by Starsky Hutch 76
“Are you out of your ever-lovin’ mind?!” Cliff Steele exclaimed, pacing around Steve Dayton’s living room.
“Frankly, I’ve never been more sane,” Dayton said.
“You don’t know a thing about this girl!” Cliff said.
“On the contrary, I know quite a bit about her,” Dayton said.
“Including that she’s a government spook,” Cliff quipped.
“Retired. They tricked the poor girl into becoming their super-powered agent and stuck her with the consequences when they felt like they didn’t need her anymore.”
“She’s a grown woman,” Cliff said. “She knew what she was doing.”
From what I understand, Triangle left quite a few details out when they gave her orders before her transformation,” Dayton said. “Particularly, what it would do to her appearance. Frankly, it’s a wonder that she’s still sane.”
“How do you know she still is?” Cliff asked. “When you found her, wasn’t she about to jump off a bridge?”
“I’ve displayed some suicidal behavior recently, too,” Dayton said. “I didn’t realize you were ready to lock me up.”
“That’s not fair, Steve,” Cliff said. “A lot of people have been concerned about your well-being. We still are.”
“I’m fully capable of taking care of myself,” Dayton snapped.
“I’m far from your typical invalid,” Dayton said defensively as he rolled forward. “And if I feel this is something I should do, then I’m going to do it, and there’s no force that can stop me.”
“Steve, please!” Cliff pleaded.
“Look, if you’re feeling some instinct that’s telling you to nursemaid me, then you’re going to have to do it in the field, because that’s where I’ll be.”
“So are you with me?” Dayton interrupted. “Because if you’re not with me on this, the best thing you can do is just try to stay out of my way.”
“I… I’m with you,” Cliff sighed.
“Great,” Dayton said, smiling. “Then welcome to my new Doom Patrol.” He extended the thought-controlled hand of his hyper-sophisticated wheelchair, and two robotic hands met in a handshake.
The room was musty and unclean. The walls were covered with senseless sayings scrawled in only God knew what. Debris was scattered on every surface. “What a dump,” Cliff Steele said from beneath a mask disguising his robotic appearance.
“Hey, it ain’t the Ritz Carlton, but he ain’t exactly payin’ what they charge, either,” the landlord said. Stepping inside and seeing what Cliff was looking at, he said, “What the hell?! Who’s gonna pay for this?!”
“I’ll make sure you’re compensated,” Steve Dayton said, rolling in behind him. “Cliff, pay the man, would you?”
“Sure, Chief,” Cliff said, pulling Steve Dayton’s wallet out of his own jacket pocket and handing the man a wad of cash.
“I trust this will take care of all damages and whatever else he may have owed you,” said Dayton.
“Certainly!” the landlord exclaimed, his eyes bugging out at the money. “Thank you,” he said, grinning from ear to ear as he left.
“I don’t know about this, Chief,” Cliff said.
“That’s the second time you’ve done that,” Dayton said.
“Called me Chief.”
“Oh. Just seemed natural, I guess,” Cliff said, shrugging.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Dayton said, rolling farther into the room. “What don’t you know about?” he asked.
“Well, look at this place,” Cliff said. “Not exactly the sort of place you’d expect a hero to live in.”
“It is odd,” Rainie Blackwell said, stepping into the room. “But none of us are what you’d call typical super-heroes…” To all appearances, she looked normal, since her true features were hidden by a silicate face she had generated earlier. “…or even just typical, for that matter.”
“Hey, who wants to be typical?” Cliff said, chuckling. After a pregnant pause, a look passed between them. “Yeah,” he said with a mock cough. “Maybe so, but this is really what you’d call not typical. None of us has ever decided to do redecorating like this!”
The redecorating in question was writing that covered the walls, forming stanzas, symbols, maps, and bizarre equations. “Weird,” Rainie said as her eyes ran across the walls. “Hasn’t this guy ever heard of paper?”
“What the hell is this?” Cliff said. “None of it makes any sense.”
“It’s the work of a schizophrenic mind,” Steve Dayton said. “Look closely, and you’ll begin to see a pattern to it.”
“I don’t think I want to look at it too long,” Cliff said. “I’m liable to wind up as crazy as the guy who wrote it.”
“What’s the wall that weeps?” Rainie said, looking at the bizarre writing.
“Who knows?” Cliff said in a dismissive way as he stared at another wall. “Maybe it has something to do with this crying pool he’s going on about over here.”
“I wouldn’t be too quick to disregard everything from him,” Dayton said. “During his clear moments, he’s quite the detective.” As if to punctuate his sentence, a camera on a mechanical arm shot up from the back of his chair and began snapping pictures of the scrawling on each wall.
“Th… thank you,” a voice rasped. Startled, all three of them turned in its direction to see a man stirring as the rubbish he had buried himself in fell away.
“Why were you hiding in garbage?!” Rainie exclaimed.
“I… I had to hide myself from the man who walks through ages,” the man said, holding his legs and rocking back and forth. “Couldn’t let him find me… couldn’t let him find me.”
“Couldn’t you have found a better hiding place than your own apartment?” Cliff said.
“Like I said, during his lucid moments, he’s a genius. This just isn’t one of them,” Dayton said. “Cliff, Rainie… allow me to introduce Clay Stoner, AKA the Odd Man.”
“Odd Man is right,” Cliff muttered.
“Couldn’t let him find me,” Stoner repeated.
“Mr. Stoner, you haven’t been taking your medication, have you?” Dayton asked.
“Couldn’t take it,” Clay Stoner said. “Had to be at full power.”
“You mean you wanted your dementia?” Cliff said, shocked.
“The medication would not only dull deductive reasoning in a detective like Mr. Stoner, but there’s also the matter of his other ability. He’s an empath,” Dayton said.
“I’ve heard of that,” Cliff said. “Not exactly sure what it means.”
“It’s being able to tune in on the emotions and perceptions of others,” Rainie said. “We had a few of them working at the agency.”
“In Clay Stoner’s case, he can also make others share his feelings and perceptions,” Dayton said.
Cliff straightened in surprise. “You mean, he…?”
“No…” Rainie gasped.
“Exactly,” Steve said. “The Odd Man struck fear into the hearts of criminals and drew confessions when they suddenly found themselves in a world where the rules of reality no longer applied. Up was down. Sounds were seen, and dimension had no meaning. It was thought that he was simply using some sort of invention of his on them. In actuality, he was simply sharing his dementia.”
“This is who you want to add to the team?!” Cliff exclaimed. “Look at him! The guy can’t even function!”
“Correction,” Steve said. “He can no longer function solo. He needs our help.” He gestured to Clay Stoner. “And that’s a big part of what this new Doom Patrol is about.”
Cliff Steel gave a hesitant step, leaving the airship for the less-than-solid ground of the Louisiana swamp. Seeing the way Rainie’s foot sank into the muck, he imagined himself sinking into its depths, never to be seen again.
“Don’t worry,” Steve said. “I won’t let you sink.”
“Hey, were you prying in on my thoughts?!” Cliff exclaimed.
“I didn’t have to,” Steve said. “Your body language gave you away.”
“Good to know one thing is still human about this body,” Cliff said. The former Robotman stepped out with both feet, and neither sank so much as an inch. Turning back, he looked toward his friend, who was levitating from the hovering airship in his super-chair and realized he was holding him aloft.
They caught up with Rainie and Clay, who was on his knees with his hands in the mud. Rainie had stopped walking and was watching him as he scooped the thick mud, piling it and molding it with his hands.
“Knock off the crazy stuff, will ya?” Cliff said. “Daddy Warbucks will buy ya some play dough when we get back. Right now we got work to do!”
Steve Dayton looked down at the bizarre face Clay Stoner had created. He tried to place the style. Was it Mayan? Incan? A camera shot out from the back of the chair and snapped a picture, then quickly retreated.
As they continued to walk farther into the swamp, Cliff noticed something unusual. “Hey, I can understand the mosquitoes leaving me and Rainie alone, but why are they letting the two of you off easy?” he asked, indicating Steve and Clay.
“Just a simple command to stay away,” Steve said. “Even mosquitoes have minds that can be influenced.”
Eventually, the trees parted, and they came to a small clearing. Ahead of them was a familiar, large, moss-covered figure. “Swamp Thing?” Cliff said, leaning into Dayton’s chair. “Nice choice, but he’s not exactly what I’d call a joiner.”
“Not him,” Steve Dayton said. “His guest.”
Swamp Thing stepped to the side to reveal a second, smaller figure, one that was decidedly female. “Wow,” Cliff said, clearly awestruck at the sight of her. “Who’s she? Swamp Thing’s pretty kid sister?”
Pretty was one word to describe her, though an extreme understatement. Another would be breathtaking, or even magical. She looked like nothing less than a mystical creature brought forth from the pages of a fairy tale. She was like an exotic woodland nymph who had stepped out of legends and into the modern age.
As they stepped closer, her appearance only grew more exotic in detail. Like Swamp Thing, she was a plant in the shape of a human being. Unlike Swamp Thing, who had been given a horrific appearance in this state, it gave Blossom an unnatural beauty impossible by human standards.
Approaching, Steve Dayton saw that every inch of her seemed to be made of flowers. Her pale pink skin had the texture of a flower petal. Flower petals even made up the long, flowing tresses that fell over her shoulders and down her back in a facsimile of hair. The tiniest of flower petals also comprised her eyebrows and eyelashes. Her full, luscious lips were like rose petals. Strategically placed flowers also protected what little modesty she chose to preserve.
Going even closer, he saw what else she had in common with a flower: the intoxicating fragrance she gave off. For the first time in weeks, he found himself in turmoil internally at the injustice of being trapped in his chair. He wondered if she had that effect on all men. With his two companions, it was impossible to tell. Cliff was in the body of a robot, and Clay Stoner was… odd.
“Be… very… gentle with her,” Swamp Thing cautioned, placing a mossy covered hand on Mento’s shoulder. “She… has… had… a… hard time.”
“Is that true?” Dayton asked her. “Why is that?”
“Because… Blossom doesn’t know who Blossom is,” the flowery creature said in an anguished tone. “Blossom… thought she Mayflower, but then she came back. Then Blossom thought she was plant elemental like Swamp Thing. But he’s a person first… Alec Holland. If Blossom not Rachel Green, then who Blossom is? Is Blossom even real person?”
“Of course you are,” Steve said. “You have a soul the same as the rest of us — a human soul. I couldn’t be here if you didn’t.”
“How you know?” she asked.
A slot opened on the super-chair, and a mechanical arm shot out holding a file that he handed to her. “This is the medical file of Rachel Green from the Meta-Human Rehabilitation Agency. You have her memories, so you remember the headaches she used to have. What you don’t know is what caused them.”
Dayton pointed to a spot on an x-ray of Rachel Green’s head with the robot hand. “When the doctors x-rayed her head, they found a mass of bone, tissue, and extra brain matter, complete with a second smaller hypothalamus gland. An operation had been scheduled to remove this extra bit of matter, but before it could take place, the Floronic Man arrived and caused Mayflower to transform into Blossom. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Heroes and Villains, Chapter 3: The Conjunction.]
“Eventually, she returned to her old self. Shortly afterwards, the headaches returned, and the surgery was rescheduled. That’s when she and Blossom split in two. (*) When Rachel Green’s head was x-rayed again, the mass was nowhere to be found.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: The Suicide Squad, Epilogue: Growing.]
“What the doctors came to realize was that the mass of tissue, bone, and brain matter was once intended to be a twin, but it never fully formed. Instead, it lay congenitally joined, lying dormant inside her head. The headaches began when, somehow, the activation of her powers had caused it to start growing again. Jason Woodrue’s experiments then gave it the means to come to the surface, and then eventually form a body all her own. That twin is you, Blossom.”
“Blossom… Rachel’s sister?” she said.
“That’s right,” Dayton said. “In the truest sense, you do have a soul — and, thanks to Woodrue, a chance for a real life.”
“Blossom does?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Sure. What I don’t quite understand is… from these pictures, you still looked very human when you split from Rachel Green, not that you aren’t quite lovely now. You are.”
“Blossom thought she was just a plant,” she said. “What the point of pretending to be anything else?”
“I… can relate… to that,” the Swamp Thing said, nodding.
“In one sense, you are a plant,” Dayton said. “But your mind… your soul… is human. Blossom, you’ve never had a chance to explore your humanity. There’s room on our team, if you would like to take that opportunity. We could be there to support you while you make that journey.”
Blossom looked up at Swamp Thing fearfully and squeezed his hand. “Alec…?”
“Go with them,” Swamp Thing said wistfully. “Go… discover… the world… and yourself. I… will be here… when you are ready… to come back to me.”
Blossom rose and threw her arms around his neck. “Blossom will come back. Blossom promise.”
“We’ll take good care of her, Dr. Holland. You have my word on that,” Dayton said.
“You… had better,” Swamp Thing said.
As the group began the walk back to the airship with their newest member, Swamp Thing watched them leave. Once they were out of sight, he turned and walked back into the woods, returning to the solitude that he had come to know all too well.