“I’m not a pawn,” Major Victory said. “I’m no slave to anyone.”
He repeated it over and over to himself as the villains collected the fallen Titans and the stunned Force of July members. Still, Victory’s partially freed mind rebelled as he recalled the whole sequence of events. He was a hero. He was an American. His team, the Force of July, had returned to work for the American Security Agency under unstable Abe Carlyle. The old man had told them that Zandia was becoming a sanctuary for super-villains and that Church of Blood Cultists were recruiting villains around the globe. Acting upon information agents had given their agency, Carlyle had determined that they might run into the cultists at certain locations. He suggested they pose as criminals and accept an offer to go to Zandia. From there, they could learn the truth about the volatile situation.
Four months ago, he and his team had been ordered to pose as established super-villains whose powers roughly matched their own. They had pulled a few staged crimes, like the final one at STAR Labs, in which only Dr. Greer had known they were coming. (*) He had allowed them to steal only a dummy of his true invention. This scene was one of several in which they were hoping to encounter Church of Blood members who had been spotted in the area.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: The Zandia Solution, Prologue: The Summit.]
The plan had been doomed to failure from the start. None of them fully embraced their roles. He saw that last STAR Labs robbery again and again as if he was merely an observer and not a participant.
Five costumed figures waited in the shadows outside a California branch of the celebrated STAR Labs. They knew the exact number of security guards on duty at any given time, and they knew exactly how the routine patrols were timed. Thus they waited for the best possible time to make their move, and when it arrived, they stayed in place and continued to wait.
“This is dead boring!” said an auburn-haired woman who wore a brief costume of green, with a leafy design along the torso and across her green hosiery. Despite her appearance, she was not Poison Ivy but a disguised Mayflower. “It’s bad enough that I look like some page three girl in this outfit without being bored to death at the same time. I feel like I’m starkers in this thing! How can she parade around like this? My circulation’s almost gone, ’cause of how tight these knickers are!”
“Watch it, Ivy,” warned a tall man in a purple-hooded costume who was not Evil Star the alien conqueror but the super-strong Major Victory. “You’ve got the American accent down, but you keep using British diction! As for being bored, we have to wait until we’re certain to encounter as many witnesses as possible.”
“Sorry! It’s just that I’m fixing to fair die from blushing!” she said ruefully.
“You wore a lot less than that when you were Blossom!” said a weird glowing dwarf who stood close to the man in purple. He was Sparkler, a human boy whose light-based powers enabled him to mimic an alien being of energy.
“That wasn’t me! I mean, I wasn’t myself!” sputtered the faux Ivy. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Mayflower first became Blossom in Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Heroes and Villains, Chapter 3: The Conjunction.]
The fake Evil Star placed one hand on what looked to be a dwarf’s shoulder and said, “Stow it, lad. No need to stir things up.”
“Sorry, Maj — Evil Star!” said Sparkler in an almost sheepish manner.
A sultry woman with curly red hair cleared her throat in disgust and whispered, “The infant cannot even remember not to speak! This mission ees doomed from ze start!”
“Plastique, I expected more team spirit from you than that!” insisted the big man called Evil Star.
“I’m sorry, Will!” said the red-head as she caressed his cheek. In truth, she was a disguised Lady Liberty.
The final figure was clad all in blue-black hues, and he said nothing as he watched the others with a patient air. “Multiplex, Starling needs to say less, while you need to chatter on like an egomaniac,” whispered the woman dressed as Poison Ivy.
Multiplex shrugged and said, “Sorry.” He still retained his taciturn ways, as befitted the hero called Silent Majority even in a new role.
At that moment, the fake Evil Star said, “Now’s the time to act! Remember, stay in character!”
The faux Multiplex replicated into three identical doubles and charged forward as the others followed suit. “You mocked my genius, but now you’ll all serve me alone!” he cried.
As the guards saw the intruders and reached for their weapons, Poison Ivy gestured, and spores filled the air to leave them choking for breath. “I usually have that effect on men,” said the smirking beauty as she walked by them. I’m gonna need a shower when this is over. I feel right dirty! she thought.
Plastique reached for the metal discs that lined her purple jumpsuit and hurled them at the security fence as energy shattered the gates and left an opening. The discs are but harmless props, since the real energy comes from moi, she thought.
Evil Star ripped the fallen gate apart and hurled it into the air with amazing power. “Starling, secure the perimeter!” he said in a stentorian tone. The glowing dwarf flew into the air, and bright light blinded the remaining guards. Evil Star said, “The Injustice Gang lives again!”
Poison Ivy frowned as she saw one guard gasping for air at her feet. He’s having some kind o’ reaction! The others just had watery eyes or coughed! What if I’ve killed him? she thought.
She hesitated and started to bend over him in concern when Evil Star grabbed her arm and whispered, “He’ll live. We want them to live to proclaim our return!”
Plastique ran over and cried, “We have what we wanted! Now, let’s escape!” They departed swiftly as the flying duo of the disguised Major Victory and Sparkler carried the others to freedom.
“Now, before this toy can be revealed to be nothing more than a clever prop designed by our contact in the lab, I’ll destroy it,” said Evil Star as he shattered the device.
“What about that guard back there? What if he dies?” whispered Ivy.
“He won’t die. He was acting. Trust me,” said Evil Star.
They had met the Cultists as planned and accepted the invitation to Zandia, but once upon the shores of the island nation, they had been exposed and attacked from all sides.
“Mind-readers or something! They know the truth!” cried Major Victory as he finally fell.
That defeat had led to endless sessions of brainwashing over the following months until none of the heroes had any will of their own. All they knew was that they wanted to serve Brother Blood, and he wanted them to bring him the Titans.
As he silently fought the cloudy haze that threatened to fill his mind, Major Victory rode back to Zandia on a private plane, while the other villains chattered endlessly and his allies remained still as puppets near the captive heroes.
Back at Titans Tower, five shadowy figures stood below the silent building, and a man in black and gold nodded in approval.
“This is perfect,” he said. “I told you all that monitoring their communications would be rewarding. That’s why I’ve bided my time all these months. I wanted to wait until the most opportune moment to strike again. When I heard them announce that the Force of July was approaching their headquarters, I knew the moment had come. One of my own allies in Zandia in the cult alerted me that the Force had fallen under the spell of our other enemy. I know that they are on their way to that isle, and when they eventually free themselves — for I know they will be — they will serve as our own diversion. That is when we will gain our goals!”
A young woman said, “That sounds wonderful. Still, I have never been pleased with the way you’ve refused to allow the rest of us to listen to their broadcasts. Why must you keep all their secrets for yourself?”
He said, “I am the leader. That is my right. Besides, they wronged me before any of you even met them!”
An exotic woman sidled closer to him and said, “My love, you do not owe us any explanation!”
He caressed her cheek and said, “I know! Still, rest assured all of you that, once we take Zandia, we will also claim the lives of the Titans and all our enemies!” The others agreed readily as their leader laughed harshly as moonlight gleamed off his golden armor.
On Zandia itself, Cyborg, Changeling, Artemis, Hawk, Dove, and Kole Weathers found themselves in a cleared-out space that resembled an arena. Hawk said, “Oh, great! This has battle to the death for the crazed masses written all over it!”
Dove said, “And since when is that a problem for you? I can’t tear you away from those old Hercules films on Saturday afternoons.”
Hawk shrugged and said, “Hey, don’t blame a guy for trying to soak up a little culture!”
Changeling grinned and said, “Culture? You just like seeing Amazons running around in those little costumes. I — uh, hi, Artemis. You look lovely today!”
Artemis rolled her eyes and said, “Remind me to swat you around later! For now, political correctness can wait. We’ve got company.” She pointed to where a figure sat high above them, watching them with shadowed eyes.
“Brother Blood! That nutcase is back! Figures,” said Cyborg.
Kole said, “He’s watching us but not making a move. He gives me the creeps!”
“He’s definitely inscrutable,” said Artemis. “The crowds worship him. He feeds off their adoration. When we last saw him, he had tried to drain Raven’s powers, but instead he merely became overwhelmed by that part of Trigon that rested within her. The resulting ego clash within his own mind and body left him in a coma.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: Fragments.]
“A force-field separates us from the upper levels,” said Dove. “We couldn’t get to him if we tried.”
“Yeah?” said Hawk. “Well, I’m more than willing to give it a try!”
“Don’t try it, Hawk!” warned Cyborg. “My eye lets me see the energy in that field. There’s enough juice to fry you like one of the Colonel’s favorite dishes! I don’t think I’d do any better, either.”
“Maybe I could, though,” said Changeling. “What if I tried to get past it as a fly or gnat or some other tiny insect?”
“I doubt that would work,” said Artemis. “In fact, that type of energy might be enough to kill you in such a small form!”
“We’re not alone!” cried Kole. “Our foes are here!” She gestured to where a group of costumed figures were striding purposefully forward in an aggressive manner.
“It’s that bunch of goons from the Tower! We’re in for a fight!” said Changeling. He glanced over at Cyborg, who swiftly adjusted his artificial components and aimed one arm at them.
“White-sound blaster might buy us some time,” said Vic Stone, even as he thought about Sarah Charles and wondered when he would see his lover again. The sound sliced into the super-villains as they charged forward.
Rainbow Raider cried out in pain, grabbing his ears. “Can’t concentrate!” he yelled.
Cyborg extended one arm and grabbed a shiny object from the stricken Raider’s costume. He crushed it to shards of glass and then glanced at Changeling, smiling. “I just broke Rainbow Bright’s toy. He won’t be able to mess with our emotions now!” said Cyborg. He pulled the struggling Rainbow Raider closer and slapped him backward with a casual gesture. “He’s not so much without his prism.”
Artemis had whirled her own gleaming lasso over her head and skillfully snared the startled Quakemaster. She pulled him off his feet and dragged him across the arena with her amazing strength. Hera help me end this swiftly! she prayed. She brought one high-heeled boot down on the purple-and-green-costumed villain’s quake device and ground it to bits. “Now, while I hate to just echo Cyborg’s remarks, you also aren’t much of a threat without your weapon!” she said as she lifted the helpless Quakemaster into the air with one hand.
Changeling yelped as Javelin launched a barrage of his lethal weapons at the rapidly changing youth. He shifted from eagle to snake to fly to elephant and crashed down on the German with stunning force. “Typical punk! He talks big until an elephant sits on him, and then he gets all weepy and dejected!” said Gar Logan.
“That kinda thing happen a lot in your world, Logan?” asked Cyborg as he raced for the armored Blackguard.
Changeling smiled and flew at the mercenary in the form of a streaking hawk, only to shift forms again and land on him as a whale. “Take that, Ishmael!” he yelled.
Artemis high-kicked Blackguard’s mace out of his hand and punched him in the face as he leaped out from under Changeling’s elephant form. “Gar, that should have been Ahab! Don’t tell me you skipped the Cliff’s Notes for that classic!” she said.
Changeling shrugged and slapped Blackguard with one paw in his grizzly bear form. “I’m guessing that was my boo-boo! Get it, Yogi Bear? Boo-Boo? Sheesh! The classics are lost on some folks!” he said.
Blackguard cursed and staggered forward, only to be punched again by Artemis, who said, “We can keep this up all day!”
The armored villain sneered at her as he reached for a crackling whip. “Nobody makes a fool out of me!” he yelled.
Cyborg said, “Just call me nobody! And keep your mouth shut, Logan!” He rammed his body into Blackguard’s chest and nodded as the villain finally collapsed.
Hawk and Dove were equally effective as they fought Mirage. He tried to make them see their friends as foes, but he failed to anticipate Dove’s remarkable eye for detail. She flipped over his head and spun around to shove him into Hawk’s grasp, where a crushing embrace and body-slam left him stunned. “You can’t fool a girl who never forgets a thing,” she said with a smile.
Kole had been surfing across the arena on a gleaming slide of crystal spun from the air itself. She arced high above the fight and gathered speed as she leaned in to a turn, making contact with Brother Blood’s force-field. She used an eruption of crystal to weave a barrier between the field and her body, and as she concentrated and imagined the delicate crystals forming a web-like pattern within the field itself, such a pattern came into being.
The field broke, and she faced Brother Blood and five guards. “Take us to our friends now!” she demanded as she fought to keep her nerve in the presence of such potent evil. She raced forward and then screamed as Blood made no move, but dark images of her parents turning into mutated insects suddenly filled her mind. She relived the terrible event when her scientist father’s experiments caught up with him, and he lost humanity to become a mutated insect. (*) She knew this had happened long before, but she saw and felt it all again.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Love Story,” The New Teen Titans v2 #10-11 (July-August, 1985).]
She felt her legs twist into the elongated and inhumanly narrow limbs of an insect. Her hair fell out in red curls as antennae sprouted and she shuddered in horror, until one last effort drove against the nightmares.
A barrage of crystal rained out to strike the woman who had created the terrible fears in her mind. The nightmare ended as she crawled to her knees and tried to sit up. “Phobia!” she cried.
The British beauty in green and black stepped out of the shadows and said, “Yes, Kole. Phobia! I am here to bring all your nightmares to life!”
Kole rolled forward in a move she had learned from Nightwing. She flipped upward and brought her head crashing into the angular woman’s face. As Phobia pitched forward, Kole grabbed her voluminous cape and wrapped it over her face. She spun crystal around the woman’s body, leaving her trapped. Her arms and legs were pinned in crystal, which also held her cape itself in a tight loop over her head. “You can’t free your head until the crystals part to release your cape!” laughed Kole. “You’re not so scary now!”
“And what of us, Mademoiselle Kole?” asked a mocking man in gold as four other figures emerged from the darkness behind Brother Blood’s still form.
“The Brotherhood of Evil!” said Kole as she recognized the gang of killers.
“You know our secret! Thus you must die!” roared the inhuman pink-purple monster known as Plasmus as he reached for her with his lethal touch. Kole screamed and knew no more.
Far below her, the Titans won their battle in the arena, only to realize their fight had only truly begun.