by Martin Maenza
Two figures waited in the shadows of a wall around a research facility, discussing their mission. “This is the place,” the male dressed in purple and yellow said. “Is the boss sure the guy will take the bait?” He propped the rounded end of his three-pronged weapon to the ground and leaned slightly.
A dark-haired woman dressed a sleeveless black top and a short skirt nodded. “Yes, Mirror Master was certain.” Her flesh, a good portion exposed on the arms and legs, was covered with pictures made of special inks. “Look!” She pointed with her right hand to a large tree that was in the main yard. The mighty oak’s trunk was twisted in a rather odd shape, not one seen in the natural growth of trees in this part of the world. The fact that it bent toward an opening smashed in the wall of the building’s second floor was further proof. “He is here.”
“So, T.L., what do you know ’bout this guy?”
“I only saw a brief profile of him back at the base, Trident,” the Tattooed Lady replied. “He was a member of the Society for a while in its first incarnation. Star Sapphire worked with him. I guess Mirror Master wants to shore up the ranks with some villains they have worked with before.”
Trident cocked his head at her slightly. His full facial mask of white hid the expression on his face. He turned back toward the opening in the building. “I saw something moving up there,” he said, grabbing his weapon in both hands. Indeed, a human-shaped figure emerged from the opening and headed for the bent tree to make its exit. “Let’s get this over with!”
“Trident, wait,” Lydia Anastasios said, but her teammate was already on the move to where the oak and the ground met.
“Hey, you!” Trident called up the tree. “We need to speak with you!”
The figure moved around the trunk to where the moon above could illuminate his body. Trident gasped at the sight. The man was brown in color, but what should have passed for skin had a rougher surface to it. To further add to the bizarre appearance, leaves and some vines draped about his head, shoulders, wrists, and ankles. His eyes were dark and sinister. “Are you addressing me?” he said in a voice that sounded a bit like two pieces of wood scraping together.
“If you’re Woodrue, we want to talk to you!” Trident said.
“Conversation is cheap,” the plant man said. “I know not of you, thus you are not worth my time.” He started to move to the ground and past the costumed man.
“Woodrue, hold up!” Trident said, putting a hand on the thief’s shoulders.
The plant man spun around. His right hand sprang forward to Trident’s throat. “No one touches the Floronic Man unless I say so!” The costumed villain struggled for air as the tendril-like fingers began to constrict tightly about his throat like a snake.
“Wait! Stop!” the Tattooed Lady cried out, rushing toward the confrontation.
The plant man turned but kept up his attack. “Friend of yours? Too bad! You can inform his next of kin that he died an idiot!”
Trident fumbled with his namesake weapon as he felt himself about to blackout. He had one chance. As he flipped the switch, a burst of fire shot forth from the right tine of his weapon.
“Aaa-aah!” the Floronic Man cried out at the sight of the fire coming toward him. He dropped the satchel he had under his arm and released the grip he had on Trident’s neck. “If you think I’ll stand by idle and allow you to incinerate me, you have another think coming!” The plant man thrust out both arms, launching a barrage of sharp, thorn-like projectiles at his attacker.
A couple of them were consumed in the fire. Some hit the metal trident weapon itself. But a few nailed the villain squarely in the arm and shoulder. “Yowww!” Trident howled in pain. They were sharp enough to pierce through his costume. His mind quickly raced to the thought, What if they’re poisoned?
“Floronic Man, stop it!” Tattooed Lady exclaimed. “We came here not to fight, but to convey a proposition.”
Jason Woodrue turned to her and gave her body an extended once-over. “At one time, I would have been interested in a proposition from the likes of you,” he said. “But now that I am in a more advanced state of being, the ways of the flesh no longer excite me. Still…” He started to lurch forward.
Lydia looked at him in shock. “You think that I…” she stammered, “…that I wanted…” The thought of that truly repulsed her. “You are crazy!”
The plant man snapped at the word. “Crazy?! Crazy?! I am not crazy! Those fools put me in that asylum with the true lunatics, and it was unbearable!” Both of the Floronic Man’s arms lunged forward at the woman, wrapping about her. “Do you know what it is like being locked up in a cold, sterile environment?” He pulled her closer toward his raving face; the heels of her black boots could not dig into the ground fast enough.
From atop one of the nearby buildings overlooking the yard, a figure watched from the shadows. The wind blew slightly, and the figure’s yellow cape moved briefly into the light. “Well, now,” a low male voice muttered to itself, “it seems I arrived at a timely moment.” The mystery man watched the scene below him unfolding.
“Do you know what I missed most?” raved the plant man. “The warmth of the sun and the feel of the earth beneath my feet! It was truly a wretched experience!”
The Tattooed Lady squirmed in his arms, unable to get her hands against her bare skin to launch one of her tattoo weapons. “Please…” she cried as the arms tightened about her, “…you are… hurting me.”
“You heard the lady!” a voice boomed. “Let her go!” A concussive blast hit the plant man squarely, knocking him off balance; his grip loosened enough for the woman to slip free.
“You shall pay for that, little man!” the Floronic Man growled.
“Chill out!” Trident responded, blasting the criminal with the left tine of his weapon. An icy blast chilled the air about the plant man’s legs, keeping him from standing. “Here we come offerin’ you team membership, and this is how you thank us?”
If looks could burn, the Floronic Man would have had the ice about his legs melted. Instead, the seething criminal concentrated. As he did so, he asked, “Team? What team?”
“The SSOSV,” Trident said. “You know them? You worked with them years ago, right?”
The plant man’s mind recalled being recruited by the Wizard and Star Sapphire for a mission the magic man wanted accomplished. After battling his old foe the Atom and Wonder Woman, the Floronic Man joined the duo and a few others on a journey to another Earth. The Wizard planned to pit the villains against his old sparring partners, the Justice Society of America. In the end, the five super-villains barely escaped, but were trapped in the limbo between worlds for a while. Only by swapping bodies with members of the Justice League of America did they escape. But in the end, that super-team imprisoned them all. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Changing of the Guard,” Secret Society of Super-Villains #11 (December, 1977), “The Plunder Plan,” Secret Society of Super-Villains #12 (January, 1978), “The Wizard’s War of the Worlds,” Secret Society of Super-Villains #15 (July, 1978), “Murder Times Seven,” Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2 (Fall, 1978), Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1978: The Redundant Rogues, “The Long Way Home,” Justice League of America #166 (May, 1979), “The League That Defeated Itself,” Justice League of America #167 (June, 1979), and “The Last Great Switcheroo,” Justice League of America #168 (July, 1979).]
“The Secret Society…” Floronic Man said. “Never!” The ice about his legs cracked; expanding his limbs like the mighty roots of trees, he cracked the encasement and freed himself. “That was a mistake I’ll not repeat again!” He lunged at the two.
Trident was hit in the face and knocked down.
“No-o-o!” The Tattooed Lady had enough time this time to activate one of her weapons. After touching her left elbow, a weapon materialized in the air. For such was the nature of her special tattoos — whatever was pictured could be summoned forth as if it were real just by activating them. She grabbed the handle of the whirring chainsaw and motioned with it. “Stay back. I am warning you.”
The Floronic Man laughed. “Oh, you must be kidding me. No way a pretty little flower like you will use that on me.” He advanced on her.
Lydia swallowed hard and swung the weapon about. Having turned her head slightly, she felt the resistance when the blade hit the villain’s advancing arms. The whirring sound changed slightly, and the sound was joined by a scream of pain from the Floronic Man. She turned back to see the villain down upon his knees in agony; the weapon had cut clean through one of his arms.
Oh, my God, she thought. I did not mean…
Floronic Man cradled his pruned appendage and looked up; his eyes were filled with anger. “Once my arm grows back, I will kill you! I will do to you what you just did to me! And I will relish every moment, do you hear me? You will scream your vocal cords raw, and I will drink in your pain like the sweetest of saps!”
“Oh, shut up!”
A blast of energy shot down and hit the Floronic Man. He suddenly stopped moving, stopped talking in mid-sentence. The Tattooed Lady blinked. “What…?”
A figure landed in the yard and strode forward. His face was covered in a white mask with two arrows about the forehead. The mask was framed by a high-collared yellow cape that hung off his shoulders. The upper portion of his skintight costume was green, and the leggings were black-and-white-striped. An hourglass emblem sat upon his chest.
“I know you!” said Trident as he picked himself off the ground. “You’re Chronos, right?”
The time-themed thief did not reply. He merely went over to the spot where the Floronic Man dropped the satchel, then picked up the bag and checked the contents. “Good,” he said. “Everything’s intact.”
Tattooed Lady waved a hand in front of the plant man’s face; he didn’t blink. “What did you do to him?” she asked.
“Oh,” Chronos said, putting the satchel over his shoulder. “Just a little stasis ray. It should hold him for a bit longer. I wouldn’t recommend being around when he comes out of it.”
“What were you doing here, anyway, man?” Trident asked.
“These are some new time-enhanced growth formulas,” Chronos said. “Not surprised Woodrue was after them.”
Tattooed Lady approached their rescuer. “Well, I believe a thank you is in order here.”
“I didn’t do it for thanks,” Chronos said. “I got what I came for.” He patted the bag.
“We didn’t,” Trident said, frowning beneath his mask as he eyed the still-frozen Floronic Man.
“Oh, well,” Tattooed Lady said. “We better take our leave. I am sure we will have another recruit to visit soon enough.”
Trident stopped her from going. “Say, T.L., I got a brilliant idea!” he said. “How’s about offering the plant guy’s spot to Chronos, here? He did save our butts and all!”
Recruits? Spot? Chronos thought, obviously intrigued. “I think I can spare a moment to hear about this.”
“I do not know…” the woman started to protest.
“Why not?” Trident said. “I think he’d be a fine addition to the SSOSV! Plus, this guy’s way more versatile than that walkin’ fern! I’m sure Mirror Master will love it!”
“Trident…” Lydia said, giving him a shooting look.
Mirror Master? Chronos thought. His interest was starting to grow even stronger. “I worked with Mirror Master many times over the years. He even recruited me once for one of the Secret Society missions. But I thought he was dead.”
“Well…” Tattooed Lady said. The whole situation caught her off-guard.
“See, he knows Scudder!” Trident said. “And he worked with the group before, just like Floro, here!” The costumed villain glanced over. He thought he saw the plant man starting to twitch. “Uh…”
Chronos noticed, too. “Well, I’d like to hear more about this before I say yes,” he said. “But I believe it’s time to take this to another place. Our friend, here, will be stirring any minute now.”
“Our jet’s this way!” Trident led the other costumed man off toward the west.
Tattooed Lady shook her head, wondering if this was such a good idea. She hurried off after the two.
Meanwhile, Star Sapphire stepped into one of the large wood-paneled rooms in the Sinister Citadel. It served as the office for the organization’s leader and had a very distinctive odor of fine Cuban cigars. A man in an orange and green costume sat at the desk, reading some printouts. For once, she stood silently and did not disturb him with her entrance. Finally, she cleared her throat.
“Sapphire,” Mirror Master said, looking up in surprise. “You’re here awfully late.”
“I guess I am,” the female villain said. “Any word on Lydia’s mission?”
“Given all the stuff going with the alien invaders and the communication snafus, I instructed them to maintain radio silence. I half-expected them to be back any time now with the Floronic Man.”
Sapphire nodded. “I do hope things work out with him and the group.”
“I’m sure it will. You two have worked together before, so that should ease the transition.” Mirror Master looked her over. There was something different about her. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. She seemed almost withdrawn, more so than usual. It bothered him. “Sapphire, is there something else?”
“No…” she said absently. “I’m sorry, Scudder. I had just hoped to see Lydia before…”
The dark-haired woman closed the office door so she could speak freely. “Scudder, it’s time I took my leave.”
Mirror Master stood up. Sam Scudder had been expecting this moment to come. When Star Sapphire showed up at the Loman Building less than a year ago and entered the Citadel using her old pass card, he knew her time of service would be temporary. (*) In exchange for helping her recover her power gem, she offered to assist them in getting the organization going again. Both parties had kept their end of the bargain. “You’re leaving,” he said plainly. “I understand.” He held out his hand. “Thank you for your service.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Society of Super-Villains: Reclamation, Book 1: Honor Among Thieves.]
Star Sapphire shook it as was accustomed by the people of this world. “I am sorry I missed Lydia,” she said. “You will tell her that for me.”
“I will.” Mirror Master watched her turn to go after releasing his hand. She seemed apprehensive. Something about her departure seemed unsettling. It was rather abrupt and surely unexpected. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
Sapphire turned back to him, curved up her mouth, and got a gleam in her eye. “Are you implying I need assistance in my personal endeavors?” she asked sharply.
Mirror Master smiled. This was the Sapphire he knew. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Just wanted to say that the door is always open to you.”
Sapphire huffed, but it was half-hearted. “If things go as they should, I doubt I will be returning to this world.”
Mirror Master sat down at his desk and picked up some papers. He didn’t want this to be any harder on her than it was. “Fine,” he said. “Good luck to you, then.”
Sapphire turned back and saw he was already back involved in his business. She smiled slightly. Then the gemstone atop her tiara started to glow and bathed her in a violet beam. In a moment, she vanished from the office in a flash.