Checkmate: Operation Outsiders #5 Nov 21, 2010 9:21:51 GMT -5
Post by Rik (capricorn116) on Nov 21, 2010 9:21:51 GMT -5
Issue #5: "Dangerous Cargo - Part Two: Long Live the Dead"
Written by: Scott Morgan Cook
Cover by: Borize
Edited by: Jay Zirron
Arsenal - Lian Harper, master marksman, Black Queen's Knight and team leader.
Elasti-Girl - Rachel Dibny, the new Stretchable Sleuth.
Tempest - Sarin of Atlantis, super strong son of Aquaman and master of water.
Cyclone - Maxine Hunkel, happy-go-lucky wind witch.
Animal Man - Warren McCabe-Shaw, inheritor of the Tantu-totem and master of the animal kingdom.
Cassandra Cain - The former Batgirl and the world's deadliest martial artist.
Gene Nigma - White Queen's Bishop and manager of the Outsiders.
Natasha Irons - Pilot of Checkmate Jet 206.
“SOLOMON GRUNDY, BORN ON A MONDAY!”
So exclaimed the pale hulking creature as it leapt from the truck that carried it and into the barren Texas desert. Three of the Outsiders had been transporting the monstrosity to S.T.A.R. labs, not knowing what it was.
“What the hell is going on down there?” Animal Man asked. He was high above the chaos, being carried by the power of an eagle.
“The package is live.” Arsenal said, instantly taking command of the situation. “Elasti-Girl, Animal Man, you two keep Grundy busy while I lead the convoy away.”
“You’re not fighting with us?” Warren asked.
“No questions! Get down here and kick this freak’s ass!” Lian yelled into her communicator. She hated to admit it, but she couldn’t handle something like this. The best she could do was help get bystanders out of the situation.
Rachel Dibny leapt from the front seat window of the first truck, the same truck that carried Solomon Grundy. She bounced on the dirt, unfolded into a large sheet and wrapped her white and purple form around the monster’s body. He struggled to tear her off, gripping randomly with large fingers.
Arsenal, meanwhile, had her ATV riding next to the lead truck in the convoy, yelling into the communicator in her helmet for the driver of the convoy to calm down and keep control of the truck.
“We are so screwed.” She muttered to herself.
* * * * * *
Tempest stood in front of the sink in the cafeteria of Belle Reve. He was ‘breathing’, as he called it, which involved chugging as much water as his paper cup would allow, as many times as he could until he was satisfied.
“Hey! How’s it going?”
Sarin coughed a bit in surprise and turned to see Cyclone, smiling as she filled a cup with soda.
“Hello…” He said, not knowing what to expect.
Maxine nodded and returned to making her meal. She went down the line, but passed up almost everything. Tempest followed her, confusion on his face.
“I thought you were angry with me.” He said, immediately regretting the words that came out of his mouth.
“Why would I be?” Maxine laughed.
Timid for the first time in a long time, Sarin said “Because…because earlier today…”
“Hmm?” She interrupted him. “Oh right, that. That’s nothing. No big deal.”
She picked up a bagel and moved to a table and sat down. Confused, Sarin chugged his fourteenth cup, refilled it and joined her.
“So it’s just water, huh?” Maxine asked, taking a bite out of her bagel.
“It would seem that way…” He muttered.
“What do you mean by that?” She asked inquisitively.
“Since I’ve gotten here, all the water has become bland and tasteless.” Sarin explained. “I don’t know how anyone else who came here tolerated it.”
“Uh…” Maxine said, laughing. “I don’t think water is supposed to have a flavor.”
“It does where I come from.” He said, reluctantly taking a drink from his cup.
“Oh right, you’re from Atlantis.” She said. “That is so cool…wait, I think I know what your problem is.”
Sarin looked at her inquisitively. Maxine reached across the table and picked up a salt shaker. She took the cup of water and shook the salt into it, sipped the concoction, and then handed back to Sarin and said “Try it now.”
He took a sip and, amazingly enough, did not grimace at it.
“You’re from the ocean.” She explained as he chugged down the cup. “You’re used to drinking…er, breathing salt water.”
Sarin finished off his drink, looked at Maxine and said “Thank you.”
* * * * * *
Gene Nigma chuckled to himself. He had been watching the interaction between the pair on security monitors and was not above admitting he was proud of himself. This was why he paired them together; Tempest needed to learn some humanity and humility and Cyclone just needed someone to talk to.
The familiar beeping of his wristwatch interrupted the bishop. He reached into his pocket and got his bottle of pills when a voice came into his communicator.
He poured out one of the tine white capsules as he said, “Right here, Lian. What’s the problem?”
“The package is live!” Arsenal said. “Solomon Grundy is awake!”
Gene sat up from his position of leisure and changed his tone into a serious one. “I was afraid of this. Lian, how is he acting?”
There was a pause and she answered, “He’s crazy right now. He keeps saying he was born on a Monday and trying to kill anything that moves.”
“Oh god no.” The bishop whispered. “You just won the bad luck lottery. You’re going to have to kill him.”
“How do we do that?” Arsenal asked.
“Same way you kill a normal person.” Gene answered hurriedly. “Except he can’t be burned, electrocuted, suffocated, poisoned, starved, drowned, dehydrated, exhausted or telepathically assaulted. Look, I have to take my meds right now…”
“Then why are you talking to me? Go! We’ll handle the monster…somehow.” Lian answered, a bit unsure of how confident she was in the other two.
“You sure?” He said. “I can call up Fred. He’ll be there in…”
“No! We can handle it! If I need backup, I’ll call you. Go take your pills. Over and out.”
The line went dead. Gene got to his feet, whipped his sweaty brow and went to find the nearest water fountain.
As he walked the hallways, Eugene Nigma kept whispering to himself “This is all too much.”
* * * * * *
“This is a pain.” Elasti-Girl said. Even when a psychotic monster was attempting to tear her to pieces, she was still capable of sarcasm.
The beast replied with its mantra: “SOLOMON GRUNDY, BORN ON A…”
“Yeah, save it.” Rachel interrupted him. Grundy continued to thrash wildly, trying to tear the elastic heroine off of him.
Arsenal, meanwhile, had gotten the convoy a safe distance from the monster and was heading back on her ATV. However, her mind wasn’t focused on Grundy, but on something else.
“Animal Man!” She yelled into her communicator. “Where the #*(& are you?”
“I’m working on something.” Warren said. Indeed, he was flying upwards, farther and farther away from the battlefield.
“What?!” She asked incredulously. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Hey, no questions.” Warren answered smugly. He shut off his communicator before he could hear Lian’s response. Frankly, he didn’t need to hear her scream at him. He knew what he was doing.
Judging that he had flown high enough, the Outsider turned to the ground below and muttered to himself “Just like mom taught ya.”
And then he dove.
As his name plainly showed, Animal Man had knowledge of wildlife. And he knew that the truly fastest animal was the peregrine falcon, a raptor whose talents he was mimicking. The bird, when flying downwards, could reach up to 90 mph speeds. That is what Warren was trying to achieve.
As he felt the wind whipping his face, Warren couldn’t help but remember a time when he was ten and his family went to an amusement park. He went on a roller coaster called the Comet. After the first drop, he spent the rest of the ride screaming his lungs out in fear (and for some time after.) It was the most scared he had ever felt in his life.
The irony was so strong he could almost feel it.
Warren was snapped back to reality when he saw Solomon Grundy come into view, still fighting with Elasti-Girl.
“Clear the way!” He yelled. Rachel looked up and saw a speck in the sky. Slowly, it enlarged and became clearer, revealing itself to be Animal Man. She quickly leapt off the monster. Grundy looked around in confusion, his simple mind not understanding the attack stopping. He glanced upward and saw the Outsider falling towards him.
Animal Man felt compelled to say something clever, something to make him seem like the coolest hero ever, but all he could think of at the time was one word:
He hit the monster of a loud crash. Grundy immediately buckled backwards and fell into the dirt. A cloud of dust flew up around the two, hiding them from view. After some time of anxious waiting (which felt much longer than it actually was), Elasti-Girl and Arsenal finally saw Warren stumble out of the orange mess, spit some dirt from his mouth and say “I really hope that worked.” And then his body fell to the ground with a loud thump.
Lian immediately rushed next to him and felt for his pulse. Her sudden change from worry to relief when she found the heartbeat told Rachel that Animal Man was alive.
The conscious Outsiders turned to the floating dust, hoping that Warren would be the only thing to come out of it. They were met not with a sight, but with a sound:
“SOLOMON GRUNDY, BORN ON A MONDAY!”
Arsenal turned to Elasti-Girl and said “Get in there.”
“I can’t do anything but keep him busy.” Rachel said.
“Then do that!” Lian snapped back. “Just get in there!”
Rachel sighed and headed into the dust. Lian spoke into her communicator and said “Gene, this is Arsenal. I’m gonna need you to send in Fred.”
* * * * * *
Maxine and Sarin had spent the past hour and a half in the cafeteria, conversing about whatever came to their minds, mostly Maxine’s mind, and talking about their lives, mostly Sarin’s life, which Maxine found fascinating.
“I’m sorry I’m asking so many questions.” She said, speaking quickly. “It’s just that I’m a big, big fan of superheroes and when I when I got invited to this team I promised myself I wouldn’t geek out when I met any of the other capes but your dad is Aquaman! I mean, there is nothing cooler than that!”
“He’s not Aquaman anymore.” Sarin said when he was sure she had finished her thought. “He’s told me that several times. He’s Orin, King of Atlantis, except to the surface world, where he’s Arthur Curry.”
“I was wondering if he had a real name.” Maxine started again. “I mean, I knew he head a real name, duh, but if he had a regular name. Not that Orin isn’t regular, but, you know, regular for people…I mean humans. And it’s Arthur Curry. Do you have a name like that?”
“I actually do.” He answered, a touch of shame in his voice. “My father also named me…Joseph Curry.”
“Oh yeah! Because Gene said that was your name at the first meeting, but I really didn’t notice it because I was too excited about being a part of this team and I didn’t really care for you because you were acting like such a prick.”
There was a pause filled with a powerful silence.
“Oh my god…” Maxine said. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean for that to come out. It’s just that I was really focused on that thought and I just blurted that and you…”
She was silenced by Sarin raising his hand and saying “Think nothing of it. You are forgiven.”
Maxine giggled a bit. Sarin allowed a smile to form in the right corner of his mouth.
The sound of a door opening caught their attention, and they both turned to see Gene entering the cafeteria.
“Afternoon, kids.” He said. “I hope you’re getting along.”
They both nodded their heads. The bishop smiled and said “Good. I just came here to check on you.”
He turned to leave but was stopped when Maxine asked “So how’s the mission going?”
Gene froze in his tracks. He took a deep breath, turned around and sat down by the pair. “Not so good. Actually, not good at all. Very bad in fact.”
“What?” Maxine said. “Why?”
“The package went live.” The bishop answered. “Solomon Grundy woke up.”
“Who?” Sarin asked.
“Solomon Grundy. A zombie, super strong and invulnerable, was in the crates that they were transporting. Unfortunately, he awoke faster than we had expected and went crazy and attacked the team.”
“Wait, I thought the Lazarus Pit was in the packages.” Sarin said.
“It was and it wasn’t.” Gene responded. “Back when he was alive, Ra’s al Ghul had Lazarus Pits all over the world. Almost all of them have been destroyed, however. The League of Assassins was hoping to use Solomon Grundy as some sort of replacement. Grundy is constantly rebirthing himself; no matter how many times he dies, he’ll come back, just with a new fragment of his mind in place. They thought he hold some sort of secret to immortality.”
“But what about the rest of the team?” Maxine asked. “What about Lian and Rachel and Warren?”
“I’ve sent them backup.” The bishop said. “The Black King should be arriving there shortly.”
* * * * * *
“How are you doing in there?” Arsenal asked.
“I’ve been better.” Elasti-Girl answered. If Rachel Dibny knew anything, it was how to make light of a bad situation. Once again, her job was to distract Solomon Grundy with her own plasticity. However, the monster was pushing her limits and exhausting her.
“Don’t worry.” Lian said. “Backup is on its way.”
As if on cue, backup arrived. With a swoosh, a man appeared next Arsenal. He was in a tight blue outfit with a yellow sash and a white cape. His insignia, a white lightning bolt with a yellow outline, was shown clearly on his chest.
“Anything I can do?” Fred Freeman, Shazam, asked with a smirk.
“Shut up.” Arsenal said, not amused. “We need you to kill Solomon Grundy.”
The Black King of Checkmate turned to see the creature. “He sure is angry, isn’t he?”
“Just do it.” She said. Shazam, the speed of Mercury carrying him, flew towards Grundy. He grabbed the creature and shot upwards. Elasti-Girl fell off him, confused by what was going on. Arsenal stood next to her and they both watched the Black King carry their foe higher and higher.
“What’s up with you?” Rachel asked. She was clearly annoyed by Fred’s presence.
“I hate having to call for help.” Lian said. “Makes me feel like crap. It’s even worse when I have to get this overconfident prick.”
“He’s not overconfident.” Rachel said. “He’s just happy to be a hero.”
“I guess.” Lian responded. “But does he have to be so damn sunny?”
Rachel chuckled. “Yeah, he is a happy guy, isn't he?” She paused for a moment. "Who is he, anyway?"
"Fred Freeman." Lian said. "He says his name's Shazam. We don't know much about him. He's powerful, he's smart, he's cheerful as hell and he's not from around here."
"How 'not from around here?'"
"That's classified." Lian answered. "Hell, I don't even know where he's from."
Rachel squinted at the still rising form and muttered "Weird." She turned to the body Lian was carrying. “How’s Warren?”
“He’s going to have a mighty big headache when he wakes up, but he should be fine.”
The pair then said nothing, and silently watched the Black King at work.
* * * * * *
“SOLOMON GRUNDY, BORN ON A MONDAY!”
“I have actually never heard that in person before.” Shazam said. “It’s really quite something.” He carried the monster higher in the sky until he was sure he was a safe distance, and then said “Though I hope I don’t have to hear it again.”
He cleared his throat and announced “MARVEL!”
A lightning bolt came from nowhere and struck Grundy in the chest. The Black King felt the surge travel through the creature and the impact the bolt had on his body.
“You still in there big guy?” Shazam asked the smoldering corpse. It snapped to attention and said “SOLOMON GRUNDY, BORN ON A…”
Another bolt of lightning hit Grundy. This time, he felt the body go limp, but wasn’t entirely sure the creature was dead. Silence hung in the air as he held Solomon Grundy in the sky. He felt a twitch and immediately said, “MARVEL!”
The lightning came down again, except this time it pierced Grundy’s chest and hit him. Shazam felt the white-hot electricity travel through his veins and he transformed. He was human once more, dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans.
And then Fred Freeman and Solomon Grundy’s corpse fell.
The Black King panicked. He struggled to spit out the magic word that would return his powers to him. Unfortunately, a severe stutter made speaking a challenge.
“M-m-m-ma…” He struggled to say. “M-marv…marve…MARVEL!”
He finally said. The lightning struck him again and was once again a young-looking man. Shaken but once again confident, he flew down and stopped just before Arsenal and Elasti-Girl, hovering in front of them.
“Taken care of.” He said as Grundy’s corpse landed behind him.
“What was all that with the lightning?” Arsenal asked.
“It’s quick, it’s efficient, it’s powerful…” Shazam began.
“It almost killed you.” Lian interrupted.
“It’s not a big deal.” He said quickly. “Listen, you guys head back to base. I’ll carry ugly over to S.T.A.R.”
Before anyone could respond, he flew away and snatched up Grundy and flew down the road towards the facility.
Arsenal sighed and picked up her communicator. “Checkmate 206, this is Arsenal. We’re ready for pickup about 30 minutes away from the labs.”
“Got it.” Nat responded. “How was the mission?”
There was a pause as Lian and Rachel looked to each other. Finally, Rachel said into her comm. “Complicated.”
* * * * * *
Maxine and Sarin were in the cafeteria again, this time silent. Gene’s news hadn’t comforted them much; they knew nothing of Solomon Grundy, and even less of Checkmate’s Black King. They weren’t sure if their allies, their friends, would make it back to Belle Reve alive.
Sarin looked at Maxine. She seemed even more worried. Her optimism clearly had its limits; the pair were stuck in a concrete block while an unknown monster could be tearing the rest of the Outsiders apart. Sarin felt compelled to say something to make her feel better.
“It…it will be alright.” He said.
Maxine looked up at him as if she were going to say something in anger, but relaxed and responded, “It probably will. Thanks Joseph.”
Then there was silence for another reason: awkwardness.
“You used my surface name.” He said.
“Yeah, I guess I kinda did.” She responded sheepishly.
Gene’s voice caught their attention over the intercom. “To whom it may concern: Checkmate 206 has landed in the hangar. Once again Checkmate 206 is in the hangar.”
Maxine and Sarin looked at each other excitedly, leapt from their seats and rushed towards where they knew the hangar was.
When the pair arrived, a familiar looking jet was waiting for them. The door opened and out stepped Rachel Dibny and Lian Harper, carrying Warren’s unconscious body between them.
Maxine rushed towards Rachel and embraced saying “I’m so glad you’re back!”
“Easy there,” Elasti-Girl said. “We’ve got delicate cargo.”
“What happened to him?” Sarin asked, looking at the body.
“He took a nasty blow to the head.” Arsenal said. “He’ll be alright. We’re taking him to the med wing right now.”
“Cool. We’ll come with.” Maxine said.
As they all followed Lian down the halls (As she was the only one to know the lay of the land), Rachel asked “So, what did you guys do while we were gone?”
“Met a weird old guy.” Maxine answered nonchalantly. “You?”
Rachel thought for a moment and answered “Pretty much the same.”
* * * * * *
“Shermer! Hey Shermer!”
S.T.A.R. Labs technician Jon Shermer turned to see one of his coworkers trying to flag him down.
“Y-Y-Yeah Mick?” He stuttered.
“You hear?” Mick asked. “Checkmate just dropped off our latest project. It’s Solomon Grundy!”
“Gruh-Grundy?” Shermer said. “The giant z-zombie?”
“Yeah! C’mon, let’s go check it out!” He said and rushed down the hallway.
“One sec, I g-gotta take a le-le-leak.”
Shermer turned and walked down the hall dutifully. He passed the sign with the white silhouette and immediately picked up the phone attached to the wall. He quickly punched in ten digits and heard the phone ring once before being answered.
“Hello, I’d l-l-like to speak with the doc.” Shermer said. He waited a moment and then a new voice answered the phone.
“Docter? This is Franke.” He said in a more authoritative tone. “I have something we may be interested in…”
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