by Martin Maenza
Night had descended on the Pacific. Even from the shore, the light from the flames of the Station Break, Willard Stanton’s yacht, could still be seen. A dark figure emerged slowly from the murky ocean waters, a smile upon his face hidden by a dark green, reptilian-like mask.
At last, revenge!” said the person in the strange diving outfit. Human hands grabbed the ladder that hung down to the water’s surface. He yanked himself up, drawing forth his body from the water. The liquid quickly rushed back to fill in the spot displaced by the bizarre-looking figure.
He climbed quickly to the docks above, all the while keeping inside his unique diving suit. “Stanton just learned a hard life lesson! Cross Freddy Nero, and you’re bound to get burned!” He laughed aloud, his voice muffled by the strange snout-like helmet.
“Hold it, creep!” a voice called from above.
The man in the diving suit spun around just as something launched itself off the edge of a warehouse rooftop. As the figure swooped into view, the man could make out the white-and-red-costumed form of a certain local hero. “Hawk?!” he exclaimed.
“I see you’re up on your current events!” the hero said, winding back his fist. “But you have me at a disadvantage, sport!” Hawk let a right cross file, nailing the man in the chest. The guy in green flew backward into some packing crates. “Who do I have the honor of poundin’ into a pulp?”
The man in green rose from the splintered wooden boxes, shaking off the blow. “I’m called the Fire-Drake!” he announced. “I’ve battled the likes of Supergirl before, so you don’t scare me!”
“Funny,” Hawk said with a grin, “I was about to say something similar.” He looked the costumed man up and down. “Fire-Drake, huh? Better get a new moniker, bub! You look more like a gator than you do a male duck! And how’s the fire fit in? You some kind of arsonist?”
Beneath the fixed face of the mask, Freddy Nero sneered. “You asked for it!” From some controls hidden in the specialized mask, the man routed some of the oxygen through the snout portions of the head piece. This fed the acetylene torches built into the helmet, allowing for a strong stream of flames to shoot out at his target.
“Whoa!” Hawk said, leaping to one side in surprise. The fire instead struck the side of one of the warehouses. “That’s not something I was expectin’.”
“Yeah?” Fire-Drake said. “Well, let’s see how you handle this!” He opened up the tank full throttle and nailed the hero with a wide burst of flames.
Hawk was caught dead center in a raging inferno. “Aaah!” he yelped as the fire singed his costume. The heat was incredibly intense; the exposed skin on his face immediately became beat red.
“Ha-ha-ha!” Fire-Drake laughed. “When I’m finished with you, you’ll be burnt to a crisp!” He stalked forward, letting the fire further engulf the hero.
Despite the intense heat and the flames burning through his costume, Hawk wasn’t about to go down without a fight. He swung his fist at the sound of the voice and connected with the green-costumed man. As Fire-Drake fell backward, so did Hawk. The hero plunged back over the edge of the dock into the water below.
“Hawk!” a female voice cried out from a nearby rooftop.
Fire-Drake spun around in time to see the white-and-blue-costumed young woman. “Well, well,” he said. “Looks like I get two for the price of one tonight! Let’s see how you like playing with fire, sweetie!” He adjusted the jets on the mask, turning the flames into a narrower spray.
Dove gracefully dodged the attack, hand-springing off of the roof’s edge. She did a double-somersault in the air and launched feet-first into the attacking man. She then flipped safely to a standing position while Fire-Drake tumbled backward to the ground.
“You’re a quick one,” he admitted. “But let’s see what happens when you have nowhere to run!” He launched a flaming blast toward the building behind her. The wooden structure caught fire with the flames quickly running up the wall.
This guy definitely has to be the one who attacked the yacht, she thought as she moved quickly to avoid another blast. I need to find a way to take him out fast. Especially if I want to check on Hawk. Dove ran toward another of the buildings with the man in pursuit.
“That’s it, little chicken,” he called. “Run! Before I fry you up like Sunday dinner. Ha-ha!” Fire-Drake ducked into the warehouse where the heroine had gone. It was very dim, but his special diving helmet had adjustments in the eye-pieces for deep sea exploration. In a moment, he was able to adjust to the limited light.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” called the man in the reptilian-looking diving suit. He heard a sound near one of the walls. “Hah!” He launched a flaming attack in that direction. “Big mistake, sister!”
“Wrong!” a voice called from above.
As Fire-Drake spun around, a large chemical tank was flying down toward him. His first reaction was to blast it, which he did so. The flaming attack heated the metal canister quickly as it fell. The tank then exploded.
Chemical fluid rained down on him, converting to a foam-like substance as it was exposed to the air.
“What the–?” Fire-Drake said. The stuff coated his suit as well as the floor, making it difficult to move without slipping.
“Carbon dioxide,” Dove said with a smile. “Common chemical compound in fire extinguishers.” She thought of her freshmen year chemistry class and was pleased to put some of it to practical use.
“You haven’t won yet, girlie!” Fire-Drake cursed.
“Yes, she has!” an angry voice said. Fire-Drake was slammed in the back by a pair of red-gloved fists. The man fell to the floor, hard.
Dove leaped down from the rafters to join her partner. With his costume burned away in a number of places and his skin singed underneath, he looked the worse for wear. “You OK?” she asked. She gently touched his burned arm. “Does that hurt?”
“It’s gettin’ better,” Hawk said. “One of the job perks — we heal well.” He reached down and grabbed the helmet of the fallen man. “Now, let’s get a look at Mr. Hot Duck, here.”
Pulling the mask away, the man underneath lay revealed. Freddy Nero was a rugged looking, dark-haired man. His hair and eyebrows were thick. He started to stir, so Hawk gave him another slam for good measure.
“We better call the police to haul this guy in,” Hawk said.
“Fire department, too,” Dove added. “Otherwise the entire waterfront area will go up in smoke.” She glanced at her partner once more. “Need an ambulance?”
“No,” said Hawk. “I’ll be fine.”
The next morning at 2600 Haney Street, in the city’s facility of STAR Labs, four people came together to talk about one of the participants. “So, like, what’s the verdict, Doc?” asked the male with long blonde hair.
One of the African-American women, dressed in a white lab coat, checked over the contents of the folder. “Well, Charley,” Dr. Sarah Charles said, “while not my area of expertise, Karen did want me to review her results. And I do concur with her findings.”
Karen Duncan, the other dark-skinned woman who was also dressed in a white lab coat, smiled. “We’ve been running these tests monthly since January,” she said, “and the results show no sign of degradation in the slightest. In fact, there appears to be a slight increasing trend.” She turned to the blonde woman. “Lisa, it looks as though your special abilities might be here to stay. Congratulations.”
“Whoo-hoo!” Charley Parked whooped loudly. He gave the blonde woman a great big hug. “Like, babe, this is totally awesome! All that mucking around that the Marauder dude did seems to have, like, given you back those abilities you once had.”
Lisa Morel let all this sink in. Over the last twelve years, she had gone back and forth many times on whether she wanted to have the brief abilities she once exhibited back again. Being able to breathe underwater and communicate with aquatic life was such a thrill. She had high hopes of joining up with the famous Aquaman, to work side by side with him on his quest to protect the oceans of the world. Those hopes were dashed when the powers faded as quickly and as mysteriously as they first appeared. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Aquaman Meets Aquagirl,” Adventure Comics #266 (November, 1959).]
But a little more than six months ago, the twenty-seven-year-old had been attacked and kidnapped by a costumed lunatic called the Marine Marauder. He learned of her past and hoped to exploit the abilities he believed to still be buried within her genetic make-up. His plan succeeded to bring them back to the surface, but three heroes arrived just in time to stop him from escaping. (*) That was really the point where her life took on a new course, one that mixed quite a bit with the team called Titans West.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Titans West: Two If By Sea.]
“So, where do you go from here?” Sarah Charles asked her.
“Well,” Lisa began to say, “Charley and I have actually been talking about this over the last week. This, among other things. Now that he and I are more involved than before, there is the option for me to share another aspect of his life as well.”
“You mean…?” Karen asked.
“Totally!” Charley interjected. “Now that she’s got, like, powers at her disposal, she’d make, like, an awesome addition to our team!”
“Part-time,” Lisa said, putting her arm about Charley’s shoulders. “Remember, I’m a marine biologist first and foremost. I said I’d be happy to offer up my talents should the situation arise.”
Karen nodded. “Garth often served a similar role for the East Coast team back when Mal and I were with them,” she said. “I think that’s a wonderful idea. But have you given any thought to a code-name?”
“I did go by the name of Aquagirl in my first outing,” Lisa said.
Karen frowned a bit. “That’s probably not a good idea,” she said, “even if you did have the name first. Garth’s former girlfriend Tula used that code-name. We lost her during the Crisis. Though I doubt he’d say anything — he’s not that kind of person — we don’t want to risk offending our friend.”
“Yeah, for sure,” Charley agreed. “Say, maybe you could use Marina!”
Lisa laughed. “Yeah, right. Like I want to be named after the place people dock their boats.”
Sarah Charles pondered. “You could go with Amphibian, though that brings to mind images of frogs.”
Lisa nodded. “While I like the idea of a costume in green, I definitely don’t want to draw that kind of comparison.”
“Costume?” Karen asked. “I’ve been known to design some a time or two. Perhaps I can help you with that.”
“I’d like that, Karen. Thanks. But maybe we should settle on a name first before you start to work.”
“Too bad you’re not Spanish,” Sarah said. “You could go with a variant on your original name — Agua-Girl.” Lisa shook her head no.
“How about Sea-Gal?” Charley suggested. The women all shot him a harsh look. “SCUBA-doo?”
“You’re not helping, Charley,” Lisa said.
“I’ve got one,” Karen said. “How about Oceana?”
“Oceana?” Lisa repeated the name. “Hmmm, that has a good ring to it. Let’s put that on the candidate list.”
“Well, all this talk is, like, making me hungry,” Charley said. “Lisa, how’s about we let these ladies get back to work while we, like, go grab a bite to eat?”
“Sounds good,” Lisa said, grabbing her purse. “That is, if Karen and Sarah are done with me.”
“We’re finished,” Karen said. “You two go enjoy yourselves.” And with that, the blonde couple stepped out of the lab. Karen watched them go. “I’m so glad things are working out between them. It could have ended up in disaster.”
“Yes,” Sarah Charles agreed. “That’s the funny thing about love — it’s so unpredictable.” Her voice had a bit of a sadness to it when she said this. Her own problems with Victor Stone, the least of which were the miles apart they were, only seemed to get worse. She shook her head, trying to clear away those thoughts. “We should probably get back to work.”
As the two women were about to step from the lab, another of their coworkers called from down the hall. “Sarah, Karen, there you are,” said Carmen Santiago. The Hispanic scientist was not alone. “You have a visitor.” With her walked a familiar blonde-haired woman.
Both the African-American women recognized her instantly. “Frances!” Sarah Charles exclaimed. “What brings you here?”
“Is Wally with you?” Karen asked.
“No!” she snapped. The young woman looked a bit worn-out, having just stepped off a cross-country bus at San Francisco’s port authority not a half-hour prior. “I’m sorry. Can we talk someplace a bit more private?” she asked softly.
“Sure,” Sarah said, escorting her to the nearby office. Karen followed after thanking Carmen for bringing Frances to them. Once inside the office, Sarah closed the door. “Sit, dear. Can we get you anything?”
“No,” Frances said wearily. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Karen sat down next to her. “Honey, what’s wrong? I can tell by your body language and the tone in your voice that something’s going on.”
Frances buried her head for a moment, gathering her courage. She certainly didn’t want to go into her big blow-up with Wally West, especially given how these women had past involvement with him through the Titans.
The irony of all that struck her rather harshly. Part of the reason she’d left Central City was because of the New Titans and how Wally’s involvement with them was affecting their relationship. (*) And here she was anyway, seeking help from some of them, nonetheless. She really had little choice and had resigned herself to accept it.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Flash: Terminal Velocity, Chapter 14: Heading West.]
Frances looked up again. “It’s my powers. Something’s going on with my powers, and I’m not sure what. It scares me!”
“So Wally sent you here?” Sarah asked.
“No!” Frances shook her head. “No, no. Wally doesn’t know. I didn’t want to tell him. Not until I had an idea what was going on. And I don’t want him to know, either.”
“So you just came out here?” Karen asked. “All by yourself?”
Frances felt a twinge, much like those she had been feeling over the previous weeks when she used her magnetic abilities. Now the pains were coming even when she hadn’t used them prior. “I didn’t know where to turn,” she said. “I knew normal doctors wouldn’t be able to help. And we don’t have a STAR Labs in Central City.” She looked at the two women, and her eyes spoke volumes. “Please, can you help me?”
Karen put her arms about the young woman. “Sure we can, honey,” she said. “We’ll do whatever we can.”
The woman was concerned with Frances’ demeanor and even more so with the young blonde’s insistance that Wally not be told what was going on. Still, as a professional, Karen knew that she and Sarah would have to try to help the young woman first and foremost. It was up to Fran to handle whatever was going on with Wally when she chose to. After having meddled some with Charley and Lisa, the last thing Karen was about to do was get in the middle of someone else’s relationships.