The Suicide Squad: Path of the Immortal, Chapter 5: According to Plan

by Starsky Hutch 76, Libbylawrence and JSAGL

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Steve Trevor let out an astonished whistle as he walked down the hallway reading the newspaper. After the bizarre Fnord and Bavarian fire drill episodes, Steve had taken a week’s leave from Operation Liberty for the birth of his son and had found it difficult to return to Belle Reve, but he was ever a man of duty. He turned toward the door with the words Commander Steel imprinted on it and opened the door. “Steel in, Valerie?” he asked the girl behind the front desk.

“Yes, General,” Valerie said. She hit the button on the intercom and said, “General Trevor is here to see you, Commander.”

“When I’m out of uniform, it’s just Steve,” he said, flashing his winning smile and making the receptionist blush. He was married and a father, so he’d never dream of acting on flirtations, but he still enjoyed the reaction he got from women since his rejuvenation.

“Y-yes, sir, General Trevor… I mean, General Steve… I mean Steve,” Valerie stammered, grinning brightly. A flush had come into her cheeks.

“Trevor, stop flirting with my secretary and get in here!” Steel’s voice boomed from the office.

“Duty calls,” Steve said with a smile, moving toward the office. As he walked through the doorway, he saw a contemplative, stern-faced Commander Steel. He seemed barely aware of Steve’s presence.

“I take it you’ve seen the paper,” Steve said.

Of course I have,” Steel said. “We can’t afford to sit on our hands any longer. Savage certainly isn’t.”

“You’re sure it’s him?”

“I’m always sure,” Steel said. “But in this case, there isn’t any doubt. You’d be surprised at all of what he’s had his hands in. He’s trying to reestablish his power base, and that can’t be allowed to happen.”

“How do you plan on stopping him?” Steve asked.

“I’m working on that,” Steel said. “For this mission, I want a team of seasoned veterans. People who have been at this for a while.”

“The current team has proven themselves admirably,” Steve said.

“True,” Steel nodded. “I’ll grant them that, but compared to Savage, we’re all infants. I have to have people for this that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, know what they’re doing.” He paused thoughtfully. “I need the JSA, but not the JSA.”

“Well, who do you have so far?” Steve asked.

“You and Munro, of course,” Steel said. “And Paula Crock. Jon Law, the Tarantula, will also be joining us for this mission. Then there’s Matches Malone. Munro’s bringing him in now.”

“Why Munro? Malone is a veteran of this department. You couldn’t simply call him in?” Trevor asked.

“There are certain… wrongs Malone feels I’ve perpetrated against him that make him reluctant to serve again in any capacity,” Steel said grimly. He folded his hands against his chest and leaned back in his chair, apparently fuming at the admittance.

“Well, gee,” Steve said wryly. “That’s just hard to imagine.”

After a pause, Commander Steel grumbled, “Congratulations on the birth of your son, by the way.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Wonder Woman: The Amazon Prince.]

Steve Trevor was speechless. Steel usually avoided any personal small-talk. “Uh, thank you.”

Steel looked distracted as he asked in an offhand way, “How are Diana and little Troy? I trust your leave, brief as it was, was long enough to see them safely through.”

“They’re fine,” said Steve. “We’re all fine.”

Commander Steel finally looked up at him and added, “Despite what you may think of me, I do appreciate it, you know. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had chosen not to return after your son’s birth. I’m well aware of your wife’s opinion of me and this team.”

Steve nodded. “Well, I wouldn’t want to leave you in the lurch like that, not with a mission like this one coming up. As for my place in the team, we’ll have to talk about that later.”

Steel gave a firm nod in recognition, and Steve Trevor left his office.

***

In her cell, Paula Brooks Crock — the Manhunter — paced like a caged animal. Her passion was evident as she remembered Steel’s not-so-subtle threat regarding her captive daughter Artemis.

He’s no better than Luthor or Brain Wave, she mused. In his way he’s worse, since he cloaks himself with a sanctimonious display of patriotism. I’ll be his pet for this little mission, if only to keep Arty safe. But if I get her freedom, then maybe I’ll track him down and teach him who is the hunter and who is the prey.

She sank down on the cot. She was a striking woman, thanks to exposure to a magical energy decades ago that had already extended her vitality to years longer than normal. But she was even more so now that a rejuvenation treatment by Ian Karkull had given her youth once more. (*) She laughed at the idea of being so youthful or vital when she considered her own mother.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: JSA Reserves: All This and Earth-Two, Chapter 3: Villains Rejuvenated.]

Paula’s mother had been a thief with a penchant for tiger stripes and jewels. She had called herself the Tigress and had battled a suave magician named Zatara before taking to the mystical arts in order to impress him. (*) A battle had left him banished to some other world while Tigress had believed him dead, and she had retired to seclusion. Her magic sustained her blonde beauty, while her memories of the dashing hero sustained her in other ways.

[(*) Editor’s note: Zatara’s recurring battles with the Tigress began in “The Mystery of the Freight Train Robberies,” Action Comics #1 (June, 1938).]

Paula had seen little of her. After reaching her teens, she had run away from the foster homes in which she had been raised during her mother’s criminal forays, instead following an idol of her own choosing. Ironically enough, Paul Kirk the big-game hunter later became a costumed mystery-man himself. As the blue-masked Manhunter, he stalked an even deadlier game than wild beasts. He fought crime.

She had trained herself to emulate him. His appearance in newsreels and magazines had enthralled her, and when they finally met, she was clad in leopard skin and calling herself by the name her mother had used — the Tigress. She became more to him than a mere pupil. They were lovers, and she gave birth to his child.

A son named Paul Richard Nelson Kirk was their union’s result. In Africa, they had lived in a happy security until circumstances separated them. Paula was used as a pawn by an otherworldly Valkyrie named Gudra in a larger scheme against the Justice Society of America. (*) When she finally returned to their camp after the incidents that followed, there was no sign of husband or child. She never could find them, and she decided to turn to crime. Perhaps it had been magic that drove her to the so-called dark side and not pain or anger, but perhaps that was merely an excuse. In any case, she now called herself the Huntress and fought Wildcat and other mystery-men in the postwar era.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1947: The New Olympians, Chapter 1: The Valkyrie’s Touch.]

In time she met and married the Sportsmaster, alias Crusher Crock, and they had children. Time also brought a new, heroic Huntress, so after a decade Paula finally took the name Manhunter in spite, following a fight with Crusher. It was a fight she still regretted and now could not resolve while behind bars.

He had walked in on her with his athletic grace, and her keen senses had not alerted her, since she had been lost in a past love. She was poring through old scrapbooks of Paul Kirk’s epic career. Crusher knew of her past and was bitterly jealous. “You and that Jungle Jim again! He’s outta your life, babe. You lost him. Face it,” he had snapped.

She had snarled and said, “He’s twice the man you are. On his worst day, he was more than a match for you with your trick balls and bats!”

Sportsmster had raised a hand to her, then stopped and stalked off. He had taken their younger daughter out west while Paula had been drawn into a plot by the selfsame Valkyrie who had so cursed her before. She and Artemis and her own mystically young mother had embarked on a plot against all female heroines. It had ended badly, and she and Arty were now behind bars. Her mystically young mother, meanwhile, had fled to some magical realm upon learning that her precious Zatara had not truly died decades before. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Law’s Legionnaires: The Deadlier of the Species.]

“Crusher, if I get back to you, I’ll make it up to you! Calling myself Manhunter was wrong. I’m not going to hurt you by using that name. I’ll be the Tigress again. Mother’s magic makes another name more fitting for her, anyway, if she ever returns.”

***

Vandal Savage sat quietly at his desk, contemplating his next move. In his hand he held an amber square. Within it floated a pyramid adorned with a waking eye — the symbol of the Illuminati. Behind the pyramid was a small figure of a man with his arms raised. He had once asked for the help of the Illuminati and then betrayed them. To this day, no one truly knew what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, with the exception of the man in whose hands he was now held.

The door opened, and a nondescript man walked into Savage’s office and closed the door. “It is done.”

Savage gently set the amber cube on his desk and turned to face his associate. “Excellent. Let there be no doubt that even the thought of betrayal will bring about my righteous wrath. What other news do you have?”

The man held his hands together, and a frame of light coalesced between them. An image formed, showing one Commander Steel talking with General Steve Trevor.

Steel is forming a team to oppose you.”

Savage nodded. “Then all is proceeding according to plan. Isn’t that right, my dear?”

The man’s image began to shimmer, and when it cleared, it revealed the technological wonder known as Mekanique. “After all, Savage, what meaning does time have to two such as us?

***

Commander Steel’s office:

“You mentioned the JSA, Steel,” said Steve Trevor. “None of them would ever willingly help you. What’s your plan?”

Steel opened the manila folder in front of him and handed Trevor two pictures. “One of these days, you’re going to have to learn how to listen, Trevor. I said I need a JSA, not the JSA.”

Trevor laughed. “These two would never help you.”

“Care to place a bet on that?” Steel said, lighting a cigar. “They’re the type that would always help a friend in need.”

“With friends like you, Steel…”

A short time later, once again alone, Commander Steel pulled a picture out of his desk drawer. It was of his grandson Hank Heywood III, the JLA member known as Steel. One of these days I’ll see you again, son. Maybe we can finally have the type of relationship I never had with your father.

He was holding the picture for another moment when the door to the office opened. Quickly, he stashed the picture back. “Don’t you know how to knock?

“As I recall, Hank, you were the one who called us.”

A wide grin crossed Commander Steel’s face as Libby Lawrence and Johnny Chambers walked in. He didn’t need the JSA when he had the All-Star Squadron.

***

Vandal Savage’s office:

“You are underestimating Steel.”

Savage swiveled in his chair, glaring at Mekanique. “And you are treading on dangerously thin ice. I’ve killed people for questioning me.”

Mekanique stood up and walked to Savage, sitting on his desk. “I know that only too well. You forget that in my time we are lovers. We trust each other implicitly. That’s why you sent me back to this time. To ensure your victory, my immortal beloved.”

“Yes, so you say. And how would you deal with Steel?”

***

Orlando, Florida, the next day:

Gloria Farley knelt in her garden pulling weeds. It was a typically humid day in Central Florida, even if the temperature wasn’t so bad. Gloria’s garden had become her passion since her husband Brad passed away. She wanted it to look good for when her children and grandchildren arrived for her birthday celebration on Friday.

As she worked feverishly, she felt a shadow fall over her. Must be the mailman, she thought. As she stood up and turned around, she realized that the man standing before her wasn’t the postal carrier.

“Hello, Gloria.”

Gloria dropped the spade in her hand, and it banged against the sidewalk. She thought she was seeing a ghost. The hair was gray, and the face a little wrinkled and a little worn, but she would recognize him anywhere.

Hank Heywood. Dear Lord in Heaven. Can it really be you?

“Yes, my love. I’ve come back for you.”

Gloria Giles Farley threw her arms around the man whom she thought was her first love, but unbeknownst to her, this was not Hank Heywood at all.

Mekanique was very pleased with herself this day.

***

As John Law put on the familiar brown and black uniform of the Tarantula, the years seemed to melt away, and it was as if he’d never retired. Of course, in a sense the years really had melted away thanks to Dr. Togg. Once the mission was over and he returned home, he would be faced with the dilemma of figuring out how to go back to a normal life now that he wore a young man’s face again. It was a nice problem to have.

He walked out into the training area and saw that he wasn’t alone. Paula Crock was practicing on the balance beams. Inwardly, he admired the form beneath the tiger-printed leotard. She was remarkably well-preserved. No, it was more than that. He’d heard of a number of villains being rejuvenated in a plot by Ian Karkull. She must have been one of them.

“Nice moves,” he said. “You’re in pretty good shape for someone who’s been around as long as you have.”

“I could say the same thing for you,” she said, turning to look at him.

“Yeah, I’d heard about you being rejuvenated by Gudra,” he said, doing warm-up stretches.

“That was the Cheetah,” she replied coolly. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Liberty Belle: The Future Is Now, Chapter 1: Belles of Valhalla.]

“Oh, sorry. I sometimes get you two mixed up,” he said.

“Whatever.”

The two worked out in silence for a few minutes before she turned to him and asked, “Didn’t you used to have a sidekick?

Me? No,” he said in surprise.

Sure you did. What was his name… Sandy?

“That was the Sandman,” he said.

“Oh, sorry. I sometimes get you two mixed up,” she replied coyly.

Touché,” he said with a smirk. He could tell he was going to enjoy working with her.

“So tell me,” she said in a coy tone as she continued her gymnastic exercises, “that Lady Tarantula — is she your wife? A girlfriend, perhaps?”

“Why, Ms. Crock, aren’t you a married woman?” Tarantula said wryly, hoping to get the best of her again.

“My husband and I have… something of an understanding. It’s what you’d call an open marriage,” she answered.

A look of visible shock crossed Tarantula’s face. He’d always considered himself open-minded, but he was still too old-fashioned to engage in what she was suggesting. “I — I…”

The Tigress raised her eyebrow and smirked. “Relax, stud. I was joking.”

Tarantula threw back his head in laughter. He was definitely going to enjoy working with her.

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