by Christine Nightstar, Bejammin2000, and Doc Quantum
Commander Steel and Barton J. Reed had arrived at the prearranged location, along with a convict named Lefty Burkowitz.
As a hired gun for decades, Lefty had worked for the highest bidder and had even managed to survive a stint as one of the Joker’s henchmen. (*) But Lefty would always be known as the man who had impersonated Deadshot. The first time he did so, he’d been hired to help frame the real Deadshot, Floyd Lawton, with a series of shootings in Gotham City. (*) And although Batman had captured him with little effort, Lefty continued to use the name of Deadshot to get work between stints in prison.
By the 1970s, Lefty Burkowitz had been in prison for over a decade when he was offered a unique opportunity. By agreeing to fight for his country, Lefty would be released a few years early. The only catch was that he’d be risking his life on a regular basis. Lefty jumped at the chance and was placed in Operation Liberty’s superhuman task force, the “Suicide Squad” of that era. It was a few weeks before someone finally realized that he wasn’t Floyd Lawton at all, but the Deadshot impostor whose aim was far from perfect. Unfortunately, by that time Lefty had already signed a contract that cemented his place on the team.
After a few years with Operation Liberty, Lefty was finally released from prison in 1981. Now sixty years old, Lefty had no one waiting for him on the outside, and no prospects. It took just three days for him to pick up work in Metropolis. The Ultra-Humanite wanted Deadshot to assassinate Power Girl with a special kryptonite bullet, and Lefty took the job. Aiming for her heart, he missed and instead struck a shoulder blade in Power Girl’s back; as it struck, the bullet shattered, spraying a green mist of kryptonite around her body. A medical team was able to save Power Girl with anti-kryptonite spray, but it would have been fatal had it entered her bloodstream as planned. As for the counterfeit Deadshot, he was beaten up and captured by a counterfeit hero, the new Black Canary. (*) Reportedly, the Ultra-Humanite had been furious at Lefty’s deception, since even he’d thought he was hiring the real Deadshot, and Lefty had been in fear for his life ever since.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1981: Angel, Chapter 2: And the Ape?]
Now the sixty-six-year-old man had been pulled from his cell after six straight years in prison and drafted for a top secret mission. Could this be his next chance to make it big again? Would he be able to establish a new reputation as the one and only Deadshot, now that the original had gone underground? Hell, maybe he’d even be able to afford one of those rejuvenations a few of his friends had undergone, and get his twenty-five-year-old body back again. The ladies would be crawling all over him.
All these thoughts passed through Lefty’s mind as he was led into a submersible vehicle in Kansas not all that far from the exact center of America. Steel and Reed had been given the precise coordinates and were prepared to go underwater in this landlocked state.
“Sonar on. Underwater lights on,” said Steel.
“You do have some nice toys, Steel,” said Reed. Steel nodded in reply.
“What’s that?” asked Lefty, pointing to a series of underwater buildings they could just make out in the murky river water.
“Either Atlantis has a small settlement here in the Missouri River, or we’ve found our facility,” joked Steel. “I’m betting on the second.”
Checking their weapons, the three men stood ready as an automated system took control of the submersible and brought them into the underwater compound.
Once they were dry-docked, the men exited the submersible to find themselves in a high-tech facility. There were no sounds except for the rushing river, which could be seen through the bubble-like overhead skylights as they passed down the hallway.
Suddenly, the silence was broken as a voice on a loudspeaker caused them to stop in their tracks.
“Welcome to my place of business, gentlemen.”
“What’s the story, Goddard?” demanded Steel.
“Joseph Goddard, AKA Mindwarp, died nine years ago, gentlemen,” said the voice, “in his last mission for Operation Liberty. You must remember, Steel. After all, you and Lefty saw him die.”
“Then who the hell did we bury?” muttered Lefty Burkowitz. The fake Deadshot had already been informed of the thief’s identity on the trip there, though he couldn’t believe it until now.
A screen in the corridor flashed on, and the three men could see on it a wheelchair-bound man who appeared to be paralyzed from the neck down. It was only thanks to the voice-modulator over his mouth and neck that he was even able to speak at all. The lighting was dim, but the man’s face was unmistakably that of Joseph Goddard.
“Yes, tragically the once-virile form of Joseph Goddard has slowly degenerated into this fleshy prison. But my mind has always remained free, and since that day I have manipulated the wealthiest men in America, chief among them Darius Helstrom, CEO of Helstrom Industries, Ltd.”
The corners of Commander Steel mouth turned up almost imperceptibly; his instincts had been right after all.
“But Helstrom should really thank me. After all, I made him richer than avarice through my manipulations. He now owns controlling stock in countless research and development firms, among many other companies, all of them legit. And all the while, I also kept an eye on your organization.”
“Why steal the VRX-64? What purpose does it serve?” Steel asked, gazing at the screen.
“To bring the two men I hate most in all the world to my doorstep — and on my terms.”
“You could have done that with a phone call, Goddard,” said Steel.
“Goddard is dead, thanks to you and your Suicide Squad program,” Mindwarp said hotly. “His death was witnessed and verified by the fake Deadshot. Isn’t that right, Lefty?”
“So you have ample reason to hate them,” said Reed. “What do you have against me? By placing you with Operation Liberty, I offered you a chance to redeem yourself.”
“Oh, I’ll get to that in a moment,” explained Mindwarp. “In any event, the broken body you see before you is not my final destination. I may not be able to move or walk, but I’ve found another way to regain my mobility. Helstrom Industries’ research and development arm, established twelve years ago, is the most successful cloning facility extant.
“Do you realize what that means? I can kill you, gentlemen, then assume your identities with the clones I’ve already made of you. Imagine the irony: Commander Steel, veteran of three wars, dying alongside an old crook without anyone noticing a thing. And Barton J. Reed, the man who gave me life, but never saw me as anything more than a test subject — the absent father whose would go completely unnoticed.”
“Did he just say what I think he said, Reed?” asked Steel as he and Lefty glanced at the head of the Bureau of Special Projects.
“I knew his mother a long time ago,” Reed sighed. “Though I didn’t know he was mine until she visited me eighteen years later. She’d been a powerful psychic I’d worked with years earlier, and her son had even more potential. After assessing his abilities, I worked to improve them before I realized he was starting to use them for personal gain, and in highly unethical ways. So I passed him on to Operation Liberty as a way for him to pay for what he’d done. My success with him actually helped me establish the Bureau in the first place.”
“Yet you didn’t do anything to help your bastard son, Reed, even when he died a pointless death on a random mission for the Suicide Squad!” the wheelchair-bound man shouted.
“I promised your mother I wouldn’t make my life yours. I tried to help you in other ways, but you never wanted those responsibilities. I thought Operation Liberty would set you straight before you turned against society with those powers of yours.”
Mindwarp chuckled. “I wanted money, I wanted power, and now I have both.”
“You would never have been in the same class as Luthor or Brain Wave, or any of the other major villains,” said Steel. “You were just a powered-up kid with ambition, but no tactics or plans to make your dreams into reality.”
“Too true. It took a stint in Operation Liberty to teach me the error of my ways. But what would you expect from a twenty-year-old?”
“So, with Helstrom under your control, you now run the third largest corporation in America,” noted Steel.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve also consolidated criminal organizations in twelve states in half as many years. And did I ever reach your notice once, Steel?”
“No,” Steel admitted. “I only heard rumors and urban legends, but nothing I could officially investigate — until I began to realize from the files we seized from Vandal Savage how corrupt Helstrom really was. It turns out that it was your legitimate business ventures that put you on our radar, not your criminal enterprises.”
“Arnax, show our guests to their rooms,” said Mindwarp, summoning a large, powerfully built robot who now stepped into view. “Please, gentlemen, do try to resist him — he’s more than strong enough to make fast work of any of you. It would certainly save me from having to use the bio-weapon I procured for your deaths.”
As Commander Steel and Lefty Burkowitz were shown to their holding cells, Reed turned back to the screen and said, “You don’t have to do this, Joseph! Let us go — let us take the VRX-64 back to where it belongs.”
“You don’t get it, do you, Reed? The VRX-64 is going be my latest black market weapon, sold exclusively to super-villains.”
“But think of all the innocent bystanders who will be killed!”
“Helstrom BioTech will step up to the crisis and offer the antidote to the VRX-64 at a reasonable price. To save yourself and your loved ones, it’s only one pill a day, every day, for the rest of your life. I’ll make billions, because I can mass-produce the antidote faster than your government sources could ever dream.”
“You would let people die so you can increase your fortune? That’s psychotic!”
“No, psychotic was not destroying the VRX-64 when you had the chance in 1964, Reed. But you were following orders to acquire it, and, like a good little soldier, you did so.”
“I’ll stop you somehow.”
“No, father, you will do nothing except die.”
Upon the Suicide Squad’s arrival at the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, their infiltration of Helstrom Industries Corporate Headquarters’ main fabrication building went as well as it could, all things considered.
Getting into the building was easy. The knockout darts were courtesy of the Tigress. The hard part, however, was getting through the main fabrication building that they were using to enter into the main headquarters. That was mostly because dragging the Trigger Twins through it was akin to taking whiny, greedy kids through a Sugar Hut. Because of this, the rest of the team had moved on ahead of them, leaving only a handful behind.
“Hey, Mitch, lookit!” said Sharpshooter, the younger of the two Lawtons, pointing at what was on the line.
The elder brother, known as Marksman, looked at it. “Holy! That’s–”
“Yeah. The H.I. Jury, Punisher Model. They ain’t supposed ta be out o’ R and D for another two years. But here’s one right here–!”
“What?!” Jake squawked indignantly.
“You heard me. I. Called. Dibs.”
“You cain’t do that!”
“I did. And why wouldn’t I? It’s a gas-powered beauty with an electric firing system. Recoil assist, so it won’t jump outta your hand, fifteen-round mag, uses .45 ACP rounds, three-hundred-yard range, and able to drop a bull elephant one-fifty with one shot,” Mitch said, grabbing the gun. “And it’s all mine, sucker!” He pulled out his normal handgun.
“Sorry, Clarice,” he said to the gun, kissing it. “Daddy’s found a new girlfriend.” And he slid the new gun into his holster, placing his old .45 on the conveyor belt.
“I cain’t believe you!” Jake said, shaking his head. It was the greatest gun they could ever see, and Mitch had called dibs.