“Palmer! Good to see you, man!” the tall, balding man in the navy blue suit said jovially. “Glad you came out of the lab for this!”
“Good afternoon, Dr. Solomon,” Ray Palmer said, shaking the tall man’s hand. Ray didn’t like Dr. Solomon much; he found the man pompous and overbearing. He could tolerate the man’s presence for an afternoon, however. “I wouldn’t have missed this luncheon for the world. It’s quite a coup to get Dr. Ling, you know.”
“Yes, it’s a great day for Ivy University,” Dr. Solomon agreed. “Did you ever consider what an odd name that is for a university? Ivy. It’d be like Sandy Beach, or Tall Mountain.”
“Ivy Town was here long before the university,” Ray pointed out. “You should visit the history department; they have a nice display on town history and origins.”
“Yes, I know; granddaughter of the founder, or some such,” Dr. Solomon said. “I was only remarking on the irony.” The tall man paused to look around the room. “Seems the whole faculty has turned out for this.” Solomon grinned. “Wonder if they invited Danneman?”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Ray said seriously. He found Dr. Solomon’s joke in poor taste. Jack Danneman was the last person the university would invite to Dr. Ling’s welcoming luncheon, and the last person who would want to come, at that.
A little later, Dean Kayne, the dean of the university, tapped his fork on the side of his glass, calling for attention. He had to do this several times before the individual conversations died down.
“I want to thank all of you for coming today,” said Kayne. “It is truly a landmark day here at Ivy University. We are honored to have joining our research department one of the most brilliant minds of this or any other century. Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pride that I introduce Dr. Chun To Ling!”
Everyone in the room applauded as the woman seated to the dean’s right stood up, smiling. She was a small woman, like many Chinese were, compared to Occidentals. Her hair was straight and jet-black. She was quite pretty. Ray knew that her attractive exterior was only part of the package; the dean’s statements about her intellect had not been mere hyperbole.
“I want to thank you for welcoming me,” Dr. Ling said. “It means a great deal to someone who has left her home thousands of miles behind her. I hope to think of Ivy University as my home now, and of all of you as my dear friends. In the spirit of–”
Then the door exploded. Four men in dark purple body armor and visored helmets charged through the smoke and ruins. There were shouts and screams, and people began moving in all directions. Ray was galvanized into action, too; but his response was not one of flight. He charged directly at the intruders, without thought to his own safety. One of them met his charge with the butt of his rifle, rammed into Ray’s solar plexus. The stunned scientist went down quickly. To discourage any other heroics, another of the armored intruders threw a gray sphere at the floor. It erupted into thick clouds of choking black smoke. The dean called for someone to open the windows and for security. By the time order had been reestablished, the intruders’ work was done.
Dr. Chun To Ling, recently arrived from the People’s Republic of China, was gone.
“She said yes?!” Roy Harper exclaimed with glee.
“You sound like there was ever any doubt,” Oliver Queen joked. The two men were in Queen’s Star City apartment. Oliver had raised Roy from boyhood, since he had been an orphan; he regarded the young man like a son.
“Well, you know what I mean,” Roy said. “Hey, it’s about time! I had given up on seeing you walk down the aisle!”
“That’s supposed to be my line, junior,” Ollie joked. He immediately regretted it. “Oh, hey, Roy, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to–”
“It’s OK, Oliver,” Roy said, just the slightest twinge of sadness in his voice as he thought about his failed relationship with Raven of the New Titans, which ended recently. (*) “I’m all right, really. Well, maybe not really, but I will be.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: What’s Love Got to Do with It?]
“You’ll bounce back,” Oliver said, confidently. “You always do.”
“Wonder where I learned that,” Roy said, grinning. “So, when’s the big day? I need to rent my tux! The best man’s gotta look, well, his best, you know?”
“Um,” Oliver said. He hadn’t thought of that. He had been so nervous for a week, waiting for Dinah’s answer, and so elated when it finally came, he hadn’t even thought of the problem of the best man. Of course Roy would want the honor. But he probably wouldn’t be the only one.
Before Oliver could reply, a shrill beeping sound cut him off. Breathing an inaudible sigh of relief, he reached for his pocket.
“Is that–?” Roy started to ask.
“Justice League alarm,” Oliver confirmed. “The high-tech version of Mrs. Peel, we’re needed. Looks like I’ve got to go.”
“Could you use Arsenal?” Roy asked. “I’m itching for some action, and besides, it’s been a while since I’ve worked with Wally. Since he’s playing with the big boys these days.”
“Sure, come along,” Oliver said. “The more the merrier, especially in costumed fight scenes.”
Fifteen minutes later, Green Arrow and Arsenal materialized inside the teleporter tube aboard the JLA Satellite in fixed geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth. Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, was there to welcome them.
“Ollie, good of you to make it,” Elongated Man said. “And Roy! God, how you’ve grown! Put her there!” Elongated Man stretched his arm six feet to where Arsenal stood; the young hero grasped the extended hand and shook it.
“Are we all here?” Green Arrow asked.
“All that’s coming,” Ralph said. “Some of the others radioed back that they were tied up with other cases. It’s not a code-red emergency, just a blue-level distress call. Still, we can use every hand we can get. Come on, guys.”
The Elongated Man led the two costumed archers into the meeting room. “Green Arrow’s here, gang, and look who he’s brought with him!” the ductile detective called.
“Roy!” Flash cried, happily. “Good to see you, man!”
“Hey, you, too, fleetfoot,” Arsenal returned. Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the new Wonder Woman also stood in the meeting room, as well as a brown-haired man in a green business suit. Roy did not recognize him and was on the point of asking who he was, when Green Arrow cried out.
“Ray! Ray, you son of a zwitterion! What are you doing here?” The cry was a happy one, for this was Ray Palmer, Green Arrow’s former JLA comrade the Atom, now retired.
“Ray’s call brought us here,” Green Lantern explained. “Since this is all of us that are coming, Ray, why don’t we start?”
With a nod of thanks to his old friend, Ray Palmer began his story.
“This is about Dr. Chun To Ling,” Ray began. “Have any of you heard of her?”
“I think I read something in the paper about her,” Elongated Man said. “Invented some new kind of fuel cell, didn’t she?”
“Yes, a hybrid cell that uses both gasoline and electric power,” Ray explained. “When the electric charge is exhausted, the gasoline part kicks in and recharges the electric battery as it powers the automobile. Once it’s practically adapted to cars, it could triple the average gas mileage of today.”
“Wow!” Arsenal commented. “That’d be a real boon to the environment!”
“And a kick in the pants to big oil,” Green Arrow muttered.
“Precisely,” Ray continued. “Dr. Ling was living in the People’s Republic of China when she made the discovery. She applied for emigration to the West, but of course the Chinese government didn’t want to let her go.”
“I remember now,” Hawkman said. “I heard about this on the news. She was smuggled out of China by a group of mercenaries hired by Jack Danneman.”
“What, the CEO of Marshall Motors?” Green Arrow gasped. “That Jack Danneman?”
“No other,” Ray said. “Danneman expected Dr. Ling to work exclusively for him once she got to America. But she never promised that. She announced that she would be making her discoveries public, to benefit the whole world.”
“Some people have no gratitude,” the Flash said sarcastically.
“I’m sure Danneman takes that view,” Green Arrow snapped. “He’s a bottom-feeding scum-bag that’d sell his mother’s iron lung for scrap metal, with her still in it! He’s the lowest kind of–”
“What a surprise,” Hawkman said drily. “Ollie doesn’t approve of a successful businessman.”
“Buzzard-beak,” Green Arrow snapped, “it so happens I’ve done my homework on this guy! I’ve written columns on the dirty deals he pulls! He’s had more subpoenas from the UAW, EPA, and IRS than I’ve had hot dinners!”
“Lighten up, Ollie,” Elongated Man said. “You make him sound like a Nazi.”
“Maybe he is,” Green Arrow said. “Katar, have you ever seen him at any of the meetings?”
“That wasn’t funny, Ollie,” Green Lantern said, sternly.
“I don’t know, I thought it was one of his better ones,” Wonder Woman said with a slight grin.
Ray couldn’t help but grin, too. He’d never thought he’d miss the bickering between Ollie and Katar, but it was part of what made the Justice League what he’d remembered — the best years of his life.
“So, Ray,” Ralph said, trying to steer the conversation back around, “you called us regarding Dr. Ling? What about her?”
“She’s been kidnapped,” Ray said, simply.
“Kidnapped?” the Flash repeated. “How? When?”
“Earlier today,” Ray said. “Ivy University was lucky enough to get her in our research department; almost every university in the country made offers. We were having a welcome luncheon for her when four guys in dark purple body armor burst in and grabbed her.”
“Quick snatch and grab, huh?” Green Arrow asked.
“Yes, very efficient,” Ray said. “A regular blitzkrieg. Before most of us even knew what was happening, it was over.”
“Professionals, sounds like,” Arsenal opined. “Hired guns.”
“Like the ones who got Ling out of China in the first place,” Green Arrow added.
“Ollie–” Hawkman began.
“Katar, like it or not, Ollie’s got a point,” Ralph said. “Danneman has means and motive, and he has hired guys like that before.”
“Thank you, Ralph,” Green Arrow said, smugly.
“Obviously, the police and FBI are on the case,” Ray said. “But I thought it couldn’t hurt if we looked into it, too.”
“Of course, Ray,” Green Lantern said. “That’s what the Justice League is for.”
“Hear, hear,” Green Arrow said. “Ralph, you’re team leader right now. What’s the plan?”
“I suggest we split up, check out several possibilities at once,” Ralph said. “Time may be of the essence here; the quicker we find Dr. Ling, the better.”
“Amen to that,” the Flash said.
“How about it, Ray?” Hawkman asked his old friend. “Care to suit up and join us, just for old times’ sake?”
Ray smiled. “I’d love to, Katar, but I’ve retired the Atom for good. That’s just not something I do anymore.”
“That’s not what Clark told us,” Green Arrow said, grinning.
Ray chuckled at that. “That was a one-time deal. (*) No, I’ll let the professionals take care of this one.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Comics Presents: Superman and Ray Palmer: Hardly a Small Problem.]
“Whatever you say, Ray,” Ralph said. “OK, time to split off. Nubia, you’re still on monitor duty, so you’ll stay here and coordinate things.”
“Right,” Wonder Woman agreed with a nod.
“Wally, Roy, you two see what you can track down on professional mercenaries operating in the Ivy area, especially using dark purple body armor,” Ralph said.
“Gotcha, Ralph,” Arsenal said. “I know a couple sources I can tap.”
“Great to be working with you again, Roy,” the Flash said, smiling. Arsenal returned the smile.
“Hal, you and I will head to Ivy, see if we can pick up any clues the Feds may have missed,” Ralph said.
“Sounds like a plan,” Green Lantern said.
“That leaves me and buzzard-beak,” Green Arrow said. “What have you got in mind for us?”
“You two will interview Jack Danneman,” Ralph said.
“What?” Hawkman gasped. “Ralph, Danneman is–”
“Our prime suspect,” Ralph finished. “Ollie’s a bit enthusiastic, but he has a point. You’ll be along to make sure his enthusiasm stays focused, if you know what I mean.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Hawkman admitted.
“I want to thank you all for helping out,” Ray said. “I know I’m not a member of the team anymore, so I didn’t really have a right to ask, but–”
“Belay that, Ray!” Green Lantern cried. “Not a member of the team? Booshwah! As long as there’s a Justice League, Ray Palmer, you’re a part of it, whether you’re the Atom or not!”
Ray beamed. “Thanks, Hal. That means a lot to me.” Ray turned to Green Arrow. “And, Ollie! Before you and Roy got here, the others told me about you and Dinah! Congratulations!”
“Thanks, Ray,” Green Arrow said, shaking his old friend’s hand. “I hope we can count on you to be there!”
“Try to keep me away!” Ray said. “We’ve all been waiting so long for you and Dinah to make it official, I won’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes!”
Green Lantern laughed at that. “That goes for all of us, Ray! Personally, I won’t be convinced until I actually hand him the ring!”
“What?” Arsenal gasped. “You? Ollie, you asked Hal to be your best man?”
“Roy?” Green Lantern said, confused. “You mean, he asked you? Ollie–”
Green Arrow felt his face flush. The storm he had been waiting for had finally broken. “Guys, I haven’t asked anybody yet! Geez, Dinah just said yes a week ago! Give me some slack, will ya?”
“But Ollie, you know it’s gotta be me!” Roy insisted. “I’ve known you years longer than Hal! I–”
“So what if you’ve known him longer?” Hal interrupted. “A man’s best friend is supposed to be his best man! Ollie and I have been through so much together–”
“What, one little road trip with a Guardian?” Roy sneered. “Doing the Easy Rider bit doesn’t make you a lock for the best man job!”
“Easy Rider bit?” Green Lantern repeated. “Look, junior, I–”
“Cut it, both of you!” Green Arrow snapped. “This is the Justice League, not Saturday Night Live! Look, you’re both very important in my life. It’s not going to be an easy choice to make. But I’ve gotta make it. And neither one of you are helping by bickering about it!”
Green Lantern and Arsenal both looked sheepish. “We’re sorry, Ollie,” Green Lantern said. “We got carried away.”
“Yeah,” Arsenal added. “It’s just that… well, we both want to stand up there with you, that’s all.”
“I know, and I appreciate it,” Green Arrow said. “But we’ve all got enough to concentrate on right now anyway, like finding Dr. Ling.”
“Truer words never spoken,” Ralph said. “Let’s get moving, team!”