by Martin Maenza
Mirror Master pounded the gavel, hoping to regain control of his meeting. “Look, people, I realize what’s going on in the world, but just because others have thrown into the cause of defense doesn’t mean we’re about to. We aren’t heroes, so there is no reason for us to go around acting like ones.”
“Well, if the Earth gets blown up, we lose, anyway,” Trident pointed out. “Can’t steal anything if we’re vaporized.”
“Ah, what’s the point?” Power Fist grumbled dejectedly.
“Don’t be that way, Luke,” Gizmo said, trying to encourage his friend.
“I can’t walk out in the daylight without folks pointin’ and starin’,” Power Fist said. He then waved his large hand in the air. “Ah, you wouldn’t understand.”
“Really?” the dwarf said. “Somehow, I think I would.”
“People, people! We are a secret society, remember?” Mirror Master said. “Secret being the operative word, here. And even if we did make some kind of blatant public display, either in a heroic capacity or one totally self-serving, then we risk the sanctity of our operations.”
“Maybe you can get others to do the dirty deeds in our stead,” Funky Flashman suggested from the back of the room.
“No comments from the peanut gallery, Funky,” Mirror Master said. “You’re a guest, not a member. I only let you sit in out of courtesy, so kindly keep your flapping yap zipped. Got it?”
Flashman held up his hands, palms out. “Sorry, sire,” he said half-mockingly with a bow. “I was merely playing Devil’s advocate, is all.”
Mirror Master fumed. “We don’t need one of those around here!” He paused for a second and realized that he had just yelled, losing his cool. The others noticed it, too. They could see their leader was slightly on edge about something, but did not know quite what.
He cleared his throat and let his voice go back to a calm, even tone. “Look, I have a vision, a direction, for the organization. I apologize for not being able to lay that all out on the table to you at this time. You’ll just have to trust me on this for a little while longer.
“So far, I haven’t put any of you into serious jeopardy with our missions.” Mirror Master was glancing around the room and stopped at Power Fist. The man in simian form was the only one to scowl at this. The reflective rogue continued, slightly fazed. “I… I wouldn’t ask of you to do anything that you wouldn’t be willing to do. And I’m willing to take the risks right alongside you. That, and I’ve provided you with a safe haven of sorts here at the Sinister Citadel. That’s a pretty fair exchange. All I ask is that you give me a little more time.”
He looked at the other faces. Sapphire was her usual cold self. Trident and Gizmo seemed willing to accept the terms. Throttle and Blindside, except for today’s outbursts, were keeping well enough in line. Copperhead had signed in for the long haul early on. And Tattooed Lady, well, Lydia Anastasios seemed to trust Mirror Master most of all. She had truly helped Sam Scudder in more ways than he could ever tell her.
“Well?” Mirror Master asked. “Can I take the reflections on your faces and any lack of argument as a nod of support?”
The criminal looked to one another, gauging the reaction of others. Finally, Copperhead decided to open his mouth. “Well, bosss, I guesss I can ssspeak for the group and sssay, you’re ssstuck with usss, for the ssshort term at leassst.”
Mirror Master nodded. “OK, then,” he said. “If that’s settled, I’d like to open the floor to two topics: possible acquisitions we can make while remaining a covert group, and potential candidates for our operations.”
And so the regular business meeting of the Secret Society of Super-Villains continued for another hour or so.
Keys rattled in the outside lock of the apartment door, causing the deadbolt to disengage. Harleen Quinzel opened the door to the apartment. “Don’t worry, I have the bags,” the psychiatrist said. She wheeled the hard-shelled brown suitcase into the apartment and placed a matching carry-on bag next to it on the floor. “You just have a seat and rest. You must be tired.”
A dark-haired woman followed Harleen into the apartment. “I am,” she said as she made her way toward the couch. Her white maternity dressed rode up over her pregnant belly as she sat. “I can’t tell you how uncomfortable the trip out here was.”
“Did you come by plane?” Harleen asked.
“No, bus,” the woman replied. “Probably not the smartest idea, given my condition.”
Harleen shook her head. “Probably not. Can I get you something? Coffee, tea?”
“Tea with lemon would be great,” the woman answered. “I’ve been avoiding the caffeine.”
“Of course,” Harleen said. She slipped into the kitchen area, filled a kettle with water, and put it on the stove to boil. She then returned to the living area and sat down. “You look good, Paula. What are you — five months along?”
“Six,” Paula Brooks replied.
Harleen nodded. “Right, of course. Look, Paula, I really don’t mean to ask so many questions. I certainly don’t want to pry. But… I get the feeling this isn’t really a social visit.”
Paula Brooks gently stroked the curve of her belly. “I’ll be honest, Dr. Quinzel. We hardly know each other. Well, you know a bit more about me after you visited us back east in the spring.” (*) She reached into the upper pocket of the top and produced a small card. “Remember when you gave this card to me? You said, ‘if you need someone to talk to, call.’ I guess I did.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: The Huntress and the Sportsmaster: The Games People Play.]
Harleen recalled the conversation in the driveway in Upstate New York. “You could have saved a trip out here,” she said. “I would have been just as happy to help you over the phone.”
“It’s just… well… I needed to get away for a bit,” Paula admitted, “clear my head about some things. And maybe have someone I could talk to. I’m really sorry for showing up unannounced. I didn’t have many choices of where to go.”
“It’s OK,” Harleen said. “I wish I had a guest room to put you up in. The couch here is nice, but…”
“Oh, I’m sure it will be fine,” Paula beamed. “After those seats and the bathrooms on the bus, this is like a palace.”
“I’m sure it is,” Harleen agreed. The tea kettle started to whistle. “Excuse me for a sec.” She retired to the kitchen.
It was her job to read people by both their voice and body language, and Harleen was picking up some interesting signals from the woman the world knew as the criminal Huntress. There was something Paula wasn’t saying yet, but Harleen knew that with time she could get the truth to come out.
The Bar Sinister, a rotating drinking establishment managed by and catering to super-villains, was swinging back through the West Coast area. And Gizmo, for one, was very pleased. After that long meeting, the dwarf decided to take some time to himself to unwind away from everyone else.
“Another Guinness?” asked Roy Pinto the bartender as he wiped out a glass with a white towel. It was still early in the afternoon, so business was a little slow. It’d pick up soon enough.
“Sure, why not?” Gizmo replied as he polished off the last in his mug. While Roy filled another, the dwarf went back to his napkins, where he had been scribbling some equations for the last ten minutes.
Gizmo barely noticed someone took the stool next to him until a voice said, “What you working on?” The dwarf looked up. The guy had long white hair, frizzed out on the sides and slightly balding on the top. A pair of black goggles sat perched on his forehead. The man was tall and lanky; his white lab coat hung long behind the back of the stool.
“Excuse me,” Gizmo blinked. The man reminded him of the wacky doctor in those Back to the Future films. “Can I help ya?”
“Just saw you scratching some formulas,” the man replied. “Was kind of curious what it was about.”
“Oh,” Gizmo said. “This? It’s nothing, really. Just something that’s been driving me crazy tryin’ to figure out for a while now.”
“Mind if I take a peek?” the man asked. “Science is sort of my thing.”
Gizmo shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, I guess,” he said, sliding the napkin over to him. The man put it up to his face, studied it, and made a few curious sounds. “I should probably explain…”
“No, I get it,” the man said. “And I think I see your problem! Pen, please.” Gizmo handed the man the writing implement; the man crossed a few things out and scratched in new values. “There!” He handed the napkin back to Gizmo.
The dwarf looked at the results curiously. “That’s incredible! That makes perfect sense. I can’t believe I missed that.”
The man smiled. “Just had the coefficient reversed and were off a few degrees.”
“This is great!” Gizmo said. “How can I thank you…?” He paused. “Say, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Nerdtron,” the scientist said. Gizmo looked at him quizzically. “Yeah, I know, it’s sort of a goofy name, but it’s something kids teased me with mercilessly growing up. I figured, why not use it and sort of take the negative power away from it?”
“I can relate,” Gizmo said. “Well, thank you, Nerdtron.” He offered his hand in thanks. The other man started to shake it. “If there’s anything I can do for you in return, just name it!”
Nerdtron smiled. “I’ll take a verbal IOU, if you’d like. You know, a returned favor later for the favor I provided now.”
“You got it!” Gizmo said. He hopped down from his stool and put some money on the counter.
“Hey, what about the beer?” Roy said, noticing the glass barely touched. He hated to see good beer go to waste.
Gizmo grabbed the glass, chugged it down, and slammed the empty on the counter. “Hate to drink and run, but I’ve got to get back to my lab!” He turned to Nerdtron. “Thanks again, pal. Hope to see you soon.” Gizmo darted for the door.
Nerdtron smiled as he went, then stood up and headed for the restroom. After checking under the stall doors to see if the room was clear, he turned toward the mirror and started to chuckle. “Oh, you’ll see me soon, dwarf,” he said, his voice changing slightly.
In a flash, his appearance changed, too. He now had a much bigger build, wore white robes with a green cape, and had long, flowing blond hair. And with another laugh, Neron vanished in a magic cloud of smoke.