by Libbylawrence, CSyphrett and Doc Quantum
A mother and father were positively jubilant as they led their college student son out of a hospital in Barcelona, Spain. The young dark-haired man was tall, slender, and handsome, possessing the grace of an athlete. He had, in fact, long desired a career as a soccer player but had put that fantasy aside to attend college and please his parents, who were researchers. Of course, that had been before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which had changed both the world and Rafael Guerra’s life.
“I’m so glad to be leaving that place,” said Rafael. “The staff was great, and the nurses were cute, but the food really sucked.”
“Son, after you were in a coma for so long, I’m just thrilled to have you up and about,” said his mother. “The doctors gave you a clean bill of health. In fact, they say you didn’t even suffer any type of muscle atrophy while you were… sleeping.”
Rafael stretched. He felt fine and actually had more energy than he’d possessed before that strange August evening just after the Crisis when he had suddenly and inexplicably fallen into a coma. Four months had passed, and then one day he simply woke up, and every vital sign checked out normal. The only remaining trace of that strange day was the star-shaped symbol burned onto his chest. Still, he no longer questioned why or how it had all happened. He simply felt thankful to be healthy once more.
In a shipyard in Cardiff, Wales, a burly Welshman stopped construction of a boat he had been building and perked his ears at the oncoming night. Jock Gruffudd knew he was not going to catch up with his work this evening. Even as the media was in a frenzy over the daring kidnapping of Prince Charles by daft men clad in colorful costumes earlier that day, his wizard senses had told him that something even stranger was going to happen very soon. Great Britain was going crazy, and he would have to put a stop to it.
“Blast and be damned,” he muttered as he threw his rag down onto the boat. He then went into his office at the back of the shop and quickly changed into a clean black T-shirt, dungarees, and a sturdy pair of boots. He pulled on padded gauntlets last as he ran for the door of the shop.
In seconds, he was running as fast as a bullet train on the country roads. This always seemed to happen to him when he was behind schedule on a project. He would decide to put in the time to catch up on his work, and someone would throw open the gates of Hell, and Faerie besides. Well, he’d quickly put a stop to this, or his nickname wasn’t Jock o’ Kent.
As the burly man swiftly ran down the road, he knew that the first thing he had to stop was the invasion he’d heard. He gritted his teeth when he came to a stop in Wiltshire at Stonehenge, the most famous of the many sites of standing stones in England. Gathered at Stonehenge was a troop of female warriors marching over the countryside, whom Jock recognized as the Amazons of Greek legend. It was evident that some eldritch powers had caused these warrior women to appear sometime before the hero appeared on the scene.
Seeing Jock o’ Kent, the queen — addressed by her subjects as Penthesilea — ordered her fire-eyed soldiers to kill their foe. Jock plowed through the armored bow-women with his amazing speed and strength, striking them unconscious left and right. When he was done, he bulleted to where Queen Penthesilea stood on her dais. She tried to cut him down with the blade in her hand, but he easily dodged her swings with his lightning reflexes.
“I don’t have time for this,” Jock said as he yanked the queen’s belt from her hips with one hand while punching her with the other, sending her flying down from her dais to the ground by the powerful blow.
Ever since the light had settled on him four months ago, he’d known things that he simply couldn’t explain but nevertheless knew to be true. This knack for knowing unusual things was what made this strongman a wizard. And that was why he knew that Penthesilea and her Amazons weren’t much of a threat without the queen’s girdle. “Don’t bother me again, ladies,” he said as he pulled on the belt until it separated into two.
Tossing away both pieces of the belt, Jock o’ Kent paused by Stonehenge and watched as the unconscious queen and her Amazon warriors transformed into a group of female pensioners. Watching as the old ladies stirred to consciousness, he wondered why anyone would have gone to so much trouble to fake an Amazon invasion. He decided to stay long enough to ensure that the confused old women safely returned to their tour bus down the road.
A black dog approached and barked at the hero, its glowing red eyes regarding the strongman with interest. “I don’t have time for Constant now,” Jock said to the dog. “If I haven’t got time enough to rescue the Prince of Wales, then how could I have enough time for him? Tell him I’ll meet him later.”
The dog barked loudly. “Tell him or get punted,” Jock growled. The dog whimpered for a second, then ran off into the darkness of the night.
“Constant and his stupid deals,” Jock said to himself, shaking his head. “One day he’ll trade his soul and won’t be able to get it back.”
That evening, after a celebratory dinner with his parents, Rafael Guerra decided to stroll around Barcelona and enjoy the winter evening. He breathed in the crisp air and smiled at the sight of the fresh snowfall all around him. Winters in Catalonia were always spectacular. Walking down the block, he saw the stately campus of the University of Barcelona ahead and frowned as he thought about returning to school and facing the interminable paperwork and forms to fill out after his absence.
Still, he completely forgot about his academic worries when he spotted a stealthy figure making his way across the campus. Moving swiftly, the figure in question wore a winged helmet and carried a staff in one hand. The fraternity pledges are getting stranger and stranger every year, mused Rafael.
He stopped and watched as the agile figure rapidly crossed the campus, then rose into the air as he literally ran up the side of a building. That was no ordinary pledge, he realized. He moved like Captain Atom or even the Flash from his old comic-books.
Rafael gasped as he realized that his own excitement and sudden movement had begun to propel him skyward as well. He found himself suddenly flying like a human rocket. “This is crazy — can’t be happening!” he gasped as he streaked into the clear night air.
The other man turned and waited on a rooftop. He wore nothing except for a helmet, sandals, and a tunic. “Who would challenge the rightful god of thieves?” he demanded.
Rafael Guerra tried to stop his own flight, just managing to careen to the rooftop, where he crashed to a stop. “Mercury?” he said incredulously. “Do you really think you’re Mercury?”
“In truth, I prefer the name Hermes,” the supposed god said, “but by any name I am above the petty interests of one such as you.”
Rafael stood up and shook off the dust from the roof. “This has to be a dream,” he muttered to himself. “I must still be in that coma.”
Hermes laughed. “Mortal, you amuse me. Still, I have work to do this eve. I would earn my rightful title by taking yon mortal shrine.” He pointed with the staff to the Facultat de Medicina, the university’s school of medicine. The building was enshrined with the symbol of Hermes, the Caduceus.
Rafael sputtered, “You can’t just–!”
Before he could continue his protest, Hermes had raised the serpent-entwined staff, and a bolt of energy blasted out of it, rushing toward Rafael like a sentient wave of power. The young man grunted and resisted the energy. His clothing did not burn, and he felt no real heat or pain. He looked around and gasped in shock.
“That energy charred the roof. My body should have been completely roasted. What kind of power do I have?” He raised his own hand to look at it for a moment, and after pointing it at Hermes, he made a force-bolt shoot out at the would-be god, disarming him.
Hermes became angered. “Tis not to be believed — your speed fairly rivals my own,” he said, reaching for the fallen staff.
Rafael Guerra ran forward, crashing into him like a human bullet. The sheer force of the impact carried them both far beyond the campus, finally crashing into a park miles away.
The figure calling himself Hermes suddenly changed into an overweight bald man with a thick mustache, who blinked in surprise and dismay at his surroundings. “Wh-what are we doing here?” he muttered. “I-I was just delivering flowers for my store, and now I’m in the w-woods?”
“I think we both have a lot to figure out,” said Rafael, extending his hand to help the man up to his feet. “You’d better come with me. You seem normal enough now, but I should make sure you get home safely.”
Rafael Guerra felt the energy within his altered form and exulted in it. He could be more than a mere soccer player, he realized. He could save lives. He could do good. He could be a hero. Fate had paid him back for all his past disappointments. He could only speculate that the strange cosmic energies of the Crisis had caused his coma and given him such amazing powers, possibly as some kind of karmic recompense.
The young man took flight and carried the bewildered florist to the center of town, then rocketed off into the night. No one saw his face, he told himself, since he had moved too quickly. He was faster than almost anyone, as well as impervious to harm and able to project vast resources of energy from inside him, all thanks to that strange beam of light that had come from the heavens and left the mark of a star on his chest. It was as if the dust of the very stars themselves had granted him his amazing powers.
He didn’t know what had turned that poor florist into a double of Hermes, but he guessed that the man was cured after he was separated from his Caduceus staff. Rafael noted that it was gone after he passed back over the university. He hoped his girlfriend Luiza, a reporter for the local television news, might help him find some answers to his questions.