Lady Blackhawk neared the coordinates indicated in Killer Shark’s directions. She lowered the borrowed Cold War era P94 Starfire into position exactly five-hundred feet over the water’s surface. According to the Shark, friendly incoming aircraft knew the drill – beginning at twenty-five miles from the island they flew specific distances at preset altitudes. Any deviation in the precise pattern would trigger Shark Island’s anti-aircraft defense systems. An expert pilot may possibly survive the onslaught in a modern plane with its technological wonders but she wouldn’t stand a chance in the relic, no matter how beautiful the plane was or how nostalgic it made her feel.
She was on a mission to retrieve scientific journals her former nemesis left behind on his private island when he abandoned it in the mid-1980’s, the last such island to carry his name. According to her former Blackhawks teammate Olaf Bjornson, Killer Shark surrendered himself to the authorities later that decade and served a lengthy prison sentence ever since. At some point he supposedly found religion behind bars and expected it to cover his sins against both God and man.
Lady Blackhawk wasn’t buying it. How could such an evil man be accepted by any God, loving or otherwise? She still wasn’t sure exactly what Killer Shark did to her during the time the villain held her against her will via a mind-control serum but she assumed the worst and refused to grant absolution. She accepted the mission on behalf of those who might one day receive some benefit from Killer Shark’s enormous collection of discoveries, advances, and inventions.
She took the plane back up to 1,959 feet and held it steady. It was an odd number but if it would keep Killer Shark’s weaponry off her tail she was willing to play his paranoid little game of cat and mouse. She hoped the payoff would be worth the trouble but couldn’t shake the feeling the old coot was using her as an errand girl.
The coordinates were dead ahead but no island was visible. In fact there was water as far as the eye could see in every direction. Lady Blackhawk retrieved the remote control device Killer Shark provided and pressed the red button in the center. At first nothing happened but then the ocean churned and gurgled below. She banked the plane hard right and circled as instructed. By the time she returned to her original position, the island broke the water’s surface. It was enclosed within an energy dome of some sort and larger even than Blackhawk Island! She wondered how Killer Shark hid such a large, artificial land mass for so long.
Once the island surfaced completely, its energy bubble disappeared. Lady Blackhawk maneuvered the F-94 Starfire to the proper altitude and banked hard to the south. She circled as instructed two miles off-shore then straightened it out for her approach. A long, clear runway was visible near the beach but Killer Shark warned her to avoid it. It was a trap intended to bait potential enemies into landing there. It was protected by a battery of heat-seeking anti-aircraft guns programmed to fire at anything approaching the vicinity’s air space with a heat reading above 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead she flew on to a smaller, hidden runway to the north.
She found the northern runway a mess of potholes and debris, including a palm tree that had fallen across it. Lady Blackhawk shook her head and sighed. She would have to chance the main runway. She circled the plane and made the south approach once more. Sure enough a missile launched from somewhere below. Another followed for good measure and appeared to originate from a point west of the first.
“Damn it!” Lady Blackhawk cursed. She hoped being submerged so long would leave the guns inoperable. She glanced at the island below her. It suddenly blossomed to life with people running to and fro and anti-aircraft fire lighting up the sky like fireworks. So much for the island being abandoned! She suspected a trap and found it! Killer Shark was the same snake-in-the-grass he’d always been!
Lady Blackhawk’s first instinct was to outrun the missiles but she knew such an attempt would prove futile in the old plane. Instead she raced the Starfire toward the incoming weapon from the west. She had only one chance and it was slim. Once she was close to the rocket she jerked back hard on the controls and climbed skyward once more. The missile followed suit. Soon she was caught between the two missiles and slowed her plane. She hoped her ploy would work or she would join her Blackhawk colleagues who preceded her in death.
Lady Blackhawk kissed her fingers and tapped them against the plane’s control panel. “Sorry old girl! This hurts me even more than it does you.”
With that she ejected from the plane. The sudden updraft took her breath away momentarily but carried her free from danger. Moments later the plane exploded in a massive fireball as the missiles slammed into it.
“Another in a long line of Killer Shark’s transgressions,” Lady Blackhawk spat between gritted, angry teeth as she watched the Starfire’s fiery remains drop into the ocean.
Lady Blackhawk abandoned her parachute at a safe distance from the water’s surface and dived into the ocean. She sunk beneath the waters and looked up. The abandoned parachute floated above her like a massive, white jellyfish. It looked beautiful with the sun shining through its fabric but like a jellyfish it could prove deadly if she tried to surface beneath it. She could easily get tangled in its fabric or cords and drown trying to fight her way out. Her lungs felt as if they’d explode but she kicked through the water until she was a safe enough distance away from the chute to surface.
It was easy to become disoriented in the deep. The only thing Lady Blackhawk knew for sure was up was marked by the abandoned parachute. She swam past the chute and hoped she was swimming toward the island rather than away from it. At last she surfaced and sucked air into her aching lungs. She looked around and discovered she had guessed wrong. “Guess a long swim is in order!”
After what seemed like a couple of hours she finally crawled upon the sandy beach. The personnel on the ground likely saw her parachute in the sky and were probably searching for her. She had to hide but the swim left her exhausted. Survival depended upon finding a safe place to rest – and soon. With great effort she stood and made her way to a knoll covered in sea grass. With her boots sinking into the sand, it took everything she had to climb the small dune but finally made it and stumbled over the other side. Every muscle in her body screamed for mercy but she could ill-afford to rest so close to the shore.
The situation was bleak. She was trapped on an uncharted island somewhere in the South Pacific with no contact with the outside world. Her only hope for escape was blown to smithereens and lay in pieces at the bottom of the ocean. She had no food and had no idea where to find drinking water. Killer Shark’s minions were likely searching for her and to make matters worse she refused Oracle’s offer to help and left her earpiece behind to prevent her boss from tracing her.
“Well Zinda, you got yourself into this mess, now see if you can survive long enough to get yourself out,” Lady Blackhawk said to herself. She trekked west but was spotted by one of Killer Shark’s lackeys. She had two choices; the ocean or the jungle. “Not Atlantean,” she said as she bolted for the thick undergrowth.
Lady Blackhawk pressed into the thick vegetation and hid behind a tree. Her plan wasn’t elaborate but she hoped it would work. At last her pursuer shuffled into position and she pounced.
“Eat knuckles, scum!” Lady Blackhawk cried as she jumped from her hiding spot and slammed her fist into her pursuer’s face. Unfortunately her foe was an old-fashioned android so striking its metallic chin hurt her more than it did the half-robot. Shockingly, the android looked and dressed just like her.
“Did you find the intruder?” the Lady Blackhawk android asked, oblivious to Lady Blackhawk’s attack.
Lady Blackhawk resisted the urge to nurse her cracked knuckles and played along with the android’s nescience. She shook her head. “No, I did not. Are you sure she came this way?”
“She?” asked the bewildered android. For a moment it stood frozen, computing Lady Blackhawk’s slip. The android looked Lady Blackhawk over then pointed to a circular device on the front of its own shoulder above its chest. “You are not transmitting a unit designation. Where is your transponder?”
Lady Blackhawk couldn’t wait for her robotic twin to put two and two together. She looked around and spied a large tree limb on the jungle floor. She picked it up and swung it at the android’s head. The vicious blow sent the machine’s head flying into a tree trunk. It fell to the ground and rolled to rest in the crevice between two exposed roots. Electricity sparked the severed head for a moment before the whites of the android’s eyes blinked out.
Lady Blackhawk bent over the android’s fallen body and yanked at its transponder unit. It wouldn’t budge at first but at last it gave way and she held it in her hands. She was lucky. The transponder had its own power source and operated perfectly. She turned back to the head. “I have my transponder! Where’s yours?”
Gotham City, The Aerie
Barbara Gordon struggled to connect the Mother Box to the guinea pig server even with the custom cables she designed and rigged. Three powerful units were tossed aside already, smoldering testaments to Earth tech’s inability to keep pace with that of Apokolips. “Come on baby,” Barbara begged. “I so need this to work.”
The Mother Box was a much-needed equalizer in Barbara’s personal war with the Calculator. He openly mocked her, claiming his Earth years more technologically advanced. She was beginning to believe him. Since his arrival on her Earth he stayed a step ahead of her at every turn and it was vital to turn the war on crime back in favor of the good guys. The Mother Box was crucial to that plan. She sent Scandal Savage and her team to West Virginia to prevent a group of homegrown terrorists from obtaining a bomb from Qurac, their own sworn enemy. Instead of a bomb Scandal’s team discovered the patriots were after a stolen Mother Box. Barbara hoped it would be a game-changer.
An alarm interrupted Barbara’s thoughts and her work. She glanced at the monitor in the corner facing her. It was Batman.
“Crap!” said Barbara. “The last thing I need is him finding the Mother Box!”
Barbara opened a desk drawer and threw the Mother Box inside before sliding into her wheelchair and rushing to the door. Perhaps she could head Batman off she could prevent him from nosing around and finding the device. The early alarm gave her enough time to meet him in the hallway leading to her office. He didn’t look happy.
“Well this is a pleasant surprise,” Barbara lied, trying to block the Caped Crusader’s advance. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Batman’s eyes narrowed behind his mask. “You know why I’m here Barbara.”
Barbara feigned innocence. “No idea, Bruce. Is something wrong?”
“The Mother Box,” said Batman.
Barbara cursed to herself. How the hell did he know about it? “Mother Box?”
“Your poker face isn’t as convincing as you believe,” Batman replied. “Barda and Scott fought a group of super-villains for the device in West Virginia. A villain from other Earth named Scandal Savage led the group. Somehow the villains ended up with the device.”
Batman tried to move past Barbara but she turned her wheelchair to block him once more. “And just what does any of this have to do with me?”
“A large money transfer went to a Swiss bank account set up in Scandal’s name,” Batman replied.
Barbara felt her poker face melting away.
“What I don’t know is why you’re working with her,” Batman added. “You are aware she’s the daughter of Vandal Savage on the other Earth and a known criminal there?”
“I am, but I still have no idea what you’re talking about,” Barbara lied.
Batman shook his head and tried again to get past Barbara’s wheelchair. “I’m not naive, Barbara. You used my network.”
“You’re tracking me like a network administrator?” Barbara asked. “That’s…”
“Being careful,” Batman replied, finishing her sentence with his own words. “I can’t imagine what Scandal Savage and her group of misfits would want with a Mother Box but I can understand your interest in such a device but it’s too dangerous for just anyone to possess. It should be returned to Scott and Barda or at least kept under the care of the Justice League.”
Their game had grown old and Batman finally pushed the wrong button.
“Just anyone?” Barbara asked. “You have got to be kidding me! Since when am I “just anyone”? How many people know the man underneath that cowl? Or the location of the Batcave? How many have stood beside you while you buried a Robin? For God’s sake Bruce! I know everything about you and half the heroes on Earth! I don’t have the damned Mother Box but even if I did, I wouldn’t appreciate your accusatory tone or you denigrating my contributions to our community like I’m some loose-lipped rookie! You will not talk down to me! Do you understand me?”
“I have no time for these games Barbara,” Batman huffed. “Move aside and allow me to search your office.”
“I most certainly will not!” Barbara protested. She turned her wheelchair sideways to block the entire hallway.
Batman looked perplexed but was visibly angry. “Move aside or I’ll…”
“You’ll what Bruce?” Barbara asked. “Assault me like a common criminal? Why can’t you take my word for it and leave well enough alone?”
“I control your funding Barbara,” Batman replied. “Those funds and the use of this building are privileges that can be revoked. You already chose to ignore my concerns about your expanding organization compromising security. Don’t give me another reason to question my benefaction. ”
It would have hurt less if Batman had hit her. He knew the position Calculator left her in after he destroyed the Clock Tower. She appreciated Bruce helping her pick up the pieces but perhaps his generosity came at too great a price. She looked up at Batman and fought back the tears. “Do whatever the hell you want! I’m done with you!”
She followed Batman down the hallway and into her office, dreading the moment he caught her red-handed in her lie. The smell of smoke from the burnt-out motherboards hung in the air. Barbara didn’t realize how strong the odor was when she was working on them.
The World’s Greatest Detective quickly found the discarded equipment strewn across the floor. He bent down and rummaged through the salvage. Removing a glove, he ran his hand over a motherboard’s smoldering surface and furrowed his brow. “These machines are still hot.”
“I was just working on them,” Barbara explained.
Batman stood and surveyed the room. Barbara looked also, hoping she didn’t leave incriminating evidence in the open. She was relieved to see nothing out of the ordinary. Batman went for the desk drawers. Barbara cringed but was surprised when he closed them and walked away empty-handed. “This is not over. If I find you have the Mother Box, you’re out.”
As soon as the Dark Knight exited the room Barbara rushed to her desk and flung open the drawer where she hid the Mother Box. It was missing! She frantically searched through the drawer before pulling it out completely and dumping its contents on the floor.
“Where the hell is it?” Barbara asked in a blind panic. She pulled out a second drawer and dumped it too before she heard the familiar sound of Misfit teleporting into her office. “Whatever it is will have to wait, Charlotte.”
“Even this?” Misfit asked. She held the missing Mother Box aloft in her right hand with a big smile on her face. “I saw the big lug on the security feed and heard you arguing about the Mother Box so I popped in here and took it so he wouldn’t find it. Luckily I don’t make as much noise when I teleport short distances.”
Barbara breathed a sigh of relief. The strong smell of smoke moments before suddenly made more sense. “You scared the living hell out of me but I’m so grateful right now all I want to do is hug you!”
Misfit surrendered the Mother Box to Barbara and bent down to accept her hug.
Barbara squeezed her young teammate tightly. “To hell with what Batman thinks! Thank you for convincing me to expand the team!”
Following Killer Shark’s crude map of the island, Lady Blackhawk eventually discovered a large hangar the villain claimed was the one-time heart of his operations. An opening to an underground lair was supposedly somewhere inside - if it wasn’t a trap. She removed a pair of binoculars from the leather pouch on her belt and observed the installation. It was well-guarded by three more of the androids created in her image. Facing one android made in her likeness was creepy but an entire island full of them? “Fetish much old man?”
Hiding would get her no closer to Killer Shark’s journals so she put away her binoculars and slinked from the jungle. She tried to look confident as she approached the hangar and hoped the re-appropriated transponder would get her past the guards.
Approaching the installation, Lady Blackhawk took a deep breath. The guards took no notice of her and allowed her to pass without incident. Retaining the transponder was a wise choice indeed. She entered the hangar. It appeared to be a typical maintenance garage until she discovered a concrete tunnel leading beneath the sand. The smooth floor formed a gentle slope that made for easy walking. A narrow sidewalk crowned each side of the path and remained level as it disappeared into the darkness, forming a wall as she moved away from the convergence of sidewalk and path. An occasional doorway or corridor dotted the long tunnel.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” Lady Blackhawk sighed as she ventured into the bunker. The occasional low-wattage light bulb suspended from the ceiling illuminated the eerie void. The tunnel grew more cavernous as it plunged farther beneath the island. Crates and airplane parts dotted the man-made cave on both sides starting about eight hundred feet inside. The place was a graveyard of Killer Shark’s foiled plans. She recognized the tail fin section from one of his old submarines. Chuck and Andre strafed the ridiculous looking rear section and filled it full of holes. She smiled at the memory. “Hawkaa,” she whispered.
Lady Blackhawk was about a thousand feet inside when an alarm sounded. “Crap and crayons!” she said, diving for cover behind the assorted debris. From her vantage point she could see the main path and was mostly protected from being spotted from overhead as well. Three androids with rifles dashed along the sidewalk above toward the hangar entrance.
No sooner than the androids disappeared from her line of sight they returned, walking somberly along the main path. Their rifles rested across their chests at about a forty-five degree angle. Lady Blackhawk gasped when two more androids appeared, following close behind and dragging the headless body of the unit she decapitated in the jungle. A third android followed behind them cradling its head.
“Rule number one, Zinda. Always hide the body,” Lady Blackhawk whispered. Unsure how to proceed and pinned down, she hunkered into her hiding spot. Unfortunately she upset a large rusted gear balanced atop an empty cable spool that was flipped on its end like a table. It crashed to the concrete floor. The heavy gear wobbled from side to side like a fallen coin. At first the cacophonous clangs were a good second apart but gained speed until the time between the frantic knells was nearly imperceptible to the human ear.
And then the long-discarded hunk of metal fell silent.
“Over there!” shouted one of the androids holding the rifles. It lowered its gun and shot at Lady Blackhawk. Its companions followed suit.
Not eager to play the duck in their shooting gallery, Lady Blackhawk leaped behind a propeller resting on two blades and leaning against the wall behind her. It offered scant cover, but their bullets clanged off the thick metal blades until a stray slug ricocheted from the concrete wall behind her. It struck her leather belt. Luckily it broke most of the spent slug’s momentum but it still hurt.
Realizing she needed better cover, Lady Blackhawk reached for one of the blades. She tugged with all her might and the propeller turned a quarter of a turn. She moved with it and rolled behind an empty crate and let the propeller fall to the floor. The crate had been forced open slightly but there was probably enough room to slip inside and hide from the pursuing army of lifeless android dopplegangers.
The shooting stopped for a moment as the heavy footsteps of an approaching android drew near. Lady Blackhawk eschewed entering the crate and slipped around to its side instead. She listened as the android pushed the crate’s heavy lid out of the way and examined inside. It seemed perplexed to not find its intended prey.
Rather than making the mistake of cracking her knuckles hitting another android, Lady Blackhawk leaped from her hiding spot and grabbed it around the neck. At the same time she swept its legs from underneath it and slammed it to the concrete floor. The sheer force of their fall combined with the android’s own massive weight bashed in the back of its skull. It dropped its gun but unfortunately the fall didn’t take it out of commission. It latched onto Lady Blackhawk’s left ankle with a surprisingly powerful grip. Lady Blackhawk kicked at it with her other foot but was unable to break free. More androids approached. She looked around for anything that might help her and saw the android’s rifle within reach. She scooped up the gun and aimed it at the android’s head. The trigger yielded to her touch and the gun fired.
The gun’s powerful kick surprised her. It felt like it dislocated her shoulder but she held on. More importantly the bullet slammed into the android’s head and it released its grip. The android jerked and twitched as an electrical surge tugged its strings like an invisible puppeteer.
A second android rounded the crate and opened fire but Lady Blackhawk was still sprawled on the floor rather than standing so the bullet passed harmlessly overhead. Rather than fire again it paused when it saw her. Its hesitation was the break she needed to return fire. Her aim was true and took off half the android’s face. It fell to its knees and crawled toward her.
“Great!” Lady Blackhawk spat. “Androids by Timex! They take a licking and keep on ticking!” She fired again and ripped off the other half of the machine’s face. It dropped its gun when it finally collapsed but the fall rattled the firing mechanism and the gun fired. The shot struck Lady Blackhawk in the left calf muscle.
Lady Blackhawk dropped her gun and screamed. Instinctively she covered the wound and applied pressure. Blood gushed from her leg and painted her hands red. Realizing she could bleed to death on the concrete floor in a matter of minutes she ripped her black miniskirt and fashioned a tourniquet from it. The flow of blood slowed. She hobbled to her feet but couldn’t bear weight on the leg. She fell to the concrete floor a second time as metallic footsteps lumbered toward her from every direction. She thought of her Blackhawks colleagues who had passed. It appeared she would join them soon. “I fought a good fight and gave him ‘em hell boys! Hawkaaaa!”
Lightheadedness set in with the blood loss. She reached for her earpiece and cursed herself for removing it.
An android grabbed Lady Blackhawk’s long blonde locks and lifted her to her knees.
“If you’re going to kill me then get it over with!” spat a defiant Lady Blackhawk.
“Our instructions are not to kill you,” the android answered.
“Then what the hell do you want with me?” Lady Blackhawk asked.
“We must await further instructions,” the android replied.
Lady Blackhawk fought unconsciousness but had to confirm her suspicions. Killer Shark sent her to his stronghold to die. “Instructions from whom? Killer Shark?”
The android looked confused. “It has been years since the master last visited the island. He is presumed deceased.”
“I’ve got news for you sister,” Lady Blackhawk replied. “The old geezer is still alive and kicking for now but if he’s not the one calling the shots her then who is?”
“The Queen of course,” the android replied.
“Queen?” Lady Blackhawk asked. “What queen?”
The androids snapped to attention and dropped Lady Blackhawk to the concrete floor once more. Her head struck the unforgiving surface. Loud, metallic footsteps clambered toward her. Were they actually that loud or a result of the vertigo? Green boots halted before her.
“Roll her over so she can face me,” ordered a familiar female voice that sounded like Lady Blackhawk’s own. “I want her to know who it is that has defeated her!”
A couple of androids flipped her over and Lady Blackhawk peered through rapidly-closing eyes to get a look at her mysterious, victorious foe.
This android looked like her too but wasn’t wearing the dark Blackhawks miniskirt and bomber jacket. Instead, this one donned a long-sleeved magenta leotard with long pants and matching boots. A floor-length, green cape brushed the ground behind her. Her head was adorned with a shark’s fin tiara. The chest of her costume was decorated with a menacing, swimming shark emblazoned over a circular green emblem. Lady Blackhawk knew the costume well for she once wore it herself. “Queen Killer Shark! But that’s impossi…”