“J’onn, we’re coming out of hyperspace in two minutes,” Green Lantern said. “I’m going to be using my ring to mask our presence; we have to assume that the villains know about the Justice League, after our encounter with their Plunder Lords, and that they may be expecting help. (*) I can mask our physical presence, but there may be telepaths among the villains. I know it’s a big job, but try to cloak us from any telepathic scans.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Heroes Always Win.]
“I will do my best, Hal,” said J’onn J’onzz. He sat back in his seat, closed his eyes, and concentrated. Wonder Woman held his hand tightly, as if to confer her strength to him.
Ten minutes later, the Justice League was phasing through the roof of an abandoned shopping mall. “Odd place for a heroes’ hideout,” Steel commented.
“This is the place, all right,” Green Lantern said. “I’m homing in on Wendel’s ring. He’s here.” Following the signal, Green Lantern continued to phase his friends through the several floors of the dark, empty mall, and finally into the basement. There they found several costumed men and women gathered around a metal table.
“The Justice League!” Vaughn Wendell cried, leaping to his feet. “They’ve come!”
“Now we’ve got a fighting chance,” said a man in a blue jumpsuit, whom the League did not recognize.
“Welcome to our alternate headquarters,” Tin Man said. “I guess the shopping mall has you wondering. My company, through various dummy corporations, owns this land. I built the shopping mall and then let it sit empty, giving the news media a story about failed investments and inability to meet construction costs, to mask the emergency headquarters beneath.”
“And, brother, is this an emergency,” Behemoth said.
“Welcome, Justice League,” said a man in an ordinary business suit, standing out among the costumes, as he hobbled forward, his weight supported by two crutches. “I believe I speak for all of Angor when I thank you for coming to our aid.”
“That’s what the Justice League does, sir,” Superman said. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve had the honor.”
“I am Dr. Eugene Witkowski,” the man with crutches said. “My friends — and I hope I may count you among that number — usually refer to me as Doctor Gene. I am the founder and leader of Gene Factor.”
“And also, the greatest telepath on Angor,” Vaughn Wendel said. “His powers will be instrumental in our fight.”
“I have been using my skills to keep our four cells of hiding heroes in communication with one another,” Doctor Gene explained, “while also hiding us from the telepathic abilities of some of the villains. Fortunately, there are no truly talented telepaths on their side, so my efforts in that direction are not strenuous. I also intend, with your permission of course, to telepathically implant certain information in your minds.”
“Information?” Batman asked. “Of what nature?”
“The foes we face,” Tin Man said. “Our one advantage in this fight will be the element of surprise. The villains know of the Justice League, of course, but they can’t know much. Doctor Gene plans to telepathically impart to all you Leaguers intimate knowledge of the villains of Angor — their powers, weaknesses, styles of combat, et cetera.”
“So as not to overload your minds with information,” Doctor Gene explained, “I plan to implant the knowledge in your subconscious, with visual triggers to activate and access it.”
“I get it,” Green Arrow said. “When we see a bad guy, we’ll know instantly who he is and what he can do. And what we can do to take him down.”
“Precisely,” Doctor Gene said. “Of course, I never read the minds of friends without permission. Do you agree to my proposed stratagem, Justice Leaguers?”
“Hell, yeah!” Green Arrow said. “I signed on to fight a world full of villains, but it’ll sure help to know who I’m fighting! Doc, let me be the first taker for your official handbook of the Angor universe!“
Doctor Gene smiled. “Your assessment was accurate, Green Lantern,” he said. “Very much like our own Green Arrow.”
“Huh?” Green Arrow said.
Richard Reed paced his tiny cell. An invisible wall of force held him back, preventing him from using his awesome shape-shifting abilities to escape. His blood boiled at the helplessness of the situation. Not since watching his father waste away and die from an incurable disease had the leader of the Triumphant Four, one of the most respected heroes on Angor, felt so powerless.
“Enjoying your stay, Reed?” a smarmy voice from outside the cell asked. “I trust accommodations are to your liking.”
Reed turned to face the Sorcerer, the costumed scientist who had organized the villains of Angor into a single force. “Enjoy your victory while it lasts, Sorcerer,” he said. “You’ll lose in the end. You always do. You’ve never been anything but a two-bit thief, and you always will be.”
“Sticks and stones, Reed,” the Sorcerer chuckled. “I hold all the cards, now. I’m sure you’re expecting your friends on the outside to come to your rescue. The rest of your Triumphant Four, possibly the Assemblers and Gene Factor as well? If that’s what you’re counting on, forget it. They’ll never find you.” The Sorcerer allowed himself a malevolent grin. “And I have a special surprise prepared, if they should try.”
“Fascinating,” the scientist’s sibilant voice hissed as he examined a piece of equipment held up before his face by glowing tendrils of energy. Doctor Decapod hovered in midair, supported by energy-tendrils snaking to the ground, his arms rigid at his sides, legs stiffly together. Silikonn tried not to look at the Doctor; it still gave him the creeps. “It seems Reed is as much a genius as his reputation claims.”
“I still think this bites,” Shocko said as he sat in a revolving chair before the communications console of Triumphant Four Headquarters in the Titus Tower. “The Sorcerer’s got some nerve, sticking the Hexagon of Hate on guard duty in this empty place!”
“It’s more than guard duty, son,” the Buzzard explained patiently. “Richard Reed is one of the most brilliant scientists on Angor. The devices, the weapons cached here, are valuable beyond mentioning!”
“Yeah, maybe to eggheads like you and Decapod,” Shocko snorted. “I’d rather be out lookin’ for the heroes that’re still out there!” The electric villain illustrated his point by tossing an electric bolt at a metal trash can across the room.
“I’m with the lightning bug,” the Bush Ranger said, in his thick Australian accent. “I’m a hunter, not a pooftah professah. Leave the scientific tinkerin’ ta you as what likes it. I’d rather be out on the hunt!”
“I am still the leader of the Hexagon, gentlemen,” Doctor Decapod said without turning his head. “I say the entire team remains here. And thus it will be, until I say different.”
“That so?” Shocko snarled, leaping from his chair. “Maybe I’m tired of takin’ orders from a crip, Decapod!”
Without even looking, Doctor Decapod lashed out at Shocko. An energy tendril whipped behind him in a perfectly straight line headed for the gaudily garbed villain, wrapping around his neck and lifting him off the floor. The tendril held the villain suspended for several seconds, arms trying to fight off the solidified mental energy, legs kicking violently; then it threw him across the room like a rag doll. Shocko struck the wall and collapsed to the floor.
“Any further challenges to my authority,” Doctor Decapod said in an emotionless voice, “or references to my physical condition, will not be dealt with so leniently.”
Before anyone could comment on that, Mirage Master leaped up from the monitor screen. “Doctor!” he cried. “There’s an intruder in the tower!” It was eerie, being shouted at by a headless man; Mirage Master’s costume had built-in holographic projectors that made his head seem invisible.
“Is there, now?” Decapod asked, his voice devoid of emotion. His energy tendrils carried him across the floor to the monitor, which showed a red-haired woman entering the tower through the subbasement.
“Well, now,” Decapod said, a small smile splitting his face. “Felicia Reed, also known as Fadeaway. Come by herself, probably to attempt to rescue her pathetic husband. How charming.”
“I can’t believe she’d come alone,” the Buzzard remarked. “It has to be a trap!“
“Too right,” Bush Ranger agreed. “She’s the tethered goat, she is, dead cert!”
“Quite possibly,” Decapod agreed. “Now, Shocko, perhaps you see why the entire Hexagon was stationed here. Buzzard, Mirage Master, you remain with me. The rest of you, to the basement. Intercept Mrs. Reed, but be wary of a trap.”
“Okay,” Silikonn grunted, then flowed across the floor in his sandy form. Shocko and Bush Ranger exchanged glances, then followed.
“It begins,” Decapod said, when they had left.
“What begins?” Mirage Master asked.
“The battle,” Decapod explained. “Surely you didn’t think we could take the world so easily and hold it forever? The heroes were bound to strike back. They wouldn’t be heroes if they didn’t. I didn’t think it would begin here. Perhaps it didn’t, and there are strikes on other fronts that we don’t know of, yet. But it was bound to begin.”
“But we’re ready for it,” Buzzard declared. “We’re prepared, and we can take anything they can throw at us!”
“Perhaps,” Decapod remarked.
“There she is,” Silikonn whispered to his friends as they peered around a corner at the slowly advancing Fadeaway. “All alone!”
“You sure?” Shocko whispered back. “She can make other people invisible, too, as well as herself!”
“She’s alone,” Bush Ranger assured. “I’m the world’s best tracker. There’s only one heartbeat, one set o’ footsteps. It’s just her.”
“That’s all I wanted to know!” Shocko cried, and leaped out in front of the lone hero. Fadeaway started in surprise, but did not seem overly worried.
“Stupid of you to come here alone, Mrs. Reed,” Shocko said, raising his hands above his head. Electricity crackled between them, sizzling in the air. “And don’t bother turning invisible — it won’t help you now!”
“All right,” Fadeaway said. Then twin bolts of scarlet energy lanced from her eyes, striking the startled Shocko in the chest and hurling him across the room.
“Hey!” Silikonn exclaimed. “Since when can Fadeaway do that?“
“She can’t,” the lone hero said. In an eyeblink, Fadeaway’s unimposing form morphed into that of an emerald-skinned giant in a blue cloak. Before Silikonn and Bush Ranger had time to react, the Martian Manhunter was upon them.
“What the — who’s that?!” the Buzzard exclaimed, as the other half of the Hexagon of Hate watched the scene unfolding on the monitor in the scientific workroom above.
“That’s the green guy!” Mirage Master exclaimed.
“No kidding; I can see he’s green!” Buzzard snapped.
“No, don’t you recall? He’s one of those others!”
“Others?” Doctor Decapod asked.
“Sure, the other heroes!” Mirage Master insisted. “You know, from the other planet! The Sorcerer told us about them! The Justice Lords, I think they call themselves. He’s one of them! They must be here!”
“Blast the luck!” Decapod snarled. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s interfering costumed meddlers who don’t know enough to mind their own business!”
“Then today ain’t yer lucky day, Doc,” a gruff voice from behind grumbled. Mirage Master and the Buzzard whirled on their heels; Doctor Decapod spun around by his energy-tendrils. The Monster and Corona faced them, most likely having entered via the roof while their attention was held by the monitor. Another hero was with them, a stranger to them, a young man in crimson and gold who seemed to have flames for hair.
“This building is Triumphant Four property,” Corona said, hovering in air, his flaming body lighting up the room with flickering light. “And I don’t recall anyone inviting you in.”
“Too much talking,” the Monster rumbled. “Not enough hitting!” And the battle was joined.