by Dan Swanson
Vandal Savage — the white-haired one who had been Joh Fredersen of Metropolis — was preparing for a pre-battle feast straight from his barbaric past. (*) He was seated at a table the size of a swimming pool that was practically groaning from the weight of the food it supported. There must have been a dozen varieties of meat, fish, and fowl prepared in as many styles, a couple varieties of fish, platters piled high with fruits, steaming vegetable trays, several big pitchers of beer, and a dozen different wine and liquor bottles of exotic shapes and colors. It was enough to feed an orgy of fifty people, and was certainly more than a single man, even an immortal man with huge appetites, could eat in a week — even with the help of the dozen beautiful, scantily clad women attending him.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Suicide Squad: Path of the Immortal, Chapter 7: The Gemstone.]
When the fully battle-equipped Legion of Justice suddenly appeared in his midst, Savage reacted with aplomb. “I’ve had very few foes who dared interrupt my pre-battle preparations. I applaud your courage, if not your wit. Perhaps I could convince you to join me rather than disrupt my preparations with tedious and futile battle. It would certainly be a novel experience!”
The five Justice Legionnaires didn’t know how to react. They had known, intellectually, that Vandal Savage was an alternate version of General Urbane, but they were still stunned. This man looked and sounded — with only a few minor differences — almost exactly like the commander many of them had grown up idolizing, and now hated and feared. At least what they had learned about Urbane in the past few years gave them some indication of how unpredictable and treacherous this man could be.
But they weren’t used to facing foes who weren’t violently attacking them. Canary responded first. “I’d prefer the novel experience of a villain surrendering before we kick his ass!” She was astonished to hear a quaver in her voice.
“And you are so confident that you are always the heroes and your foes are always the villains, aren’t you?” Savage responded dryly. “You so called heroes are so pathetically predictable,” he sighed.
“Ladies,” he said, waving at some of the women seated around the table, “depart. Please notify Jeeves to set a new table in the alternate dining room and have the disposal crew come by in a half an hour to clean up the mess in here. The rest, attend!”
The Legion watched in indecision as nine of the women got up and filed out. Timepiece whispered to Canary, “My sensors show that the ones who are leaving are human. Mekanique didn’t tell us about any real people in this place!”
She whispered back, “Mekanique keeping secrets? Surprise, surprise! Uptime, follow them, and make sure they get out safely!” Rex raced for the door. “Damn it, Rex!” she yelled at him. “I said, uptime!” He still didn’t vanish. Why couldn’t he just for once do what she ordered him to do?
Canary turned back to Savage. “You’re not going to be up to resuming your meal anytime soon.” She was having trouble speaking; her throat was so tight. She felt hot and flushed, and her breathing was labored, as if there wasn’t enough air in the room. It wasn’t just because he was, for all intents and purposes, her former commanding officer; it was also because Vandal Savage was tens of thousands of years old and was a formidable figure in his own right. He had undeniable gravitas.
Savage completely ignored her forced defiance. “The yellow noisy one is mine. Dispose of the others,” he ordered his remaining companions nonchalantly. “I will save her for my dessert.”
Canary was terrified at that statement. It made her almost physically ill to think of how many other young women might have heard similar words from Savage over his millennia-long existence — and the thought of what he might have done to those thousands of women was driving her into a panic. Savage started moving toward her. She tried to defend herself or dodge or even run away, but her panic was out of control. She was so terrified she couldn’t even move. And Savage advanced on her like a mountain lion on a helpless rabbit.
One of the women charged at Greenfire, changing shape and color as she moved. She seemed to grow dark-brownish-red plate armor with long, wicked barbs sticking out all over her body, and pointed weapons appeared in her hands — a spear and a sword.
“I’ve heard of you, greenie. Your powers can’t affect Ms. Mahogany!” She swept her sword around in a vicious arc, and it cut right through the green glow surrounding Greenfire. He managed to duck and backed away. She followed up with a stab with the spear, and while Greenfire was dodging that, she struck him with the sword. The blow impacted his containment suit and knocked him backward.
There was more than one shape-changer at Savage’s table. A second woman sprang out of her chair and flew toward Hawk Lad. As she flew, her form changed. Wings sprouted and the shape of her head changed until she was wearing a mask with feathers and a sharp beak, and her filmy outfit changed to the green, yellow, and red costume of Shiera Sanders, Hawkgirl.
She attacked Hawk Lad with the medieval morning star she was now carrying. “I am Nemesister. My power is to draw from your mind the image of the one foe you are unable to face, and then become that foe!”
The third woman charged at Star Lass, and as she approached, the two were surrounded by a large, flat black bubble. It was pitch-black inside the bubble as well, and Star Lass couldn’t see anything. She had never before fought this member of the Legion of Doom, but she recognized her from her powers.
“Cosmivore!” she yelped. She willed her cosmic rod to generate light — and got a spark. She concentrated harder, but nothing changed, and then she gasped as she realized that she was out of cosmic power. Cosmivore’s shield blocked any cosmic power from reaching her from outside, and her energy-absorbing power quickly deleted the power stored in the cosmic rod. She was trapped in total darkness with a deadly foe without the use of her greatest weapon.
Canary struggled to understand and overcome her fear and fight Vandal Savage at the same time. Her mind fought against her body, forcing it to stay and fight when all she wanted to do was run away as fast as she could. This affected her in many ways; what was obvious to Savage was that this ultra-skilled combatant was incredibly slow, and her fighting techniques were basic at best. She had to force herself to move, and as a result, she was jerky and slow, her blocks were ineffective, and she could not even find the aggressiveness to launch an attack.
“So, you are the leader of the vaunted Legion of Justice? One of the most skilled combatants of your era? Bah! Your Earth had grown soft without me to lead it! I am doing everyone a favor by replacing it!” With that, he launched a vicious attack, punching and kicking, even spitting in her eyes when he had the chance. It was hopeless — she was only managing to dodge or block half of his blows, and even the ones she blocked were painful.
Why was she even still alive? She slowly realized he was toying with her; his blows were designed to inflict pain without killing her, and this made her angry. She might be outmatched in this fight, but she was no one’s toy. And her anger started to burn through her fear. Her blocks improved, and although she still was unable to launch an attack of her own, Savage was no longer hurting her with his newest attacks. He didn’t seem to realize this — he kept pressing her confidently and seemed to be running through every variation of vicious, sneaky, dirty fighting tactic she had ever seen.
The difference between being battered unmercifully and being able to successfully block or dodge many attacks was almost like a rest period for Canary. She could finally bring her mind into play, and she was thinking desperately.
She forced her mind to consider her panic. Fear was healthy; it primed the body for action, focused the mind on the current dangers, and helped the body ignore pain. A trained fighter could use her fear as a tool, making her more formidable. But panic could get her killed. With her first rational thought of the fight, Canary realized she had totally forgotten about one of her greatest weapons — her sonic scream. She immediately let loose, channeling her remaining panic into a tremendously powerful roar:
The Legion leader had studied animals attacking and had decided that the roar of an enraged tiger attacking an enemy — a low-frequency sound in the infrasound range — was the most frightening sound she could emulate. Her power allowed her to duplicate this fearful attack warning, yet many times louder, and with a number of her own special enhancements. She added some sub-sonics to induce a little fear of her own, and some high frequencies in an attempt to induce dizziness and loss of balance. Caught off-guard, Savage jerked backward, and Canary was able to totally break contact with her foe, at least temporarily.
She had to gain even more time to figure this out. Her panic had to be artificially induced. She knew she was not a coward — she’d faced deadly fighters and horrible deaths many times before.
Canary began to sing in frequencies normally inaudible to humans. As long as she could keep singing, she would be shielded from external sonic attacks, but the panic didn’t subside. She scrambled to the other side of the giant table and turned a different scream on the spread on the table. Like something cooked too long in a microwave, many of the different foods on the table exploded, and a cloud of vaporized food and tableware flew toward Savage, drenching him in gunk and battering him with shards of ceramic and bone.
She had fought Psycho Queen several times before, and she had learned to battle the villain’s emotion-controlling powers, and now she was using everything she had learned. But this didn’t feel like emotions forced on her from outside; this panic came from within her, but it still didn’t seem like it was part of her.
As she quickly replayed the fight in her mind, she realized that Savage’s fighting was familiar. Of course! she thought. He was the exact same person as General Urbane for the first nine thousand years of his life; he may have learned some new techniques in the three-hundred years since their timelines separated, but his basic style has to be ingrained after that much time.
That thought led her to remember previous training sessions with General Urbane, and she started to realize what might be behind this unexpected panic attack. From the day she’d joined the Legion Academy until the day she and her teammates had resigned from the Legion, she’d seen Urbane fight every Legionnaire and every trainee in training sessions, and she’d fought him herself many times. And not once had he been beaten — not even when he’d been apparently vastly overmatched. That was impossible; Amgov must have messed with their minds and implanted some kind of mental block in each of them.
“Why am I not surprised?” she snarled to herself. “Why did it take me so long to figure it out?”
Greenfire used his green aura to melt the bulkhead behind him and quickly backed into the next room. The green energy quickly took the form of a jigsaw, and within a second, Greenfire was holding a sword and shield made from the steel of the floor. The next time Ms. Mahogany attacked, he easily cut through her spear and blocked the next swing of her sword.
“You are very clever, human!” the android snarled, and then her wooden hands grew so quickly it was almost like she was shooting water from a fire hose — water made of mahogany. The mass grew so large so quickly that she was able to entangle both sword and shield in a thorny mess before Greenfire could react. This seemed like a successful tactic, so she continued her wild growth. “The green glow of life feeds me! I will fill this room with thorns and trap you in a cage of wood!”
“Just like Fabricator, eh? I admit to being stubborn, but I’m not stupid enough to fall for the same trick twice!” A golden glow enclosed his green aura, speckled with golden sparkles. He gestured, and several large golden circular saw blades appeared floating in the air, attached to his aura with narrow golden cables. They grew larger and began spinning, and almost instantly the air filled with a buzz like thousands of wasps. The blades flew through the air, swirling around the android, and wooden branches and tendrils started falling to the floor. “Cosmic vorpal saws!” Greenfire laughed as the android drew back.
Greenfire began to advance and then stiffened, screamed, and fell to the floor squirming. A stream of green energy flowed away from him, and the golden aura shrank inward like a deflating balloon. The saw blades fell to the floor and shrunk as well. He tried to scream out in pain, but all that came out were some feeble squeaks.
Ms. Mahogany reacted quickly. She managed to stick a stubby branch into the green stream, and she grew visibly; her lost limbs and branches regenerated, leaving the stream somewhat diminished. She quickly grew hundreds of heavy mallets at the ends of many of her branches and limbs, then pounded unmercifully on the writhing hero. He was unable to evade, but his new golden shield was blocking the blows, though it was being dented and battered under hundreds of powerful blows. And he was being shaken around as if he were caught in the mouth of a hungry shark.
“That better be enough, twinkles!” The green stream quickly stopped. The shield and blades gradually inflated, and it stiffened. The dents popped out of the shield, and the violent shaking ceased.
“What a wonderful combination — magic and science! Wish I could do this all the time!” He stood up and faced the android. “You’ll make some great-looking furniture in the Knight Base drawing room! Sayonara.”
The vorpal saws made a sound like snicker-snack, and he left it dead without a head.
Greenfire noticed his new surroundings for the first time. He was in some kind of control room, surrounded by scraps and pieces of beautiful red-brown mahogany. He used his new cosmic-powered force-field to gather it all into a bundle and slapped a device of some kind on the pile. It vanished.
“Greenfire to Gernsback! Keep an eye on this for me, will you, Gerns?” he signaled on his subspace link to Knight Base. “My contribution to the Knight Base beautification project!”
Mahogany had been extinct for over two-hundred years in his own timeline due to over-harvesting. Mahogany furniture was sure to impress visitors. Of course, who knew what would replace their old era? Would they ever even have visitors again?
Star Lass had never done well in the blindfolded hand-to-hand combat training sessions at the Legion Academy or, to be honest, any hand-to-hand training ever. She’d never seen the point. With the cosmic rod surgically implanted into her nervous system, nobody could neutralize her weapon without killing her. At least, that had been her theory. She did remember a basic rule, though — keep the enemy off-balance by doing something unexpected.
So she dived forward, a little left of where Cosmivore had been standing, and scuttled quickly forward until she reached the other side of the bubble enclosing them. As she moved, she pulled off her left gauntlet. I hoped I wouldn’t have to use this, she thought. But I hope it works!