Assuming there is not time to rest and regain spells before midnight. "No Flash I do not have the power to get us both to the City before midnight. In my madness I expended a great deal of mystic power and it has yet to return. I do however have the power to travel to the city myself. Pity the Sandman did not accompany you. That roadster of his would be welcome.
Given my weakened state it might be best to use this midnight meeting to trail whoum exer Mr. X sends and so get a step closer to the center of this web rather than confronting them directly. With a bit of luck and illusion I might be able to convince Mr.X's minions that they were successful in their attempt on our lives and so make them careless."
The Flash sprinted away from the Tower of Fate and the coast, following Highway Rt. 90 across the State of Massachusetts. In the middle of the afternoon, the highway was quite crowded and Flash nearly caused several accidents as drivers gawked to see him whizzing past them on foot. At the Hudson River, he hung a left and followed it down to Kingston, which he reached by 3:45.
At the Benedictine Hospital, the Flash ran into a new wrinkle. He knew the Sandman had come here to recover from his lizard-induced bite wounds, but did not know what name the Sandman had checked himself in under.
Meanwhile, Dr. Fate remained at his tower. He had a wall of thorny vines around his tower to dismiss and found that someone, probably Flash, had conjured his water elemental from the secret conjuring room under the attic stairs. It was still waiting for instructions in the attic and getting everything wet.
"Oh my, the Flash!" the nurse said. Though she looked like she was going to be all twittery for a moment there, she quickly pulled herself together into a more professional demeanor. "Yes, I know just the patient you must be talking about. Right this way. Dr. Sebastian was suspicious about how he came by those bites. I hope he's not a criminal..."
The nurse led the Flash into a room where a slight, unassuming man appeared to be asleep in his hospital bed. Could this be the Sandman...?
"Quiet, children of soil and water. Your task is done. Sleep until you are needed again."
With these words the thick sharp-thorned vines release the tower and shrink back down to again hide themselves in the bracken surrounding the tower, of interest to no one save a botanist.
"Now, what to do with you?" Fate stands before the aqueous giant. He focuses his will through the helm and slowly guides the elemental back to its hidden chamber and back to rest.
Leaving library and other disruptions for a later date, Fate retires to an undisturbed bedroom and setting out a simple wind up alarm clock removes his helm and cloak and settles into a short but restful sleep. If he dreams they are peaceful dreams, his mind relaxes, free from chaos and madness and noise.
Alarm set to wake fate well before the witching hour.
It was a cause of some concern that this man who seemed likely to be the Sandman could not be roused from his sleep, though whether it was because he had slipped into a coma or was in some kind of self-induced trance to help speed his healing, the Flash could only guess at.
Unless our Sandman responds today, I'll just need to know how long Flash plans to stay there with him and if there's anything else he wanted to get done before the Big Event at midnight...
Wesley Dodds suddenly erupts out of his coma. "Sorry Flash," the surprisingly bland Dodds sputters. "I was trying out a self-hypnotism technique that is supposed to speed healing. Or perhaps I was just tired."
"I guess we should get moving towards the city. We should probably scout out the site of our ambush. I would not put it past Mr. X to have prepared a few more traps like our saurian friends from earlier. Oh . . . and we probably need to change the JSA radio frequency. I fear that Diane may have revealed that secret to her captors. And we might want to check in on our friend the Atom. There is much to do."
Wesley Dodds begins to stride out of the hospital.
Wesley Dodds snuck out of the hospital without being released and met the Flash again outside. All of Wesley's Sandman paraphernalia was still in his car, which was soon sailing south along the river until they reached Poughkeepsie. Crossing the river, they zoomed down country roads to reach Highway Rt. 52 and follow that across the border back into Connecticut and the home territory of the Atom. Rt. 84 took them as far as Southbury before they turned off onto country roads again, bound for New Haven.
There was much time en route for filling in the Sandman on the goings-on at Dr. Fate's tower. It seemed too fanciful to be true. Indeed, had Sandman not personally known the Spectre and Dr. Fate, he would have thought Flash to be mad.
They arrived at 6:20 pm, but spent a good 10 minutes trying to raise the Atom by radio so they could rendezvous with him.
Once again, Sandman, Flash, and Atom met up on a quiet street where their cars could park near each other.
"That is the toughest prisoner I've ever had to hold," the Atom complained. "Darn shape-shifters can't be just tied up because they can slip right out! I had to take the thing and wrap it up in a rug and then tie up the rug at both ends. It's in the trunk of my car now; I only hope I haven't suffocated it!"
"We should've dumped that thing off with Fate or the the Spectre. Good thinking with the rug, though. I would have just kept hitting it on the head until it decided to be quiet. I signed up to fight thugs and mobsters, not creatures from outer space."
While the Sandman converses with the Atom, he tries to surreptitiously inspect the costumed crimefighter. After all, the Atom may be the one tied up in the trunk and the fiend from the other dimension may have stolen the diminutive dynamo's form.
"Alas, we cannot just hand it over to the appropriate authorities. And, if I remember correctly, it had some sort of sob story about being blackmailed by Mr. X. Perhaps Dr. Fate will know what to do with that fiend from another dimension. Forgive my impertinent staring, Atom. With Fate's temporary insanity, and the creatures ability to assume another's appearance. I was checking for signs that you are indeed the Atom and not our foe in disguise."
"Indeed . . . it looks quite bad," The Sandman says, turning menacingly towards the upright Atom. "So, what did tale did Hawkman tell us during our first meeting as a society?"
The Sandman is still trying to use his ability to notice things to discern some difference between our upright and unconscious friends. I also do remember something about the dimensional doppleganger being able to read minds.
"Hawkman was telling us...geez, what was it? Oh yeah, about that mad scientist working out of a volcano," the Atom who was not in the trunk said.
As the Flash started to un-bundle the Atom in the trunk, the other Atom said, "Hey wait, I just realized -- that shapeshifter must take the form of its clothes too, right? So it can't take off its hood like I can!"
The Atom standing before them reached up and took off his hood, revealing a baby-faced man. The Atom in the blanket, though, took advantage of its loosening and slithered out of it like a reptile.
"Very clever thinking, Atom," The Sandman turns to the doppleganger. "Now, what should we do with you? Don't think of trying to escape, I assure you that my fleet friend here could catch you before you managed to take a step in the wrong direction. I am not eager to have you running back to your boss, but I fear that relying on the conventional authorities to keep you locked up would be futile."
"Are you mad?" the false Atom asked as it rose to its feet. "I -- wait -- did I sense in one of your minds something about knowing a magician? No, a sorcerer, who can work true magic? If you know such a person, maybe he can help me get home again..."
"Mad? You assaulted and impersonated a scientist. You then attacked us. You are working with a man who clearly intends us great ill. I understand that you feel that you are the aggrieved party, but I cannot blame my comrade for taking steps to render you unable to commit more mischief. I just hope that our companion can send you over the rainbow, so that I don't have to render you insensate until Mr. X is no longer a threat."
"You do realize, Atom, that your stature might just give you away, even with the hood?" It is hard to detect the Sandman's attempt at friendly irony through his gas mask which both distorts his voice and conceals his face. "I suppose it is time to meet up with Fate so that we can plan our next move and send this doppleganger back home."
"Huh...never thought of that..." the Atom said sheepishly. "Anyway, I'll hold down the fort here. I've got some leads to follow in the morning, possibly Mr. X-related. Good luck on your next move."
After that, it was a two-hour drive down the Long Island Sound coast to New York, stopping only for gas and a light dinner. Their alien guest wore whatever mundane disguise they asked of it.
Soon, Dr. Fate and Inza drove for 45 minutes to Hartford, Connecticut and Bradley Field. There, they chartered a small private plane that took them to the North Beach Airport by Manhattan. In this way they reached their rendezvous with Sandman and Flash in just as mundane a fashion.
It was 9 o'clock, with ample time left still before the trap.
"Much to do before our encounter with Mr. X. I don't know if you've been introduced to our shifty friend here." The Sandman gestures to the doppleganger. "He was impersonating a scientist at a chemical factory. And he hasn't given a particularly good account of why Mr. X. would assign him such a task. I fear that his ability to assume the visage of another makes it unlikely that the conventional authorities can deal with him."
The doppelganger did answer in a clear and precise manner, or at least it was all clear to Dr. Fate. The doppelganger, which had no name because its race had no names, came from a world of magic where it was a dabbler in the arts of science. It was a weaker reality -- Dr. Fate had learned years ago of these places by communining with spirts -- places where the "walls" of reality were weaker and objects or beings could just accidentally "fall" into a stronger, neighboring reality. So had it happened with this doppelganger. Finding itself in a foreign reality, but able to shapeshift and read surface thoughts to help him blend in, it blended in and hid while trying to find people who could help it find its way back home.
The doppelganger had tried to share its secret with all kinds of people to try to find the right ones, even some criminal types who it knew it could not fully trust. Meetings were arranged, supposedly to put the doppelganger in touch with mystics who could send him home, but the messengers had themselves been deceived so the doppelganger could not sense any deception. It was in these meetings that the doppelganger revealed its knowledge of science and its mastery of chemistry that seemed particularly strong in this reality. Only now did the "mystics" reveal that they worked for a man called Mr. X and the doppelganger now would as well. If it did not, Mr. X would tell everyone about the doppelganger's true nature and it would be hunted down and killed.
Forced to comply, the doppelganger was given an identity to usurp at the chemical factory in upstate New York Sandman and Flash had just recently raided. There, the doppelganger had started working at night to develop pills that would transform the imbiber into monsters.
Dr. Fate's medallion told him that the story was true. The story had been long and full of detail, taking an hour in the telling. It was now 10 o'clock.
The Sandman waits in a nearby alley for the Flash to report back, straining his ears to hear any indication that there foe is nearby. As he does so, he recalls, with satisfaction, his earlier confrontation with the Gentleman Gorilla, a case that seems, now, to have been so much simpler than the magical machinations of Mr. X.
The Bleaker Street carpet warehouse was a two-story, brick structure with lots of windows -- several broken -- and a prominent fire escape on one of two street-facing sides of the building. Being a corner building, both the front and left sides of the building were on two lane streets. The streets were mostly dark, with only a single lamppost outside it on the corner. There were buildings -- other warehouses -- adjacent to the back and right sides of the building, with no alleys in between.
The Flash circled the block many times, moving too quickly to be seen, but not seeing anything in exchange. Around 11:40, Sandman heard a car driving by that seemed, to his keen ears, to be driving by slower than it needed to, as if casing the joint at a glance. A minute later, he reported this to Flash when he sped past.
"I can return you to your home. However I cannot do it tonight, I will need what strength I can manage for the coming confrontation. If I survive the night I will send you home. Remain here, I will return."
Dr. Fate was informed of what little the Heroes knew.
Ten minutes later, a van rolled up to the left side of the building and idled. The back door of the van slid open from the inside and the Heroes From ... their dark alley across the street? The neighboring roof? saw a half-dozen men in trenchcoats and wide-brimmed hats emerge from the back.
I think I said alley. But I think I just sorta said that with no reasoning, so if someone else wants to push for a rooftop or somewhere else, I won't object.
"Not much has happened yet, Fate. It looks like someone cased the joint a few minutes, but they didn't stop."
Once the men in trenchcoats and hats appear:"Well, those guys couldn't look more like low rent thugs and henchmen if they walked off the lot of a Republic picture. Are we still following the same plan, try to isolate some goon and replace him with me?"
I'm fine with the alley; I only meant that you had 10 minutes to get into position somewhere else if you wanted to.
As the Heroes watched, it became clear that there were more mobsters still in the back of the van. The six who had already emerged were carrying crowbars and, in one of their hands, a bundle of dynamite sticks. They moved to the front door of the warehouse quickly and began prying it open.
As the Heroes kept watching, they saw the mobsters break open the door to the warehouse. The sticks of dynamite were carried inside by four of the mobsters, while one stood in the doorway and the sixth stood by the back of the van talking to the people still inside it.
"I agree," the Sandman hisses. "This might throw all of our plans out of whack, but if they are willing to simply blow up the building, we cannot allow that to happen. Flash, it might be best if you focus on removing the dynamite while Fate and I put the rest of the gangsters out of commission. What do you think, Fate? Is there any way to salvage our original plan?"
Fate turns his gaze on the mystery man. "The destruction of the building is a small matter. If fact it suits our plan perfectly. I can create a pantasm that will fool X's men that we entered the warehouse. While they are distracted by the explosions it will be simple for you to replace one of the central casting thugs while the Flash and myself will follow unobserved. It is an abandoned building and there is little chance that the fire will spread."
Thinking Sandman in the truck. Flash doing a front tail and Fate using invisibility to hitch a ride on the roof of the truck. We get a ride to the hq for the cell X used for this job and if ere are lucky there is a link there to X.
Though Sandman and Flash seemed skeptical, they waited for four minutes while the mobsters worked their mischief inside. Then they threw the heroes a loop again by not blowing up the building. Or at least, not yet. The mobsters came back out, without the dynamite, and the building was fine. A minute later, a second van came speeding down the street towards the warehouse.
"As I thought, they are waiting for us. This second group may be here simply to delay us long enough for the bombs to go off. Time to get to work gentlemen. Sandman I suggest you and Flash target the bomb group. They were trusted with explosives and may rank higher than the new group."
With that Fate prepares a spell to vanish from the sight of men pausing to give the other mighty JSA members time to reply.