The Flash listened as Arsenal talked about his recent activities.
“I guess fatherhood is keeping me pretty busy, but I really enjoy it, too,” said Roy Harper. “I never thought any woman could tie me down, but Lian has done it.”
Wally West smiled at his old friend. “She’s a charmer, all right. I think she is the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”
Arsenal said, “True. So, how are you and the ever-lovely Miss Kane getting along?”
“Frances is great. She still wants to lose her powers, and I doubt we’ll ever get her back into that costume we whipped up for her, but otherwise she’s fine. She and I had an adventure with Dick a while back, right after he headed home for Gotham,” said the fastest man alive.
At that moment, Cyborg entered and said, “I’m heading out. Going to see Dr. Charles.”
Arsenal grinned. “You dog! Tell her hi.”
An alarm abruptly ended their plans. A worried woman had requested permission to approach the isle. Cyborg frowned and signaled the barge to bring her across. He shrugged in resignation. This would not likely give him time to seek out the STAR Labs woman he was hoping to see again.
“So, what can we do for you?” Cyborg asked as he led her indoors.
“I appreciate your seeing me. I know how busy you are. I actually need to speak to Arsenal. It’s about my son,” she said.
Vic Stone noticed she was well-dressed, yet tired and concerned. He figured she was a bit old for Arsenal, but one never knew with Roy. Man, they didn’t give the dude the name Speedy for nothing. He has a girl in every port, mused Stone.
He ushered her inside after their barge docked. “Come on up. He’s goofing around with Flash,” said Cyborg.
“Goofing around? Goofing around? I’ll have you know we’re engaged in serious crime-stopping business! He was trying to make off with my lunch!” said Arsenal with a grin.
The Flash raised both hands. “I never hear lines like that in the JLA. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back here.”
Arsenal said, “Hey, just try to steal Oreo cookies from the Martian Manhunter. You’ll see.” He turned serious as the woman stepped out from behind Cyborg. “We’ve met before,” he said. “Forgive me for clowning. What can I do for you? I’m afraid I forget your name.”
She said, “Cherie Chase. I wanted to talk to you about my son, Danny. We need your help desperately.”
Arsenal nodded and led her to a chair. “We met when I worked for DEA. You’re in the law enforcement game, too. How can I help you, Mrs. Chase?” he asked.
The Flash cut in, “Chase? Any relation to the D.A. Nightwing worked with? Adrian Chase?”
Cherie Chase nodded. “He’s my brother-in-law. Danny is my son. He’s fourteen years old, and he’s a bright boy, gifted, even. Well, he knows his father and I are often away due to our work. My husband is also in law enforcement. Danny gets resentful at being left behind. He’s run away.”
Cyborg said, “I know a good shelter. I ran away a couple times when I was a kid. I’ll make a call and see if he’s turned up there. They have connections and know their business well. Helping kids is what they do best.” He exited as Cherie smiled gratefully.
“Thanks so much. I doubt a conventional shelter will turn up Danny. He’s very clever,” she said.
Arsenal said, “Look, Cherie, we’ll do what we can, but why come to us? I mean, runaways are more of the kind of thing local authorities deal with. We fight super-villains.”
The Flash whispered, “Remember, your mentor always went on about helping the man on the street first.”
Roy nodded. “Don’t get me wrong. I never said I wouldn’t look for the kid.”
Cherie said, “Arsenal, Danny took some papers with him when he fled — highly sensitive documents that he had no right to take. He managed to get into my briefcase. I was taking the material to a secured lab, because there had been attempts to steal them.”
Arsenal whistled, “I see. This spy kid stole classified documents, and you need us to get them back before some creep gets ahold of them.”
She nodded. “Danny did it because he thinks he can solve the case first. You see, the documents in question deal with a highly secretive experimental process started at a Dayton Labs.”
The Flash said, “Dayton? As in Steve Dayton?”
She nodded. “Yes, but he had no involvement with the process personally. We took the material following an incident at the lab. It involved a group called the RECOMbatants. Danny must have figured he could track down the people who want the data, use himself as bait, and impress us.”
Arsenal said, “Quite a kid! Sounds like me when I was back with G.A.”
“We’ll get on it right away,” said the Flash.
Later as the T-jet soared across the country toward Nevada, Cyborg brooded. He recalled the RECOMbatants all too well. They had been artificially created super-powered beings. When a Dayton Labs research head tried to control them to the point of a form of slavery, they had committed suicide. They were misfits doomed to death or the end of their pseudo-life before they could even experience the joys of life.
Cyborg’s own father had turned him into the half-man/half-machine hybrid that he was today in order to save his life. Vic Stone had reconciled with him before his death, and he felt no bitterness toward the senior Stone. Still, he occasionally felt that he shared the uneasy feeling of being apart from normal humanity that the RECOMs had expressed. He wondered what the underworld wanted with the RECOM data?
Some Doc Frankenstein wannabe sees it as his ticket to world domination, no doubt, he thought.
He wondered how Gar Logan, the stepson of Steve Dayton, was doing. He had taken a leave from the New Titans to tend to the mentally and physically ill billionaire. Dayton’s labs had been conducting all types of weird experiments. Some were planned while Dayton was under the influence of his brainwave-magnifying helmet. This helmet had driven him mad, and he could not be held responsible for his actions. Still, Vic did not want to see more thinking, feeling creations turned into lab rats.
The Flash knew what Vic was feeling, since he had often heard his late Uncle Barry speak about the ways in which science could be a boon or a bane to humanity. “In the wrong hands, even something as wonderful as knowledge can become dangerous and twisted,” he had once told Wally West. “Mirror Master, the Top, and Pied Pier, to name a few of my Rogues, all could have used their resourcefulness and mental gifts for good had they so chosen. Instead, they turned science into a means of hurting others while enriching themselves.”
Wally knew the first Flash was right. Science could harm or heal, and those who possessed the powers that came from such developments also saw themselves as cursed or blessed. His lady love Frances Kane hated the magnetic powers she possessed. Her parents had cast her out because they saw them as signs that she was evil.
As for himself, Wally had subconsciously wanted to lose his powers until events made him believe that he owed it to Barry Allen’s memory to be the Flash and honor his heroism in every manner possible.
Arsenal wondered if he was capable of leading the team in the absence of Donna Troy and Dick Grayson. Wally had waived off the offer of leadership due to his commitments to the JLA. Roy Harper hoped his abilities were up to the test that guiding others would put them to in the field of battle. He smiled. He had doubts, but not often or for too long.
Next to Roy sat Azrael. The mysterious winged alien came along only to be near his lover, Lilith. Azrael lacked Titans membership, but neither did he seem to desire it. All he wanted was to be with Lilith and perhaps to learn his hidden origins.
Lilith Clay felt the stirring that enabled her to see visions of the future. She shook her long, reddish-gold tresses and frowned. “I see evil… evil behind a facade of good,” she muttered. She wore the extremely short tunic and silvery sandals of Olympus, and she wondered if this case related to her vision of a Hera wanting her death.
Jericho read as they flew, studying past Teen Titans case files in the hope that he could be up to speed about just what had occurred when his friends had faced the artificial beings called RECOMbatants.
Cyborg said, “So the Nevada Labs had the data originally. The Feds sealed the data, and Cherie and hubby were to deliver the research to the gov boys when Danny took off with it to try to catch the punks who tried to rob the labs a while back?”
Arsenal nodded. “Right. The labs had been hit by some theft attempts. We’ll get the lowdown when we arrive. Any ideas?”
The Flash said, “Plenty of Luthor types would love to make their own army of artificial beings.”
Jericho signed, “Or sell them to the highest bidder.”
Arsenal said, “Leave it to the Terminator’s kid to think of mercenaries.”
Jericho frowned, and Wally elbowed Roy.
“Sorry, Joe. My mouth misfires more than my bow,” apologized Roy.
Joe grinned and silently wondered if it was a mercenary like his father or his late brother who wanted to have the power to sell such super-soldiers. His father Slade had been captured after a lengthy series of encounters with the Titans. Deathstroke the Terminator had wanted them captured to fulfill the earlier contract Joe’s older brother (Slade’s son, Grant) had agreed to complete. Grant the Ravager had died failing to beat the young heroes.
They reached the lab in time to see chaos as fleeing figures raced from the scene of battle.
“Something’s going down!” called Cyborg as his keen eye zoomed in on the action below.
Jericho leaned forward and caught a glimpse of a rushing figure in gray. “Dreadnaught,” he signed as he recognized the powerhouse he and the others had battled before they destroyed themselves. He had spent most of the battle trying to stop the agile Pseudos, but he could not forget a rampaging hulk like the youth called Dreadnaught.
Cyborg said, “Yeah. I pick up dialogue from below. Names being used between ’em are Pseudos, Topaz, and Aurora. I see Dreadnaught below, too. Looks like the creep who wants the data already got it and made himself a second generation of the RECOMbatants we fought.”
Lilith frowned. “They seem so violent. Surely the ones you met were not as aggressive.”
Azrael said, “Listen to Lilith. She is always right.”
The Flash felt a bit annoyed. From his Kid Flash days he recalled Lilith as a sexy but ditzy disco dancer who never had a full handle on her powers. Now she seemed more confident and radiated an Olympian allure. Still, he liked her and always had. He did not take to Azrael as easily. The alien seemed too obsessive about the leggy Lilith. He wondered if he, too, had played such a role of militant defender back when he had been under Raven’s love spell.
Arsenal fired a line from the craft and swung down even as Vic Stone piloted the jet in for landing. Arsenal hoped to end this quickly. He did not know the RECOMbatants from before and could not judge how this second batch was violent and full of malice. He just wanted to shut them down and find Danny Chase.
He confronted the hulking Dreadnaught, who was smashing a bank of machines. “Ah, you cream the device that made you so no one can melt you again like last time,” he said, admiring the blonde girl in the red costume, even as he dodged a hurled piece of metal tossed by Dreadnaught.
“You think you can stop me? Nobody can stop Dreadnaught!” cried the man in gray.
Arsenal rolled aside from his charging foe and fired a thin cable across his path. Dreadnaught tore through the line like it was made of butter. “Oh, great! Do you know how much those things cost?” he quipped.
The blonde in the little red outfit was known as Topaz. She gestured, and the metal wreckage around them twisted to reach for Arsenal like a fist of living metal.
The Flash streaked down and vibrated through the crushing hand to shatter it into bits. She controls magnetism like Frances, he mused.
He raced forward to land a hundred blows to Dreadnaught’s chin as Arsenal automatically switched targets and fired an arrow at Topaz. She cursed and gestured. The arrow hit her in the chest, and goo covered her. She gasped as the non-metallic shaft trapped her in a putty of some kind. Arsenal smiled and turned toward the laboratory.
A weird figure in a brown shroud loomed above a boy with glasses. Arsenal knew the kid to be Danny Chase from a photo his mother had shown them back at Titans Tower. The brown-clad figure floated along the ground and had no face except for a grinning white mask.
“I am Phantasm. You are my prey,” said the villain.
Arsenal kicked out at the brown shrouded figure and yelled, “Keep cool, Danny! We’ll have you out of here in no time!”
His boot passed through the figure, or more accurately hit the shroud, which appeared to be empty. “What the–?” he muttered.
Meanwhile, Lilith and Azrael confronted the pouting redhead called Aurora. She smirked at them in total confidence. A ten-headed monster loomed into view. It belched fire, and a green cloud of toxin hovered in its wake.
Azrael grabbed Lilith and prepared to fly her to safety, but she stopped him. “It is an illusion. The girl’s mental powers include creating such illusions, among other things,” said the Olympian girl.
Azrael frowned and charged Aurora, who blasted him with a mental bolt. Lilith gasped as he fell. She stood over his prone form and watched Aurora turn toward Jericho.
He widened his eyes and made contact. Instantly, he was inside and in control of the woman.
“He has taken over my body!” cried Aurora as Jericho within her caused her to turn and become accustomed to her powers. Jericho sent a mental bolt toward Dreadnaught even as the brute slammed into Cyborg with both fists.
Cyborg dug his feet into the floor and strained to hold back the sheer mass of the youth. “I’ve seen battleships that weigh less. This creep is primed for Weight Watchers,” he joked.
Dreadnaught roared, “Just leave us alone!”
Arsenal whirled as Phantasm loomed above him. He groaned as a crushing impact slammed into his chest. The crumbling machinery around them had floated through the air and dropped into him with a lethal intent.
Great ghost face moves stuff with his mind, thought Roy as he held his aching chest.
Phantasm laughed. “We control this lab once more. We gave birth to the second generation of RECOMbatants, and we’ll make more to serve the greater glory of the HIVE!”
The Flash frowned at the name of the criminal group. Always the HIVE. They have more branches than a redwood, he mused. He created a whirlwind with his rapidly spinning arms, and the being called Phantasm was swept across the room into the next chamber.
Cyborg ducked Dreadnaught’s swinging fists as the mental might of Aurora struck her ally at Jericho’s command. He fell and brought down Aurora as well, since Jericho had jumped in his path before exiting her trim form. Cyborg grinned warily. “You know, curly, you do good work.”
Jericho signed back, and they helped Arsenal up.
The Flash said, “What about the fourth one?” He indicated the trapped Topaz, who had been knocked cold by Azrael as she struggled in the gooey foam.
“Oh, yeah, the one called Pseudos? Haven’t seen the kid today,” said Cyborg.
They turned toward Danny Chase, who had uttered no sound thus far. He was a redheaded youth with large glasses, freckles, and a Poison T-shirt.
“Are you OK?” asked Arsenal.
Danny smiled. “Thanks to you guys. Phantasm got me ’cause of the plans I stole. I knew as bait I could catch the thieves. I’m always right.”
The Flash said, “And humble, too.”
Lilith frowned. “Where is this Phantasm?”
Cyborg hurried back from the next room. “Here’s the joker. Behind that ghoul mask is none other than Mark Evans himself,” he said as he collared the former assistant lab director of the Nevada Dayton Labs.
“He must have resented having to give his data to the Feds. He decided to stage robberies to get back his own material. Couldn’t wait on the courts,” said Arsenal.
Evans frowned. “I admit it. I hated to see years of work be tied up by red tape. I tried to rob the place and caught this punk kid snooping around here. Phantasm was my way of scaring him off. Found out he actually had my data, and I grabbed him and used it to make new, more sinister versions of the RECOMs.”
The Flash grinned. “Sounds like an episode of Scooby Doo. Ever wear lilac hosiery, Lilith?”
Lilith shook her head. “This is wrong. This is not true. I sensed evil behind a facade of good. I still do. Danny Chase lies. He is not even the real Danny. He is Pseudos posing as the mad child.”
Azrael grabbed the boy, and sure enough his features altered to reveal the blond in green called Pseudos. He was a shape-changer.
Cyborg said, “Good call, witchy woman. So where’s the real Chase?”
The Flash returned after a speedy search. “No sign of him.”
Lilith pointed at an empty spot. “He’s there. Aurora is concealing him from our perceptions.”
Cyborg activated his white sound, and as the noise weakened the illusion-caster’s concentration, the real Danny appeared where before all they had seen was empty space.
“The punk is in on it,” said Vic.
Lilith nodded. “Mark Evans is but a victim.” She caressed his face and frowned. “Yes, I see beneath the mental blocks imposed by this evil woman. He was their captive, their pawn. He was forced to make the new RECOMs at the command of another.”
Suddenly, Evans screamed and fell into her arms.
“He’s dead! His very mind destroyed by something!” she gasped as Azrael rushed forward to help her.
Arsenal said, “So Danny here was the brains behind the whole deal. I knew my first encounter with Phantasm resulted in my finding an empty shroud. That was Chase moving the suit around with his own mental powers.”
“Evans was a patsy,” said the Flash. “They dressed him up in the Phantasm gear, and Aurora made him obey her, even to the point of claiming to be the man behind the whole plan. I doubt the HIVE is even connected.”
Lilith said, “That precisely directed TK blast killed him. Danny Chase did so to cover his guilt. I feel his evil. He is mad — hopelessly mad. My own empathic flames cannot cure him, even.”
Danny remained calm. “You are crazy. No babe from a Victoria’s Secret ad can prove it. I tried to catch the crooks to impress my folks. They did all this illusion/mind-control stuff for Evans. Aurora may have made him do it, but he did it.”
Aurora grinned. “I did all as my master Evans ordered. He gave me life.”
Arsenal said, “Hold it, babe. He made you. You could not have controlled him before you were even out of the test tube. Danny here had to be the one pulling the strings. Well, the courts will settle it all. We just turn him in.”
Lilith shuddered. “Such malice from one so young.”
Jericho signed, “If only we had been able to help him. He could have become one of us someday with the right influences.”
Arsenal led Danny Chase out. The boy remained silent and smug. He did not risk fighting the heroes, since doing so would only weaken his claim to be but a victim. He hoped to test his brains and his malice against them all again.