“Hello, Norton,” Aquaman said fondly as the Futurian strolled into the communications center of the JLA Satellite. “All set for your first monitor duty shift?”
“I think so,” Futurian said, walking up to the command chair. “I did a shift with Green Lantern, observing and learning; I think I can handle this equipment.”
“It’s mostly Thanagarian technology; it practically runs itself,” Aquaman said, rising from the chair. “And we’ve got a pretty extensive music and video library, in case you get bored.”
“Not much chance of that, but thanks. I’ll be seeing you.”
“See you at the next general meeting — unless Despero or somebody attacks before then!”
Futurian forced a laugh at Aquaman’s joke and watched the sea king stride regally away. He still had a heavy heart over what he was about to do. He had spent the last two days remembering his fathers’ words, trying to convince himself of their truth. The good guys were suckers and saps; the only real men in the world were the ones who took whatever they wanted. And he was one of them. He had to be. And friends? Men like him didn’t have them. Colleagues and potential assassins, that’s all he had. And he didn’t need anything more.
He gave it an hour, just to be sure Aquaman wasn’t coming back for anything he had forgotten. Then he strode purposefully to the teleporter room and punched in a series of coordinates. The teleporter tube glowed brightly, filling the entire room with its light. In the center of the glow, five human figures began to take shape. Then the light faded, and five people stood in the teleporter tube: Doctor Light, Captain Boomerang, Poison Ivy, Clock King, and the Ocean Master. One by one, the Secret Society of Super-Villains stepped out of the tube and looked around, cackling with glee.
“We’ve done it!” Poison Ivy cried. “We’ve actually done it! We’re inside the satellite!”
“All the League’s secrets, all their weapons, everything ours for the taking!” Ocean Master declared. “Manning, I congratulate you! Once Atlantis is mine, I shall erect a statue in your honor that will rival the Colossus of Rhodes!”
“Yes, our comrade is the man of the hour,” Doctor Light agreed. “But there will be time enough for congratulations once we’ve made the satellite ours!”
Just then, the teleporter tube glowed again. Everyone was startled into silence by it.
“Manning — what is this?” Doctor Light hissed.
“I-I don’t know!” Futurian stammered. “I’m not due to be relieved for three more hours!”
The villains watched as a human form took shape inside the glow. The light faded, revealing the figure of Green Arrow.
Green Arrow’s face as he materialized was calm and relaxed, but he reacted instantly to the sight of five super-villains in the satellite teleporter room. Wasting no time on startled reactions, he dropped the pizza he was carrying, and his hand flew to his quiver.
“Not this time, archer!” Doctor Light growled, launching a beam of golden light at Green Arrow. The light solidified around the archer’s arms and torso, forming a solid-light straitjacket. Green Arrow struggled against it for a moment, then gave it up as useless.
“Fute, what are you waiting for?” he asked. “Clobber them, will ya?”
The five villains threw back their heads and laughed. They were so amused, they did not notice that Futurian was not laughing also.
“Who do you think let us into the satellite, you fool?” Ocean Master asked.
“That’s right, archer,” Doctor Light sneered. “The man you know as Norton Andrews, the Futurian, is really Toby Manning, the Terra-Man! And you heroes fell for it beautifully!“
Green Arrow gaped at the Futurian, whom he had recommended for League membership. The armored man turned his head away, unable to meet the archer’s gaze.
“I have to hand it to you, Light,” Green Arrow said. “You’ve come up with some grand schemes before, but this one takes the taco.”
“Why, thank you, Green Arrow,” Light sneered. “The idea struck me like a thunderbolt. The best way to destroy the Justice League? Infiltrate it. Take a super-villain, give him a new costume and name, stage a few fights, get him in the public eye. Sooner or later, he’d be invited to join your League.”
“Terra-Man was the perfect choice,” Boomerang added. “You’re so used to his cowboy schtick, changing over to a futuristic motif fooled you completely!”
“Yes, and all it took was a little cosmetic restructuring of his alien weapons,” Light added. “Manning, kindly disable the teleporter so we don’t get any more unwelcome surprises.”
Futurian hesitated for a fraction of a second, then strode to the teleporter controls and punched a series of buttons.
“And now,” Doctor Light said dramatically, “the beginning of the end of the Justice League!”
One by one, the villains filed out of the teleporter room to plunder the satellite. Futurian was the last one, and he hung back. For a few silent moments, he and Green Arrow just stared at each other.
“Ollie… I’m sorry,” Futurian finally broke the silence.
“Sorry for what?” Green Arrow asked. “You had me fooled good. I walked into it like a sucker. Even proposed you for membership myself. Geez, how you must have been laughing at me, all that talk about fighting for the little guy, making the world a better place–“
“No!” Futurian declared. “I wasn’t laughing! I mean — well, it made sense to me. It really did.”
“Yeah? So what are you doing now?“
“Manning!” Clock King called from the doorway of the room. “What are you doing, hanging around here?“
“I — I was just guarding the prisoner,” Futurian stammered. “Making sure he doesn’t try anything, you know.”
“Yeah? Let me save you the trouble.” Clock King produced a gun from a holster in his belt and aimed it at the helpless Green Arrow. The archer merely narrowed his eyes.
“What are you doing?” Futurian demanded.
“I’m going to kill him,” Clock King explained, impatiently. “We’re gonna do it anyway; might as well be now as later.”
“But — but why?” Futurian asked. “He’s helpless. He can’t hurt us–“
“Look, Manning,” Clock King snarled, “the others joined up with Light’s Secret Society so they could rule the world or rob it blind. But not me. I never wanted any of that. I only have one goal: Green Arrow’s death. And now I’ve got it. So shut up and let me do it!”
“No!” Futurian snarled, and made a grab for Clock King’s gun. The villain dodged the grab and brought the gun around to aim at Futurian. The armored man’s fist shot out like a piston and smashed into the Clock King’s face. His clock-face mask shattered into fragments, and he crumpled to the floor like a rag doll.
“Thanks for the save,” Green Arrow said. “Why’d you do it?”
“He was going to kill you,” Futurian said. “You’re helpless; it didn’t seem fair–“
“No? Less fair than what’s going to happen to the world if Light and his goons get what they want? Less fair than what the Collector did to your father?“
Futurian opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. He had no words.
“Maybe I’m not the detective that Batman is,” Green Arrow said, “but I don’t think I could be fooled that completely. I pushed for your League membership because I saw something good in you. That can’t all have been an act. I’ve read the JLA files on you; I know what you went through. Man, you got dealt a bad hand from day one. But you don’t have to let it define you — not if you don’t want to.” Green Arrow paused, letting Manning consider his words, before going on. “Every one of the losers out there chose to be a villain at some point. But not you. That choice was made for you, before you were even old enough to really understand what it meant. You call yourself a man of the future now. Well, the future is every minute from right now, and we get a chance to make it what we want it to be. You’ve got to ask yourself, what do you want your future to be? What are you, Futurian?”
In the main control room of the satellite, Doctor Light and the other villains pored over the Thanagarian equipment.
“Strewth, this is complicated stuff!” Captain Boomerang exclaimed. “I can’t tell the defense shields from the coffee maker!”
“I’ve seen this kind of technology before,” Light said, “but this is far more advanced. Manning must have been shown how to work it. I wonder what’s keeping him?”
“I had a decision to make,” a voice boomed from the doorway. “But I’ve made it now.”
The villains’ heads turned to see the Futurian and Green Arrow standing in the doorway, tensed and ready for battle.
“Manning!” Light snarled. “What the hell are you doing?“
“I’m choosing my future,” Futurian declared. “I’m finally deciding for myself what my life is going to be.”
“You won’t have a future anymore, you turncoat!” Ocean Master snarled, whipping a sophisticated-looking pistol from his belt. A thin beam of ruby-colored light shot out of it toward the Futurian, who parried it with his own wrist-mounted laser.
“Crikey! I should have known,” Boomerang declared. “Every time I get mixed up with the Society, something goes rotter on us!” The expert boomerang-thrower hurled four boomerangs from his bandolier at once. Green Arrow countered with a flurry of emerald arrows, each one impaling a boomerang dead-center and dropping it to the floor. Before either Boomerang or Ocean Master could draw another weapon, both were caught by a sonic arrow that circled their heads and emitted a high-frequency wail that overloaded their audial centers and made them black out. Poison Ivy spun on her heel and clicked her heels together; the spines on her boots, coated with poison, launched themselves at the heroes. Futurian blocked them, letting them shatter against his armor, and caught Ivy in his energi-net.
“Enough of this!” Doctor Light snarled, and touched a control dial on his belt. Futurian was halted in midair as a muffled explosion burst from within his armor; he called out in agony.
“Fute!” Green Arrow snapped, racing to his friend’s side.
“I anticipated the possibility that you do-gooders would infect my spy,” Light spat. “Against that possibility, as I redesigned his weapons, I included a self-destruct mechanism.”
“Arrow…” Futurian whispered.
“You lousy murderer!” Green Arrow growled, looking up at Doctor Light with undisguised hatred in his eyes. “Just this once, I’m gonna forget I’m supposed to be one of the good guys!“
“I’m petrified,” Light mocked, and a blue beam lanced out from his gauntlet. Green Arrow and the Futurian were encased in a bubble of solid light.
“And now–” Light began. Suddenly, the entire room was filled with a brilliant emerald glow. “What the devil–?” Light asked.
“Look at the monitor,” Green Arrow suggested. Light did. It showed a view of the outside of the satellite. Green Lantern was enclosing it in a power-ring fist. Superman and Hawkman hovered in space beside him.
“But — but how?” Light stammered, his face full of fear.
“Something Zatanna taught me, called misdirection,” Green Arrow explained. “While my right hand was going to my quiver, my left hand was hitting the JLA signal device in my belt.”
Green Arrow returned his attention to the Futurian. “Hang on, buddy. I’m gonna get you to the medical lab.”
Futurian smiled up at his friend. “Too late for that. But don’t… feel bad. I chose… my future. And I made the right choice.” Futurian grasped Green Arrow’s hand and squeezed it hard. “Thanks for… believing in me.”
Two weeks later, as Star City slept in darkness, Green Arrow and Black Canary visited Valhalla Park. A new statue had been erected in the center of the park next to those of the Flash and Wonder Woman. The Futurian looked out over the park, his face frozen in a benevolent smile of marble.
“It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it, Ollie?” Canary said. “All his life he was a criminal — all those times he tried to kill Superman — and now he’s got a statue here in the park, and everyone believes he was a real hero.”
“He was,” Green Arrow said. “When it really counted, he was. And that’s all that matters.”