A troubled man was talking to the dead. He spoke to phantasms that existed only in his deluded mind.
“It wasn’t my fault!” he roared. “The survivor always has guilt, but that’s all. I am not to blame. Rita, you should have left those freaks. You and I never belonged with Steel and Caulder and Trainer. Stop haunting me!”
His name was Steve Dayton, and he currently wore the gold and blue costume and the mental-energy-boosting helmet of Mento. He spoke to the ghosts of the late Doom Patrol, which included his spouse Rita Farr. They had died heroes (or most had died), while he had lived on as a man of power and wealth. And ever since the recent accident that happened after John Constantine recruited him to serve as a medium for glimpsing a battle between Heaven and Hell, he had become mentally unhinged and full of malice, possibly due to the dark spiritual forces he had encountered and had not been prepared for. Rather than build a new helmet, he had simply rebuilt the one that had exploded mere moments after removing it from his head, and perhaps that tainted helmet was responsible for much of his current behavior, for some had accused him of acting like he was possessed. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See John Constantine, Hellblazer: The War of Darkness and Light.]
“He’s getting worse,” said a uniformed guard.
“No matter,” replied a woman in a lab coat. “His genius still served us well by bringing us the promethium. Ironic name, considering our plans for it.” She laughed.
Elsewhere, a young man worried about Mento. His name was Gar Logan, and while he lived in opulent splendor at the estate of his stepfather Steve Dayton, he was not enjoying the good life. The green-hued youth had failed to calm and secure his maddened stepfather, and his efforts to do so had left his best friend Vic Stone injured.
He knew his pal would recover. Still, he felt guilty about how it had come to pass that the strong, fast, smart, and tough Cyborg had been injured. It was all due to his own failure to appease Dayton’s twisted mind.
Vernon Questor, Steve Dayton’s business manager, appeared with his usual almost inhuman quiet and coughed gently.
Gar looked up. “Oh, Questor, what can I do for you? Don’t tell me we’re still getting bills for Donna’s wedding.”
Questor retained his placid demeanor. “No, sir, not to my knowledge. I have ascertained the possible whereabouts of Mr. Dayton. His financial records indicate that he recently journeyed to Greece.”
Gar jumped up. “Then I’d better get going.”
The Flash returned to the T-jet after making a sweep of the area in which they had landed in sunny Puerto Verde.
“I can’t get used to being so slow. When I was a kid, I could have hopped across the isle and back by now. Maybe I should use my lottery wealth to place an ad for a designated runner,” he joked, referring to the money he had recently won in a lottery.
Donna Troy caressed his cheek. “Listen, I hate to earn my reputation for being a real Mary Tyler Moore or Marlo Thomas type, but let’s look on the bright side here. At least you were cured of the disease that was damaging your health each time you ran.”
The newly named Arsenal grinned. “Yeah, that Anti-Monitor made a better doctor than he did world-beater.”
The Flash frowned and said, “I’d better check on Light. Hawk may have him in tears by now.”
Roy slapped his own head. “Me and my big mouth! I should have known that any reference to the A-M would also make Wally think of Barry. I only meant that it was the energy used by Wally in getting to the battle that cured him. I need a license to use this mouth.”
“He understands,” said Donna. “This is a tough time for us all. I still want to ring Nubia’s neck, while Wally feels guilty to admit that in their brief JLA contact, she seems sincere about taking on Diana’s role.”
Roy shook his head. “Man, I can’t even figure out where Ollie’s head is these days. Did you see that JLA press conference where he and Hawkman almost came to blows?”
Aqualad stepped up. “I can tell you that Arthur, too, carries some Crisis scars. He blames himself for the loss of the former League — Vixen, Gypsy, and the rest.”
Robin helped Hawk lead Doctor Light out of the craft. He felt odd being with the older heroes, and he worried a bit about exactly why Donna seemed to defer to him. She was associating him with Dick.
Jason missed Rinna, his new girlfriend, and he hoped that Bruce would be OK as he battled the freed inmates of Arkham and dealt with the aftermath of the Swamp Thing incident. He also wondered what had happened to his adopted mother Natalia. He had tried to send her to safety during the Crisis when the Nightslayer stabbed her, but he didn’t know her ultimate fate. Batman had assumed that she had died, but he continued to hope she was still alive. He missed the enigmatic woman of the shadows and tried to live up to the legends of several father figures.
“If you ever need me, just call,” Dick had said when last they met. The young hero called Nightwing had been the one who initially met Jason when he was with the circus, and it was Dick who considered adopting the orphan. Thus, he felt no guilt about taking the Robin role. It had been Dick who had brought most of the new life he lived to begin with. He hoped Grayson was safe.
As the Titans in Puerto Verde prepared to transfer Doctor Light to the local justice officials, he smiled. “I appreciate your protection. My past actions have left me with some enemies,” he said.
Wonder Girl said, “I understand your concern. Abhood’s Children of the Light must have taken your manipulation of them rather seriously.”
Doctor Light nodded. “It is just as well that I am out of the business now.”
Arsenal frowned. “Wonder Doll, trouble on the horizon.” Wonder Girl whirled.
The Flash sprang into action. “Looks like trouble. Those goons wear the emblem of a sun, and I sure don’t think they are recruiters for a Japanese ball team,” he said.
“They must come from Abhood!” cried Light.
“Shut up! The Hawk’ll pull his own personal Hiroshima on them,” snapped Hank Hall as he rushed forward.
Robin cried, “I’ll get Light inside!”
Donna nodded. “Aqualad, that craft they’re in — can you stop it?”
Garth nodded. “I’m on it.” He rushed for the sea.
The Flash sped around the shore to cut off the incoming uniformed Children of the Light. He sent a steady spray of sand at a high-impact speed into the thugs. “I feel just like Charles Atlas,” he joked.
As they gasped and tried to see through the blinding spray, Hawk crashed into them with fury and pounded them back with raw power. “You punks make me sick. It takes what — ten of you to off a loser like dim-bulb over there?” he scoffed and slammed two of them directly into one another.
Aqualad went deep. He dropped into the warm waters and easily reached the boat. He truly was in his element. The purple-eyed hero literally knew his surroundings and was at ease in them. He scanned the ship for markings and noted that none were in view.
Middle Eastern types on board. Definitely the Children of the Light, he mused as he rounded the prow. He strained for a moment and then climbed aboard the boat.
Within minutes, Garth had found and subdued most of the remaining crew members. Most of them were fighting his allies on land.
“Senseless acts of revenge. Nothing they do to Light can make their leader a free man. Just like nothing I could do to the HIVE or those shadow demons can bring back Tula,” he said, frowning.
Arsenal effortlessly fired a series of arrows toward the charging goons. They dropped directly in front and behind of the thugs, who sneered at his apparent flaws until a strong fiber expanded from the shafts to form a net across them.
He smiled briefly, as this old trick still had a certain appeal. He glanced back to see Donna tossing three goons across the sand with her normal zest.
“Boy, when you pick a guy up…” began Arsenal.
Donna smiled back and high-kicked an approaching thug in the face. It was nice to be with Roy and the others. It made her recall a simpler time when she didn’t have troubles like Raven’s fragile emotional state, Kory’s passionate feelings, and the growing disenchantment of the usually steady Nightwing to deal with on her own.
She noticed that Robin had already secured Light within the courthouse as local police swarmed across the front door. Hawk didn’t bother to duck or avoid blows; he merely slugged his foes relentlessly and ignored any pain or damage to his own body. This could not be healthy. Donna herself rolled down into the sand as a white energy beam struck her suddenly.
The Flash shattered the odd force bolt projector the Children of Light had assembled as Arsenal raced over to help the lovely woman to her feet. “You OK?” he asked.
She nodded. “Nothing hurt but my pride.”
Arsenal noticed the waving form of Aqualad on the boat. “Looks like Garth just captured their ship!” he yelled.
Then he looked back toward the courthouse. “Hey, this was too easy,” he said and ran around the old building. He fired an arrowline and swung inside as young Robin went down before an agile and silent foe.
Doctor Light and his two police guards also lay still on the floor before the lethal woman who had used the frontal attack as a distraction. She might have killed Light already while her goons kept the Titans occupied.
Arsenal cried, “Hold it!”
“Odd choice of words from you,” she purred as her green eyes flashed.
“Jade!” he gasped.
She kicked his bow out of his hand and caught him with a right hook. “I’m Cheshire when I’m working,” she hissed.
He grunted and swung out himself as they wrestled to the ground. “I never knew you were Cheshire until after we parted. I had to get close to you for a case. It turned out to be more pleasure than business,” he explained.
“Your pleasure left me with child. Too bad little Lian must grow up without a father,” she said as her shiny nails clawed for his eyes.
He blocked her attack and reeled backward acrobatically. “A child! You mean that I — that we–?” he sputtered.
Cheshire laughed. “You seemed to have a better grasp on the facts of life when last we met.”
He hurled a small spherical object at her, and as a bright light burst from the tiny flare, she winced.
“The Children of Light sent you to kill the Doc here. If I hadn’t come to stop you, I might never have known. Where is my daughter?” he said.
Cheshire used the sound of his voice to connect with a left hook. She said, “Lian needs me. I’d just lay down and leave me to do what I must do if I was you.”
Roy smirked. “That’s what got us in trouble to begin with. Tell me about her,” he asked as he dodged a second swing.
Robin stirred and slowly rose to his feet. He lifted Light, who muttered, “Oh, the pain! The pain!”
The Boy Wonder said, “Oh come on! She just decked you. You’ll be OK.” He helped Light stumble across the room even as Cheshire pounced for them. Robin jumped in her path, and down they went.
Arsenal rubbed his jaw and tried to aim a clear shot. The arrow sliced neatly between the pair, and as they separated, he connected with a blunt-headed arrow.
Cheshire fell hard and didn’t move.
Robin said, “Gosh, she was a real wildcat.”
Arsenal grinned ruefully. “You’re telling me.”
Doctor Light made a frantic break for the rear as the heroes regrouped. He no sooner rounded a corner than he was grabbed by dark-suited figures. “Oh, no! You’re with the Children!” he shrieked.
They grasped him tighter and activated a teleportation signal. “True. And we want you,” said the man.
“I know. You and Abhood’s cursed Children of the Light terrorist group want to kill me,” he sighed.
“No, good sir. You mistake us. We’re not with those killers. We are Children, but of the Sun, not the Light. We seek your help, not your death,” laughed the second man as they vanished.