A large group gathered around a rural graveyard to pay their final respects to Marcia Long. She had been the victim of a violent and sudden death. The most that could be said about her demise was that a madwoman had killed her as a warning to her lover to respect the environment his corporation so routinely violated. Preston Wainwright’s notoriety as a businessman and powerful industrial giant had attracted tabloid reporters, as had the sensational circumstances of Marcia’s death at the claws of the Cheetah. Still, Wainwright’s security team was adept at protecting their employer’s privacy and, for this demonstration of his influence, Marcia’s other mourners were appreciative.
Wainwright stood with two associates. His expression was one of genuine grief and almost palpable anger. Across from the corporate giant stood Marcia’s ex-husband. Terry Long was a sensitive, warm scholar who felt the loss keenly, although he had been divorced from the acerbic Marcia for some time. He was a reflective man, and this painful loss made him recall their earlier times together. He mourned for the girl he had first loved and did not concentrate on their more recent acrimony. He rested one gentle hand on the shoulder of his daughter.
Jennifer Long was nearly numb with her own feelings of loss and pain. She had started to have nightmares and, even as she held the hand of her stepmother, she felt all the emotional chill any child would feel after losing a mother.
Donna Troy Long held Jennifer’s hand and ached with grief at the loss of Jen’s mother. She had grown up with no true idea of her parentage, and thus the raven-haired girl valued all family ties greatly. She knew just how hurt Jennifer and Terry were by the actions of the Cheetah.
She thought to herself as the service went on, If only I could have protected Marcia. She was with me mere minutes before the Cheetah abducted her. I know the Cheetah claimed she killed Marcia, literally skinned her as a threat to Wainwright. His businesses are notorious for neglecting environmental regulations, and Debbi Domaine is insanely protective of the natural world. I know that’s what that bitter woman told me. Still, I have to wonder if her hatred of Diana did not make her more inclined to harm anyone remotely connected to me. She acted like that was merely a welcome bonus. If only I had taken more precautionary steps over the years to hide my true identity. I never had a family to protect, since no one would easily choose to attack the Amazons who raised me. That’s why I never wore a mask like Nightwing or a wig like Supergirl. Hera help me deal with this!
Donna glanced over to the bearded man who stood to her left. Beneath the skillful disguise were the concerned features of her New Titans teammate, Dick Grayson. Next to him stood the lovely and now tearful Kory Anders, known the world over as Starfire. Kory never hid her identity as either model or heroine. That was partially why the Cheetah was able to figure out the fact that Donna Long was Artemis, the sister of the former Wonder Woman whom the villainess had hated so passionately. Donna’s link to Kory as both fashion photographer and fellow heroine marked her as clearly as if she had displayed her Amazon bracelets in either role. An unusually solemn Roy Harper stood to their rear near the attractive blonde Frances Kane and her boyfriend, Wally West.
Seeing her friends comforted Donna. Raven, Vic, Gar, Lilith, and the rest were so sweet and caring. They agreed to not attend the service. We figured that the best way to minimize publicity would be keep the public from knowing my secret by spotting any super-heroes at the ceremony.
All Wainwright and the press know is that Cheetah killed Marcia to get at him. My secret is intact as far as the mass media is concerned. Still, I know the truth. I know Terry and Jen must wonder why this tragedy entered their lives and why I did nothing to stop it. Hera! Terry may even regret marrying into the dangerous world in which I live!
As the service ended and the Longs slowly departed from the grave, Wainwright stopped them and led Terry aside. He was not known for his social niceties, nor did he spend long on displaying any.
“Mr. Long, Jennifer has become special to me. If I can do anything to help her ever, let me know. I also offer you one assurance, for what it is worth. I will bring the Cheetah to justice. I’ll hunt her down like the she-beast she is and see her pay!” he said.
Terry said, “I appreciate your care for Jen. I know Marcia cared for you. That’s all I want to say about it now.”
Jennifer turned to her stepmother. “Donna, will it ever get better? Will I ever feel happy again?”
Donna stooped down and hugged the girl. “Honey, it will gradually get better. You’ll think of the good times you had with your mom and not be quite so sad. I can’t say you’ll ever stop missing her. Still, I want you to know that you still have a home. Terry and I will do everything to make you feel better.”
Dick and Kory offered their own condolences. Kory kissed all three Longs and embraced Donna.
“Donna, you got me through losing Franklin when the HIVE killed him. I want to help you, too! I’m so sorry!” said the expressive Tamaranian.
As they stepped apart from the others, Dick took Donna’s hand and said, “I’m sorry, too. I know you’ve got to be feeling a lot of things right now. That’s normal. Still, I want you to hear me and believe me when I say you are not to blame.”
Donna embraced him and said, “Thank you. I wish I could feel that way. I need to bring her in, but I also need time with Jen.”
Dick said, “Take time for family. I can look into finding her for you.”
Donna smiled sadly. “That would be great. I couldn’t ask for a better sleuth.”
Wally hugged Donna and said, “Frances and I will be glad to help out with moving things for Jennifer. I know Terry thought that was a good idea when he called earlier.”
Donna thanked her old friend, even as Roy embraced her and offered his own condolences.
“Donna, I’m sorry. I’ll help you in any way I can. Just say the word,” he said.
She nodded and acknowledged his concern. “Thanks. You’re all wonderful.”
Later that day, in the private office of Preston Wainwright, the CEO faced a costumed man dressed all in white who wore a white helmet with a fin on the top.
“I got your message. I’ll be happy to take the job. In a way, guys like you made me what I am,” said the costumed man.
Wainwright smiled. “Indeed. I placed a team of researchers on the job right after getting the news. I have a slight lead to her location. So, you’ll do it?”
The white-suited man smiled coldly. “Sure. I’ll kill the Cheetah for you!”
That night, Donna and Terry greeted a solemn Wally West at their suburban home.
“Donna and Terry, I’m glad I could help in my own way,” said the speedster known as the Flash. “I moved Jen’s stuff into your guest room and added a few decorative touches based on suggestions from Frances. I also took Marcia’s stuff to the storage building you gave me the key to. In your own time, you’ll want to sort things. This way, you can at least get through these next few days without being worried by details.”
Terry smiled. “When it has to get there in one-point-two seconds…”
Wally nodded. “Glad I could help.”
Donna kissed his cheek and said, “We really appreciate it. Dick’s going to do some tracking for us, too.”
Wally hesitated and said, “Nubia could not be there today without adding media attention to the event. She wanted me to tell you that she’ll be alert for any attacks from the Cheetah, too.”
Donna frowned. “I want to bring her in myself. Not just for Diana and Marcia, but for my own sense of self.”
“Honey, I have to tell you right here and now that nobody blames you,” Terry said. I married you with both eyes open, if agog at your beauty. I knew your foes could be a danger to us. I wouldn’t place Jen in peril for my very life, but I also could not live without you.”
Donna kissed him and remained in his arms as Wally departed at super-speed.
Later, Terry sat next to Jennifer on a plush bed in her new room. “So, kid, do you like your new room? I know it’s different from before, but we tried to make it nice for you,” he said.
Jennifer nodded silently. “Daddy, will that bad woman try to hurt you and Donna, too?”
Terry took her in his arms and rocked her gently from side to side. “Baby, she won’t. She only did what she did because she was sick. We can get help for her and make her see how wrong she was. You know Donna and I and all Donna’s friends like Aunt Kory won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
He tried to comfort the little girl even as he wondered just what new peril could take Donna away from them at any moment. Was it even possible to protect her secrets now?
At Titans Tower, Cyborg paced restlessly. “Man, this stinks! I can’t help wanting to get my hands on the Cheetah! That freaky feline has a lot to answer for.”
Changeling nodded grimly. “When Steve Dayton tried to get revenge on mom’s killers, he nearly lost his own self. I guess I kind of flipped out, too, after the whole Terra/Terminator deal. I hope Donna won’t change that way. She’s so caring now.”
Arsenal frowned. “Look, green genes, you can’t just assume that what happened to Dayton will happen to Donna. I mean, Garth lost Tula and didn’t go all Dirty Harry on us! Donna is the most stable one in the group. She’ll pull through. I admit I’d like to pin Cheetah’s tail for her, too.”
Raven touched his arm. “Roy, I feel your anger and pain. It does you justice that the emotion I feel the strongest is compassion for the Longs.”
Arsenal smiled at the empath and shrugged. “I was orphaned twice. I know how it feels to lose a parent.”
Gar stood up and waved his arms. “Hold it! I hold the record here. I lost my real folks, then I lost my adoptive parents, too, and even had an abusive guardian or two! We’ve all experienced loss before. Don’t forget there’s more to me than just a fun-loving hunk!”
Arsenal said, “It’s not a contest, kid. Forget my big mouth, OK?”
Gar shrugged. “I’m sorry, too. I just want to help so badly.”
Starfire nodded. “I would eagerly hunt down the Cheetah as well. I hate to have a friend suffer and not be able to take action!”
They agreed readily and prayed for their friend.
One week later, Donna hurried into Jennifer’s room after hearing her cry out softly. She bent over the girl and gently took her into her arms. “Honey, it’s OK. It was a dream. That’s all it was,” she said.
Jen wiped her eyes and said, “Donna, I keep seeing bad things. I keep thinking of Mom. Can you make the nightmares stop?”
Donna said, “Well, maybe a change of scenery would help. In fact, your Daddy and I talked it over. We’re going to take you to meet your step-grandma!”
Jennifer’s eyes widened. “You mean Queen Hippo-polyta?”
Donna smiled sadly. “Well, she’s actually named Hippolyta, but that’s who I meant. She’s really my adoptive mother, but she’ll enjoy meeting you. We can see where I grew up. Daddy can come, too. He’ll just stay nearby and not on the main island. No boys are allowed there!”
Jennifer nodded. She was excited about the trip even as she felt loss and pain.
The next day, Donna, Terry, and Jennifer journeyed to the stormy region of the Bermuda Triangle in which Paradise Island was concealed. Jen’s nightmares had continued, and they hoped a change would do her good.
Terry gasped in awe as he saw the natural splendor of the lush island and its nearly mythical buildings and art. “This is like meeting Sophocles or something! I can’t tell you what this does to the history buff in me!” he said.
As they landed their T-Jet near Science Island, Terry embraced them both and waved to the waiting Paula Von Gunta. “You girls be good. I’ll be fine here with Paula. I know men can’t touch the main island. I’ll be like a kid in a candy store here,” he said.
Paula, the blonde chief scientist of the Amazons, smiled. “Princess, I shall do my best to make Terry’s visit pleasant.”
Donna hugged her and said, “Thanks, Paula! Just don’t let him talk you to death!”
She led Jennifer to a small boat and rowed across the waters to the main isle of Paradise Island where she had grown up. “Jennifer, I want to show you our pet kangas and have you meet my mother and see Diana. She’s a baby now, remember?” said Donna.
Jennifer smiled. “It’s weird but cool to think of Wonder Woman being a baby!”
As they drew closer to the fabled isle, Donna reflected on just how much she missed her big sister’s wisdom and caring. If only Diana was still able to talk and react like the woman she once was. She could help me so much through this, thought Donna.
Jennifer gasped as they drew closer to the gleaming columns that rose above the golden sands. “It’s like Disney World!” she sighed.
Donna laughed. “That’s what Gar said when he first saw it.”
Amazon warriors helped them tie off the boat as they led Donna and Jennifer ashore. “Welcome, Princess! Your mother awaits you within,” said a red-haired woman.
Donna said, “Thank you, Daphne.” She led Jennifer inside the royal palace past a row of armored women. Most of them were well-known to Donna. She had learned combat, history, art, philosophy, and much more from these capable women.
The throne room was dominated not by martial prowess on display but by a regal, feminine elegance as embodied by the lovely Queen Hippolyta. The blonde beauty stood up and embraced Donna gently as she welcomed Jennifer. “Hola! That is a greeting among our people, Jennifer. Be welcome here and know that you are loved,” said the gracious warrior queen.
Jennifer smiled and gazed up at Hippolyta with a readily apparent awe. “You’re like a fairy-tale princess! You’re like Glenda the Good!” she said.
Hippolyta laughed and patted the girl’s head. “We are flattered! The works of Mr. Baum are a delight to us all!” she said. Hippolyta bent over to face the little girl. “Jennifer, perhaps you would like to see Diana. Mala will be glad to take you to the nursery.”
“Cool!” said Jennifer.
A demure blonde Amazon approached and took Jennifer’s hand. “My name is Mala. I am so happy to have a girl visit us. We’ve missed the pleasures of youth since Donna grew up.”
After the pair had departed, Donna hugged her mother again. “Mother, thank you so much for letting me bring Jen here. I’m at my wit’s end trying to comfort her. I also want so badly to find and punish the Cheetah for the pain she’s caused. Poor Terry is hurting too, but all he can do is try to put up a brave front for us,” she said.
Hippolyta frowned. “My child, I know of your pain. The magic sphere has revealed all, as did your call. I can only suggest that you let Paradise Island’s magic soothe your cares, and perhaps I may offer another balm before you depart.”
That evening, Hippolyta spent a long vigil in the temple of Aphrodite. To her delight, the ivory statue of the goddess of love began to glow with a pink light. Warmth flooded over Hippolyta as Aphrodite herself appeared before her servant.
“I have heard your pleas. For all that you and your daughters have done in my name, I have responded,” said the goddess. “The mists of Nepenthe will erase all pain from Jennifer’s heart. She will miss her mother, but the shock and the violence of the death will be forgotten. I have also acted to shield Donna from future peril. I have extended my power across the mortal world. While all will see Donna and Artemis as they are, no longer will any mortal mind perceive that they are one and the same. Only Donna’s allies will know she is Artemis. I offer her this sign of my love.”
Hippolyta smiled and gave humble thanks. She rushed to offer the news to Donna and hoped that her children would not suffer any future pain. She vowed Donna would certainly never be hurt again.
Several days later at Titans Tower, the group had gathered for a regular meeting. They were still a bit subdued, but their natural high spirits were returning. They had all experienced loss before.
Gar Logan had assumed the form of a rabbit. “What’s up, dork?”
Cyborg rolled his eyes. “I’d slap you around, but it would ruin my street cred if I was caught beatin’ up Bugs Bunny!”
Nightwing entered and said, “There’s something we can do. I’ve been doing some research on Debbi Domaine. Before she became the Cheetah, she was a wealthy environmentalist who funded a group of Greenpeace-type activists. Not a word from you, Logan!”
Changeling spread his arms in a gesture of hurt innocence. “I didn’t say a word! Course, if I wanted to, I could have said something like I was green before green was cool! Or was that Barbara Mandrell?”
Cyborg smiled and swatted his friend on the back. “Reasonable mistake. I always get you mixed up with the Mandrell sisters.”
Nightwing said, “The Cheetah may still have connections to her old group. In fact, a yacht belonging to her is still used by the Green Rights group. I’ve got the current location. It’s docked off a California marina near Santa Monica.”
Arsenal said, “I know you’ll have an answer, O great leader, but why would our pussycat be prowling around her old boat when she could be anyplace?”
Nightwing said, “A woman fitting her description caught a private flight out of New York to California right after Donna fought the Cheetah. Her name was Felicia Lyons.”
Arsenal smiled. “I see the cat motif. Should have known better than to question a guy who spent his formative years dealing with nuts who pulled crimes based on days of the week or rare hats!”
Nightwing smiled back. “Seen Clock King lately, Roy? How about the dreaded Xeen Arrow?”
Arsenal threw up his hands in defeat. “OK, OK, I give!”