was whirling in a move that would put that Emma Peel lady from the vintage Earth vids to shame. Her move connected — but with the Perisphere model. Psycho Queen had vanished.
“Actions before words. How typical,” the sneering voice came from behind them. The Legionnaires turned again. A hollow feeling was starting to form in the pit of their collective stomach. “Did you forget we have Mekanique on our side? We’ve been ready for you for hours. Take out the — snort — ‘big gun’ first, Fabricator.”
A boy in black, wearing a cowl, materialized by Psycho Queen. His hand glinted before the young heroes could react. Greenfire clunked down on the floor, his containment suit coated with wood, the Starheart’s weakness. It was something of a shock.
“You guys are good enough in the twenty-third century at the hero bit, but you really suck at this time-travel thing!” tittered the Queen. “Leave the rest to us, Fab. We need a warm-up!” Several other figures began to materialize and rush forward.
Horus hoped this was another hallucination. Yeah, he should be so lucky.
Las Vegas, February, 1987:
Outside the bathroom where Squad B was holed up, a strange-looking gangster and his henchman turned when they heard screaming coming from the bathroom behind them. “You were supposed to kill him!” snarled the gangster, whose extremely odd appearance had earned him the nickname of Ape-Face. This was Vincenzo “Ape-Face” Dyke, son of George Dyke, once known as the Gorilla Boss of Gotham City, and he was already pissed off about Stretch O’Brien and his squeeze escaping from beneath his clutches again. Now the bellboy who had walked in the wrong place at the wrong time was apparently still alive, too, despite his orders to leave no witnesses behind. (*) His men were idiots.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Stretch O’Brien: Weekend in Vegas, which takes place immediately before this scene.]
“Dat was a dame, boss!” protested his minion, Lou Rossi. Before he could protest further, a man in a black costume came through the door, moving fast. Rossi fired once, reflexively, and missed. They noticed his face or mask was feral-looking like that of a jungle cat, but Ape-Face was nonplussed.
“There shouldn’t be anyone in the bathroom but a corpse, Rossi. Get the boys in here!” Ape-Face snarled. “I’ll take care of this one.” He stepped toward WildCat, who stopped in front of him and looked him over.
Ape-Face was well over seven feet tall and had muscles like he was a workout freak on steroids. He easily destroyed pro wrestlers and prizefighters in casual workouts. And he had the face of an ape.
WildCat made an exaggerated sniff. “A stink beast! Neverrr thought I’d get to see one. Yourrr kind has been extinct on my planet forrr centurrries. Too weak and stupid to compete with Pumans.” He sniffed again and turned away in disgust.
Ape-Face roared, raised both hands above his head, and brought them down on WildCat’s head like a club — or he tried to, anyway. Without looking back, Cat casually stepped aside, and the powerful blow missed. Ape-Face staggered around for a second like a drunk.
Meanwhile, Rossi had pulled a small electronic device from his pocket and pressed a button. The connecting doors to the suites on either side of this one swung open, and armed gunmen stepped into the already trashed room.
“Gentlemen, I don’t know who or what this weirdo is. I propose that we take him apart and investigate.” Ape-Face sneered at WildCat. “Don’t expect any help, weirdo. There’s nobody on the four floors below us but my army. If you stand still, I might make it fast for you.” He laughed, not a pleasant sound at all. “Or probably not.”
Rossi pulled a knife and advanced on the furry hero. “I don’t know where the $%^* you came from, pussycat, but you’re goin’ straight to Hell!”
At that moment, Golden Boy emerged from the bathroom. Several of the startled thugs fired at him reflexively. Most of them didn’t miss. The bullets made big round dents in his body, and he was jerked this way and that, but he kept walking forward. When he was still standing after thirty or so hits, the thugs stopped firing. His body returned to its normal shape, and bullets popped out of him and fell to the floor. For an instant, there was no other movement in the room.
Then WildCat turned and swept an open-handed blow, like a slap, at Ape-Face’s unprotected stomach. Dyke would have laughed at the feeble blow, until he realized that WildCat’s fingers were tipped with needle-sharp claws, his shirt had been torn away, and there were now four oozing scratches across his abs.
At that same instant, Golden Boy reached toward a handful of the nearest killers, and his hands expanded into giant ice-cream scoops. He clapped them together, trapping the thugs inside, although there were still some pieces sticking out — a couple of arms, a leg, even a head — and then he started shaking his hands like a gambler warming up the dice at a craps table. The ugly sounds coming from within the golden sphere of his hands and the screaming from the head of the man still on the outside broke the temporary paralysis.
Ape-Face picked up a lounge chair and attempted to slam WildCat with it. Cat easily leaped over the swing and landed lightly on the chair as it swung by under him. A dozen thugs, including Rossi, converged on Sandy. The chair crashed to the floor and Ape-Face stumbled, and WildCat leaped again toward his head, batting his ears and taking out several chunks as he flew by. Sandy spun around and used the heavy sphere at the end of his arms as a mace, and a dozen thugs were flying backward, some smashing into other thugs who were coming into the room, others smashing into the walls and the furniture. Fortunately, none of them were knocked through the smashed French doors and over the edge of the balcony.
Ape-Face roared, spun, and charged more quickly than WildCat could have expected, and he caught Cat with a vicious swinging blow as he lunged forward. Cat staggered backward into the bathroom and seemed to collapse. Ape-Face roared in wordless triumph and was about to charge forward again when a red-headed girl in a red, yellow, and green costume appeared, stepping out of the bathroom. Once again, the action paused for a microsecond that seemed endless.
Kid Terrific had used her twenty-third-century knowledge of anatomy and pressure points to reduce the worst bleeding, convincing the damaged arteries to temporarily close down. She and Jemi Olsen had then used good old twentieth-century first-aid techniques to bind the wounds, using a roll of medicated bandages she pulled from the Legion first-aid kit in her utility belt. Military-grade stimulants and painkillers, illegal for civilian use, and an injection of nanites designed to speed up healing and blood production, and the bellboy would probably live to reach a hospital — unless some madman attacked him again. Kid Terrific was determined to prevent that.
She left him to Jemi’s care and went to help her teammates. She barely avoided WildCat as he was thrown through the bathroom door, and then she stepped directly into the path of the charging giant.
He was incredibly angry at Rossi’s incompetence, made worse by being mocked and then cut by a man-sized house cat. With blood caked on his stomach and flowing freely from his butchered ears, he was a grim and fearsome sight. Kid Terrific looked like a child in front of him. And yet she was eerily, incredibly calm as she spoke.
“You look like the boss here. I’m holding you responsible for the life of that kid in there.”
“Rossi!” Ape-Face snarled at his subordinate. “You screwed up — the kid’s still alive. Take care of it for me, will ya, while the rest of us take care of the kiddie brigade.” He sneered at her.
Kid Terrific sighed. “It’s always the hard way, isn’t it?” She moved so fast that Ape-Face couldn’t even see the blur and delivered a powerful side-kick to his chest. It might have been more effective higher up, but she couldn’t reach his jaw. As he staggered backward, she gave orders to her teammates. “You guys clean up the trash, and I’ll take care of the rat.”
WildCat, who was just now stepping back into the room, roared and leaped at the nearest group of bad guys. At the sight of a man-sized panther flying at them, roaring in anger, more than one of the tough guys voided themselves. Neither WildCat nor Golden Boy were particularly gentle with villains, and within seconds, there were injured and unconscious bad guys littering the room, while the ones still standing were trying to flee though whatever door they could reach. But with WildCat’s speed and agility and Golden Boy’s ability to stretch, grab, and pull any would-be escapee back into the room, the thugs were truly outnumbered.
In the other room, the injured bellboy opened his eyes to see Jemi leaning down over him. “You must be an angel!” he whispered.
She was flustered and didn’t know how to respond. “I’m… I’m not an angel, I’m just Jemi. Who are you?”
“Stan,” he whispered. “Stanley Heinlein Beamish.” He grimaced. “Parents are sci-fi fans,” he said, trying to laugh, but he passed out again.
He thinks I’m an angel! Jemi thought to herself as she continued to tend his wounds.
In the main room of the expensive hotel suite, Kid Terrific was coldly and methodically administering a vicious beating to the thoroughly outclassed Ape-Face. Though she was less than half his mass, she was much faster, and her enhanced knowledge of human anatomy, plus her mastery of every fighting technique known by twenty-third century humanity (from a memory module she almost never removed, except for updates), allowed her to unerringly do maximum damage with each blow. Ape-Face was soon reduced to covering himself, as he was totally unable to land a blow.
“Bitch!” he screamed at her. “Coward! Stand and fight me if you @*&^in’ dare!” She backed slightly out of range and broke off her attack.
“You dare call me a coward? A scumbag who orders his toadies to torture and kill innocent people? You just made this personal!” She spat at his feet. “Tell you what. I’ll stand — and I’ll give you one free shot. Knock me out, and my teammates will let you walk out of here — by yourself.” She paused and looked around. None of his hired men were still standing. “Sorry, that was redundant, wasn’t it?” She smiled sweetly at him. “If I’m still able to fight afterwards, well, that will be just too bad for you.” She casually moved aside as he kicked at her viciously.
“I won’t even count that as your one shot.” She stepped forward. “One shot, free — better take it now; it’s your last offer. OK with you, boys?” She looked at her teammates, who shrugged. They weren’t worried.
She skipped toward him, slapped him hard on one cheek, then the other, faster than he could react. She deliberately drew blood with one of her blows. “Time’s running out, ugly. Last chance!” She then stopped moving as she awaited his response.
Ape-Face was so angry he could hardly be called human any more. His adrenaline was pumping, and his artificially enhanced muscles were bursting with power. He had no concept of fair play — Kid Terrific’s motto — and whatever human inhibitions he might have had were overwhelmed by his anger.
He struck with a tremendous overhead right, driving down on her with all his prodigious power, stepping into the punch to add momentum from his three-hundred-pound body mass to the blow. His hand flew toward her jaw like a cannonball driven by a cruise missile. With her heightened reflexes, she watched it approach as if it were in slow motion. She turned and tilted her head slightly so he would strike her in the side of the jaw. No use getting broken teeth or a broken nose out of this. It was going to hurt enough as it was.
Still, she was currently the preeminent martial artist in human history, she knew how to roll with punches, and she had spent years working out with the best fighters General Urbane could find in her Legion training. She had been hyperventilating for the last twenty seconds or so, charging her blood with extra oxygen. A special reflex, hypnotically planted into her brain, allowed her to trigger her adrenal gland, flooding her system with adrenaline. And at the last instant before the blow landed, she let her body collapse, almost as if all her muscles had just changed to kite strings.
The punch snapped her head to the side and perhaps would have broken her neck, but her costume had built-in shock absorbers that dissipated the massive twisting force safely. She was driven downward, and she collapsed like a rag doll. Her conscious mind went partially online, and it was only her body’s instinctive reaction that allowed her to slap the ground and roll with the blow, and she smashed into the wall and came to a halt.