by Christine Nightstar
As a young blond man was just getting out of bed, he realized that he didn’t remember how he got home or why he’d apparently left the window wide open.
“Man, I got to stop eating Betty’s Chili and drinking — gives me the weirdest dreams,” he said to himself. Shuffling over to the bathroom, he started to relieve himself, placing his hand against the wall to brace himself as he did so.
“Eh… what’s this?” he said, noticing for the first time that he was wearing long red gloves with dark furry green frills that extended to his elbow. Flushing the toilet, he shuffled over to the sink to wash up.
“Betty and Carl really went all out with this outfit,” he said, thinking that what he saw in his mirror was a practical joke pulled on him by his friends while he was passed out, drunk the night before. The furry red vest flared out over his head, a green-and-black-striped Speedo-style swim trunks covered his more intimate areas, and his legs were covered by long boots matching the gloves that came to his knees.
“Now how did they do that?” He noticed a scar on his left side that looked like he’d been cut as he took off the furry red vest. It looked like it had been almost completely healed, but he didn’t remember anything about it.
“What do you mean Knuckles is in jail? I thought he went over to put a little incentive into that professor for us?” asked an older man in a high-back chair as he placed his cigar in the ashtray.
“The professor got killed last night, Mr. Mussolini,” replied the young woman standing across from him.
“Knuckles knows better than that,” said the man. “The professor was developing a way for us to be able to be on even terms with the Marvels and the other flying freaks around here.”
“I know that, Mr. Mussolini, but the professor wasn’t cooperating,” replied the woman. “He said that he put the only prototype where we wouldn’t be able to get our ‘dirty criminal hands’ on it.”
“This is most displeasing, and knowing Knuckles, he tried to persuade it out of him?” asked the man.
“Yes, Mr. Mussolini, before he was interrupted by a green-haired, yellow-skinned freak in a red outfit.”
“That doesn’t sound like any of our boys,” said Mussolini. “Do you think Calvatori is trying to muscle in on our operations again?”
“No, sir. The freak didn’t look like any of Calvatori’s known troubleshooters. I have our boys checking to see if it matches any of the descriptions of any other super-heroes out there.”
“Could this freak be the one that the professor trusted the prototype with?”
“I won’t say that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind,” she replied. “But when I started picking up a lot of chatter on the police band scanner heading our way, I had to get out of there fast and retreat to the rendezvous point when things went south. Knuckles never showed up.”
“Why didn’t you go back to check on Knuckles when things quieted down again?” asked Mussolini.
“It wasn’t part of the plan,” she replied. “If things went south, we were to meet up at the pit. You know what it’s like to get a cab when the heat’s on.”
“Nearly impossible, ’cause they all have scanners, too, nowadays, and head as far away as possible when the heat is on,” Mussolini said. “I want any solid information on this new mystery-man. Put it out now through the normal channels. I want this freak to take the fall for the professor’s death. If he does have the prototype, I want that, too.”
“Don’t you think we should call in the team, Mr. Mussolini?”
“You don’t think the boys can handle another freak in tights?” he replied.
“Knuckles is in the intensive care unit of the secure block in the hospital,” she replied. “Knuckles has never been put in the ICU before, even when the big red cheese had to capture him.”
“I see your point,” said Mussolini. “Call the team. Tell them that we may have a job for them.”
“Yes, Mr. Mussolini, and your ten o’clock is waiting for you in the garden.”
“Thank you, Carrie.”
Inspectors Dominguez and Scully were investigating the money trail at Professor Yatz’s laboratory, trying to figure out who was backing the professor’s research. The records were quite a mess, to put it mildly.
“I can’t even find the financial files, Dom,” Scully said.
“You’d think, after five years of trying to decipher your handwriting, I’d be able to read just about anything,” said Dominguez, “but his handwriting is much worse than yours.”
“Well, anytime you want to take the notes instead of letting me do it for the both of us, let me know. Otherwise, shut the hell up.”
“Your wife invited me over again,” said Dominguez. “Who’s she trying to hitch me up with this week?”
“A cousin of hers,” said Scully. “But don’t tell her I told you.”
“Great,” said Dominguez. “What is this cousin — an accountant or an legal clerk?”
“She didn’t tell me, but I will tell you that she doesn’t think it’s right that a woman your age is still single, Dom.”
“If I could find a guy that I actually liked that wasn’t more boring than mold, I’d be interested,” said Dominguez.
“She also asked me to mention not to wear that black thing you wear every time you come over,” said Scully. “You look like something out of a horror movie.”
“I like wearing black, and that outfit is comfortable.”
“I’ll let you two ladies argue it out,” said Scully, shaking his head. “I’ll be hiding in the living room with the children, where it’s safe.”
The two police inspectors laughed, then went back to work.
The young blond man had dressed and begun to wake up further when he noticed a thin bracelet around his wrist. It was a thin metal cord, no wider than a wristband for a woman’s watch, with a single metal stud no larger than a watch battery.
“First that weird outfit and that scar, and now this,” said the young man. “It’s turning out to be a weird day.” He didn’t take off the metal cord, deciding it wasn’t hurting anything, and it wasn’t unattractive as far as bracelets went. Shrugging, he drank his coffee and started reading his morning newspaper. The image of the dead Professor Yatz splashed across the front page sparked some memories that he had discounted as dreams.
The night before:
He was stumbling home from Betty and Carl’s around nine P.M. after excusing himself early. He had been picked up by the kindly older gentleman in the car, Professor Emil Yatz.
“You look like something the cat coughed up, boy,” the professor commented as he lifted the inebriated young man out of the gutter, where he had fallen.
“I’ll be OK. I just need a place to…” the young man began, stopping himself to throw up into the gutter where he had lain just seconds before.
“Don’t worry. I know a place where you can sleep it off,” Professor Yatz stated, helping the young man into the back of his car.
The young man didn’t remember anything for another half-hour, then recalled waking up on a bed, his side feeling like it was on fire. The old man stood over him dressed in a surgical gown that was covered in blood.
“I can’t let my sponsors get my prototype,” said the professor. “I know who they are, and if it falls into their hands, Fawcett City will be in deep trouble. The prototype will make sure you recover from its installation quickly.”
“What did you do to me?”
“I installed my bio-enhancement prototype in you,” replied the scientist. “When you activate it, it will give you superhuman abilities until it’s turned off. I haven’t been able to work out the side-effects yet, though, but at least it won’t be in their hands.”
“What side-effects?” the young blond man asked wearily and groggily.
“Discoloration of epidermis and hair follicles, slight mental instability leaning toward manic behavior in most cases…”
“What about this outfit?” the young man asked again.
“I must admit, I’m not sure where I got the idea for it,” replied Professor Yatz sheepishly. “I’d thought I once witnessed a madman in yellow, red, and green battling super-villains alongside a group of strange metallic robots, but I haven’t been able to find any evidence that such a thing actually occurred. I suppose it must have all been a dream.” (*) He shook his head as he questioned his sanity once more.
[(*) Editor’s note: The professor must have caught a glimpse of the Creeper and the Metal Men during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, as seen in DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War, Chapter 9: A New Ice Age and DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War, Chapter 13: Turning the Tide.]
“In any case, the gloves and boots have microfibers that allow you walk on any surface,” explained the professor. “The vest serves no purpose; it was the only thing besides the trunks that I put on you that was cleaner than your shirt and pants, which are in the wash as we speak. Your wallet is in the inside vest pocket.”
After the young man passed out again, he was awakened by a shot fired by Knuckles Shultz, who had tried to persuade the professor to tell him where the prototype was. The boy didn’t know how he activated the prototype just then; everything was a blur for a few seconds.
“What the hell are you?” Knuckles said as the yellow-skinned, red-and-green-clad wild man jumped toward him.
“What am I? I don’t know. What are you doing beating up an old man like that?”
“This isn’t any of your affair, freak! Shove off!” the mob enforcer said, pulling his gun and pointing it at the yellow wild man.
“Ohhh… a gun. Is that a Roy Rogers special?” asked the yellow-skinned, green-haired youth as he watched the gun level at him. The first bullet was dodged by stepping to the side just in the nick of time. The second bullet missed, because the youth had jumped up toward the ceiling, flipping out of the way, his boots holding on to the hanging light. As the light fixture started to fall toward the ground, the yellow-skinned youth leaped again to a support beam.
“That could have hurt if I hadn’t jumped when I did,” the youth said before starting to laugh maniacally. Three more bullets shot toward the yellow-skinned youth as he bounced from place to place, avoiding the gunfire.
While Knuckles was reloading his pistol, the youth bounced down in front of him.
“You aren’t a nice man. How could I think a meanie like you could have had a Roy Rogers special?” The youth punched the mob enforcer, who dropped the gun and took up a boxing stance to fight the youth, who was laughing hysterically.
“Put ’em up! Put ’em up! I’ll moiderlize you! I’ll clean yer clock!” The youth said, trying to stop himself from laughing too hard. Knuckles hit him three times in the face.
“That’s the pepper, that’s the pepper — fight like that, and you’ll go all the way,” the youth said, dancing around the angry mob enforcer like he was a professional boxer, dodging the mobster’s punches.
“Stand still, you creep, so I can finish you,” Knuckles said, growing angrier and angrier with the youth.
“But I thought you wanted to play. I was right — you are a meanie.” The youth turned and started to walk away from the mob enforcer, acting like he was crying. Then he turned suddenly and yelled, “Psyche!” Punching Knuckles right in the face, he knocked the mob enforcer off his feet. The professor was starting to get up again when Knuckles grabbed his gun from the ground and emptied it into the professor’s body.
The youth’s face turned from one of jocularity to pure rage, and he started pummeling the mob enforcer. When the mob enforcer stopped resisting, something hit the youth like a realization of what was happening.
He started running, but as he climbed out the window, the cool night breeze hit him, and he started to laugh in revelry of his abilities.
Remembering what had happened the night before now just left the young man confused.
“How did I transform last night?” was the first of the questions he asked himself aloud. “And how did I get home?” The memories and flashbacks hadn’t helped.
He looked at the outfit that he had come home in the night before. As he started to examine it more closely, he found a tape recorder in the vest.
“Young man, if you are listening to this, it means I am dead and cannot answer in person the many questions that you may have,” said the voice of Emil Yatz. “But I will try to answer the most pressing of them. How you transform is probably the first question you had, so I will start with that. You can switch forms by touching the stud on that bracelet I put on your wrist. It will only respond to your touch, so nobody can transform you but you. I was able to transform you before my death by putting it on a timed activation cycle. I was expecting my patrons to come for me that night, and through you was able to prepare for them.”
The young man clicked the stop button and thought for a moment. That answered one of the many questions he had, but there were still so many more. He hit play again.
“The second question you may have is why I chose you. The answer is, I’m afraid, I have been watching over you for quite a while, young man. The prototype can only work for certain people, a little thing I didn’t tell my criminal patrons. It is complicated to explain and has to do with your DNA. Certain people like yourself have an unusual chemical signature in their DNA which, when activated, gives those people superhuman abilities. The bio-enhancement prototype allows you to activate and deactivate these superhuman abilities at will. As I told you last night, the prototype was not perfected, so there are some side-effects. My wife will be able to point you towards any of my trusted colleagues who may be able to modify the prototype without putting you through surgery.” The professor’s voice paused for a moment, then continued.
“I also know who you are, and I know a lot about your upbringing. I knew you to be the type of character that would not use the prototype’s bestowed abilities for evil purposes. Oh, you might well use them for selfish or irresponsible purposes now and again, which — to be honest — I would if were still young like you, but you wouldn’t use them to purposely hurt society.” The young man clicked the tape off again and left it off until he had absorbed all of what the professor had said thus far. Then he hit play again.
“If you’re wondering about the transformation, I will explain this. The outfit you wear when you transform into your superhuman form is stored as bioelectric data in the prototype, so that you don’t have to worry about risking your secret identity. The outfit I chose for you to wear in your superhuman identity has been imprinted already in the prototype, so you won’t have to worry about transforming and losing your effects.
“Your superhuman abilities, or at least those of which I have been able to catalogue so far, are as follows. Through the gloves and the boots, you have the ability to climb walls. You can lift over your head about twenty-five hundred pounds, maximum, and unless your body type changes drastically, your bone structure wouldn’t support more than that. You have superhuman speed, reflexes, and dexterity. You can run about ninety miles per hour for short distances and jump for distances of twenty-five to fifty yards. A positive side-effect of using your superhuman abilities is that you can eat all the fattening foods you’d ever want and still appear extremely physically fit in your normal form. If you go on a diet, however, or eat less food than normal while using the superhuman abilities on a routine basis, you will start to burn up more than fat… and you will begin to waste away.” The young man rewound and listened to that part again twice more before allowing it to go on.
“I ain’t got nothin’ to say to you without my lawyer, copper,” Knuckles Schultz said as the two inspectors came into the hospital room.
“Typical mob flunky. Sees a policeman and has nothing to say without his lawyer. How boring,” Inspector Scully said as he sat a vase of flowers on a stand beside the bed.
“Doesn’t even appreciate that we got him flowers and a get-well card. How typical,” Inspector Dominguez added. “Out of our own money, yet.”
“How nice of you. Put it on the table and get lost,” Knuckles said.
“I guess he wants to be alone,” Dominguez replied, and the two police inspectors left the hospital room.
Ten minutes later, outside the hospital, they conferred about their plans.
“You remembered to put the bug in the vase, right?” Scully asked.
“I put it on the lip of the vase on the underside, where it wouldn’t be noticed or get wet,” said Dominguez.
“So all we have to do is listen and wait for him to talk about the third person,” Scully said. “The lieutenant will have our badges if he finds out what we did.”
“So? We’ll become private investigators if that happens,” said Dominguez. “We’re qualified. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“I always get a cold shiver when you say that, Dom.”
“You worry too much, Scully. That’s probably why the lieutenant likes you instead of me.”
“He likes me because I don’t go out of the way to buck the system,” said Scully.
“Details, details, details,” said Dominguez. “I’m a big picture sort of girl.”
“Is that why you got suspended twice last year?”
“Shut up. His lawyer’s just come in the room,” Dominguez said as she cupped her hand over the earpiece.