by Immortalwildcat and Martin Maenza
In a former Gotham City riverfront factory building, a portly, middle-aged man stood in front of an elaborate control panel. “Now, how in the hell do I access my mailbox again?” he muttered as he examined the screen full of instructions. “Slide the card key through the slot? Where’s the slot?” He looked around. “There it is. Then type in your pass-code.”
“Having problems?” He turned at the sound of a new voice, a feminine voice. It belonged to a tall, striking woman with bright red hair, bright red lipstick, and a long, bright red dress.
“Ah, just trying to figure out this computerized mailbox system.” He grinned sheepishly. “All this technological stuff gets to me sometimes.”
“I know how you feel. Here, I’ll show you how it works.” Taking the card from his hand, she deftly swiped it through the reader. On the screen, a box appeared with directions for typing a pass-code. “OK, type in your code. No, I’ll step back first.”
He stepped up and typed in the four-digit code, his mother’s birthday. Off to the left, one of the doors popped open. “Hey, it worked!” he exclaimed.
“Of course it did. When my company builds something, it always works.” She smiled and extended a hand. “Ruby Ryder, president, CEO, and owner of Double-R Electronics.”
“Miss Ryder, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I heard quite a bit about you when I was in Gotham a few years ago. I understand you, ah, left town for a while just before I moved back here from Bludhaven.”
Her smile, while not totally disappearing, faded somewhat. “Ah, yes, I’ve been away for a few years. A leave of absence, you might say. Still, the company’s work continued in my absence, and last winter I returned to take my place at its helm again.”
“Ah, I know the feeling. I am just returning from such a, umm, sabbatical myself. Health problems, don’t you know.” Gathering his mail and closing the door, he turned back to her. “Do you live in the building?”
“Only for a few days more. When I left, the penthouse on my company’s headquarters was not in very good condition, and nobody’s been living there since. The remodeling is finished, so I’ll be moving back there by the end of the week.”
“That figures. I was supposed to come home last month, but all that alien nonsense held things up. I’m going to be reestablishing myself in my old political circles, and a chance to meet with one of the local CEOs would help me.”
“Politics, hmm? It would be nice to have some friends around City Hall. Perhaps we should get to know each other, Mr. ahh–?”
“I’m sorry. The name’s Thorne. Rupert Thorne.”
The holding cell at Gotham City’s Police Headquarters was crowded. Several longtime felons, stripped of their colorful costumes, sat or stood around the twenty-by-twenty-foot reinforced pen. Occasionally, a pair of police officers would come down and call one of their names. The selected man would leave, sometimes returning after a short time, sometimes for good.
“Jonathan Crane.” The tall, spindly man stood from the bench and moved to the cell’s door. With an officer on either side of him, he was led to a small room. There was already one person there when he was gently pushed through the door. He heard the clicking of several locks and deadbolts behind him. He took one of the two seats.
“I just don’t understand. Why did you do it?”
He knew what his visitor was talking about. His recent, unexpected trip across the country wasn’t something he was proud of, especially in light of its lack of success. “I was paying back a favor. Several of them, actually.”
“Do you think chemical research and equipment grows on trees? I couldn’t have devised the compounds that I used against the aliens as Fear Factor without his help. What takes me weeks or months to research, he is able to do in hours.” Crane shook his head. “So, when Lex Luthor asks for my help. I come.”
Silence hung in the air for long moments. Eyes brooded behind a dark cowl as gloved hands turned an envelope over and over. Finally, Crane’s visitor spoke again. “I can understand that. And, given that you were declared sane by the doctors at Arkham, the only thing they can hold you for is assault and battery.” Seeing the bruises on Crane’s face, Batwoman stood and added, “Of course, going up against the Creeper, you’re hardly the one who should be charged with battery.”
“You will note that I am not laughing.”
“Well, perhaps this will make you smile.” Batwoman handed him the envelope. “I pulled some strings, and the charges are being dropped.”
“Don’t question it. You did a lot of good these past few weeks, Crane. Try following up on that.” Batwoman offered her hand to him, which he took in a tentative grasp. “But keep this in mind: if you slip back to your criminal ways, Batman isn’t the one you need to be afraid of.”
“We’ve all experienced our share of loss in our lifetimes,” Hal Jordan said as he stood before the group of Green Lanterns and Air Wave in the wooded area behind the Green Lantern Citadel, the Earth-centered group’s headquarters in the Encino Canyon just outside of Los Angeles.
His words were met with silent nods.
The massive Kilowog of Bolovax Vik had lost his entire sector years ago during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. The small, furry Ch’p of H’lven had found that ripple effects of the Crisis had also left him a hero without a home. And now, the group had lost a more recent comrade who had taken up residency with them last fall.
Hal continued. “And today we honor one of our own who fell recently due to the actions of the Controllers. Driq of Criq was a special individual, one who possessed great will far beyond that needed to serve as a Green Lantern. For, even in death, his will kept him going to serve the Corps. I know his presence will be missed here.”
There was a honking sound.
The red-skinned Katma Tui put her arm about one of her comrades to comfort him. “It’s OK, Salaak,” she said to the four-armed Slyggian. “You just let it out.”
Salaak nodded and blew his prolonged snout once more.
Hal turned to an urn, which contained the remains of the fallen Green Lantern. “We shall return to Driq’s homeworld and locate any family he might have had. It is best that his remains be returned to them. We shall also take his ring and battery to see if another from that sector is worthy to carry on the duty that Driq performed so diligently.
“However, in honor of Driq’s memory, I am proud to unveil this.” Hal turned to John Stewart and Guy Gardner. The two nodded, moved away from the group, and returned a few moments later carrying with emerald beams a cloth-covered item. Once they set it down, Hal nodded to them, and both men rejoined the others. “And so, it is with great pride that I dedicate this memorial to Driq of Criq.”
Hal pulled off the cloth to reveal a beautiful, life-sized statue of Driq — as he had looked before he was killed — carved from a transparent green stone. At the base of the statue was a plaque inscribed with the fallen Green Lantern’s name and some inspiring words. “This ends our memorial ceremony.” Hal stepped down and joined the group.
The group mulled around for a bit, engaging one another with some pleasant conversation and comforting the grieving Salaak.
“Were they close?” Air Wave whispered to Arisia.
“I’m not too sure,” she replied softly. “I’ve been away from here for a while now. I barely met Driq once or twice myself.”
“Old pickle-puss is taking it kind of hard, ain’t he?” Guy Garner said.
“Ah, lay off, you poozer,” Kilowog told the red-haired Green Lantern. “He might not show it off’en enough, but Salaak’s got feelin’s, too.”
Guy uncharacteristically restrained himself from saying anything else. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he had been affected when Noleon Fae had sacrificed his life to save them all on Oa.
“Can I get you something, buddy?” Ch’p asked the grieving Green Lantern.
“I’ll be fine,” Salaak sniffed. Hal came over and put a comforting hand on his comrade’s shoulders. “Jordan, that was a wonderful speech. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Hal said. He looked out at the group assembled and felt a slight bit of sadness. Given all the things the Green Lantern Corps had recently been through and with the return of the Guardians of the Universe, he wondered if this might be the last time all of these diverse people would be together. He shook his head slightly. No, best not to think about that right now.
He stood amidst the rubble, surveying what was left of his laboratory. There was not much to see. Like most of the city, it lay in ruins following the bombardments of three weeks earlier. The cyclotron, the centerpiece of the lab and his work, was utterly destroyed. He had yet to locate any surviving members of the lab’s staff besides himself. He wondered if there were any others.
“Neutron, are you all right?”
At first, he didn’t notice the speaker. He was not yet accustomed to the name he had chosen for himself.
“Hello? Can you hear me?” He turned and saw the crimson-clad figure of the Flash.
“What? Flash? What, that is, why are you here?” It was pleasant to speak at what for him was normal speed. There were only a handful of people on Earth who could comprehend him normally. For everyone else, he had to consciously slow himself down.
“I spoke with Doctor Light, and she mentioned that you would be coming back here. I thought you might want to talk.”
“About what?” Im Ho was mildly puzzled.
“I remember when I first acquired my super-speed. I had all kinds of questions. The original Flash was there. He helped me figure out my limits and how to use my speed.” The Flash pushed his cowl back, revealing the features of Wally West. “Figured it was the least I could do, offering to help you.”
Neutron turned away from the wreckage of his lab and started walking down a deserted street. “I have had to learn in a great hurry how to control my speed. I greatly appreciated the trust that you and the members of the Justice League placed in me, allowing me to take part in the mission to that war planet.”
“Warworld. Hey, anybody who can pace me around the globe is somebody I want working with me.”
“I am very glad to hear that. In the science community, many people regard others who can match their skill as competitors and hold them with great suspicion.” The Korean speedster paused and turned to his American counterpart. “So tell me, please, how do you keep functioning at a slower speed for long periods of time?”
Wally’s face showed puzzlement. “What do you mean?”
“Our bodies are operating at such higher speeds, but we must interact with those functioning at lower speeds. Does it bother you, having to slow down for them?”
“I don’t slow down for others. When I need to move fast, I speed up.” Realization dawned. “It doesn’t work that way for you, does it?”
“It would seem that my body is quite different from yours, friend Flash. I consider myself fortunate that I have no family left, for I don’t believe I will be able to lead a normal life anymore.” As the Flash walked along, Im Ho darted back and forth, seeming to be in several places at once. “Everything seems to be standing still, even you. Still, it won’t be an unexciting life. Perhaps I can–”
Before he could describe what he could do, Im Ho and Wally West heard the sound of explosions from a distance. At the same time, the Flash’s JLA communicator let out a shrill beep. “Flash here!” he said, pressing the lightning bolt on his chest to activate the communicator.
“You still in Korea, Flash?” came a female voice that he recognized as the Black Canary.
“I’m here with Neutron. What’s going on?”
“Looks like someone decided to take advantage of the post-invasion lull. Troops are rolling over the border from North Korea, accompanied by low-flying bombers and heavy artillery. Wonder Woman, Manhunter, and Steel are on their way.”
“We’ll meet up with them. Flash out.” He turned to Neutron. “Shall we?”
The afternoon sun was low in the sky as a brown-haired young man approached a certain grave in a quiet cemetery. Hank Hall paused and bowed his head as he stood before the plot that was marked with a beautiful marble tombstone.
“Hey, little brother,” Hank said softly after a moment of silence. “Sorry I’m late. I meant to get here a couple days ago, but things have been crazy. Some aliens decided to pillage the planet on their summer vacation, so all us heroes had to drive them off. Seems like all these big events happen during the summer months. At least my grades won’t suffer because of it.” He laughed, but it came out forced.
He looked at the stone. Etched into it was the name of Don Hall, with the fallen youth’s birth date of May 1st, 1964, and death date of August 5th, 1985. Between the name and the dates was the etched outline of a small bird with an olive branch in its beak.
It was just a little over two years ago since Don Hall was killed during the so-called Crisis that plagued all the Earths. As the first Dove, his life was taken while doing what he always did, helping those innocents who needed it. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]
“These are for you,” Hank said as he laid some white flowers on the ground in front of the stone. “I wasn’t sure what to get you. Dawn recommended lilies.”
He paused, looking at the stone and the flowers.
“That’s right,” Hank then said. “You probably don’t know about Dawn. Or maybe you do, if you’re watchin’ over me. I kinda figure you are. You always did when we were growin’ up, makin’ sure I stayed out of trouble. Anyway, Dawn — Dawn Granger, she’s a friend, a good friend — came into my life last year, sometime after my last visit to see you. Kind of odd how we met. She just showed up one day out of the blue.”
He paused, recalling in his mind how she showed up to aid Hank and the other guys during that fight with Crazy Quilt at STAR Labs. She disappeared as quickly as she came, only to show up again a few days later to help once more. (*) Ever since then, she had been a constant in his life.
“She’s a great girl — smart, funny, beautiful. I think you’d have liked her a lot. Not like there’s anything going on between her and me, mind you. She’s kind of like the sister we never had. We hang out together, go to the same school. And, yeah, we’re partners. Like you and me were partners.” He paused. “I hope that’s OK with you.”
The sun was dropping down, the sky in a brilliant orange-red glow. Hank rubbed his eyes for a moment, wiping away a few tears.
“No, I’m not cryin’,” he lied. “Just that sunset is all.” He sniffed slightly.
“I miss you, Don. I think about you a lot, you know?”
And while the sun continued to sink on the horizon, Hank Hall stood by his brother’s grave and continued to talk quietly.