Tales ot the Starheart
by David Marshall
Wingate Memorial Hospital
"Hand over my wife!" Alan Scott demanded.
The Manhunter towering over his wife's hospital bed didn't comply. Seconds before, he absorbed Molly's body into his own, and trapped her somewhere inside him. At least Alan hoped the situation was that simple. One could never assume anything with Manhunter technology. Before Alan could fully assess the situation, the Manhunter's right arm morphed into a sonic cannon and fired a powerful blast of white noise at him, his daughter Jennie, and Nikolai Bolnikov, an old friend of Molly's.
Alan lunged at Bolnikov, knocking him to the floor seconds before the impact. The explosion ripped through the hospital wall behind them, leaving a gaping hole in the plaster and steel framing, exposing the hallway on the other side. The charred wall caught fire and set off the emergency sprinkler system and fire alarm.
"Stay down," Alan instructed the elderly man beneath him, but Bolnikov was already unconscious from the fall. It was just as well. He didn't need to see the Starheart's flame burn away the civilian clothes masking the green, red, and purple mantle of Green Lantern. And burn they did, for no mere sprinkler system could douse the Starheart's flame. Green Lantern was angry. As long as there was life in his body, he would protect the woman he loved. She was finally making progress in recovering from the stroke that crippled her body, but still frail. The last thing she needed was too much excitement.
Green chains and shackles clamped tight around the Manhunter's ankles and wrists. "Let her go, creep!" Jade's costume replaced the civilian clothing of her alter ego, Jennie Lynn Hayden. Alan breathed a sigh of relief that his daughter was unhurt.
"Stand down, Jade. This one's mine," Green Lantern commanded.
"No can do! We're in this one together," she replied through gritted teeth.
The Manhunter's arms and legs flowed through the shackles like mercury draining from a broken thermometer. The emerald chains fell harmlessly to the floor as the android reshaped his limbs.
Emergency crews rushed into Molly's room, providing the Manhunter a perfect distraction. His body morphed into a miniature tank. A plasma blast exploded from his turret gun and streaked toward the gathering crowd of hospital personnel, curious onlookers, and security guards ill-equipped to deal with such a threat.
Jade quickly formed a giant sea sponge and absorbed the blast seconds before it slammed into the startled crowd.
"You protect them," Green Lantern said to Jade. "I'll take care of the Manhunter." He leaped toward the machine, hoping to slow it down, but was afraid to unleash the Starheart's fury on the cursed android because he didn't want to take a chance on hurting Molly. She was still somewhere inside the Manhunter and until they were separated, he couldn't risk injuring her.
Questions filled Green Lantern's mind. Would Molly be ok? How was he going to free her even if he managed to take the Manhunter down? When did the Manhunters develop the ability to morph their bodies? Weren't they all destroyed by the Green Lantern Corps?
The Manhunter surrounded himself with a force field.
Green Lantern slammed into the wall of energy and fell to the floor. As he struggled to regain his footing, the Manhunter's chest cavity opened, revealing four blast staffs.
Green Lantern never saw what hit him. He only knew that it felt worse than a Solomon Grundy haymaker. The last thing he remembered was hearing Jade scream.
"No! Oh my god! Please wake up! Please wake..."
Wingate Memorial Hospital, Two Hours Later
Green Lantern awoke and was surrounded by his daughter, still dressed as Jade, and Nikolai Bolnikov. He was surprised to see his son, Todd Rice, Obsidian, present as well. As usual, he kept his distance, but Alan was happy to see him.
"Todd?" Green Lantern asked.
"Green Lantern... are you alright?" Jade asked.
"I'm fine. My ring's aura protected me from most of the impact. How is Molly?"
"Mrs. Scott was taken by the Manhunter," Obsidian answered.
Green Lantern sprang up from his bed.
Nikolai Bolnikov's large hand rested on Green Lantern's shoulder. "Easy, young man. You've taken a beating."
Green Lantern brushed aside Bolnikov's steadying hand. He still wasn't sure how the old man fit into Molly's disappearance, but he was damn sure going to find out. He fixed his steely gaze on Bolnikov. "You have some explaining to do, sir. How did you know Mrs. Scott was in trouble?"
"You can drop your pretenses around me, all of you" Bolnikov answered, as he retrieved a tobacco pipe from his coat pocket. "I know the truth - who you are."
"This is a no smoking building," Jade admonished.
"I never smoke it, Miss Hayden," Bolnikov answered. "Nerves, a security blanket if you will."
"What do you mean when you say you know who we are?" Obsidian asked.
Bolnikov turned to Green Lantern. "You are Alan Scott. Ms. Hayden and this other gentleman are most likely family. Marishka told me you were enemies in her Harlequin days. I see much has changed over the years."
Green Lantern was stunned by Bolnikov's astuteness, but could he be trusted? Molly was obviously close enough to him at one time to reveal her secret identity. But with her life in the hands of a Manhunter and the old man holding all the cards, they had little choice but to trust him. "If you're finished sleuthing, would you please explain what's going on?"
Bolnikov took a seat and sighed. "It began years ago, during the Cold War. Your president offered Marishka a full-pardon for her crimes if she would serve your country as an agent behind the Iron Curtain. She arrived in Moscow weeks after Khrushchev was ousted from power. She made no attempt to hide her background, including her days as the Harlequin. It took her several months of rubbing elbows with the right people in the right nightclubs, to win their admiration, if not their trust. Everyone loved her. Brezhnev in particular was charmed by her intellect and beauty but remained suspicious. He ordered me to get close to her and discover her intentions. What I didn't expect was to fall in love. After all, I was a decorated KGB agent, a rising star in international espionage. But Marishka - her spirit was infectious! Once I cleared her, we became partners professionally and personally, but kept our relationship hidden for fear that... Let's just say Brezhnev wouldn't have been pleased."
"You say this Manhunter is your and Molly's child?" Jade asked.
Green Lantern bolted up in bed. "What the hell?"
"It's true," Bolnikov answered. "That monster that took her is... our child."
Obsidian grabbed Bolnikov by the throat. "If you are lying to my family, I will show you a hell darker than your worst nightmares."
Green Lantern pried Obsidian's grip from the old man's throat. "If he's lying, he will deal with me." He turned to Bolnikov. "Molly has never mentioned having a child before, let alone a Manhunter!"
Bolnikov massaged his throat. "Marishka believed she miscarried our child during a mission. After our loss, she was devastated and returned to the States. I was jailed for helping her escape the country and wasn't released until Yeltsin freed many of the Soviet's old enemies. I only learned the whole truth recently."
"What do you mean?" Obsidian asked. "The whole truth?"
"Marishka was sent to the Soviet Union to uncover the truth of the rumors of my county's pact with a sect of Manhunters. It took me a year of working beside her to uncover her mission. Once I did, we fought about it, and I agreed to keep and open mind while we learned the truth. I was so smug in my patriotism, defending my country's innocence and thinking I was right and we would find nothing. I couldn't have been more wrong."
"I learned that after World War II, our leaders fretted about the imbalance of mystery men between our countries. America was aglow with colorful capes and masks and for whatever reason, we were lacking."
"What does this have to do with the Manhunter?" Jennie asked.
Bolnikov continued. "A secret deal was struck in the mid-50's. The Manhunters agreed to defend Communist interests from your super-powered community in exchange for financial backing from my government and a secret base. The uneasy pact worked on-and-off for years until the collapse of the Union. Marishka and I were investigating rumors of an Ultimate Manhunter program, a hybrid version of the androids more deadly than any before."
Green Lantern thought of Chin-Nee, the human-android he defeated in ancient China. The idea of a super Manhunter was not a new one.
"I discovered the link between our miscarried child and the Manhunters in declassified documents while filing for my pension. The son we thought lost was not only alive, but was taken by the Manhunters and enhanced to serve as a genetic guarantee of their continued existence."
"Why does he need Molly?" Green Lantern asked.
Bolnikov hung his head. "I don't know. That is why I sought your help. Until a few days ago, Marishka and I hadn't seen one another for decades, but I will always care deeply for her and would rather die than to see harm come to her."
Green Lantern touched the man's shoulder. "That makes two of us, friend." It was odd listening to another man profess such deep feelings for Molly, but he understood. His wife was a special woman. She maintained a dignified silence about her activities between the time the Harlequin first disappeared and her reappearance years later during the early days of Infinity, Inc. An occasional cryptic reference to those days gave him reason to suspect Molly performed work for the government she couldn't discuss. He had no idea her involvement in international affairs went so deep.
"So what now?" Jennie asked.
"Do you know the location of this base?" Green Lantern asked.
Bolnikov nodded. "Sir, I lost the woman I loved and my only child there. It will forever be burned into my nightmares."
"We begin there," Green Lantern replied.
Appollyon City, Polk Square
"My fellow Appollyonites, I thank you for coming today." Mayor Bradley Tursk's booming voice echoed across Polk Square through mountains of loudspeakers set up for the occasion. "Our city recently suffered a heinous act of terrorism and cowardice. The President himself has assured me the perpetrators will be brought to justice. But today we dwell not on vengeance, but we gather to mourn the lives lost in the Appolloplex tragedy."
Felicity Barnes applauded politely. She and her camera crew were positioned to the right of the stage filled with local, state, and national dignitaries and guest speakers for the event. Several already spoke words of encouragement to the citizenry of Appollyon City, including the Vice President. However, it was the mayor who seemed to touch the people the most. Appollyon was a young city still, and many cited its relative youth as the reason it lacked identity. It was said the citizenry shared no common bond, just a half million people going about their daily routines unconnected in any way. Identity is carved in adversity and the city was conceived to have none. But now, it had its Chicago fire, its San Francisco quake, its Hurricane Andrew. In the days following the tragedy, the city rallied around its young, enigmatic mayor.
"Most of those who lost their lives weren't our own - They were visitors to our fair city. They came to celebrate a belief system not shared by the majority of us. No group lost more than the Society of the Owl. Not only did they lose an emerging leader in Dr. Damon Hinkle, but scores of followers as well. I have spoken at length with the leader of the Society of the Owl and offered our city's condolences. He agreed to put aside our philosophical differences and speak to you today. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Klaus Eule."
Nervous applause mixed with chatter as Dr. Eule approached the podium. Felicity didn't like him. She saw the consequences of hate too many times to respect a man who lived his life for it. She tried to force a smile but none would come.
Dr. Eule positioned the microphone to fit his unusually tall stature for such an elderly man. He appeared to be well into his eighties, but still spry. Felicity wondered if he wasn't even older.
"I know many of you are sitting in your seats and questioning whether to applaud politely or to protest with your silence," Dr. Eule began. "The truth is, I am what many call a racist or a bigot."
The frankness of Eule's confession stunned Felicity and the crowd as well. A few anonymous souls cleared their throats but in between the forced coughs you could hear the wings of the butterflies.
"I am of a different generation," Eule continued. "But I understand basic human goodness. This city has been gracious to us during this catastrophe. You overwhelmed me with the love and support you showed the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy. I saw men and women of all color step forward and help. It is greatly appreciated. Such acts of kindness and support have shown me there is more to a man than his genetics. My prejudice was wrong. No man is better for the color of his skin. It is the valor of his heart and his compassion for others that sets him apart."
The crowd erupted in wild celebration. Felicity was stunned. Maybe a leopard could change it spots after all.
"My organization will no longer uphold the divisive wall of hatred. Instead, we will strive to be a beacon of diversity! Can you find it in your hearts to forgive an old man the error of his ways?"
The crowd erupted again.
Dr. Eule appeared choked up but stammered on. "There can be no birth without pain. Appollyon City is the birthplace of the new Society. I'd like to offer one hundred million dollars to the rebuilding fund and to set up funds for the families of those killed in the explosion."
Once more the crowd celebrated.
"And with your permission, I'd also like to move the New Society's world headquarters to Appollyon City," Dr. Eule added.
The crowd stood to its feet and applauded.
The Manhunter's Lair
Molly Scott jerked awake and looked around. She was no longer in Wingate Memorial Hospital. A Manhunter took her by force, despite her husband's and step-children's best efforts to prevent him from doing so.
Where was she? The place seemed familiar somehow, like a fuzzy dream. Her body was attached to machinery of some sort. It appeared to be medical equipment, but more advanced than she'd seen before. A steady beep emanated from the monitor over her bed. Her wrists and ankles were bound, but they weren't in pain. She tugged at the thin hospital gown but was unable to completely cover herself. A cold draft raised goose bumps on her skin. Despite her lack of freedom, Molly felt better than she had in years. She wiggled her fingers and toes and moved them freely, even curling her fingers into a tight fist that made her wish her physical therapist back at Wingate was there to see it. What had the Manhunter done to her?
"Welcome home, mother." The voice belonged to the Manhunter.
"I'm not your mother!" Molly shouted back. "What do you want with me?"
The Manhunter busied himself with the monitor above Molly's bed before answering. "Have you forgotten so soon? Russia? A love affair? A miscarriage?"
Bittersweet memories clawed from their graves like an unfortunate soul buried alive, eliciting both joy and anger deep in Molly's soul. "Go to hell, monster!"
"That's no way for a mother to speak to her child," answered the Manhunter.
Molly tugged at her bonds. "You are not my child! I should kill you for prying into my personal life!"
The Manhunter ignored her outburst, again adjusting one of the many monitors hooked to Molly's body. When at last he spoke, it was to offer a warning. "Please stop struggling. You will damage yourself."
Molly jerked the manacles holding her wrists and ankles. "You're just going to kill me anyway."
Arrogant, staccato laughter erupted from the Manhunter's mouth. "Kill you? No, mother. You are the hope of the Manhunters."
Many questions flooded Molly's mind. How did the Manhunter know of her miscarriage? Why was he calling her mother? And what was this business with her being the hope of the Manhunters?
Drawing on years of training, Molly calmed her wild thoughts and spoke calmly. "You speak in riddles. Why am I here?"
The Manhunter towered over her and stuck her forearm with an intravenous injection. "You are my mother and I need you."
"How is that possible?"
"I was taken from you before I was born to preserve the future of my kind. My programming was set in motion when the last Manhunter was destroyed in the war with the Green Lantern Corps. Your womb was blessed to carry the Messiahs."
Thoughts of Molly's last mission with Nikolai crept across the window of her soul. She woke up in the same cavern all those years before with an emptiness that went far beyond the void in her stomach. No one had to tell her that her child was lost. She knew the moment she awoke. But it wasn't just the miscarriage. It was far more. She couldn't feel anything after that initial burst of anger at the Manhunters. She walked around numb to the world. Her relationship with Nikolai suffered. For the next several weeks he tried his best to convince her to stay in Russia. As much as she loved him, it wasn't possible. She wanted - no needed - to go home to America and get away from the world of espionage and superheroes. She wanted to be just plain Molly Mayne. She would never forget the disappointment in Nikolai's eyes when she told him. He said he would wait but she never contacted him again.
"Explain what you mean by Messiahs," Molly demanded through gritted teeth. She sure as hell wasn't going to play Virgin Mary to the Manhunters.
"Your bargain many years ago? We gave you your illusion glasses in exchange for keeping an eye on Green Lantern. Did you honestly believe we needed a bookish secretary to watch our greatest enemy when we could track a dust mite across a galaxy? How young and foolish you were, mother. Each time you used your glasses to cast an illusion, your body was bathed in radiation that enhanced your womb to produce a child who could handle the stress of nanosurgery. I am the perfect hybrid of man and machine."
Molly didn't want to believe what she heard, but it all made sense. Everything she believed was a lie if the Mahunter told the truth. She was angry that she was used - allowed herself to be used- in such a manner. How could she be so gullible? She grieved the loss of her unborn child years before and moved on the best she knew how. The memories of her pregnancy were mostly pleasant, except the morning sickness. Nikolai tried to spoil her but she would have none of it. She was a woman of action and wouldn't slow down until she had to. She also remembered the emptiness afterwards - waking up knowing her sweet, little bundle was no longer inside her. And it was all a lie? If so, she was furious!
The U.S. government sent her to Russia to uncover a possible link between the Soviet government and the Manhunters. She never expected to meet a man like Nikolai, nor did she think the fragile world they created together would crumble so easily. One mission. One horrible mission and it all fell apart. She was captured and lost the baby. When Nikolai found her, she was a broken mess of a woman. She blamed the Manhunters for her loss and they assured her they'd done everything possible to save the child, but that he was too young to survive outside the womb. After rescuing her, Nikolai assured her they still had a future together, but Molly wanted to go home to the states. She often wondered what would have happened if their child would have lived. Would there have been a white, picket fence in her future or whatever passed for the American Dream in downtown Moscow? What would the abomination standing before her have grown up to be? A scientist? A doctor? A spy for the Supreme Soviet like his father? Molly cursed every missed baby step, every baby tooth, every Christmas, every report card, and every girlfriend she never met.
Through gritted teeth and with angry tears running down both cheeks, she could utter only one word. "Why?"
"I don't understand."
"It's simple, mother," the Manhunter replied.
Molly grimaced at the word mother. Whatever this creature truly was, it wasn't her child.
"Within your womb, I have placed six nano-engineered embryos. You will birth a new generation of Manhunter created in my image to carry out the supreme programming. Like me, they will be able to alter their body mass and density, change their shape, and even become a living weapon. A living weapon designed to destroy Green Lantern."
Molly laughed out loud at the irony. "The joke's on you then Manhunter! You kidnaped Sarah, not the Virgin Mary. Basic biology."
"Your age and physical condition are of no concern. I've repaired much of the ravages of time on your body by using the same nanites on you that comprise my body. They will reshape you at the cellular level to handle the stress of child bearing. You will be a sufficient incubator."
Molly was horrified by the news and wasn't sure which upset her more- a life built on lies or the six microscopic horrors growing within her.
At seventy-two years of age, Molly's life was a lie. She was a puppet, nothing more. The glasses, the whole damned silly Harlequin costume, her service to her country, her love life, and her only child. All lies. Yes, she was a puppet and the Manhunters pulled her strings all along.
"You look upset, mother," said the Manhunter. "It is a great honor to be chosen..."
Molly looked into the Manhunter's eyes and spat her words as venomously as she could. "Go straight to hell!"
The Manhunter shrugged aside her anger and returned to his work. He disappeared momentarily and returned with an I.V. attached to a portable stand. "Please hold still."
Molly barely noticed the needle pricking the skin on the back of her hand. "You've destroyed my life."
The Manhunter seemed angry for the first time. "Destroyed it? Ungrateful human female! I have repaired your pathetic shell and assured you of a legacy that will survive for millennia."
A legacy she would do anything to destroy. Molly refused to give the Manhunter the satisfaction of argument, if such thing existed for him. Instead she thought about Alan. How would he react to the news of her pregnancy and love affair with Nikolai? Sure it was years before they were married, but she had kept it hidden from him. Sometimes national security meant keeping secrets that gnawed away at your insides like a rat. If she ever returned home, she would keep no more secrets from him - national security be damned, and she would destroy the grotesqueries inside her. Somehow.
Where was Alan?
Evening fell on DePriest Heights, a low-rent urban sprawl on the outskirts of Apollyon City. Most cities have an area like DePriest - covered in graffiti and littered with decay and rot. Many of the buildings were boarded up, bearing witness to the harshness of life in the shadows of the Model City's skyline. The remaining storefronts protected their doors and windows with wrought iron bars and in some cases, barbed wire.
The first homes in DePriest went up outside the Model City within a year of the city's opening, even before they were allowed inside the experimental city's limits. When the Apollyon Project went awry and the city was opened to everyone, most of the suburban dwellers took the plunge and moved uptown. Those who replaced them came looking for their slice of the American pie, but never found it. Instead, DePriest was much like other big city ghettos - brutal, decaying, and tucked out of sight from visitors like dirty laundry stuffed into a closet. The ministers of the area often preached of feeling like Moses looking over into the Promised Land but not quite able to reach it. The supply of hope didn't quite meet the demand for it.
But there were a few who used the famine of hope and lowered expectations to their advantage.
A long, black stretch limo stopped at the curb in front of Mike's Deli. Limousines in DePriest always meant trouble, Angels of Death with tinted windows and fancy hood ornaments. A group of young, Hispanic girls stopped skipping rope and ran for cover. Likewise, the young couple holding hands and the homeless man bothering them for small change. Everyone scurried away from the impending threat except the elderly Greek lady pushing the shopping cart. It was littered with meager contents; bread, milk, eggs, and instant coffee. The only items out of place were the Justice League fruit roll-ups. But the woman's groceries were the least of her concern at the moment. Her face was twisted with fear and determination. She sensed the danger but her ailing body wouldn't move as quickly as she wished.
While the Greek lady hastened her pace, the limo driver's door opened. A moderately handsome middle-aged man stepped out and rushed to the right rear door and opened it. Not a word was spoken as the occupant stepped onto the sidewalk.
The dark brown skin of his bald head glistened in the soft glow of the evening as his Italian leather shoes touched the sidewalk. He towered over the driver, standing at least a head taller. A white button up shirt hugged his muscular torso tightly, while his lower body was wrapped in red slacks. The top few buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned, exposing enough gold around his neck to shame an Olympic athlete. He snapped his fingers and his chauffeur retrieved a matching red coat and hat from the car. The coat's pockets, sleeves, trim, and wide lapel were covered in zebra stripes. He topped his head with a matching red, leather hat.
Oddly enough the man approached the struggling Greek lady before entering Mike's. "Excuse me, Ma'am. Is that all you got to eat?"
The Greek lady forced a nervous smile. "Yes, it is."
"How long's it gotta last you?"
"Until the fifteenth." She stood taller as she talked, looking the imposing man straight in the eye. Her only noise was the slight, wheezing sound of her breath.
The man smiled revealing two matching gold front teeth. The woman had so much courage. She was scared, but she refused to surrender her dignity. She reminded him of another strong, old woman years ago. He reached into his jacket and removed his wallet. Thumbing through, he pulled out a hundred dollar bill. "Here, take this. Next time I see you pushing that cart down the street I want to see some real food in there."
The dumbfounded woman took the money. "Thank you."
The man smiled again. "And if anybody gives you trouble, you tell 'em Big Poppa's taking care of you. Got it?"
The woman nodded and smiled weakly, "Sure, Big Poppa. Thank you."
"Now go on 'bout your business. Things might get rough around here the next few minutes," said the tall, muscular man with the neatly trimmed goatee. His voice was smooth and higher pitched than one would expect.
He watched the woman disappear down the sidewalk before turning back to his driver. "Get me the Enforcer!"
The driver opened the limo's trunk and removed a black, aluminum baseball bat and handed it to his boss.
Big Poppa Kapp took the bat and headed into Mike's.
Mike and his two employees were huddled on the floor behind the counter. One was a black male who looked to be about seventeen. The other was a Hispanic girl of roughly the same age. All three were frightened.
"Don't hurt the kids," Mike begged.
Poppa smiled. "I didn't come for the kids, Mike. Where's my money? It's been two weeks."
"I'll get it, Poppa. I swear!"
The baseball bat slammed into a jar of pickles, sending pickle juice and glass in every direction. "You lie, Mike! You told me that last week."
"It's been a rough week, Poppa! I had to pay the kids here, plus I had utilities due. I've gotta stay open if I'm gonna pay you back."
Poppa flashed his gold teeth. "See that's where we have something in common, Mike. You know what that is?"
Mike shook his head.
"You gotta take care of your business and I gotta take care of mine."
"And as soon as I take care of my business, I promise I'll take care of yours too," said Mike.
Big Poppa Kapp shook his head. "No, you didn't understand me, Mike. You take care of your business and I take care of mine."
"I don't understand," said Mike.
Poppa pointed the bat at the kids. "This ain't Big Poppa's doing. Tell them about your little problem, Mike."
"No, please," Mike begged.
Poppa slammed the Enforcer into the meat case glass, shattering it. "Tell them!"
Mike covered his face, half to protect himself from the falling glass, and half in shame. "I'm seeing someone."
The kids looked more confused than shocked.
"There's more, Mike. Tell them."
"A prostitute..." Mike stammered.
"And the rest," demanded Poppa Kapp.
Mike lowered his head. "A man."
His employees gasped.
Poppa worked his hand up and down the length of his ball bat. "See, Mike. Now I'm not the only one who knows your dirty little secret. I'm easy to keep quiet. All you had to do was pay up and I don't care who you're shagging. But you held out on me and now look. These two, they might not be as easy to shut up. It's hard to keep a juicy secret like this. When word gets out on the streets about you..."
"Please, I'll do anything," Mike pleaded.
"That's obvious," laughed Big Poppa Kapp.
"Don't kill me."
"You know, Mike. I came in here to do that, but I got a better idea watching these kids. See, here's how it's gonna be. They keep quiet about you and they work here as long as they want. Give them a good raise too."
"I can't afford that," Mike argued.
"Sure you can," said Poppa. "Because from here on out, your salary is what you've been paying them."
"What? You can't be serious!"
CRACK! Big Poppa Kapp smacked Mike across the jaw with his bat, splattering blood on the wall behind him. Mike writhed in the floor clenching his mouth and jaw.
Poppa grabbed him up by the collar. A wet spot formed on the front of Mike's pants. "Don't you EVER make the mistake again of telling me I'm not serious! Do you understand me?"
Mike opened his mouth to speak, but he mustered only bloody gurgles in reply. He nodded his head in agreement. A puddle of urine dripped to the floor from his pants leg.
Poppa dropped him into the puddle and moved to the door. "Good. Then we have a deal. Kids, see to your employee. If he gives you one bit of trouble about anything, you get word to Big Poppa Kapp. You hear?"
Both kids nodded in agreement before lifting Mike off the floor. They escorted him to the sink and rinsed his mouth with cold water as Poppa left the building. As the door closed shut behind him, he could hear Mike crying in pain. He would not be a problem again.
Tony waited by the limo as always. As usual, the right rear door and trunk lid were open and waiting. Poppa marveled at his driver's faithfulness. He once waited by the car in the same manner during a midnight deal gone bad. Even with the bullets flying about him, he never flinched - waiting patiently until Poppa returned to the vehicle. It was then Big Poppa knew he could depend on Tony with his life. He handed over the Enforcer.
Tony took the weapon from his employer and placed it carefully into its case in the trunk. "How'd it go, boss?"
Big Poppa Kapp shrugged his heavy shoulders. "Business as usual."
A Lonely Siberian Plateau
"I could fly us in low," said Green Lantern.
Bolnikov shook his head and trudged along through the frozen, packed snow. The emerald snowshoes on his feet matched those worn by the Green Lantern and were formed by the hero's willpower.
"Too easy to spot us in the air. We have to assume the base is still fully operational which means security will be tight all around the facility."
"Then how do we get in?"
"There's an abandoned checkpoint once used by the Soviet government. Needless to say, our working relationship with the Manhunters wasn't based on trust. Our agents were checked for weapons and hidden cameras there before we were allowed inside. Once the arrangement fell apart, the Manhunters sealed it so it couldn't be used."
Green Lantern smirked at such an arrangement. World domination made for strange bedfellows. "Then let's at least speed things up on the ground."
The ring on his finger shimmered and emerald tongues lashed out and took the shape of a sleigh and four horses. Green Lantern turned to Bolnikov. "Shall we?"
The two men boarded the sleigh. "I see why Marishka fell for a man like you," Bolnikov laughed.
Green Lantern grinned. "I hope she loves me for more than the ring. Why do you call her Marishka?"
As Bolnikov spoke, the sleigh sped across the tundra. "I told her she needed a good Russian name to work in my country. An American name wouldn't endear her to many comrades."
The faraway twinkle in Nikolai Bolnikov's eyes told Green Lantern there was much more to the story, but he let it go. Whatever love and life the two shared before, Molly never spoke of it. He respected his wife's right to privacy despite his lingering curiosity.
"You wouldn't have some heat in this thing would you?" asked Bolnikov.
Green Lantern nodded and the two men sailed across the frozen Siberian landscape with an uneasy silence between them.
Felicity Barnes typed the words 'Klaus Eule' and 'Society of the Owl' into an internet search engine. Her query received a number of hits. Most of the results were extremist diatribe or radical ethnic hatred. Several other results yielded items available for auction on I-Bay. She continued sifting through the flotsam and jetsam until two sites grabbed her attention.
She nearly dismissed the first as an impassioned rebuttal to Eule's hate rhetoric. It read like a supermarket tabloid, filled with sensational claims and conspiracy theories about Eule's movement and his shrouded activities during the second World War. It claimed a connection between Eule and the Axis Powers' metahuman experimentation.
The second was an in-depth biography compiled by one of Dr. Eule's loyal followers. For whatever reason, Eule's activities and whereabouts during World War II were not chronicled. In fact, there was no record of him existing at all past the war until the early 1960's when his movement first began gaining prominence in Europe.
Felicity moved to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of grape juice. She cursed Dr. Eule under her breath for his secretiveness and chided herself for the hypocrisy. Her family had secrets too, but that was a different matter. She turned her attention back to Dr. Eule and returned to the computer.
She tiled the articles so they could be read side by side. There was certainly a chance that any connection between the sensation claims trumpeted on the first site and the missing years on the biography were purely coincidental. After all, records could have been destroyed during or after the war. Still, Felicity's curiosity was aroused. What did Dr. Eule do during the war? Why was there no record of him after the war until his movement gained prominence in the late nineteen sixties? And why was the information either lost to the ages or shrouded in mystery? Felicity wasn't sure but she was going to find out.
Outside the Manhunter's Lair
"We're here," said Nikolai Bolnikov. He dismounted from the emerald sleigh and looked around. This was the spot. Somewhere at the base of the mountain under several feet of snow and ice was the entrance they were looking for.
Green Lantern allowed the emerald energy comprising the sleigh and reindeer to vanish like a forgotten name. "Where's the entrance?"
Bolnikov pointed to the base of the mountain. "Somewhere under all that."
"Then allow me," said Green Lantern. Verdant rays leaped from his ring and took the form of heavy machinery.
Bolnikov tried hard not to appear too astonished as an emerald snow plow pushed away a mountain of heavy snow, unearthing a thick layer of ice below. Once the snow was cleared, the plow morphed into an oversized blowtorch. Its intense heat melted through the ice in minutes. The crude entrance lay underneath. Green Lantern had done in minutes what it would have taken a crew of well-trained men and machines days. The torch disappeared.
The entrance was much more impressive the last time Bolnikov saw it. In those days, it was a fully-operational checkpoint, a gateway to the sanctuary of uneasy politics between high ranking Soviet officials and the Manhunters. Now it reminded him of the man he saw in the mirror every morning, broken and well past its usefulness. They had both known greater glory.
A thick steel door guarded the entrance. "You'll probably need to drill through it," said Bolnikov. He felt foolish for suggesting a solution to Green Lantern and passed it off as nerves. The emerald gladiator knew what to do.
"I'd agree if my wife wasn't inside this mountain somewhere," Green Lantern answered. A pair of verdant hands ripped the massive door from its frame.
"That works too," Bolnikov replied. He followed the American superhero into the tunnel beneath the earth. Once inside, the tunnel continued to slope down for about thirty yards before leveling off and opening into a waiting room. It was here he remembered being checked for hidden cameras, recording devices, and other tools of the espionage trade. He also remembered hearing tales of the defense systems and dove for Green Lantern, knocking him to the ground.
Small cavities opened in the walls on either side of the room, revealing a deadly row of blasters on each side. They opened fire.
"Thank you," said Green Lantern.
"Now we're even," replied Bolnikov. Green Lantern done the same for him earlier at Wingate Memorial when the Manhunter attacked. "Cover us overhead!"
"Above us? They're firing from the sides," Green Lantern answered.
An emerald shield of energy formed over both men.
"I still don't see why..."
What at first appeared to be an elaborate sprinkler system proved much more sinister. Again blaster fire erupted and peppered the floor of the room with a path of destruction.
"How did you...."
"You can thank Marishka for that one," Bolnikov answered. "She's an astute woman."
Green Lantern nodded. "Let's move."
Nikolai Bolnikov wasn't sure what awaited in the cave of the enemy, but he knew he wasn't going to let his Marishka down again. Not this time.
"Your progress is encouraging, Mother," said the Manhunter. "Your vital signs are growing stronger by the minutes. The nanites have repaired much damage already."
"Remove your technology from my body," Molly demanded.
"Impossible. You will die," answered the Manhunter.
"Then let me die."
The Manunter removed a small vial of clear liquid from a cart and punctured the rubber lid stretched across the top with a needle. "We will not debate the matter. The process is complete. Now, sleep."
Molly wrestled with her bonds. She didn't want to be put to sleep again. "My husband will find me."
"He already has," answered the Manhunter. He wiped Molly's shoulder with a cotton swab. "The perimeter defense system was triggered half an hour ago. He will be along shortly. As for Nikolai Bolnikov..."
The stinging smell of rubbing alcohol filled Molly's nostrils. "Nikolai? Here?"
The Manunter placed the needle against Molly's arm and pierced her skin. "Yes, my biological father. Please stop fighting."
The laboratory door flew from its hinges. Green Lantern stood in the doorway with Nikolai Bolnikov. "Get away from my wife!"
"Nikolai!" Molly shouted.
"Marishka! We've come for you!"
"You free Molly and I'll take care of the Manhunter," Green Lantern said to Bolnikov.
The Manhunter's arms morphed into blasters and opened fire. The blasts disappeared into a wall of emerald rock.
Again the Manhunter changed form, becoming a living flame thrower. White hot fire erupted from his mouth and enveloped Green Lantern.
Molly wanted to shout encouragement to her husband, but didn't want to attract the Manhunter's attention back to her. Nikolai was by her side, trying to pry loose the manacles that bound her wrists and ankles.
Finally Green Lantern landed a series of blows the old fashioned way, at least for a Green Lantern, as pure energy leaped from his ring knocking the Manhunter across the room. He crashed into the cavern wall, blowing out chunks of rock with the force.
Green Lantern attacked him again as he struggled to his feet.
This time the Manhunter was ready, morphing himself into a shield to deflect the blast. His body sprouted shuriken and hurled themselves toward his foe.
A few of the deadly stars slipped past Green Lantern's protective aura and sunk into his right thigh, his left shoulder, and his left forearm. He screamed in pain.
"How delightful that you allow me to rise above my primary programming, Green Lantern. Not only will I assure the existence of the Manhunters, but I'll kill our greatest enemy as well."
"You'll find I'm not so easy to kill," Green Lantern hissed.
"We'll see about that," the Manhunter replied. His fists became mighty hammers and punched the wounded Lantern across the room. He closed in on his prey and lowered his hand to the Lantern's head. The hammer gave way to a blaster. "I expected better."
"Get away from him, monster!"
The Manhunter lurched forward against the wall and fell over his foe. He turned around to see Bolnikov holding a smoking .44 magnum. "This term, monster, grows old. You will pay for your interference and your insolence with your life, Father."
"Maybe so, but I've lived a good one. Do your worst."
"My worst? You have no idea, human." Propeller blades grew out of the Manhunter's back and lifted him into the air. He landed fifteen feet in front of Bolnikov and lumbered toward him menacingly.
POW! Bolnikov unloaded another shot into the Manhunter.
"Built-in body armor," bragged the Manhunter as the bullets bounced off his chest.
Molly watched in horror as the Manhunter claiming to be her son knocked the man she once loved over an unused hospital bed. At his age and in his condition, Nikolai couldn't withstand many blows like that one. Still the Manhunter toyed with him.
Nikolai crawled to his gun and retrieved it. He unloaded another shot on the Manhunter. He would done as well throwing stones at it.
The Manhunter fired a laser blast from his right eye and struck Nikolai in the right hand. He dropped the gun and dove for cover behind the overturned hospital bed.
The Manhunter brushed the overturned hospital bed aside and lifted Nikolai into the air by his throat. He broke apart Molly's I.V. stand with nothing but the grip of his free hand, leaving the two halves bearing jagged edges. While Nikolai struggled against him, he pressed one of the makeshift lances against Nikolai's stomach. "Now you die."
Before the Manhunter could move, he was entangled by the arms of an emerald octopus.
"Not today, Manhunter." Green Lantern willed the octopus to pull hard, dragging the Manhunter to the floor of the cave. The octopus drug him towards its open mouth. The Manhunter flailed against the octopus with the broken IV stand. Getting nowhere, he tossed it aside and liquified himself free of the beast's grip. A burst of laser energy slammed into the octopus and shattered the construct.
Recovered from the attack, the Manhunter turned his attention to Green Lantern himself. He unleashed an arsenal against his sect's most hated foe.
Green Lantern erected an emerald shield and it proved sufficient against every blow... but one. An RPG missile slammed into it with tremendous force, shattering it and sending him sprawling to the ground. He didn't move.
The Manhunter stood over his fallen foe and lifted him by the cape. He held him in the air, savoring his victory. His right arm morphed into a sword. "Now Green Lantern, let it be known. No man escapes the..."
The Manhunter dropped his defeated foe and clawed at his stomach. Protruding from it was the piece of Molly's I.V. stand that he dropped in the struggle with the octopus. With wide eyes, he turned and faced the one who ran it through him.
A wild-eyed Molly Scott held the other end of the crude weapon. She gave it one final lunge with her newly acquired strength and forced the Manhunter against the cavern wall, pinning him to it like an insect on a collector's board. A mixture of blood and technology poured out his wound. Sparks erupted from the tear in the Manhunter's flesh as he frantically tried to free himself. Spasms rocked his hybrid body until he struggled no more. He was still alive, but barely.
Molly leered at him with hate-filled eyes, the abomination that dared call her mother, that taunted her with every choice she'd made in her life, that violated her body. Unfortunately for the Manhunter he also dared infect her with the same nanites that allowed him to alter his shape at will.
Molly put it together while struggling against her bonds. The Manhunter bragged that he repaired her with those nanites. He altered her cellular structure so she could withstand the rigors of childbirth. By sharing those same nanites with her, he sealed his own fate. Slipping her bonds was easy once she stopped thrashing about wildly and concentrated. It took all the determination and stubborn will a feisty old woman could muster, but she managed to alter the shape of her right hand and slip it through the bond that held it tight. With one arm free, she escaped easily.
The Manhunter raised its head and looked her in the eye. "Mother... Why?"
"Die, monster!" she said.
"Not a monster," the Manhunter gasped. "I have a name."
Molly didn't care to hear it.
"Petr," the Manhunter answered as the last spark erupted from the cavity in its torso. "I am... Petr."
The Manhunter expired and Molly broke into tears. It was the name she wanted to call her child the first day she knew she was pregnant. If it was a boy, his name would be Petr after Nikolai's grandfather. Why did he have to tell her?
Appollyon City, The Apartment of Alan and Molly Scott
Alan Scott held his wife close to him as she slept. There was much for them to discuss when she felt like talking. She told him of the embryos in her womb. Surely S.T.A.R. Labs, or someone, could remove them. The nanites may be a different story. According to Ray Palmer and John Henry Irons, removing them would not only be near impossible, but damaging to Molly's health as well. Her body had gone through too much at her age in such a short period of time. The nanites were all that allowed her to make it through the Manhunter's operation. They still weren't sure how he affected her body at the molecular level. What effect, if any, did years of exposure to the radiation from her Harlequin glasses have on her body?
All these were important questions and would have to wait. But the question that most burned in Alan's soul was that of Nikolai Bolnikov. Alan had no problem with Molly having friends, but he wanted to know the truth. Nikolai seemed like a good man and it was obvious he cared deeply about Molly. But why did she call his name when he and Bolnikov burst into the Manhunter's lair? Alan chided himself for thinking such thoughts. She probably knew he could take care of himself. After all, he was the one with the power ring. And it could have been the surprise of seeing him after so long. Surely there was no reason for Alan to worry. Was there? Molly was a good woman and loved him. There was no reason for him to be jealous. Such thoughts were silly. Alan closed his eyes and tried to push the questions for another day out of his mind.