A woozy Lady Blackhawk’s eyes flickered open. She reached for her left leg which burned from the gunshot wound she received in battle with her android look-a-likes. She reached to soothe the wound but found herself bound to a metal workbench and unable to move. An intravenous needle pumped fluids into the swollen, bruised vein on the back of her right hand. The musty odor of grease and petrol filled the air and scraps of metal and discarded mechanical parts were strewn about.
“Where am I?” Lady Blackhawk mumbled. Her mouth felt like it was full of cotton.
An android attendant rushed to her side and gave her a sip of water. She was dressed in Lady Blackhawk’s more modest Cold War era uniform. “The prisoner is awake, my Queen.”
The “Queen” was another android built in Lady Blackhawk’s image. It had taken the identity once forced upon Lady Blackhawk by her mortal enemy Killer Shark, that of his mistress Queen Killer Shark. A magenta costume hugged her body and was accented by a flowing, green cape that brushed the floor behind her when she walked. A shark-fin tiara crowned her head.
The ridiculous outfit was a painful reminder of the darkest chapter in Lady Blackhawk’s life. She hated Killer Shark for drugging her and making her his mindless love slave. She hated the thought of dying on his island even more. Brief flashbacks from her time with him swirled like a whirlpool through her mind but the moment she thought she could make sense of some fleeting image it was sucked beneath the swirling eddy and evaporated into the ether of faded memory. The most vivid images involved coming to her senses after the potion wore off.
Queen Killer Shark joined her android underling. “Thank you, Zinda. You may go.”
“Are all the robots named Zinda?” Lady Blackhawk asked.
“Of course we are,” Queen Killer Shark replied. “And we’re not robots we’re Zindroids.”
Lady Blackhawk rolled her eyes. “Did you say Zindroids?”
Queen Killer Shark nodded. “How else would the master designate us?”
“That damned old pervert,” Lady Blackhawk hissed. Once more she tried to break free but her bonds held tight. “He made himself an army of walking, talking love dolls in my image!”
Queen Killer Shark grinned menacingly. “Stupid human. The truth would break you!”
Lady Blackhawk shook her head. “You’ll find this bird not easily broken.”
The cold, metallic warble that passed for the Zindoid leader’s laughter echoed throughout the chamber. “If you only knew the depth of the master’s love for you...”
Lady Blackhawk had no desire to hear of Killer Shark’s “love” for her. She jerked against her restraints once more causing a stitch to tear loose in her surgically-repaired wound. “I demand you to release me!”
“You are uncomfortable?” asked Queen Killer Shark.
“Of course I’m uncomfortable you walking hunk of metal and plastic!” Lady Blackhawk spat. “Your Zimbots shot me in the leg!”
“Zindroids,” Queen Killer Shark corrected. “And you should be grateful our programming prevents us from killing you! I would prefer to watch you die but protocol required me to administer medical attention instead!”
Lady Blackhawk’s ears perked up. Their programming prevented them from killing her? She filed the revelation away for later and pressed the android to expound upon it. “Your little carbon copies were doing a pretty good job of trying to off me before you came along.”
Queen Killer Shark shook her head. “A unit was discovered decapitated with its transponder missing. Absent a proper identification you were presumed an enemy. Once you were recognized as our human queen, our programming advised us to subdue you. Besides, your fragile human flesh is insufficient to survive combat against my Zindroids.”
“Loose these bonds and I’ll make a good case for my fragile human flesh!” Lady Blackhawk replied.
Queen Killer Shark grabbed Lady Blackhawk by the hair. “You test the limits of my programming, Zinda Blake! Even now my circuits war against my coding, begging me to choke the life from your body.”
“Then do it,” Lady Blackhawk dared. She wanted to test the Queen’s programming.
The Zindroid wrapped her icy fingers around her nemesis’s neck and squeezed. Just when Lady Blackhawk thought the android would crush her windpipe, its mechanical digits jerked apart and released her. It tried a couple more times but her hands reset each time.
Two skirted Zindroids rushed to Lady Blackhawk’s aide and pulled their leader away.
“You cannot harm the human queen,” one of them said. “It is protocol.”
Queen Killer Shark looked frustrated, if that was possible for a machine. Her face twisted in rage. “I am your only queen and I want the human dead!”
“We are unable to comply with those wishes,” the Zindroids replied in unison.
“Why do you want me dead?” Lady Blackhawk asked. “I didn’t come here to fight. Killer Shark sent me to retrieve information for him.”
“Oh?” said a suddenly interested Queen Killer Shark. “What kind of information?”
Lady Blackhawk shook her head. “I’ve said too much already.”
Queen Killer Shark moved to the foot of the table and latched onto Lady Blackhawk’s wounded leg with her strong, motorized fingers and squeezed hard.
Lady Blackhawk cried out in agony. Her desperate screams reverberated off the smooth walls and echoed throughout the massive bunker.
The Zindroid leader released her grip and allowed Lady Blackhawk to catch her breath. “You will answer me, human.”
“I thought you couldn’t harm me,” Lady Blackhawk gritted.
“I cannot kill you,” Queen Killer Shark corrected. She grabbed Lady Blackhawk’s leg again. “Now tell me what kind of plans you seek or we’ll truly test the capabilities of the fragile human flesh of which you boast so confidently!”
Lady Blackhawk swore her calf would explode in the android’s hands. Her tortured screams were the only thing preventing her from passing out from the pain. Perhaps she could bluff the android and appeal to its loyalty. “Please stop! I’ll tell you anything you need to know.”
The Queen released Lady Blackhawk’s wounded leg. “Why are you here on this island?”
“Your master is dying,” Lady Blackhawk replied, which technically wasn’t a lie but she wasn’t finished yet. “He hopes to regenerate new organs to replace the cancerous ones ravaging his body.”
“Then let the fool expire!” Queen Killer Shark yelled.
For once Lady Blackhawk and her android foe were on the same page.
“My queen!” gasped the other Zindroids gathered in the chamber.
“The master’s needs are our priority,” explained a Zindroid nearest the Queen. “It is our duty to…”
Queen Killer knocked the unit across the room with a backhand. It slammed into a wall so hard its eyes blinked out. “Does anyone else wish to question me?”
The Zindroids shook their heads. “No my queen,” they replied.
“Good! Take the damaged unit for repairs!” Queen Killer Shark instructed.
Two Zindroids gathered up their comrade and carried her away.
“Why would you let your master die?” Lady Blackhawk asked Queen Killer Shark. “I don’t understand.”
Queen Killer Shark turned to Lady Blackhawk. “What’s to understand? If he lives he will surely resume his search for you and replace me as Queen.”
“Believe me when I say the job is yours if you want it!” Lady Blackhawk replied. “I’m not even sure why I’m trying to help him when I know this is probably another of his twisted schemes!”
“You ungrateful cow!” replied Queen Killer Shark. “If only the master would see me the way he does you.”
“If you hate me so much then why bother saving me?” Lady Blackhawk asked. “Surely you could get around your programming somehow.”
Queen Killer Shark shook her head. “The master’s coding is foolproof and explicit.”
“And yet you’re so smug,” Lady Blackhawk replied. “You’re hiding something.”
An evil sneer spread across the Zindroid Queen’s lips. “There is more than one way to destroy an enemy, Zinda Blake,” she explained, jerking at the intravenous needle in Lady Blackhawk’s arm. “My programming doesn’t regard administering the master’s mind control formula as harming you.”
“I will kill you with my bare hands!” Lady Blackhawk shouted, jerking at her restraints.
The Zindroid laughed. “I doubt that, my so-called “Queen”. Once the serum takes affect you will reward me for restoring your “better nature”! And one day I will conquer my coding and kill you.”
Lady Blackhawk yanked on her restraints but was unable to free herself. “Then my first act will be to order you destroyed!”
Queen Killer Shark laughed once more. “Impossible. My inferiors’ programming prevents them from harming a third generation Zindroid and I am the only such unit ever built. It is why I am their queen and they’re merely poor carbon copies of you.”
“I will find a way out of this and when I do…” Lady Blackhawk warned.
“You have less than an hour before the formula overcomes your inhibitions,” Queen Killer Shark replied. “Long live the Queen.”
The sound of gunfire exploded outside. It was obvious from the staccato bursts a firefight of some sort was taking place near the hangar above.
A visibly shaken and agitated Queen Killer Shark rushed to a communications console. “What is happening out there?” she barked to the screen.
A Zindroid’s image filled the oversized screen. She stood near the jungle’s edge. “An approaching plane triggered our automatic defense systems, my Queen.”
“A passenger plane or military?” asked Queen Killer Shark.
The Zindroid looked frantically over her shoulder and promptly exploded.
Despite her dire circumstances Lady Blackhawk chuckled. “I’m guessing military.”
Queen Killer Shark pressed a button built into the shoulder of her magenta uniform and spoke. “I need units A1-A8 to the repair facility at once!”
“Calling in reinforcements?” Lady Blackhawk asked.
Queen Killer Shark made her way to the table and latched onto Lady Blackhawk’s wounded leg once more. “Shut up so I can think!”
Whatever enjoyment Lady Blackhawk received watching her android nemesis squirm was quickly forgotten as pain ran a relay from her surgically-repaired leg to her brain. She screamed once more but her voice was swallowed by a deafening rumble that rocked the bunker and flung the Queen across the room. The ominous thundering continued unabated for what seemed like forever. As it rose to a deafening crescendo, large chunks of concrete peeled away from the ceiling and fell around the helpless heroine. A support beam and its rebar framing gave way and crushed two Zindroids. Lady Blackhawk hoped to avoid their fate but the bench beneath her shook so violently the bolts holding it to the floor snapped and sent it dancing across the room. A rain of concrete narrowly missed her as the bench rocked back and forth through the debris field, perilously close to tipping over before tossing her in yet another direction. Her bull-riding skills were rusty and she would have to hold on far longer than eight seconds if she hoped to survive her wild, deadly ride.
Lady Blackhawk was once in a train tunnel in France with Blackhawk when a West German locomotive barreled through with well over a hundred cars in tow. Pressed against the cold rock wall she could only cover her ears and wait for it to pass. She knew too the rumble of the mighty War Wheel and stood on countless runways while jet engines roared to life only feet away. Such noises paled in comparison to the cacophony that permeated the crumbling bunker.
A wall collapsed behind the fallen Queen and if not for her android reflexes she would have been crushed. She inched toward an empty workbench that was bolted to the floor and latched onto it. The bunker shook even harder like earth’s crust was awakening from a long slumber or a volcano from the ocean deep was rising to the surface. Or perhaps someone dropped a bomb on the island? Lady Blackhawk wasn’t sure but playing human popcorn much longer would get her killed.
On the bright side, the apparatus securing her IV bag snapped and whipped across the room. It shattered against a heap of rubble So much for Queen Killer Shark’s mind control plans!
“Guess I’ll die with my wits intact at least,” said Lady Blackhawk. Or at least she thought she said it aloud. She couldn’t tell for the aural reckoning.
Queen Killer Shark labored against the sonic blitzkrieg toward Lady Blackhawk. It was like watching a rag doll struggle through a hurricane but she finally reached the workbench to which Lady Blackhawk was strapped. With her powerful android strength, she pushed it beneath an area of the roof supported by columns and reinforced by steel plating. The ceiling fell in where Lady Blackhawk lay seconds before and struck the Queen in the right shoulder. The blow left her arm a dangling mess of metal and wires.
“Gotta love that programming, eh?” Lady Blackhawk mocked, though she knew the Queen couldn’t hear. She closed her eyes and prayed the barrage would stop.
Mercifully, it subsided and when it did, it left behind little more than an exposed concrete pit that looked equal part secret lair and apocalyptic skate park. The brilliant South Pacific sun flooded the pit for the first time since it was dug beneath the island’s sandy soil. Not much else was left standing.
Except Black Canary.
She stood at the precipice of the great pit where Killer Shark’s underground fortress stood moments before. The aural assault finally made sense but Lady Blackhawk didn’t realize her friend’s cry was THAT powerful! Green Arrow boasted that Canary’s cry was so powerful it once stopped Superman in his tracks during a Justice League training session but he was prone to hyperbole at times, particularly where Black Canary was concerned. In an uncharacteristic moment of self-evaluation, Guy Gardner told her Canary had shattered his constructs before.
Lady Blackhawk would never doubt such tales again.
Black Canary rushed into the labyrinth to her teammate’s side.
“Glad to see you on your feet again partner!” Lady Blackhawk shouted. Her ears were still ringing. Black Canary had been inactive for some time thanks to a gunshot wound of her own.
A platoon of Zindroid units arrived to take up their Queen’s cause.
Black Canary nodded and said something but all Lady Blackhawk heard was the incessant ringing in her ears. She wondered if it would ever go away.
A Zindroid rushed Black Canary but she sidestepped it and grabbed the unit by the right wrist. Using the unit’s momentum against it, she executed a perfect judo throw. She elbowed a second unit approaching her from behind but the blow failed to hurt the android. Moving behind the unit, she swept its leg and slammed it to the ground.
A moment later Black Canary was joined by Gypsy, Flamebird, Olaf, Chuck, and Chopper! The latter three were armed to the teeth and wore their old Blackhawks uniforms. It did Lady Blackhawk’s heart good to see them in action once more! The cavalry lit into the Zindroid units with a righteous fury.
Olaf and Chuck found shelter behind an overturned submersible and exchanged fire with a couple of the Zindroid guards. Chuck wasn’t as nimble as he once was but he took to the overhead railing while Olaf laid cover for him. He snuck along what was left of the upper railing and dropped a hand grenade between the two androids. The explosion ripped them apart.
Gypsy, Flamebird, and Black Canary engaged the Zindroids in hand-to-hand combat. Lady Blackhawk wished she could join them but was still strapped to the table. If only she could have one crack at Queen Killer Shark she would make the android pay for hurting her!
Queen Killer Shark rushed to the helpless Lady Blackhawk. She reached for the woman’s throat with the one arm that was still intact. The cold, metallic fingers of her good hand snapped around Lady Blackhawk’s neck. Spasms racked her android body as she fought her programming.
Just when it appeared the android would succeed in overcoming her failsafe, a large metal bar emerged from its chest cavity. It appeared to be the control column from an airplane’s brake assembly. The android released Lady Blackhawk and pawed at the steel spear on which she was impaled. She tried to remove it but an electrical surge racked her body and caused her to dance like an egg on a frying pan. Her eyes blinked out and she fell.
“Not today robot!” Chopper shouted as he shoved the brake assembly deeper into Queen Killer Shark’s chest. The android collapsed to the floor at his feet. “You mess with one Blackhawk and you fight all of us! Hawkaaa!”
Lady Blackhawk’s former teammate removed a large knife from the belt around his waist and freed her.
“Am I glad to see you,” said Lady Blackhawk, kicking the restraints from her legs. She rose and hugged her rescuer. “It’s been too long, my friend.”
Chopper nodded. He was always a bit shy around Lady Blackhawk. He pointed to her wounded leg and helped her from the table. “Give me your weight.”
“I’ll be fine,” Lady Blackhawk replied. “It’s just a scratch.”
“Doesn’t look like a scratch to…” A stray bullet cut Chopper short. He fell to the floor.
Lady Blackhawk sprawled beside him and cradled him in her arms. He wasn’t moving. “Chopper! No! You can’t die! Not here! Not like this! I’m so sorry my friend! You were only trying to help me!”
Chopper rose off the floor and rapped his knuckles against the chest of his Blackhawks uniform. The years had stolen the youth from his face but his infectious smile proved more enduring. “Kevlar! Courtesy of your Oracle!”
Lady Blackhawk breathed a sigh of relief and threw her arms around her friend once again. She definitely owed the Skipper one and not just for outfitting her former teammates with Kevlar. How the hell did she know where to find her without zeroing in on her earpiece’s GPS? That mystery would have to wait.
“Let’s teach these robots a thing or two about how Blackhawks finish a fight!” Lady Blackhawk said to her friend.
Chopper pointed to her gunshot wound. “I think you’d better sit this one out, Zinda.”
As much as she hated to admit it, Lady Blackhawk knew her friend was right. She commandeered a piece of scrap metal to use as a cane and watched her friends mop up an endless parade of Zindroids.
Out of the corner of her eye she spied Queen Killer Shark’s near-lifeless hull crawling away into a chasm behind a destroyed wall. Her resilience was impressive. Lady Blackhawk pleaded for one of her friends to follow the android but the battle drowned out her cries. There was only one thing left to do. She limped after the Queen herself.
The painful hunt ended in a large laboratory that resembled a mad scientist’s worst nightmare. The floor was a mess of broken beakers and overturned equipment. A large blackboard had toppled over and was broken in half. Computers were crushed by chunks of the former ceiling. The laboratory was Killer Shark’s inner sanctum, where his mission instructions said his journals were kept. The Queen opened a safe and retrieved several leather-bound books from within.
“Taking a reading vacation?” Lady Blackhawk asked. “You know, settle in with a good book, listen to the waves, and dig your cold metallic piggies into the white sand somewhere?”
Queen Killer Shark spun around. “Impossible! You followed me?”
“I did,” Lady Blackhawk replied. “We have a score to settle.”
Queen Killer Shark pointed to Lady Blackhawk’s leg. “You are injured.”
Lady Blackhawk shrugged. “And you have a brake assembly protruding from your chest! I’d call it a fair fight!”
“We’ve no time to fight now,” Queen Killer Shark replied.
“What’s the matter? Afraid to test my frail human flesh now that I’m not tied up?” Lady Blackhawk mocked. “It seems I owe you one, Queenie and I always pay my debts.”
An electrical surge jerked Queen Killer Shark’s head like a nervous tick. Her right eye blinked on and off. “You misunderstand. I have activated the island’s self-destruct program. You have twenty minutes to evacuate.”
“You what?” Lady Blackhawk shrieked. “Are you insane?”
“Insanity is a decidedly human condition,” Queen Killer Shark replied.
“We’ll all die!” Lady Blackhawk argued.
“Then you go!” Queen Killer Shark answered. “And take these with you! They are the master’s journals.” She tossed the volumes to Lady Blackhawk.
Lady Blackhawk caught the books but was confused. “I know it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind but now you’re trying to save me?”
“You are the least of my concerns now,” Queen Killer Shark hissed. “My base protocol includes a catastrophic failsafe in the event the island is compromised. The master’s genius must survive at any cost!”
Lady Blackhawk backed out of the bunker, keeping a careful eye on her foe. As she was leaving Queen Killer Shark gave the order to her fellow Zindroids to stand down.
Lady Blackhawk hobbled back to her friends as quickly as her leg allowed. She found them mystified by the motionless Zindroids still frozen by their Queen’s order.
“Zinda!” Flamebird shrieked. She ran to Lady Blackhawk and threw her arms around her. “Thank god you’re okay! Where were you?”
Her friends gathered around but there was no time for celebration or lengthy explanations. By her own estimate Lady Blackhawk used seven precious minutes struggling back to them. “We have to leave now! The island is set to blow any minute.” She turned to Olaf and held the journals aloft. “I have what I came for.”
Olaf nodded but seemed sad. “He didn’t make it. He passed in the night.”
“I can’t say I’m sorry,” Lady Blackhawk replied.
“I understand,” Olaf replied. “Let’s get out of here.”
Minutes later they were in the sky and Chuck had them clear of the island. The distant explosion wasn’t as loud as Lady Blackhawk expected but she was glad the island was gone.
An hour later, Gypsy took a seat next to Lady Blackhawk. “You didn’t have to go running off on your own you know. We would have been glad to help.”
Lady Blackhawk nodded. “It was unfinished personal business. I didn’t want to drag you guys into it.”
“We’re your friends,” Gypsy replied. “Friends help one another. Got it?”
Lady Blackhawk hugged her teammate. “Thank you, Cindy.”
“Anytime,” Gypsy replied.
“So how did you guys find me?” Lady Blackhawk asked.
Gypsy’s right eyebrow shot up. “You know who we work for and still have to ask that? Oracle heard about a Cold War-era fighter jet that disappeared over the South Pacific. She hacked into the FAA database and accessed the flight plan and saw the plane departed Florida for the west coast and then on to the South Pacific. She figured it was you. We followed your last known heading and you know the rest.”
Lady Blackhawk shook her head and laughed as she broke their hug. “That woman is a little scary!”
Gypsy nodded and shared in the laugh. “You got that right! And they say Batman is the world’s greatest detective!”
An imposing shadow loomed over the two women. It was Olaf. He turned to Gypsy. “Mind if I have a word alone with our lass?”
Gypsy stood and gestured to her vacant seat with an open palm. “It’s all yours my friend.”
Olaf sat and presented Lady Blackhawk with an envelope. “Rough day?”
Lady Blackhawk shrugged and took the envelope from him. “A typical Blackhawks kind of day. What’s this?”
“I found it among Boryslaw’s stuff,” Olaf replied. “It’s his last will and testament.”
Lady Blackhawk shrugged her shoulders. “Big deal. What’s it to me?”
“You need to read it,” Olaf said, forcing it into her hand. “He should be the one to tell you, and I swear to you I didn’t know.”
“You didn’t know what?” Lady Blackhawk asked. Her cryptic friend stood and left her alone with the envelope. Flamebird tried to make her way back to sit with her but Olaf wouldn’t allow her to pass. She returned to her seat.
More curious than ever, Lady Blackhawk opened the envelope and found a couple of documents inside. One was the will. She opened it and scanned past the legal mumbo-jumbo at the beginning and skipped to the nitty-gritty.
“To my grand-daughter Zinda Blake I leave all my earthly possessions and my life’s work. Futhermore I…”
Lady Blackhawk scanned those first five words again. “To my grand-daughter Zinda Blake….”
Surely this was another of Killer Shark’s wicked schemes to get at her even in death. How could she be his grand-daughter? Yes, her mother was adopted but surely she didn’t descend from…
A single tear rolled down Lady Blackhawk’s right cheek and plopped onto the document. If Killer Shark was her grandfather then he didn’t want her for…
Everything suddenly made sense. It wasn’t a torrid love affair Killer Shark sought, but something decidedly more human. She gazed at the will once more.
“To my grand-daughter Zinda Blake…”
The words that followed didn’t matter. Killer Shark left her something far more valuable than riches. He freed her from the crushing burden that haunted her for years. With his final act he sent her to his island to discover the truth. The heavy weight of violation was lifted from her shoulders. She felt pure and at peace. She was whole and clean.
Lady Blackhawk removed the other document from the envelope and opened it. It was a handwritten letter from Killer Shark addressed to her.
“My dearest Zinda,” it began.
Lady Blackhawk folded the letter and stuffed it into the envelope along with the will. It would have to wait until she could wrap her mind around the startling turn of events. Her life would never be the same. She gazed out the window at the ocean below. She was a creature of the air and Killer Shark a scourge of the water but they shared the same blood. She raised her hand to her brow and saluted the waves far below.
“Hawkaaa, you old son of a bitch,” Lady Blackhawk whispered. “Hawkaaaaa.”