Professor Bruce Gordon spoke before the assembled scientists and Kompera Lee.
“Pardon me if I ramble a bit leading up to my encounter with the agents of Ryo-Wo. My father was a second-generation businessman born in the city of Gotham. His father, in gratitude for the services of a local doctor, named his son Thomas Gordon before they eventually moved. In turn, my father named me after the son of the doctor. I suppose if I ever get around to having children I might continue the tradition.
“My father and mother were of different ages when they got married, so it was no surprise to anyone except for a young child when he passed away from a massive coronary. My mother grieved for several years until my father’s young business partner began to woo her. Maybe he actually loved my mother, but he loathed me with a deep passion.” Gordon absently began to polish his glasses as he spoke.
“I was still a teenager, though self-absorbed in my own pursuits, which included photography. I got a job with a New York paper as a photographer. The editor of the paper cured me of any desires to continue that career with his abrasive and stingy mannerisms. The other guy that started work at the same time is now a relatively well-known photographer, married to some sort of redheaded model and actress. He was the one that suggested I try to become a scientist due to my interest in light.
“So I went back to studying, trying to pull my grades up enough to get into a good college. Even I was shocked by the fact that I had a real aptitude for the field, especially involving solar power. I managed to get into a good college and earn a degree at a fast pace. All the while my stepfather plotted to get rid of me. He got his best chance when I took off to find a perfect place to build my dream city powered by the energy of the sun.
“I prefer not to mention the exact place I chose to build my city, due to what happened there. I and a specially chosen team had finished work on the city when we were attacked by pirates. Actually, pirates hired by my stepfather to kidnap me and then arrange a gruesome demise. They destroyed the city and wiped out the others. I still have the occasional nightmare about my golden city being stained by blood before exploding into pieces.
“They took me to their base and began a war of attrition on my sanity. I had no concept of day or night in my featureless cell. They fed me drugs, which caused intense bursts of hallucinations of terrible things. Sometimes I thought I was a creature of vengeance or a drowning fish. This lasted for two to three months as my mind became less and less sane.
“So when a man burst into my cell and offered to take me to freedom, I thought he was another delusion. He said that Ryo-Wo had heard of the destruction of the city from another survivor of the pirate attack and had ordered his agents to see if anyone else was still alive. I still didn’t believe that the man was real, but told him that I had never even heard of this Ryo-Wo. He told me that Ryo-Wo was a benevolent man dedicated to making a world a better place through his actions or the actions of others. Ryo-Wo felt no need for credit for his works and much rather preferred to operate unnoticed.
“The agent led me away from the island to freedom. I spent the next couple of months recovering at a private hospital where the agent had left me. It was soon after I was ready to leave that the agent returned. He handed me a folder with the correspondence between the pirates and my stepfather with a great deal of regret. I knew that the man loathed me, but to see his words on paper about the best ways to make me suffer sickened me. The agent of Ryo-Wo offered me a plan of attack composed by his employer, which I agreed to.
“The rest of it was in the papers about my return and the unveiling of the links between my imprisonment and my stepfather. My mother was alternately devastated by her husband’s plot and the safe return of her son. I sold most of the company to interested parties and combined the rest into a research and development facility to research into the various branches of light, with myself as the lead in the solar field.
“No one from Ryo-Wo had contacted me again until I was invited to this conference. It’s gratifying to hear your stories about the man.” Gordon donned his well-polished glasses and looked around the table.
The attractive, well-groomed lady from Asian descent spoke in a pure California accent. “I will go next, if no one minds, even though the story I will tell concerns my father and not I,” began Dr. Yokito Oka.
“My father was a proud citizen of Japan, but felt committed to a path of pacifism. After the war started, the more patriotic members of his country shunned him. Fortunately, his protector was quite skilled in the arts of Ninjutsu, so the shunning was of the mental variety. My father was one of the most brilliant men of his time and even ours in the field of genetics.
“He seldom, if ever, talked about the bombing of Nagasaki, but it changed him dramatically. Only the comradeship of the men who arranged his rescue before the bombing prevented him from descending completely into madness. The internment camps were a spur to his hatred of America, eventually leading him to working for a man known as Vandal Savage.
“My father, to his shame, created a virus designed to eliminate certain individuals by bonding to their DNA and unraveling it. On the day that the virus was supposed to be released, Ryo-Wo and my father’s protector showed up to confront him about the horror he was going to unleash upon the world. My father’s true spirit reasserted itself then, and — working with the others — went to each and every location and destroyed the virus before it could be released.
“Ryo-Wo, knowing that Vandal Savage would try to destroy my father, aided him in disappearing from the world. My father devoted his life to working on curing the effects of the radiation on the genetic structure, as well as several other projects to bolster and improve life. It was many years later that he fell in love and had a daughter, me. I decided early on to continue my father’s work and so became a scientist.”
Yokito Oka stopped her story to look directly into the eyes of Kompera Lee. Only he saw the wink that she gave him as she turned her attention to the others. “That’s the basic story without all of the fascinating details that would make the story last most of the day. Someone else can go now.”
“Thanks, pretty lady. I will go next, since I hate being last, if Mr. Black and Miss Lincoln don’t mind.” Professor John Starr made sure that they nodded their heads before starting his story.
“Now it might surprise you to learn that back in my younger days I had a bit of a temper. I came close to being thrown out of school several times for the brawls that I got into. Mainly because I felt that either someone lied to me or betrayed me. One of my worst rivals was especially good at goading me into a frenzy. He was smart but lazy, so would steal other people’s ideas and claim them as his own.”
Starr gulped some of the coffee in his cup before returning to his story. “We all graduated and went on to pursue careers in our various fields. I was doing deep research into an avenue of chronal science when I discovered that my old rival had stolen some of my earlier data and published it as his own. I admit to going ballistic and trying to beat him into a pulp, but that was all.
“Imagine my surprise when several days later the police came knocking on my door with a warrant for my arrest for the guy’s murder. I lost my temper again when they tried to put the cuffs on me, so they had to call in backup to bring me down. I then spent the next couple of days in jail, still in shock. The court appointed me a lawyer named Matt Murdock. My shock and his relative newness to his position led to the trial being almost a complete farce.
“The district attorney produced a string of witnesses to my attempt to beat the guy up. Then he produced evidence about my fingerprints being on the remains of the casing of the bomb that had blown up the guy’s car. I thought that I was going to jail for a very long time, if they didn’t put me in the chair. It was then that a man — an agent of Ryo-Wo — approached me about someone believing that I was innocent of this crime.
“I had halfway convinced myself that I was guilty, with all of the evidence that the police produced, so it was a shock to hear someone else say that they thought I was innocent. The man asked that I bring in a co-counsel to aid in my defense while his employer searched for the evidence that would clear me. The lawyer was a tall, attractive woman with a confident attitude. Her name was Jennifer Walters, and she was a professional with experience in criminal defense.
“Meanwhile, the detectives that this Ryo-Wo hired were busy going back over the trail of evidence. They pieced together the real story of what went on. I can’t remember their last names, but he was called Richard and she was named Rose. The guy was a big-time gambler who owed a lot of money to the mob. He had already received several warnings and was given one last chance to pay up or suffer the consequences. It was when I showed up and tried to beat him into a pulp that he realized that he could kill two birds with one stone.
“I think that my new lawyer could have gotten me off anyway, despite the new evidence that the two detectives produced. The guy managed to find a decoy to take his place in the car, then made sure that all of the clues pointed to me before blowing the car up. He could then vanish from sight while laughing about putting his worst rival in the slammer. He didn’t expect the detectives to find him out and deliver him directly to the police.
“So this Ryo-Wo helped me keep out of jail by finding talented people to aid me. No one from his organization asked me for anything at that time, or even later down the road. I still keep in contact with the two lawyers, though. They formed a partnership and have done rather well.”
The man at the end of the table cleared his throat. “I suppose that I should let the lady go first, if I was a gentleman, but anyone who knows me would know that’s a lie. My name is Danton Black, with no fancy titles of professor or doctor in front of it. I build nuclear reactors and am a well-respected researcher in the field of nuclear science.
“I worked two jobs trying to make ends meet, while in my spare time I studied. A professor named Stein took an interest in me because of my fierce need to better myself. Everything I am was because of what I did. I don’t owe my success to anyone else.” An arrogant tone crept into Black’s voice as he continued his story. “Stein eventually grew jealous of my potential. He hired two college kids to sabotage the nuclear reactor that I was involved in building. He either didn’t care or didn’t know that the sabotage could result in a major meltdown.
“I was feeling restless that night, so took an unexpected tour of the facilities as a way to relax. I caught the two kids by surprise, but the more athletic one knocked me out. They tied me up in the main reactor and left. Later on, they said that they didn’t know that the reactor was going to come online the next day.
“So I woke up in the reactor, tied up and helpless. I am not a very religious man, but I prayed for some sort of miracle. It was then that a man came in and saved me. He said that he worked for a great man who had been keeping an eye out for people with potential. Naturally enough, I was one of those people. He helped untie me and then aided me in repairing the damage to the reactor.
“So instead of being dead, I became a sort of hero for my actions. The cops caught the two kids, and they named Stein as the instigator of the events. I went on with my life, building several reactors and doing research in nuclear science. Stein ended up in jail for his actions. The two kids got probation. One, Ron Raymond, became some sort of model, while the other, Clifford Carmichael, became a physics teacher. I never did learn the man’s name that thought I had potential until now.
“I would regale you with all the wonderful things I have done, but I really want to know what this Ryo-Wo wants with us. So the lady can go now and tell us her interesting tale.”
The shy older woman named Dr. Louise Lincoln looked around the room, avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes directly. She gazed down at her hands before hesitantly beginning to speak.
“I wanted to be a doctor more than anything else when I was growing up. I studied really hard, which did not leave much time to do other things. The few friends I had told me I was a wallflower. Even they did not understand my obsession with becoming a doctor.
“I managed to squeak through barely and get into medical school. It was so hard trying to keep up. I often thought of just giving up, but I could not bear letting all those people who mocked me win. I was serving in the emergency room when the paramedics brought in a young child who had fallen into the water. He had been in there for a long time before being rescued. Miraculously, the cold water had put the young child into a state of suspended animation.
“The thought of all the lives that could be saved by freezing them, then reviving them when aid was available sparked a fire within me. I was determined to discover a safe way to put people into a frozen state until help was available. My grades were good enough to transfer to a school where I could study cryogenics. Afterwards, I acquired a position at a company that was doing research into the field. My immediate supervisor was a terrible man. He would make improper suggestions to me about getting ahead in the company.”
Louise Lincoln shuddered at the memories that her story brought to mind. “It was not that he made sexual suggestions to me that bothered me the most. It was the fact that he kept pushing the research beyond the limits of safety. I did not know it at the time, but he was already setting me up to be the scapegoat when something did go wrong. He increased his level of harassment to a new degree. I was out of mind with worry and fear as the time for the first test came nearer. It was all part of his scheme to make me succumb to the fear.
“One night I could not take it any more and decided to end my life. I had climbed up onto the bridge railing to jump off, when a stranger asked me what I was doing. I told him to mind his own business as I gazed down at the hard surface below. It was his smile that prevented me from jumping. Even now I cannot explain how his smile kept me from jumping.
“He escorted me off the bridge to a small restaurant, where he listened intently to my tale of woe. He gave me his advice about having confidence in one’s self and not giving in to despair. His talk energized me to speak out for myself. I went above my supervisor’s head to the president of the company. I gave him all of my research information about how my supervisor was pushing the tests to a dangerous level. The president was impressed by my work and arranged to fire my supervisor. He put me in charge of the work, where I still reside today.
“Like Mr. Black, I did not know the name of the person who spoke to me that night until I received a message about this meeting at the scientific conference. My curiosity was aroused, so I came to learn about this Ryo-Wo. He sounds like a great humanitarian to me.”