The New Titans: Quest, Chapter 3: Phantasms of the Past

by Libbylawrence

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At Titans Tower, the Flash was listening as Arsenal told him about his recent activities.

“I guess fatherhood is keeping me pretty busy, but I really enjoy it, too,” said Roy Harper. “I never thought any woman could tie me down, but Lian has done it.”

Wally West smiled at his old friend. “She’s a charmer, all right. I think she is the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

Arsenal had to agree. “True. So, how are you and the ever-lovely Miss Kane getting along?”

“Frances is great,” said the fastest man alive. “She still wants to lose her powers, and I doubt we’ll ever get her back into that costume we whipped up for her, but otherwise she’s fine. She and I had an adventure with Dick and Betty a while back, right after he headed home for Gotham.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: Family Attractions.]

Before Wally could elaborate any further, Cyborg entered and said, “I’m heading out. Going to see Dr. Charles.”

Arsenal grinned. “You dog! Tell her hi for me.”

An alarm abruptly ended their plans. A worried-looking woman had requested permission to approach the small island. Cyborg frowned and signaled the barge to bring her across; with a sigh, he shrugged in resignation. This probably wouldn’t leave him enough time to seek out the STAR Labs woman he was hoping to see again.

“So, what can we do for you?” Cyborg asked as he helped her off the barge.

“I appreciate your seeing me,” she said. “I know how busy you Titans are. I actually need to speak to Arsenal. It’s about my son.”

Vic Stone noticed she was well-dressed, yet tired and concerned. He figured she was a bit old for Arsenal, but one never knew with Roy. Man, they didn’t give the dude the name ‘Speedy’ for nothing, mused Stone. He has a girl in every port.

After the barge docked, he ushered her inside and said, “Come on up. He’s goofing around with Flash.”

‘Goofing around’? ‘Goofing around’?” said Arsenal with a grin. “I’ll have you know we’re engaged in serious crime-stopping business! He was trying to make off with my lunch!”

The Flash raised both hands. “I never hear lines like that in the JLA. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back here.”

“Hey, just try to steal Oreo cookies from the Martian Manhunter,” Arsenal replied with a wink. “You’ll see.” His jovial manner became serious as the woman stepped out from behind Cyborg. “We’ve met before,” he said. “Forgive me for clowning. What can I do for you? I’m afraid I’ve forgotten your name.”

“Cherie Chase,” she said. “I wanted to talk to you about my son, Danny. We need your help desperately.”

Arsenal nodded and led her to a chair. “We met when I worked for the DEA,” he said. “You’re in the law enforcement game, too. How can I help you, Mrs. Chase?”

“Chase?” cut in the Flash. “Any relation to the D.A. Nightwing worked with — Adrian Chase?”

Cherie Chase nodded. “He’s my brother-in-law. Danny is my son. He’s fourteen years old, and he’s a bright boy — gifted, even. Well, he knows his father and I are often away due to our work. My husband is also in law enforcement. Danny gets resentful at being left behind. He’s run away.”

“I know a good shelter,” said Cyborg. “I ran away a couple times when I was a kid. I’ll make a call and see if he’s turned up there. They have connections and know their business well. Helping kids is what they do best.” He left for another room.

“Thanks so much,” said Cherie, smiling in appreciation. “Though I doubt a conventional shelter will turn up Danny. He’s very clever.”

“Look, Cherie, we’ll do what we can, but why come to us?” asked Arsenal. “I mean, runaways are more of the kind of thing local authorities deal with. We tend to fight super-villains more than anything else.”

The Flash whispered, “Remember, your mentor always went on about helping the man on the street first.”

Roy nodded. “Don’t get me wrong. I never said I wouldn’t look for the kid.”

“Arsenal,” said Cherie, “Danny took some papers with him when he fled — highly sensitive documents that he had no right to take. He managed to get into my briefcase. I was taking the material to a secured lab, because there had been attempts to steal them.”

Arsenal whistled. “I see. This spy kid stole classified documents, and you need us to get them back before some creep gets ahold of them.”

Cherie nodded. “Danny did it because he thinks he can solve the case first. You see, the documents in question deal with a highly secretive experimental process started at a Dayton Labs.”

“Dayton?” asked the Flash. “As in Steve Dayton?”

She nodded. “Yes, but he had no personal involvement with the process. We took the material following an incident at the lab. It involved a group called the Recombatants. Danny must have figured he could track down the people who want the data, use himself as bait, and impress us.”

“Quite a kid!” said Arsenal. “Sounds like me when I was back with G.A.”

“We’ll get on it right away,” said the Flash.

***

Later, as the T-jet soared across the country toward Nevada, Cyborg brooded. He recalled the Recombatants all too well. They had been artificially created super-powered beings. When a Dayton Labs research head tried to control them to the point of a form of slavery, they had committed suicide. They were misfits doomed to death or the end of their pseudo-life before they could even experience the joys of life. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Recombatants,” Tales of the Teen Titans #48 (November, 1984).]

Cyborg’s own father had turned him into the half-man/half-machine hybrid that he was today in order to save his life. Vic Stone had reconciled with his father before his death, and felt no bitterness toward the senior Stone. Still, he occasionally felt that he shared the uneasy feeling of being apart from normal humanity that the Recombatants had expressed. He wondered what the underworld wanted with the Recombatants data?

Some Doc Frankenstein wannabe sees it as his ticket to world domination, no doubt, he thought.

Vic wondered how Gar Logan, the stepson of Steve Dayton, was doing. He had taken a leave from the New Titans to tend to the mentally and physically ill billionaire. Dayton Labs had been conducting all types of weird experiments. Some were planned while Dayton was under the influence of the brainwave-magnifying helmet that had driven him mad, and he couldn’t truly be held responsible for his actions. Still, Vic didn’t want to see more thinking, feeling creations turned into lab rats.

The Flash knew what Vic was feeling, since he had often heard his late Uncle Barry speak about the ways in which science could be a boon or a bane to humanity. “In the wrong hands, even something as wonderful as knowledge can become dangerous and twisted,” he had once told Wally West. “Mirror Master, the Top, and Pied Pier — to name a few of my Rogues — all could have used their resourcefulness and mental gifts for good had they so chosen. Instead, they turned science into a means of hurting others while enriching themselves.”

Wally knew the first Flash was right. Science could harm or heal, and those who possessed the powers that came from such developments also saw themselves as cursed or blessed. His lady love Frances Kane hated the magnetic powers she possessed; her mother had cast her out because she saw them as signs that she was evil.

As for himself, Wally had subconsciously wanted to lose his powers until events made him believe that he owed it to Barry Allen’s memory to be the Flash and to honor his heroism in every manner possible.

Arsenal wondered if he was capable of leading the team in the absence of both Donna Troy and Dick Grayson, especially since Wally had waived off the offer of leadership due to his commitments to the JLA. Roy Harper hoped his abilities were up to the kind of test that guiding others would put them under in the field of battle. He smiled; Roy did occasionally have doubts, but not often or for too long.

Next to Roy sat Azrael. The mysterious winged alien came along only to be near his lover, Lilith. Azrael was not truly a member of the New Titans, but neither did he seem to desire it. All he wanted was to be with Lilith and to perhaps someday learn his hidden origins.

Lilith Clay felt the stirring that enabled her to see visions of the future. She shook her long, reddish-gold tresses and frowned. “I see evil… evil behind a façade of good,” she muttered, wearing the extremely short tunic and silvery sandals of Olympus. She wondered if this case related to her vision of a Hera seeking her death.

Jericho read as they flew, studying past Teen Titans case files in the hope that he could be up to speed about just what had occurred when his friends had faced the artificial beings called the Recombatants.

“So the Nevada Labs originally had the data,” explained Cyborg. “The Feds sealed it, and Cherie and her hubby were to deliver the research to the gov boys when Danny took off with it to try to catch the punks who tried to rob the labs a while back?”

Arsenal nodded. “Right. The labs had been hit by some robbery attempts. We’ll get the lowdown when we arrive. Any ideas?”

The Flash said, “Plenty of Luthor types would love to make their own army of artificial beings.”

Jericho signed, “Or sell them to the highest bidder.”

“Leave it to the Terminator’s kid to think of mercenaries,” said Arsenal. Jericho frowned, and Wally elbowed Roy for his faux pas. “Sorry, Joe. My mouth misfires more than my bow,” apologized Roy.

Joe grinned and silently wondered if the perpetrator truly was a mercenary like his father or his late brother, who wanted to have the power to sell such super-soldiers. His father Slade Wilson had been captured after a lengthy series of encounters with the Titans. As Deathstroke the Terminator, he had wanted them captured to fulfill the earlier contract Joe’s older brother — Slade’s son, Grant — had agreed to complete. Grant Wilson as the Ravager had died failing to beat the young heroes. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Today, the Terminator,” The New Teen Titans #2 (December, 1980).]

They reached the lab in time to see chaos as several fleeing figures raced from the scene of battle.

“Something’s goin’ down!” called Cyborg as his keen eye zoomed in on the action below.

Jericho leaned forward and caught a glimpse of a rushing figure in gray. “Dreadnaught,” he signed as he recognized the powerhouse he and the others had battled before the original Recombatants destroyed themselves. Joe had spent most of the battle trying to stop the agile Pseudos, but he could not forget a rampaging hulk like the youth called Dreadnaught.

“Yeah,” agreed Cyborg. “I picked up a bit o’ dialogue from below. Names being used between ’em are Pseudos, Topaz, and Aurora. I see Dreadnaught below, too. Looks like the creep who wants the data already got it and made himself a second generation of the Recombatants we fought.”

Lilith frowned. “They seem so violent. Surely the ones you met were not as aggressive.”

“Listen to Lilith,” said Azrael. “She is always right.”

The Flash felt a bit annoyed. From his Kid Flash days he remembered Lilith as little more than a sexy but ditzy disco dancer who never had a full handle on her powers. Now she seemed more confident and positively radiated an Olympian allure befitting the demigoddess she had become. Still, he liked her and always had. He didn’t take to Azrael nearly as easily; the alien seemed too obsessive about the leggy Lilith. Though Wally wondered if he, too, had played such a role of militant defender back when he had been under Raven’s love spell.

Firing an arrow-line from the craft, Arsenal swung down even as Vic Stone piloted the jet in for a landing. Roy Harper hoped to end this quickly. He didn’t know the Recombatants from first-hand experience and couldn’t judge how much more violent and full of malice this second batch could be. He just wanted to shut them down as quickly as possible so he could locate Danny Chase.

Arsenal confronted the hulking Dreadnaught, who was smashing a bank of machines. “Ah, you cream the device that made you, so no one can melt you again, like last time,” Roy remarked. The archer took a moment to admire the blonde girl in the red costume, even as he dodged a hurled piece of metal tossed by Dreadnaught.

“You think you can stop me?” cried the young man in gray. “Nobody can stop Dreadnaught!”

Rolling aside from his charging foe, Arsenal fired a thin cable across his path; a moment later, Dreadnaught tore through the line like it was made of butter. “Oh, great! Do you know how much those things cost?” he quipped.

The blonde in the little red outfit, known as Topaz, merely gestured, and the metal wreckage around them twisted to reach for Arsenal like a fist of living metal.

Suddenly the Flash streaked down to vibrate through the crushing hand, causing it to shatter it into bits. She controls magnetism like Frances, he mused.

Racing forward, the Flash landed a hundred blows to Dreadnaught’s chin as Arsenal automatically switched targets and fired an arrow at Topaz, who cursed as she tried to gesture once more. But as the arrow hit her in the chest, goo exploded over her, and she gasped as the non-metallic shaft trapped her in a putty of some kind. Arsenal smiled and turned toward the laboratory.

A weird-looking figure in a brown shroud loomed above a boy with glasses. Arsenal knew the kid to be Danny Chase from a photo his mother had shown them back at Titans Tower. The brown-clad figure floated along the ground and had no face except for a grinning white mask.

“I am Phantasm,” said the shroud. “You are my prey.”

“Keep cool, Danny!” Arsenal shouted as he rushed forward. “We’ll have you out of here in no time!” Kicking out at the brown-shrouded figure, he found that his boot passed through the figure — or, more accurately hit the shroud, which appeared to be empty. “What the–?” he muttered.

Meanwhile, Lilith and Azrael were confronting the pouting redhead called Aurora. She smirked at them in total confidence as a ten-headed monster loomed into view. It belched fire, and a green cloud of toxin hovered in its wake.

Azrael grabbed Lilith and was about to fly her to safety, when she stopped him. “It is merely an illusion,” said the young Olympian. “The girl’s mental powers include creating such illusions, among other things.”

Frowning at the deception, Azrael charged Aurora, who blasted him with a mental bolt. Lilith gasped as he fell. As she stood over his prone form, she watched Aurora turn toward Jericho to prepare another attack.

But at the moment she looked at him, Jericho widened his eyes and made contact. Instantly, he was inside and in control of her form.

“He has taken over my body!” cried Aurora as Jericho within her caused her to turn. Quickly becoming accustomed to her powers, Jericho sent a mental bolt toward Dreadnaught even as the brute slammed into Cyborg with both fists.

Cyborg dug his feet into the floor and strained to hold back the sheer mass of the youth. “I’ve seen battleships that weigh less,” he said. “This creep is a good candidate for Weight Watchers!”

“Just leave us alone!” roared Dreadnaught.

Arsenal whirled as Phantasm loomed above him, and groaned as a crushing impact slammed into his chest. The crumbling machinery around them had floated through the air and dropped into him with apparently lethal intent.

Just great! Ghost-face moves stuff with his mind! thought Roy, holding his aching chest.

Phantasm laughed. “We control this lab once more. We gave birth to the second generation of Recombatants, and we’ll make more to serve the greater glory of the HIVE!”

The Flash frowned as he heard the name of the criminal group. Always the HIVE; they have more branches than a redwood, he mused. As he created a whirlwind with his rapidly spinning arms, the being called Phantasm was swept across the room into the next chamber.

Cyborg ducked Dreadnaught’s swinging fists as the mental might of Aurora again struck her ally at Jericho’s command. As the large youth fell, he brought down Aurora as well, since Jericho had jumped in his path a moment before exiting her trim form. Cyborg grinned warily. “You know, curly, you do good work.”

Jericho signed back his thanks, and they helped Arsenal up.

“This one’s down for the count, too,” said the Flash, indicating the trapped Topaz, who had been knocked cold by Azrael as she struggled in the gooey foam. “But what about the fourth one?”

“Oh, yeah, the one called Pseudos?” said Cyborg. “Haven’t seen the kid at all today.”

The New Titans turned toward Danny Chase, who had uttered no sound thus far. He was a redheaded youth with large glasses and freckles, who wore a Poison T-shirt.

“Are you okay, kid?” asked Arsenal.

Danny smiled. “Thanks to you guys. Phantasm got me ’cause of the plans I stole. I knew as bait I could catch the thieves. I’m pretty much always right.”

“And humble, too, I see,” the Flash quipped.

Lilith frowned. “Where is this Phantasm?”

Cyborg hurried back from the next room. “Here’s the joker. Behind that ghoul mask is none other than Mark Evans himself,” he said as he collared the former assistant lab director of the Nevada Dayton Labs.

“He must have resented having to give his data to the Feds,” said Arsenal. “He decided to stage robberies to get back his own material. Couldn’t wait on the courts.”

Evans frowned. “I admit it. I hated to see years of work be tied up by red tape. I tried to rob the place and caught this punk kid snooping around here. Phantasm was my way of scaring him off. Found out he actually had my data, and I grabbed him and used it to make new, more sinister versions of the Recombatants.”

The Flash grinned. “Sounds like an episode of Scooby Doo. Ever wear lilac hosiery, Lilith?”

Lilith shook her head. “This is all wrong. This is simply not true. I told you I sensed evil behind a façade of good, and I still do. Danny Chase lies. He is not even the real Danny. He is Pseudos posing as the mad child.”

Azrael grabbed the boy, and sure enough his features altered to reveal the blond youth in green called Pseudos, a shape-changer.

“Good call, witchy woman,” said Cyborg. “So where’s the real Chase?”

The Flash returned after a speedy search. “No sign of him.”

Lilith pointed at an empty spot. “He’s there. Aurora is concealing him from our perceptions.”

Cyborg activated his white sound, and as the noise weakened the illusion-caster’s concentration, the real Danny appeared in a spot that had appeared to be empty space.

“Huh. Maybe the punk is in on it,” said Vic.

Lilith nodded. “Mark Evans is but a victim.” She caressed his face and frowned. “Yes, I see beneath the mental blocks imposed by this evil woman. He was their captive, their pawn. He was forced to make the new Recombatants at the command of another.”

Suddenly, Evans screamed and fell into her arms.

“He’s — dead!” she gasped as Azrael rushed forward to help her. “His very mind destroyed by something!”

“So li’l Danny, here, was the brains behind the whole deal?” said Arsenal, frowning. “I knew my first encounter with Phantasm resulted in my finding an empty shroud. That must’ve been Danny moving the suit around with his own mental powers.”

“Evans was a patsy,” said the Flash. “They dressed him up in the Phantasm gear, and Aurora made him obey her, even to the point of claiming to be the man behind the whole plan. I doubt the HIVE is even connected at all.”

“That precisely directed telekinetic blast killed him,” said Lilith. “Danny Chase did so to cover his own guilt. I feel his evil — it’s almost palpable. He is mad — hopelessly mad. My own empathic flames cannot even cure him.”

Danny remained calm throughout. “You’re crazy. No babe from a Victoria’s Secret ad can prove it. I tried to catch the crooks to impress my folks. They did all this illusion/mind-control stuff for Evans. Aurora may have made him do it, but he did it.”

Aurora grinned and said, “I did all as my master Evans ordered. He gave me life.”

“Hold it, babe,” said Arsenal. “He made you, so you could not have controlled him before you were even out of the test tube. As much as I hate to admit it, Danny, here, had to be the one pulling the strings. Still, how is it possible for a little kid to be responsible for all of this? When I was his age, I was just a stupid kid too immature to make these kinds of decisions. Even with G.A.’s guidance, I ended up making a lot of bad decisions that changed my life for the worse. But nothing like this!” He sighed and said, “Well, the courts will settle it all. Our job is just to turn him in.”

“How can we be sure that Danny is really behind it all?” asked the Flash. “Could he have been mind-controlled or manipulated by one of our enemies?”

“I cannot say for certain,” replied Lilith. “All I know is that the child radiates evil and ill-will toward all of us.” She shuddered. “Such malice from one so young.”

Jericho signed, “If only we had been able to help him. He could have become one of us someday with the right influences.”

Arsenal led Danny Chase out. The boy remained silent and smug. He didn’t want to risk fighting the heroes, since doing so would only weaken his claim to be but a victim. He hoped to test his brains against all of them again someday.

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