Meanwhile, Nightshade raced through the shadows in her semi-solid shadow form and found herself overlooking the battle as she emerged on a narrow ledge. “From this vantage point I could do a lot with a few well-placed ebony bombs,” she said.
She reached into her belt pouch and dropped four black spheres into the troops below. As inky blackness swelled up and blinded them all, Captain Atom recognized the source of the artificial night.
Eve’s blinding them — bless her! he thought. This could buy us time to join the others. He flew upward and grabbed Blue Beetle and the Question. Adam Thompson flew in his wake, and they left the Atomic Knights milling around below in the black cloud created by Nightshade’s ebony bombs. They spotted her perched on the ledge above and joined her in a matter of seconds. “Nice going, Nightshade!” said Captain Atom.
Blue Beetle agreed. “I’ll say! It would have taken me hours to blind each one of them with a close-up blast from my strobe gun.”
“You blacken their eyes your way,” said the Question, “I’ll give them black eyes my way.”
“I hear fighting,” said Adam Thompson. “We’d better hurry.” They rushed down to enter the main hall where their friends were under attack by the Monarch. His Atomic Knights charged forward to block the path of the newcomers.
Nightshade danced aside and jumped over a sword to dropkick the owner. She rolled across his back and spun around to trip up the heavily armored knight. “Chivalry is really dead as far as you’re concerned, isn’t it, pal?” she joked.
Captain Atom slammed into a group of the Knights and fought his way toward the others. The Question and the Blue Beetle battled on as well in their unique styles.
“So which one of you clowns is Lancelot?” said the Blue Beetle as he fired his BB-gun and sent a blast of compressed air into a Knight.
Liberty Belle had leaped forward and grabbed a hanging banner. She agilely swung her legs up and pulled herself skyward until she was hanging above the fight. “Booster’s losing!” she realized. “His force-field can’t stand up to the Monarch’s power!”
Indeed, the blue and gold sensation was rapidly staggering beneath the overwhelming punches of the larger man. Booster Gold gritted his teeth even as his costume began to lose power. I’ve overextended my suit’s power source, thought Booster. But if I drop the force-field, then he’ll drop me.
Broderick jumped between the combatants and said, “Gold, get clear! Let me buy you some time.”
Booster fell back and tried to return to the struggle as the black-clad time cop’s injuries became all-too obvious. “You didn’t heal at all!” he said with concern in his voice. “That was just tough talk. That trident thing hurt you badly.”
Broderick grappled with the Monarch and said, “He infected my gear when he struck me. Some kind of microbe is leeching all my chronal energies. I may never make it through time again.”
Monarch choked him and shoved him down as he laughed harshly. “I’ve crippled your armor. Broderick, you won’t flee through the eons again. I’d say one last trip might just leave your gear powerless and you lost in limbo. You don’t dare risk that.”
Booster Gold tackled the Monarch and said, “Leave him alone! You’re nothing but a bully. Power doesn’t equal class, and I’ve got you beat in that department.”
Broderick gasped for breath. I’m hurt worse than I imagined, he thought. I can’t hurt Monarch — he knows that. Still, maybe I can do one final thing. He adjusted his belt and, after a brief glow, it went dark. The relentless time cop smiled grimly and said, “Gold, I misjudged you when we first met. This is my way of making up for that error. I owe you that much.”
Booster grunted as the Monarch knocked him flat. Captain Atom started to close in on Monarch when an Atomic Knight’s gleaming sword sliced through his side and left him reeling. Crackling energy began to seep out of the wound. Adam Thompson punched the attacker across the room with the force of his super-dense blow.
Nightshade screamed and rushed to the fallen hero’s side. She passed directly through all obstacles in her semi-solid state. “Atom!” she said as she cradled his body.
“I’m OK,” he whispered. “It’ll be OK. The energy is not like blood. I can contain it through sheer willpower.”
“You can’t hold on for much longer,” said the Monarch. “I’ll enjoy using your dying energies to fuel my own weapons of war.”
The Blue Beetle and the Question found themselves surrounded as the Knights circled them. “We could use a miracle about now,” said Blue Beetle.
Liberty Belle had watched the whole sequence of events from above, and her keen mind had found a solution. The all-American girl dropped down in a dazzling series of acrobatic flips and landed perfectly next to Adam Thompson. “Adam, I’ve watched you use your powers to alter your density, but seeing Nightshade in her semi-shadow form gave me an idea. Can you alter the density of other people or objects?” asked the platinum blonde heroine.
Thompson nodded and said, “I’ve done so before with inanimate objects. I’ve never used that aspect of my powers on a living being before.”
“Get close to Monarch,” said Belle. “His force-field won’t stop you if you become intangible. Then do as I tell you.” She whispered hurriedly, and Thompson nodded in agreement. Liberty Belle touched his cheek and placed a kiss there before sending the young man into battle. “You can do it. I believe in you,” she said.
Thompson flew directly past the others and dropped down to pass wraithlike through Monarch’s unseen force-field and then touch the villain with suddenly solid hands.
The Monarch gasped as the hero concentrated again and allowed his touch to change the density of the armor so that it became intangible as well. He hurled himself forward and knocked the Monarch out of his own armor.
The armor clattered to the floor, and Adam kicked it aside and stood over the now-desperate Cameron Scott. He only wore a thin brown leotard, and his face reflected fear and anger.
“Way to go, kid!” gasped Captain Atom as he forced himself to stand.
Booster Gold dived for the empty Monarch armor and enclosed it within his own force-field. “Cameron, you can’t touch this now. Not so tough without your metal tux!” he jeered.
“This can’t happen to me!” yelled the Monarch.
“It has, and you can’t change the fact, either,” said Thompson.
“The Atomic Knights are immobile, too,” said Blue Beetle. “Without Monarch’s will dominating them, they don’t have any desire to fight. For that matter, they don’t even know why they’re here.”
He was correct. The army of Knights had been composed of hapless slaves with no will to resist the Monarch or his science. Now they could think again, and they wanted nothing more than to be free. They raced away or waited tensely and uncertain of their best course of action.
Nightshade helped Captain Atom to cross over and stand over the fallen tyrant. “Cameron Scott, you are a disgrace to the American military!” said the Sentinels of Justice leader.
Scott glared at the wounded man and then lashed out with surprising speed. He crashed directly into the wound on Captain Atom’s side, and as energy rushed out, he vanished. Atom collapsed, and the others gathered around him.
“What happened to him?” Booster asked.
“Cameron Scott used a desperate escape route,” explained Blue Beetle. “He allowed himself to be irradiated in the leaking energy that came out of Cap’s body. The quantum energy residue from before reacted with Scott’s own energy-soaked cells and launched him into time again.”
Broderick smiled grimly as he looked at one of his only remaining devices. “I can track him, too. Our friend the former Monarch is now trapped in the time of the dinosaurs. He has nothing but his clothing and his wits. He won’t rule that era, nor can he do more than struggle to survive. It is a fitting prison for a man who tried to rule time itself.”
Liberty Belle embraced Adam Thompson and said, “You did it. You defeated it. He had good reason to fear you.”
“But it was your plan,” said Thompson, “so he had equal reason to fear you.”
Booster said, “Well, I was the one who went toe-to-toe with him.”
“Will Captain Atom be OK?” Nightshade asked.
Blue Beetle ruffled her hair — which was actually a wig — and said, “Yes, I can fix that wound. Really, all we need to do is reapply the same substance that originally comprised his body shielding. We can duplicate that substance back home.”
“But we’ll need to use Monarch’s own time machine to get home,” said Broderick. “My equipment is now largely useless.” The others agreed and swiftly departed as the time cop’s expertise made easy use of the various inventions that filled the castle.
Back aboard the satellite called Project X, Captain Atom received treatment and vowed to be back in action as soon as possible. From his bed, Captain Atom congratulated Adam Thompson and made him an offer he couldn’t resist.
“Son, I think you have the makings of a real champion in you,” he said. “How about joining us and becoming an action-hero?”
Thompson smiled and said, “I’d like to start slowly — I’m new to this. Perhaps I could become a reservist. I’d be honored to serve when needed. I don’t even have a costume or name.”
“After the way you defeated Monarch, I can think of a fitting one,” said Captain Atom. “How about Champion?”
Thompson nodded and said, “I like it!”
Elsewhere aboard the ship, Blue Beetle reported in to Sarge Steel, and the Question sat next to a glum Liberty Belle.
“You’re thinking about your sister and about Leeza, aren’t you?” said the Question. “That’s natural, but you have to keep going. They’re counting on you to carry on for them.”
“I know,” said Candy Dean. “But Maddy is not going to be Liberty Belle again. It’s my role and my responsibility. I’m going to tell her to retire. Losing a sister and a friend is too much for me. I can’t watch another good person die in this costume.”
“You can’t control Maddy,” said the Question. “She’s an adult with all an individual’s rights. If she wants to be a heroine, then she’ll find another way to do it.”
The new Liberty Belle said, “I know that. But she won’t do it as Liberty Belle. I’m not sharing the role any longer. She doesn’t deserve that burden.”
In the lab, Broderick faced Booster Gold and made a startling admission. “I’m going back to the castle. I want to use that equipment to study time itself. I think I could do some good on my own. The Transdimensional Police don’t need me any longer, anyway. I’m really fascinated with time after all I’ve seen and experienced.”
“Yeah?” said Booster. “Well, you have my vote to be the one to guard all that gear. We don’t want one of those Knights becoming a second Monarch.”
“That won’t happen,” said Broderick. “In fact, I rather think the way we liberated the future might just inspire some new heroes of that era. Time travel nuances being what they are, our deeds might have already inspired someone in the future.”
“I’d like to be a role model for others,” said Booster. “I mean, in addition to the millions of fans I already have.”
“You impressed me enough for me to use the last energy in my original belt to do something for you,” said Broderick.
Booster frowned. “What do you mean?”
Broderick said, “Skeets, bring them in!”
The door opened, and Skeets swooped inside with two women following in his path. The taller woman was handsome and middle-aged, while the young one was stunningly lovely with light blonde hair.
“Mom! Michelle!” gasped Booster as he raced forward to embrace his mother and teenage sister.
“Michael, Skeets told us what happened to you,” said Ellen Carter. “We couldn’t believe it. After all, you’d only been gone a day or so.”
Booster kissed his mother on the cheek and said, “Huh? I’ve been gone for a lot longer than a couple of days. I… wait a minute! You plucked them from the day after I first came here and brought them to this day.”
Broderick said, “I felt you’d earned a reunion.”
“How can I thank you?” said Booster.
“You’ll think of something. You’ve got plenty of time.” He vanished in a flash of energy as one of Monarch’s time devices whisked him away.
Skeets said, “Booster, I fear you are leaking.”
Booster Gold wiped at his eyes and said, “Well, sure. Even a hero can cry.”
Michelle Carter stood back and looked at her big brother. “I can’t imagine you becoming a real action-hero.”
“Well, between us, I’m not yet, but I’m working on it,” her brother replied. “Maybe someday I’ll inspire some real heroes, too.”
He fingered the flight ring he had taken from the Space Adventures Museum before first coming to the twentieth century. Never did find out what the L on this thing stands for, he thought.