by Starsky Hutch 76
Vibe and Arak stood in the recreation area of Belle Reve Prison playing Galaga. Vibe watched as Arak played his turn. “I think you’re going to break the high score, homes.”
“I think you’re right,” Arak laughed. “Not that it’s all that hard, considering all the practice we’ve been getting lately. What I wouldn’t give to be able to step out for a little while. I don’t think we’re that far from New Orleans.”
“I hear the French Quarter’s pretty fun,” Vibe said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Mardi Gras. But we got these stupid bracelets on.”
“I can’t believe they stuck you guys in those, too,” Arak said. “We broke the law. But you guys were big-time super-heroes.”
“Lets just say Steel doesn’t think we got his best interests at heart,” Vibe said.
“Well, we’ll make that Mardis Gras trip someday, pal,” Arak said.
“Yeah,” Vibe said, offering his hand up for a high five. “And we’ll make sure we bring plenty of beads for the ladies.”
As the two laughed, Amanda Waller suddenly walked in. “If you boys are done with this display of male bonding, we’ve got a briefing in Room C.”
“Aw, come on, Wall,” Arak said. “We were in the middle of a game!”
“Now!” Waller boomed.
“Looks like we’ll be stepping out pretty soon after all,” Vibe said.
Vibe, Vixen, Gypsy, Doctor Trap, Karnage, Odysseus, and the assorted members of Helix sat in the stadium seats of Room C. “Why isn’t Deep Blue here?” Penny Dreadful asked.
“She had other business to attend to,” Commander Steel lied. Amanda Waller stared at him from the corner of her eye; she resented his presence. This was supposed to be her operation, but he’d been hanging around since its formation — hanging around and stepping on her toes.
“Little rich girl gets to hang out here but doesn’t have to take the risks. Is that it?” sneered Baby Boom, known as Babe to her friends.
“No, no, that’s not it at all,” Agent Liberty said. “On this mission, she’d be a liability.” Amanda Waller gave him a sharp look. “They’re about to find out the details of the mission anyway,” he said to her.
“She’d be a liability on any mission,” Karnage said. “She just ain’t got the stuff.”
“Her parents were two of the finest operatives I’ve ever worked with,” Agent Liberty replied. “Given time, she will be, too.”
“By the time that happens, I’ll be an old lady,” Baby Boom said. “And I ain’t ever gonna be an old lady.” This made Karnage, Doctor Trap, and the members of Helix burst out laughing.
“Enough!” Commander Steel shouted. “Put that kind of crap behind you now, or you may not live to regret it. Deep Blue may not be accompanying you on this mission, but she’ll be there for the next. She could even be the one watching your back. If you don’t think she’s performing up to your standards, you’d damn well better get her there. Like it or not, you’re a team, and you’d better not forget that.”
The assembled group grew quiet. Vixen stared at him in amazement. She had just seen evidence of the hero he had once been. She wondered what had turned him into the sort of man who would turn his own grandson into a freak or kidnap people and strap explosive devices to their wrists to make them cooperate.
“The reasons for Deep Blue not accompanying you have nothing to do with her abilities,” Steel lied. “They have to do with her father…” The lights dimmed, and he lifted a remote off of the desk next to him and clicked a button, making a slide projector project an image onto the screen behind him. “…Senator Neptune Perkins.”
“Awful long hair for a senator,” Vixen commented.
“Cute for an old guy,” Tao Jones added.
“The long hair is his trademark. He used to be a mystery-man in the ’40s and ’50s,” Amanda Waller said. “If Superman were to run for office, he’d probably still be wearing his cape if he wanted to get votes. But the man’s hairdo isn’t what we called you here to talk about.”
“Senator Perkins has been kidnapped,” Commander Steel interrupted. “Two days ago, Senator Perkins was enroute to Bialya to oversee the signing of a treaty with Vlatava when his ship was attacked by an international terrorist known as Carcharo and destroyed.” He clicked his remote again, and a picture of Carcharo appeared.
“That’s an international terrorist?” Vibe exclaimed.
“Don’t let his looks fool you,” Waller said. “This sucker’s no mindless beast. He’s got it upstairs where it counts. He’s been making a lot of trouble in international waters.”
“He’s been guilty of countless acts of piracy, using his ill-gotten gains to fund certain terrorist groups,” Agent Liberty said. “He also sells his services to the highest bidder, which is the case here. Parties unknown have paid him to have Senator Perkins kidnapped. We can only assume it has to do with the treaty.”
“Stopping Carcharo was supposed to be your first mission,” Commander Steel said. “But this forces us to send you in sooner rather than later.”
“He’s mean-looking, all right, but he’s still just one guy. Isn’t all this a little overkill?” Vixen asked, gesturing to everyone sitting in the stadium seats.
“Maybe if he were alone,” Agent Liberty said. “But he’s got a few accomplices.” Steel clicked the remote again to what appeared to be sharks swimming in the ocean.
“So he’s got a few sharks,” Karnage said. “So what?”
Steel clicked the remote again to show one of the sharks attacking a boat, revealing that each of the sharks was the size of a whale, if not larger.
“What the hell are those things?” Arak yelled, while Kritter let out a whine.
“Megalodons,” Amanda Waller replied. “Prehistoric sharks. Until now, everyone thought they were extinct. Now we’re learning differently.”
“Apparently so,” Gypsy gasped.
“There’s a rumor going around that he was raised by those things,” Waller added. “Probably because he’s so bloodthirsty.”
“You can’t send us up against those things!” Baby Boom cried.
“I’d think you had an advantage against them,” Commander Steel said, “considering the nature of your abilities. A well-placed explosion could easily take one of them out.”
“I have to be close enough to do it,” she said, “without getting eaten.”
“You’ll get close enough,” Commander Steel said. “You’ve got Agent Liberty and Odysseus to help handle the big fish.” Everyone looked uneasy except for the two men mentioned.
“Nothin’ doin’!” Babe said, folding her arms.
“Who’s his employer?” Vixen asked, trying to change the subject.
“We believe it to be President Abdul Rumanji of Qurac,” Commander Steel answered. “He had the most to gain by continued strife between these nations. Right now, each is blaming the other, and it could shortly lead to war. We believe he plans to launch his own bogus rescue mission after war breaks out between the nations in order to best take advantage of the situation. Of course, we plan to have Senator Perkins back before that happens. I’ll leave the rest of you to hammer out the details. Baby Boom, you come with me.” Commander Steel gestured toward the door.
Babe lowered herself down off the stadium seat uneasily, allowing her diminutive form to drop the several inches between her feet and the floor. “What is it, Steel?” she asked, trying to sound stern as she looked up at him as they left the room and headed down the hall.
“From now on, refer to me as sir,” he said cooly.
“OK… Steel,” she said mockingly.
“You’re in need of a serious attitude adjustment, young lady.”
“Like you’re the first person to tell me that,” she laughed. Her cocky demeanor cracked when she noticed they were heading for a part of Belle Reve she’d never been in before.
“I have someone I want you to meet. After you’ve been to see him, I think not only will you cooperate willingly, but enthusiastically.”
He opened the door at the end of the hall to a room that looked like something out of an old sci-fi movie. In front of a rack of test tubes stood a creature with the body of a dog, the wings and legs of a bird, and the arms and head of a buck-toothed old man.
“What are you going to do to me?” Babe screamed, latching onto Steel’s leg.
Steel laughed. “It’s not what we’re going to do to you. It’s what we’re going to do for you.”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“I realized that unlike the other members of the team, the simple promise of freedom and absolution isn’t enough to ensure your cooperation. Even if you’re free, you still have no chance of a normal life.”
“Yeah, so?” Baby Boom said, irritated at the mention of her infirmity.
“Babe, I’d like you to meet Dr. Rocco Togg, an old enemy of my former All-Star Squadron teammate Hourman. (*) He may not look like it, but he’s one of the top genetic minds in the world.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Hourman, Adventure Comics #57 (December, 1940).]
“You flatter me, Commander,” Dr. Togg said. “Not to say it isn’t true.”
“Dr. Togg, here, was conducting experiments in DNA long before most scientists knew what DNA was.”
“If he’s so smart, how come he looks like that?” Babe said.
“It has its advantages,” Togg said.
“Dr. Togg is, in fact, well over 130 years old. He was old when he was transformed. When he realized the accident also stopped his aging, the only change he made was to restore his arms so he could still work in the lab.”
“What’s all this got to do with me?” Baby Boom said impatiently.
“I’ve filled Dr. Togg in on the details regarding your problems with aging, or the lack of it. He has samples of your DNA, blood work, et cetera, and he believes he’s found a solution to your problem.”
Babe’s eyes grew wide with shock and “He — he does?”
“Believe, no. I know I do,” Togg said with satisfaction.
“You can make me an adult?” Babe said in a voice heavy with emotion.
“Not quite,” Togg said. “But I can inhibit that in your system which keeps you from aging. You will finally begin to grow up.”
“Oh…” Babe Boom said, still bewildered.
“It’s your chance at a normal life,” Commander Steel said. “It may not happen all at once, but the opportunity’s now there for you. Of course, if you don’t feel like playing ball, you can always stay five years old for the rest of your life.”
“No…” Babe said anxiously.
“So you’ll cooperate from now on?”
“Yeah, Steel. I’ll cooperate.”
“I don’t think I heard you,” Commander Steel said, holding his hand up to his ear.
“Yes… yes, sir,” Babe said anxiously.
“Excellent!” Dr. Togg said, holding up a large syringe. “Then shall we begin treatment?”
The members of the Suicide Squad were about to board the plane to Qurac when they were stopped by Commander Steel, who was accompanied by Amanda Waller and Mister Bones. “Not you, Kritter,” ordered Steel at the dog-like young man.
“Helix sticks together!” Arak protested.
“You’re not Helix anymore,” Commander Steel said. “None of you are. You’re now all part of Operation Liberty. It’s time you got that through your heads. Kritter stays here because we’ve got a better place for his talents. From now on, he’ll be working in our tech area.”
“Bones, please,” Penny Dreadful said pleadingly to her former teammate.
“Sorry, darling, but this is something I can’t fight. Especially when it’s plain to see the man is right.”
“Think of all the toys you’ll have to play with when Uncle Sam’s footing the bill,” Commander Steel told Kritter.
His eyes becoming wide, Kritter left the group standing by the plane and enthusiastically joined Commander Steel, Waller, and Bones.
“Let’s move ’em out, people,” Agent Liberty yelled to the team. Liberty and Odysseus led the way as they stepped up the ramp onto the nondescript cargo plane. The rest of the team eyed Kritter and Mister Bones as they boarded the plane. There could only be one reason they were staying when the rest of them were being sent off on this mission. Steel wanted them as permanent fixtures in his new operation. The rest of them were expendable.
There was an uncomfortable silence in the cargo hold of the plane as the Suicide Squad flew to Qurac. “I can’t believe Kritter would just walk out on us like that,” Baby Boom said.
“Yeah,” Tao Jones said. “He was happy to do it! His tail was wagging!”
“Well, hell, girl,” Karnage exclaimed. “What’d you expect him to do? You wanna see him become shark food? Way I see it, Steel did him a favor.”
“What would you know about it?” Babe yelled.
“I can tell who’s gonna be any help on the team and who’s not… Baby Boom,” Karnage sneered. Babe stuck her tongue out at him in response.
“He’s right,” Arak consented. “Kritter was never big on action. For technical stuff, he was great, though. He’s better off where he is.”
“So what did he send the runt for?” Karnage said, gesturing toward Babe.
“You wanna see why he sent me?” Babe threatened.
“No, Babe!” Penny Dreadful said. “You’ll blow up the plane!”
“Whatchu trying to do, man? Get us killed?” Vibe said, grabbing Karnage’s arm.
“Take your damn hand off me unless you want to lose it.”
“Watch yourself,” Arak said.
“Didn’t you listen to what Steel said about functioning as a team?” Vixen said to Karnage. “We can’t afford any weak links.”
“Oh, I ain’t weak,” Karnage said. “Maybe after this plane lands and we get put up for the night, I can show you just how good my endurance is,” he said with a wink.
Vixen rolled her eyes. “In your dreams.”
“The hell with all of you,” Karnage growled, flushing with embarassment. “I’m in this for me. I just want to get this over with and get my pardon so I can go back to doing what I was doing before the Huntress got me in sling.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Karnage is the Name,” Wonder Woman #286 (December, 1981) and “Karnage Doesn’t Kill Here Any More,” Wonder Woman #287 (January, 1982).]
“Way I hear it, you got yourself in sling, Charlie,” Vixen said.
“You just don’t know when to quit, do you, lady?” Karnage said menacingly.
The cargo plane suddenly lurched wildly, drawing a startled cry from several of its passengers. Agent Liberty walked into the cargo hold from the cockpit. “Sorry about that, everyone. The pilot hit a bit of turbulence.” He looked around at the faces of his team. “What’s been going on in here?”
“Karnage has just been winning friends, as usual,” Vibe said.
“What’s your problem, son?” Agent Liberty said.
“My problem’s this pack of losers you’ve got me hooked up with,” Karnage said, gesturing at the rest of the team with his thumb.
“This pack of losers, as you call them, could be all that stands between you and winding up in that little cemetery they’ve got in the back of Belle Reve.”
“Man, I don’t need them!” Karnage spat. “I can handle myself! I took down Batman’s daughter! Twice!”
“Yeah, I had you pegged as the sort who liked to beat up on women,” Agent Liberty said with an ice cold stare. “But as I recall, she ended up beating you, didn’t she?”
Karnage shot to his feet in anger, both fists clenched. A look passed between them, and everyone else seemed to brace themselves for the coming fight. The moment was broken when Odysseus raised to his feet and bellowed, “Sit down!”
A look of worry passed across Karnage’s face. “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”
“Are you crazy?” Arak said. “Man, that’s the guy who knocked out Superman!” Karnage quickly sat down.
Agent Liberty’s face flushed with anger as he stared at Odysseus, who wasn’t even looking in his direction. Instead, he seemed preoccupied with his own thoughts. “We’ll have no more bickering in the ranks. As for you, Trevor, I’ll thank you to remember that your rank won’t be restored until the end of the mission. Until then, I am highest-ranking officer on this team.”
Steve Trevor turned in his direction. “Duly noted,” he said before turning his head back in the direction it had been before to return to his private musings.
Agent Liberty turned to head back to the front of the plane, cursing internally. He had been in no danger. Karnage’s weaponry was safely tucked away, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they weren’t. Hardcases like him needed to be made examples of. What had Trevor been thinking? He hoped this wasn’t the first sign of a return of the Odysseus personality.