Dealing with the death of a parent is hard enough. But when that parent was a super-villainess once called the Huntress and a sometime-heroine known as the Tigress, and you’re her heroic daughter Artemis Crock who has to break the news to your imprisoned father and sister, the Sportsmaster and Decathlon, it’s even harder! Guest starring the new Manhunter, the Council, and Wildcat!
THUNK! THUNK! THUNK!
In quick succession, three short arrows seemed to spring from the lower half of a man-sized target. According to the outline on the target, two were in the left thigh, and the third was in the right knee.
“Not bad,” commented a blonde woman standing in the neighboring stall of the practice range. “Excellent placement to disable.”
“I’m still getting used to that,” replied the woman reloading her crossbow. “Momma always went for the clean kill.” She pushed a lock of platinum hair out of her face as she raised the weapon to fire again. Before she could pull the trigger, an intercom on the wall behind them crackled to life.
“Artemis, could you come to my office? I have a matter to discuss with you.”
Releasing the string of the crossbow gently, Artemis Crock laid the weapon on a bench and pressed a button on the intercom. “I’ll be there in five.”
“Did I hear that right?” said Terrie Thomson, alias Americana. “Did the boss-man just ask you to come to his office, instead of ordering you?”
“You noticed that, too, Americana? Something funny is up with him.” Artemis ran out to retrieve her bolts from the target and placed them in one of the quivers strapped to her legs. “Still, I better not keep him waiting.”
“What’s up, Paul?” asked Artemis as she entered the cluttered office of Paul Kirk, Jr., leader of the clandestine group known as the Council. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Injustice Unlimited: Dishonor Among Thieves, Chapter 3: Long-Lost Family.]
“It’s about Mother,” replied the older man. “The Atom called me a few minutes ago. He wanted to let us know before it hits the press.”
“What is it?” Though they rarely spoke about it, or acknowledged it to anyone else, Artemis and Paul were half-siblings, having a common mother. “Is she all right?”
“No, she isn’t.” Paul turned away to look out a window. “This is weird. I don’t really remember her, but this is still difficult.” He turned back toward her. “She’s dead, Artie.”
Artemis collapsed into a chair, her expression blank. “Dead? What happened?”
“Someone has been killing old costumed criminals around the country. According to the Atom, one of the crooks had gathered a bunch of others together, with the idea of banding together for their own defense. But it didn’t work. Dozens of them were together, and they were slaughtered.”
“What about my sister? My father? Were they there, too?”
“According to the Atom, they’re both still in prison in California.” Paul walked over and laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I have to tell you this. I know you were very close to her.”
“Thanks, Paul.” Artemis stood up. “How long did Atom say it would be before this hits the press?”
“A day or two at the most. Sooner if they catch the guy responsible.”
“You planning on taking the team out to help hunt this guy down?” Artemis pulled her crossbow pistol from her holster. “If so, I want in on it.”
“Too high-profile. The JSA knows about us, but I’d rather stay off the public’s radar, if possible. I’m not sure what the reaction would be to an independent team with heroes and former criminals on it.”
“All right, then. Do you mind if I take one of the jets? I think it’s best if I’m the one to break the news to Dee and Dad.”
“Of course. If there’s anything else I can do, just call.”
These rooms are the same, no matter what prison you visit, thought Artemis as she entered the visiting room in Sacramento State Prison. She sat down at the counter with the glass and wire partition between her and the corresponding seat. Like most prisons that dealt with super-villains, this one had separate meeting rooms, rather than having multiple prisoners in the same room at once. She heard the door being locked behind her, then the door to the other side of the room opened.
A guard stepped through first, followed by a tall, broad-shouldered man in a gray prison jumpsuit. His red hair was shot through with silver, and there were lines around his eyes, but otherwise he looked much the same as when he first battled Green Lantern forty years earlier. Crusher Crock smiled when he saw his oldest daughter waiting for him. He took his seat and waited as the guard secured his ankle shackles to the loops set in the floor. He waited until the guard stepped back out of the room before he spoke.
“Hey, kiddo. Didn’t figure I’d see you here anytime soon.”
“Sorry about that, Dad. I’ve been pretty busy lately.”
“Yeah, the Monocle told me you’re hanging out with a bunch of heroes these days.” The older Crock chuckled. “Sounds like you really did a number on him.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Injustice Unlimited: Dishonor Among Thieves.]
“You think he didn’t deserve it?” said Artemis with a sneer.
“Hell yeah, he did. Doesn’t mean he won’t be looking for payback when he gets out.”
“Tell him that he’s welcome to try.” Artemis’ expression changed. “That’s not why I’m here, Dad.”
“So what’s the deal? Something up with your sister?”
“No, it’s Momma.”
Crusher turned his head to one side, his smile vanishing. “Forget that. I’ve been done with her ever since Valentine’s Day.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Hourman: Beware the Ides of February.]
“Why don’t you ask her?”
“Because she’s dead, Dad!” Artemis stood up and walked away from the partition. “She was killed last night.”
Crusher’s head came back around to look at her, and she could see the sorrow in his eyes. “How — what happened?”
“From what I’ve heard, she was caught in some kind of massacre of old villains.”
“I thought she’d gone straight. She was working with that Suicide Squad run out of Belle Reeve. Started using the Tigress name again.”
“She left. She didn’t stay in touch after I started working with–” Artemis paused. “With the group I’m with now.”
“Who is it?” Crusher stood up, something made more difficult by the fact that his feet were anchored only inches apart. “Who’s in this group with you besides Hazard?”
“Nobody you know, Dad. Nobody–”
“The hell it isn’t!” yelled Crusher, slamming a fist down on the counter. There was a loud crack as the wood split apart, and the Plexiglas partition shook in its frame. “Who are you working with?”
There were few things in the world that Artemis Crock feared, but one of those things was her father’s temper. “Paul Kirk, Jr. He’s–”
“That sonovabitch had a son? Dammit, Artie, ain’t it bad enough your mother was in love with that Jungle Jim wannabe — you’ve got to fall for his son?”
The door behind Crusher opened, and a pair of guards came in. “Take it easy, Crock. I think it’s time you went back to your cell.” The guard looked over at Artemis. “It’s time for you to leave, ma’am.”
“It’s not like that, Dad! Paul isn’t my lover — he’s my brother!”
Crusher froze for a second, then erupted again. “He’s what?! Brother? I’m gonna–!” One of the guards grabbed his right arm. He swung the arm forward, carrying the guard with it and slamming him into the counter. “The hell with this, I’m–”
“You’re doing nothing, Crock!” said the other guard, drawing an over-sized pistol and firing a strangely silent shot. Artemis saw the dart where it struck her father’s chest. Immediately, his movements slowed, and within five seconds he was slumped over the chair. “Ma’am, I’m sorry about that, but–”
“No, I understand.” Artemis moved to the door, which opened to let her out. “The best part is, I still have to tell my sister.”
Three hours later, Artemis was waiting in an identical visitation room at the San Fernando Women’s Prison. Please, let this go better than it did with Dad, thought Artemis as the door on the other side opened. Deana Crock entered without guards, and was allowed her freedom within the eight-foot-by-six-foot portion of the room on her side of the partition. She grinned when she saw her sister. “Artie! How cool!”
Inwardly, Artemis groaned. Dee had always been more attuned to pop culture, and that combined with her perky personality had always grated on Artemis’ more reserved and serious nature. The differences between them were reflected in their looks as well. They had both wound up with blonde hair, a genetic fluke given their mother’s raven locks and their father’s curly red hair. Artemis was tall and slender, all muscle and sinew, while Deana was slightly shorter, with a round face, turned-up nose, and a curvaceous body that made her a magnet for every guy in the private schools they had attended. She had made her debut alongside their father a couple of years back under the name of Decathlon. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: The Amity Games.]
“Nothing cool about it, Dee.” Artemis waited for her younger sister to sit down before she continued. “I just went to see Dad. I wanted both of you to hear this from me.”
Deana’s smile disappeared. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Momma. She’s gone, Dee.”
“Gone? That’s nothing new; she’s dropped out of sight a couple times before, and she always…” Deana’s voice trailed off as she noted the look on her sibling’s face. “Oh, no. No. What happened to her?”
“Shot to death. She and a bunch of other criminals. Somebody set them up.”
“You mean that guy they’ve been talking about on the news? The Sunset Killer?” Deana’s eyes sparked with an inner fire as she got up and paced around her side of the room. “You know, they say the Justice Society isn’t really trying to stop him!”
“I don’t think that’s true, Dee. They don’t work that way.”
Deana whirled toward her sister. “You’re going to catch him, aren’t you? You’re supposed to be one of the good guys, right? You could stop this guy!”
Artemis hesitated. “I… I don’t know, Dee. My boss wants us to keep a lower profile, and–”
“Bull! You’re a hunter, aren’t you? This creep killed our mother! Go out and hunt him down!”
The two women stared at each other for nearly a full minute. Artemis was the first to look away. “You’re right. Damn it, you’re right. I’m going to do it!”
“Damn right you are! Make Daddy proud of you, Artie! Go get the guy that killed Momma, and when you find him, don’t turn him over to the cops. You take that knife of yours, and–”
“Time’s up, ladies,” said a guard, opening the door on Deana’s side of the room. “Sorry.”
“I’ll try to keep you up-to-date, Dee,” said Artemis, pressing her palm to the glass partition.
“Just go out and get him, Artie,” replied Deana, pressing her own hand to match her sister’s. “You go and get him.”
“This afternoon, the Gotham City Police Department announced that the person dubbed the Sunset Killer was apprehended and turned over to them by the Justice Society of America. In a sad twist to the story, the Sunset Killer is said to be a man who had a very short-lived career as a costumed mystery-man over a quarter of a century ago. At this time, authorities have not yet released the Sunset Killer’s true name.”
A rubber-tipped dart shot across the room from a toy crossbow and struck the power button on the television.
“Cute. You know, we do have a remote control, Artemis.” Soseh Mykros laughed as she picked up the discarded toy, fitted another dart in the bow, and fired. The television came back to life. “Though I have to admit, this is more fun.”
“Have a ball, Bellatrix,” said Artemis, rising to walk out of the room. “I didn’t figure the Justice Society would get him that soon, and I wanted to get the funeral taken care of.”
“I’ll be there,” called Bellatrix, not sure if she was heard by the woman retreating down the hall.
“…and so we commend the mortal remains of Paula Miriam Brooks Crock to the earth. As we all come from ashes, so shall we all return. As we all come from the earth, so shall we return to the earth.” The priest lifted a handful of dirt and dropped it into the grave. He stepped back, and waited as the few attendees stepped forward to do the same. “I’ve been asked to tell you that there will be a luncheon for anyone who wishes to join Mrs. Crock’s daughter at the Jungle Room.”
There were a couple of stifled laughs as the small group started to disperse. Soseh Mykros and Terrie Thomson came over to where Artemis Crock and Paul Kirk, Jr. stood. “We’ll go make sure things are set up. We’ll see you there,” said Terrie.
“I’ll go get the car,” said Paul. “I think I spotted someone who wants to pay his respects.” He nodded toward a clump of trees where a large figure in a long coat and wide-brimmed hat stood alone.
As everybody else left, Artemis stopped to thank the priest, then walked over to the lone observer. “I kind of figured you would be here, Wildcat.”
Taking off the hat and tucking it clumsily under an arm, the big man offered his hands. “This probably sounds wrong, but I’m really sorry she’s gone.”
Artemis took the offered hands and squeezed. “You know, I don’t have any problem believing that. She had a lot of respect for you, you know that?”
“Didn’t stop her from trying to kill me a dozen times or more, though.” He smiled. “And, yeah, I had a lot for her. And your old man. With or without all the gimmicks, they were the toughest non-powered enemies I ever fought.”
“You got him,” said Artemis.
“Not me, personally, but, yeah, we did. Pretty sad case, every which way. Lots of the folks he killed, they’d paid their price to society. And even the ones like your Mom, the ones who were still active, it ain’t right for someone to go around killing them like that.”
“So, what happens to him now?”
“That’s up to the courts.” Wildcat looked around. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but there was talk of just taking away the technology he used for this, and leaving him to live out what’s left of his life. Doc Mid-Nite figures he’s only got a month or two left in him. Even I was considering it, but we left it up to Hawkman to decide. He turned him over to the cops.”
“You know where he’s being held?”
Wildcat’s eyes narrowed. “You thinking payback? Not a good idea. I’ve heard what you’re doing these days; don’t go messing that up. This clown’s gonna be dead within months, anyway.” He turned and looked off in the distance and continued in a low voice. “He ain’t gonna make it out of Keystone County Jail to stand trial.”
“I see,” said Artemis. “You coming to lunch?”
“Nah. I think I’ll just go find me a cold beer and raise it for her.”