Friday, November 19, 2010

Earth-349: The Secret Six

Disclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical world within the pre-Crisis
DC Universe. The DC Universe is owned by DC Comics, Inc. This story also
makes use of characters and concepts owned by other publishers. The use of
these copyrighted elements is done only for the amusement of the author and his
readers, and is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.

Disclaimer #2: This story is not recommended for persons under the age
of 18, or the easily offended, especially for those who are uncomfortable with
themes such as organized crime and serial polygamy.

The Galaxy Broadcasting System’s headquarters building houses most of
the network’s Gotham City facilities, which are much more extensive than they
were when it was merely the Gotham Broadcasting System. Even so, the network
does not take up all of the building’s 55 floors.

The entire 49th floor is leased by Sigma-Hex Associates. They are not listed
on the building directory in the lobby, and only the freight elevators stop at
the 49th floor. Their lease indicates that they are a firm of security
consultants, but once they had promised not to handle toxic chemicals nor to
store large quantities of cash or portable valuables on their premises, Galaxy
Properties did not inquire too closely into what its tenants did.

On March 2nd, 1968, two people met in one of the smaller offices in the
Sigma-Hex suites. They hunched over a conference table, their heads close
together, since in spite of the ambient noise that permeated the entire floor
they did not want to turn up the sound on the small tape recorder between them.

One of the listeners would have been instantly recognized by anyone in
the country. Phil Ochs had been a celebrity as a musician even before his
agent had tried to kill him with a faked drug overdose, and turned him into the
toxic avenger known as Poison Oak.

The other was not so famous among the general public, but like Ochs was
well-known to the law enforcement community. Wynona Hudson was the daughter of
a 1920s film actress, and claimed that her father was Wyatt Earp (she sometimes
called herself Wynona Earp). That might or might not be true, but there was no
doubt that she was also known as Deadshot, and was wanted for far more felonies
than was Ochs.

They were not trespassing – they really were Associates of Sigma-Hex,
although they more commonly referred to their organization as the Secret Six.

Poison Oak had retrieved the recorder from the large primary conference
room, the one where the group usually had their general meetings. They hoped
it had recorded the conversation which their colleague Thomas Blake, otherwise
known as the Cheshire Cat, had just had with their leader, whom they knew only
as Mockingbird, and who claimed to be one of them.

The Cheshire Cat was not one of “Gotham’s Most Wanted”, not to be
mentioned in the same breath (followed by spitting) as the Joker or Two-Face,
but he was a wanted criminal with multiple outstanding warrants against him in
Gotham and in several other large Eastern cities.

He was not, as rumor would have it, sexually obsessed with Catwoman,
nor with the Mad Hatter. He also did not have powers of invisibility or
teleportation, nor was he in possession of a panther-skin belt which granted
him superhuman agility and the traditional nine lives of a cat.

He was not terribly prepossessing: short, thick-bodied, with curly hair
and chubby cheeks. Taken all in all, he looked rather like the actor Michael
J. Pollard. In costume, he looked like Michael J. Pollard in a tabby striped
body stocking and cat-eared mask.

Ochs pressed the Play button and the tape reels, the size of silver
dollars, began to turn. Ochs nodded, satisfied with the sound quality.

One voice was clearly Blake’s. The other was one they had all heard
often enough, the buzzing voice of their boss, who spoke to them only by
telephone or recorded message, his or her voice always disguised by an
electronic filter.

“Do you know why this group has six members?”


Mockingbird ignored the mockery.

“I was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the war. They held me for
two years in a camp on the island of Bensalem in the Philippines. We learned,
after a few months, that we needed to live in groups of six: two to scrounge
for food and medical supplies, one to guard our stash, and one to look after
the two who, at any given time, were sick.

“If there were more than six in a group, they couldn’t gather enough
food for all of them. If there were fewer, then not all of the work would get
done, and they’d starve or die from disease. We had to live in sixes.

“I developed a theory from that experience, that in any given field of
endeavor, there was an optimum size for a team. Most of the time, it didn’t
really matter whether a team was slightly too large or small, because there was
a margin for error. But in situations like a prison camp, or a war zone, or a
police patrol, deviating from the optimal number can result in needless death
and in mission failure.

“I studied groups like this one, both law-abiding and law-breaking,
very intensively for two years before forming my own. I am convinced that it
needs to be a group of six, and a mix of genders, and encompassing certain
skills and abilities. And I repeat: I am convinced that the number and makeup
of the group is responsible for its success.”

There was a long pause, in which nothing at all could be heard.

“Blake, since the Secret Six was first formed three years ago, it has
had fifteen members, losing eight after between two years and two months.”

“Yes. Of the original group, only Deadshot and myself remain.”

Deadshot looked up to see if Ochs was eyeing her. The fact that only those two
remained did not eliminate the later-arrived members from consideration: they’d
found clues that suggested some of the more recent members had used someone
else’s identity. A couple of them had never even unmasked in their presence.
But she and Blake were the leading suspects, of course. Assuming that
Mockingbird wasn’t just mindfucking them with the claim of being one of the Six.

“That’s right. And of our nine losses, two were by death, one by disability,
one by voluntary resignation and five due to pregnancy.”


“And of those five pregnancies, all of them have been your responsibility.”

“Yes, well, it’s something I do. Something I like to do. I’ve been doing it
since I was thirteen years old.”

“Having sex with women?”

“Fathering children. It’s why I became the Cheshire Cat in the first place,
after I’d used up my own money.”

“Yes, settling a trust fund on each child. A need for a large income is a good
strong motivation, one that makes it easier to predict your behavior and makes
me feel secure in having you on the team.”

“Only now you have a problem with it, apparently.”

“Not with making babies per se, but when you do it with teammates, and thus
take them out of the game, that becomes a problem.”

“Well, you don’t have to retire a team member just because she’s pregnant. I
mean, it’s usually not a big problem until the third trimester, and for the
first few months afterward.”

“My policies are my own business, Mr. Blake, and they are not up for
negotiation. If you don’t like them, you are free to leave the group, but I’d
much rather you stayed. You are a very valuable asset.”

“But you want me to stop knocking up my teammates.”

“Yes. Surely there are other women upon whom you could bestow…trust funds.”

“And if I don’t knock it off, you’ll have me neutered, I suppose.”

“Of course not. I respect your abilities far too much to want to make you an
enemy for life.”

Blake chuckled, and continued in an odd tone of voice that gave Ochs the

“Oh, I don’t know. If I thought I was facing a threat like that, I’d do
anything to prevent it, as though my life were at stake. But once it was done
and there was nothing I could do about it, who knows? After all, neutered cats
are healthier and live longer.”

“That’s as may be,” Mockingbird continued, in a tone that suggested he too
found Blake’s comments rather creepy, “but in any event, that was not my
intention. If you won’t agree to stop impregnating my team, I will fire you
immediately, and the same if you, er, violate those terms.”

“All right,” Blake said uncertainly, “I can agree to that, except….”

“You need not concern yourself about whether to break it off with Iron-Fisted
Kate – she learned this morning that she is pregnant, and has already been
informed that she will have to leave the team. But there must be no more after
her – is that understood?”

“Yes, Mockingbird, I understand. And yes, I will abide by your . . .
regulation in this matter.”

“Thank you. That is a considerable relief to me. You really are a valuable
member of this group. Good day.”

There was a brief rushing sound which might have been a door opening on a
drafty corridor or an elevator shaft, and then silence until they heard Blake
push his chair back and go through the door.

“Huh,” Hudson said when Ochs had turned the machine off. “That was
interesting, in a gossipy sort of way, but it doesn’t really put us any closer
to knowing who Mockingbird is.”

“Further, I’d say. For one thing, Mockingbird’s story about being in a PoW
camp contradicts what he told me once about having been in the OSS, and
spending most of the war with a Jewish partisan group in Poland.”

“No kidding? Mesmero told me Mockingbird had told him that she’d been too
young for the war, but had gone to Korea with her brother, who died there.”

“Mockingbird lies a lot.”

“That’s true enough.”

“Well, at least I know this much,” Ochs said firmly: “that I’m not
Mockingbird, and Blake isn’t. That just leaves you, Kate, Juan and the chick
in the black hood.”

“Unless of course Blake was sitting there talking into a filtered
microphone, either to deceive us or because he’s even more cracked than we

Ochs sighed.

“I wish you hadn’t said that.”

“Well, at least you’re still sure about yourself, I suppose.”

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