"Oliver Queen, alias Green Arrow. You have been granted parole." Ollie stood firm; there were terms and conditions attached.
"Your continued freedom is granted on the following conditions," continued the parole officer. "One: You are to register with your local police station and check in every Monday and Thursday. Two: You may not possess or handle any weapon. Three: You are not to commit any anonymous or costumed vigilante activities. Four: You may not have controlling interest in any company. And finally and most importantly, you are not to make any statements critical of the Justice Lords. You will be given a weekly government allowance of three hundred dollars until you find work. Do you understand?"
"Good. Then sign here." Ollie scribed his signature, the one that had once approved million-dollar agreements, on the two copies of his bail conditions. The officer rose and shook his hand. Weak grip. "Next!" he called, as Ollie walked out the door, sports bag in hand, to what passed for freedom these days.
A minibus was waiting outside. Ollie climbed aboard and sat down in front of a red-haired guy in his mid-thirties. Ollie vaguely recognised him from a couple of propaganda lessons, but had never spoken to him.
"Hey," the guy said after a few minutes.
"I'm Jay. Jay Garrick."
"So, what were you in for Ollie?"
"Speaking out against the Justice Lords. You hear about that march in Coast City four years ago? I helped organise that. Gave me five years, but I got a year off when I helped out during the Thanagarian invasion."
"Wow, that's serious."
"So how about you, Jay?"
"Oh, nothing so impressive. I just got two years for distributing banned literature."
"Oh yeah? Like what? Plato's Republic, Émile...?"
"Justice Guild of America."
Ollie turned around in his seat. "Wait, seriously? They locked you up for giving out old comics?!"
"Yup. I wasn't even trying to start anything, I just thought my postgrads might like to see the comics my dad read with me when I was a kid. Turns out that particular brand of heroism can lead to revolutionary ideas."
Ollie sat back in his seat and laughed bitterly. So this was what the world had come to. Superman had declared it illegal even to read comics from the 50s.
The bus left him in the city centre, Jay's address in his pocket. Ollie agreed seven tomorrow for a drink, and the two parted ways.
Even if the Justice Lords hadn't seized his house along with his assets, Ollie would have had to sell it anyway, as his new income was nowhere near enough to maintain such a dwelling. Fortunately, he'd managed to secure an apartment near the city centre a couple of weeks before his parole was finalised. It was small, but clean and came with some basic furniture, which was good for only a hundred and fifty dollars a week.
The first thing he noticed when he walked into the building was that the junk mailers had wasted no time in targeting him. His mailbox already had five envelopes in it promising discount pizzas, that he might have won a million dollars... and there was one addressed to him by name, handwritten, in a plain envelope. He tossed the rest and took that one up to his new home.
The letter appeared to be from the residents' association, welcoming him to the building. Someone had written it on a typewriter, and that person was evidently a poor speller.
Dear Mr. Queen,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to you're new aportment. Here at Bluestone Towers, we enjoy our peace and quiet, so if you like to party, please show consideration to the other residents and keep the noise down. Hopefully this won't be a problem, and if you yourself are buged by anyone, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Water, heat and electricity are included in your rent. There is a laundry room on every odd-numbered floor; you are free to use any one you like, but do be aware there may be people ahead of you. A wash costs $4, and a dryer is another $3.
As well as yourself, we have received several other new residents recently. As such, there will be an informal get-together on Friday evening in the foyer where you will be able to mete your new neighbors. I hope you can have a chat with mee then!
If you need food or other supplies, there is a convenience store on Clarense Street which is open from sics every day, and a supermarket on Eagle Streat which opens from 8 to 8 (twevle hours a day) except Sunday.
Garbage day is Thursday - I don't anticipate you'll have much to throw away tommorow, but in future, be sure to separate your recyclable and non-recyclable rubbish. As Wonder Woman says, we have to keep the planet clean!
Joe Anderson, building superintendent
Apt. 001, ext. 001
This Joe seemed... wait. Something was off. He misused the word 'you're' at the start of the letter, but had it right later on. It couldn't be... could it?
Ollie looked again at the misspelled words. "you're aportment buged mete mee sics Clarense Streat twevle tommorow". It was the same code he'd used when the Justice Lords had begun cracking down on unauthorised gatherings - using misspellings to conceal hidden messages. Was it someone he had worked with come to bring him into some new movement? Or perhaps an agent of the Lords themselves, trying to test him.
Either way, it was worth checking out. All he had to do was be non-committal until he could discern this person's intentions.
Six Clarence Street had once been an Internet café, but there was now a faded 'For Rent' sign in the window. A bus shelter gave Ollie some relief from the drizzle that had been going since last night.
A few minutes after he waved a bus along, a slightly beat-up sedan pulled up alongside him. Inside were two men. The driver was wearing a navy suit, blue trenchcoat, gloves, and fedora, but the most noticeable thing about him was his face - specifically, the fact that he didn't have one. Where there should have been eyes, nose, and a mouth, there was just a blank expanse of skin.
The other was a normal-looking man in a dark grey suit. He was well-built and had a strong, chiselled face. He held himself very still and had very alert, piercing eyes. Probably ex-military.
"Green Arrow?" asked the faceless man somehow, in spite of not having a mouth.
"Not any more. I'm just Oliver Queen now."
"Hop in. We'd like to talk to you," said the soldier. Ollie opened the back door and sat down. What else was there to do?
"Mind telling me who you are?" he asked when faceless man set off again.
"Name's Flag. Colonel Flag," said the soldier. Ollie's guess had been right, but still...
"Colonel Flag? Seriously?"
"That's right. It's a good name for a patriot, don't you think?"
"Hmm. And what about you, man with no face?"
"I'm known as the Question. Tell me, what do you think of the Justice Lords?"
"They're certainly keeping crime down," said Ollie carefully.
"How does it feel to be out of prison?" asked Flag.
"I like eating real food again. Went to a Burger Fool last night, and compared to prison food, it tasted like finely-matured Kobe beef. Also, I have a new appreciation for normal clothes."
"You follow the news while you were inside?"
"Sure did. Civil war in Kasnia, EU at loggerheads with the Justice Lords over super soldier programmes, senate subcommittee investigating possible shadowy government operations, Lords forcibly registering metahumans and vigilantes the world over... world's been even more of a mess ever since we beat the Thanagarians."
"You hear any modern pop music while you were doing time?" asked the Question
"You mean the stuff praising the Justice Lords? I think the kids who make that need some practice with the technical aspects."
The Question pressed a couple of buttons on the dashboard. The locks went down while a glass screen went up between the front and back seats.
"Hey, what is this?!" demanded Ollie, banging on the glass. "What the heck are you doing?" But it was too late. He already felt sleepy, and after a few seconds, consciousness faded completely.