“The Bookworm?” Green Arrow said in disbelief. “She actually called herself the Bookworm? Far freakin’ out!” The membership of the Justice League sat around their meeting table, discussing Superman’s recent battle.
“Ollie, the woman can conjure living representations of storybook characters,” Superman said incredulously, “and that’s what you find bizarre, her choice of sobriquet?”
“Hey, come on, big blue,” Green Arrow said. “My best buddy has a magic ring that can move mountains, I’ve got other buddies from at least four different planets, and the last time I found my fiancée’s ticklish spot, she broke every window in my apartment building. I’m not that easy to impress anymore.”
“It’s the concrete instrumentality that puzzles me,” Batman opined. “I mean, how does she do it? Even given the circles we travel in, as Ollie so aptly pointed out, it barely seems possible.”
“Catch-all answer would be magic,” the Elongated Man offered. “Would explain it all away, wouldn’t it? Including how the genie was able to put a hurt on Clark.”
“But what about Captain Hook?” Hawkman pointed out. “If the Bookworm’s creations were magical in origin, any of them would be able to affect Superman, and Captain Hook couldn’t.”
“Here’s a thought,” Black Canary put in. “On my birth world of Earth-Two, there was a villain called the Brain Wave. He had developed his mental powers to a degree that he could accomplish many feats with his mind, one of which was creating three-dimensional thought images so real that they could interact with the physical world.”
“You mean he thought, therefore they am?” Green Arrow said.
“Basically,” Black Canary said. “Perhaps that’s what the Bookworm does.”
“But if that’s the case,” Superman asked, “why could her genie hurt me? He wouldn’t be magical, in that case, merely a solid thought-image.”
“But you didn’t know that,” Zatanna pointed out. “You thought he was magical. Perhaps it was mind over matter. The genie could hurt you simply because you thought he could.”
Superman raised his eyebrows in thought. “Now, that’s something to mull over.”
“Still smarting ’cause the bad guy got away, huh, Supes?” Green Arrow asked.
“It’s not something I’m used to, Ollie,” Superman grumbled. “I mean, I’m glad I stopped her from stealing anything, but it still burns me up that I didn’t catch her.”
“It’s odd, isn’t it?” Green Lantern offered. “I mean, first this Moonbouncer guy Bruce ran into–”
“Moonwalker,” Batman corrected.
“Moonwalker,” Green Lantern said. “Now the Bookworm. Two brand-new villains in less than a week!”
“Is that so odd?” Green Arrow asked. “Back in the day, when I was clean-shaven and driving the Arrowcar, it seemed like there was a new bad guy in Star City every other day! I hadn’t finished cleaning the sand from the Clock King’s hourglass trap out of my quiver before Dr. Davis started making trouble for me. And don’t even get me started on the Camouflage King.”
“Where do these guys get their names, anyway?” Aquaman asked.
“Probably some computer program that generates them,” Zatanna offered. Green Arrow nodded agreement.
“Thanks for coming by to do patrol with me, Hal,” Green Arrow said as he perched on the roof of the Star Tower, looking down over his city. His best friend, Green Lantern, hovered in the air next to him.
“No problem, Ollie,” Green Lantern said. “I guess you wanted to talk about something?”
“Yeah, it’s the wedding coming up,” Green Arrow said.
“Not getting cold feet, are you?” Green Lantern asked. “Thinking about backing out?”
“Hell, no!” Green Arrow said. “Dinah’s a wonderful woman, and I’m damned lucky to have her! Took me a long time to realize that, but I do now. It’s just, well… she wants us to write our own vows. I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Ollie, you’re a journalist,” Green Lantern said. “And you’ve been talking about writing a novel for two years now. You can put your thoughts into words.”
“That’s different,” Green Arrow said. “She’s talking about pouring my heart out, and reciting it in front of everybody! Geez, do you know how scary that is?”
“I know no fear, Ollie,” Green Lantern said.
“Yeah, right,” Green Arrow countered. “I know better; I’ve seen you when Carol got mad. But still. Here, I wrote out a rough draft; would you take a look at it?” Green Arrow produced a folded piece of paper from his belt and handed it to his friend. Green Lantern looked it over and frowned.
“You can’t read these vows,” Green Lantern said.
“Why not?” Green Arrow asked.
“Well, for one thing,” Green Lantern said, “the whole thing rhymes!”
“It’s the only way I can remember it,” Green Arrow shrugged.
“‘My name is Ollie, and here is my story,'” Green Lantern read, “‘I was born in a small town in Missouri.’ That’s not even true!”
“So you come up with a rhyme for Massachusetts,” Green Arrow said.
Before Green Lantern could respond, a loud alarm sounded from the city below them. “Alarm,” Green Lantern snapped.
“Jewelry district,” Green Arrow said. “Come on!” Faster than Green Lantern’s eye could follow, the ace archer drew an arrow, notched it, and fired, and was swinging down on the thin wire trailed out behind it. Green Lantern followed, flying under his ring power.
In seconds, the emerald crusaders had traced the alarm to a small jewelry store called Stitk’s Diamond Distributors. They noticed in a heartbeat that the door had been forced and remained ajar. Green Lantern glanced at his friend, holding up his ring hand formed into a fist. Green Arrow nodded once. Green Lantern aimed his ring at the store, and in a second the darkened emporium was brightly lit with green light.
“Whoa, baby!” came a startled voice from inside. “Turn off the high-beams, brother! You’re givin’ me major blinkage here!”
“What in the name of John Travolta do we have here?” Green Arrow asked, gaping at the intruder. The man wore a white disco suit of the style popular ten years before. His dark hair was slicked back with great quantities of hair oil. His shirt was open to the navel; across his chest a large gold medallion in the shape of a letter Q dangled from a chain around his neck. He wore a pair of sunglasses with black reflective lenses. What Green Arrow swore was a mood ring was around the ring finger of his left hand.
“Whoo-ee!” the anachronistic intruder cried. “Man, I was expectin’ the Robin Hood dude, this bein’ his town and all. But what you doin’ here, ring-a-ding? You get lost on your way back from Vulcan or wherever?”
Ignoring the comment, Green Lantern looked at his friend. “Shall we ask him his name before we take him in?”
“Oh, yeah,” Green Arrow said, relaxing his grip on his bow somewhat. “I always like to know whose butt I’m kickin’.”
“Dudes, you can call me the Quintessential Man,” the intruder said. “As for butt-kickin’, well, we’ll see who’s the kicker and who’s the kickee, you dig?”
“Friend, in case you hadn’t noticed, you’re somewhat outnumbered,” Green Lantern pointed out.
“Correction, Greenie Kilowatt,” the Quintessential Man said. And in an eye-blink, the emerald gladiators were facing five identical Quintessential Men.
“I was outnumbered,” the five Q-Men said in unison. “Looks like you are now.”
“And then he split into five beings?” Aquaman asked.
“Yeah. Caught us completely flat-footed,” Green Arrow admitted. “I mean, we weren’t expecting anything like that!”
“Yes, with the element of surprise added to the sudden outnumbering,” Green Lantern said, “the Quintessential Man made his getaway. At least he didn’t get to take any loot with him.”
“Didn’t seem to have any powers other than that,” Green Arrow added. “I mean, one of him slugged me, and it didn’t feel any stronger’n normal.”
“Interesting,” Superman said, rubbing his chin. “I know there is an extraterrestrial race whose natives have the power to split into three bodies. But five? That’s a new one on me.”
“This is gettin’ to be a downright epidemic of new villains!” Green Arrow exclaimed. “I mean, first that Moonwalker dude, then the Bookworm, and now Q-Man! What the heck, did the Injustice Gang hold a career day or something?”
“Q-Man?” Martian Manhunter asked.
“Drop the wintessential,” Green Arrow said.
The green-skinned giant shrugged slightly. “I suppose it does save some effort.”
“Ollie makes a point,” Hawkman said. “It is quite unusual for so many brand new super-villains to emerge at almost the same time. It seems very unlikely that the three incidents are unrelated.”
“You mean, someone is behind all three?” the Flash asked.
“Possibly,” Hawkman said, theorizing. “Or perhaps the three are working together, perhaps coming from similar backgrounds or similar origins. In any case, the Justice League needs to strike back, find out all we can about these new menaces, and bring them to justice as quickly as possible.”
“No foolin’, Sherlock,” Green Arrow said. “Well, I’ll be ready for Q-Man next time we meet! He caught me by surprise with that there’s-five-of-me trick the first time, but now I’m wise to it!”
“The Bookworm still puzzles me,” Superman said. “I’m not sure how her creations work, how she does–”
Suddenly, the lights in the satellite meeting room went out, plunging the JLA into darkness.
“What’s going on?”
“Who turned out the lights?”
Amid the chaos, a single light suddenly flared to life. The monitor device in the center of the meeting table, with screens facing all sides of the table, suddenly showed a brilliant image — the leering faces of Moonwalker, the Bookworm, and the Quintessential Man.
“Greetings, Justice League, from the Terroristic Triad,” Bookworm said smoothly. “I hope we didn’t catch you at a bad time.”
“How the devil did they get access to our computer system?” Hawkman swore.
“This is just to let you know that a new era is dawning,” the Bookworm continued. “The era of the Justice League is over! The world is ours to plunder, and there is nothing you can do to stop us!”
“You wanna bet, lady?” Green Arrow demanded, shaking a green-gloved fist at the screen. “The League will stop you! I guarantee it!”
Bookworm giggled, lifting her hand to her face. “Green Arrow, you tickle me,” she said. “How can the League stop us, when you’re all about to die? We’ve done more than turn out your lights, you see. We’ve cut all power to the satellite, sealed the doors, and sent you into planetfall. I predict you’re going to land somewhere in the Australian Outback, where you’ll make a nice, big crater.”
“Neptune’s Beard!” Aquaman exploded.
“Ta-ta, Justice League,” Bookworm said. “Give my regards to the wombats and the wallabies.” And with that, the monitor went dark, plunging the whole satellite into blackness.
For a single heartbeat, silence reigned in the darkened satellite.
“Tornado–!” Batman snapped.
“I am on it, Batman,” Red Tornado said, flipping open the cover on a communications console serial port. The JLA’s awesome android touched his fingertips to the port, and cable connections snaked from his fingertips to plug him into the computer system. The collective JLA held its breath as five silent minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen.
Finally, the lights came back on. The silence was replaced by the usually inaudible hum of machinery, now as loud as thunder by comparison with the silence.
“It’s done,” Red Tornado said, disconnecting himself. “It was not easy; the Bookworm’s control was quite effective. But it has been thoroughly erased. All systems are back online and under our control.”
“If she did it once, she could do it again,” Green Arrow pointed out. “How the heck did she do it, anyway?”
“Maybe her book conjured up some fictitious computer wizard,” the Flash offered. “Somebody from Asimov, maybe.”
“I’ll write a failsafe program that’ll guard against future intrusions,” Hawkman said. “It may not hold forever — obviously the current safeguards didn’t — but hopefully, we’ll have this Terroristic Triad behind bars by then.”
“Blazes!” Green Arrow cried, slamming his fist onto the meeting table. “We’re not even safe in our own clubhouse anymore? What’s the world come to? We’re the Justice League, for cryin’ out loud! We just waltz in and bust ’em up!”
“Excellent suggestion, Ollie,” Hawkman said. “Perhaps if you told us where to find them, we could do that.”
“Aw, nuts!” Green Arrow swore.
“Well, hopefully we can find them before tomorrow night,” Superman said.
“Why?” Green Arrow asked. “What’s tomorrow night?”
“Your bachelor party, Ollie,” Batman reminded. “Had you forgotten?”
“Cripes!” Green Arrow swore. “In all this excitement, I had! Geez, guys, can’t we put it off? I mean, there’s three nutty new bad guys on the loose, and they can penetrate our defenses! Don’t we have more important things to do?”
“Ollie, if we let the villains control our lives like that, they’ve won,” Aquaman pointed out. “Katar’s been planning this for weeks. It’s too late to change it.”
“Still won’t tell me where we’re goin’?” Green Arrow asked.
“It’s going to be a surprise, Ollie,” Hawkman said. “Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.”
“Aaah, I’d enjoy it better if I got to bust some Terroristic tail,” Green Arrow muttered. “But yeah, you’re right. We’ll go out an’ have a great time.”
“That’s the spirit,” Superman said, gently clapping his old friend on the back.