by Martin Maenza and Immortalwildcat
June 24th, 1987:
“Ooof!” the smooth-granite-skinned woman exclaimed as her face slammed hard into the ground with a heavy thud. A grim look crossed her mouth; she used her blue-gloved hands to try to rise to her knees once more. Her breath was heavy.
“Back down, girl!” a voice boomed from behind her as a large yellow boot slammed firmly in the center of the young woman’s back. “No one said class was over!” The rotund but muscular woman in orange with yellow gloves and head covering smiled wickedly. Stompa often enjoyed throwing her weight around, and this time it was even more fun. For her playmate today was none other than Pandora, Darkseid’s own daughter. “Gotta learn to take it, girl!”
Pandora’s low growl erupted into a battle cry as she shoved off the floor hard. Her super-strength easily pushed Stompa backward and onto the floor.
“Hey!” Stompa exclaimed as she tried to get to her feet, looking like a turtle turned over on its shell. Pandora grabbed the fallen woman by the foot and began to twirl her around. “Let me go! Let me go!”
Pandora smiled wickedly. “If you insist.” And with that, she released her grip. The heavyweight woman launched into the air like a projectile, soaring fast until she slammed hard into one of the walls. A low groan came from the rubble of the structure. “I’m not your doormat, Stompa! Remember that!”
“And you should remember to watch your back!” a high-pitched voice wailed. Pandora turned her head slightly just in time to see the green-haired, yellow-skinned harpy drop down upon her. “These scratches might help remind you of that lesson!” Mad Harriet raked her razor-sharp talons across the beauty’s back.
Pandora laughed at the effort. “You are mad, Harriet! Being half-Kryptonian and half-god, your little claws are nothing more than nipping gnats to me!” She lashed out and grabbed the woman by the scruff of her neck. “Now, beg me not to do to you what I did to Stompa!”
“Mad Harriet doesn’t beg!” the woman said mockingly. “I bring others to their knees instead!” Her arms lashed out, the talons scraping against Pandora’s face.
“Aaargh!” Pandora yelled. She threw Harriet to the ground hard to free her hands. Both went straight to her face and eyes, where the talons had connected with deadly accuracy. Though her body was invulnerable, she still had vulnerable spots.
“You witch! I’ll kill you for that!” Pandora exclaimed. Her eyes began to take on a glow of red to match the fury burning inside her. She started to focus on the fallen Harriet, ready to obliterate her with her omega beams.
Suddenly, something caught Pandora firmly about the neck, jerking her head back and breaking her concentration. Her eyes reverted back to normal. “Ah-ah-ah, missy,” a voice scolded. “You know the rules! No using that power on any of us!” The daughter of Darkseid was jerked around by a steel-banded cord held by the dark-haired, blue-outfitted Lashina.
Pandora struggled with the ever-tightening band. The Female Furies were playing for keeps, pulling no punches. And yet she was tied from using her greatest power. Her patience for this twisted training session was fading as fast as her ability to breathe easy. Enough was enough.
Grabbing the lash with both hands, Pandora yanked hard, and Lashina came flying toward her. Pandora then threw up a fist, letting the woman slam hard into it. She smiled as the dark-haired woman fell to the ground.
She grabbed the lash about her neck and began to pull it apart. It took some effort, but in a moment she was free of it. Lashina was starting to stir, so Pandora gave her a swift kick in the ribs. “Now we play by my rules!” Pandora grinned, and her eyes began to glow once more. “See you in Hell, sweet cheeks!”
Suddenly, a huge blast of energy hit Pandora from behind. It pushed her forward twenty feet before knocking her down. “Nooo!” a gruff female voice scolded. “No omega beams! You were warned; now you get punished!”
The white-haired elderly woman in yellow with a blue cape pushed forward, her mighty Mega-Rod in hand, keeping fire on the fallen girl. “This is Granny’s house, and Granny has the final say! Learn that lesson, girl, or suffer!” Granny Goodness, the elderly keeper of the hellish orphanage on Apokolips, was enjoying this as much as her Female Furies were. It wasn’t often one got to play so rough with one of Darkseid’s own. She watched as the girl struggled with the blasts. Granny smiled. She’d be able to kick it up to a higher setting, then. She started to reach for the knob.
“That is enough,” a firm but heavy voice said from the doorway.
That was all it took, for Granny knew the voice well. It haunted her very sleep. She immediately did as was told, cutting off the Mega-Rod’s output. She spun around, putting a pleasant smile on her face. “Lord Darkseid,” she cooed, “I did not see you arrive. Have you been here long?”
The stone-faced giant stepped into the room. He moved with such confidence, such power. All on Apokolips feared his might. “Long enough,” Darkseid said. He passed Granny Goodness by and stepped toward his daughter.
She saw the boots while still on her knees recovering. “Father…” she said.
“Rise, child,” Darkseid intoned. “Your lessons are over for today.” She rose to her feet and stood next to him. “Come. Events transpire in the galaxy that need my attention. Apokolips must be on alert, should we need to take action. You can learn much from observing.” He started for the doorway.
“Yes, Father,” Pandora said, nodding. She started to follow him but took enough time to glare at the Furies who were recovering. This wasn’t over yet.
June 26th, 1987:
It started as a low rumble, barely audible. In the darkness, one might mistake it for the distant rush of an underground river. Over a period of two minutes, it became steadily louder, increasing to a roar. Just when one would think it couldn’t get any louder in the darkness, overhead lights came to life, and equipment began switching on automatically. The source of the sound came rushing through a large opening to one side, only to stop abruptly on a specially designed section of the floor that started to rotate as soon as the engine of the sleek, black automobile was silenced.
Welcome to the Batcave.
The doors on either side of the car opened, discharging two figures — one clad in gray and dark blue, the other in red, green, and gold.
“Man, what a night! Any chance of skipping the case log tonight? I promise, I’ll update it as soon as I get back tomorrow afternoon.”
Batman glanced at a clock on the wall. It read three-thirty in the morning. “The arson case did take longer than I expected, and you’re planning to go to New York tomorrow, right?” At Robin’s nod, Batman tilted his head toward the stairs. “All right, then. Hit the showers and get to bed.”
“Thanks, chief!” shouted Robin as he dashed toward the changing room.
“Oh, and Robin?” The Boy Wonder stopped and turned back toward the caped figure. “Good work tonight.”
Jason Todd stripped off his cowl and mask, and grinned. “Hey, you did all right yourself out there!”
Bruce Wayne reached up and pulled off his own cowl, letting it fall around his neck. He smiled as he walked over to one of the Batcave’s computer console. He typed in a few commands and started studying the information that scrolled up the screen. He remained in the chair for nearly two hours, finally switching off the console and heading upstairs to bed.
“Bruce! Hey, Bruce, wake up!” Bruce Wayne opened his eyes to see Jason Todd in his doorway. “Sorry to wake you, but do you know where Alfred’s gone?”
“Hmmm? Alfred’s not here?” Bruce stopped as he realized that the faithful butler had never appeared in the Batcave after his return the night before. Not that he expected Alfred Pennyworth to be there every night; rather he had at times urged the older man to get a proper night’s sleep. But for the hour to reach eight in the morning with no sign of Alfred was unheard of in the Wayne household.
“I checked his room. He hasn’t been here since yesterday afternoon!”
Bruce got to his feet and reached for a robe. “How do you know that?”
“I had borrowed a book from him about King Arthur last week, and yesterday I dropped it off in his room. It’s still sitting on the bed where I left it.”
In the next five minutes, they made a circuit of the house. Bruce checked his study, the library, and the kitchen — all of the places where Alfred would have been likely to leave a note if he was called away. He was checking the pantry when Jason came in from the garage.
“None of the vehicles are gone, and I made a sweep of the second and third floor. He’s nowhere to be found!”
June 27th, 1987:
“These pictures are great,” said the red-haired seventeen-year-old Chris King as he flipped through a stack of photocopied drawings. “Thanks for running them by, man.”
“No problem,” said the dark-haired Nick Stevens. “Some of the latest from my pen pal Barney from Central City are in there, too.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Flash: All Flash and Image, Chapter 1: Vanishing Act.]
“We’re going to miss you,” the blonde-haired Vicki Grant said as she hugged their classmate. “Its not going to be the same without you.”
“Geez, Vicki, chill,” Chris said. “Its not like Nick, here’s, going away forever.”
“Might as well be,” Nick sighed. “Spending half the summer in Seattle visiting family isn’t my idea of a fun vacation.”
A car horn sounded loudly. All three teenagers on the porch turned back to the station wagon in the street. Mr. Stevens was gesturing frantically. “I better get going before Dad busts a vessel,” Nick said.
Vicki gave him a great big hug. “Drop us some postcards, OK?”
“Will do,” Nick said.
Chris put down the drawing and gave his friend a high five. “Keep out of trouble, hear?”
“You two, too,” Nick said. He hopped down from the porch and ran toward the car.
“Bye-bye,” Vicki said, waving. Nick waved back and climbed into the back seat. The car was then off for the airport.
Chris picked up the drawings. “So, what d’ya want to do now?”
A gleam hit Vicki’s eye. “Visit some more colleges?”
Chris made a face. “Ugh. Remember what happened last time we did that a couple months back?”
Vicki smiled again. “Oh, come on, Chris. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Graduation day arrived for the class of 1987 from Taylor High School. The temperature in Dallas was on the rise, so Principal Healey wanted to get things going before it became too unbearable. “Students, attention!” the brown toupee-wearing man called, clapping his hands twice. “You need to be in your lines in ten minutes, by order of rank!”
“Now, hold still,” Helen Jordan said as she straightened the necktie of a brown-haired young man. “You need to look your best.”
“Mom!” Hal protested.
“Look, Mommy,” a young boy said. “Hal’s wearin’ a dress.”
“Its a gradamation gown,” a young girl corrected her brother.
“Jason, Jennifer, please behave,” Jan Jordan begged.
“I’m glad you guys could make it,” the nineteen-year-old said as he hugged his cousins.
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Jack Jordan replied as he patted Hal on the shoulders.
“The whole family is very proud of you,” Helen said.
“Was your girlfriend able to make it?” Jan asked, glancing about. “We were hoping to meet her.”
“No,” Hal said, shaking his head. Ever since her power ring gave out, Arisia’s alternate identity of model Cindy Simpson had to drop out of sight. Having talked with her the night before, Hal knew it was hard on her. After all, first and foremost, she was a Green Lantern. “She was previously committed. I’m hoping to visit her out in California real soon.”
“Hal got accepted in UCLA’s engineering program,” Helen said with pride.
“I guess we’ll see a lot more of you, then,” cousin Jack said. “We really enjoyed the time he lived with us here in Dallas.”
Just then, a blonde young woman in a blue cap and gown approached the Jordans. “Hal, we need to line up,” she said.
Jan’s eyes lit up. “Karen! How are you? We were looking for your parents!” She gave her former neighbor a big hug.
“Hi, Mrs. Jordan,” Karen Peterson said. “Mr. Jordan. Kids.” She gave the two little ones hugs, too. “My folks went inside to save some seats for you guys.”
“How nice,” Jack said. He gathered up the two little ones and headed inside with Jan.
“I’d better go, too,” Helen said. She smiled at her son and gave him a great big hug. “You know, your father would have been proud of you today.” A tear started to form in the corner of her eye as she thought of her long-deceased husband Larry.
“I know, Mom,” Hal said.
As his mother headed inside, Hal walked with Karen to where the others were assembling. She gave his arm a little squeeze. “Well, we finally made it.”
“Yeah,” Hal said, “we sure did.” They noticed some of their other friends. He tapped one guy on the shoulder; the guy was looking away in a daze. “Hey, Carl!”
The dark-haired young man nodded and slipped off a small pair of earphones. “What’s up, guys?”
“What’s with the radio?” Hal asked. “Here we’re graduating, and your mind’s elsewhere.”
“Ball game coming on,” Carl said. He never liked to miss when the Stars were playing, even when they were out of town. “Say, did you hear the latest? Earthquakes have been hitting all up and down the California coasts! Some folks are linking it to the increased sightings in alien ships.”
“Really?” Karen asked. Then she noticed Hal’s expression, one that she’d seen a bit over the years. “‘Scuse us.” She grabbed Hal and ushered him away from the others.
“What?” Hal asked.
“You tell me,” Karen said. “You had a look.”
“Oh,” Hal said. “I, uh…” He fumbled for an excuse. “I was thinking… I, uh… left my camera in the car.”
“Your mom has it,” Karen said. “I saw it.” She leaned in closer, dropping her voice to a whisper. “I know your first instinct is to run off and help.”
“What do you mean?” Hal asked sheepishly.
“Look, you missed graduating last year,” she said. “With your family here, I’m not about to let you do that again. You worked so hard for this. You can play hero later.”
“What?” Hal asked.
“Hal, I know you’re Air Wave,” Karen said. “I’ve known for years, ever since you first moved down here. (*) I just never said anything. I never felt I needed to. It was your secret.” She took his hand. “Hal, listen. Today is your day. Whatever crisis is out there, it can wait for a few hours. You have the rest of your life to be the hero. Today, be Hal.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Close Shave for Air Wave,” Action Comics #490 (October, 1978).]
Hal wasn’t sure what to say. This revelation from his good friend was a bolt out of the blue. But deep down, he knew she was right. Hal nodded and gave her a slight hug. “Thanks, Karen.”
“No problem,” she said, taking his arm. “Now, let’s go get those diplomas.”