Author's Note: Some time ago, I started wondering what it's like to be a new member of the JLU serving your very first shift on Monitor Duty. I started typing out some ideas which became a very rough draft. Then I let them sit for a long time. Recently I opened up that file again and decided to turn it into a real story. It's set a couple of weeks after the episode "Dark Heart."
As you read this story, just remember one thing. The "good Doctor Light" is a Japanese woman who appeared in JLU episodes occasionally, but got precious little in the way of dialogue and character development. Basically: if you could recognize her at a glance from previous experience (reading comics books, presumably), that was fine; but if you didn't already know who she was, then you were out of luck!
She should not be confused with the "bad Doctor Light," the Caucasian guy who was a recurring villain in the Teen Titans animated series. It suddenly occurred to me that if I just said "Doctor Light" in the text below and left it at that, some readers might visualize the wrong person and become bewildered!
One Night on Monitor Duty
This was it. His chance to hold the fate of modern civilization in his hands, to have top-secret data from everywhere in the world at his fingertips, to direct the activities of dozens of heroes good and true . . .
In other words, Booster Gold was finally getting his first crack at monitor duty!
After a long talk about what had happened that night when Mordru was stomping around wreaking havoc and Booster was supposed to be on crowd control, but had gotten sidetracked, Batman had finally conceded that a scientist walking around with a black hole stuck in his chest was a tad more urgent than crowd control duty. On the other hand, he'd very pointedly suggested Booster hadn't tried nearly hard enough to communicate the gravity of the situation to J'onn J'onnz right away, so as to see if a couple of other Leaguers could be spared from the Mordru problem to help deal with the other impending catastrophe.
(Booster had wondered if that was some sort of joke. Any situation which involved a black hole was, by definition, one with tremendous gravity . . . but looking closely at the set of Batman's jaw, he'd decided not to ask.)
At any rate, a week later Batman and J'onn J'onnz had made time to run Booster through a training session on how to use the various controls and screens present in the monitor room, so that when the time came, he'd know how to keep people informed of what they needed to know to do their jobs, without bothering everyone else with details totally irrelevant to their own current missions at times when they really wouldn't appreciate noisy distractions.
Booster had pointed out that Skeets, his constantly-present robotic sidekick, was much more suited to manage the technical side of these things than he was, but Batman had insisted that it was dangerous to let yourself become too dependent on any single tool, even if it was a loyal AI designed and built a few centuries in the future. Booster could use Skeets as an aide, but should not sit back and let the robot do all the work in opening and closing channels, et cetera.
At last they had pronounced his mastery of the software and protocols to be sufficient for doing one trial shift on monitor duty.
Tonight was the night!
A pity that the rest of the world didn't seem to regard tonight as anything special, though.
Thirty minutes ago Booster Gold had showed up in the monitor room to relieve Elongated Man, who had brought him up to speed on two ongoing missions and then said there really wasn't much to worry about tonight.
Ralph Dibny hadn't been kidding. The last half hour had been lots of . . . nothing.
Staring at display screens, yes, and listening to news feeds to pass the time, and presumably there were individual crimes being committed like clockwork in every nation on Earth, but none of them the sort of high-profile thing which required mobilizing the resources of the Justice League to squash flat. Most of the time it was best to let local law enforcement personnel do their own jobs . . .
How was a man supposed to get credit for masterminding the defeat of a genocidal threat if no such thread was kind enough to manifest itself? You couldn't even count on those lazy supervillains to go on a proper rampage when you needed them to!
Then things started to look up.
"Booster? Captain Atom. What's the melting point of titanium armor? This killer robot isn't going to stop until it's a puddle!"
"Tell him, Skeets."
Skeets started providing technical data over the commlink. Booster went back to glancing from one screen to another, hoping something interesting would—
"Tower? This is Crimson Avenger. I'm about to investigate reports of something screwy in an abandoned church. Haunted, maybe. I want radio silence for the moment, but if I don't call back within a quarter hour, please send someone around to check up on me."
"Roger that, Crimson Avenger. Got your GPS coordinates . . . and the clock is ticking!"
"Booster? It's John. The Guardians are summoning every GL from this half of the galaxy to converge at Beta Hydri—on the double! So I'm afraid someone else will have to finish dealing with the volcanic eruptions in Wisconsin."
"The what? There aren't any volcanoes in Wisconsin."
"Ten minutes ago you would've been right. Amazing how fast these things can change. Gotta fly! Over and out!"
"Uh . . . okay. Tower calling Superman. Come in, Superman. Are you available for some volcanoes in Wisconsin?"
"Sorry, Booster. I've been exposed to something called Krimson Kryptonite and I'm pretty much useless right now. Don't count on me until further notice."
Booster hit a big red button on the console. "General Alert! General Alert! GL and Superman are both unavailable. With that in mind, who among us is ready, willing, and especially able to handle the volcanic eruptions in Wisconsin?"
Flash answered first. "Is that a joke, Booster? There aren't any volcanoes in Wis—"
"That was my line, but John Stewart swears to 'em! And now I've got thermal imagery coming in to confirm it! Again, who's up for this one?"
Flash countered: "Depends on the exact mission statement. Are we supposed to snuff 'em out somehow, or just evacuate civilians and let nature take its course for awhile?"
Booster chewed on that for a couple of seconds before responding. "I'm not clear on how much human life is in imminent peril. They aren't erupting right outside Milwaukee or Madison. Sizing up the danger is a place to start. Blocking any lava currently flowing toward populated areas would also be good. If someone knows a way to make a volcano go dormant or completely disappear in a hurry, speak up! Failing that, prepare to evacuate people! Since we don't know why these volcanoes appeared out of nowhere, I can't gauge the odds of our being able to make them go away anytime soon. Which raises another point. We need a second team to concentrate on the investigative side. Who triggered the volcanoes in the first place?"
"I'm up for the investigation," The Question's voice said immediately.
"I'm up for rapid-fire digging or evacuation," Flash chimed in.
Captain Atom said, "I'll be available in about two min—" KABOOM!
Booster turned down the volume as the thunderous explosion sounded from the Captain's end. After a few seconds, the metal-skinned hero's voice resumed. "Huh. That robot's armor was thinner than I expected. Make that: 'I'm available now.'"
Then a warm feminine voice said, "Send me in, coach! I never tackled a volcano before, but there's no time like the present! My magic ought to be able to help somehow! Especially if it turns out somebody else's magic started this in the first place!"
Booster had to glance at a display to see that the last transmission had come in from Zatanna's communicator. He'd never actually conversed with her till now, although he'd seen her in passing and remembered vividly how those long legs looked in those stockings . . . he shook that thought aside.
"Okay, authorizing top-priority teleports for Captain Atom, Flash, and Zatanna to the affected area in Wisconsin. Call if you need someone else's special abilities to get the job done." He pushed buttons and let the Tower's support staff take it from there.
Then he added, still on the general frequency: "Question, before we teleport you anywhere, let's talk about back-up. If you follow a trail straight to the Big Bad behind this, you might need some help before those other three have finished with the lava. Who else is available for detective work?"
Doctor Mid-Nite said, "I just came home and tuned in. Give me a minute to pull on my fighting togs."
B'wana Beast said, "If there's a physical trail to be followed, I'm your man! Even if there ain't, the local fauna might've seen something!"
Booster made more arrangements at his console. "Okay, you three guys will concentrate on tracing the chain of cause-and-effect. I suggest you give Zatanna a few minutes to study the scene before you go running off into the wild blue yonder; her magic might be able to tell you something about the nature of the quarry. Question, you lead the investigative team. Now patching you through to the teleport bay. Just tell them where you and your current helpers need to go."
He wished he could be down there himself, hunting whoever was setting off eruptions in Wisconsin—but his job tonight was to delegate and coordinate; not to abandon this post. So he had just assigned six heroes to work on the problem from two angles at once. He leaned back in his chair, feeling a bit like a true leader—then he saw the flashing lights which meant that three other Justice Leaguers had been placed on hold while he was talking about the volcanoes.
He pushed a button that would automatically connect him to whoever was next in the queue. "Watchtower. Go ahead!"
"Booster? Nemesis. I was planning to infiltrate a League of Assassins cell as freelance hit man Tommy Monaghan, but I just found out he died recently. They probably know that too. I need an alternative. Has the Watchtower got any audiovisual recordings of what Deadshot looks like in plainclothes?"
Booster signalled Skeets to download whatever Nemesis needed, and pushed the "Next" button again. "Go ahead!"
"Dove speaking. Hawk and I have a touchy situation! Killer Frost is standing next to the local reservoir and threatening to freeze the entire thing solid, including all the water in all the pipes leading away from here into the nearest city. Causing huge damage to civic infrastructure, hampering firefighting efforts, et cetera. Could even kill some people. Unless, of course, we promise to back off and give her a two-hour head start for her escape. My question is: can her powers do that, or is she just bluffing to keep my brother from stomping her into the ground?"
"Uh . . . hold on a moment."
Booster looked helplessly at Skeets, who obligingly said, "As of the last time her powers were analyzed when she was in federal custody . . . she cannot freeze things on such a huge scale, or not fast enough to matter!"
"Did you hear that, Dove?"
"Yes. Okay, bro, let's politely explain to her that—"
Dove's voice broke off. After a few moments he came back on the air, saying regretfully, "Well, Hawk handled it his way. I'm reasonably certain she won't wake up before we have her in power-inhibiting restraints at the prison hospital."
The next caller was Doctor Light.
"Booster! I've got to get this captured time machine set properly so I can follow an extreme nationalist into the past! But whoever built this contraption was lazy. He only calibrated it to accept the total number of days you want to jump ahead or back—I can't just type in a precise date. So remind me! What's that tricky rule for whether or not every hundredth year is also a leap year?"
With his own time-traveling background, he didn't even need to ask Skeets about that one. "Gregorian calendar? Most century years do not have the extra day in February, but a multiple of 400 does." (Booster refrained from pointing out that every 4,000th year was an exception to the exception. Since Doctor Light wasn't planning to travel forward in time, much less anywhere near C.E. 4,000, it was irrelevant.)
"Thanks. While I was waiting in your queue, I already calculated how many days I'd need if every fourth year were a leap year. Now I just fine-tune that number. Relevant years are 1900, 1800, and 1700 . . . reduce my estimate by three days . . . and I'm good to go! Battle of Sekigahara, here I come!"
Her voice faded out—just as Skeets said brightly, "Sir, the battle of Sekigahara transpired on October 20, 1600, according to an Encyclopedia Britannica article I just accessed."
"Do you think Doctor Light has already remembered to factor the great calendar shift into her calculations?"
Booster frantically searched his memory, then gave up and asked, "What great calendar shift?"
"Well, sir, you may recall that the English-speaking world only adopted the use of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, with the result that September 2nd was immediately followed by September 14th."
He hadn't remembered. He still wasn't sure of the relevance. "Skeets, she's in Japan, not England! The samurai armies fighting at Sekigahara weren't using British calendars in their record-keeping, so does it really matter?"
"It might, sir. If her calculations were based on her memory of the date of that battle as described in an English-language resource, then it would probably be the date according to the old Julian calendar which England was still using in the year 1600, ignoring Pope Gregory XIII's recent efforts to get the calendar and the solar year better synchronized. So Doctor Light might end up a full 11 days further back than the date of the historical turning point which she apparently believes her enemy wishes to reshape!"
Booster thought that over and then shrugged as he observed that the displayed list of currently-active communicators did not include the good Doctor's. "Well, Skeets, not much we can do about it now. She's no longer in this era to take our calls. And arriving eleven days early and then waiting around is a heck of a lot better than arriving eleven days too late to nip some time-tampering in the bud! Besides, maybe she also remembers what the exact date of the battle was by . . . uh . . . whatever calendar system her Japanese ancestors actually used in those days—don't bother telling me. If she just asks a local farmer what day it is, she'll be able to correct her error in a jiffy!"
"All that may be true, sir, and I'm sure the lady will do an admirable job of preventing her current adversary from rewriting four centuries of Japanese history in the blink of an eye, but I fear you still do not see all the possible ramifications of the problem."
"Sooner or later she will return to the present. What if she is angry at you for giving flawed advice?"
"Um. With any luck, I'll be off-duty by the time she gets back . . . hold on, what's this?"
Something was flashing on another screen. Booster stared at it for a moment. Oh, yeah. The Crimson Avenger had been out of contact for fifteen minutes, thirty-four seconds and counting. He touched a control. "Crimson Avenger? Come in, Crimson Avenger! Did those rumors pan out?"
No answer . . .
"Swell. Protocol says: send in some backup! Who's on call tonight and doesn't already have his hands full?"
He found the correct display and clicked with a mouse to re-sort the names according to whether or not they were currently on missions. Uh huh . . .
"Gypsy? This is Booster Gold, monitor duty. Crimson Avenger was poking around in an abandoned church where scuttlebutt had it something weird was happening. He failed to check in at the agreed-upon time. Are you up for turning invisible and reconnoitering the area?"
He made the arrangements for her to be teleported up to the Tower and back down to where the Avenger had called from, then studied the master display again. Okay, everything now seemed to be under control—
"Booster? Nemesis again. Has the Watchtower got any audio files of Ra's al Ghul's voice? I know I've got the look down pat, but I need to hear the fellow speak before I spring 'a surprise inspection' on some of his people."
Booster had Skeets handle the download. With that commenced, he could take another call . . .
"Booster? Black Canary. Do you happen to know where Green Arrow is right now?"
"Not offhand. He's not on the duty roster tonight. If you need some extra muscle in a hurry, I think I can send, uh, Rocket Red or—"
"No! I mean, I'm off duty as well. I suddenly thought if our favorite Robin Hood impersonator wasn't busy either, maybe he and I could, y'know, get together and find a way to enjoy the otherwise boring peace and quiet of our mutual downtime?"
Booster wasn't sure he was understanding the nuances of her roundabout phrasing. He wasn't sure he wanted to, either, so he didn't ask. "Stand by. Putting you on hold." He manipulated controls and activated Green Arrow's communicator. "Arrow? You busy?"
After several seconds a growl came back at him. "This better be earth-shattering, Booster. I'm supposed to be relaxing tonight."
"Oh!" Booster slapped his forehead, forgetting Green Arrow wouldn't be able to see that. "Should've said I'm not calling about work. Just passing along a personal message."
The archer's voice sounded a tad warmer. "Okay, then. Guess it won't kill me to listen. Shoot!"
Booster said quickly, "Black Canary is holding on another line. Apparently she's also off-duty tonight, and feeling bored, and for some reason she thought you might be in the same boat—"
Green Arrow cut in. "Not bored, no. I'm in civvies in a pool hall in Star City, waiting to play the winner of the next game. Does the pretty bird ever shoot pool?"
"I have no idea. But if you want me to patch her through, you can ask her yourself."
A moment later Green Arrow and Black Canary were chattering away about their present locations and plans for the evening. After a minute Canary requested the Watchtower teleport her over to a back alley just outside the aforementioned pool hall. Then she'd circle around and walk in like a normal patron.
Booster authorized it and then hung up on them.
"Skeets, that was silly. Do they think a guy on monitor duty has nothing better to do with his time than run a dating service for lonely superheroes?"
"Not really what the natives of this era would call a full-blown dating service, sir. Ms. Black Canary was not asking you to set her up on a blind date because she couldn't find any good prospects on her own. She was just asking you, as a friend, to give her some information about a specific mutual friend's current circumstances so she herself could then ask him—"
Booster cut him off. "Thank you, Skeets, that's very . . . comforting."
"I aim to please, sir."
Another voice sounded in his ear. "Booster? Nemesis. There's a neutron bomb somewhere in Manhattan—and that's all I know. Whom do we have who can detect neutron bombs?"
Captain Atom, maybe? Booster realized he hadn't heard anything from the volcano-fighters in Wisconsin for awhile. No, best not to jog their elbows.
Failing that, Rocket Red, Steel, and S.T.R.I.P.E. all wore high-tech armored suits . . complete with sensors which could come in handy. Booster ended up assigning Steel to the mission, and then looking over the displays before him to see if he'd lost track of anything.
Oh, yeah. "Gypsy? What have you found at the abandoned church?" He waited. And waited some more, not wanting to drown out her voice just as she started to react. Finally: "Gypsy, please acknowledge!"
She didn't. Her communicator seemed to be staying offline (or had it been destroyed?). Not good. Sending in one hero at a time just wasn't cutting it, so now they'd have to try a different approach.
Setting up this conference call was going to be tricky. Bring up a list of all members supposedly on duty or waiting on call tonight. Then start clicking on checkboxes so the channel he was about to use wouldn't make noises in the ears of those Leaguers who were already on a known assignment. The six in Wisconsin, for instance, and Nemesis and Steel with their hunt for a neutron bomb . . .
Finally he thought he had it configured properly.
"Hello, Justice Leaguers. We've now had two heroes in a row drop out of contact while investigating weird rumors about a certain building. Who's willing to be part of a task force—"
He broke off because he couldn't even hear himself talking any more. As soon as the general drift of the question became obvious, several voices—dozens, maybe?—had all started responding, fast and furious.
Booster finally cut the audio feeds for a few seconds so nobody on this channel could hear anybody else, then reactivated them and said firmly: "Slow down, people! Let me rephrase! I can see the list of everybody currently listening to my voice via your communicators. Anyone who isn't volunteering, perhaps because you've already got your hands full with something I don't know about, that you really shouldn't abandon, speak up so I can cross you off the list!"
He guessed nobody wanted to be the first to say they couldn't spare the time to check up on a few missing teammates. It was moments such as this that made a guy feel the recently-expanded League was actually developing some serious esprit de corps.
Booster studied the list of people currently logged in to this conference call, and made some fast decisions.
"All righty, then. Mister Terrific, I think we need an unmanned probe of the area before we send in any more heroes for someone to add to his collection. Use one or more T-spheres with live feed routed through to the Tower so we'll have a record in case anything bad happens on your end. You will also serve as field leader on this one. Since the problem may be magical, I'm assigning Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt to help. Plus Rocket Red, Plastic Man, and Ice. But don't hesitate to ask for any further support you may need."
Mister Terrific acknowledged, then he and his ad hoc task force selected a different channel so they could coordinate without spamming everyone else's communicators all the time.
Booster sat back and took a deep breath. He was already getting hopelessly nostalgic for the good old days—an hour ago?—when there had been nothing happening. Now he was supposed to coordinate everything at once, and if someone didn't get the extra support they needed as fast as they found out they needed it, people would die. On his watch.
Why had he ever wanted to do this?
By the time Crimson Fox showed up to relieve him in the monitor room, Booster's sleeves were soaked from the dozens of times he had wiped one arm or the other across his forehead to clear away the perspiration.
He gave her a rundown on matters of interest—for instance, the neutron bomb had been found and disarmed, the volcanoes had stopped erupting for the moment, and Felix Faust had been forced to return Crimson Avenger and Gypsy.
When he was done, he stood up—and winced. He hadn't dared budge from that chair for hours, and his knees had kinda gotten locked in position.
Booster staggered down a corridor into the League's main lounge and made for a soda pop dispenser. Carbonated beverages were one of those fads which had died out long before his native century, but right now he could use the sugar rush while he was rehydrating his body, and there was something amusing about all those little bubbles . . . he ended up carrying an armload of cold cans to a table.
Only one other hero was in the lounge. Vigilante was amusing himself with a deck of cards, playing some form of solitaire. With his usual tact, he glanced over at Booster and said, "Hombre, you look like somethin' the cat dragged in."
Booster finished gulping down the contents of the first can of soda before he bothered to reply. "My first time on monitor duty. I'd rather have taken my chances with the cat."
"Well . . . nobody died a violent death in any League-related incident, anyway. That's something." Booster thought about that for a moment. "Unless you count the rampaging robot melted by Captain Atom. Which I don't. No offense, Skeets."
"None taken, sir!" Skeets said from behind his left shoulder. "True artificial intelligences are far and few between in this era, and I am sure that robot didn't qualify."
Vigilante studied Booster carefully, keen eyes glinting above his bandanna mask. Booster simply didn't care; he drained the second can dry and popped open a third. Vigilante finally said, "You weren't sweatin' buckets just 'cause a robot got stopped cold in its tracks. What else was happenin' while I was catchin' some shut-eye before comin' up here?"
Booster started summarizing. Volcanoes where they didn't belong . . . time-traveling shenanigans . . . helping Nemesis impersonate people in the quest for a neutron bomb . . . Superman calling in sick . . . John Stewart being summoned away by the Guardians so he couldn't help either . . . two other heroes vanishing off the grid . . .
When Booster finally ran out of steam—having drained another soda or two along the way—Vigilante said: "Chin up, pardner. Coulda been a lot worse!"
"Really?" Booster popped open another tab.
"Why, sure! My first time on monitor duty, that was a real doozy! Some critter resemblin' a giant purple starfish was generatin' zillions of smaller copies of itself, and whenever they made contact with a person's hide, they took over the nervous system! I recollect you were off-duty that afternoon, but those 'starfish' (which didn't need to stay in water) were mind-controllin' least eight or nine members of the League afore someone figured out how to drive 'em off without hurtin' the hosts! I nearly wore my fingers to the bone, tryin' to push all those little buttons in time to get the word out to them as needed it fastest!"
Booster tried to envision that. "Okay, okay, you win. Your first shift was worse!"
"Yep, I reckon you had it purty easy! Just barely got your feet wet 'stead of bein' tossed in way over your head! Puts some hair on your chest before the day comes when you have to ride herd on a buncha us Justice League mavericks durin' a real calamity!"
Booster drained his fourth soda. (Or was it his fifth? He'd been throwing the empties across the room into a trashcan as he went along, so it was hard to tell.) "You really know how to encourage a guy, don't you, cowboy?"
"It's one of my definin' characteristics, amigo!"