Justice League of America: Fear the Future, Chapter 2: Man on the Inside

by HarveyKent

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Green Arrow and the Futurian beamed down to Star City together. The Futurian secretly hoped for a chance to prove himself in battle, to further endear himself to the Justice League. Fearful of the League’s bug-detection technology, Doctor Light had insisted he remove the communication device from his armor before boarding the satellite. So Toby Manning, the erstwhile Terra-Man, had no way to contact his comrades in the Secret Society of Super-Villains to let them know where he would be to arrange a staged fight.

“You know, I could carry you,” Futurian said as he flew silently over the rooftops, Green Arrow leaping across them just below him.

“Nah, I prefer the workout,” the archer said. “Helps me keep my eyes open.” After a pause, Green Arrow asked, “So how did you get into the super-hero racket? If you don’t mind my asking, I mean.”

“No, I’m going to tell my story sooner or later, if the League accepts me,” Futurian said, and launched into the origin story invented for him by Doctor Light. “I was hiking in the mountains one day, and I found the ruins of a strange-looking vehicle. From what I found inside it, I deduced it was some kind of time-travel device from the future. The pilot had inadvertently materialized in this time inside the mountain, and the result destroyed his ship and killed him. I suppose I should have turned the futuristic devices I found within over to the authorities, but I figured they’d just be used as weapons of war, so I kept them.”

“Interesting,” Green Arrow said, coming to a stop on the edge of a roof. The Futurian landed beside him. “I’ve heard weirder origins, in my day. Look down there!”

The Futurian looked where Green Arrow was pointing. At first he saw nothing, but then, in the dimly lit alley between two buildings, he saw four or five young men in gang colors taking boxes out of the side entrance of one of the buildings. The building, Futurian noticed, was a store that sold stereo components.

“A robbery!” Futurian hissed, and marveled at Doctor Light’s hypno-light treatments. He remembered when he would have said hold-up or heist.

“Soon to be an averted robbery,” Green Arrow said, drawing an arrow and notching it to his bowstring. He announced his presence with a flare arrow that struck the back wall of the alley and lit up the entire area with a bright green flare, startling the gang members. When they turned to flee, they saw Green Arrow and Futurian blocking their way. The fight was over so quickly it hardly deserved to be called a fight. In no time at all, two of the young men were struggling in an arrow-net, and two others in a net of glowing energy-strands.

“Weren’t there five of these bozos, Fute?” Green Arrow asked.

“I counted five,” Futurian agreed. “Maybe one of them got away.”

“Correction: one of them tried to,” Green Arrow said and, with blinding speed, drew, notched, and fired an arrow. It struck the pavement and sailed under the van the gangsters were loading boxes into and exploded into a thick cloud of black smoke. Choking noises came from under the van, and the fifth gangster crawled out, coughing vigorously, eyes watering. Green Arrow grabbed him by the arm and noticed that he was only about fifteen.

“Aren’t you up past your bedtime, kid?” Green Arrow asked. The boy tried to show courage, but Green Arrow could tell he was scared.

“L-lemme go, man!” was all the boy could say.

“Now why should I do that?” Green Arrow asked. “What’s a kid your age doing running with the Hunger Dogs, anyway?”

“M-my brother, he’s one of them,” the kid said. “Said he’d get me in!”

“Your brother, huh? Where’s your folks?”

“Momma died two years ago. Rico been raising me ever since.”

“What about your dad?”

“Never had one.”

“Uh-huh. Well, what’s your name, kid?”

“Esteban. They call me Stebby.”

“OK, Stebby, here’s what you’re going to do. You know the kids’ shelter on Elias Street?”

“Yeah.”

“You head there right now, ask for Miss Devlin. Tell her William Tell sent you. Tell it just like that, hear? She’ll take care of you. And you’d better do what I tell you, and you know why?” Green Arrow jerked a thumb in the direction of the captive gang members. “These guys are going somewhere upstate, where they’ll have about twenty years to show how tough they really are. If I ever catch you doing anything like this again, if I ever even hear of you putting a slug in a vending machine, that’s where you’ll be going. ¿Yo comprende?

¡Si!” Stebby said, and ran off in the general direction of Elias Street.

The Futurian gaped in wonder as the boy ran off.

***

After they had dropped off the gang members at the police station, Green Arrow and the Futurian continued their patrol. It was over an hour before the Futurian asked the question that had been on his mind since the alleyway.

“Green Arrow — why did you let that kid go? After all, he committed a crime, too.”

“Ah. And you think I should have arrested him as well?” Green Arrow asked. “Well, I look at it like this. Whenever we have to arrest someone, it means we’ve failed.”

We as in super-heroes?” Futurian asked.

“Naw, we as in society. You heard that kid; he got handed a bunch of bad breaks. Born poor into a crime-infested neighborhood; no father; only male role model, a brother who ran with street gangs. Obviously, the poor kid never had anyone give him a decent break. I could have sent him to prison, but what good would that have done him? He’d have come out eventually, worse than he went in. Instead I sent him somewhere he can get help. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll turn his life around now and become a decent guy. Those are our real successes.”

“I see what you mean,” Futurian said quietly. The former Terra-Man thought of his own early life. Born to a widowed father who robbed stage coaches for a living; father killed by an alien criminal who raised him to be a bandit himself. If anyone along the line had showed him the faith that Green Arrow had shown that kid…

Futurian shook his head, trying to get those uncomfortable thoughts out of his mind. He had a job to do, damn it, and he was going to do it.

***

Two nights later, Futurian was patrolling Midway City with Hawkman. As they soared over the city, Hawkman opened the conversation.

“Green Arrow told me about your run-in with the young thieves,” he said.

“And the kid we let go?” Futurian asked.

“Him, too,” Hawkman confirmed. “You know, there was a time when Green Arrow and I would have really butted heads over that.”

“Really?” Futurian asked. “You would’ve sent the kid to jail?”

“Once, I suppose,” Hawkman said. “You understand, I come from a planet where everyone’s basic needs are fulfilled. On my planet, criminals commit crimes for thrills, not for personal gain. It took some getting used to — the fact that Earth’s economic system forces some people into crime. But these days I’m a little slower to judge, and I try to temper justice with mercy.”

“Me, too,” was all the Futurian could say to that.

“Uh-oh!” Hawkman exclaimed, pointing. “What’s going on over there?”

Futurian looked in the direction Hawkman was pointing. “Looks like lightning to me,” he said.

“But there’s not a cloud in the sky — except right there,” Hawkman said. “It bears looking into. Let’s go!”

In moments, Hawkman and Futurian arrived at the Midway City Museum. A large banner over the museum entrance advertised the display of the Balamboa Emerald, This Week Only. Museum guards with drawn guns were battling two costumed super-villains, and doing poorly.

“I recognize the Weather Wizard,” Futurian said to Hawkman, “but who’s the other guy?”

“The Calculator,” Hawkman said. “I had a run-in with him a few years ago. What say we total him out?”

Weather Wizard turned his head, seeing the incoming heroes. “Hawkman! And — Futureman, isn’t it? What an unexpected surprise!”

“Futurian?” Calculator said, turning to look. “Excellent! A new hero to add to my calculations!”

And with that, the battle was joined.

Hawkman launched the attack on the Weather Wizard. Drawing his wings close to his body to shield himself from the villain’s hailstorm attack, the winged wonder charged his opponent. Futurian launched his tracer-projectiles at the Calculator, but the villain punched out a quick calculation on his chest-mounted computer, and his helmet-projector whipped up a quick shield to deflect the projectiles.

The winged wonder pressed the attack with his slingshot, sending a wooden ball hurtling at the Weather Wizard’s hand. He knew if he could get the villain to drop his weather-wand, the battle would be won. But the wily wizard deflected the ball with a powerful gust of wind.

The Calculator went on the offensive, projecting an icy freeze-beam from his helmet projector. Futurian merely charged through it, intending to tell Hawkman later that his armor protected him from the cold. Actually, his alien foster father had long ago rendered his body invulnerable to the cold of deep space. The Calculator, surprised by the ineffectiveness of his attack, was caught unaware by the Futurian’s punch.

Weather Wizard then launched a lightning bolt at Hawkman. The Thanagarian hero did an aerial somersault and narrowly evaded the bolt, but when it sailed past him, it struck an unintended target.

The Calculator screamed in agony as the lightning bolt struck him. Sparks flew from his chest-mounted computer and helmet-projector. For a moment he twitched and convulsed on his feet, then crumpled to the street like a marionette whose strings had been clipped.

“Calculator!” Hawkman cried, leaving Weather Wizard to fly to the villain’s side. Futurian gaped in confusion as Hawkman scooped up the limp Calculator and flew off.

“I have to get him to a hospital quickly,” Hawkman called over his shoulder. “His computerized uniform must have conducted that charge like a lightning rod! You handle the Weather Wizard; I’ll be back as quickly as I can!”

Toby Manning watched Hawkman fly away in stunned disbelief. The Calculator was one of the bad guys; he had tried to kill Hawkman and his friends before and would do it again. And yet Hawkman went instantly to his aid, without a second thought.

“Truce, Manning,” Weather Wizard said from behind Futurian in a hissed whisper. Futurian whirled on his heel, staring at the smirking villain. “Oh, yeah, I know about your game. Captain Boomerang filled all us Rogues in, just in case we ran afoul of you. I’m hip; it’s a great scheme. I’ll just toddle off, and you can tell Hawkman I got away from you.”

Futurian stood there, confused, not sure what to do.

“What’s wrong?” Weather Wizard asked. “Oh — you need an excuse for letting me get away? No problem!”

Weather Wizard pointed his wand at the museum entrance. Several people had gathered to watch the fight. A lightning bolt lanced out at the archway above the entrance and shattered it. Futurian took off like a rocket, deflecting the falling stone away from the people. It was the work of a minute, but when he was done, the Weather Wizard was gone.

***

In the days that followed, the Futurian worked with several of the Justice League members. He helped Batman put out a tenement fire and rescue the inhabitants. He and the Elongated Man fought a staged battle with the Scavenger, ending in the villain’s capture. He and Zatanna found and rescued a kidnapped child. He even worked with his old enemy Superman, saving a small fishing village on the coast of Ghana from a tidal wave.

Every night, Toby Manning tossed on his bed, unable to sleep. He could not cope with the new things he had learned. His fathers — both his birth father and his adoptive father — had brought him up as a criminal, taught him that the common people were cattle to be exploited for his own ends and the law was the enemy to be spurned and destroyed when possible. He had always assumed the feelings were mutual. But now he was getting to know the players on the other side and found it not the case. Everyone was a person to these heroes. Even the villains were worthy of the same mercy and respect for life that they showed everyone else. And while his fathers had taught him to always look out for himself above all, the heroes risked their lives without hesitation. Even those whom Manning would once have considered the lowest class of people were worth fighting for, perhaps worth dying for. His entire world view was being shaken to the core.

One night, he was snapped out of his meditations by the signal device the JLA had given him. He thumbed the response button. “Futurian here.”

“Futurian, this is Superman,” the stern voice of the world’s greatest hero boomed through the speaker. “Report to the satellite at once. Where is the nearest transport-tube to your present location?”

Futurian gave the location, and Superman instructed him to be there in five minutes. Futurian hurried to the tube. Superman’s voice was so stern, so harsh. Had he been discovered?

When the shining light faded and Futurian found himself in the JLA Satellite, he found the entire team gathered and waiting for him. But their faces did not have the stern expressions Superman’s tone had led him to expect; they were all smiling, even Superman.

“Look at his face,” Elongated Man said. “You’re a good actor, Supes! He has no idea!”

“Now, Ralph, we agreed I’d be the one to tell him,” Green Arrow said, stepping forward to slap Futurian on the back. “Futurian, you’ve been unanimously admitted as a full JLA member with all attendant privileges! Congratulations!”

***

As the Futurian left the satellite hours later, he was filled with mixed emotions. He was honored that the League had accepted him as one of their own. They had even trusted him with their secret identities. Superman was Clark Kent, the WGBS anchorman; who’d ever have guessed that? He had, of course, given them the cover identity of Norton Andrews that Doctor Light had prepared for him.

But now he was supposed to betray them to the Secret Society of Super-Villains. His heart rebelled at the thought. Over the last couple of months, these men and women had become his friends. He marvelled at how easy the word came to him now. Before there had been no one he would ever have considered a friend. And now Green Arrow, and all of them, counted him an ally and a trusted comrade. How could he betray them now?

As he flew along, Futurian shook his head violently, trying to clear his thoughts. His fathers would have said he was going soft, getting yellow. That wasn’t him. He was the Terra-Man, feared throughout the galaxy. What he wanted, he took. This masquerade with the JLA was just the means to an end, just the set-up for another heist. And he was going to see it through.

Back at his apartment, Manning activated the communication device Doctor Light had given him. “Light? This is Manning. I’m in.”

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