Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 
ARENA
(a sequel to "The Crusaders")

by Linda Thackeray

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

I

They materialised into a war zone.

It was the only accurate description that came to mind when Zatanna teleported the Crusaders back to New York City. An explosion of sound filled all their eyes the instant reality formed around them. Car horns were screaming amidst the blaring of what appeared to be fire engine and police sirens. Angry motorists were losing patience with the deadlock of metal and glass that trapped them on the roads and streets. The general atmosphere was that of pandemonium as frightened people were running away from a yet unseen catastrophe raging on their busy but seldom life-threatening streets.

She looked up to see a building whose upper floors were hidden beneath a crown of fire. Thick, smoke was rising into the blue sky, billowing like a column of black.

"My god, what has happened here?" She heard Donovan declare.

"I don't know," Ronnie responded quickly enough. His usual arrogance had disappeared from his voice. "But I'm going to do something about it now." The superhero leapt into the air before any of them had a chance to protest and was soaring towards the burning structure. He did not need any help and did not ask for it any way.

"Where is Ted?" Beatriz asked looking around the place, knowing that was why Zatanna had brought them back to New York so abruptly.

By now, the superhero known as Firestorm was almost reaching eye level with the flames. He better than any of them, except perhaps Zatanna was capable of putting an end to the raging fire with any speed. With his powers of molecular reconstruction, they saw Firestorm sending a beam of energy at the thickest part of the inferno. Within seconds, the fire started burning out as if someone had siphoned all the oxygen from the air surrounding the building. It vanished immediately, leaving only the terrible remains of its destruction behind. The upper levels of the building were utterly gutted but for the moment the danger appeared to have passed.

Zatanna made a mental note to conduct further repairs to the building once the situation was under control. For now, Ronnie's quick thinking had eliminated one concern at least. He may be behaving like an arrogant teenager but Firestorm was still a consummate professional. He had been in the game almost as long as she had and knew how to think quickly. Her eyes scanned the surrounding area but it was Donovan who spotted him first. With his enhanced senses, General Glory had best vision of them.

"There he is!" Donovan exclaimed and started running forward.

Zatanna followed Donovan's gaze and immediately fell into pursuit. Glancing over her shoulder, it seemed that Ronnie had things well in hand. However, Beatriz outdistanced them all as she leapt into the air and covered the distance between themselves and Ted in a matter of minutes.

Beatriz spotted Ted sitting cross-legged staring at something in the middle of an empty courtyard. It was strange seeing him there when all around him; crowds of people were trying to leave the area. He looked like the calm in the eye of the storm. Booster was sitting up from his prone position. His hands cupped over his nose. Judging by the blood running through his fingers, Beatriz guessed that it was almost certainly broken.


Then she saw it.

The creature was not moving but its danger to them could not be underestimated. It was bleeding as well but Beatriz felt her breath catch as she caught sight of it. Suddenly, she guessed what had taken place here and hoped Ted was all right. Even from the air, she could see the blood on his uniform and the rags that bound his wounds. It appeared that they had missed a titanic battle that of which Ted appeared to have borne the brunt.

"Ted, are you all right?" She asked as she landed next to him. The green flames around her body dissolving as she knelt down next to him.

He looked up at her with dead eyes. The colour of them made her hollow inside. Ted was always in good humour no matter what the situation. Even when Tora had died, she had not seen him so struck. What on earth had happened? "Yeah," he nodded. "I'm okay." His voice too was withdrawn.

"In case anyone cares, I'm okay too." Booster retorted sarcastically, nursing his broken nose tenderly. He had yanked off one of his gloves to stem the bleeding.

Beatriz threw him a look of sympathy. "I would have gotten to you, you know." She retorted. However, her main concern was Ted. The rag around his thigh was soaked, not to mention his hands. As much as she tried not to look, she was unable to move her gaze from his ruined knuckles.

"What is that thing?" She asked, looking at the creature with a mixture of distaste and fear.

Ted could not say it. He looked desperately to Booster for help but Booster knew no better way then he did to tell Beatriz the truth and she had to know.

"Bea," he said finally meeting her eyes. "Its Guy."

She did not speak for a moment. Instead, she turned around slowly and stared at the creature. Although Ted could not see her face, he heard the soft whisper following a strangled gasp. "No."

Ted rose to his feet and hobbled to her, searching for the words that could make it better. She was his friend and he could not even begin to imagine what she was feeling right now. "Sigrid is at Star Labs right now. She's getting ready for us to bring Guy there so she can help him."

"Can he be helped?" Beatriz asked, not looking at him as she started towards the creature that was once the man she loved.

"Of course he can," Booster stated enthusiastically even though nothing was for certain. Like Ted, he considered Beatriz a friend, more than that actually. She was like family and right now she needed to know that there was hope for Guy's recovery.

"Like Reena was helped?" She replied and to that Booster could say nothing because she was right. There were no guarantees for Guy's recovery. No real ones anyway. All they had to cling to was the vague hope that Sigrid could find some way to counter the mutations of Guy's chromosomes. Even that hope seemed somewhat unreliable considering the advance nature of Vuldarian biochemistry. The science to help Guy Gardner may not even exist.

Zatanna and Donovan broke through the crowd that was gathering to watch the proceedings, now that it appeared the danger had passed. She saw the same things that Beatriz did and let out a sigh of relief that he was not injured any more than that. It did appear however, that both Ted and Booster had been through something of an ordeal.

"Ted?" She called out as she reached him.

Until now, it felt as if nothing could make him feel good again after what he was forced to do in order to subdue Guy. However, seeing Zatanna changed all that. It mystified him, this power she had over him that had little to do with magic or the supernatural. Just staring into her blue eyes was capable of sending away every dark thought inside him. They met in an embrace because he sorely needed one. He took a deep breath of her hair and allowed it to carry him to a better place for a few seconds.

When they parted, he offered a smile. "Thanks Zee," he said throwing a quick glance over his shoulder. "I really needed that."

"You're hurt." She took his hand and examined it gently. He flinched as she did so and Zatanna could hardly blame him. As she unwrapped the soaked piece of cloth, she spotted several punctures through his palm. Turning his hand over, she saw his knuckles were in no better condition either. The flesh of both hands was raw and bloody, not to mentioned the state of his leg. "We need to get you to a doctor."


"I'll let someone take a look at me when we get to Star Labs." He replied. At the moment, his injuries seemed minor in comparison to what Beatriz De Costa was now having to face.

********

He was not moving but she knew he was alive.

His breath was ragged and uneven. There bruises marking his skin all across his skull. Denial was the first thing she tried to fight off because the need to reject this creature before as Guy was overwhelming. She was no good to him if she could not see it as Guy. Beatriz swallowed hard as she approached him. Judging by the damage that had been wrought around her, she knew he and Ted had battled to a standstill. Only Ted's grip with humanity kept him conscious. For he did not seem to fare any better than this wounded beast before her.

"Bea, don't get too close." She heard Donovan warn but his words were meaningless. This was Guy and nothing could keep her from him.

"I'll be fine." She responded. The voice in her throat felt just as far away as Donovan's word.

From the moment they were aware of the enemy, this was the one possibility she had not wanted to face. Ted had suspected this might happened, she guessed probably from the very beginning. He had not wanted to worry her by telling her outright but Beatriz had known it was preying on his thoughts. She was almost a few feet from Guy when suddenly, the narrow slits his eyes had become opened and focussed directly on her. Beatriz froze in her tracks, hoping that some part of him still remembered who she was.

The fierce roar that ripped through her ears removed that hope immediately. He lashed out at her but in his weakened state, could do no more than flay his arm wildly.

"Bea!" She heard Ted called out in warning amidst the feral bellowing. Instinctively, she flamed on. Green fire blaze to life around her body, wrapping her in its protection.

Suddenly, the roaring stopped.

The creature that was Guy Gardner raised its monstrous head off the ground as it looked closely at this woman enveloped in green flames. It began to growl softly until it sounded more like the curious purr of a kitten rather than enraged bellowing. Its narrow eyes focussed on the dance of fire before him, mesmerised by the colour of the flames. It reached out its hand slowly, testing the heat radiating against its thick skin. Something about the fire sparked a memory buried deep inside it.

A memory of green fire.

Despite advice to the contrary, Beatriz could not deny the hand that was reaching out to her. For better or for worse, any chance of rekindling Guy's lost humanity was not something she was going to squander. Controlling the burn around herself, she extinguished the fire around her hand and extended it towards the creature's enormous fingers.

"Bea," she heard Ted's voice warning her in the background. Beatriz ignored it as she felt its fingers meet hers. Her breath held for a moment, as it tested the feeling of her flesh against its own. She knew she was afraid because her hand was shaking despite the fact that it could not really hurt her. Her fear rose from the possibility that Guy Gardner was gone forever. She feared this creature's need to touch was in order to satisfy a spark of familiarity that bore little meaning even if there was enough substance to give it pause from its savage fury. Sitting upright, it towered over her even though she was standing up before it.

The creature fingers touched hers as if she were something precious and fragile. It moved its coarse digits over her smooth skin and examined her knuckles with its huge thumb, all the while with its eyes locked onto the green flames dancing off the rest of her body. After what seemed to be an eternity, its palm enveloped her hand and withdrew, tugging her forward gently. Without any other action, the creature placed her hand against its distorted cheek and held it there as it began to moan softly, rocking back and forth like a wounded animal.

She could not cry when she was like this but the sorrow in her heart at the wailing sound threatened to choke her with emotion. It did not look at her as its swayed forward gently but her touch and the dance of fire had soothed its savage nature. For a while at least, taken away the constant pain of it's being. Guy was in there, she decided. He was buried deep within this twisted body but he was still there.

II

"Ouch!" Ted grumbled as one of the doctors at Star Labs tended to his injuries.

It was less than an hour after Zatanna and the rest of the Crusaders had returned to the city and much had transpired since then. With Bea's ability to keep the creature subdued, they were able to transport it to Star Labs where Sigrid and others in the field of alien biology could find some way to reverse its mutations. Prior to its transportation, Zatanna had decided to spare the Crusaders being slapped with a hefty lawsuit from the city by repairing the destruction caused by their battle to end the creatures rampage.

"Attaboy Ted," Ronnie remarked. "Take it like a man."

Like the rest of the Crusaders, Ronnie was gathered in a private room with Ted while a doctor worked on his injuries. There was much to discuss now that Guy had been returned to them, although no one was very optimistic about the situation.

"You know," Ted scowled at him. "I knew it was a bad idea calling you up."

"At least he turned up." Booster remarked under his breath.

There was little love lost between Booster Gold and Ronnie Raymond. During their days together in Extreme Justice, Booster was still dependent on his suit to survive after the injuries incurred during the League's encounter with the Overmaster. In those days, there had a great deal of emotional baggage for him to carry around, exacerbated by Ted's growing friendship with Ronnie. He would be lying if he said he was not jealous but he was. Matters were not helped by Ronnie's arrogant attitude towards Booster's inadequacies and a drinking problem that was starting to become acute before Ronnie left the group altogether.

"I'm not here for you." Ronnie replied coldly, looking at Booster as he spoke. "I'm here for Reena."

"Okay," Zatanna let out a sigh. "If we are done with the posturing." She gave both of them a critical glare as she stood along side Ted during his treatment.

"Hear, hear." Donovan answered. Too much had happened today for them to be bickering like children. After what had been done to Guy Gardner and almost certainly to Kevin Sharpe, he was both angry and determined to put an end to Rex Maximus and his Ani-Men. If it had not been for Kevin's disappearance, who knows how many kids in his neighbourhood would have met a similar fate, transformed into monsters for the convenience of paying dilettantes.

"Did you find anything?" Ted asked no one in particular, referring to their efforts in Florida.

"Nothing that was useful." Donovan answered. "We came across what should be location for the next Alien film. All I can say for sure is, Doctor Lovecraft was a true researcher."

"I detect a note of sarcasm in that remark." Booster noted. His voice was somewhat nasal because he needed to speak through a most ungainly bandage across his broken nose. He was not going to be fit for any PR shots for at least a month, not with a broken nose and eyes that looked better on a racoon.

"No kidding." Ronnie snapped. "It was sickening!" Memories of what they had seen in that room would fill the content of many nightmares in years to come. He still hoped Reena had not met her end in such a such a grisly way. "That bastard created a fucking freak show!" He said vehemently. "I've seen some things that'll make you puke but what Lovecraft did." Ronnie turned away because his emotion was starting to get the better of him and the atrocity of what they had seen was impossible accurately describe.

"Well we did a little better," Booster admitted, because this really did mean something to Ronnie beyond his usually superficial manner. Perhaps, he had judged the kid unfairly and Booster felt somewhat guilty about that. How many people had done the same to him when he first started in this business?

"How so?" Zatanna inquired, grateful for any break in the tension at the moment.

"There's a possibility that Rex Rogan may have established a new company before Repli-Tech folded. What he's doing now takes money and he can't have made it out of thin air. The Wayne Foundation now owns the company and they told us that all its cash assets were gone at the time of takeover. I'm guessing that Rogan sent the money elsewhere to secret fund if he needed it." Ted explained. "The information on this is scarce so we are looking at a great deal of leg work."

"I thought about that." Booster spoke up now that the subject had arisen once more. There had been little chance to impart his suggestion earlier because of what had taken place in Warriors and everything else since then.

"Let's hear it." Ronnie urged. "The faster we can track Maximus, the better chance we have that Lovecraft may have some idea to reverse this. I remembered Reena thinking he did have some kind of antidote. I don't think Gardner's got a lot of time."

To that, no one could disagree.

"I say we contact Oracle."

"Oracle." Ted mused nodding his head in realisation.

Her reputation was known to most of them even if there was little else regarding her identity. For several years now, Oracle had been the mysterious provider of intelligence in the superhero community. Little was known about her personally but the service she provided was absolutely first rate. Recently appointed to the Justice League's ranks, Oracle had become more accessible to the wider community of superheroes now. These days it was possible to contact her through the Justice League's headquarters on the moon. It was believed that the Watchtower had direct contact with her home base, wherever that might have been.

"There you go Mr Beetle." The doctor working on his leg responded after securing the bandage around his foot. "Take it easy, you've done considerable harm to your muscles. Any stress on the leg may cause permanent damage to your ability to use it."

"I'll see that he stays off it." Zatanna answered before he could. Ted was about to say something when she gave him a look that told it was wiser to shut up then speak up.

"Whatever the lady says." He said meekly. When Zee got to talking like that, it was never wise to contradict her. Besides, she could turn him into a frog.

"Crack that whip honey," Ronnie laughed as the doctor made a hasty exit. Obviously superhero types were too much for his usual routine to handle.

Ted flipped him a finger and let it speak volumes.

"Come on kids," Zatanna instructed, suddenly understanding why Catherine Colbert had once remarked that she felt like the warden to an insane asylum during her tenure as League administrator. "Let's go see how Bea is doing."

*********

Actually Beatriz was doing a great deal better.

Now that Guy was found and they were in a position to help him, that part of her anxiety had disappeared. Of course nothing would even be remotely back to normal until his humanity was restored to him. However, even if he recognised her in this limited fashion, it did prove that there was something left of Guy to reach and that had to count for something.

Once he was taken to Star Labs, it was possible to sedate him so Beatriz was extinguish the flames around her body. She did opt to stay as close to him as she could because it appeared for the moment, that only the memory of green fire was capable of keeping him somewhat subdued and easy to handle. Despite the fact that he was unconscious, Star Labs was taking no chances with Guy and had him strapped to an examination table with binds that were once tested by Superman. Apparently, the Kryptonian had found them challenging for 4.7 seconds at least, so they were adequately capable of holding Guy for slightly longer.

"Have you learnt anything?" She asked Sigrid who was poised over something that looked like an electron microscope. Despite the situation Guy was in, Beatriz could not help confessing a certain amount of admiration for the Norwegian woman as she bounced around the room, taking tissue samples from Guy and then conducting her examinations. When she had returned to the game, Sigrid had difficulty expressing herself among her League comrades. It was understandable of course, although she was the original Ice Maiden, Tora had overshadowed her so completely, that people barely remembered her let alone the fact that she had been the first.

Slowly, Sigrid had asserted herself. It had taken time and a great deal of determination but eventually, she had emerged from the shadow of Tora Olafsdotter to be taken seriously as a heroine in her own right. If only those in the superhero community could see her now, Beatriz thought to herself. Within the confines of this room, Beatriz saw none of the fear that had been dogged her manner most other times. Not only did she appear competent at what she did but her confidence gave Beatriz hope that Sigrid may actually have an answer to their current crisis.

Sigrid herself was thinking hard on the problem before her. Since Ted had initially brought forward the subject of Vuldarian gene mutation, Sigrid had thought constantly on the problem in the instance that their worst fears were realised. While she confessed to being no expert, she did consult those who were and the solutions they gave her were varied, depending on the state of the pathology of the mutation. Strangely enough, the answer to Guy's problem had not come to her from those brilliant mind's but rather one that walked a fine line between genius and the maturity of a ten year old.

Sigrid turned to Beatriz and finally announced. "Ted's given me an idea."

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

I

"You can't be serious." Ted Kord declared, echoing the unspoken sentiments of everyone else in the room. "Its insane."

"Yes it is." Sigrid nodded knowing how her proposal sounded but also confident there was little alternative left to her. As a scientist, it was burned into her that all theory must first undergo a process of experimentation and alternative deduction before the actual application. Normally, she would agree with that creed most devotedly. Except she did not have a choice this time. They required a hasty solution because Guy Gardner had no time to spare. Sigrid had studied the tissue samples and her colleagues at Star Labs seemed to agree with her conclusions. "This is the only way."

"Oh man." Booster groaned, adding his own uneasiness to the debate currently raging in the room where Guy was currently sleeping, completely sedated for the safety of everyone in the building. "There's got be something else." He looked to Sigrid and saw no change in her mercurial features. He wondered if that was the persona of Ice Maiden or simply the scientist she was.

"There is no other way." Sigrid repeated herself, knowing that this was a highly risky procedure she was advocating However, conventional gene therapy was useless to Guy. His cellular structure was fast reaching a point of no return that not even his advance Vuldarian genes could cope with. Indeed it was its unique ability to adapt that had caused this impending disaster.

"What will this do to him if it fails?" Zatanna inquired. She too wanted no part of what Sigrid was proposing but the younger woman had not offered this solution lightly. If this was the answer she was presenting them, then it must be for a very good reason.

"If we're lucky," Sigrid took a deep breath. "Nothing. He will come through the procedure in no worse state then he is now and that means a mortality of no more than 76 hours at best."

Seventy-six hours. That was too close, Ted thought to himself but this idea was madness. Even in his wildest conception, he would not have thought of it. "And if we're not?"

"Then the condition could worsen and he may die in less time than that." She replied quietly, unable to look into any of their faces as she said that. Sigrid was battling demons of her own in this situation. She wanted desperately to save Guy Gardner because like him, she too was unwilling to lose another team mate to forces beyond her control. She had failed Constance and the rest of Justice League Europe during their battle with Doctor Mist. She was not going to lose Guy Gardner to Rex Maximus in the same way.

"There are risks." She looked to all of them after a moment. "I am not denying that but you've got to understand that there is very little else we can do." Sigrid stated, hoping this impassioned plea would make them understand. "Guy's Vuldarian genetic structure is the worse enemy he has. Its desire to adapt is out of control. It will do so at the expense of all other cellular functions." She turned to Ted. "You fought him, you saw how he was changing from one minute to next."

Ted could not deny that. It had been stomach turning to see Guy shape and reshape like he was helpless under a sculptor's hand. His body was twisted and moulded with no thought to his comfort and the agony Ted saw in his eyes was not easily forgotten. "I know." He rose to his feet and went to the window, unable to deny what she was saying and yet unable to let himself agree to have this thing done to Guy.

"It looks to me like you don't have a choice." Ronnie spoke up. "You guys can play it safe or you can let the lady do what she means to. At some point, you got to take the risk."

"I'm sure that would mean a lot to Guy if we turn him into a pretzel." Donovan retorted sharply. "I don't think you'd be too happy if it were your life we were talking about."

Ronnie Raymond turned to him coldly. "If it were my life, I'd say roll the dice. I rather a chance at life than nothing at all."


"You're not making that decision for Guy." Donovan returned and then added under his breath. "Fortunately."


"Well maybe Gardner doesn't like playing it safe either." He snapped, trying not let his anger get the better of him. "In fact, everything I know about the guy, no pun intended, says he'd rather go out fighting then tucking tail between his legs like a beaten animal."

"He can't make that decision for himself." Donovan replied just as vehemently. "And you have no right to say what he wants. You don't even know him."

"I've been in this game longer than you rookie." Ronnie stood up from his chair, an action the younger General Glory repeated. The others were starting to react to the possibility that their 'discussion' might escalate into something else."

Donovan was about to retaliate when suddenly Beatriz spoke. "Stop it, all of you." She let her gaze moved across all their faces. "Just stop it." Until now she had listened to Sigrid's idea and the opinions that had followed its disclosure without saying a word. She had heard the arguments and the rebuttals and now it was time for her to voice her own opinion.

Her anger put an end to all the heated emotions in the room, particularly between Donovan and Ronnie. It was just as well. At the moment, this was hardly the time for them to start posturing like a couple of kids in the school yard. Although in the back of her mind, she could not help thinking that all this seemed unusually familiar. Beatriz remembered the days when Guy would go toe to toe with Scott Free, in a verbal joust he was never capable of winning. Ronnie Raymond reminded her a hell of lot of Guy from those days and even if he appeared to a hot headed loud mouth, she knew she would like him.

"Ronnie is right." She stated firmly. "I love Guy and I am the last person to want to see him hurt but he would accept the risk if it was the only way. He wouldn't want to be like this and I love him too much to let him suffer. The clock is ticking." She said softly, struggling to maintain the strength she showing to them. Inside, she wanted to collapse in tears at the unfairness of it all. Beatriz was deathly terrified of losing Guy but at some point she had to decide what was good for him and not for her.

"Bea," Ted spoke up, understanding how hard it was for her to come to this decision but also wanting for her to understand its full implication because he did not believe she did. "Do you know what it is she is proposing?" He pulled the mask from his face so that Beatriz could see how he really felt, away from the safety of his goggles. Ted took her hands in his and made her look into his eyes. Beatriz De Costa was as much apart of his family as Guy Gardner was. Some years ago, he would rather have had all the teeth pulled from his head rather than make that admission but it was true. Guy was more than just his friend now. He was family.

Beatriz nodded slowly, giving him a warm smile as she did. It comforted her knowing that she friends like these who would walk through fire for her if she asked. It was important that they understood why she had come to this. "I know it is dangerous Ted but Guy has no time. There are no quick remedies for what's happened to him. I don't have to be a scientist to know that we are just figuring out human DNA let out alone Vuldarian. He does not have the time for us to find an expert who may be able to help him. You know that as well as I do."

Ted closed his eyes and nodded. He looked at Zatanna hoping she would have an answer for him because she was so much wiser. However, Zatanna looked just as perplexed. "I guess we don't have much of a choice do we?" He looked to Sigrid.

"No we don't." She replied tautly.

"Alright then," Ted nodded and met Beatriz's gaze as he looked to the Norwegian. "What do you need me to do?"

************

If there was an ever a Star Trek episode that Ted Kord loved more than all the others and this include Classic Trek and its later offshoots. It was most likely an episode called 'The Enemy Within'. As an aficionado of the entire saga, that episode brought a measure of reality to the supposedly invincible Captain Kirk. In later years, it would allow him to understand the duality of people and the seeds of what is considered evil. He understood then how things could have gone so horribly wrong for Hal Jordan. He could see how Batman did what he did in Gotham and still remained true to the cause, even though his methods could be often considered questionable. It also made him comprehend for himself anyway, how someone as once repellent as Guy Gardner could be now considered to be one of his best friends.

He remembered the unique story, the high powered examination of the human condition and the dark emotions that are so necessary for some and often desired to be that kind of hero. As a child, he picked the episode to pieces until there was a point he knew it word for word. That kind of dedication had been lost for many years now but the substance of it still stayed with him. However, during all those years, the accident that had separated Captain Kirk's different personalties had been the least to inspire his attention.

Later on when he joined the League and he was introduced to teleporter technology, Ted thought how cool it was to realise one childhood fantasy. The League teleporters were never as unstable as those on the show. They were never any transporter accidents, no strange merging of cells or division of them for that matter. In fact, everything was strictly routine. Kilowog who had seen the Star Trek once, remarked that if stellar engineers had built something with these many faults, they would be the first ones against the wall when the revolution came.

But then Kilowog was never one to mince words.

When he had told Sigrid the story about how he had once rewired League teleporters to catch a rat that had been plaguing the embassy, he had no idea that she had listened so closely. However, the Norwegian had listened intently enough to conceived of it as a possible way to restore Guy Gardner's humanity. Through an error of wiring, the normally pint size creature had come through the teleporters, the size of a human. What followed was something he personally knew Jonn Jonzz still had nightmares about and usually forced the Martian to do some serious Oreo bingeing.

Still the implications of what had been done were clear. The teleporter had altered the creature's genetic structure to make it larger. In essence, the devices had enough sensitivity with gene alteration to be able to import that kind of change without completely destroying the original organism. The rat had survived the procedure without any ill effects, as Booster Gold could personally attest to since he spent the entire period screaming 'wharf rat'.

Sigrid's idea was to reprogram the teleporters, with Ted's help of course, with a blue print of Guy's Vuldarian genetic sequence, prior to Dr Lovecraft's tampering and then send him through the device. The end result if all went according to plan, would break down Guy's damaged genetic structure and then reconstitute it in its original form, eliminating any trace of the contamination.

Her plan was dangerous, fool hardly and possibly fatal to Guy Gardner but in secret, Ted had to admit that it was also daring, possibly brilliant, almost certainly insane. Unfortunately, she was right. It was the best chance they had. The teleporters were alien technology. They were capable of distinguishing the codes of a thousand different species. He had proved it himself that it was possible to manipulate its programming. Hell, the Imiskians had used the technique as a weapon of war. If it was capable of breaking down gene codes in the blink of an eye, then it would have no trouble unravelling the intricacies of Vuldarian DNA. After that, it was all a matter of programming and Kilowog had taught him enough to be able to accomplish it.

God, he just hoped he did not screw this up.

II

"God I wish Kilowog was here." Ted said for the hundredth time.

"Would you stop saying that already?" Booster groaned. He had been listening to Ted make that statement all afternoon, since the group agreed to go with this insane plan of Sigrid's. Sure, she was a scientist and she probably knew what she was talking about but that did not make this plan of hers seem any more agreeable to him. "You're not exactly instilling the rest of us with any kind of confidence."

"It is a horrifying thing to admit but I've actually missed this." The statement came from current Justice League member Jonn Jonzz. The only teleporter in any kind of operation status belonged to the Justice League's headquarters on the moon, better known as the Watchtower. Since most of the Crusaders were now League part-timers except for Zatanna and General Glory, they had access to the facility. Unfortunately, it required some clearance to do the reprogramming necessary for Guy's restoration. Ironically, it was Jonn who was on monitor duty when Ted arrived with the rest of the Crusaders. Seeing the Martian brought back a flood of memories, good and bad.

"You mean they were always like this?" Donovan asked the Martian gingerly. He could not help being overwhelmed by his surroundings. The previous General Glory was a League member however other than the Crusaders, Donovan's contact with other members of the superhero community was limited. Jonn Jonzz was one the original founders of the Justice League. Donovan had remembered watching the impressive hero on TV as a teenager. Standing next to him now, without the familiarity of the others, was daunting. The man was a legend.

"Oh these are their good days." Jonn smiled. As a mind reader, he was perfectly aware of the younger man's anxiety.

"Will you shut up already!" Ted barked over his shoulder at Booster, from beneath the panel he was working on. "I can't concentrate."

"You're the one moaning about Kilowog! Can you do it or not?" Booster returned as he paced the floor of the teleporter room within the Watchtower. He did not like the idea of using the teleporter to do anything. As it was, Booster felt queasy enough coming up here from earth in the device.

"Will you please both shut up!" Ronnie roared. "Its like listening to the three stooges."

"In that case," Ted poked his head from underneath the panel and gave Ronnie an evil grin. "Hello Curly."

"Hey, I want to be Curly!" Booster declared.

Jonn looked at Donovan and let out a heavy sigh. "And then again."


"You guys have any openings?" Donovan asked with a smile.

Jonn did not answer but turned his attention to the bickering taking place nearby. "Booster," he spoke up. "Ted said you needed to get in contact with Oracle." After so many years, it amazed Jonn how easy it was to handle these young men. In some ways, he missed the disorder they brought to his life. Even though he was forced to keep Oreo stores under his pillow during his tenure in the League, he had to admit that some part of him yearned for the sense of family they had brought to his existence.

"Yeah get to it." Ted responded, his voice becoming serious once more. "We need that information on Repli-Tech."

It never ceased to amaze Jonn how quickly Ted could go from being a complete idiot to a tightly wound professional. "Come along Booster." Jonn motioned Booster to follow him. "We can contact Oracle at communication's tower."

"How is it going?" Donovan asked once Booster and Jonn had left the room. At the moment, the women of their group were transporting Guy to the JLA teleport station on Earth.

"Almost there." Ted answered, rummaging through the tool box near the panel. Half of him was concealed by the enormous control station of the teleporters. "Its just taking a bit of time because these are more sophisticated than the ones we use to have."

"Its all the same to me." Ronnie replied. "Only machine that matters to me is my TV and VCR."

"Typical." Donovan retorted. "Let me guess, you're a Baywatch kind of guy aren't you?"

Ronnie gave him a look. "Bite me."

"Oh that's real mature." Donovan answered.

"Hey!" Ted snapped angrily. He pushed himself from beneath the panel so that he could look at both of them when he spoke. "What is it with the both of you?"

"He's been busting my balls since I got here." Ronnie stated, pointing an accusatory look at Donovan as he said that.

"Well, it would help if you weren't such an arrogant jerk!" Donovan returned.

"I don't care whose fault it is." Ted said firmly, glaring at both of them. "There's humorous banter and then there's what you two are doing. If you got issues, solve them. You're team mates and you're going to have to get along."

"I'm not apart of this team." Ronnie replied and stormed without saying another word.

Ted rolled his eyes and exhaled a heavy breath. He had enough pressure on him at the moment without having to deal with bruised egos as well. Despite his better judgement, he was unwilling to let Ronnie Raymond go that easily. The man beneath the facade of Firestorm was worth knowing and worth saving. Ronnie had problems, that much was obvious. He was a recovering alcoholic with almost no warm bodies in his life who gave a damn. Ted was not going to let him down.

"I better go after him." Ted remarked.

"No," Donovan spoke after saying nothing for a few moments. "I'll go. I'm responsible for this anyway."

"You sure?" Ted stared at him with a measure of surprise. He did not know the new General Glory very well but Ted knew Donovan Wallace was a good man. If he said that he would handle it, then Ted trusted him enough to allow him the chance.

"Yeah," Donovan nodded slowly, starting towards the direction that Ronnie had left. "I'm sure."

Ted watched him leave for a few seconds and then let out a deep sigh. He looked at the teleporter controls and realised that it was just him and the machine now. "Okay baby," he mused. "Let's kick this pig."

********

Another hour of wiring circuits was required before the teleporter was successfully configured to transmute the energy stream from its relay on Earth its system. Ted examined his work with tentative confidence that nothing more could be done to improve his work on the computer core of the teleporter system. He had placed every bit of work under careful scrutiny and observed every rule that Kilowog had taught him regarding teleportation engineering. While Ted believed in going on instinct when it came to his capabilities as engineer, he did not intend to risk Guy's life with such an experimental procedure. Until it was tried, there was no way to test if this plan would work. Theories aside, there was a very real risk of failure and that would spell Guy Gardner's doom. However, the hours of his life were ticking away and they little time to delay in pondering the possibilities of the exercise.

"Its as ready as it will ever be." Ted finally announced to the rest of the Crusaders and to Jonn Jonzz.

"All right then," Jonn nodded, sensing the apprehension running rife through Ted Kord's insides. "We'll give Zatanna the signal."

Agreement moved through the room like a silent wave. For the moment anyway, their differences with one had another melted away in the aftermath of the crisis they were facing together. Donovan glanced at Ronnie, who looked away when their eyes made contact. Although he had promised to speak to the hero Firestorm, Donovan had been unable to do so earlier. Firestorm had no wish to speak to anyone and the last Donovan saw of him was when he had passed the walls of the Watchtower into the airless beyond. Obviously, he had wanted to be alone and Donovan felt no inclination to intrude.

"Its a go." Booster spoke into his signal device.

After a short burst of static, Zatanna's voice filled the air. "We will be there shortly." She answered. "Wish us luck."

"Good luck." Booster said with a taut smile, hoping it would make the difference.

As the low whine of the teleporter suddenly filled the air, the moment seemed to stretch into an eternity. For Jonn, Ted and Booster, their breaths were caught in their throat as they waited for the familiar beam of energy to appear in the tube before them. Although Jonn was no longer counted among their number, he was still one of them.

Guy Gardner had been an unmitigated pain in the ass for most of their association with him but Guy had changed, as they all had. He had driven himself to be someone better and in doing so, had earned all their respect. In more recent days, he had become a friend to all of them and sat at the head of a new family. This thing had happened to Guy because he was brave enough to know that all problems could not be solved by the strongest meta-human but by depth of the human spirit. He had gone to Washington High to impart to those in need that it was possible to rise above oneself to be something truly exceptional.

None of them wanted to see his life lost for trying to make that difference.

The teleporter tube filled with glowing embers of energy particles, its sparkling illumination filling the room as it struggled for form. In the corner, the teleporter controls began to whirr with action. Lights started running back and forth across the console panels, indicating that Ted's programming operations were shifting into lace. All this was incidental, for their attention was focused on the tube before them.

Although teleportation took only a matter of seconds, for those in the room watching the procedure, it was felt as if an infinity of time was hurtling before them. The embers danced and twinkled as unseen instructions were fed into its energy matrix. No one hardly noticed when Zatanna brought Beatriz and Sigrid into the Watchtower through her own magical teleportation. The women materialised on the otherwise of the room but their arrival drew little attention.

Suddenly, the embers began to spiral as if a great wind had given form to their aimless pattern. Beatriz felt her lungs constrict as she saw a shape beginning to emerge from the sparkling display of light and energy. The computer core seemed to be humming even louder, rising in octave, the closer it reached to its programmed purpose. Like a swarm of fireflies, Beatriz watched as the particles fused together. The energy dispersed and solidified at the same time. Sparkle became the velvet sheen of skin stretched across and all too human shape.

She saw his fingers stiffen with life. His chest pulled tight as he spasmed. Guy's face was contorted as he struggled in limbo to make sense of what was happening to him. His eyes were clamped shut and hands had become fists. His veins were bulging from under his skin and Beatriz saw teeth biting down hard against the tight line of his jaw. Auburn hair was blowing in the imaginary wind inside the tube as Guy Gardner finally made his most anticipated appearance.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

I

The whine of the teleporters came to an abrupt end.

Teleportation was completed as the clear glass door slid apart, releasing its lone occupant. When the materialisation process had come to a close, Guy Gardner slumped against the walls of the teleport tube and slipped through the opening. Hearing him hit the ground snapped his companions out of their momentary shock, prompting them into action. Beatriz was the first to reach him because she was the closest. The beautiful Brazilian ran forward before dropping to her knees in the space beside him. As she scrambled to him, Beatriz saw that Guy was oblivious to her or their friends. For one terrible instance, the possibility that the treatment had failed, flared white hot in her mind.

Beatriz crushed away the thought with ruthless efficiency and forced herself not to panic. Upon reaching him, she found that outwardly at least, he appeared to be himself. There was no trace of the mutation he was forced to endure. Despite her best efforts to keep herself from doing so, Beatriz felt warm tears running down her cheeks. The rest of the Crusaders crowded in around her as Sigrid forced her way through them. Their hopes for his recovery appeared justified now that Guy shed his aberrant form and seemed to be back to normal.

"He's breathing!" Beatriz announced to the others. She could feel his chest rising and falling steadily under her touch. She dragged him over her lap, cradling his head in arms and she planted soft kisses of joy across his face. "Guy!" She said softly trying to rouse him. "Please talk to me." Her voice had descended into a heartfelt plea they all shared.

For Sigrid Nansen, hearing that allayed one of her fears but not all of them. Just because Guy Gardner's body had returned from its monstrous visage, proved nothing. Genetics was an exact science. Outward appearances aside, more had been done to him then the mutation his body had been subjected. His genes had been forced to endure extraordinary processes and contaminants. Before she was ready to believe Guy was healed, she wanted confirmation that all of Doctor Lovecraft's tampering was purged from his system. Now that the main hurdle had been cleared, she did not intend to let success made her complacent. She had more than enough deaths on her conscience.

When she reached Guy and Beatriz, Sigrid made a brief examination of his vitals before turning to Jonn. "You have a sick bay in here?" She asked the Manhunter. The others were still staring at Guy, bleating all kinds of questions at Beatriz when she was in no position to answer them.

"Yes," Jonn nodded. "I will show you."

"No need." Zatanna said, being one of the few Crusaders who could truly keep it together in any situation. "yaB kciS ot su ekaT". No sooner than the spell had passed her lips, the entire group disappeared off the floor of the teleport room.

**********

The Watchtower had been designed with so much alien hardware that it was possibly a millennium ahead of current technology on Earth. The complex was created with an amalgamation of Atlantean, Kryptonian, Amazonian science and technologies so foreign that it was impossible to categorise. The result was one of the most diverse and sophisticated structures in this corner of the spiral arm. The Watchtower's Sick Bay was no exception to the rule. Although it was more than Sigrid had been trained to cope with at Star Labs, the system was surprising user friendly. Sick Bay was designed so that one did not require a PHD in nuclear physic to operate its equipment. Considering the purpose of the place was to handle medical emergencies, this made uncommonly good sense.

"Is he going to be all right?" Beatriz asked as Sigrid manipulated the Sick Bay's scanning devices over the examination bed they had placed Guy. The rest of the Crusaders were gathered around the room, trying not to be an imposition to the work Sigrid was attempting to conduct. Guy himself was still unconscious but in Sigrid's opinion, this was hardly surprising. His cells had been subjected to a most unusual treatment. It was only natural that his system was exhausted by the transformation from beast to man.

"I'm still scanning." She replied and then realised Beatriz needed some kind of answer. "It looks like the procedure worked." She added. If that the man she loved on the table, Sigrid would want the same consideration.

Bea nodded, grateful for the positive outlook. "Thanks Sigrid." She said trying not to become too emotional. "Thank you for this."

Sigrid looked away, uncomfortable by the gratitude and masked it by responding. "We still have to do tests however," she warned.

"What sort of tests?" Ted inquired from a chair at one corner of the room. Despite his bravado, the injuries he had sustained were extreme and he found that he was forced to take the doctor's advice and stay off his feet. However, Sigrid remark about more tests had prompted him into action. Although, he was grateful that his tampering had not caused the teleporters to simply vaporise Guy, he would hate to think that all this elation was for nothing.

"I need to know whether his DNA sequencing is intact." Sigrid explained, trying to convey that the tests were routine procedures. "I want to be sure that all traces of Dr Lovecraft's contaminant is out of his system. There cannot be any of it left in Guy's system or we could be back to square one in a matter of days."

"Is that possible?" Booster who was standing close to Ted because his best friend looked wobbly on his feet, glanced at Guy with concern when she said that.

"As I said, Vuldarian DNA is voracious. Its quite the assimilator." She remarked before going back to what she was doing. Sigrid knew she was probably being more alarmist then she ought to but Sigrid had never been faced with the total responsibility of a patient before. Her scientific career until this point was mostly lab work. While she appeared to be handling this well in front of the others, her confidence was a well-constructed facade. In truth, she was terribly afraid of failing them and her patient.

Sigrid was almost grateful when the Crusaders turned their attention back to Guy so that she could suffer her anxieties without observation. Unfortunately, not all of her team mates were unmindful of her true state of mind. As the others shifted focus elsewhere, Donovan Wallace came up behind her and asked in a quiet voice. "You okay?"

She swallowed hard, knowing that it was all right to show some weakness in front of him. Sigrid offered Donovan a grateful smile for his concern. "I think so." She answered softly, out of earshot of the others. "I'm a bit nervous."

"If it makes you feel any better," he remarked. "You hide it well."

"Do I?" She said pausing a moment to catch her breath. It felt as if all the air was gone from the room and she was the only one suffocating. "I've never done anything like this before you know."

"I wouldn't have guessed." Donovan grinned. Of all the Crusaders, it was Sigrid who seemed to understand how new being a superhero was to him. The others were seasoned veterans but Sigrid like himself, was new to game. Both had undertaken superhero identities belonging to someone else and both were struggling to make the grade. Perhaps, it was this familiarity that made them such good friends.

"You did good Sigrid," He said that because no one else had done so and she needed to hear it.

Sigrid tried not to show how much that affected her but Donovan saw her brilliant blue eyes soften. "Thanks," she replied. She looked away under the guise of adjusting the scanner's controls for another series of tests on Guy but Donovan knew better. It allowed her the chance to compose herself. After a moment, she faced him again. "What's going on with you and Firestorm anyway?"

Unfortunately, being able to read Sigrid well also meant that she was able to return the favour. "You noticed." He stated.

"One would have to be on Mars not to." She pointed out.

"I don't know," he shrugged uncomfortably. He had been evaluating his behaviour since Firestorm's arrival and Donovan was forced to admit he was being hostile. This was unusual for him. Very few people were capable of getting under his skin and everything that Firestorm had said and done since his appearance felt like a personal affront to him. "I don't see why I should be so hard on him. He is exactly the way I was, when I first joined the force. Before the shooting, I was cocky, too arrogant for my own good and no one could tell me anything."

Sigrid said nothing for a moment and Donovan thought he might have been interrupting her train of thought while she was trying to examine Guy when suddenly, she looked up and responded. "Perhaps, you're a little afraid that Firestorm is so much like you were that he may get hurt the same way."

Donovan could say nothing to refute that statement. For a few seconds, he let the possibility roll around in his head and then realised that she was not wrong. Since the shooting, he had spent more than enough time sitting around thinking of what he could have done differently to avoid the outcome that changed his life forever. Perhaps if he had listened better or paid more attention, he might not have been doomed to spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair. "Is it that obvious?" He asked after a brief pause.

"No," she shook her head. "It isn't. Its just that I can't think of another reason why you would be unkind to anyone." Sigrid truly meant that. He was one of the nicest and most unassuming people she knew. She too had noticed his behaviour towards Firestorm since the arrival of the ex-Leaguer and wondered what was behind it.

"Thanks," he said gratefully. "I hate to think I was being an asshole for no good reason."

"Who would?" She smiled. "Now go away, I've got work to do."

"Is that anyway to talk a friend?" He retorted with mock hurt in his voice.

"Okay," she considered that statement before replying. "Go away please?"

Donovan chuckled softly before he returned to the others and let her get on with her duties. He noticed that the Crusaders and Jonn Jonzz were currently gathered around Guy's examination bed. Everyone's attention seemed to be focussed on the Martian. Donovan walked next to Booster and whispered in the man's ear. "What's going on?"

"Jonn's is scanning him telepathically." Booster replied automatically, his eyes still fixed on the proceedings. "It will tell if there's any brain activity."

"Compared to what?" Donovan declared when he felt a sharp slap his impact on his shoulder and saw Zatanna, scowling at him with disapproval. Ted, who was leaning against the steel frames of the examination bed, tried to stifled a smile (unsuccessfully) and indicated to Donovan that he was on his own.

"Be nice." She ordered with an expression of mock anger on her face. However, Zatanna could keep a smile from stealing across her features even as she made the remark.

"Yes maam." Donovan said good naturedly and added his attention to the events unfolding before him.

II

Jonn's telepathic scanning did not take long and after a few minutes, the Martian looked up and faced the worried faces around him. Unsurprisingly, all their thoughts were focussed on the well being of their fallen comrade, no matter how different their feelings were towards him. Beatriz's in particular was most potent but that was hardly surprising considering her emotional bond to Guy. Despite himself, Jonn could not help being reminded of the time when Guy was still a Green Lantern and Fire's powers were new to her. Fire's powers had inadvertently unleashed the embassy's sprinkler system but not before burning every shred of clothing on her. Guy, well he was not exactly restrained in those days and the whole incident made Jonn wonder how the two of them could have reach this point without killing each other.

However, he was glad the Crusaders still existed and these dear friends had come together. Although he would not leave the current League roster for any reason, it gave him comfort to his sense of being to know that this family still existed in his universe. Some additions to the family had surprised him, particularly that of General Glory and Zatanna. Zatanna was one of his oldest friends and it was near astonishing to know that she and Ted were something of an item. Actually, the word that had first come to mind was bizarre but no more than anything else that ever took place in that team.

"He is still in there." Jonn announced to them all, knowing they were waiting in anticipation for his prognosis of Guy's mental state. This was understandable considering what the news footage had said about his earlier state. "Such as it is." He could not help adding. Somehow, his mental disciplines always degraded in the presence of this group.

"Hey the Skipper still got it." Booster exclaimed.

"And just when I was starting to miss you guys." Jonn retorted with a frown.

"Can you bring him out of it?" Beatriz asked, ignoring the banter.

"Yes I can," Jonn looked to Sigrid to see if it was safe to do so. "Have the scans offered anything conclusive?" He inquired.


Sigrid looked up from the complex machinery and let out a deep sigh. "The tests are clear. He appears to be back to normal." However, she did not sound very convinced. "I'd still like to get him to Star Labs and make some comparative analysis but for the moment, I think the danger is over."

"Good," Ted said relieved. For the moment anyway, one obstacle appeared to be behind them. There was still the question of the Ani-Men's whereabouts but that could wait for the moment. "Jonn, if you please." He gestured towards Guy's unconscious form.

The Martian did not require physical contact to do what was required. Although Jonn was the only Martian the League had ever encountered other than the Hyperclan, it proved that the race had been formidable telepaths. Jonn was able to make contact with Leaguers in space with nothing more than the power of thought. While the Crusaders had their own member with psi-abilities, Zatanna was mostly empathic. She could feel strong emotions but she was nowhere on Jonn's level of expertise. Ted had once seen him imprint an entire reality into the super villain Despero who came near to killing all of them. If anyone could bring Guy out of his dark limbo, Ted believed it was Jonn.

Guy Gardner lay on the examination table, motionless except for the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. If one did not know better, it was possible to assume that he was asleep. However, Jonn knew better. His mind had retreated deep into itself to retain its sanity during the mutation process. Whether that too was a Vuldarian defence mechanism, Jonn could not say for certain. In any case, the action had kept the essence of him alive and protected from Doctor Lovecraft's machinations.

It did not require much to prompting for the personality buried inside Guy Gardner's mind to resurface. Jonn applied the mental equivalent of a jump start before he could feel a flood of memories and emotion rising to the fore. He withdrew at that point because Guy's own mental processes would be able to continue for this point.


Beatriz who had been holding his hand during her vigil at his bedside, suddenly felt his fingers tighten around hers and then relaxing. Her heart almost skipped a beat. For a moment, she actually wondered if it was not her own wishful thinking. However, when she felt his fingers repeat the action, Beatriz knew this was real. "He's moving!" She exclaimed.

Indeed he was. Guy Gardner's breathing had picked up from its slow, weak rhythm until his chest was expanding from his rising intake of oxygen. His other hand rose from his side and ended up lethargically against his brow. Slowly, he began to massage the skin as his eye lids fluttered open. It took a moment for them to focus on the surroundings. When he blinked the second time around, the Crusaders were cheering and applauding.

"What the hell is going on?" Guy Gardner managed his first coherent sentence in too long. As he spoke, his throat felt dry and hoarse and his voice escaped as little more than a croak.

"He needs water!" Guy heard someone say and thought it could have been Sigrid.

"Why do I feel like crap?" He demanded and tried to sit up in his bed. As he did so, he felt the entire room to spin around and decided against it for the time.

"Just rest Guy," Beatriz's voice sliced through the fog in his brain. He turned his head and saw her staring at him, her eyes moist with tears.

"What's the matter Bea?" He replied slurring his speech alittle as he raised a heavy hand to her face. He managed to brush a tear from her eyes and was somewhat taken back when she held it to her cheek and planted a kiss on his palm. "Hey, come on. Not in front of the guys. "

Beatriz laughed at the remark but did not remove his hand from her face. "Well he's back." She half smiled

"Help him sit up." Sigrid instructed as she appeared with some water.

Booster immediately adjusted the bed head so that Guy could sit up without exerting himself any more than necessary. When given the water, Guy drank the entire contents of the cup in almost one gulp and still felt dehydrated. Although he hated asking for anything, he felt weak and for some reason extremely exhausted. "Could I get some more of that?"

"Sure," Sigrid nodded and handed to cup to Booster who disappeared from view. Turning to him, the Norwegian studied him closely. "How are you feeling?"

"Like crap." Guy retorted and noticed that his surroundings did not appear to be familiar. His eyes shifted over the faces of the Crusaders and then rested on Jonn. "Hey there Jonn, its been awhile." He began to wonder why they were all staring at him as if there was something growing out of his head. "What's going on?" He demanded. "Why the hell are you staring at me?"

"Nice to see you Guy." Jonn said attempting to diffuse the situation, as he always used to.

"What is the last thing you remember Guy?" Ted's voice entered the fray.

"Maybe this isn't the best time for a briefing." Beatriz spoke up. "He's been through a lot, Guy needs his rest"

"The hell I do," he said gruffly. "What's happened?"

Ted took a deep breath and knew that once Guy's ire was up there was little to do except answer his questions. He was not one known for his patience. As Ted hobbled close to his bed, Guy noticed something else as well. The Blue Beetle appeared to have been in one hell of a fight. There were bruises on his face, his hands were exposed and bandaged, and the wound on his leg did not appear to be slight. Guy saw similar evidence on Booster, with that ridiculous bandage across his nose.

"What is the last thing you remember?" Ted asked again.

Guy started to get nervous because there was some unspoken thing between them all that they were reluctant to tell him. He could see it in Bea's eyes and in the way Ted was trying to dance around his question. Instead of flying off the handle which he was too tired to do any way, Guy focused on Ted's question. What was the last thing he remembered?

It swirled in on him like the water escaping down a drain. He saw images in the eddies, disjointed and vague. Certain things were acute in his mind, others were little more than dark emotions and unclear shapes. Kevin Sharpe. The name sang siren songs in his head, until it resonated through every part of his consciousness.

He was trying to find Kevin.

Kevin who screamed at him through the glass, who did not look like Kevin any more. Kevin was drowning in fluid behind glass and Guy could see him, see the bubbles strangling the scream trying to escape his throat.

Oh god, Kevin.

"Guy!" Beatriz cried through the vortex of memory.

Guy blinked and saw that he had twisted the railings on each side of the examination bed out of shape. The metal rails were being held on with nothing more than their strained screws and he was breathing hard, as if he had just run a marathon. For some reason, his heart constricted in his chest and there was sweat running down his brow. He looked up at Ted and closed his eyes to focus. Finally, the words formed for him to answer.

"The last thing I remember is that I couldn't save Kevin."

 
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