by Linda Thackeray
BOOK ONE: BEGININGS
Chapter One - Reunion
Get used to it Gardner, this is the first of many.
Sure, its gonna twist your guts, make you so angry you could scream but it ain't gonna change anything. She is still out of your reach. Perhaps, she always was.
Guy Gardner shook that thought from his mind and poured himself another drink. When the stunted shot glass was filled to the brim, he glanced at the clock on the wall. It was one minute after the last time he looked. Where were they? He thought to himself as he brought the glass to his lips and downed its contents with one toss of his head. Although his Vuldarian biochemistry made him practically invulnerable, alcohol could still make him drunk and give him a hangover like anyone else. Better take it easy, he warned himself. Still, it was hard to maintain his usual bravado when he remembered what date it was.
One year ago today, Tora died.
It was one year since she had sacrificed herself to save the world from a ruthless alien conqueror. Her death had turn the tide of the battle for the Justice League incarnation of the time. She saved them all. Now it seemed only he and a select few still remembered that. Guy did not want to be bitter. After a life time battling rage and trying to control his need for revenge for the unfortunate turns of his life, he knew there was no point to any of it.
All he wanted was an acknowledgment by the world that she had died a hero.
As he looked up on the television screen flickering with life on the other side of the bar, Guy found himself frowning. Another current affairs show was covering a story on the latest incarnation of the Justice League of America. Justice League of America. It sounded like a relic from the Cold War era. There was a time when Guy was almost fanatical in his patriotism for the good ol' US of A. However, his perspective had changed since he learnt he was actually an alien from a dead race called the Vuldarians. While he still loved his country, he had begun to appreciate what Maxwell Lord had attempted to do when he established Justice League International. The world was too small to be defined by national boundaries and it felt as if the new League had taken a step back by adding the word 'America' to its title.
The sound on the television was turned down but Guy could predict what was being said even without hearing it. As the faces of the new members appeared on the screen, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Jonn Jonzz, Guy found himself turning away from it. The greatest super team of all time, he snorted derisively and didn't they act the part? He had been turned for membership when he applied and yet somehow Plastic Man had made the team. Plastic Man? The absurdity of it was beyond belief.
His bar, Warriors, was closed today. Verona and the rest of his usual companions had gone with Buck Wargo to the Andes for some rare artefact that Wargo claimed he had a lead on. It was just as well. As much as they were apart of his life now, he did not want to share today with them. They simply did not understand that it was not just the loss of one woman for him but Tora's absence from his life had changed all his hopes for the future. Sure it was corny, but he had always planned to spend forever with her. Ever since her death, he could not seem to get that same direction back again.
"Do you always drink alone and watch TV with no sound?" A new voice interrupted his thoughts. Actually, it was not a new voice. He just had not heard it in a long time. Guy turned to the doorway and saw a woman in her early thirties impeccably dressed in Chanel and wearing an expression on her attractive features that always reminded Guy of den mother looking after a troop of insane Boy Scouts.
"I don't remember inviting you Catherine." Guy retorted but could not deny it was good to see the United Nations delegate and one time Administrative Head of the Justice League. If truth be known, he had send the request down the grapevine and it was anyone's guess who would show up for this little get together.
"Very droll." Catherine grinned and joined him at the table. "Its been a long time, Guy."
"More than a year." Guy remarked. "How you been doing?"
"Exceptionally well as always, if not a little better." She replied silkily. Catherine surveyed the bar and took in its decor before returning her gaze to Guy again. "You don't seem to be doing badly yourself." She remarked indicating the bar. "I hear this place for super hero hangouts."
Guy could not help being a little proud of Warriors. When Wargo had bought him the place initially, Guy had been sceptical about his ability to run it. With all the periodic fights he had with super villain types, the bar had more remodelling costs than the Vatican. However, in between those remodelling intervals, the bar did well. He had tourists coming in here all the time wanting to get a look at the last place two meta-human types took to beating the crap out of each other.
"It does okay." Guy replied. "Thanks for coming." He added after a moment. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"She was my friend too." Catherine said quietly. During its time the League had been one series of headaches after another but she came to secretly adore each and everyone of this characters. Maxwell Lord's idea for a global league had been an idealistic crusade Catherine was happy to follow. It was more than just about super heroes defending the world. It was about uniting the races of a planet under one banner for the common good. Even now, knowing that she had apart of the bureaucracy who brought that dream to an end, stung. Especially with the media touting the newest League as the best thing since Christ walked the earth.
This was not the time to go over old territory, Catherine told herself and decided to change the subject. "So where is everyone else?"
"Right here." Ted Kord a.k.a Blue Beetle announced his presence. With him, was Beatriz de Costa and Booster Gold. Ted was out of uniform and looked like any ordinary person of the street. Guy had kept in contact with Ted after he left the League and considering their relationship then, it was surprising that they had managed to become friends. When Guy had lost Sinestro's ring, Ted had fashioned him an exo-skeleton that had temporarily allowed him to remain in the super hero game prior to the discovery of his Vuldarian heritage.
"Took you long enough Beetle." Guy retorted before turning to Beatriz. "Hi babe."
The tall, Brazilian woman offered him an alluring smile before she slid into the booth next to him. "Sorry I'm late," she apologised. "My fashion shoot ran over."
Since the dispersal of the Wonder Woman's Justice League, Beatriz had decided to concentrate on her modelling career for a while. Tora's death had hit her particularly hard because Tora was more than just the other half of the Fire and Ice team but she was also Beatriz's best friend. Since their meeting, they had spent lives together. It was Beatriz who persuaded Tora to join the League after the dispersal of the Global Guardians. They had moved to New York and took advantage of their celebrity status to embark on a modelling career. When Beatriz had lost Tora, it was like losing part of herself.
Perhaps that is what drew her to Guy now. After Tora's death, Guy seemed to be the only one who had trouble moving on without her and it was a sentiment Beatriz could appreciate. In sharing their mutual loss over a dear friend and lover, Guy and Beatriz had slipped into a comfortable intimate relationship. She still had trouble believing that she could ever care about Guy Gardner after all, she remembered calling him a pig once. Still, he had changed a great deal since those days and Beatriz could understand what Tora loved so much about him.
"Well most of the gang's here." Guy commented as Beetle and Catherine exchanged pleasantries. "How ya doing Gold?"
Booster Gold had been quiet for most of the greetings. Despite the fact he had recovered from his injuries and looked the same as he always did, the scars left behind were deep. It was hard fitting in when he was unable to forget that almost a year ago, his life depended on a battle suit created by Ted. During the same battle with the Overmaster where Tora died, Booster had been seriously injured. The suit had been as much a burden as it had been a life line. Even now, months after an ill wised alliance with the villain Monarch had restored him to perfect health, Booster still felt odd.
"I'm okay Gardner." Booster replied, taking a seat at the booth. "Its good to see all of you." He found himself admitting. "I don't think we've been together since the " the words died in his throat and he wished he had thought before he spoke.
"Its okay Gold," Guy reassured him. "You can say it. Tora's funeral." He did not add how he had been absent because no one had told him. However, Guy had overcome that particular hurt a long time ago. Now it was just good to see his friends again.
"Sorry," Booster said embarrassed. "It is good to see you guys anyway." He continued. "Kind of reminds me of the old days."
"It sure does." Beatriz sighed. The days in the League had been the best in her life. Half the time, it was like a crazy frat party with jokes being played on each other and endless arguments over nonsensical things. Until now, Beatriz had no idea how much she missed it and the people shared those times with her.
"What can I get you to drink?" Guy asked rising from his seat.
"Scotch and water for me." Catherine sang out.
"Brewski for me." Ted called out as well.
"Me too." Booster added.
"You know what I drink." Beatriz replied with a wink.
While Guy went off to prepare the drinks, Catherine turned to Beatriz. "This place agrees with him. He is quite tolerable now." Catherine recalled the headaches that Guy used to cause the League when he had been so unstable he was often labelled psychotic by his team mates. Maxwell Lord been tempted to boot him out of the League on several occasions but a Green Lantern in ranks of the Justice League was nothing to laugh at. Fortunately, it appeared that his behaviour during those years had been a symptom of his illness because Guy seemed to have his head together now.
"I think it has to do with the whole Vuldarian thing." Beatriz commented. "I guess knowing he's an alien knocked some sense into him."
"Something had to." Ted retorted.
"I have three words for you." Catherine said in Guy's defence.
"Don't say it!" Ted groaned knowing full well to what she was alluding to. "Don't say it!"
"Kooey Kooey Kooey."
"Too late." Beatriz laughed. "You're never going to live that down you know."
"Crap," Booster added. "He's done far more embarrassing things to live down than that."
"Oh really?" Ted gave him a look. "At least I did not throw up in JL shuttle."
"Hey, it was a queasy ride!" Booster protested in his defence.
"BWAHA HA HA HA!"
The former Leaguers stopped talking and looked at Catherine.
Catherine Clobber was laughing. She laughed so hard and long that all the others stopped talking and were looking at him with puzzlement. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she giggled loudly and showed no signs of abating. Reaching into her purse, he slipped out a handkerchief and dried the tears from her eyes. After a minute, she regained her composure, although she was still feeling a little giddy in the head following the outburst.
The others were still staring at her in silence. Even Guy who had returned, was standing at the table with a similar expression while carrying their drinks.
"I'm sorry." Catherine replied, trying to suppress a giggle that could well carry her into a fresh bout of laughter. "Its been a while since I've been witness to you people's insane bantering. The only thing missing is Ice telling Guy to behave and Jonn completely losing it. It would be complete if some of Justice League Europe had made it here."
"I know," Beatriz agreed. "I'd like to see how Ralph and Sue are doing. I think Kara's with a new team thought."
"Yeah," Ted chuckled, knowing exactly what she meant. "By the way, where is the Oreo eater anyway?"
"With the new Justice League." Guy retorted, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
"You mean the Justice League of America." Catherine added with the same venom.
"I tried to contact him at the Watchtower but I haven't got an answer back yet." Guy did not expect the Martian Manhunter to attend anyway. "He's on the A-list now anyway."
Everyone fell silent for a moment. Mentioning the new Justice League had cast a pall over their previous warm atmosphere. Finally it was Catherine who spoke in the Martian's defence. "Jonn's never really cared about that sort thing. If he isn't here, its for a good reason."
"Well at least one of us made it to the new League." Beatriz offered.
"It makes me sick you know." Booster gushed. "I mean look at us!" He rose to his feet and started pacing the floor in front of their table. "I can't live without this damn suit. You Ted, almost died when we ran into Doomsday. We lost Tora, not to mention Rex and the Silver Sorceress and yet we're still considered the B-grade version of the League! Its not fair. Did they fight Despero? Did they stop the Gray Man or the Extremists? No, we did! We've put in as much sweat and blood in the League as Superman and the rest of them have. I'm tired of being put in second place just because they're the darlings of the media."
"Calm down Booster," Ted interjected. He understood Booster's anger and to some extent, he felt the same rage, but what was to be done about it now? "Look we all know what you're talking about."
"Do you really?" Booster snapped. This was the first time he had a chance to express these feelings and he did not intend to stop. "Think about everything we stood for. We didn't just stand for America, we stood for the world! Where were all of them when Tora and I were being torn to pieces? Where were they when Parallax killed Kilowog? If they're so damned powerful why couldn't they stop Jordan?"
"Booster you're right." Catherine broke into the conversation. She had not been here an hour and she was already playing den mother again. "All of you stood for something great once and you still do. Just because you're not a Leaguer does not change that."
"It just makes me mad that's all." Booster sat down.
"Here put this down your throat." Guy slid a mug of beer in his direction. "Take some edge of that hot head of yours."
"You ought to talk." Booster smiled wryly and raised the glass to his lips. "Your temper tantrums were legendary. You were going to bite my nose off once."
"I can still do it." Guy retorted, staring at him through narrowed eyes before he grinned. "You guys ought to know."
"I liked you best when you tried to keep that six foot mouse as a pet." Ted stated.
"Don't remind me." Guy groaned, thinking back to the time when he was still suffering the after effects of his brain damage. He had fallen into a coma. When he awoke, Guy Gardner had turned into a dangerous and violent persona nearly bordering on complete schizophrenia. It also did not help that he would undergo a complete persona change each time he bumped his head. Fortunately, his Vuldarian heritage managed to stabilise his mental condition and now Guy had returned to some semblance of normal. During one of these episodes, Guy had attempted to keep a mouse that Ted had enlarged through the teleporters as pet. Needless to say it was not a fulfilling pet master relationship.
"I still say it was a wharf rat." Booster remarked.
"Would you give up already?" Ted exclaimed, shaking his head because he had heard this argument too many times already. "That was not a wharf rat!"
"What is with you an wharf rats?" Beatriz quizzed.
"You don't want to know." Catherine advised with a smile, having heard the tale from Jonn a long time ago. As she watched the group launch into another one of their infamous arguments, Catherine thought about how much she missed them. Not just their camaraderie but also the family they had been to her during her years in the League. Perhaps that was what was lacking with Superman's League now, a sense of warmth that extended beyond camaraderie. While she was glad Jonn was still counted in its alumni, she wondered if the Martian was as happy as he had been during his years in Maxwell Lord's League. Jonn had once said that they reminded him of a dysfunctional family and it was the closest he had come to possessing one since losing his wife and child.
Catherine could understand that. The League had been a family then and who welcomed everyone into its circle. She felt proud to be included in that family and had counted these misfits as his friends. Having them all back together seemed right somehow. Suddenly, Catherine was struck with inspiration. It came upon her with such potency that he was speechless for a moment as the possibilities ran off in her mind. This time, he would do it right.
"Hey," Guy turned to her who seemed to have faded out of the conversation. "Cat got ya tongue?"
Catherine blinked at the sound of his voice but her return to reality had not dispelled her sudden burst of inspiration. It was unfair that this group's achievements in League should be overshadowed by the present team. A good many of them had died to preserve the ideals the League had represented. The people in this room were heroes and they deserved the right to show it. Just because they no longer had sanction by the United Nations, did not change the fact that they were once a potent force for good.
"You were a good team once." Catherine stated.
"Yeah we were." Ted said puzzled and exchanged glances with the others wondering what this had to do with their present topic of discussion.
"You could be again."
If anything could capture their undivided attention, that was it. All stopped drinking, talking and anything else they were doing to look at him with astonishment. The anticipation in the air was almost electric until Guy broke the silence. "What are you taking about?"
"Exactly what I said." Catherine repeated. "Why not?"
"Why not?" Guy balked. "Cause there is no team any more! The League we know is gone. What are you proposing we do? Call ourselves the League of Substitute Heroes?"
"The League of what?" Booster exclaimed half horrified and fascinated at the same time.
"Never mind that," Beatriz cut him off. "I don't understand, what are you proposing Catherine?"
"Well I've been listening to you all night and I know one thing for certain. Everyone of you misses being in the game and you especially miss it not being together. Maybe I didn't go flying with magic rings or turn into living flame but I do remember what it felt like to be doing some good in this world. I think you can do it again. So the team won't call itself the Justice League, is the name so important?"
"I don't know Catherine," Beatriz said hesitantly. "I mean what do we have to offer anyone that the new League can't already do?"
"A great deal." Ted spoke before she could. "We have heart. We don't go riding in there in a blaze of glory to solve the problems of the little people. We've stopped and got to know them. We've made friends all over the place . Think about Dmitri, Hugh, Kimmy and the Fox? We were apart of a global community, not a bunch of self styled gods looking down on the planet from the moon. There are plenty of places we could help. Just because its not high on media profile doesn't mean its less deserving of our attention. We know where the trouble is and we clean up without needing an alien intruder for an excuse."
"He's right," Booster added. "When was the last time you saw the new League help out with an oil spill, or put the pieces together after an earthquake. From what I've heard Gotham City is quickly turning into the seventh level of hell."
"That's Batman's city." Beatriz pointed out. "You know how territorial he gets."
"He won't have a city the way its going." Catherine remarked under her breath but was audible enough for everyone to hear. "From what I understand, the only thing holding Gotham together is the paint but that's my point exactly. You people are capable of contributing to more than just fighting every alien invader or would be world conqueror. There are social problems present that the League is too wary about touching."
"I know a couple of inner city schools that need cleaning out." Guy remarked. "I was teaching at one of them recently and I tell ya," he shook his head in disgust. "Apokolips didn't look so bad in comparison. Maybe we can't save the world," he sighed. "But we can help the little parts of it."
"I do like the thought of that." Beatriz smiled. "With our powers, we can make a difference in a way we never thought of before." Suddenly, she was very excited about this idea because she knew Tora would have liked it. Tora always believed that it was necessary to look at the fine print as well as the big picture. She concerned herself with the people not the situation. What Catherine was proposing sounded very much like that.
"So do we get ourselves a snazzy new name?" Ted asked. "I kind like Guy's idea of calling us the League of Substitute Heroes."
"We are not calling ourselves that!" Booster declared.
"Where did you hear that anyway?" Beatriz looked at Guy.
"I got it, the Knights of Lord." Booster suggested. The expressions he got from the others did not seem encouraging. Ted was making a retching sound while Beatriz rolled her eyes in mock resignation.
"I hope you're joking." Catherine eyed him critically. While it had some merits, most notably the homage to Maxwell Lord, the man who had made them all a global force, Catherine believed something simpler was warranted. Something memorable that was completely unaffiliated with the League.
"You come up with a better idea." He said defensively.
"Its okay Booster," Ted said gently patting him on the back. "We'll get you back to the home soon."
Booster's only reaction to that was an upturned middle finger and a frown.
"I've got a suggestion." Beatriz said after a moment's consideration. "Its probably a little corny."
"It can't be any worse than what Gold came up with." Guy retorted as Booster offered him the same finger gestured.
"How about the Crusaders?"
There was a momentary pause as the suggestion sunk in and after a few seconds, it was Catherine who made the first comment. "I like it." She nodded and then swept his gaze over the others. "Really, its got potential. Good idea, Bea."
Beatriz returned with a radiant smile. "Why thank you Catherine. Any other detractors?"
"No from me." Booster replied. "I kind of like being called Booster Gold, integral member of the Crusaders."
Guy rolled his eyes in bemusement. "I could get to like it." He admitted after thinking about the name as something he wanted to attach himself to. "Sounds like one of those comic book serial I used to read."
"Comic books." Ted snorted. "Like those guys know anything about reality."
Chapter Two - Kaji-Da
He should not have worn the suit. Not here.
Despite the idyllic setting before him of swaying palm trees and winds scented light with salt, Ted Kord could not relax. He had not been here since that day and he knew he never would return after this visit. He never thought coming here as Blue Beetle could be so unsettling until he stepped off the Bug and felt the sandy grains under his boots. When he took a whiff of air, it all came back to him in shocking detail, almost as if it were being played off a reel somewhere inside his mind.
"Ted, you okay?"
Ted looked over his shoulder and saw Booster looking at him with concern.
"I'm okay." He lied. "I shouldn't have worn the suit coming here. Its in bad taste."
Booster understood what was bothering Ted. His best friend had told him years ago, why this place held such terrible memories. "Ted, you are Blue Beetle now. You've earned the right to wear the colours. Dan would be proud of that."
"I know," he replied softly. "Its hard coming here. Dan was more of a father to me than my real dad ever was. Me, becoming Blue Beetle was for him."
"We can do this some other time." Booster suggested. "We can come back."
"No," Ted shook his head. "I should have done this a long time ago." He stated firmly. "Dan wanted me to have the scarab and its about time I got it instead of leaving it to rot in this place."
"Okay buddy," Booster said giving him a supportive pat on the back.. "Skeets is doing a quick scan of the island. He should be back soon."
"He won't find anything." Ted retorted and let his gaze sweep over the coast line of the island. Pago had not changed much in the years since his last appearance there. On the coast, it appeared as unspoiled as ever. If Kord Industries ever decided to build a hotel on these shores, the pristine beach would be quite a draw card. Just as long as they did not let anyone venture into the jungle. His Uncle Jarvis had intended to conquer the world from this island and concealed in the heart of the island was what remained of that twisted dream. "Jarvis' whole installation was brought down in that last explosion. If any of his robot drones survived, they would not be anything more than scrap."
However, even as those words left his lips, Ted knew that his statement was not entirely true. Others have shifted through the wreckage and found Jarvis' handiwork very much intact. Ask Conrad Carapax, he thought to himself.
The small mechanical robot who had journeyed from the 25th century with Booster, announced his return as he whizzed to a stop before them. Although originally manufactured to be a guidance aid for Booster's previous battle suit, Skeets had been adapted to service Booster's newest model.
"Booster, I have scanned the entire island. There is no one here." Skeets informed them dutifully.
"I told you." Ted sighed, looking at Booster. "Thanks Skeet." He said to the small robot. Although Skeet was in essence, a highly sophisticated portable and flight enabled computer, its programming almost resembled sentient thought and both Booster and now Ted had the tendency to treat him as such.
"You are most welcome." Skeet responded politely.
"Well, we might as well get this over and done with." He replied reluctantly and started back towards the Bug. There was no reason to continue their advance to Jarvis' hideout on foot. He knew from experience how rough the terrain could be and this whole thing was hard enough as it is.
Once again, he reminded himself why he was doing this. For years, he had been underpowered and often the weakest member of the group he was in. In the Justice League, his understated genius was overlooked in light of Batman's incredible intellect. Ted knew he could be just as good but insecurities often got in the way of allowing him to reach his full potential. Instead, he allowed himself to be turned into a joke by the majority of the superhero community. True, his behaviour had been partly to blame for that but lately, Ted had decided to strive for more.
Since the Extreme Justice group had faded away, both Ted and Booster had taken control of their private lives. Booster craved the adventure more than he did and for a while, the CEO of Lightspeed Entertainment left control of the company in Ted's hands. While it was not Kord Industries, Lightspeed Entertainment was a rising star in the interactive gaming industry and under Ted's ministrations soon became one of the leaders in the field. Since then, Ted made few outings as Blue Beetle and concentrated on expanding Lightspeed into new areas, most notably a division specialising in technological innovations. The move had proved successful, especially with his designs on most of the drawing boards in the R and D section of the company. Lightspeed was bigger than it ever was and he and Booster were now certifiable millionaires. Things were good except for one thing. He missed being Blue Beetle.
However, Booster had been right about one thing in Warriors, Doomsday had almost killed him. If the Crusaders were to be apart of his future, Ted needed to power up significantly. The Blue Beetle scarab he was always intended to have, would accomplish this. He would be no Superman of course, but at least he would not be a hindrance to his comrades in a fight. Too many times, he had seen Booster come to his aid against some super villain because he was too weak to fight back. While he did not wish to abandon his intellectual pursuits, the Blue Beetle definitely needed the upgrade.
Prior to the incident where he had fallen into the coma after being brainwashed by the Bialyan leader, Queen Bee, Ted had believed the scarab to be destroyed. This followed a confrontation with Conrad Carapax. Carapax had been, a minor archaeologist who had found one of Uncle Jarvis' robots on the island, quite intact. After his consciousness was forcibly removed and placed inside the automaton, Carapax had become quite insane. The Blue Beetle ended up battling Carapax on the island and when it appeared that he might lose, Carapax used his final trump card. Ted was fed the illusion that the Blue Scarab was an alien that had possessed Dan Garrett who was not dead but merely in hibernation. One of the more painful memories he was forced to experience, was his battle with Dan before the scarab was destroyed. Eventually, Carapax was defeated but the memory remained for a long time. Only when Kent Nelson, the former Doctor Fate helped him out of his coma, did the truth emerge from his mind.
Now, there were no excuses left for Ted. It was time for the Blue Beetle to reclaim his scarab.
The cavern where Uncle Jarvis had made his bid for world domination was now nothing more than a pile of rubble overgrown with vines and foliage. Ted landed the Bug as near to the site as he could, which fortunately was near the mouth of the collapsed cavern. The Bug contained the heavy drilling machinery and sensors he would need to locate the scarab. Even now, the place looked decidedly sinister. The jungle reclaiming this patch of land had done nothing to erase the violence there. As Ted emerged from the Bug and started towards the cavern entrance, he could see the rusted mesh of a fence line moving through the foliage. Much of it had become enveloped by vines and corroded to the point that it was impossible to distinguish metal from vegetation. The only thing that indicated that this was Kord property was a faded sign, dangling precipitously from one decrepit lien of fencing.
"What a mess." Booster commented as they reached the cavern entrance. There were vines hanging over the mouth of the passageway. Its stone walls covered with lichens and small insects. A few feet beyond the entrance, Booster saw the first of the large rocks that had buried the rest of the tunnel.
"No one's been here since Dan died." Ted stated. "As far as Kord Industries is concerned, this is no man's land for them. At the time, it was considered a public relations nightmare and everyone wanted it forgotten."
"Looks like everyone did." Booster retorted before brushing the vines out of his way and proceeding down the passageway. "Stand back." He instructed.
Ted did not need to be told twice. He took a few steps backwards and adjusted his goggled over his eyes as Booster went to work.
"The tunnel goes down at least half a mile." Ted told Skeets. "Unfortunately, this is the quickest way to do it. Once Booster clears the tunnel and I get the drill equipment down there."
"Would it not be difficult to locate the scarab in all the debris? The area of the facility is quite large."
"It won't be hard at all," Ted answered softly. "All we have to do is find Dan's body."
It took almost two hours for Booster to clear out the passageway wide enough for drilling and sensor equipment to enter. After that it was a further six or seven hours of burrowing through the tons of rock and dirt that had filled the large complex after the cave in. Using equipment he had taken from Lightspeed, most of which was experimental and years away from actual sale, Ted was able to make a great deal of progress. Since he had been present when the cave in had actually taken place, he had a general idea where Dan's body was. He had also borrowed some archaeology equipment from Star Labs that enabled him locate certain elements in the rock, which gave him a direction to aim the drilling equipment.
Almost thirteen hours after they had begun, Ted located the skeletonised corpse of Dan Garrett, the original Blue Beetle. It appeared on the sensor screen as nothing more than hairline images pressed up against the rock but there was enough of a difference for Ted to realise what it was. As he and Booster were forced to complete the rest of the digging with chisels and small shovels, it was exhausting work even for super heroes. The two friends who could often see humour in everything were strangely quiet while they worked. Booster could understand Ted's silence because Dan Garrett had been his friend and mentor. The course of his life had been set after meeting the original Blue Beetle who died trying to help him. If it were him, he knew he would be similarly affected.
Despite all the equipment they had used, they had only manage to unearth a passage way from the surface wide enough to fit the machinery. The air was thick with dirt and fine grains of rock that made it almost impossible to breathe. Ted had been forced to pull off the Blue Beetle mask because the subtropical heat of the island had turned the underground cavern into a virtual sauna. The only thing he could stand to wear on his face were his goggles because it would keep the dirt out of his eyes. Alongside him, Booster had done the same although with his super strength, he was capable of getting much more done. Both of them were sweating profusely and although they had not surfaced for some hours now, it was obviously night fall because Skeets was providing them with all the illumination.
"There it is." Ted declared staring at the base of the wall they had been working on the past hour since locating the image of a skeleton on the sensor. At this stage, he did not know if this was Dan's body or Uncle Jarvis. A nub of bone was protruding from the under a large boulder. Judging by the shape of it, Ted guessed it was a femur. As he started clearing the dirt from around the boulder, he saw a shred of faded material.
"What is it?" Booster asked. Since he was the one with the super strength, he was concentrating on moving the boulder from its wedged position.
"Its cloth." Ted answered after making a careful examination. The material was worn and faded but it had once been unmistakably blue. "I think its Dan's uniform."
"Are you okay?" Booster inquired automatically.
Ted fingered the material in his hands for a moment, trying to submerge the sorrow that surfaced at its discovery. "I'm fine," he said after a moment. "Thanks Booster."
"I'm going to move this rock." Booster said examining the boulder that had most likely killed Dan on impact. He did not mention that to Ted however, although his best friend was intelligent enough to have work that out for himself. "Stay close to me. I may have to put up a force field if the ceiling decided to come down. You too Skeets."
The little robot that had been recharging in a corner suddenly came to life at the sound of Booster's voice. Skeets was designed to activate on voice command and it hovered towards them as Booster placed his hand on the large boulder.
"You required me?" Skeets asked.
"We need you to stay close." Ted explained. "The ceiling might come down."
Skeet's sensors quickly moved into action and conducted a quick analysis of the cavern above them. He detected numerous faults and weak points in the pattern of the collapse. It was possible that the removal of the boulder might precipitate another cave in. However, the odds of that were difficult to calculate so he remained silent. He had learnt from experience that Booster disliked being given warnings to the obvious.
"Here goes," Booster warned them as he placed his gloved hands on the boulder and lifted it out of place. Dust began to fall from cracks above them and the sounds of moving earth started filling the air at random intervals. Even with his enhanced strength, Booster had to admit the boulder was hard to remove. It came free suddenly, throwing Booster backwards as its weight propelled them both. Ted jumped out of the way as the boulder slammed into the sensor equipment. The device was crushed on impact, sending shards of glass in all directions as the screen was shattered. Ted shielded himself as a number smaller rocks rained down on him, freed when Booster had removed the boulder.
Amazingly enough however, the displacement did not bring down the rest of the cavern as they feared. While thin strands of dust had started coming down in places, nothing larger than a pebble followed that initial fallout. Still, Ted did not want to spend any more time here than necessary.
"You in one piece Booster?" Ted asked. In truth, he knew Booster's invulnerability and force fields would have protected him from any serious harm. If there was any damage, it would have most likely been to his pride.
"Pretty much." Booster retorted and looked at where the boulder had landed. "Star Labs is going to be pissed at you." The sensor was completely wrecked under its weight.
"They have insurance." Ted responded and crawled at the open gap left by the boulder. "Skeets, come here."
Skeets moved forward obediently, casting light on the gap.
"Oh Dan." He whispered seeing for the first time, the skeletal remains of Dan Garrett.
The remains of the former Blue Beetle was still in uniform. The boulder had crushed large parts of his vertebrae and Ted had some comfort in knowing he had not lingered long. Judging from the damage to the skeleton, Dan had been killed instantly when the boulder crushed him. For a moment, Ted felt like a grave robber. He should have done this long ago. Not now when he needed the scarab. Dan deserved a proper burial because he was a true hero. At least, Ted could get right now.
The scarab was exactly where he guessed it would be. It glimmered in the darkness despite Skeet's best efforts to illuminate the small cavern. Ted reached for Dan's bony hand and removed the ring from his finger. Since the Blue Beetle's power depended on possessing the Blue Scarab, Dan had fashioned it into a ring for convenience.
"Did you find it?" Booster asked crawling next to him.
"Yeah I found it." Ted replied showing the ring he had now placed on his finger. It had slid easily over his gloved finger and Ted made a mental note to wear it under his uniform. Despite the melancholy of the moment, seeing the scarab on his hand felt right somehow. More than ever, he felt as if he had finally fulfilled Dan's legacy to him.
"How does it work?"
"You're supposed to say the words."
Ted gave him a look. "Very funny." It had been a while since he had to recall Dan's exact retelling of his encounter with Kha-Ef-Re, the original possessor of the scarab and most likely its creator. It had to do with touching the scarab. Until now, Ted had handled the ring without actually touching the scarab mounted on it. Taking a deep breath, he ran a finger across its smooth, iridescent surface. The scarab glittered again.
Then the world disappeared around him.
Awake, chosen one.
The voice was soft. Almost like a wind against his ears. Ted blinked because he was sure the cavern had caved in and he was now buried under a ton of earth as Dan had been. He opened his eyes and he could see nothing before him but a thick mist that often preceded the morning. He reached for his face and noticed that his goggles were gone as was the mass that was hanging around his neck.
Strange since he did not recall taking them off.
He took a step forward in this place that seemed to have no ceiling, no walls or a floor that he could see beyond the thick fog. As he took a step forward, the mist moved apart for him but he could still see nothing ahead. It seemed to add credence to the possibility that he was indeed dead. If so, where the hell was Booster? With his luck, Booster had probably made it.
Chosen One, you worry too much.
This time Ted knew he heard a voice but it seemed to be coming from inside his head. Still, instinct forced him to look around any way, even though he saw no one.
"Hi there," Ted spoke out. "Am I dead or what?"
No, you are very much alive, Chosen One.
"I can hear you but I can't see you." Ted declared impatiently. He was starting to feel the edge of fear sneak up on him. It had begun to dawn on him that this was the scarab's doing but he knew nothing more about it than the scant information Dan had given him. Dan was supposed to have given him all this information but his untimely death had ended that chance.
I am he who is the Keeper of the Blue Scarab.
"The guy whose sarcophagus Dan found the scarab at?" The voice seemed amused by the description, Ted sensed.
He is here too. Tell me, how is it that you have taken the mantle of the Chosen without the blue scarab?
He must be telepathic. It was a fair question, Ted decided. Even in this realm, Kha-Ef-Re had a right to know what happened to Dan. "Dan Garrett was the last Blue Beetle and he was my friend. He helped me when I needed it, no matter what it cost him, even if the cost was his life. Dan stood for justice and bravery and I was not willing to him die for nothing. I did the best I could without the scarab because that was what Dan always did."
Ted let out a heavy sigh and added. "Unfortunately, I have made the Blue Beetle a joke. A court jester for the rest of the superhero community. I haven't honoured Dan's name, I've ruined it. I came looking for the scarab to change all that. To try and give his memory some dignity."
The voice inside his head remained silent for a long while and Ted wondered if it chose to depart in disgust. Ted could not blame Kha-Ef-Re if he did, after all, he probably saw every shameful even in Ted Kord's life before Ted had even spoken.
Suddenly the mists swirled apart before him but instead of the ancient Kha-Ef-Re standing before him, was someone else entirely. For a moment, Ted could only stare into the man's face. There were a thousand things he wanted to say. Things, he replayed in his mind over and over again but knew he would never have a chance to say to the one person it was intended for.
"Dan?" Ted gasped. "It is you isn't it?"
Dan Garrett was still in his Blue Beetle uniform, looking as youthful as ever, without a mark on him. This was the Blue Beetle that had inspired Ted Kord's dreams. This was the man he had always wanted to be.
"How?" He managed to say. Nothing else would be coherent.
"I am the Keeper of the Scarab until the Chosen One comes." Dan explained with a proud smile. "I always hoped it would be you."
"God Dan," Ted whispered, almost too filled with emotion to speak. "Its so good to see you."
"Its good to see you." Dan smiled. "Now I can move on."
"Yes." Dan replied, sweeping the mist away to reveal a new place that had been previously obscured by the fog. A dark river flowed through the valley. Through the mist covered sky, Ted could see the faint shape of the pyramids and the Sphinx in the distance. There was something about it that unreal and yet Ted knew it existed somewhere. The Sphinx and the pyramids looked as immaculate as the day last mortar brick was set in place. Yet, the land around it was not desert but green and full of life. Ted realised then what it was Dan was showing him. Across that dark river was the Land of the Dead, written about so eloquently by everyone who ever understood the age of the Pharoahs.
"Its the task of everyone who possess the Blue scarab to pass it on to his heir." Dan explained.
"I'm sorry Dan, I should have been able to help you." Ted finally spoke. "I should not have left you."
"I was dead, Ted and you were alive. It was far more important to me that you lived, not waste yourself trying to save or be me for that matter. You've made me proud Ted, just being who you are."
"I'm a joke Dan." He said painfully. "I always have been."
"Poor Ted," Dan shook his head like a father does to an erring child. "You're always so hard on yourself. Can't you believe that you're as good anyone else? Maybe better because you can feel more than most people?"
Ted wanted to believe him, needed to believe him but he just could not, not yet. There was still much he had to prove to himself and right now at this moment, Ted Kord realised something else too. It dawned on him with such speed that he was surprised by its potency.
He did not need the scarab. He never did.
"I knew you could do it." Dan said with a smile. "I knew you'd figure it out. You were always smart Ted."
Ted looked up at him with understanding and what he learned warmed the inside of him as nothing had in too long. "I'll miss you Dan."
"I miss you too." The older Blue Beetle replied with a hint of sadness creeping into his voice. "We never got to say goodbye properly, so we shouldn't waste the chance." He met Beetle's gaze. "Goodbye Ted." With that, he turned around slowly and started to walk away.
He did not realise that there were tears in his eyes until they rolled down his cheek. Ted wiped them away and said softly. "Goodbye Dan. I'll never forget you."
"Ted?" Dan stopped and looked over his shoulder. "One last thing."
"What?" Ted asked, still unable to stifle the sorrow at seeing his friend leave.
"The words Ted, the words for the Chosen. Say it once and you'll understand."
"Kaji-Da". Dan whispered with a faint smile as he started to disappear into the mists.
"Kaji-Da?" Ted shouted, running after Dan. "That's all it is? Kaji-Da?"
He had taken no more than a few steps forward when suddenly, the mist opened up the ground beneath him and he was falling in mid air.
"Dan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Ted screamed before he plunged downward.
"For gods sakes Ted!" He heard Booster shouting in his ear.
Booster's voice was strange, as if he was trying to speak through a great wind.
Ted opened his eyes and saw sky all around him. The wind was rushing up against his body. He could feel the air currents moving around him and as he stared down in rising astonishment, Ted realised that he was about ten feet above the ground. Booster was behind him trying to catch up. It took an instant to realise what was happening to him. He was flying! He was really flying! He was soaring through the air like a bird! He could see a tree coming right at him. A tree coming right at him .
"TED! WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!" Booster shouted behind him.
Oh, this was going to hurt.
Chapter Three - Glory Bound
When he was eight years old, Guy Gardner wanted to be Ernie the Battling Boy, trusted companion to the comic book legend, General Glory.
It was an ambition as real as going to college or getting married someday. At that tender age, there could nothing finer than being the faithful sidekick of someone like General Glory. For the first decade of his life, until he learnt better, Guy spent many nights huddled beneath the covers of his bed sharing all kinds of adventures with the World War 2 hero. General Glory was the kind of hero that would never get drunk and take to him with a leather belt or forever remind him that he was second best.
Later on in life, even when Guy had grown up and relinquished that childhood fantasy, General Glory still left some lasting impressions behind. Guy had wanted to help people the way the General had and he remembered General Glory as once having said that there were all kinds of heroes. Not everyone who fought for truth and justice had to be clad in spandex. Even after he was given his Green Lantern ring, Guy had always kept those ideals close to heart because that was General Glory stood for. Sure, he had lost his way on occasion but then the General also said people made mistakes.
Until he was in the Justice League, Guy had always imagined General Glory to be nothing more than a comic book fantasy, albeit a much loved one. No more than Tooth Fairy or Santa Clause was real. However, that perception would undergo a startling change after a fateful encounter with an old man named Joe Jones. A retirement home resident, Joe was almost in his eighties, if not more, when Guy met him at a comic book convention. As luck would have it, both were bidding on a rare first issue of the General Glory comic book.
Guy had won the bid but at considerable cost. When Joe followed him to League Embassy in New York with promises to reimburse him for the funds in exchange for a look at the book, Guy accepted. After all, what could it matter?
As it turned out, it mattered quite a lot.
Uttering the words that would effect the transformation of his alter-ego in the comic book to the legendary hero, Joe Jones disappeared and was replaced by none other than General Glory. General Glory who did not simply exist in the pages of his comic book any more but was a flesh and blood man who was just as he had been portrayed. He was honest and forthright, fighting for truth and justice thanks to Lady Liberty's light. To Guy, it was nothing less than a dream come true because General Glory was real and he was everything Guy imagined him to be. The General eventually joined the Justice League and later on he and Guy shared some adventures and even an apartment at one stage.
However, Joe Jones was an old man. The transformation into General Glory was starting to take their toll on a body that had long succumb to age. One night, after returning home, General Glory said the words that would return him to Joe Jones again. However this time, the rapid transition from superhuman to withered old man was more than Joe's fragile heart could take. He suffered massive heart failure. It was Guy who found him and those moments following the discovery was the most awful in his life. Although still breathing, Joe's life was hanging by a thread.
Guy visited him every day in hospital but the diagnosis was not good. Joe's condition, as Guy feared was terminal. Still, the old man did not seem to have difficulty dealing with his impending end. As he had explained to Guy, he had lived a long and fulfilling life. Sure, he could have gone on forever as General Glory if he liked but that meant giving up Joe Jones forever and he was not prepared to do that. There was a time to live, Joe had said and a time to die. For him, that time was fast approaching. When the end came, it did so with little fanfare. Joe slipped away quietly in the night and Guy had lost one of the dearest people in his life.
Only after he died, Guy realised that he missed Joe more than he actually missed General Glory. There had not been much time to deal with his grief because his life had been undergoing a series of upheavals at the time. In the aftermath of Tora's death, Guy did not give much thought to Joe or General Glory.
Until about two days ago, when he looked into a newspaper and saw an article about a mysterious crime-fighter in New York city who was hitting the gangs pretty hard. A picture accompanied the article and even though it was vague and partially obscured, Guy recognised parts of the hero's uniform that were visible.
It was the General.
He stared at the picture knowing it was impossible. Joe Jones was dead. He knew this with utter certainty because he had been present at the funeral. He saw Joe buried. However, in a world with superheroes from Krypton and secret Amazon islands, nothing was impossible. He was living proof that nothing was for certain. If Superman could come back from the dead, why not the General?
"Guy, when you said we were going out tonight, I wasn't expecting this." Beatriz declared. They were crouched in the fire escape of a dilapidated building in the Bronx, overlooking a courtyard enclosed by similarly abandoned structures. The whole place had a sinister feel to it and she wished she could flame on and add some much needed like to the surroundings. The night was cold and she wished she still wore the costume that came with a jacket. Right now, its warmth was welcome.
"Quiet." Guy replied. "Sound carries around here."
The neighbourhood if it could be called that had been abandoned long ago. All that remained of its past inhabitants were a few stripped cars, allowed to rust on the littered covered side walk. The only signs of life that called this place home were a random collection of homeless people who occasionally made an appearance. Not to mention the non human residents of the area, that included anything from rats to cockroaches numbering in the millions.
The three cars had arrived twenty minutes ago. Two Cadillacs and a Transam. They parked against the side walk and emerged into the night. At least a dozen young men whose racial description ranged from African American to Hispanic to Caucasian had emerged in their expensive suits, Nike sweats and jewellery from the vehicles. Guy had a pretty good idea what these kids were into nor did it take a genius to realise that legality had nothing to do with the deal about to go down. Although he could not see them, he knew every one of them were well armed with under their designer label outfits. "What's going on?" Beatriz whispered softly.
"They getting their allowances." Guy said with equal quiet. He was fighting the overwhelming urge and kick all their butts good. Of all the people he had ever come across in his life, the vermin who peddled narcotics were the worse. They were nothing more than parasites who fed of the hunger of fools who did not know better. It was hard to stomach that every one of these scumbags were kids. Whatever happened to the good old paper route? Guy had no delusions that if those 'kids' had any idea they were being watched, murder would also be an equally easy line for them to cross.
"They're kids." She replied unable to hide her shock.
Of course she should not have been surprised. Beatriz was born in Brazil on the streets of Rio. A city where the difference between living in the lab of luxury and total poverty was distinguished by a long stretch of pristine beach. She had not been lucky enough to come from the former and she knew what it was like to be so poor that anything was permissible for the taste of the good life. She had been fortunate. Being able to shoot green fire from her mouth had allowed her to escape that life and make the crossing. However, what of those who could not? She knew numerous friends who had succumb to the lure of drug money
And they too had been children like these.
"Yeah, the youth of America." Guy remarked with disgust.
"We should do something." She looked at him.
If only she knew how much he wanted to do something Guy wanted to get in there and teach these kids a lesson about dabbling in that kind of garbage. However, he was keeping himself restrained because they were here for a reason. There was a new crime-fighter out there and the press had indicated that this was the heartland of his territory. In the darkness of every corner and fire gutted building, the cockroaches that made up the gangs waited to wreak violence with automatic weapons and their vials of crack. If the General had made this the mission of his life, then he could well understand why. This was the sort of thing the Crusaders needed to deal with. Leave the high profile alien invasions to the Justice League. This is exactly what they had been talking about that night in Warriors.
Despite himself, Guy could not deny liking the idea of being in a team again. Although Catherine's interpretation for the reasons for forming a new team were somewhat naive, Guy honestly believed that Catherine missed them as much as they had missed each other. Sure those years in the League was hardly his finest, but he found that it had left great impact on all their lives. The ability to laugh as the absurd and admit that even as superheroes, it was all right to laugh at themselves had a forge a friendship, those in the new League could never understand.
Until now, neither Guy nor Beatriz had been paying much attention to the dealers who spoke among themselves. Their voices flared up occasionally with a string of foul words to pepper their already grammatically impaired speech. Guy's attention had been more focussed on the darkened fire escapes, the black line of roof tops that ran across the skylight. His senses were attuned to the place now, just as his body was primed for attack. He hoped the General was not going to take much longer. His Vuldarian genetic coding compelled him to attack whenever he came across a situation that required aggressive solutions. Before his time, the Vuldarians were likened to the Guardians in that they protected the innocent. That directive had been genetically engineered in his being.
"You never said why were were here." Beatriz spoke up again.
"We're looking for someone." He said shortly.
"Who?" Curiosity suddenly gripped her. "Anyone I know?"
"Its hard to say." Guy admitted. "I'm not sure myself."
Suddenly, his senses heard movement. He looked at her and held his finger to his lips, indicating quiet. Beatriz stopped moving, although her eyes darted about trying to see what he had. Guy could feel it a body approaching that did not belong to the group in the courtyard below. The dealers had no idea what was coming at them. They were oblivious to all except the business of peddling their junk. Guy did not intend to give them warning.
Suddenly a figure moved through the air towards the group like a projectile. Beatriz started to rise but Guy placed his hand on her shoulder and kept her still. She looked to him for answers but gave up when she saw none was forthcoming. The figure landed on top of the Transam in full view of the dealers. As expected, they went for their weapons. A colourful assortment of assault weapons and handguns.
"Guy we have to do something!" She declared. "They're packing a lot of artillery!"
She was right. They were.
"All right," he nodded quickly. "Let's do it."
Before he could say another word, she stepped back and flamed on. Her wonderful bronze skin turned into a tinge of green before she flared into living flame. As she leapt off the edge of the fire stairs into the air, she looked an emerald wraith he might have fashioned out of his Green Lantern ring if he still had one. The entire block had become illuminated by the light of green fire and this captured the attention of the gang and the mysterious hero as well. She moved across the sky like a comet before coming to land on the Cadillac.
"You look like could use some help." Beatriz said to the other superhero. The heat of her feet on the top of the car started singing the paintwork and one of the thugs roared some obscenity in protest, before opening fire.
Not that it would ham her in any shape or form.
When Beatriz became Fire, it was not merely a physical description of her abilities. Her entire body took on the properties of fire, which meant bullets were useless against her. The flame from her body illuminated the courtyard and for the first time, Beatriz got a glimpse of the person she and Guy had been looking for.
"General?" She exclaimed, amidst a hail of bullets tearing through her.
General Glory did not answer but he had become airborne to avoid being torn apart by the bullets. As he moved across the sky, Beatriz saw golden wings carrying him aloft and though his uniform was the same, there was something different about the General. With a sudden start, she realised that the uniform was General Glory but the man beneath it was someone else entirely. With a spark of inspiration, she now knew why Guy had come here.
She turned to the young men trying to kill her and sighed with disapproval. "You boys are too young to be playing with guns." She sent a jet of green fire at the briefcases full of white power and incinerated it with little difficulty.
"Bitch!" One of them yelled and started firing at her with increased vigour.
"No one calls my girl that." A voice suddenly stated behind the tall, Hispanic youth. The boy turned around just in time to slam into the sledge hammer that Guy had morphed from his fist. Seeing a new hero on the floor, the gang turned their fire at him too and Guy morphed his other arms into a bullet proof shield that sent ricochets all over the place.
Suddenly, out of nowhere Beatriz saw a thug emerging from behind one of the cars and there was nothing juvenille about what he was carrying in his arms to launch at Guy. Even if she could get to him in time, she could not keep him from firing.
"Guy watch out!" She shouted as the projectile escaped from the portable rocket launcher towards her lover.
Guy saw the missile coming at him and was prepared to jump clear when all of a sudden, he was air borne. Someone had swooped down and picked him up just as the rocket reached him. It slammed into a nearby wall and took out half the building with a loud explosion. The structure collapsed in a ball of yellow flames that lit up the night sky. Guy looked down and saw Beatriz staring at him as he flew overhead.
He looked up and found himself staring at the masked face of General Glory.
With the fire Beatriz started and the explosion following the attack from the rocket launcher, the entire block was soon ablaze. The thugs who were intelligent enough to know when it was a good time to make themselves scarce. They quickly jumped into their expensive cars and disappeared into the night as police and fire trucks moved in to take control of the situation. Very soon, the normally forgotten part of town was raging with enough cops and onlookers to be officially classified as a three ring circus.
"At least they didn't' t get the stuff." Guy said grimly, staring at the debacle from several storeys up from a roof top a safe distance away from the scene of the excitement. He counted almost a hundred people below and winced again under his breath. This was all supposed to be low profile.
"Thanks to you people, I wasn't able to question them." General Glory said obviously unhappy about their help.
"Look," Beatriz retorted. Her patience was running out rapidly. They had done the best they could. Was it their fault if one of those children was armed with a portable rocket launcher? "We're sorry we ruined your sting operation but we thought you were going to get killed The General Glory we knew was strong, no bullet proof. Flight capability or not, we were did not want to see you hurt."
That took the edge of the General's annoyance somewhat and he let out a sigh. "I can take care of myself," he replied although he was nowhere as angry as he had been. "I've been shot before."
"So just who are you?" Guy finally demanded. "Cause I know you aren't Joe Jones." It seemed sacrilegious seeing someone else wearing the General's uniform. He knew this person was not Joe Jones but knowing that did not ease his mind any further.
"Joe is dead." General Glory replied.
"I know that." Guy snapped back. "I was at his funeral."
"Oh." The General said with a slight exclamation. "I did not that you were that close."
"He meant a hell of a lot to me and I want to know what gives you the right to wear that uniform." Guy retorted walking up to the General who was perched up on the concrete palisade at the edge of the roof.
"Guy, please." Beatriz spoke up quickly. She could see his anger starting to get the better of him and when Guy Gardner got angry there was no reasoning with him. General Glory had been the only one of the few people other than Tora who could calm Guy when he was enraged. It had taken Beatriz time to learn, but she could now confess to acquiring that skill as well. "Let him explain."
Guy paused a moment. Beatriz had the same effect on him that Tora did. Like Tora, Beatriz could calm him down because he cared enough to listen. However, Beatriz also had a temper of her own. Their wild arguments were usually a prelude to some extremely passionate love making. Guy shook that particular thought out of his head because it would get him very far if he started down that train of thought. He gave her a warm look and made a mental note to take her out to dinner.
"I guess I can trust you." General Glory replied after a moment. Those fews days after meeting Joe Jones had changed his life. He had remember seeing Guy Gardner visiting Joe daily during the old man's last few days and he knew Joe thought fondly of Guy. It took him some time recognise Gardner because he looked so different then. Gardner had been prone to cowboy boots and dark leather jackets and he wore the most ridiculous haircut. Guy Gardner then, looked nothing like Warrior now. His hair was different and there were strange tattoos all over his face and body. His uniform was nothing more than pants and thick boots. He knew the woman from the media coverage on the old League. She was called Fire. She was quite a standout beauty, Donovan decided without hesitation. Although, now that he noticed, Gardner did not seem to appreciate the attention he was paying her. Still, it was hard for him not to stare at that luxurious mane of tousled emerald hair and her skin tight costume of the same colour.
"My name is Donovan Wallace." He introduced himself. "I shared a hospital room with Joe when he was dying."
Suddenly, it clicked and Guy remembered who he was. "You're the rookie cop." He declared. "The one who was shot in the back during that gang shoot out."
Donovan nodded slowly. "Yes that was me." He replied slowly. He still had nightmares about that day. There were many nights where he had woke up shaking, the sound of one lone bullet ringing in his ears. "I was.. no am paralysed. Joe and I talked, well he did most of the talking, I just listened."
Guy could not help smiling at that. "Yeah, he could go on when he wanted to. Told you war stories did he?"
Donovan brightened up, "He did." Then he realised just how close Joe was to Guy and understood what had led the Warrior to find him. "You probably know he knew he was dying."
Guy could only nod.
"Well," Donovan continued. "He kept telling me it was time to pass on the words. That it was important that General Glory's work go on. It did not have to be about fighting wars or dying for one's country, it had to do with fighting the fights that are worth fighting, the causes that just. When he gave me the words, he gave me a chance to be whole again, to be worth something."
Guy swallowed hard because those words could have been coming from Joe Jones himself. He could understand why Joe had passed on the mantle of General Glory to this young man. Guy remembered the news reports about Donovan Wallace and the shooting that crippled him. He had saved a child from some thug and been shot for his trouble. Even without being present, Guy guessed Joe would have seen the goodness behind the person who puts himself in the line of fire like that, despite the consequences. Joe would know he was the right person to carry on the tradition of General Glory.
"He was a good guy." Beatriz said coming towards Donovan. "If he gave you the words, he knew you were worthy of them." She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Its good to know that General Glory is still around." Beatriz could understand how Guy was feeling because she felt the same sadness. The old General Glory was a forthright, sweet man who never seemed out of time even if he had emerged forty years past his day. She had admired his chivalry and his kindness. She hoped the new General Glory could live up to that.
"I'm still new at this." Donovan admitted. "I've been hitting the gangs. Trying to clean up some of this sewer but it is hard work."
"You up to some help?" Guy suddenly offered. In the past few minutes, he had time to think and if there was a new General Glory around, Guy had just the place for him.
"I don't follow." Donovan replied.
Beatriz did however and she liked the idea. If the gang was getting back together again, did that not include General Glory as well? He had been apart of the Justice League as much as herself or Guy. "Guy, myself and a few past Leaguers are putting together a new super team. We'd like you to join."
That took the young man by surprise. He looked at both the veteran heroes with an expression of astonishment. "You hardly know me."
"Joe knew you." Guy stated. "And that's good enough for us."
"I don't know," Donovan answered truthfully. "I'm not interested in fighting the big fights. Alien invaders and super villains seem petty in comparison to what I've seen on the streets, I'm needed in the slums."
"I could not agree more" Beatriz replied. "Our team is not interested in the villains or the world crushing threats. We are however, interested in helping people the way you are doing. The streets need cleaning up. Children need to feel safe going to school not being threatened by school yard pushers or whatever that roam the streets these days."
"You're serious." The new General Glory stated. He could not deny the attractiveness of the offer. He had no family to speak of. Since he had become General Glory, he had few friends because they expected to see him bound to a wheel chair not taking on the drug underworld single handedly. It would feel good to be apart of a group. The rookie cop in him still yearned for the companionship of veterans who had the experience and he was a long way to knowing what potential lay beneath this extraordinary gift from Joe Jones.
"Come on kid," Guy urged. "What do you go to lose?"
"Nothing I haven't already." Donovan replied. "All right," he smiled at Beatriz. She was just so beautiful. "I'm in."
"Welcome to the Crusaders," Beatriz returned his smile with one of her own. "General Glory."
CHAPTER FOUR - GRAY DREAMS
He should have been dead.
When he had first been consigned to this place, he certainly believed he had passed the threshold of the living into the beyond. For a long time, he believed this place to be the penance for the sins of his life and he had indeed made it to hell. Following that realisation, he had felt for the first time in his existence, the notion of true fear. In this place of pale shades, where he had neither form nor control, he had almost gone insane. Loneliness was not something he was ever able to stand.
Not since the accident.
It was hard remembering the old days. Only his will had kept his memories intact. Even so, time had eroded large parts of it away. The memories of his childhood, his parents, first loves and other pearls of life had withered away during his confinement in this place. Only the darker memories had remained intact. The memories that engendered emotions like anger and wrath still lived inside his consciousness with clarity.
He remembered the accident with similar clarity. Strangely enough, it was the memories following the accident that withstood degradation. Even now, he could still recall the day of the accident. The sun had been shining hard on him and his friends. Prior to that morning, they had been petty criminals on the eve of planning their biggest job yet; the raiding of a nuclear facility. They had driven out to the site in order to make a final reconnaissance before the night's activities. He remembered thinking it was a beautiful day and how this score was going to make him rich beyond his wildest dreams.
Suddenly, the ground shook and he looked up just in time to see the brightest flare of light appear in the distance. By rights, he should have been blinded immediately. Unfortunately, his sight remained long enough for him to see what was coming at them. It took a moment to register what had taken place. When it did finally hit home that someone had detonated a nuclear warhead, it was too late to run or do anything because they were at Ground Zero.
At the time, there had been no chance to question why they had survived the initial blast. However, by the time the shock wave came thundering at them, he had no illusions as to their fate. The last conscious thought in his mind as he was swept away was that it would be a quick death.
Except he did not die and neither did his friends.
Instead, they had been transformed into beings of unbelievable power. Ironically, he who was always considered the smartest of them all had been given the most power. Although physically, his transformation was the most startling. Part of him had been converted into pure energy and he found that its force was his to command. His mind had expanded beyond the realms of the world he knew, until he was able to see dimensions as easily as he was able to see the full spectrum of energy. Very soon, it was easy to manipulate energy and thought in a way that made him near invincible.
Following the accident, the Extremists as they called themselves, became the leading voice of terror across the planet. They were no longer considered petty anything and the superheroes of the era became regular opponents. When his companions suggesting raising the stakes, he had been the only one to object. Holding a planet ransom to the threat of nuclear arms was profitable if it worked, however if it did not, the consequences would be devastating. Unfortunately, the plan went ahead. During a confrontation with the superheroes, the warheads detonated.
This time, there would be no survival for them or anyone. A hundred nuclear warheads had been poised above the planet, controlled magnetically by the Extremist. During the battle, that controlled wavered long enough for those warheads to plunge into the atmosphere. The bright flash of light that appeared this time did not simply blind him momentarily, it flung him into another dimension.
There were times over the next few years where he wished he had died, many times over. After the initial disorientation had worn off, he realised this dimension was beyond human comprehension. Even with his heightened mental abilities, the design of his human mind was unable to cope with a realm of existence that had little use for corporeal form. Ironically though, in this place where physical laws were not applicable, it was still his mind that was his greatest weapon. Thought and energy existed side by side. As he had a certain level of mastery over both, he was able to perfect his powers with a great deal of accuracy. For a long time, he became lost in the power of this dimension, unaware of how much it was changing him as the years went by.
Despite his increased powers, there was still one thing he could not change. Whatever this dimension was, he appeared to be the only one in it. For years, he travelled through it, searching for another mind other than his own and finding to dismay, that he was alone here. Energy here was disembodied, like a clay sculpture waiting for someone to mould it into shape. Life never had a chance to develop because there had never been anyone who could manipulate the energy to become something more.
He travelled from one end of the realm to the other and finally decided that he could not bear the unending silence. He needed the others. He needed to get home. By manipulating the spectrum of energy that existed in this dimension, he opened himself a doorway to his world. It never even occurred to him what had taken place during his absence. Considering the events that brought him to this dimension in the first place, in retrospect, he should have expected it.
What he found was a world he helped destroy.
The warheads had done their work well. The world as he knew it was completely dead. Not one living thing breathed on the parched earth. As he travelled across the planet, desperately seeking life, he saw nothing of the like. He found thousands, no millions of graves belonging to the 'lucky' who had survived the initial explosion only to die of radiation sickness. Cities remained deserted. The oceans were lifeless and the silence that was carried with each breath of the nuclear winter, seemed to carve a deeper whole inside of him.
Until one day, a miracle happened.
He returned to his home town to find an amusement arcade still running. As he approached it, he could see Ferris wheels still turning and the roller coaster making its ascent up the tracks, colourful lights sparkled and happy music blared throughout the park from speakers. There were people walking up and down the aisles, buying cotton candy and sipping on sodas, completely oblivious to the fact that the world outside was gone. He could see them, talking and laughing as they enjoyed the day and yet he could sense nothing from them. They were not real. They had no life force. On further investigation, he learnt that Wacky World's entire population were made up of highly sophisticated robots. All possessing personalities of their own and designed to mimic whatever human behaviour their designers had programmed into them.
At first, he had been dismayed by the discovery until he found that the replicas included perfect copies of his associates, right down to every mean bone in their body. They recognised him as one of their own and welcomed him back to the fray. They lingered on that dead world for sometime until the fateful return of the Silver Sorceress. The Sorceress had been undertaking some inter-dimensional travel of her own and one of the places she had visited was world very much like her own. Tearing from her mind, the spell she used to make the crossing, he opened a door in the dimensional barrier and the newly united Extremists found a new world to conquer.
Unfortunately, the world they had chosen as their new domain possessed an overabundance of superheroes and the new empire they sought to create died before it even had a chance to begin. The Sorceress in the meantime, had recovered long enough to give her life to send him into the oblivion where he had since been trapped.
This prison was unlike any other he had ever known. It made less sense then that dimension he had been trapped in before. Where physical laws had no meaning there, at least the energies conformed to his manipulation. Here, he did not even have that much power. This place seemed to exist just above the surface of the real world, almost like a seamy underside that went unseen by most. It lived in tandem with the real world and he was able to see out of it, as if a man pressed up against a mirror but could not affect what lay beyond. The living was close enough to touch but not enough to reach. Not that he was alone in this spectral dimension. There were others who moved through this place as if it were a halfway point between the waking world and somewhere else he had yet to be able to penetrate. He saw them sometimes but their minds were too centred to hear him and the opportunity to escape was lost.
Those who came were not always visitors, some remained here. They were disembodied like himself but driven insane by the unreality of their situation, being neither dead but definitely not alive either. Had it not been for his earlier imprisonment, he might have very well joined them. To save his own sanity, he watched the outside world, seeking a way to escape while making up plans of revenge at the same time.
Revenge had kept his memories alive. It reminded him of who he was and what he had been. It maintained the link to the past that threatened to fade away, the longer he remained trapped in this realm like a wraith. He dreamed of those who imprisoned him here and those who had played a part in it. He understood that the Sorceress was beyond his reach because she was dead but there was others. The Justice League.
It was shortly after this that a new being made its appearance. At first, he was uncertain of what it was. Its mind was almost non-existent. It functioned on a basic level, capable of little more than carrying out tasks that some higher power had imprinted on its mind. It travelled through limbo that was his prison, unaware of itself but except the duty it was forced to perform. He followed the being for a number of days, trying to assess what it was and how he could use that to his advantage. Its mind, he quickly learnt, was easily overcome. The being possessed no independent will that could prevent the invasion.
Inside its mind, he could feel nothing but gray.
It was not merely a colour to see but also feel. It permeated his soul like an enveloping blanket of cold that made him flee on first contact. Only after several attempts, was he comfortable enough to take permanent residence within the soul and invent the dream essence that remained trapped inside its neutered mind. The dream essence itself had the substance of a fading afterthought, inert and dying. As it remained imprisoned inside the being, it bubbled away like death denied. The whole concept was eerie and far beyond his understanding. His world had been one of science. Physic and quantum theory had more coherence than the unreality of the mysticism surrounding the being and its world.
However, he forced himself to become accustomed to it for this was his only means of escape. The being had the ability to walk out of this place and into the waking world. Probing into the memories trapped inside its comatose mind, he learnt that the being had once called itself a Gray Man was responsible for collecting residual dream essence from the dead. Like himself, it too once possessed its own dreams of power and conquest and like himself, those dreams had withered to dust because of the Justice League. The irony of it did not escape him.
It was easy to take over the Gray Man's existence. He wondered if somewhere inside the lobotomised mind of the Gray Man, some aspect of what it had been still remained trapped as he was in this spectral limbo. If so, he would like to have believed that it would have approved of his tenancy. He was mildly surprised that the Lords of Order who imposed the condition on the Gray Man had not opted to keep watch over their neutered servant. Then again, he was never one to waste an opportunity with meaningless questions.
Slipping through the dimensional planes for the Gray Man was like moving through a dispersing fog once the sun had come out. Instead of finding himself pressed up against the barrier that separated his world from reality, he had moved through it effortlessly. It was as easy as stepping into another room, except this room was an entire universe. He emerged in a busy street corner of a city somewhere in the world and felt the sunshine on his face. Closing his eyes, he allowed the heat to press into his skin as he took a deep breath. No one took notice of him. This was after all, the city.
Taking in the smog filled air, it never tasted sweeter to him and for a moment, he almost wept from the sheer experience of it.
I am still here Sorceress! He wanted to shout out loud. I am still here and you are dead! I am stronger now than I ever was and nothing will stop me this time! He started to laugh with utter abandon, exultant at the power he now commanded at his disposal. Collect dream essence from the dying? No, no, that simply would not do. He would have to expand his programming a little.
Dream Slayer, the new Gray Man was back.
Catherine Colbert had a bad dream.
Paree as always was beautiful. After her brief sojourn in New York during her League days, Catherine was thrilled to return home to France once again. Although Paris offered little comfort either. During her days as the liaison in Justice League International, Paris had played host to the embassy. It was hard to think of the League without ultimately bringing her thoughts back to the friends she had left behind.
She still had no idea what had possessed her to suggest to the others that they should form a new team. Certainly, Catherine had no intention of returning to that life again, no matter how much she may have enjoyed the craziness. All her life, she had wanted excitement and adventure. After being the head of the Justice League for a time, Catherine could say with utter certainty, that she no longer craved such things. In fact, the quiet days ahead seemed infinitely more inviting.
She supposed that her real motivation behind her suggestion at Warriors was not so much that she missed the adventures, rather that missed them. Although she had little to do with Justice League America until the end, Catherine found she had the same feelings towards them as she did with the European branch. The members of Justice League Europe were even more scattered than those of the American branch. At last report, Kara had joined a new group called Sovereign Seven. Wally was now with the new Justice League, Sue and Ralph were jet setting across the planet and there had been no word on the whereabouts of Captain Atom.
Catherine tried hard not to think about the friends who were dead. Not just Tora and Rex, but also the Silver Sorceress and later on the Crimson Fox. There were so many ghosts living in the shadow of the new League that she understood the anger felt by the survivors of the old. The world had forgotten the League created by Maxwell Lord even though it had fought just as tirelessly as the new team to make it a better place. Perhaps, she did not want to see them forgotten any more than they already had been.
And maybe she missed their insanity in her too conservative life.
"This is doing me no good," she said out loud in her native French. "Time to leave the nest for awhile."
She climbed out of bed purposefully and padded towards the enormous wardrobe on the other side of the room. Stepping inside, she made her way to the far corner of the wardrobe and dressed warmly. Taking in Paris at night often helped her think and work out difficult problems. Her involvement with the Crusaders certainly fell into that category.
"Madam Colbert's little girl has some hard thinking to do." Catherine sighed.
No matter what she decided of course, the League would never be as fun as it used to be. She remembered the days when she would periodically turn up at the Embassy, driving Captain Atom mad with her flirtations. The Captain was so confused during those moments. Not only did he have to contend with Catherine's little remarks but the full fledged seduction that the Crimson Fox would subject him to. Not to mention Kara's temper whenever she had to fight off Wally's advances and Ralph's penchant for mysteries and Sue's determination for him to have them.
Mon Dieu, she missed those crazy Americans
It took her a few minutes to slip into her clothes. A short time later, she made her exit through from her building to the streets of Paris. The night air was exhilarating and the thrill of moving through a city that never went to sleep was equally enticing. According to the time, it was three or four hours before sunrise but Paris was far from quiet. Even as she walked through the winding streets of cobbled pavements and avoided the rude taxis that sped past, this was after all Paris, she could see nightclubs alive with song and laughter. There were still people in having deep discussions in late night cafes, drinking coffee and enjoying aromatic pastries.
The night was electrifying to Catherine.
Usually on these strolls, Catherine made her way to the Seine, at the Ponte de Sully. The Ile St Louis was glowing radiantly under the moonlight. Although the area looked as if it belonged in a postcard from the 14th century, hidden within was a collection of shops and late night cafes.
She was far from it when she suddenly heard a scream. Catherine froze where she was and immediately tried to close in on that desperate cry. Although she felt fear and wondered if this was something best left for the police, the terror in that cry compelled her forward. She was a black belt in martial arts so she was fairly confident that she would be able to handle herself.
The scream came from a pitch black alley a block away. Grateful that she had chosen to wear comfortable running shoes, Catherine ran forward. Her mind and body were tuned for fight so her entire body felt like a coiled spring about to snap. By the time, she reached the maw of darkness that ran into that alley, the scream had descended into a series of mindless shrieks that only made her run faster. She was close to the heart of it now.
As she raced down the narrow passageway, the grimy lamp hanging from one of the building revealed to Catherine the woman who had screamed. Standing close to her, were two men. One man was lying flat on the cobble stone ground while the other stared at him transfixed. The man upright seemed mesmerised by the unconscious one before the woman's scream brought his attention back to her.
Catherine thought. This was not good. This being Paris, no one had yet answered the woman's cries for help. Catherine realised she would have to deal with this on her own. For an instant, she almost turned back when suddenly the man reached for the woman who had not the sense of mind to run from danger.
Her screams died abruptly.
Catherine came to a half in front of the man. By now, he had the woman firmly in his grip, his arm locked around her throat. His other hand was cupped over her mouth. Catherine looked into her face and saw pure terror. She surveyed the scene and decided immediately that this was no robbery. The attacker was in his late forties, certainly too old too be a mugger.
"Let her go." Catherine warned, feeling impotent even though she approached him with bluster and false bravado.
"Catherine Colbert," the man said with a smile. "Its been a long time." His eyes glowed with grey light.
That stopped Catherine in her tracks. How had he known her name? This man was a stranger to her. "I am afraid its longer than you think." She replied trying not to show him that he had surprised her. "I do not think we have met." She said coolly, trying to sound indifferent to his claim.
"We have met Catherine." The man replied. "You and your Justice League friends know me well."
He still did not seem familiar but that was no reason to provoke him. Not when he still had a hostage. "That changes nothing," She retorted advancing towards him. The woman had resumed struggling now that it appeared help was on its way. "Release her or I will be forced to press the issue."
He glanced at his squirming victim before raising his glowing eyes to Catherine once again. "I always aim to oblige." He smiled again. This time, his grin seemed to fill up his entire face and Catherine could not deny the shudder of fear that ran through him. He released his grip of the woman, removing his arm away from her throat. The woman was poised to run to safety when suddenly the man reached into her chest as if there was no flesh or bone to prevent it. She let out a cry as his arm penetrated straight through her body. When he retracted his hand a moment later, she collapsed on the floor. Her body was almost grey with lifelessness.
Catherine took a step backwards when her composure returned. "Who are you?" She asked, half whispering.
"Not I Catherine," the man replied rather smugly. He could sense her fear. "We. We are together now."
"I, we, that does not answer my question." Catherine demanded. She wanted to attack but she had seen what the man had done and knew that it was a foolish exercise. It was wiser to keep a cool head until she knew what he was capable of in a face to face confrontation.
"Tell them, we are coming, Catherine Colbert." The man answered, taking a step back into the shadows. "Tell the Justice League, they will dream gray."
And then he was gone.
CHAPTER FIVE: MISTRESS OF MAGIC
"Ted, take it easy!" Booster shouted as he watched his friend sailing across the sky.
"You better go up and get him." Guy suggested.
Despite Ted's plea for latitude, Booster wondered if Guy's suggestion should be heeded. While his control over flight ability had improved significantly since their return from Pago, it had been less than a week since Ted had come into possession of the Blue Scarab. From the onset, they had unanimously agreed that he required tutelage in his new powers. Thus the trio had travelled to the island of Kooey Kooey Kooey, in order to begin his instruction.
The other thing agreed upon without argument was that the first thing that Ted needed to get control of was his flight ability. Both Guy and Booster had significant experience in this field and knew how enticing the power of flight could be. However, one simply did not leap into the air and start soaring. The human body was not made for that form of travel. Even if flight was being generated through artificial means, training was needed and care had to be exercised.
At present, Ted was executing a tight loop some hundred above the ground. The only reason Booster was not up there with him was because Ted had assured him, the Blue Beetle was ready for his first solo flight. Guy and Booster had not been happy to allow him the attempt but there seemed to be little they could do to stop him. Ted was an adult after all. Nevertheless, Booster was somewhat comforted by the fact that Skeets was up there with him.
If he could not trust Ted, he could at least trust Skeets to see it that Ted did not wind up breaking his neck.
In any case, for the moment Ted seemed to be doing fine. He had been zig zagging through the clouds for some time now and showed no signs of having any difficulty as he practiced his exercises. This included loops and barrel rolls, directional changes and general manoeuvrability. Although he was in higher altitudes than either of them found acceptable, it appeared that he was managing the height well enough. Although concerned, Booster had to concede Ted was a fast learner. "He'll be okay." Booster replied, trying to keep the uncertainty out of his voice.
"Is this before or after he becomes a stain?" Guy remarked under his breath. However, he too was forced to admit that Ted was doing all right for a rookie. Despite himself, Guy could not help feeling a little envious as he saw Ted moving through the clouds. There was a time when Guy Gardner had flown the skies in very much the same manner. In those days, he had been the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. The Green Lanterns were an intergalactic law enforcement fellowship who answered to the great Guardians of Oa. During those days, the universe had been his playground. While he did not regret his Vuldarian heritage, his earthbound existence paled in comparison with the days when he could travel through the stars as if he belonged there.
Thinking of the Guardians and their present situation brought another thought to mind. "Its too bad Kilowog is gone you know," Guy said quietly. "That poozer would have whipped Ted in to shape in no time."
"Yeah," Booster agreed. "He was the Guardian's drill instructor wasn't he?"
"The meanest one on Oa." Guy said with a faint smile.
For a moment, neither man spoke as they observed an unspoken moment of silence for their fallen comrade. Kilowog had been one of the most respected ring bearers in the Green Lantern Corps and at one time was the League's handyman. Without his ring, Kilowog was a genius with his hands. After joining the League, Kilowog had completely overhauled their entire security system, debugged their teleporters and even fixed Beatriz's hair dryer. To say nothing of the fact that hidden somewhere in jungles of Kooey Kooey Kooey, was a casino resort Kilowog had managed to build single handedly in a matter of hours.
Thinking about Kilowog only made Guy think about all the other friends who were dead. Lately, the number seemed to be on the rise. Kilowog, Joe Jones, Rex, the Silver Sorceress and of course Tora. Today was simply too nice a day to deal with all that grief. In an effort to change the subject, Guy spoke up again. "I tried getting Scott on the horn." He replied.
"Barda?" Booster ventured a guess. Scott Free aka Mr Miracle was married to Big Barda, a native of Apokolips who trained most of the planet's fearsome Parademons. It was Barda who had trained Beatriz when her powers had been boosted after the attempted invasion of Earth by the Dominion. As drill instructors go, Barda was tough but she knew her stuff. It would not be a bad idea if she gave Ted some instruction. His friend could certainly use the discipline.
"Oh." Booster said shortly. Although Booster had not applied for membership in the new League, he could understand Guy's resentment. As he had declared at their reunion, he shared Guy's view that the new League considered itself too good for the likes of them.
"How did I do?" Ted broke into the conversation from above. He was only about twenty feet above their heads and was making a gradual descent. His faced was etched in concentration as his flight speed eased and he landed gently on the ground before them. Skeets remained long enough to see his charge land before the small automaton returned to the Bug.
If it was praised he was expecting, Ted was not going to get it.
Guy did not intend to waste time with cordiality's and launched straight in. "You don't know how much invulnerability you got, so quite acting like a jerk until we figure that out." He snapped. "If you have limitations on your powers, you don't want to be two miles up when you find out!"
Ted looked to Booster for support but saw no help there. He supposed he could not blame them for being slightly angry at him. He was only supposed to go high enough to do some control loops and barrel rolls just to get a feel of his flight ability, not attempt to leap tall buildings in a single bound. However, he could not deny that it had been exhilarating being up there. Flying like this was a new kind of freedom beyond anything he had ever experienced in his life. It was as close to heaven as Ted Kord had ever known. Finally Ted understood why Booster felt the Bug so confining.
"Sorry, you're right." Ted conceded, throwing up his hands up in a gesture of defeat. "But its a hell of rush though. So come on, how did I do really?"
Guy allowed himself a faint smile, knowing the sentiment well. He exchanged a glance with Booster as he considered Ted's question before answering. "Not bad. You're still green but you got potential."
"You mean blue." Ted grinned.
Guy rolled his eyes. "I ain't dignifying that with an answer."
"Come on, lighten up will you?" Ted looked at him. "You know I never thought I'd say this, but you're turning out to be like Jonn."
"You know, after hanging around you bozos for the last few days, I'm starting to remember why Jonn was the way he was."
Suddenly, he noticed both Ted and Booster giving him a look. "What?"
"You know," Booster replied looking perfectly serious. "I never thought I'd ever hear myself saying this but maybe you should take top spot when the Crusaders gets going."
"You're kidding, right?" Guy exclaimed. He remembered what it had been like when he had attempted to take that position during their League days. Neither Booster nor Ted had been ardent supporters then. In fact, no one really took him seriously as anything more than a ring wearing thug. To be fair, he had to admit he was a lot different back then.
"No," Ted responded with the same tone of seriousness. "You've been doing pretty well the last couple of days, Guy. Why not?" It was true. A few years ago, Ted would not even have considered giving Guy the keys to the outhouse door but Guy Gardner was a different person these days. He was still as hot tempered and gruff as always but there was also a stability to him that could weather any storm. Guy had always been able to take charge of a situation but during his League days, he was nearly psychotic. Discovering his Vuldarian heritage had given his mind the balance it once had. According to the files, Guy had been a school teacher and a social worker before Green Lantern Corps had entered his life.
"I don't know." Guy retorted. "Where's Bats when ya need him?" He mused.
"With the rest of the Dream Team." Booster answered. "Come on Guy," he urged. "You used to tell us that we were in Gardner League International all the time. What's wrong with taking the top spot now? We couldn't get you to shut up about it before."
"I was a jerk back then too." Guy dead panned.
"You're still a jerk but we can put up with you now." Ted quipped.
"You know what you can do with yourself."
"We could put Ted in charge." Booster remarked. "And we know how that could turn out."
"Hey!" Ted exclaimed in mock hurt.
"I'll think about it." Guy finally agreed. A long time ago, that's all he ever wanted, to be in charge of the League, like Jonn and Batman were, to finally have the respect of his fellow super heroes. He could not understand his hesitation now. It was not as if he did not think he could do it. Of course, that fear was the farthest thing from his mind. Since running into Wargo, Verona and his other friends, that's all he had seemed to be doing, playing impromptu leader to a small group. However, taking on that role to the Crusaders officially was daunting.
Any further thought to the subject was quickly forgotten as the communication device on Ted's belt started beeping. Catherine had produced these a few days before they had left for the island. She had liberated them from a UN warehouse where the most of the equipment from the London embassy had been stored after the withdrawing its sanctioning. Now that they were reforming as a team, Catherine had believed it to be necessary for them to be contactable, no matter where they were. While she was not officially apart of the team, Catherine was helping out where she could to get the Crusaders on their feet. As its shrill sound cut through the serenity of the island, they were reminded why signal devices were never a favourite League accessory.
"Radio Shack, we don't deliver." Ted announced speaking into the device's mouth piece. Fortunately, the master controls for the signal devices were able to detect others in close proximity, therefore sparing the noise of all their devices going off simultaneously.
"A situation has come up." Catherine's voice responded without reaction to Ted's greeting but the strain was audible. It immediately put him on guard and he flicked a switch on the side of the device so the others could hear their conversation.
"What kind of situation?" Guy asked.
"Well I had an interesting morning." She explained. "Apparently, I ran into an old League enemy."
"So tell go to the League with this." Booster added. "After all, we're old news."
"I tried that." Catherine countered, ignoring the indifference in their voices. "Apparently, the League is out of touch. I couldn't even get past call waiting at the Watchtower."
"So who is it?" Ted inquired, ignoring the usual derisive remarks about the new League. At some point, he was going to have to help them get over that resentment. It was unproductive.
"I am not sure but he threatened that we will soon be dreaming gray."
No one spoke but words were unnecessary at this point. Each one of them were aware of what those words meant and who had delivered them.
"Are you okay?" Guy asked quickly. "He didn't hurt you?"
"Not at all," Catherine answered unable to hide the concern in her voice. "I believe the Gray Man wanted me alive, so that I could tell us he's coming."
"Damn." Guy swore under his breath. Of all the League enemies they had faced, the Gray Man was undoubtedly one of the worst. Even if the Crusaders were to take him on, they would be at a disadvantage. They were going to have to rectify that immediately or else they would not have a chance at defeating him. "Alright Catherine, we'll head out of here. We should be back in New York in a couple of hours."
"I'm calling from Paris. I'll be taking the Concorde in this afternoon. I will contact you when I reach New York." She replied. With that, Catherine terminated the transmission.
"Its impossible." Ted declared when Guy looked up at them. "He's a vegetable. Doctor Fate said that the Lords of Order neutralised him permanently."
"You know that hocus pocus stuff rarely holds firm." Booster countered. "The Gray Man was supposedly neutralised the first time we ran into him and yet he came back with that Teasdale character remember? Who's to say that this time is any different. He might have just found another loophole."
"We have a problem. " Guy stated.
"Yeah we do." Ted answered knowing to what Guy was referring. "The Crusaders ranks don't currently include someone who has any understanding of the supernatural." Although Ted believed in the power of sciences and logic, he had seen enough during his career to know there were more things unseen in this world then anyone was led to believe. Magic was real, as real as gravity and motion. He did not understand how those forces could be but he had seen them at work and their existence was no myth. It was real.
"Right." Guy agreed. "We go after him and we're going get our butts kicked."
"What about Doctor Fate?" Booster suggested. "Where is he these days?"
"He's been out of sight for some time now." Ted replied and thought about it. It had been some time since he had any access to the Justice League members archive and he tried to recall previous Leaguers who might be able to help them with their particular problem. The League did not have many members who specialised in magic. Other than Doctor Fate, Ted tried to remember who else might have had the expertise. When the name surfaced, it came up with such force that Ted was annoyed it had not come to him sooner. "What about Zatanna?"
"Who?" Both Guy and Booster looked at him and declared in unison.
"Zatanna," Ted repeated himself. "She used to be in the League way back before our group even learnt to kvetch. The files say she's a magician or something, a pretty powerful one too."
"Okay," Guy nodded deciding it was something to go on. At this point, they really could not afford to be choosy. If the Gray Man wanted revenge, it might be possible that he would not want the current League members, but those who got him lobotomised. If Zatanna was the best they could do at this point in time, then it was going to have to do.
"So where do we find her?" He asked Ted.
"I have no idea." Ted shrugged. "I never got through the rest of the archive, we got our wide screen TV remember?"
Booster rolled his eyes in resignation. "Oh this team is going to work."
Sorcery is more than magic tricks and spoken spells. It exists as an unseen plane of existence cohabiting in parallel uniformity with what is perceived as reality. It has currents and waves that can be manipulated by the adept because the veneer that separates the realm of magic and that of science is relatively thin. Most people do not realise the separate universe that lives in tandem with their own. Most cannot see past their disbelief to know that there is more than meets the eye in all aspects of life. For those who can make the crossing from one realm to another, their minds are open to a universe of possibilities, where there are no mysteries and infinite answers.
So how the hell did she get this VCR working?
Zatanna Zatara stared at the machine surrounded with packing foam and instructions, unable to make sense of any of it. She had read the manual twice and decided that these instructions were written by someone who had no concept of the real world because one had to be autistic to understand it. Sure, she could use magic and make the thing work with little effort. Lately, however, Zatanna had been trying to do things for herself the conventional way. Learning about her Magi heritage had shown her the importance of her gift. A gift that was much too important to waste on such trivial things.
"That's it," she sighed staring at the jet coloured tabby curled up on the arm chair opposite her. "I give up."
The feline narrowed its eyes and let out a soft purr, as if attempting to soothe her irritation with the sound. She rose to all fours and stretched languidly before leaping to the floor next to Zatanna. With the grace that was a secret only to cats, the cat walked against her and nudged against her arm.
"Thank you Branwen." Zatanna smiled. "I suppose I ought to give it a rest anyway, it looks like we're having company."
She rose to her feet and padded towards the kitchen. Zatanna had no clear idea of who her visitor was, only that she would soon make an appearance at her doorstep. She judged by the aura she was emanating, that he was no danger to her. Her visitor was just a human. The tremors would be much stronger had her visitor been a fellow mystic. Zatanna was glad. She did not wish the well meaning assistance of her mystical friends at this point. She had bought this house in a quiet corner of New England for a good reason. While the Otherworld aura in this area was strong to aid her in her studies, Zatanna had wanted solitude.
Her neighbours in the small town would seem to agree. Although they stayed away from her, there was no mystery surrounding the attractive woman with the deed blue eyes and the jet black hair. She had no secret identity to speak of, so they all knew she was Zatanna, one time member of the Justice League and supposed Mistress of Magic to the super hero community. Zatanna did not mind the isolation, knowing that it was best that she was left alone by the resident of the fishing village because her life was too filled with the uncertainties of her craft.
She reached the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil, before removing two cups. As her guest came closer, she was starting to get a stronger sense of the woman. The purity of her soul was unquestionable. Here was someone who had very few limitations, even for a human. The confidence emanating from her ego was beyond supreme but Zatanna sensed no malice in her, just a single minded dedication to an ideal. A crusader, she thought with a smile. How refreshing.
She prepared herself a pot of Jasmine Tea and readied the other cup for French coffee because her visitor did not care for tea. After the kettle emitted its shrill cry throughout her colonial styled kitchen, Zatanna placed the crockery onto a serving tray before placing the whole thing onto the nearby dining table. She had just set the tray down when she heard a sharp knock on the door.
"Right on time, Branwell." She said to the cat as it followed at her feet, when Zatanna went to answer the door.
"Catherine Colbert." Zatanna greeted when she swung the door open.
Catherine tried not to look surprised but the emotion escaped her. Zatanna Zatara stood by the doorway, an exotic looking woman who looked the part of a performing magician. Her jet coloured hair was tied in a neat pony tail and she was wearing a pair of thick tights and a turtle neck sweater. It was hard to believe that Zatanna spent her time conjuring spells and delving into the supernatural.
"I guess introducing myself is somewhat redundant now." Catherine managed to say, recovering instantly. "I shall just resort to a simple hello."
"That will do." Zatanna offered her a warm smile. "Please come in."
"Please sit." Zatanna gestured towards the dining table and did not wait for Catherine. Instead, she began pouring the coffee she had made.
"You knew I was coming." Catherine stated. It was not a question.
"Yes." She replied. "I also know when the paper boy is around the corner. "Sugar?"
"Thank you." Catherine grinned deciding that she liked this sorceress very much. She did not seem as flaky as her JLA file seem to indicate. In fact, it was hard to imagine that she was one of the most powerful experts in the supernatural there was. "Do you know why I am here?"
"I don't know whether you would consider this a surprise or not." Catherine replied. "I know you're out of the super hero business but at the moment, some friends of mine need your help."
"You don't represent the Justice League anymore." She stated. That was not a question either.
"I do read the papers." Zatanna replied, starting to become genuinely intrigued by what this woman wanted of her. She knew Catherine Colbert by reputation of course. Once upon a time, she had been the League administrator to the European branch of the Justice League, later on the United Nations had put her in charge of the whole team after the status of the team had changed. Although Zatanna was not involved with that incarnation, she had agreed with the idea of expanding the League to be more than just an American based organisation. Unfortunately, the mix of UN indecision and politics eventually destroyed the concept and Catherine Colbert had disappeared into obscurity.
"I apologise for the presumption." Catherine offered.
"Its a natural mistake." Zatanna replied sipping her tea. "Now Miss Colbert, you came a long way to find me. Why is that?"
"Are you aware of the Gray Man?" Catherine asked her, deciding to get to the point quickly.
Zatanna knew the role of the Gray Man. "He is a servant of the Lords of Order, isn't he? There is an agreement between one of the Seven and the Lords of Order, to collect dream essence from the dying and then return it to the One. Apparently the One helped the Lords out of a sticky situation some aeons ago."
Catherine looked at her blankly. "Something like that." She replied after a moment. "These sorts of cosmic interchanges take place often?"
"All the time," Zatanna explained. "Most of the time, they're like normal people, doing deals, passing favours, that sort of thing. I believed you people had more than one encounter with the Gray Man." The confrontation had caused little more than a slight tremor in the plane of the Other world The Lords of Order were usually quite adept at cleaning house.
"Yes." Catherine answered. "He started collecting dream essence from the living. He turned an entire town into some bizarre ad for dead."
"Lord Morpheus would not have liked that." Zatanna whistled under her breath. "The Lords of Order are usually quite efficient when they deal with the wayward servant. I find it odd that they would allow him to continue in this aspect if he was so destructive."
"Those who fought him believed so as well. As far as they were aware, according to Doctor Fate, the Lords of Order had practically lobotomised him."
"I see." She nodded, starting to see why he was here. "I gather he is back."
"And claiming vengeance." Catherine finished. "I have tried contacting the Justice League. Apparently, they are unavailable. I believe Gray Man will come after the former Leaguers, my friends, who have no idea how to deal with him without Doctor Fate. The supernatural is not their area of expertise."
"I am out of the game Miss Colbert," Zatanna pointed out. "I'm soul searching at the moment."
"I know," she replied. "But you have been known to come out of retirement whenever you are needed."
Zatanna frowned. Catherine had her there. "My League days are far behind me, I don't intend to get involved with weirdoes in spandex who have over inflated ideas about their importance in the scheme of things."
"Don't worry, we've had Guy fixed. He plays nice now." Catherine replied with a straight face.
Zatanna chuckled softly. "Are you always so determined Miss Colbert?"
"Only when I'm being confronted with mind reading magicians, the rest of the time I am simply arrogant to a fault." He replied.
"Alright." Zatanna nodded knowing that her conscience would plague her if she did not help this woman. Not to mention, her state of mind if anything were to happen to the ex-Leaguers resulting from her lack of action. Sometimes she wished Zatara had raised a less conscientious daughter. It could be most disrupting at times. "Tell me when and where and I shall be there."
"Excellent." Catherine toasted her cup of tea with her own. "I look forward to your participation."
However, their encounter was not yet concluded. Zatanna had something further to add. "One more thing, this is a temporary arrangement. I do not wish to join any super hero team so you may as well get that thought out of your mind that you can get me to like staying with the Crusaders. This is a one time deal only." She looked at her through narrowed eyes.
Catherine shrugged but did not look unrepentant. "I'm sure it is."
CHAPTER SIX: THE FELLOWSHIP
Why was she here?
More importantly, how had she allowed Beatriz to talk her into this?
Sigrid Nansen had barely enough time to contemplate that question before she forced herself to remember where she was. This was Guy Gardner's bar and despite Bea's assurances to the contrary, Sigrid was certain she was not welcome here. Her presence would be an affront to Gardner considering his relationship with the last superhero to call herself Ice Maiden.
"Sigrid!" Sigrid heard a voice exclaimed as she walked through the doors of Warriors. She turned around as saw Beatriz de Costa approaching her with a wide grin across her bronzed Latin face. As usual, Beatriz looked spectacular. This of course, was no surprise to Sigrid. All her life, Sigrid had lived in awe of Beatriz and the rest of the Global Guardians. Beatriz de Costa was never anything less than perfect. Even when she had shed the persona of Fire, Beatriz was still eminently known as the Revson Girl whose features now graced a million billboards across the planet.
When the League had disbanded, Sigrid was aware of the turmoil in Bea's life. As a friend and team member, Sigrid had withdrawn from Bea's life. Beatriz needed to see Sigrid as more than just a replacement for Tora and at the time, her wounds had been too raw for such insight. It now seemed that her disappearance from Bea's life had allowed the Brazillian superhero to get a fresh start on her life at the same time, allowing Sigrid to build up some much needed confidence.
While she was far from taking on Doomsday single handedly, Sigrid could say honestly that she was making strides in her life. No longer did she feel the need to live up to Tora Olafsdotter's reputation for courage and strength. Sigrid had come a long way in accepting her powers for what they were and not how much they lacked in comparison with the other Ice Maiden. Sigrid spent her life fleeing from one thing or another because she never believed she was good enough for any of it.
"Hello Bea." Sigrid smiled and the two women embraced warmly.
"Its good to see you." Beatriz said with genuine warmth. "How have you been?"
"I got a job at Star Labs as a research assistant." Sigrid explained, knowing Beatriz was genuinely concerned about her welfare. With pride, Sigrid realised that her lack of confidence had been part of the reason why she was never a good research assistant in Norway. Now that she was launching herself into everything with a new vitality, Sigrid was learning that she was not the failure she perceived herself to be. Her job had brought her an apartment, friends and a life that was slowly reaching apogee.
Considering what Sigrid Nansen used to think of herself, she was doing okay.
"And you're the Revson girl." Sigrid pointed out.
"Its a living." Beatriz replied with a smile. While she was proud of her success, Beatriz was not as superficial as she was before. After losing Tora, she had realised what things in life were of real value and it helped to keep her success in perspective. While modelling paid the bills, she was mostly proud of her efforts as a superhero then as the Revson Girl. "I am sorry I lost touch."
"Its okay, I know how things were." Sigrid answered. Shortly before the formation of the new League, Sigrid had learnt from the medical division of Star Labs that Bea had been injured during the attack by the Hyperclan. She had spent weeks at Star Labs recuperating from severe trauma to her body. Sigrid had dropped into see her occasionally but their meetings had been short and evasive. Both had emotional baggage that had not been shed until recently.
Deciding to move on to a brighter subject, Sigrid shifted her gaze across Warriors. She had heard of the bar prior to this but had never found the opportunity to make a visit. Apparently Guy Gardner was doing quite well here and she could understand why. The place looked like a Planet Hollywood for superheroes without being overtly tacky as that franchise was. Americans could over do things so badly when they tried. Fortunately, this was nothing of the sort and could almost be called cosy. Other than the memorabilia, it looked like any other bar and restaurant.
It appeared that the restaurant was abbot to open because Sigrid could see waiters preparing the tables for patronage. Glasses and dining implements were being laid out while the bartender tended to the task required behind the bar. None of the staff seemed surprised or bothered by the superheroes in their presence and Sigrid supposed that in this place, costumed heroes were common place.
Her observations were cut short when she heard a male voice calling out. "Hiya doing Sigrid." Guy Gardner greeted as he came down the stairs from the upper portion of the building.
Although there was tension in his face at the sight of her, Guy Gardner seemed civil. Sigrid let out an invisible sigh of relief because she knew how difficult it was for him to accept that she was not Tora, even though she carried the name of Ice Maiden. During their initial meeting, Guy had accused her of being an imposter but Sigrid understood his outburst for what it was. Pain at believing someone he loved so dearly, could be so easily replaced. His behaviour now was marked difference. She could see he was making an effort to be polite and tolerant.
"Nice to see you again Gardner." Sigrid answered, grateful at his efforts. "I like this place." She remarked allowing her gaze to move over the restaurant again. "Although I never thought of you as a restaurateur."
Guy broke into a proud grin. "I am a guy of many talents." He replied and then became a little more serious. "Everyone is out back," he motioned them to a door at the corner of floor. It was almost hidden by the bar counter. "We'll be able to have some privacy without everybody staring at us like we were a sideshow attraction."
As this was a meeting to deal with the Gray Man, Catherine was not present. While she had been the one to suggest the formation of the new team, as always, the former UN liaison preferred to handle the administrative side of things whenever it was required. Guy had yet to officially assume the role of team leader although he was far from making any decisions. At the moment, the Crusaders were still at a seminal stage. Other than himself, Ted, Booster, General Glory and Bea, they did not have a fixed roster. He gathered Sigrid was here at Bea's request. Although it was difficult to accept that she was Ice Maiden, Guy knew she was not Tora and therefore, not a replacement. Besides, Sigrid seemed like a nice kid and he knew what it was like to be considered second best for most of one's life.
However, he had hoped their first mission together would have been something less dangerous than having to deal with the Gray Man. Their team, if you could call it that, was really untested. Sure, they had worked together years ago, but that was exactly the point. The years had a habit of making people rusty and they had never been very good team to begin with. Guy made a silent oath to himself that this time it would be different. They were going to be a team because he knew they had in them to do it.
That thought froze his insides cold.
Meanwhile greetings and introductions were being exchanged with the heroes present. Sigrid who had only really ever worked with Beatriz closely, seemed unsure at how to take Ted and Booster. General Glory who knew none of them was even more uncertain although Beatriz seemed to be taking him under his wing. Guy never thought of her to be maternal type. Then again, Beatriz was also playing the same role to Sigrid as she had done when Tora had first left her father's ice city.
"I thought Catherine said she was tracking down Zatanna for us." Ted declared.
"Catherine found her." Guy replied. "Zatanna is supposed to be here."
"You mean the Zatanna?" General Glory asked. "The one who used to be in old League?"
"The same." Ted replied. It was hard to remember that this was not the same General Glory that they had known previously. That General Glory had possessed supreme confidence and an honest wisdom, Ted was going to miss. The new General seemed to be very nervous and unsure of himself, not much more than a kid really. In some ways, he reminded Ted of himself when he had first began in this business and that memory warmed the Blue Beetle to the new General Glory quickly.
"I use to read about her in the papers." He remarked. "She's like a witch, isn't she?"
"I prefer the term magician." Zatanna Zatara answered coolly as she walked through the door. She was in full costume of fish nets, tights, tuxedo jacket and top hat.
"We're glad you could make it." Guy offered extended a handshake in her direction. Most of them knew Zatanna by reputation but none could confess to ever having worked with her. Although she was in the League far earlier than any of them, she was in her late twenties. In fact, he was surprised how different she looked from the pictures in her League dossier. Maybe it was the tights.
"Ms Colbert said you needed my help." Zatanna replied. She could sense the apprehension in his voice, not simply because he did not know her but because he was masking his insecurity behind a facade of false confidence.
It appeared that Guy Gardner's reputation as being a rabid was well in the past. When Catherine had come to her about the Gray Man, Zatanna had confessed to some trepidation to working with these ex-Leaguers. Much of this opinion was influenced in part by Gardner's notorious behaviour and the juvenile antics for which Booster Gold and Blue Beetle were infamous. However, now that she was in their immediate presence, Zatanna had to admit that these preconceived notions might have been ill considered. The room emanated with an atmosphere of warmth that was due to the people in the room. Despite their contrasting natures, they considered each other more than friends but like family. It was a nice feeling to be included in some a tight knit circle. Zatanna sensed that this was not always the case.
Whatever had taken place since the League days had changed their attitudes towards themselves and each other considerably. Zatanna felt slightly ashamed for being so judgemental. Still remnants of the old lingered behind like a shadow. It amused her how the Blue Beetle seemed to be gawking at her like a teenager. Well, a little boost to the ego never hurt anyone, especially considering what her love life had been likely lately.
"Why don't we get settled in and brief those who of us who are new to the party." Ted suggested, trying to get the meeting started. Suddenly, he did not want Zatanna to think that they were all a bunch of amateurs. He still remembered what Hawkman had thought of them and he did not want Zatanna believing the same.
"Good idea." Guy drawled and motioned everyone around the table. The venue for their first meeting was Warrior's private room. The decor was traditionally colonial, with heavy wooden furniture and soft cushions. A fireplace sat unused against one wall and the furnishings were tasteful and designed to put people at ease. At the moment, Guy wished it would work on him. He noticed how Booster and Beetle seemed to be taking a back seat approach, allowing him to take charge because he was used to telling people what to do.
Greetings were made all around as Guy introduced Zatanna to the newly formed Crusaders. Although they had yet to ask Crimson Fox whether she wanted involvement in this new team, Guy figured there would be time for that later. At the moment, it appeared that the Gray Man had counted her among those to revenged, so it was probably wise that she stuck with them until the situation was resolved.
"Beetle, you want to start the briefing about the Gray Man?"
"Sure," Ted rose to his feet to address the others. "As Doctor Fate explained to us at the time, the Gray Man is an agent of the Lords of Order, who use him to collect dream essence from the dead. As Zatanna will tell you, the dream essence is what gives the Lords of Order their power. When we encountered him, the League had only been a few months old. He had taken over a town called Stone Ridge by removing not only the dream essence of the people who lived there but he was actually taping into the energy of their souls. Siphoning the power meant for the Lords of Order made him stronger than he was ever meant to be."
"The Gray Man captured Doctor Fate who managed to get a message to us. Batman sent Captain Marvel ahead for reconnaissance but we soon lost contact with him when he penetrated the town. When he finally returned, he was under the influence of the Gray Man in some form of mind control."
At that Ted paused a moment to catch his breath. He took a sip of water from his glass before continuing again. "Its hard to say what happened next. We were taken down easily. Fortunately for us though, it appeared that Doctor Fate was not as incapacitated as he seemed. Apparently Fate was hoping to talk the Gray Man to his senses. When he realised that the Gray Man could not be reasoned with, Fate transported the whole building with us in it to this island. Fate explained that it was an intersection point between two realities. Once there, the Lords of Order took care of the Gray man themselves."
"We thought that was the end of him." Guy took up where Ted left off for the benefit of Zatanna and the new General Glory. "Until he turned up again a year later. Except this time, it was a different guy altogether. This one was smarter, he had a partner, some crazy scientist named Irwin Teasdale. Teasdale wanted revenge against Simon Stagg and the Gray Man wanted the serum Teasdale was developing to wreak mass murder. With the essence he would absorb from the dying, he would be powerful enough to take on both the Lords of Order and Chaos. He would have done it too if it wasn't for the Spectre. The Spectre brought the Gray Man's ideas to the Lords or Order and Chaos who promptly cut the creep at the knees. They lobotomised him so that he could do his work but not be a threat to anyone again."
"So how is it that he's back again?" General Glory declared.
"I don't know how he could come back." Booster answered. "Its kind of strange that the Lords of Order wouldn't be keeping a close eye on him after what he's done in the past."
"The Lords of Order have withdrawn from this plane of existence. After all, this is only one reality to them and they have a large cosmic backyard to look after," Zatanna explained, realising that this group had very little knowledge about the realm of the supernatural. "Even though their war with the Lords of Chaos seem to have ended for the moment, it has now become a cold war. Each side maintains the balance of good and evil in the cosmos. Both have their chess pieces on the gaming board and like all players, they sometimes forget what it happening in the rest of the universe. They may not be aware that the Gray Man has become active again."
"Couldn't we just tell them about it?" Sigrid suggested. "If this is their problem, they should handle it."
"They might." Zatanna mused. However, she was sceptical at receiving any assistance from the Lords of Order. "Then again, we are one reality for them, they may not care to concern themselves with our problems."
"Great, "Beatriz groaned. "So we're going to have to clean up their mess?"
"There's something else," Guy stated ignoring her remark. "Catherine has never met the Gray Man but she says he spoke to her as if he knew her personally. The Gray Man never confronted us at any of our embassies, how the hell would he know Catherine at all?"
"That's a good point." Ted agreed, looking at Guy. "Now that you mention it, something else has been bothering me about this. The Gray Man has no real reason to take revenge on us. Sure, we got in the way of his plan a couple of times but the ones who really hurt him are the Lords of Order. Even when he was rampaging around the place, his anger was always directed at them and not us. He did not seem to take offence at us personally, we were just meddlesome human beings who got in his way."
"You will find most immortal creatures think that way." Zatanna responded.
"Catherine also said he referred to himself as 'we' not he.."
"We?" Ted looked at Guy in surprise. Now that was a variation in the Gray Man's behaviour that was not consistent with what they knew of him. "Is Catherine sure about this?"
"Well, she said the Gray Man actually corrected her when she referred to him as a single person. He said that 'they' were together now. That means more than one of them."
"He never did that before." Ted stated firmly.
"But he did split up into several hundred Gray Men." Booster reminded.
"Yes, but those were like extensions of himself. He could project himself in a dozen different places but he was still the mind in control."
Zatanna was impressed by the Blue Beetle's acumen. When he was not being a childish prankster, it appeared that there was a formidable intellect in residence behind those yellow goggles. "The Blue Beetle is correct." Zatanna added her voice into the discussion. "I find it difficult to believe that an entity with the Gray Man's aspirations would refer to himself as anything but in the singular. This requires investigation."
"How do we do that?" Ted asked, pleased that he seemed to have impressed her a little.
"Not easily." She confessed. "Not until he comes after us."
No one seemed to like that prospect at all but Ted still seemed concerned and Guy could hardly blame him. While they were certain they were dealing with the Gray Man, there was something about this that nagged at the back of his Vuldarian senses. Something was wrong. He just could not place what that was exactly.
"So do we just wait for him?" General Glory inquired. As it was Donovan Wallace was questioning his reason for being here. He had joined the League to fight the rent lords and drug dealers who preyed on the seamy underworld that had made him a paraplegic, not going off to fight some powerful supernatural being. "May be we should go looking for this guy."
"That's easier said than done." Guy replied. "The man is like smoke."
"We could go to Stone Ridge." Ted suggested. "That's where he began the first time."
"Nothing we've heard about him would indicate that he'd go back there Beetle." Booster pointed out. "Like you said, he never took anything personally."
"No, but there are lines across the planet that direct cosmic forces." Zatanna replied, deciding that there was more to this Blue Beetle than met the eye. He certainly did not deserve the reputation of being labelled a buffoon. "There are places that attract it like nails to a magnet. Leesburg for example. Stone Ridge could have the same kind of energy flow. If he is to be found anywhere, I suggest that is a good a place as any to look."
"All right," Guy agreed with that assessment. "In that case, Zatanna, Beetle and should check out Stone Ridge. The rest of us can go to that town on the Austrian German border where he turned up the second time."
As dumb as Ted could some times behave, he was no amateur and neither was Zatanna. However, Sigrid and Donovan was something else entirely. In comparison to the rest of them, the new Ice Maiden was not Tora whose freezing abilities had been formidable. She was also relatively new to the game and Guy was not going to be responsible for any other heroine named Ice dying. He wanted Sigrid where the rest of them could protect if she got in over her head. He realised he was being unfair since she had proved herself in battle. When the League had gone up against the Tormocks, Sigrid had shown what she was made of. However, a part of him would always feel responsible for being absent when the Overmaster had torn Tora to pieces. He was not allowing the same for Sigrid Nansen. If she wanted into this group, that was going to have to be the rules.
The same thing went for the new General Glory. Fighting thugs who carried automatic weapons and grenade launcher was one thing; being able to handle yourself in mystic combat was another thing entirely. Guy, Booster and Bea had experience enough to watch over the new arrivals for the moment.
"Sounds like a plan." Beatriz offered him a proud smile. She never thought of Guy with leadership qualities but now she understood why Ted and Booster were pushing him to accept the role as team leader.
"Hey," Booster spoke up. "Shouldn't someone be looking out for Catherine?"
Catherine was in danger too, Guy realised. The Gray Man had sought her out specifically to deliver his message of their impending doom. There was no reason why he would not use her in the same manner when he finally chose to carry out his threat. Booster was right, she did need protection. "Good idea Beetle," Guy agreed before a smile stole across his face. "What about you Booster? You can use your 25th century charm on Catherine. I seem to remember you made a great impression on her once."
"Me?" Booster exclaimed remembering that incident all too well. "Guy I don't think this is such a good idea."
"Not me buddy," Ted retorted, barely able to contain the laughter that was struggling to escape from his lips. "I think its just swell."
"Are we missing something?" Beatriz asked, having not heard this story before. However, judging by the embarrassment on Booster's face, she decided it was a story worth hearing. She made a mental note to get the story out of Guy later.
"Are you people always like this?" Zatanna asked.
"Actually," Sigrid smiled. Despite joining the Justice League in its last days, she knew just how zany things could get. "This is one of their more serious days."
Book Two is on the next page! Click the forward arrow below
All characters are DC Comics
This story is © 1999 by Linda Thackeray.