Two members of the heroic Sentinels of Justice were facing their own foe in the form of a somewhat awkward silence.
Captain Atom approached Lady Quark and reached out one hand toward her shoulder, but stopped inches from the woman and swiftly withdrew his hand.
“Tashana, I know this must be a lot to get used to all at once,” he said slowly. “Having your Royal Family reunited must seem like something out of a fairy tale!”
Lady Quark nodded as she turned to face Captain Atom. “Nathaniel, I am without words,” she said. “I find myself feeling emotions of a myriad kind. I feel as though my very world has been changed beyond my comprehension!”
Captain Atom put his arms around her for a moment as he struggled to find the right words. “I can only imagine,” he began. “You’ve been through so much!”
“Take your filthy common hands off my wife!” demanded Lord Volt as he charged into the room and struck Captain Atom in the face.
Captain Atom rolled with the punch and regained his footing in seconds. “Hold on, Volt! I know you are confused–!” he began.
“Karak, you must not do this!” cried Lady Quark, placing a restraining hand on her husband’s arm.
Lord Volt shook her hand away from his shoulder and moved closer to Captain Atom. “Lady Quark, this matter will be settled by men. That is the way it has always been handled, and so shall it be this time! I sense this shining knave has taken liberties with you! I felt as much when I saw the way he gazed at you!”
At that, he caught Captain Atom with a second thunderous blow that sent the hero reeling.
Captain Atom steadied himself and rubbed his chin. “That does it!” he said. “I don’t care if you’re Lord Volt or King Kong. Nobody gets to take two free swings at me!” He tackled the red-and-gold-costumed royal, pounding him with stinging punches of his own.
Lord Volt began to choke Captain Atom as his grunted with exertion. “You’re a mere Captain,” he said. “You lack any trace of royal blood, and yet you dare touch my wife? What a paltry world this is if you are its greatest hero!”
Captain Atom brought both fists up into Volt’s stomach, then backhanded him across the face as he broke the other man’s grip. “It is true Lady Quark and I care for one another, but we thought you were dead!” he said as he ducked Lord Volt’s next swing and connected with one of his own. “As for your old world notions of superiority, on this Earth, a man is only as good as his own abilities enable him to be! And as far as being only a captain, I’ve always been proud to serve my country!”
Just as Captain Atom staggered the bigger man with another punch, Lady Quark flew between the fighting men.
“I order this to cease!” she cried as her own nimbus of energy flashed around her body.
Lord Volt smiled suddenly with a sad look in his eyes. “No need for orders,” he said. “I declare this combat to be over. In making accusations, I wronged my own royal wife. As for you, sir, you are a noble in spirit, if not in rank. My closest friend, the Justiciar, was a man of no title, but his brave soul earned him the respect of many a royal personage. I feel you might well be another such worthy. Your prowess in battle and your words of reason have shamed me.”
“No harm done,” said Captain Atom. “I guess we both needed to let off a bit of steam.”
Lady Quark embraced her husband even as Layla’s ominous offer echoed through her mind.
At that moment, two newcomers entered the observation deck. Captain Atom recognized his allies, Champion and Son of Vulcan. “Don’t worry,” he said in explanation. “We were just settling some personal differences!”
Son of Vulcan shook his head and said, “Sorry, Cap. I’d be happy to help you in any way I could, but I’m here because there’s something big going on! This planet may be in danger! I’m no alarmist, but I take the source of this news very seriously!”
Captain Atom’s mind raced as he listened to his friend’s dire words. John Mann has changed a lot, he mused. He had become so distant and inhuman because of the way evil Olympians were tapping into the powers that he, in turn, was tapping into from his Roman patrons. Now, since he freed himself from their control and gave up some of that power, his speech is much more ordinary, and his emotions are a lot easier to read!
Indeed, the war correspondent-turned-champion of various Roman gods and goddesses had found his own life turned upside down by the whims and demands of his Olympian patrons, but John Mann had managed to regain his old demeanor and use his divine gifts while keeping his humanity intact.
Son of Vulcan explained his mission. “As you know, I gave up the role of Overseer of the World because it was taking me away from using my powers for good. (*) I was never meant to be on the sidelines. I’m a man of action. It’s my curse and my blessing. Well, Stardust the Space Wizard — the new Overseer — tipped me off to a cosmic-level threat. Someone has been manipulating the very forces of time and space for some unknown purpose. The Space Wizard feels that this unknown person has sinister intent, and he’s tracked the source of the cosmic fluctuations to a planet at the very center of the universe!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 2, Chapter 5: Overseer of the World.]
Captain Atom nodded and said, “We’ll handle it. I’ll alert the others!”
“I don’t think there’s time!” said Vulcan. “The Space Wizard felt that the only advantage we might have over this enemy is an immediate attack!”
Captain Atom nodded and said, “Three of us are pretty powerful. Lady Quark, you’ll want to stay here with Lord Volt!”
Lady Quark’s eyes flashed as she said, “Never shall it be said that I shirked my duty! I will join you!” She thought, This cosmic threat has to be Layla. Better to confront her once and for all, even if it means bringing to a head my decision!
“I will accompany you as well,” said Lord Volt.
“Karak, you are but newly arrived here,” she replied. “Surely, you need time to collect your thoughts!”
Lord Volt lifted her chin with one hand and kissed her before saying, “I am ready as ever I was to face any threat to my family. For you and Princess Fern, as well as for this strange new world, I will risk any peril!”
“If you’re Lady Quark’s husband, then we can use your power,” said Son of Vulcan. “We’ve heard of your prowess!” He thought, This must be tearing Cap up. He’s crazy about her!
“I’m ready,” added Champion. “I’ll follow wherever you lead, Cap!”
“Thank you,” said Captain Atom. “Then let’s get into the shuttle and head for this strange planet.”
They departed in haste, and moments later a monitor screen blared to activity. The gray-haired grim visage of Sarge Steel appeared on the screen as a signal summoned the Sentinels of Justice with a priority trouble alert.
“Attention, Sentinels! A group of superhuman attackers is rampaging through the new KORD facility,” he said. “I need as many of you as possible to handle the situation. We don’t want the creations of that lab to fall into the wrong hands!”
Tracey Kord adjusted the strap of a rather costly nightgown of pale rose and frowned. “Face it, Mrs. Kord, you just aren’t the sexy lingerie kind of girl. Still, I want things to be as romantic as they can be for Ted when I tell him the news!” she said with a pout on her face.
At that moment Ted Kord entered the room and whistled appreciatively. “Wow! Am I in the Kord home, or is that Monica Lake herself?” he said, pushing aside the thought that the glamorous actress Monica Lake was now his fellow Sentinel the Countess as he took his wife’s hands in his own. “Tracey, you look sensational! You really know how to revive the sagging spirits of a tired old lab man!” he said as they kissed.
Tracey smiled warmly at her husband as she said, “Don’t forget I worked right in that lab with you for years before you popped the question!”
Ted nodded as he allowed himself to be led to a lovely table decorated with a flower arrangement and, more to Ted’s delight, with a plate of steaming roast beef. “Say, Trace, what’s with the deluxe spread?” he asked with a puzzled look on his face. “This isn’t the anniversary of our first date, is it? Or, maybe, of the day I first hired you?”
Tracey shook her head as her husband began to slice the roast beef. “No, Ted, but I have something to tell you. I think you’ll be pleased. I sure hope so, anyway!” began the attractive brown-haired woman.
Before she could continue, a high-pitched beeping sound filled the room. “Holy cats! That’s a priority trouble alert from Sarge Steel himself!” said Ted as he jumped to his feet.
Tracey raised one hand in protest and said, “No, Ted! Not tonight! You see, I want to talk to you!”
Ted smothered her lips with two quick kisses, then ran for the stairs. “No time to talk, honey. Booster and the others will need me! Old Sarge doesn’t summon us unless something mighty big is brewing! Warm the meal for me, huh?”
As her husband disappeared into his basement workshop, Tracey Kord sighed heavily and placed one hand on her torso. “You’ll get used to that,” she said gently. “Your father has a way of rushing around like a crazy man at times! It comes from living two lives!”