A young couple strolled across the green fields of a small community in Upstate New York. He was a blond man with expressive eyes and a sensitive mouth. She was a redhead with curly hair and an obvious attraction to her male companion. She seldom looked away from him for long, appearing to desire the unspoken assurance that his proximity could offer. Unspoken gestures of affection or compassion were all Joe Wilson could offer, since the artistic youth was mute. He signed rapidly as Kole Weathers gazed at him and beyond him to the quiet fields below them.
“I’m glad we came out here,” she said. “Seeing my old home does make me sad, but I needed closure. My folks were mad. They felt all of their experiments were essential for our very survival. They could not see that, by altering our genetic structures, all they were doing was making us freaks! I hope they are at peace now. They could be anywhere around us in those mutated insect forms.”
Joe nodded and signed, “They must be at peace now. They are closer to nature. I hope that has restored some type of balance to their minds. Sometimes it takes such a severe change to make one find contentment. My brother, Grant, never knew peace. He was always restless, violent, and in need of a way to prove himself to our father and, more importantly, to himself!”
Kole took his hand and placed it around her waist. “Joe, I’m sorry that I have been so needy. I’ve been too possessive of you. I just don’t want to lose you. I never knew a love like yours before. People always wanted me for what I could do for them as a guinea pig or slave. My folks and Thia all saw me in their different ways as a product. Finding someone like you who cares selflessly was so frightening and yet so exciting at the same time, that I’ve acted a bit too clingy.”
Joe smiled warmly and looked over the fields below them. The ruins of Kole’s family home and her father’s lab were but a small blight on the otherwise-beautiful scenery. He hoped bringing Kole back to this place of emotion and memory would help her break free of hurtful memories from her childhood and her time as slave to the Titaness Thia.
He looked at Kole and admired her fresh beauty. He was glad her spirit and passion had not been broken by her past misfortunes. She had a lot to offer. She had been hurt too much in the past. He did not want to hurt her, either, and he knew she felt more strongly for him than he did for her. He cared for her and enjoyed all she had to offer him. He would certainly remain her friend, but he was less certain that he truly loved her. He had known many women in his life and enjoyed their ways and their company. He had parted from more than one lover, and he could envision doing the same from Kole. He hoped she would be strong enough to understand his feelings when such a time came. For now, he merely offered her support.
A high-pitched cry rang out above them. They looked upward to see a striking sight. Two figures flew overhead. The man was tall and had dark features. His colorful costume of red and gray was not his most unusual feature. The snakes that coiled around his head marked him as a monster like the Gorgon of myth. In truth, Gorgon was his name. His mate was a woman with black tresses in a revealing purple body-suit that left much of her form bare. She supported him in their flight, and her eyes darted wildly as they drew nearer.
“The lab is in ruins! We shall find nothing for our master here!” said the woman called Harpi.
Kole yelled, “Keep back!” She threw her arms wide and created an arching ramp of crystal that stretched out to block the flying pair from proximity to the two Titans.
Harpi laughed a bitter, screeching laugh. “The little wench wants to play! Let me teach her the power of Harpi can shatter her pretty playthings!” She screeched and raised her hands to generate a purple energy that shattered Kole’s crystal creation and left her staggering backward from the impact.
Jericho tackled her and rolled them to safety as the shards of crystal exploded like shrapnel. He tried to catch the eyes of either of the weird pair as they zoomed warily overhead.
Gorgon’s eyes were dark and unseeing. In truth, the serpents on his head provided him with sight in all directions. His eyes were designed for a more lethal purpose than mere vision. He stared at Jericho as the youth tried to lock glances and use his own mutant power of possession. The monster won the contest as Joe stiffened and turned into a stone statue.
Kole screamed as she saw her lover transformed once more. They had battled the spirit of Medusa not too long ago, and this was a very unpleasant déjà vu.
Harpi kicked Kole across the head and sent her crashing to the ground. “The lab is ruined. We must report back and suffer for our failure!” she screeched.
Gorgon nodded. “Come, my love! We must hope the master will be merciful!”
They departed, and Kole climbed back up the hill to touch Jericho’s petrified form. “Oh, no! Please don’t let him be dead!” she wept.
She activated her Titans communicator and sighed with relief when she heard the voice of the team’s leader on the other end. “Nightwing here. Kole? What’s wrong?” he asked.
Kole said tearfully, “Jericho is hurt. I think he could even be dead!”
Nightwing quickly called for their fellow New Titans to join him and try to save their fallen member.
Hours later, Joe Wilson returned to normal and fell into Kole’s arms. She said, “Joe, I was so worried. Even knowing how people I encased in crystal during my enslavement to Thia were still alive within their shells, I was still so worried!”
Joe signed that he was unhurt as Cyborg, Changeling, Starfire, Raven, and Artemis clustered around him. “Nancy Reagan’s going to be pretty steamed at you! A super-hero getting stoned!” said Gar Logan.
Cyborg slapped one hand against his forehead. “I could rough him up for you, curly, but it wouldn’t do any good. Trust me, I’ve tried!”
Raven gently pressed her hands against Joe Wilson’s shoulders and said, “I sense you are unhurt, but you are greatly agitated. Let me soothe your nerves.” As the empathic girl in the white gown and high heels worked her magic, Joe calmed down and typed on the computer keyboard.
Nightwing glanced at the image that was displayed on their large monitor. “Angelika and Andonis Bal, the missing couple Steve Dayton abducted for his experiments while he was sick due to the Mento helmet’s influence. Are you saying these two were your attackers?”
Kole nodded rapidly. “Jericho has a keen eye for detail. I didn’t recognize those monsters as the couple we searched for earlier. Now I see he’s right. The Bals were the Gorgon and Harpi whom we fought at my old home!”
Gar became less animated as he brooded over the madness his stepfather had wrought. “Look, Steve wasn’t in control when he did what he did to them. He says he remembers nothing beyond trying to make his own Doom Patrol with the helmet, promethium, and a group of victims, including the missing Bals.”
Cyborg clasped his arm. “Nobody’s blaming him, shorty. My pop caused a lot of damage, too, by accident. I blamed him for Mom’s death and my own accident. I got passed that before he died. You don’t have to defend Dayton to us. We’re on your side!”
Gar nodded. “Thanks, I needed that! I guess I’m just sensitive about his past actions. I want to make sure everyone knows he was not just some villain-of-the-month type.”
Artemis tossed back her long hair and frowned. “Those serpents on the head of your attacker certainly indicate a mythical motif. The Medusa was a Gorgon. Her very appearance could turn mortals to stone. Of course, you two already faced her.”
Starfire said, “X’Hal! Such experimentation makes me think of the cruel Psions. I hope we can find and cure those people.” The Princess from Tamaran knew about torture and cruelty from her own personal experience as a slave of the Gordanians.
Nightwing said, “They wanted to get more promethium from the ruins of Kole’s dad’s old lab. That means they either want more of the substance to make additional altered humans, or they need it to replenish their powers.”
Kole agreed. “My father did use that stuff, but nothing was left in the ruins after his last experiment transformed him into an insect.”
Cyborg said, “I’ve been working on a gizmo to track the peculiar energies given off by the stuff. Donna’s Amazon buddy Paula gave me suggestions on how to refine the device.”
Nightwing said, “Between the staff at STAR Labs and the wonders of Amazon science, we should be able to detect these creations of the Mento helmet. Vic, Donna, and I started looking into the possibility of such a tracing mechanism back when we first learned about Steve’s illness and Doctor Light’s theft of the substance.”
Gar grinned. “That’s great! Steve has tried and tried to recall exactly how many people he experimented on to create the new Doom Patrol he called the Hybrid. He still can’t remember what or who they were or how they vanished.”
Raven said, “He has made great progress since his illness. You should be justly proud of your stepfather.”
Gar nodded. “I am. We’ve become much closer in the last few months.”
Artemis jumped up suddenly and said, ” Great Hera! The computer is showing four crisis situations in the making. Earthquakes, floods, and fires are all being reported in areas not traditionally associated with such disasters.”
Cyborg frowned as he plugged a small device into the same computer system. “That’s not all. I’m getting a reading from each of those areas for high levels of promethium! Unless these weird events are messin’ up my gadget, the Hybrid goons are behind each unnatural disaster,” he said grimly.
“Extortion. No doubt they plan to show the world their power to somehow create such disasters and then cash in through some massive demand for security payments from the government,” said Nightwing as he slammed one fist into his other palm. “We’d better divide up into four teams of two each and check out the sources of the promethium. If we can shut them down now, then countless lives may be saved,” he declared.
The Titans jet quickly transported the team across the country to various points of departure from which four pairs of New Titans made their way to scenes of chaos.
Cyborg jumped across the rubble of a city suffering the aftershocks of an earthquake. He glanced up to Changeling, who soared above in the form of a green bird. “Man, I hate to see this kind of thing happen! The people here in Civic City are sure not used to quakes! It’s all they can do to get the injured to safety,” he said.
Gar nodded. “Yeah. Civic City with quakes is like the Big Apple without muggers and Letterman!”
Cyborg said, “C’mon! My tracer says the energy associated with promethium is within that old warehouse!”
Gar rolled his eyes and assumed the form of a green bunny. “Always a warehouse! Just once I’d like to fight a super-villain at the Playboy Mansion!”
Cyborg shrugged. “Nah. Rejection from beautiful women would hurt you a lot more than any death ray from Doctor Light!”
They entered the warehouse and saw a scene not entirely unexpected. A lab with advanced equipment lined the hallowed-out structure.
“Yep, mad scientist lair. It’s all in the hero handbook,” quipped Gar.
“Just like the part where we kill you and gloat over your charred corpses!” said a woman with deathly pale skin. She had reddish-brown hair that curled out from under the orange cloak and hood that wrapped around her lithe but pale form.
A large humanoid creature with the leathery wings and predatory features of a pterodactyl accompanied her. “Cassie, save the gloating for after our victory!” he said.
She laughed and said, “Harel! You take all the fun out of everything!”
Gar changed to a gorilla and charged the winged man. “Look, Pterry, can I call you Pterry? We don’t need to cause a whole big scene, here. You just surrender now, and I’ll try to find you a home with some nice Stone Age family. You can dry their wash with your wings or play records with your beak. Plus, have you seen that Pebbles Flintstone as a teen? Hubba-hubba!”
“I am Pteradon, and you belittle my newfound power!” he said as he soared toward the bounding Changeling.
That’s the idea, thought Gar as he dodged the angry monster.
Cyborg nodded slowly. “Yeah, one thing being a Go-Bot has got me is a good sense of how things work. That wall of lights and wires doesn’t look like it could be causing the quakes. Looks like some type of receiver from a Buck Rogers flick.” He approached the machines and gasped as a crushing wave of sand rolled across his path and slammed into his silvery form. He struggled to fight free of the swirling sands. “Got to use my extending hand to get a hold on something to anchor me!”
The cloaked woman laughed merrily. “Scirocco wants you buried. That means you have little choice but to choke beneath my ever-shifting sands!”
Cyborg grunted as his artificial hand clawed into the wall and cables of molybdenum strained to pull his body out of the sands. “Got to play Samson!” he muttered, and his incredible strength pulled the entire wall of machinery down on the darting woman. “Angled that so the impact was a stunning one, not a killing one, but it was close. If that part of the machine had been solid and not merely cables, she’d be a pancake now!” he mused as he climbed over the rubble to check her pulse.
Meanwhile, Changeling shifted form and changed from a gorilla to a fly to a whale. He crashed down on the man called Pteradon and sent both of them crashing to the ground. “Fly the unfriendly skies!” he quipped as his sheer mass trapped the struggling winged being.
Gar yelled to his friend. “Looks like you proved to her that life’s a beach!”
Cyborg grinned. “Just had to say that, didn’t you?”
Changeling said, “You trashed the wall of machines. That should put an end to the quakes!”
Cyborg shook his head. “Nope. The machine was some kinda broadcasting receiver. It didn’t generate the quakes. It may have just received some impulse or power source that did make them from afar!”
Suddenly, a blinding flash filled the room and left the two heroes dazed on the floor.
Gar blinked and struggled to see clearly as pain clouded his senses. Cyborg could see all too clearly as his sensor detected a huge hovering head.
“You dolts! You mental failures! Did you think you could stop one who has my mental powers?” roared the manifestation.
It was a huge head. The face was contorted in rage. A beard covered the chin, and a blue and gold helmet covered the top of the head. It was a face all-too familiar to them both.
“Mento!” gasped Vic Stone.
“Steve!” cried Gar.
Kole Weathers had ridden on a crystal ramp over the flooding waters of the Hiawa River to gracefully land near a large house located in isolation from the community below. She knew the promethium Cyborg’s device had detected was within that old home. She felt certain that within awaited members of the Hybrid.
“If father had had a substance like promethium when he first began his experiments, then I, too, could have been born as a monster! Instead of these unruly red curls, I could be sporting snakes on my head! I have to be thankful for the way things turned out. I also feel a lot of sympathy for the victims of the Mento helmet’s transforming powers.”
She forced open the door by creating an expanding crystal wedge. As the wood shattered, the girl stepped inside to see a metallic web of wires and machines along with the Bals she and Jericho had battled before.
Harpi shrieked and flew forward as her husband Gorgon adjusted the receiver that sent powerful energies out to create the floods. “You again? The Master has no grudge against you, but we shall gladly consign you to the fate that awaits all those who cross him!”
Harpi’s eyes were bitter with hate and pain. Her body, although augmented by the transformation process, was contorted as she flew with the mannerisms of the female predators of myth from which she had taken her name.
She faced Kole and, as Kole’s eyes locked with her own, the unseen Jericho passed from within Kole’s body in which he had been hiding. He took control of the nearly berserk woman as she cried out to warn her husband. Jericho sent her crashing wildly into the machines as her powerful energy bolts struck Gorgon and left him dazed.
“You are under some spell!” he gasped as he shoved his way free of the sparking wires and twisted metal.
Kole slid across the room like a skater on her sheath of crystal, and as Gorgon’s transforming rays darted out to narrowly miss her agile form, Jericho deposited Harpi directly in his path. She stiffened to stone as Jericho watched nearby. He had left her body seconds before the ray had struck.
Gorgon cried out in anger. “No! You will suffer for this!” he vowed as he touched his immobile bride.
Kole gestured, and a crystalline shell formed around him. “See how he likes being transformed to crystal!” she said with a smile.
Jericho signed his concern as she tossed up her hands. “We’ll free him before he is hurt,” she said.
But she had no time to act upon her promise, since a blazing mental bolt freed Gorgon and left Kole and Jericho reeling in pain. They saw the looming features of Mento hovering above them, and then they knew no more.