by Martin Maenza
“Is there anywhere else he might have been taken?” asked Jetblack.
Now it was Lashina’s time to consider. “The only other one with the nerve to use Darkseid’s forces for a raid on Earth would be DeSaad…”
“I’ve heard that name,” Jetblack said. “Could he…?”
“We could check,” Lashina said. “There is a better chance the man will be alive if DeSaad has him.”
“Yeah?” Jetblack perked up.
Lashina twisted her lip. “Not a big chance, mind you, just a better one.”
Jetblack was willing to take that chance. “Let’s go there first, then.”
Lashina nodded and started to lead the way.
The pair made as good a time as they possibly could while crossing the desolate neighborhoods and still remaining undetected. There were more patrols about, but they mostly harassed the residents. They didn’t appear to be searching for him just yet. Still, watching how the Hunger Dogs were treated on top of the punishment the children endured at the hands of that wicked Granny woman made Hero’s stomach ache. Apokolips was truly a hell of a world.
And yet none of it seemed to faze his unlikely traveling companion. Lashina seemed to not care about the plight of others, so focused on whatever it was she desired. Truly the environment in which one was raised had a lasting effect on the type of person they came to be.
As they reached the far end of Armagetto, a huge statue of Darkseid loomed before them. Beyond it was a mighty fortress of a tower.
Jetblack swallowed. “I thought you said we were going to check on this DeSaad fellow first.”
Lashina nodded. “We are. His labs are just to the side of the Tower. Come on!” She took off in a run. The black hero followed.
They stopped against a stone wall. Lashina looked up to an open window hundreds of feet above. “There!” she said. “Now we climb.” She started to reach for one of her lashes to use as a rope.
“Allow me,” Jetblack said. Grabbing her from behind, placing his arms under hers, and grasping them together in front, he began to take to the air. In a moment, the two were raising toward their entryway. When she turned her head to look at him, the hero smiled. He put her down on the ledge and touched down himself.
Lashina spun about and slapped him across the face. “Don’t ever touch me without permission!” she said in a loud whisper, then slipped inside.
After rubbing his cheek where it stung, the hero shook his head. She’s one crazy lady! He moved his hand up to his chest to where his H-Dial still remained safely hidden beneath his costume. He felt some reassurance. If push came to shove, he still had the dial to help him try to get out of any tight situation. Jetblack slipped inside.
Moving through the darkness, he could hear the screams coming from ahead of him. He knew that sound well, for it sounded like someone being similarly tortured as he had been earlier. His eyes adjusted to the shadow as he saw Lashina crouched down behind some rather large equipment. Jetblack joined her as they looked upon a scene unfolding in the lab below them.
A blond man was strapped by thick bonds to a metal table tilted at a forty-five-degree angle, his black clothes torn to rags. He screamed out in pain as a thin, pointed-faced man dressed in purple robes and a hood prodded him with a small device.
Jetblack winced, recalling his own torture earlier. This was the man whom he had come to rescue, and he was about to do so. He started to rise up.
Lashina grabbed him and pulled him down. She shook her head silently no. “Not yet,” she whispered.
The man in the robe snarled at his victim. “Again, what is your name?” DeSaad demanded.
“…arl…” the victim groaned. “…Carl Browning…”
DeSaad shoved the shocker-device into the man’s side. “That name means nothing to me! Are you the one called Angle Man?”
“Aaa-aaa-aaaghhh!” Carl Browning screamed out as the charge surged through him. His head fell to the side as the attack faded.
DeSaad grabbed him by the hair and turned his head up. His wicked face with gritted teeth was directly into Browning’s own. “Are you the one called Angle Man?” Each word was emphasized with DeSaad’s irritation.
Browning opened his mouth to speak, but could not. He shook his head no.
DeSaad threw the head back against the metal table. “If you are not, then explain to me why you have this!” He reached into a drawer and pulled out the golden Angler device.
It was now Lashina’s turn to rise slightly, but she caught herself. Jetblack saw her, though, and noticed the change in her posture. She was like a cat, ready to pounce on a mouse. Why?
DeSaad approached his victim with the weapon. “Do you know what this is?”
Browning raised his head slightly, and nodded. “…Yes…” he groaned.
“It is yours, then?” DeSaad demanded.
Browning shook his head, first yes, then no. “Not mine… my wife’s…”
“Your wife’s?” DeSaad said with surprise. “Explain! Where did she get it?”
“…In…” Browning started to say before he slipped into unconsciousness.
DeSaad grew angrier still. He swung the metal device and smacked the prisoner in the face with it. “Where did she get it?”
Blood ran down Browning’s lip as he jerked his head back and focused. He saw the weapon that had struck him and the ghoulish man wielding it. His head was racing, confused. He felt lost. His mind wrestled with itself on whether to answer the question or not. Finally, he blurted out a word. “…Vegas…”
“Vegas?” DeSaad repeated in a confused way. In frustration, he prodded the victim again for a long time. The man screamed out.
“Vegas!” Lashina muttered in hiding, and started to rise up. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Detective Convention: Who Killed the Angle Man?]
Jetblack looked at her, trying to piece it all together. Obviously, this meant something to her. “What are you doing?” he whispered.
Lashina was about to emerge from the shadows. “Des…” she started to say.
A hand in the shadows grabbed her, pulling her back and at the same time sending a charge throughout her body. Caught off-guard, Lashina’s body went limp before she could utter another syllable. Her body fell back into awaiting arms.
Jetblack spun around, noticing a figure in the darkness holding her unconscious body. “Who…?” he started to say.
“Shhh,” the figure said as he put Lashina’s body down. “That stun charge should keep her immobilized and quiet for a while.” Then he moved closer, revealing that he was a man with white hair and blue-gray eyes, wearing red robes with orange trim and collar. “She would have betrayed you, my friend,” the man said. “Turned you over to DeSaad to get what she wanted.”
“Who are you?” Jetblack said, confused.
The man moved closer so he could whisper loud enough to be heard. “I am called Himon,” he said. “I am here to help you.”
“How did you…? Why…?”
“I’ve been aware of you since your arrival on Apokolips,” Himon said. “I have eyes and ears everywhere. You appear to be one possessing a good soul, kind of heart and honorable. I could not let one such as you be taken advantage by the scourge of this planet. Even though you do possess some kind of amazing device that allows you to change your form, I wasn’t completely sure if you could do this without some help.”
Jetblack put his hand to his chest where the dial was hidden under his shirt. How did he know? “You know why I’m here?” Jetblack then asked.
“To rescue that man you hardly know,” Himon replied. “And while it would be a benefit to have one such as yourself as part of my rebellion, I know your heart does not belong here. You seek to go home.”
“And I can help with that,” the man in red replied. “But first we must rescue your friend.”
Jetblack nodded. While he liked the flying skills and speed he currently possessed, he knew they would do him little good in the catacombs of a place such as this. He would also need something more to free the Browning man.
Reaching under his shirt, he pulled forth the H-Dial. “Let me change first,” he said. With his finger, he activated the dial: H-E-R-O. With the last selection, the form of Jetblack shimmered and changed.
Himon watched with great curiosity. He was a master of science himself, as well as a visionary. He had invented the Boom Tube and had helped discover the amazing x-element. However, this device intrigued him. He heard a slight ping-ping coming from the folds of his robes. “Yes, Mother Box,” he said softly. “It is intriguing, indeed.”
Hero Cruz went from Jetblack to a slightly more muscular form in black and gray. The black man felt a bit more stronger. He flexed his muscles to get a feel for his new form. “Hmmm,” he said. “I guess Mister Might will have to do.” He turned to Himon. “Want me to go provide the distraction?”
Himon shook his head. “No, I will handle that,” he said. “I think I can offer DeSaad some bait he cannot resist.” He reached into the folds of his cloak and produced something. “Here, take this.” He handed a small box to the young hero.
Mister Might took the small cube and held it in his hand. “What’s this?” he asked. It pinged softly. “Wild.”
“A spare Mother Box,” Himon said, “one that should provide you the means to get back to your home. Just talk to her when it is time, and she will do the rest. Now, wait for your opening.” And with that, the man ducked back into the shadows.
“OK…” Mister Might said. The box felt oddly comfortable in his hand. Suddenly, Mister Might heard a commotion in the lab below.
“Himon!” DeSaad shrieked. “You have some nerve…!”
“Come on, DeSaad,” the man in red mocked from across the way. “You’ve always said you could match me intellect to intellect. Why don’t you prove how smart you are by catching me?”
DeSaad cursed. “Oh, I will, I will!” He pressed a button on a nearby console and shouted, “Guards! To my lab!” He then picked up the stunner he had been using to torture Carl Browning. “You won’t escape this time, rebel! Lord Darkseid will be pleased with me when I present to him your head on a pike!”
Himon smiled. “You’ve got to take it from me first, DeSaad!” He darted out the chamber.
Moments later, a squad of Parademons appeared at the doorway. “After him! After him!” DeSaad ordered. The squad nodded and took off. The robed man ran out of the lab after them, still shouting out orders.
Mister Might took that as his opening and leaped down to the lab below. “Hey, buddy,” he said to the man. “Are you awake?”
Carl Browning groaned. “Wha… who?”
“No time for that now,” the hero said. Grabbing the bonds that held the man captive to the table, he gave them a quick, fast tug. The bonds snapped with ease. Carl Browning slid down, catching himself to a stand. “Are you OK?”
“I’ll… recover,” the blond man said, propping himself up. “Where are we?”
“Hell,” Mister Might said, pulling forth a small cube, “or as close an approximation as I ever want to come to it.” He lifted the cube and addressed it. “Uh, OK, um, Mother Box… how’s about a one-way trip back to Earth?”
The little box began to ping-ping in response. Then there was a shimmering in the air across the room, followed by a loud boom. A portal opened before the men.
“Time to go, sir,” Mister Might said, offering his hand to the man. He wasn’t sure if this was going to work or not, but at least the portal looked like the one that had brought them there the first time.
Browning took the man’s hand and started to walk with the hero toward the opening. As he passed the table where DeSaad had dropped the Angler weapon, he felt something. Something tugged at his brain, controlling him.
With a shaky hand, he reached forward and grabbed the golden triangle.
Suddenly, Carl Browning’s head seemed to clear, as if a fog had been lifted. He quickly shoved the weapon behind his back. As the two men stepped into the Boom Tube, Carl started to smile.
The Boom Tube opened in a stormy sky above the Seattle waterfront, the sound of the boom masked by the rolling thunder of the storm. Two figures fell through the darkened sky into the choppy water.
Mister Might, startled by the arrival, held his breath as best he could. He then kicked his legs, pushing himself up to the water’s surface, where he coughed. He tried to get a good lungful of air while avoiding an intake of water. It felt good to breath cleaner air again.
He started for the shore, which was a few hundred yards away. He could see the lights in the distance. Mister Might kicked once and again, then paused. “Wait…” He turned back and bobbed in the way.
“Hey!” he yelled out above the storm. “Mister! Can you hear me?” The hero swam back to where he had hit the water and looked about. There was no sign of the blond man.
Mister Might took a deep breath, dived down under the waves, and looked about. He could barely see in all the darkness. In his hand, the Mother Box pinged, trying to communicate to him, but Hero didn’t understand or realize that.
He pushed back to the surface, took another breath, and tried again. He had no better luck the second time around. Finally, he surfaced again.
“He’s gone,” Mister Might said to himself. “Don’t know where he went. I’m sure we both made it through the tube.”
As he swam back toward shore, the young black man felt a bit dejected. All the risk, all the danger, and he couldn’t even say with any certainty that the man he tried to rescue was still alive. The not-knowing laid heavily on his shoulders. He wondered whether it would always be like this. He wondered if Superman ever had days like this.