by Martin Maenza
“Rise and shine, my precious!” a deep, gravelly voice cooed.
“Huh…? Wha…?” groaned a black-skinned man, tall and well-built, and dressed in a skintight black bodysuit with gray highlights. His eyes were narrow slits, hardly opened. His body ached all over. “Five more minutes…”
“No one asks for time from Granny!” the voice said, now more irate. A large white-haired woman of about two-hundred and fifty pounds, more fit than fat, dressed in green-scaled armor, barked. She grasped a nearby cylindrical weapon with her chubby, pointed-finger-nailed hand firmly and shoved it into the man’s side.
“Aaa-aaa-aaahhh!” Jetblack roared as an electrical surge coursed through his whole body, which jumped up a few inches, only to be held down by the metal bonds that bound his hands and feet.
Granny Goodness turned up her fat, dark lips into a wicked smile. “That’s right! Cry for Granny! Beg me for mercy!”
Jetblack gritted his teeth and strained to see through the pain. The woman had a demonic appearance, and she seemed to revel in his torture. What kind of grandmother was this?
He tried his best not to yell out. After all he had been through — battling creatures called Parademons back in Seattle while trying to help a blond man they were pursuing, blindly following them through some kind of spatial transport tube, and ending up on this hellish pit of a world called Apokolips, then eluding squads of goons who would just as soon beat him down instead of talk to him — he wasn’t about to give up just yet.
Granny watched him fight the assault and frowned a bit. “A fighter, eh? All the better!” She adjusted the control on the end of the weapon, increasing the current. “There is nothing more that I like than to break a strong will!”
Jetblack threw his head to the side and screamed again. “Aaa-aaa-aaah!” He forced his brown eyes open wide, only to see that an audience was watching his torture. One was a tall woman with black hair tied back into a single ponytail. She wore a dark, tight outfit with silvery straps about her arms, chest, and face mask. The second was a shorter, muscular woman in orange and yellow. She wore goggles about her eyes and had a skull and crossbones on her helmet. The third was a yellow-skinned harpy with long, green hair. She hopped about back and forth, cackling with glee.
“Give it to him, Granny!” the latter one said. “Teach him a lesson!”
The first one grabbed the speaker and pulled her aside. “Quiet, Mad Harriet!” Lashina lectured. “Let Granny do her job!”
“Lashina’s right,” Stompa said solemnly.
Granny Goodness craned her neck. “Quiet, my Female Furies!” she scolded. “I need to question this stranger — find out who he is and why he is here!”
The evil woman turned back to Jetblack. “Now, tell Granny what she wants to know, whelp!”
“I… I came to… aaa-aaa-aah…” Jetblack screamed between his words as Granny prodded him once more in the side. “…to… to save someone…”
Granny laughed. “Save someone?” she repeated. “Looks like we have some kind of hero here, girls! You know what Granny does to heroes, don’t you?”
The Furies all chattered at this. They had all witnessed and experienced firsthand the wonderfully painful tortures that Granny was capable of inflicting. She had turned many a wayward Hunger Dog into a mean, fighting machine over her many years of running this obscene orphanage.
“Granny!” a voice called over the sound of the Furies, the shock-wand, and the screaming. “Granny!”
The large woman turned to see a tall, thin woman with short black hair enter the chamber. She wore green robes. “Bernadeth!” Granny said with some dismay. “Why do you interrupt me at this time? It had better be worth it, or you shall be punished severely!”
“It is of extreme importance, Granny,” the narrow-faced woman said respectfully. “It is Pandora! She is here to see you.”
“Pandora?” Granny said, spitting the name out. “She can wait…”
“Is that wise, Granny?” Bernadeth questioned the mistress. “Surely she will tell her father, Darkseid, that she was kept waiting…”
Granny considered. She did not wish to incur the wrath of Lord Darkseid. “True!” she admitted. She shoved the weapon once more into Jetblack’s side, sending one more jolt of current through him. Then she pulled it away, switched it off, and placed the weapon aside. “Very well. This one can wait until later.” Granny’s orange cape swirled behind her as she strode for the doorway.
Bernadeth turned and followed after her. The other Furies paused.
“Go,” Lashina said. “I will watch the prisoner.” Stompa and Mad Harriet nodded, then went after the others out of the chamber.
Lashina waited for the door to close and latch before she walked over to the bound man. She took her blue-black-gloved hand and traced it about the man’s cheek. “What an interesting specimen of a man,” she said softly.
Jetblack groaned and turned his head. “Help me…” he pleaded softly.
Lashina laughed in his face. “Me? Help you? I think not!” she said. “What would I care about you or this other person you came to help?”
Jetblack dropped his head. “I’ll… find him on my own, then…” he said with despair.
“You’ll find no one!” Lashina said sharply. “Before you step foot out of here, Granny will break you! Many have tried to resist her, but in the end, Granny always succeeds. She is a true mistress in the art of discipline!”
She watched the man take in her words. She hoped they would discourage the prisoner. While appearing a bit dejected, she saw no fear developing. The man appeared to not care what might happen to him. Could he be that altruistic? “This man… why is he so important to you? Friend? Family?”
Jetblack shook his head. “No…” he said. “I hardly know him. I… I don’t even know his name.”
Lashina laughed at this. “A stranger? You risk your own life, coming to Apokolips, for a stranger? You truly are a fool, then, and deserve all that happens to you. What is so special about this stranger?”
“I… I don’t know,” Jetblack had to admit. The way this woman put it, the whole situation sounded kind of ridiculous. Sure, he had a special H-Dial that allowed him to gain amazing super-powers every time he gave it a spin, but did that truly make him a hero? Right now, he wasn’t so sure. “He did seem capable enough when those Parademons attacked him.”
“Parademons?” Lashina asked with some interest. “He was attacked by Parademons here?“
“No,” Jetblack said. “Back on my world.”
“Earth,” Jetblack said without thinking, not that it really mattered. She probably had never heard of it.
Lashina, however, seemed interested in more. “Tell me about this man,” she said. “Why did you consider him so capable? Is he some great fighter? A warrior?”
Jetblack saw no harm in continuing the discussion. Maybe, just maybe he could sway her with his words. “This man… he wielded some kind of weapon — a golden, triangular thing that could shoot bolts of energy and such.”
Lashina’s eyes grew wide. A golden triangle… she thought. Could it be…?
“Tell me more about this man!” she demanded. “Was he a criminal?”
The hero paused. He hadn’t even considered that. When he’d found him on that rooftop apartment in Seattle, fighting the creatures, he assumed the man lived there. It was possible the man could have been a thief. Did this woman somehow know him, or think she did? Perhaps he could use this to his advantage. “I don’t know,” Jetblack said, in all truth. “He very well could have been.”
“Did he wear a costume of green? With goggles?” Lashina asked.
“He wasn’t wearing anything like that when I met him,” Jetblack again said in truth.
“Was his name Angelo? Angelo Bend?”
“I told you before that I never got his name. Angelo could certainly be his name.”
Lashina growled and pounded her fist on the table. She was obviously frustrated by the prisoner’s inability to answer her questions completely.
Jetblack decided to use that. “Look, I need to find him,” he said, “find out if he is still alive or not.”
The woman considered. “Not if I find him first…” she growled. Lashina started to turn to leave.
“Wait!” Jetblack cried.
“Take me with you!” the black man said. “Please…”
Lashina laughed. “Why?” she asked again.
Jetblack was taken off-guard. He really didn’t have a solid answer. Then he considered. “Because…” he started to say. “Because… I know what he looks like. I can help you find him.”
Lashina shook her head. “What makes you think I can’t find him myself?” she said confidently.
Jetblack smirked. “Maybe you can,” he said. “Or maybe you can’t. If this man was capable of fending off a horde of Parademons, surely he is resourceful enough to hide his identity.”
Hmmm, Lashina thought. The Angelo Bend she knew was one who worked all the angles, leaving very little to chance. If he were somehow here on Apokolips, she was not about to let him get away. She owed him. If anyone were going to punish him, it would be she.
Jetblack noticed her pondering and pressed his point. “You can’t find him without me,” he said. “I can’t escape without you. Looks like we both can help one another out. You look like a smart woman. What do you say?”
The warrior considered. She then leaned closer and whispered into the man’s ear.
Ten minutes later, Jetblack was soaring down the darkened hallways of the basement of Granny’s orphanage, sticking to the shadows that clung to the high stone ceilings. He ignored the sounds of moaning, children in chains, and the cracks of whips as the hairless youth were worn down by constant assaults. Some of their torturers were garishly dressed girls, hardly more than teenagers themselves.
It took every ounce of self-control for Jetblack to not fly down there to aid them. His mind told him there was little he could do for all of them right now.
He shook his head, driving those thoughts away. He had to concentrate on his own survival instead. Jetblack continued to count the turns and stretches as he flew. I can’t believe that woman went for it, he thought to himself. The fact that she had set the timer on his bonds to unlock a few moments after she had whispered her instructions in his ear was evidence that she was convinced to help him.
Or, he suddenly thought, maybe it all was a trap? Did she let him go just to test him?
I’ve got nothing to lose, he decided as he turned left and then took a quick right. The hatch to the drainage tunnel should be just around the corner. Sure enough, just as Lashina said, he spied the huge door with a turn wheel.
Another twenty minutes later, after trudging through waist-deep sewage and gunk, Jetblack emerged back outside the building. The foul air of Apokolips filled his lungs. “Ah, the smell of freedom,” he said sarcastically.
From the shadows, a female figure reached out and pulled him aside to the shadows. “Quiet, fool!” Lashina ordered. “I can’t be seen with you out in the open.” She gestured as an aero-squad soared high overhead, heading west.
Jetblack nodded. She seemed sincere about this risk she was taking. Obviously, she did seem to know the man he was here to rescue; whether she did or not didn’t matter to him. All that mattered was that she could act as a guide, helping him avoid being discovered or being recaptured again. “So, you know this hellhole better than me,” he said. “Where would some of those demon guys have taken my friend?”
Lashina considered. “Darkseid commands them,” she said. “His Tower of Rage is that way, across the Armagetto.” She gestured toward the main avenue, over a mile long and hundreds of yards wide. Beyond the giant steel walls that lined each side, factories spewed forth pollutants into the air and ground. Thick clouds floated along the top levels of the buildings, many hundreds of feet high.
“Armagetto?” Jetblack said, realizing for the first time that this was what the slums of this planet were called. He knew of ghettos back at home. This one sounded and was a lot worse than he could ever imagine. “The way you said that, it sounds bad.”
“Very!” Lashina said. “But it is nothing compared to Darkseid himself.”
Jetblack considered. He had seen the statues of the ruler of this place all over. “He sounds like one mean dude.”
Lashina smirked. “If your fellow Earthman is with Lord Darkseid, you’ll never rescue him!”