In an apartment overlooking the statue of W.C. Handy in downtown Memphis, a young woman stood in the kitchen preparing dinner for two. As she stirred a skillet of greens simmering in bacon fat, she hummed an old tune and shuffled her feet in time.
The front door opened and closed, and she heard the footsteps coming through the living room. “About time you got here. I was afraid I was fixing to eat all alone tonight.”
“Now, don’t you go and be saying things like that, Lucille. You knows I’d never miss dinner with my best girl.” The voice was deep with a rasp that spoke of too many hours spent in smoky clubs.
“Oh, cut that out, you old sweet-talker. I know you’ve got ladies all over the street.” She turned around to find him right behind her, his face a grizzled, aged version of her own smooth, unlined features. “How you doin’, Daddy?”
“I be doin’, hon. I be doin’.” He kissed her dark cheek, then shuffled off to the refrigerator for a cold beer. “The big question is, what you been doing, girl? I was down talking to some of the boys at the police department today, and one of the youngsters was telling me a strange story about a break-in over at Southland last night. Says his partner swears that a young gang trying a B-and-E at Goldsmith’s was stopped by some phantom girl in a blue dress, singing ‘Hold Me Now.’ Like a damned lullaby, he says.”
Lucille Branson looked at her father, trying to determine how much he knew and how much he was guessing at.
“You know, when you started that research of yours on the moods that the different blues songs could inspire, I knowed you wasn’t just thinking — what you call it — thee-oh-retically. That experiment you told me about, the sound gimmick. You got that working, didn’t you?”
“Never could fool you, could I, Daddy?” Lucille put the pan on a cool burner and turned off the stove. She walked into the living room, leading her father to an old, worn hope chest. Opening it, she reached in and pulled out a choker of dark blue velvet with a large brooch on it. “The inducer, as Fred calls it at the lab, takes the tones of my voice and creates a sound wave that affects emotions and the autonomic nervous system.” She noted the confusion on her father’s face. “It’s like a radio transmitter, Daddy. Converts my voice, and the notes and melody, into waves that affect people’s minds.”
“Messing with people’s minds ain’t no good, honey. I know you’re a psychologist and all, but that don’t make it right.”
“If the wrong person tried it, it would be wrong. That’s why I used it on Fred and the others and made them forget we invented it. But I’m gonna use it to make a difference, Daddy. Blue Velvet is looking out for the people in this city now.”
Over steaming cups of tea, two very different women spent an afternoon discovering how much they had in common and where they differed.
“Hal and I, we were able to share quite a bit of his life as Green Lantern. Of course, my own peculiar talents helped,” said Kari as she took a sip from her cup.
“I-I just couldn’t do that. Seeing him up on the props in the convention hall, fighting for his life, it terrified me. One wrong step, one shot that he didn’t dodge, and he’d be gone.” Silver looked up, her pale eyes focusing on something only she could see. “That scene replays itself in my dreams, my nightmares.” She shook herself as if to dispel the memory. “We talked about it. He told me why he does this, but I have no idea how he does it and even less idea how any woman could live knowing that her lover was out there risking his life like that.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Deadshot Ricochet,” Detective Comics #474 (December, 1977) and “Sign of the Joker,” Detective Comics #476 (March-April, 1978).]
“It is a holy war for them, Miss St. Cloud. They are like the knights, the samurai. They have made their life into a mission, and they are forever committed to it.”
“Please, call me Silver. This holy war — is that what why you and Hal split up?”
The half-Romani, half-Asian woman chuckled. “No, oddly enough. I found myself with a mission. My first love, Guy, had seemingly died, and Hal came to me and told me what had happened — that was when we first met. Hal and I fell in love while I grieved for Guy, although part of me knew he wasn’t dead. He was, in reality, in another dimension, and he could see from that realm Hal and I fall in love. Hal brought him back, but Guy was in a coma. He needed me. I knew it. Hal saw it. I told him that it wouldn’t be until Guy came out of his coma and recovered that I could choose between them.” She shook her head sadly. “It hurt both of us very much. Several months later, I heard that he had reunited with his first love in California, the Ferris woman. (*) It could never have worked between us, I know now, since we were each pining for someone else even as we found comfort in each other’s arms.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Sight of the First and Second Kinds,” Green Lantern v2 #117 (June, 1979), “Mission of No Return,” Green Lantern v2 #123 (December, 1979), and “Lurkers in the Shadow,” Green Lantern v2 #141 (June, 1981).]
“I visited Guy regularly while he was in the hospital until the Crisis struck. Then the Guardian came and took him away, healing him and making him a Green Lantern again. But he was no longer the Guy I had loved with all my heart. (*) With all the chaos and destruction that followed, I felt it best to start a new life. When the Kane Circus came to town, I found a home with it.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Time Out of Mind,” Green Lantern v2 #190 (July, 1985), “Dead Ringer,” Green Lantern v2 #193 (October, 1985), “Five,” Green Lantern v2 #194 (November, 1985), “Four,” Green Lantern v2 #195 (December, 1985), and “Three,” Green Lantern v2 #196 (January, 1986).]
“I envy you, Kari. You are so much stronger than I am. You had a purpose in all you’ve done. I just ran and let myself drift as the opportunities allowed.”
“A weak-willed woman does not build a successful company, nor does she manage a place such as this.” Fending off Silver’s protests, she continued. “A fearful one, perhaps. These men, these heroes, they are much like the sailors and soldiers, the police and firefighters. The women in their lives must be able to comfort them and care for them, then send them off to do their job, not knowing if they will come back. My mother was able to do that after I was born. I think I might. But that doesn’t mean all women can. It doesn’t make you any less a person, Silver.”
In a makeshift repair room in the basement of the Convention Center, the man calling himself Earl Wyatt sat hunched over a workbench. Scattered before him were the parts from a pair of the infamous flying boots he had used as the Trickster. He prided himself on never actually using them in his circus act since he’d gone straight, but even a convicted criminal such as he wasn’t foolish enough to take unnecessary risks. A triply locked trunk in his van held seven pairs of boots identical to the technological marvels that he had invented as a youth, based on principles taught to him by an eccentric inventor at his old circus. Improving the boots and creating his many other gimmick weapons had given the Trickster more experience in micro-electronics and miniaturized power systems than many top engineers. Now, once again, he was putting that gained knowledge to ill use.
“If I can make the anti-gravity field generated by the boots operate over a larger area, I can float that model right out of the Convention Center.” He soldered a chip onto a circuit board, with leads running to a prism-like apparatus. “This should disperse it properly, if I remember how Mirror Master explained it.” He stopped for a moment, recalling the fate of his one-time cohort. It had been Mirror Master’s death, along with that of the Flash, that had made him decide to give up crime once more. (*) Now, however, the idea of possessing a piece of art like the great circus model was driving him back to his old ways. “Just this one time,” he said to himself as he set to work modifying another of the Mirror Master’s old devices to distort the light around the model so nobody would see it floating out of the room.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Death at the Dawn of Time,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 (January, 1986).]
“Therefore, we see that the long-term disassociation of the senses will result in a gradual breakdown of rational thought, leading to extreme psychosis. Oddly enough, there are many who think that the opposite will occur with those already suffering from mental illness and are trying sensory deprivation devices as a form of punishment or discipline in the prisons.” The speaker glanced down at a seating chart on her podium as she spotted some hands raised in the lecture hall. “Yes, Miss Rollins?”
Halfway back in the room, a small young woman with curly brown hair stood. “If I understand your meaning, Professor Branson, you are against the use of total isolation as a form of imprisonment for criminals?”
Lucille Branson stepped away from the podium, speaking completely off the top of her head. “Yes, that is correct. Based on the research, some of which I have been involved in personally, such a punishment could create a criminal who is far more vicious, far more ruthless than any who have come before. Taking somebody like Lex Luthor and focusing his obvious hatred for humanity back in on himself would likely result in a person who would think nothing of destroying the planet simply to eliminate one individual who had earned his hatred.”
“So what would you consider as a viable option, Professor?” asked the student.
“An alteration or modification of the criminal’s emotional balance through a combination of therapy, chemicals, subsonics, and, if necessary, surgery.” A murmur ran through the lecture hall at the mention of such a radical approach. Listening to her students’ comments on her ideas, she thought to herself about how effective her own brand of subsonics was proving on the local criminal element.
The final day of the National Conference of Circus and Carnival Troupes was by far the busiest day of the gathering. Tens of thousands of performers crowded the exhibition halls and meeting rooms, discussing everything from proposed regulations for carnival rides to the care and feeding of mutated bears. A technology exhibit featuring the latest advances in illusions and slight-of-hand drew capacity crowds every two hours. Among those attending the early sessions were some familiar faces.
“I didn’t realize you were interested in stage magic, Earl,” said the soft-spoken Doctor Apollo, known to his travelling companions as Mike Smith. “Thinking of adding to your shooting act?”
“I might consider it, Mike, if I thought I could compete with you in the magic department. I’ve been around some pretty sharp cookies, and I could usually spot how they did at least a couple of their tricks, but you’ve got me completely stumped.” The Trickster was sincere in his flattery. Even the infamous Abra Kadabra, with his sixty-fourth-century technology disguised as magic, had nothing on the young man with the hesitant manner.
“I wouldn’t get too worried about it, Earl. Mike has been teaching me some of the tricks as we go along, but I have a long way to go before I get close to his skill.” Jill entered the room and reached for Earl’s hand. Before he could take her smaller hand in his own, however, a bottle of Perrier appeared in her grasp. He took it and lifted it to his lips. As he did so, he glanced at her arms, which were bare to the shoulder with no jewelry at all. He marveled at the way she had managed to conceal the large bottle in the palm of her tiny hand.
“You’re catching on very well, Jillian. I knew the time of waiting fulfilled was drawing closer.” Mike put his arm around his wife’s shoulders, an identical bottle of water appearing in his hand as he did so. Just then, the moderator for the session called for their attention, and the room grew quiet.
Later that afternoon, the feature performance of the Kane Circus was scheduled to take place. As most of the people present filed into the main hall of the Pyramid, two stayed behind among the exhibition halls of the Convention Center.
“Man, when the captain told me I was on duty here, I figured I’d get to at least see the circus!”
“Aww, what’s the matter, Pike? Didn’t your folks take you to the circus when you were a kid?” Officer Tashi smiled, glancing back over her shoulder at her partner. “Tell you what. If you’re a good boy here today, I’ll take you the next time the Shrine Circus comes to town.”
“Don’t sweat it, Tash. I saw the Shrine Circus every year when I was in elementary school, just like every other kid in Memphis.” He grinned, remembering those long-gone days. “I’ve even taken my nieces a couple of times. Still, I’d like to be over there where all the action is this afternoon, instead of over here.”
“You got a point there, partner. Not much likely to happen he–” Stephanie’s voice died in mid-sentence as they walked into the Chandler Exhibition Hall. Where they expected to see the huge circus model, there was nothing but the tables on which it had sat.
For a change, it was Pike who recovered first. “I’ll alert the door guards — you raise the Ice Princess!”