In a darkened room in Bethesda Medical Center, a man lay still in his bed. It had been weeks since his injury, and based on his past experience, he should have recovered far sooner. A nurse came in with his dinner, placing it on a tray next to the bed.
“Do you feel able to feed yourself today, Mr. Wilson?” asked the nurse.
“I do right now,” he replied. Reluctantly he added, “But you’d better stay in here, in case the shakes get the best of me.”
It was a difficult admission for Slade Wilson to make. For a quarter of a century, he had prided himself on his complete mastery of his body’s actions and reflexes. Now, however, it was a different matter.
First, he pressed the button that raised the upper part of his bed to a sitting position. The nurse positioned the tray in front of him. He grasped the fork and stabbed a piece of roast beef on the plate. As he raised it to his mouth, the nurse watched carefully. The fork trembled slightly in his grasp, but he was successful in placing the morsel in his mouth and returning the fork to the plate.
“That’s one,” he said with a smile.
He ate a few more bites of the roast with little difficulty. “Try the potatoes or the vegetables,” suggested the nurse.
“No, I’m saving the toughest for last.” Slade eyed the peas with trepidation. Normally, he could have flipped the individual peas into the air with the prongs of the fork and caught each one on his tongue as they dropped. Now, keeping the tiny spheres on the fork might just be the most difficult task he had attempted in a month.
The beef disappeared, followed by several forkfuls of mashed potatoes. He picked up a buttered roll in his left hand and used that as a backstop to scoop some of the peas onto his fork. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he lifted them to his mouth, and the nurse bent forward to watch. When the fork disappeared into his mouth, she clapped.
“Excellent! Dr. Myers will be so pleased!”
“Looks like there’s hope for you yet, Slade,” said a voice from the doorway. Slade and his nurse both turned to see an attractive, middle-aged woman standing there.
“Adeline! What the devil are you doing here?”
“I suppose I could say that I’m checking up on my most successful lab rat,” replied Adeline Wilson. “But to tell you the truth, I’m more worried about my ex-husband.” She came over to the bed as the nurse took the tray away and bent to give Wilson a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Took me long enough to track you down after I saw you get shot on national television.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 3, Chapter 2: Assassination.]
“All in the service of my country, ma’am.” This made Adeline laugh, and Slade joined in.
“I’d heard you were working for the government, but I didn’t believe it.” She pulled up a chair and sat by the bed as Slade lowered himself into a reclining position.
“It was either that or Belle Reeve. Fortunately, I have some friends in high places who vouched for me.” He looked at his ex-wife. “Thank you for that.”
“Well, when the Secretary of the Interior asked me about you, I didn’t know what he had in mind.” She changed the subject. “So what did they hit you with, anyway? I, better than anybody, know how much punishment that hunk of bone and gristle you call a body can take.”
“A charged plasma blast. Ripped through my nervous system.” Seeing the look in her eyes, he added, “Oh, don’t worry. The burns healed quickly enough, just the way you and your team of mad scientists intended. The doctors, here, thought I’d be spending a month lying on my stomach. Surprised the hell out of them when I was reclining like this the very next day.” He looked at her with a wry grin. “You always did good work, Addie.”
“Excellent work. I envy you, Wilson.” They turned toward the doorway, where a tall, haggard-looking man stood leaning against the door frame. “I heal pretty fast myself, thanks to the Council, but I doubt I could have survived that blast.”
“Hey, if you’re going to have somebody experiment on your body, better the government than some group of megalomaniacal world rulers, Paul. Addie, meet Paul Kirk, the team leader for this little group that I’m in. Paul, my ex-wife, Adelaide.”
“A pleasure, ma’am.” The man called Manhunter stepped into the room and briefly took Addie’s hand. “Though I’m afraid I have to correct him on one thing. That’s the group that he used to be in.”
“What?!” Slade sat up in his bed. “You’re kidding me, right, Paul? I’ll be up and out of this bed in a couple of weeks — no need to cashier me now!”
Paul reached into his jacket and pulled out an envelope. He pulled a letter out of that and handed it to Slade. “Sorry, Slade, but you’re out of the Task Force X program, effective immediately. Read it for yourself.”
Expecting a dismissal of some sort from Amanda Waller, the team’s administrative leader, Slade read the letter. The first thing he noticed was the letterhead — it was White House stationery. “For service rendered, above and beyond the call of duty, and showing a willingness to sacrifice his own life for that of his President, Slade Wilson is hereby pardoned for any and all crimes previously committed.” He looked up. “Good Lord, man, this is from the President.”
Paul Kirk smiled and extended a hand to his now-former teammate. “Congratulations, Slade. You’re the first graduate of the Task Force X program — and a free man.”