by Martin Maenza
The next sensation that Mirror Master felt was an odd one — disorientating vertigo, like everything was spinning out of control and out of reach. Nothing around him seemed real. Or maybe he was no longer real. He didn’t know. Did he care?
He moved swiftly through the blackness, floating like a piece of paper caught in a blustery wind. The surroundings barely registered as he passed them. He was heading somewhere, but where? And then he heard the sound of wailing screams all around him. It sent a chill through his soul. Wherever the wails were originating, he was heading toward that place. He couldn’t stop himself even if he tried.
Suddenly, a gargantuan creature appeared from the canyon walls before him. Its shape was that of a giant worm with dark, rough skin. It moved quickly, jutting its huge head into the center of the cavern and in direct line of the path Mirror Master was taking. Its great maw opened wide, revealing row after row after row of razor-sharp teeth. It growled a loud sound as its jaws snapped open and closed like a guillotine.
Mirror Master reached to his side for his weapons, but he drew forth empty air. “No-o-o-o!” he panicked. He was on a direct course for the creature and had no way to defend himself.
Just then, a blast of energy shot past him, striking the great worm-like creature. It let out a shriek of pain before making a retreat to the canyon walls. All that remained was the strong odor of charred flesh. It was hurt, but it would be back. What would the reflective rogue do then?
Almost as if an answer to his unspoken question, he felt himself jerked backward, pulled to the side out of the raging tide that drew him deeper down. His eyes grew wide. “What’s happening?” Mirror Master heard himself say.
“I have you,” said a deep, yet charming voice. It belonged to a figure in the shadows; the outline appeared to be that of a man, but the hair was long. Glimpses of a costume of white and green danced by. Mirror Master was drawn quickly back to the eyes. They shone out in the darkness like a beacon, full of fire, full of life. “Tell me, Sam Scudder, are you ready to die?”
“No!” Mirror Master said without hesitation. “I don’t want to die! Not like that. Not on a fool’s errand ten billion years before my birth, nor by being devoured by a giant worm.” He had occasionally envisioned himself dying in battle against the man he had made his arch-foe, the Flash, much like his old ally the Top had.
“Of course,” the man in the shadows said with a smile. His teeth shone through the darkness like the smile on a Cheshire Cat. “You have unfinished business in the land of the living. I can sense that. That’s what drew me to you.”
“Where am I?” the reflective rogue asked.
“This place goes by many names,” the man replied. “Consider it a crossroads of sorts for souls, as they pass on to their final destination.”
“Final destination,” Mirror Master repeated. Knowing how he chose to live his life, he half-guessed where his would be. A feeling of despair came over him.
“Yes, for you, Hades,” the man said, as if reading the rogue’s mind. “Hell. The Underworld. Whatever you choose to call it. But I can forestall that trip, if you are interested.”
Mirror Master perked up. “Delay the inevitable? You can do that?”
“I can,” the man said, smiling again. With a wave of his hand, the darkness began to shimmer. A form took shape next to the man; it was a body adorned in the familiar orange and green costume, albeit one torn in places where rock shrapnel had cut into it. The body stood stiff, lifeless; the eyes were closed as if in some resting state. The face was scarred but still familiar.
“Your body, yes,” the man said. Mirror Master could now see his hair was long and blond. “A little worn, but given the circumstances, that is to be expected. I managed to pluck it away from that alien world.”
“If it’s there, then how am I…?”
“You are a spirit, Sam Scudder, a soul of your former self. I can reunite you with your body once more and allow you to return to the world of the living. It’s possible with the newly dead and the right knowhow. All we have to do is settle upon a price.”
Mirror Master seemed eager. “I’ll steal for you whatever you want — gold, jewels, cash! Just let me live again!”
The bargainor smiled. “Those things mean little to me,” he said. “I deal in more powerful things — things much harder to obtain.”
The reflective rogue was getting at the gist of where this man was going. “What do you want, then? My soul? You some kind of devil or something?”
The man laughed. “You may call me Neron. And as for the offer of your soul, no, that will not suffice. For, you see, you have already died, and thus technically it is no longer yours to bargain with.” Neron stepped out of the shadows. He was a powerful-looking man. He reeked of evil.
“However, I think you can do something just as sufficient in exchange for living again. See, I know all about you, Sam Scudder. You have a great criminal mind with wondrous connections in that seedy world. You know of many others who would like the chance at power, power which I can offer to them for a price. I cannot take your soul, but I am willing to accept your assistance in my endeavors.” Neron thrust out his hand. “Do we have a deal?”
Mirror Master paused for a moment. He glanced at the body before him, his body. Then he recalled the sensations, the wailing, the horrific creatures. If Hell truly was his final destination, he didn’t want to go right now. He grabbed Neron’s hand. “We have a deal!”
The phone on his desk rang, snapping Mirror Master back to reality.
The blond man he knew as Neron still sat in his chair, smoking the cigar. “You’d better answer that,” the bargainor said. “It might be important.”
Mirror Master sprang from his chair and reached for the handset. “Hello!” he said urgently into the phone.
“M.M., you sound stressed,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “It’s me — Eli Walston.”
Mirror Master let out a deep breath. The last thing he needed at this particular moment was to talk to the STAR Labs scientist with a chip on his shoulder. “It’s not a good time,” the reflective rogue said. “Can I possibly call you back later?”
“No can do,” Walston said. “Just wanted to let you know your tailor friend in Central City hooked me up nicely. (*) I’m about to go have my revenge on one of my former colleagues for her refusal to work with me. Just wanted to call and give you my thanks.”
“OK,” Mirror Master said.
“I’ll call you sometime when my business is done,” Walston said. “Perhaps then, maybe we can work together. With the new look and a flashy name, I think it would be a lot of fun.”
“Perhaps,” Mirror Master said absently.
“Oooh.” Walston’s voice sounded suddenly urgent. “I gotta run now! Bye!” The phone on the other end went dead.
[(*) Editor’s note: For the other half of this conversation, see Superwoman: Terror on the Tarmac.]
Mirror Master hung up the receiver.
“Nice to see some folks are good at repaying their debts,” Neron said, smiling.
Mirror Master scowled, as if the man had somehow been listening in on the call. While it seemed impossible, he wouldn’t put it past the devilish dealer. “So, is this about our deal and my debt to you?” He knew the answer to the question, but had said it aloud anyway.
“Why else would I be here?” Neron asked.
“I thought I’d have more time,” Mirror Master admitted.
Neron chuckled. “Did I say I was calling in the marker right this second? No, I don’t think I did.” He reached one hand inside to the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small crystal ball. As he placed it on the desk before him, the bottom of it shimmered and shifted. It created its own stand so that it could rest steady upon the surface.
“No need to tell me my future,” Mirror Master said. “I’m pretty sure I know how this tale will end.”
“Do you?” Neron said with a smile. “Anyway, this isn’t about your future. It’s about the past. Here, take a look.” Crimson smoke appeared within the crystal orb, swirling around and filling the orb. As the cloud started to dissipate, an image formed within the glass.
Mirror Master peered in.