Thunder crashed over the Mississippi River as the caravan of trucks cross the Memphis Memorial Bridge. Down below, muddy water swirled as wind and currents battled for control of the water’s direction. In one of the trucks, one woman’s thoughts were just as muddled.
It had started the night before with a news report about the Green Lantern Corps and their Citadel in California, which had been set up last year. Of course, the star of the report was the Green Lantern who had been based on Earth for many years now. He was still as charming, as charismatic, as dynamic as she remembered. The camera had caught him with his brown hair blowing in the breeze, his eyes glinting in the sunlight beneath his mask. He had described at great length the steps that the Corps was taking to prevent attacks on Earth by their various foes from around the galaxy, details that had very obviously gone right over the reporter’s head. She was more concerned with his fashion sense, after all. It was amusing to see her ask why their uniforms were such an odd combination of green and black, only to have Earth’s Green Lantern point out that the green portion formed a silhouette of a lantern over the black. The uniforms of other members, though now more distinctive than when they arrived on Earth, all carried similar motifs.
Seeing him had brought an unbidden rush of memories. She had memories of her passionate romance with his one-time replacement, Guy Gardner, and memories of nursing that man after he had been injured. She had memories of meeting Earth’s first Green Lantern and finding him to be Hal Jordan, a man with whom she again found love, who reminded her strongly of her first love Guy during a time he was thought dead. She was the one who had proposed marriage to him, though the wedding ceremony had proved disastrous. She had memories of her sense of duty that pulled them apart.
She wasn’t a nurse by trade. However, in her own way, she was a healer. She possessed a natural empathy and more that allowed her to help others find the path through their pain. She rarely exercised it because of the hurt it caused her. But the obligation she had felt had led her to spend years with her first love Guy in the hope that he would be cured someday.
Then the Guardian came and took him away. And she was left alone. When he did come back, he was no longer her Guy at all; only anger and arrogance remained of what he had once been. She had returned to a life that she had known before, the traveling life of a carnie. The Kane Circus had become a new home for Kari Limbo.
Near the end of that self-same bridge, another woman stared down into the muddy, muddled waters of the great river. One part of her keen mind noted the caravan of trucks coming across the bridge, knowing they were bound for the Pyramid, the great arena across the highway from the Convention Center. As manager of both, it was her job to know who was coming into and leaving both facilities on any given day. The upcoming gathering of carnies and circus performers occupying both for the next five days promised to keep her busy. That was a good thing.
The rest of her mind reflected on her past. It had only been five years ago that she came to Memphis, running from the ruins of a relationship that was shattered in a way she’d never thought possible. She had previously had relationships that were broken apart by another woman, another man, money, jobs, even fear. But she had never imagined losing a man to another identity. When she had moved her business to Gotham City, she knew that she would be among some of the highest rollers in the world of commerce. Conventions and conferences, her stock in trade, were in high demand in Gotham. One of her clients had proven irresistible, and she had fallen in love. She had come to know him well — too well — so well that when she saw Gotham’s famed protector in action, she recognized the body and movements of her lover, and she panicked. She fled Gotham after telling him of what she had discovered.
A new city, a new start. Her reputation had landed her a job as the manager for Memphis’ newest attraction, the Pyramid. She had gained another reputation, that of an icy-cold professional, one who never mixed business with her personal life. From her office atop the Convention Center, she ran the operations with a cold precision that matched her cool, precise appearance. Snow-white hair, pale skin, and a preference for frosted colors in her wardrobe had earned Silver St. Cloud the nickname of the Ice Princess among her workers. It was a name they used with respect, though, not with malice.
Still, in her heart, Silver felt the cold clutch of loneliness.
That night, in the nearby city suburb of Whitehaven, an alarm sounded. The officers rolling in response to the call drove toward the Goldsmith’s Department Store in the Southland Mall. Coming around to the back of the mall, they saw the shattered glass in the emergency exit. Officers Stephanie Tashi and Jeffery Pike exited their cruiser and approached the opening with guns drawn. Unlike a lot of the bigger cities, they didn’t anticipate help from a vigilante in a costume.
On this rainy night, they got it just the same.
Looking into the darkened store, they saw six figures dressed in black. At first glance, they drew back from the door, for it appeared that the group was coming toward that door. Waiting with pistols held before them, they started to think they had been mistaken. Catching her partner’s eye, Officer Tashi indicated that she was going to take a look. Moving quickly, she sidestepped in front of the shattered door and looked in. As before, the six intruders stood frozen in mid-step.
Waving for Pike to follow, she stepped through the frame of the door. Just audible over the clanging of the alarm bell, she heard a woman’s voice singing — crooning wordlessly, an old melody that Stephanie recognized from late nights down on Beale Street. An odd choice for muzak, she thought. Seeing no sign of movement from any of the six men, she covered them while Pike handcuffed them in pairs and disarmed them. When he had gathered the last of the knives and cheap handguns, the music stopped. Stephanie instinctively looked up just in time to see the blue silk scarf floating down from above. She brushed it aside and caught a fleeting glimpse of a tall, dark-skinned woman in a long, dark blue gown. She darted along a catwalk high above the store’s service area and disappeared through an access hatch to the roof.
“You want me to chase after her?” asked Pike, moving toward the door.
“No, I don’t think so,” replied the senior officer. As additional officers pulled up outside, Officer Tashi smiled. “Somehow, I don’t think she’s any danger.”
The following morning at the Convention Center, the members of the Kane Circus were greeted by their hostess.
“You are, of course, in a rather unique position. While most of those attending the convention are simply here for the exchange of information and the educational sessions, you will be performing as part of the entertainment. I understand that it is quite an honor to be chosen to perform for your peers, so congratulations.”
“Thank you, Ms. St. Cloud,” replied Guy Baxter, the manager of the circus troupe. “We have been trying our best to live up to the memory of our late owner these past years, and now it seems that work is being recognized.”
“Yes, I remember Miss Kane. I actually met her once or twice when I was living in Gotham.” Memories of the raven-haired Kathy Kane stirred in Silver’s memory, with looks as dark as her own were light; yet they had enjoyed one another’s company. “I was very saddened when I heard about her death.”
Murmured thanks were heard throughout the conference room where the eighty members of the Kane Circus were gathered.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I think we need to start setting things up in the Pyramid.” Mark Stanton, the boss of the circus’ rigging crew stood up, accompanied by about most of the others. “You said you wanted to try a full run-through at four this afternoon, right, Gary?”
“If you can make it ready in time, Mark. We’ve got till the day after tomorrow, so if your people need a rest, let them take it.”
“Are you kidding? Hotel rooms last night, sleeping in until seven this morning? These guys will think they’ve died and gone to heaven if we wait till tomorrow!”
People started filing out. The last one out the door, just ahead of Silver, turned to her when they were the only ones left.
“I remember you now. I wasn’t sure at first, but then you mentioned Gotham.” The small dark woman looked intently at Silver’s face. “It was a party in Gotham. You were with Bruce Wayne.”
“Of course. Karen Linder, was it?”
“Not quite. Kari Limbo. And I sense that you are no longer with your Bruce for a reason similar to the reason why I am no longer with my Hal Jordan. A mask is no friend to romance, is it?”
After the rigging and setup was completed, members of the Kane Circus were able to get an advance look at the displays and exhibits that were part of the conference. Many of them were drawn to the Chandler Exhibition Hall, where a complete scale model of an early twentieth-century circus was on display. Every detail, down to the laborers cleaning up after the animals, was complete.
One member of the Kane troupe, the marksman known as Earl P. Wyatt, was especially interested in the display.
“Simply incredible. I’ve read accounts and seen photos, and they have included everything. The pullies and tie-offs, the knotted lines, the feeding bowls and watering cans. Oh, to be able to shrink down and walk those sawdust paths.” The tall, blonde performer reflected that there were those who could do just that. Most notably the Atom, an acquaintance of his long-time adversary. “Yes, I’m sure that little blue-and-red-clad do-gooder could have a field day here. Little twerp probably wouldn’t appreciate it, though.” Wyatt stopped talking to himself as a couple other members of the show entered the room. As Mike Smith, the circus’ resident magician, and his wife and assistant Jill came toward him, he straightened up.
“Good afternoon, Earl. Admiring the model, I see,” Smith spoke with his usual, halting manner, as if totally unsure of himself when he wasn’t on stage.
“Ah, yes, I just couldn’t help myself. It’s a marvelous piece of work.”
“I have to agree. That’s the sort of detail work that even a surgeon could envy,” added Jill.
“You would know, wouldn’t you, little one?” asked her husband.
“Mmm?” asked Wyatt, his eyebrows raised.
“Oh, nothing. Mike’s just referring to the fact that I was a nurse before we met.”
“A nurse? Then how come you’re running around the country appearing half-nude as Madame Merlin? Nursing’s got to be a lot more stable, and profitable as well.”
“Well, there were some things that happened about the time we met that made it impossible for me to stay at the hospital.”
“Yes, I used to think it was like that for me and the circus, to tell the truth. I’d better go and make sure all my target sets are ready to go for tomorrow.” As he left the couple, Wyatt reflected on the twists his career had taken since he left his first circus job. From sideshow performer to wanted felon and member of the Flash’s rogues gallery, James Jesse, the Trickster, had really had a wild ride. He had been a villain who had gone straight but then got caught up in crime again during the Crisis and its Villain War. (*) Since the end of the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the news of the death of the Flash, though, he had once again tried to go straight.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War.]
Temptation, however, could be a horrible thing.