The old man sat bound in the chair, helpless to move. He did not speak, but his eyes blazed forth with undisguised hate.
“It is as Britt said,” Doctor Gene said finally. “The true whereabouts of the villains’ prisoners is not here. The Sorcerer is quite clever. He knew that I am on the side of the heroes, and kept the true knowledge from his men in the field.”
“Do you really think they’ll kill them, Doctor?” Steel Worker asked urgently. “Tempest and the others?”
“Doubtful,” Doctor Gene said. “If they do, they lose their leverage over us. However, the evil mind is impossible to fully predict.”
“And our team is attacking Assemblers Estate right now!” Hawkman said. “Can you call them back, Doctor? Reach their minds?”
Doctor Gene leaned all his weight on one crutch, placed a hand to his temple, closed his eyes. He was silent for a moment.
“I fear it is too late,” he said. “The battle rages even now.”
“Stand still and fight!” the Elephant grumbled, slamming his fist into the floor where the Flash had stood a moment before.
“Oh, sure, that’d be a good idea,” the Flash taunted.
“Real big heroes,” Snowstorm said, spraying needle-sharp icicles across the room. “Had to bring in aliens to fight your battle!”
“Pardon us for bringing in reinforcements,” Green Lantern Vaughn Wendell said, melting the icicles with a power-ring created blowtorch. “We were a bit outnumbered.”
“Hey, Behemoth!” Green Arrow grunted. Blacktop had backed him up against a door and was straining to touch him with his right palm. Green Arrow was holding up his bow lengthwise, using it to keep the villain away, but was slowly losing the battle.
“Yeah, what?” Behemoth cried back. He was engaged in his own battle with the Zombie, and even at his full fifteen feet it was still anybody’s match.
“What’s behind this door?” Green Arrow asked.
“Gymnasium!” Behemoth answered, exerting more pressure on the Zombie’s neck.
“Got a pool?” Green Arrow asked, as Blacktop forced his bow an inch closer to his own throat.
“Perfect!” The archer then threw his weight backward, at the same time kicking up with his legs in a move Black Canary had taught him. The archer tumbled through the door, and Blacktop, carried forward by his own strength, went with him. Green Arrow’s legs thrust the villain over his head and far into the gymnasium. Blacktop screamed when he saw where he was headed.
Behemoth, wondering at the scream, put all his effort into a final lunge. He pushed the Zombie’s head against the marble floor with a loud crack. The villain lay still, breathing shallow but steady. The giant Assembler ran to the gym. “Holy–!” he exclaimed.
The water in the pool had been changed to a solid mass of black, crusty rock. Blacktop’s right leg and a bit of his cloak protruded from the top.
“Not bad, eh?” Green Arrow asked.
“‘Not bad’?!” Behemoth demanded. “Who’s gonna clean the pool?”
“This has gone far enough!” the Bladesman cried, pointing his sword at the Elephant. “Prepare to taste my stunner-ray!” In a blur of blue and white, the sword vanished from his hands. Spin Doctor pointed the blade at its owner.
“Traitor!” Spin Doctor growled. “I ain’t forgot how you went over to the heroes, just when we had ’em beat, you coward! I remember your fancy sword, too; the ray worked great when we were on the same team. Let’s see how you like it!” Spin Doctor pressed the hidden button on the sword hilt, and screamed as a ray-blast burst from the hilt and struck him full in the face. The super-speeding criminal hit the ground like a sack of flour.
“I told you reversing the ray would work,” Bladesman said as he picked up his sword.
“I never said it wouldn’t work,” the Flash said as he put the Elephant under with a flurry of super-speed punches. “I said it was fighting dirty.”
“Well, if we agree, why are we arguing?” Bladesman asked. The Flash merely shook his head.
“Welcome back,” the Crimson Death’s-Head said venomously, as the Sorcerer strode into the meeting room of the generals of the super-villain army. The room was once the office of the president, now taken over by the villains, as was the entire White House. The Sorcerer, returned from inspecting the prisoners, glanced around the room. In addition to the Crimson Death’s-Head were Dynamo, mutant master of electromagnetic energy; the Warlord, Asian criminal mastermind who wore twenty rings on his fingers, each one with a different super-weapon concealed within; the Bigwig, shadowy lord of organized crime; and the Pale Rider, brother of the Assembler known as Amazing Man. One or two others had been invited to join the Sorcerer’s elite, but had turned him down.
“Is everything well with the prisoners?” Death’s-Head demanded. “Are they quite comfortable?”
“Reasonably so,” the Sorcerer said. If Death’s-Head’s tone worried him, he did not show it. “The psychic dampener created by Dynamo and Warlord seems to be working properly, preventing Doctor Gene from finding them telepathically.”
“We have a situation,” the Bigwig said finally. “The heroes are striking back.”
“And they have help,” Pale Rider said. “Those other heroes we were warned about, the Justice League, are on Angor. They’ve recaptured Titus Tower, and the Hexagon of Hate are their prisoners.”
“And our trap on Freedom Island?” the Sorcerer asked.
“They fell into it,” the Warlord said, “but it was insufficient to hold them. They defeated the Brute and captured Playtime.”
“Really?” Sorcerer said, raising an eyebrow. “They are more formidable than I thought.”
“Is that all you have to say?” Death’s-Head demanded, slamming his fist onto the president’s desk. “Our hold of power is tenuous at best, and now it is slipping away! We’ve lost Titus Tower; Assemblers Estate is sure to be next. And then what?”
“They dare not attack in full force, while we hold their friends as prisoners,” Sorcerer said calmly.
“But, conversely, we dare not harm their friends,” Warlord said reasonably, “or our leverage over them is gone.”
“And how long do you think it will be before the heroes figure that out?” Death’s-Head ranted. “I knew I should never have allied myself with a legion of bunglers such as yourselves!”
“Have a care, Death’s-Head,” Dynamo said evenly. “Your record of successes is no more impressive than the rest of ours.”
“I do not need to be lectured to by an impure piece of mutant filth!” Death’s-Head spat. “And that’s not all you are, is it? I’ve heard rumors about you, Dynamo. Shall I tell you what we used to do to your kind, in the camps?”
A still silence held the room for a tense second. Dynamo stared at Death’s-Head, his icy blue eyes fairly blazing. Then, silently, the mutant energy master lifted his hand. Death’s-Head lifted off the floor simultaneously.
“What–? Put me down, you miscreant! At once!” the villain demanded, legs pumping against air.
“Be silent,” Dynamo demanded. Death’s-Head was anything but. The scarlet-masked villain began screaming in agony. His blood, drawn by its iron content by Dynamo’s magnetic manipulation, began spurting from his every pore in a ghastly scarlet fountain. Not a drop touched the walls or floor; Dynamo made it whirl in the air in a reddish tornado, before the agonized villain’s eyes. Within three minutes, Death’s-Head’s body was completely drained, a withered husk hanging in air before the swirling whirlwind that had been his blood. Dynamo let the lifeless body fall unceremoniously to the floor. At his silent command the window opened, and the blood flew out into the air, to dissipate into a crimson mist over a wide portion of the upper sky.
Dynamo’s fellow generals stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief. It was a long moment before the mutant master broke the silence.
“Well, Sorcerer, gentlemen,” he said finally, “shall we plan our strategy against the inevitable attack?”
“What counsel have you for me, Cogitus?” Sorcerer asked as he entered the small room where a pale-faced man in dark blue coveralls sat thinking. Cogitus was often described as the world’s most brilliant thinker, and yet his criminal plans were always thwarted by some super-hero or other, most often the Triumphant Four.
“Our chances look bleaker by the minute,” Cogitus said, his voice matter-of-fact, devoid of all emotion.
“What do you mean?” Sorcerer demanded. “Does the appearance of the alien heroes tip the scales that much?”
“Not so much–” Cogitus said, “–37.62 percent. No, what troubles me is Tymuu.”
The Sorcerer raised an eyebrow. “Tymuu? The so-called conqueror from the future, who’s always getting beaten by the Assemblers? What has he to do with this?”
“Well, our time is history to him, is it not?” Cogitus asked.
“I suppose… I’ve never considered it from that point, but yes,” Sorcerer said.
“Well,” Cogitus went on, “if we are to win, and victory is thus assured, why hasn’t Tymuu showed up to share in it?”
Sorcerer opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again.
“We’ve got to do something!” Fadeaway screamed, her voice echoing through the heroes’ hideout. “Richard is probably being killed this minute! We can’t just sit here!”
“I understand your pain, Mrs. Reed,” said J’onn J’onzz, having returned to the hideout after the successful recapture of Titus Tower. “But there is little we can do.”
“You know what I don’t understand?” Steel asked. “If Doctor Gene is the world’s best telepath, why can’t he find them mentally? I mean, he could communicate with all our people from miles away.”
“I have tried, Steel,” the leader of Gene Factor said wearily. “Our foes must have constructed some sort of mental shield device to block my efforts. They do have some very brilliant scientific minds on their side, not the least of which is Dynamo, leader of the criminal mutants.”
“Wait a minute,” Batman said. “Steel may be on to something!”
“I am?” Steel asked.
“J’onn, could you and Doctor Gene share your power?” Batman asked his old friend. “Blend your telepathic skills, use both of your strengths to pierce the barrier?”
“Say,” the Animal said, “a meritorious cogitation, bailable of experimentation!”
“Hunh?” the Monster said.
“He means it’s worth a try,” Basilisk explained.
“And it is,” Doctor Gene said. “However, we will need another telepath — a focus, one through whom we can channel our telepathic powers.”
“Aquaman might be able,” Superman said, “but he’s still at Assemblers Estate.”
“I can do it,” Lady Wonder said, stepping forward.
“Johanna,” Basilisk said, concern in his voice, “are you sure?”
“Brit’s concern is well-placed,” Doctor Gene said. “The process will cause a great strain on your mind. It may, in fact, damage it irreparably.”
“Our friends are prisoners of the villains, Doctor,” the young telepath said. “I’m willing to do whatever I can to help them.”
“Admirable,” Doctor Gene said, pride in his voice. “Very well, Johanna. Please clear your mind.”
Steeling herself for the ordeal to come, Lady Wonder made her mind a blank.
Somewhere, a meeting was being held. Hundreds of men and women looked to their leader, a single man, and hung on his every word. He looked out at them, at their ready faces, reading the anticipation there. They would follow him. They would do what he asked. He prayed it would be enough.
“Thank you all,” he said. “The time is now.”
“You won’t keep us here long,” the Dissembler snarled, staring through the energy-curtain at the heroes. “The villains control all now! You don’t have a chance!”
“Brother, if I had a penny for every time I’d heard that–!” Behemoth shot back. “You’re going to be in the Assemblers’ brig for a long time, so get used to it.” Behemoth turned, and the heroes filed out of the subbasement. “Wish I felt as confident as I sound,” Behemoth said when they were out of earshot.
“Brig’s never been crammed this full before,” Jack B. Quick said. “Jay, did you complete your manifest of the prisoners?”
“Let’s see,” Blue Jay said, consulting a digital readout on his wrist-device. “In the brig we’ve got the Dissembler, Cacophony, Roentgen, Spin Doctor, the Elephant, Sunburn, Green Mamba, the Zombie, Snowstorm, Moray, Hedgehog, Gardner, Emasculatrix, Fatalluna, Blankslate, Atalanta, Juggler, Cerebello, and Mister Fixit.” The diminutive hero shot a sidelong glance at Green Arrow. “And Blacktop in the pool.”
“Look, I said I’d pay for damages!” Green Arrow said.
“Can he even breathe, stuck in a glob of rock like that?” the Flash asked.
“Blacktop doesn’t breathe when he’s in rock form,” Silver Sorceress said. “He’ll keep.”
“OK, so we’ve got our H.Q. back,” Bladesman said. “Doesn’t get us much closer to the big victory, does it?”
“Every battle is important in this war, Bladesman,” Blue Jay said. And yet he, too, worried for those who were the villains’ prisoners.
In the hideout under the deserted mall, the heroes sat tensely, silently waiting. Three of their number sat with eyes closed, concentrating. Johanna Browne, whose telepathic skills earned her the sobriquet of Lady Wonder, sat cross-legged on the floor, head tilted back, eyes closed. On either side of her sat Doctor Gene and J’onn J’onzz, each holding her hand, silently concentrating, feeding their mental power into her. Lady Wonder took in their power, channeled it, made it her own, and sent it out in one massive, powerful telepathic probe, seeking a mind. It was better to concentrate on one mind, rather than all three, and Tempest, Gene Factor’s mutant weather controller, was closest to Lady Wonder. So that was the might she sought. Her dear friend, wherever she may be.
Johanna felt Tempest’s mind, but felt a barrier keeping her from it. She concentrated harder, drawing more power from Doctor Gene and J’onn, forcing it up against the barrier. She visualized the barrier as a wall, something physical, solid. She willed all her mental force against the wall. She visualized cracks beginning to form on its surface.
Somewhere, in her prison, Tempest huddled against the corner of her cell and hugged herself. She was terrified. Confinement was her deepest fear, her Room 101. She had tried to summon her weather powers to escape this cell, but the Sorcerer and Dynamo had built it too well. She was trapped. No way to escape. Suddenly, she heard a voice. No, not a voice. A thought. A thought in her mind. A familiar thought. Johanna? Yes.
“I’ve found them!” Lady Wonder cried out, leaping to her feet. The heroes started in shock. “I know where they are!”
With a loud, metallic ring, Wonder Woman drew the sword from its sheath at her belt. “Then let the battle be joined!”