Six weeks earlier:
The Conglomerate Flyer landed with the grace of an eagle outside of a bunker in Detroit. Thomas Kord was the first to disembark. As he did, he spread his arms wide and shouted, “My friends, welcome to your new home!”
The five heroes looked around for a moment. Sargon the Sorcerer’s nose began to twitch, but not in a very Samantha Stevens-like way.
“What in the name of Satannish is that horrific odor?” Sargon asked.
Holding his nose, Animal Man looked partly disgusted and partly amused. “I could be mistaken, but I believe that smell is the Detroit River.”
“Ah, what my life has become,” said Sargon. “Growing up on a palatial estate, summers in the south of France, and now I live downwind from the Detroit River. Death, claim me now.”
“Where the hell are we?” said a frowning Guy Gardner. “This place seems familiar, somehow.”
Thomas Kord headed for the door and pressed his hand to the plate. The scanner beeped its acceptance, and the door opened. “I leased this place from the grandson of an old… acquaintance of mine. He was anxious to unload it.” The six headed down the stairs and entered a darkened room. “Lights!”
The room suddenly came to life. A grand table sat in the middle. State of the art computers lined the walls.
Fire looked over the room, clearly impressed. “Madre de Dios, Mr. Kord. This place is fantastic. Who did you say you bought it from?” But before Thomas Kord could answer, the group turned to hear Guy utter a series of expletives.
“Guy?” Ice asked, not sure if she should have.
“Y’know, I thought being stooges for that scum Lord was about as low as we could sink — well, next to takin’ orders from Jordan — but this takes the friggin’ cake.” Guy pointed to a large picture on the wall that showed eight colorfully garbed heroes: Aquaman, Elongated Man, Zatanna, the Martian Manhunter, Vibe, Vixen, Gypsy, and Steel. “We’re gettin the leftovers from the friggin’ Justice League of Detroit — the lamest group there ever was.”
A voice echoed from the far doorway, “Now don’t get yer knickers in a twist, Gardner. It’s always darkest ‘fore the dawn.”
“Who the $%&@ are you?”
Sargon stepped forward, a look of fear and relief crossing his face. “It’s…”
But before Sargon could complete his sentence, Bea da Costa and Tora Olafsdotter both let out squeals and yelled at the tops of their voices, “Sting!”
“Oh, bloody hell. Not this palaver again!”
John Constantine cringed as Fire and Ice converged on him. This was not the first time he had been mistaken for the former lead singer of The Police. He backed up a few steps into Guy Gardner. The so-called greatest Green Lantern of all looked at Constantine with a mixture of annoyance and amusement. “Hey, pal, don’t stand so close to me.”
“Oh, my God! I have all your albums. Will sign an autograph for me?” Fire said, opening her jacket and shoving her, uh, well, you know, in Constantine’s face. Ice turned a bright shade of red and walked away.
“I am not bloody Sting, ya daft woman. My name is John Constantine, and I’m a friend of Sargon’s.”
Fire’s face curled up. “With that attitude, I believe it! You’ll never get me wrapped around your finger that way!” And she stormed off to find Tora.
John lit a cigarette. Turning to Guy, he offered him one. “Fancy a fag?”
Guy turned a bright crimson, his ring hand glowing, “What did you call me? Guy Gardner is one-hundred-percent man, bub!”
Sargon came forward, barely able to contain himself. “He was offering you one of his cigarettes, Mr. Gardner.”
“Oh… oh, yeah, I knew that,” Guy said, discreetly heading to the door. “I was just playin’. Yeah, that’s the ticket!”
“Where did you find this group of morons, Sargon?”
“It is a long story, Constantine. I hardly expected you to be here after that primordial darkness business at Winters’ place last year.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Night Force: The War of Darkness and Light.]
John Constantine looked into Sargon’s face, raising one eyebrow. “You ever get a feeling of déjà vu? Like we’ve danced this dance before?”
“We have,” said Sargon. “Last fall. Do you not recall? It was just before we gathered at Baron Winters with Steve Dayton and the others. John Zatara died. Zatanna went into mourning. It was a terrible business.”
“I know all that,” said Constantine. “But sometimes my memory plays tricks on me. Anyway, mate, I’m hoping you could help me out. I’ve got a problem in India that I could use your help with.”
“Not planning on throwing me to the wolves, are you?” asked Sargon. “People around you tend to die, Constantine.” He sighed. “Fine. I’ll take any excuse to remove myself from this place. All I ask is that you give me two hours. I’m expecting an imminent visit from Captain Comet, and I’d prefer it if you make yourself scarce. (*) I’ll be waiting for you outside in two hours’ time.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Whatever Happened To…? Chapter 2: Forgotten Heroes.]
Two hours later:
“Well, how do ya like them apples?”
Guy Gardner picked up a note left by Sargon the Sorcerer. As he read it, part of him was glad to see the old square leave, but the other was beginning to wonder if a group with only four heroes in it could succeed. Not like any of us got the brains o’ Reed Richards or anything.
“What does it say, Guy?” Animal Man asked.
Guy crumpled the note and tossed it. “‘Bout what I expected, Baker. Sargon took off ta fight some mystical warlock in India or sumthin’ like that.”
“How the hell should I know? I do know that it means that we’re down from seven members ta four, though, and, no offense, but running around with the powers of a chicken doesn’t exactly instill fear in anyone’s heart!”
“Yeah, and talking to people that way is sure going to inspire them to stay!” Buddy Baker yelled as he stormed out of the room.
“Ah, fer the love of Appa Ali Apsa,” Guy said as he kicked the nearest chair. “All right, Gardner, let’s get the show on the road.”
Guy stood for a moment and looked at the portrait of the so-called Justice League of Detroit. He pointed his ring at it until the portrait became fluid. By the time the green glow stopped, it had become a picture of the Conglomerate: Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Animal Man, the Beetle, Sargon the Sorcerer, and Firestorm.
“Hmm, one little change…” The ring glowed again, and the image of Firestorm disappeared. “Now that’ll do it!”
Five weeks ago:
Out at sea, two porpoises carried a coffin toward a tropical island. Kotto the blue whale could not get any closer, so he enlisted their aid. The two animals deftly guided the coffin toward the island, and the waves carried it to shore. Two natives, dressed in palm fronds and other native materials, approached as the coffin hit the sand on the beach.
“Let’s bring it to the others.”
“How many does that make now?”
“One hundred and seventy-four.”
“I am telling you, we have offended the king of the seven seas. He has cursed this land to be the home of the deceased.”
“Isn’t that what Kooeykooeykooey means? Land of the deceased?”
“It does now,” he said as they dragged the coffin toward a special cave.
The JLA Satellite, 22,300 miles above the Earth, four weeks ago:
J’onn J’onzz sat in front of the monitor screens, diligently looking for signs of trouble. It appeared that he had found one. On the monitor screen, a woman appeared. She was obviously distraught, tears welling in her eyes. A dark-haired man appeared next, obviously angry, his rage apparent on his face.
“Damn you, Erica Kane! How could you cheat on me with another man, let alone my brother?”
The woman began to sob as the man stormed out of the room. “Travis! No, please, let me explain!”
J’onn’s vigilance was interrupted by a buzzing on the monitor board. He pressed a button, and another screen came to life showing a delivery person standing outside the entrance to the Secret Sanctuary with a large crate. I wonder what this could be, J’onn thought as he pressed the button to speak. “May I help you?”
“Yessir, I have a delivery here for a Mister… Johns?”
“That would Jones. I will be down in a moment.” J’onn walked to the teleporter tube, and in an instant he was in Happy Harbor. He quickly made his way to the entrance and greeted the delivery man.
“Gahhh!” The delivery man jumped about five feet when he saw the impossibly green, impossibly tall and large Martian Manhunter open the door. “Um… umm…”
J’onn chuckled and shook his head. He’d been on this planet, actively protecting it for years, and he still got this reaction from people. This was the reason he had worn a more human face during his first tenure with the JLA. He took the clipboard from the man’s shaking hand, signed it, and sent the man on his way.
Easily lifting the crate, J’onn brought it into the Sanctuary, setting it down on the meeting table. He opened it, and inside were packages of Oreo cookies as far as the eye could see. “H’ronmeer preserve me!”
J’onn ripped open a package and began to munch. He then went over to the monitor board and punched in a member’s frequency. Wonder Woman’s voice answered, “Yes, J’onn, is there a mission for the League?”
“No, Nubia. I just wanted to let you know that I would be a little late this evening. It’s nothing that I require assistance with, but… something arrived here by courier that requires my attention as chairman of the JLA.”
“Hmmm. I must say I am disappointed, but I certainly understand. Just do not be too long. I was hoping that you could give me more instruction in the ways of Patriarch’s World.”
“I… I will endeavor to be quick about. J’onzz out.” J’onn stared at the mountain of Oreos. Cookies or Nubia? Cookies or Nubia? J’onn packed the crate up, grabbing another handful. I will store these in my room here and then get to… well, she already knows I will be late. Just another few cookies will suffice.
Three weeks ago in Gateway City, the circus performer known as Mister Miracle had just finished a performance and headed backstage. As he and his assistant, Oberon, entered the dressing room, they were surprised by two people already sitting in there.
“Who are you, and how did you get in here?” Scott Free asked with more than a little annoyance in his voice.
“Monsieur Free, my name is Catherine Cobert, and I have a proposition for you.”
Japan, about two weeks ago:
Kimiyo Hoshi was interrupted from her nap by a knock on her door. “Who is it?”
“Dr. Hoshi, my name is Catherine Cobert, and I’ve come with a proposal on behalf of the Kara Zor-El Foundation.”
Dr. Hoshi opened the door. “Kara Zor-El was a friend of mine.”
Catherine smiled. “Yes, I am aware of that. May we come in?”
“What is it you wish?” Kimiyo asked.
“I have an opportunity for you,” Catherine Cobert said with a smile.
“Now is not the time for me to consider any new opportunities,” the Japanese woman said. “I am already due to be in the United States next month to work on an aircraft engine in California.”
Catherine was not expecting this in her plans, but the woman was a professional. She’d think of a way to roll with this new development.
A week ago:
Dmitri Pushkin looked across the vast field in front of his house. Life was good. He had a beautiful wife, two beautiful children, and he had just enlisted in Russia’s brand-new, elite Rocket Red Brigade. He did not know yet what that would entail; it had something to do with some alien Green Lantern who had decided to start spending time in Moscow recently. The sun was beginning to set as Dmitri’s wife came out of the house. “Dmitri, come inside. Your dinner is getting cold.”
He turned to her, a gigantic grin crossing his face. “Of course, Belina. How I love your borscht stew.” He walked up the steps and embraced his wife.
“Very funny. With you working on that project now, the government has provided us with real food: chicken, beef, and… your favorite.”
Dmitri’s eyes sparkled. “You mean…?” They entered the kitchen where their two children, Mischa and Tascha, were hungrily devouring their dinner. Dmitri sat down at the table, his mouth watering. “Oh, this is tremendous! How I love Spam!”
The family ate their meal. While the children were playing, Belina noticed headlights approaching the house. She went to the living room and got Dmitri. The two then headed outside to see a striking woman with flowing black hair walking up to their doorstep, accompanied by a mousy-looking man.
“Who wants to know?”
“Comrade Pushkin, my name is Catherine Cobert. I have come on behalf of the comrade Chairman to make you an offer.”
Dmitri whispered to his wife, “Perhaps they bring more Spam.”