The New Titans: Fragments, Chapter 3: Children of the Light

by Libbylawrence

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A troubled man was talking to the dead. He spoke aloud to phantasms that existed only in his deluded mind.

“It wasn’t my fault!” he roared. “The survivor always has guilt, but that’s all. I am not to blame. Rita, you should have left those freaks. You and I never belonged with Steele and Caulder and Trainor. Stop haunting me!”

The troubled man’s name was Steve Dayton, the fifth richest man in the world, and he currently wore the gold and blue costume and the mental-energy-boosting helmet of Mento. He spoke to the supposed ghosts of the late Doom Patrol, which included his spouse Rita Farr. Most of them had had died as heroes, while he had lived on as a man of power and wealth. In recent months he’d learned that he was dying, and had used his Mento helmet to cure himself. While that may have worked, it had also unhinged his mind, causing him to become paranoid and enraged.

Then, when John Constantine recruited him to serve as a medium for glimpsing a battle between Heaven and Hell, his helmet was severely damaged. Dayton’s mental condition grew even worse, possibly due to the dark spiritual forces he had encountered and had not been prepared for. Rather than build a new helmet, he had simply rebuilt the one that had exploded mere moments after removing it from his head, and perhaps that tainted helmet was partly responsible for much of his current behavior, for some had accused him of acting as if he was possessed. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See John Constantine, Hellblazer: The War of Darkness and Light.]

“He’s getting worse,” whispered a uniformed guard.

“No matter,” replied a woman in a lab coat. “His genius still served us well by bringing us the promethium. Ironic name, considering our plans for it.” She laughed.

***

Elsewhere, a young man was worried about Mento. His name was Gar Logan, and while he lived in opulent splendor at the estate of his stepfather Steve Dayton, he wasn’t enjoying the good life. The green-hued youth had failed to calm and secure his maddened stepfather, and his efforts to do so had left his best friend Vic Stone injured.

Although he knew his pal would recover, he still felt guilty about how it had come to pass that the strong, smart, and tough Cyborg had been injured. It was all due to his own failure to appease Dayton’s twisted mind.

Vernon Questor, Steve Dayton’s business manager, appeared with his usual quiet demeanor and coughed gently to get his attention.

Gar looked up. “Oh, Questor, what can I do for you? Don’t tell me we’re still getting bills for Donna’s wedding.”

Questor retained his placid demeanor. “No, sir, not to my knowledge. I have ascertained the possible whereabouts of Mr. Dayton. His financial records indicate that he recently journeyed to Greece.”

Gar jumped up. “Then I’d better get going.”

***

The Flash returned to the T-jet after making a sweep of the area in which they had landed in sunny Puerto Verde.

“I can’t get used to being so slow,” he said. “When I was a kid, I could have hopped across the island and back by now. Maybe I should use my lottery wealth to place an ad for a designated runner,” he joked, referring to the money he had recently won in a lottery.

Donna Troy caressed his cheek. “Listen, I hate to earn my reputation for being a real Mary Tyler Moore or Marlo Thomas type, but let’s look on the bright side here. At least you were cured of the disease that was damaging your health each time you ran.”

The newly named Arsenal grinned. “Yeah, that Anti-Monitor made a better doctor than he did world-beater.”

The Flash frowned at the off-color joke and said, “I’d better check on Light. Hawk may have him in tears by now.”

Roy slapped his own head. “Me and my big mouth! I should have known that any reference to the A-M would also make Wally think of how Barry died. I only meant that it was the energy used by Wally in getting to the battle that cured him. I need a license to use this mouth.”

“He understands, Roy,” said Donna. “This is a tough time for us all. I still want to ring Nubia’s neck, while Wally feels guilty to admit that, in their brief JLA contact, she seems sincere about taking on Diana’s role.”

Roy shook his head. “Man, I can’t even figure out where Ollie’s head is these days. Did you see that JLA press conference where he and Hawkman almost came to blows?

Aqualad stepped up. “I can tell you that Arthur, too, carries some Crisis scars. He blames himself for the loss of the former League — Vixen, Gypsy, and the rest — especially since he’d left the team by that time.”

Robin helped Hawk lead Doctor Light out of the craft. He felt strange being with the older heroes, and worried about exactly why Donna seemed to defer to him. She kept associating him with Dick.

Jason Todd missed his girlfriend Rena, and he hoped that Batman would be okay as he worked to recapture the freed inmates of Arkham Asylum and deal with the aftermath of the Swamp Thing incident that had transformed Gotham City into a gigantic hothouse. (*) He also wondered what had happened to his adopted mother Natalia Knight, alias Nocturna. He had tried to send her to safety during the Crisis after the Nightslayer stabbed her, but he didn’t know her ultimate fate. (*) Batman had assumed that she’d died, but he continued to hope she had survived. He missed the enigmatic woman of the shadows and tried to live up to the legends of several father figures.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Resurrection Night,” Batman #400 (October, 1986), “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Swamp Thing #53 (October, 1986), and “Death Comes as the End,” Batman #391 (January, 1986).]

“If you ever need me, just call,” Dick said when they’d last met. The young hero called Nightwing had been the one who initially met Jason when he was with the circus, and it was Dick who considered adopting the orphan. Jason thus felt no guilt about taking the Robin role, since it had been Dick who’d been responsible for much of his new life to begin with. He hoped he was safe.

As the Titans prepared to transfer Doctor Light to the local justice officials in Puerto Verde, the villain smiled. “I appreciate your protection,” he said. “My past actions have left me with some enemies.”

“I understand your concern,” said Wonder Girl. “Abhood’s Children of the Light must have taken your manipulation of them rather seriously.”

Doctor Light nodded. “It is just as well that I am out of the business now.”

Arsenal frowned. “Wonder Doll, trouble on the horizon.” She whirled.

The Flash sprang into action. “Looks like trouble,” he said. “Those goons wear the emblem of a sun, and I sure don’t think they’re recruiters for a Japanese baseball team.”

“They must be agents of Abhood!” cried Light.

“Shut up! The Hawk’ll pull his own personal Hiroshima on them,” snapped Hank Hall as he rushed forward.

“I’ll get Light inside!” cried Robin.

Donna nodded. “Aqualad, that craft they’re in — can you stop it?”

Garth nodded as he rushed for the sea. “I’m on it.”

The Flash sped around the shore to cut off the incoming uniformed Children of the Light, sending a steady spray of sand at a high-impact speed into the thugs. “I feel just like Charles Atlas,” he quipped.

As the thugs gasped and tried to see through the blinding spray, Hawk crashed into them with fury and pounded them back with raw power. “You punks make me sick,” he scoffed, slamming two of them directly into one another. “It takes what — ten of you to off a loser like dim-bulb over there?”

Dropping into the warm waters, Aqualad went deep and easily reached the boat, now truly in his element. The purple-eyed hero literally knew his surroundings and was at ease in them as he scanned the ship for markings and noted that none were in view.

Middle Eastern types on board. Definitely the Children of the Light, he mused as he rounded the prow. Straining for a moment, he then climbed aboard the boat. Within minutes, Garth had found and subdued most of the remaining crew members. Most of them were fighting his allies on land.

“Just senseless acts of revenge,” he said, frowning. “Nothing they do to Light can make their leader a free man, just like nothing I could do to the HIVE or those shadow demons can bring back Tula.”

The newly dubbed Arsenal effortlessly fired a series of arrows toward the charging goons. They dropped directly in front and behind of the thugs, who sneered at his apparent flaws until a strong fiber expanded from the shafts to form a net across them.

Roy Harper smiled briefly, as this old trick still had a certain appeal. He glanced back to see Donna Troy tossing three goons across the sand with her normal zest. “Boy, when you pick a guy up…” began Arsenal.

Donna smiled back and high-kicked an approaching thug in the face. It was nice to be with Roy and the others. It made her recall a simpler time when she didn’t have troubles like Raven’s fragile emotional state, Kory’s passionate feelings, and the growing disenchantment of the usually steady Nightwing to deal with on her own.

She noticed that Robin had already secured Light within the courthouse as local police swarmed across the front door. Hawk didn’t bother to duck or avoid blows, but merely slugged his foes relentlessly, ignoring any pain or damage to his own body. She knew this couldn’t be healthy. Donna herself rolled down into the sand as a white energy beam struck her suddenly.

Arsenal raced over to help the lovely woman to her feet. “You okay?” asked Roy, even as the Flash shattered the strange force-bolt projector the Children of Light had assembled.

Donna nodded. “Nothing hurt but my pride.”

Arsenal noticed the waving form of Aqualad on the boat. “Looks like Garth just captured their ship!” he yelled. Then he looked back toward the courthouse. “Hey, this was too easy,” he said, and ran around the old building. Firing an arrowline, he swung inside as the young Robin went down before an agile and silent foe.

Doctor Light and his two police guards also lay prone on the floor before the lethal woman who had used the frontal attack as a distraction. She might have killed Light already while her goons kept the Titans occupied.

“Hold it!” cried Roy.

“Odd choice of words, coming from you,” she purred as her green eyes flashed.

“Jade!” he gasped.

The woman kicked the bow from his hand and caught him with a right hook. “It’s Cheshire when I’m working,” she hissed.

Arsenal grunted and swung out himself as they wrestled to the ground. “I never knew you were Cheshire until after we parted,” he explained. “I had to get close to you for a case. It turned out to be more pleasure than business.”

“Your pleasure left me with child — too bad little Lian must grow up without a father,” she said as her shiny nails clawed for his eyes.

Blocking her attack, Roy reeled backward acrobatically. “A child! You mean that I — that we–?” he sputtered.

Cheshire laughed. “You seemed to have a better grasp on the facts of life when last we met.”

Arsenal hurled a small spherical object at her, and as a bright light burst from the tiny flare, she winced. “The Children of Light sent you to kill the Doc, here,” he said. “If I hadn’t come to stop you, I might never have known. Where is my daughter?”

Cheshire used the sound of his voice to connect with a left hook. “Lian needs me,” she said. “If I was you, I’d just lay down and leave me to do what I must do.”

Roy smirked. “That’s what got us in trouble to begin with. Now tell me about her,” he asked as he dodged a second swing.

Stirring, Robin slowly rose to his feet and lifted Doctor Light, who muttered, “Oh, the pain! The pain!”

The Boy Wonder said, “Oh, come on! She just decked you. You’ll be okay.” He helped Light stumble across the room even as Cheshire pounced for them. Robin jumped in her path, and down they went.

Arsenal rubbed his jaw and tried to aim a clear shot. The arrow sliced neatly between the pair, and as they separated, he connected with a blunt-headed arrow. Cheshire fell hard and didn’t move.

“Gosh, she was a real wildcat,” said Robin.

Arsenal grinned ruefully. “You’re telling me.”

Doctor Light made a frantic break for the rear as the heroes regrouped, but no sooner than he rounded a corner, he was grabbed by dark-suited figures. “Oh, no!” he shrieked. “You’re with the Children!”

They grasped him tighter and activated a teleportation signal. “True,” said the man. “And we want you.”

“I know,” he sighed. “You and Abhood’s cursed Children of the Light terrorist group want to kill me.”

“No, good sir. You mistake us,” said the second man. “We’re not with those killers. We are Children, but of the Sun, not the Light. We seek your help, not your death.” He laughed as they suddenly vanished.

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