#36: Little Pieces (Part 2 of 3) Sept 23, 2010 16:53:00 GMT -5
Post by markymark261 on Sept 23, 2010 16:53:00 GMT -5
The monster had been rendered powerless. Ineffectual. Broken and nothing, like ash on the wind after a forest fire was finally doused. Flecks of his being remained on Earth, flecks had taken themselves up into the sky, caught by solar winds high in the upper atmosphere, and then drifted silently toward the Sun, burning up under its burning gaze. The monster had been staked through the heart like all vampires should be, and the Justice League believed him defeated. ‘Him’. It. It had been defeated. But when time travel is involved, when one immensely-powerful creature powered by the stolen energy of souls and stars exists at two points at either end of the spectrum of reality... even in the vacuum of space, there was a fizzle and a pop. Inert cells began to vibrate. Buzz with so-called life.
The inanimate corpse stuff of Starbreaker exploded, high above Earth, as its future form shunted over the template of its past. Where it was once defeated, broken, unable to return to its complete form it was complete! Starbreaker had returned. Knowledge brimming in his mind. Twenty years more knowledge than those on Earth. Twenty years more knowledge on how to instill fear and lap up the terrified emotions that came from its presence.
Starbreaker smiled beneath the shadow of the moon, and turned its attention to the planet Earth far below.
Issue #36: “Collision Course”
Part Two: “Little Pieces”
Written by House Of Mystery
Cover by Eli Cadavona
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #36: “Collision Course”
Part Two: “Little Pieces”
Written by House Of Mystery
Cover by Eli Cadavona
Edited by Mark Bowers
“What are they doing?” asked Catman, uncomfortable at being told to sit down and stay quiet by a group of men and women he had no knowledge of. The Justice League of this era were but legends to him, and he had other heroes to worship, and this ‘big seven’ didn’t come into it.
“They are checking our story out,” said Arsenal, her hand placed on her half-brother’s shoulder. “Keep cool. We’re honest, we know we are, so it shouldn’t take long.”
“It might,” said Red Robin quietly, turning his attention to the wall on the east side of the building. He knew that it was an illusion, he knew that the Justice League were on the other side. He began to pace the floor, and smiled slyly as he did so. “Batman’s here. My thinking is that they’ve got the Martian Manhunter prying into our brains. Catman, they’ll struggle to get into your head, a trait you’ve inherited from your dad. And me, my mask... it’s anti-psychic meshing. But the rest of you... they’ll read you like books. That’s what we want.”
“Why don’t you take off your mask then?” said Starman. “Surely we can trust the Justice League?”
“Surely,” repeated Red Robin. He turned his back away from the illusionary wall, and his head bowed, his own teammates unable to read his expression.
Behind the wall, the Martian Manhunter’s eyes were shut as he read the thoughts of their future Justice League guests. Batman watched them move. Watched them fidget. He was reading their body language like a book. Superman scanned them on a molecular level. Guy Gardner’s ring went to work as well, and when The Flash suggested they call in Hal Jordan, Guy agreed with the suggestion.
“If what they said is true then I’d want Highball in on this,” admitted the red-haired former pilot. “Anyway, my ring checks them out. Supes, I’m sure you can see what my ring can see. They’re true in what they claim to be.”
“Their Superwoman...” started Superman, “their Superwoman is Kara Zor-El. She is. I can see it in her cells. But the amount of solar radiation in them... I can see it. Yes. Twenty years.” He turned to Batman. “I believe them, Batman.”
“You would,” said Batman without looking away, “I want Wonder Woman to use the lasso.” His brow furrowed. “On ‘Red Robin’. He’s not giving anything away. He’s a mystery to me. But the others... ‘Starman’, ‘Arsenal’, even that ‘Catman’... they’re all nervous, on edge. If what they say is true then it’s understandable. But after what happened with Lord Havok, I won’t take any chances with a team from another reality.”
“Or the future,” said Superman. “Though in my experience, teams from the future aren’t all inherently bad.”
“We could keep talking amongst ourselves,” said Wonder Woman, as she entered the darkened room, “or we could talk to them. If J’onn clears them, I won’t use the lasso, Batman. There’s no
“Really?” asked Batman. “They come into our house. Using a device connected to Lord Havok and the Extremists, and we’re supposed to trust that? Omens of doom, and a group of messengers from the future...” He paused and then headed out of the room. “I’ll be in Gotham. Call me if you need me. And only then.”
“Don’t you want to--?” started The Flash, but Batman was already gone, leaving the Justice League to confront their future counterparts. “I don’t know why I’m surprised.”
* * * * *
“I’m sure you weren’t expecting this,” said Red Robin, as the Justice League of the present stood before the Justice League of the future. “Not when you woke up this morning, not when you heard the alert. But here we are.”
“You’re right,” said Superman, “and you understand our concerns. Why we’re so apprehensive. We want to believe you…”
“It’s only been a few months since Lord Havok and his team attacked, hasn’t it? And the Black Colossus device we used to get here, the anchor that secured our landing… it’s technology from his Earth, not this one.”
“How did you manage that?” asked The Atom. By now there were well over a dozen heroes assembled, the extended Justice League of the present—Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, The Martian Manhunter and Guy Gardner, along with Doctor Light, Firestorm, The Atom, Hawkman, Animal Man and Blue Beetle—and the Justice League of the future—Aleea Strange, Arsenal, Catman, Superwoman, Mary Marvel, Starman and Red Robin himself.
“That was me,” said Aleea Strange. “I’m well versed in temporal mechanics, and it wasn’t too hard to adjust the Black Collossus to be a… well, it’s an engine that feeds itself. And instead of destroying reality like Lord Havok had it do before, instead of having it funnel that explosion back, the energy folded in on the core, and it was a… well, it focused the power we needed to pull ourselves back through Starbreaker.”
“I’m not happy about that development,” said Guy Gardner, “I know what these Suneaters are capable of, and this Starbreaker… he’s worse than the worst of them. If you came back, then what’s stopped him from coming back?”
“Nothing,” said Superwoman. “Rao preserve us, nothing has stopped him. We…” She turned to Red Robin. “We didn’t think--”
“We’re here now,” said Red Robin, “and we came with a warning. Starbreaker has been defeated before, and we can defeat him again, but you have to listen to us--” He approached Superman, and placed his hands on the Man of Steel’s shoulders. “You’ve got a monster in the basement and it’s going to get out. You have to stop it. You have to stop it from breaking the world.”
“What? A monster where?” said Hawkman, looking to Superman with a befuddled expression. Superman’s eyes answered the question. Yes. There was something. Yes, the rest of the League didn’t know. Yes. Lies. “Have you been keeping something from us, Superman?”
“We were going to tell you--” said The Flash.
“You...” Hawkman was going to continue but fell silent. “We’ll discuss this later.”
“Right, right...” Animal Man felt the hair on the back of his head prickle up. “If what you say is true… if you succeed, why are you still here? If you prevent your future, surely this never happened and you never had to come back, never had the thought…”
“Buddy,” said Red Robin, “you out of all of us here know about the dangers of time travel.”
“What?” asked the puzzled Animal Man. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Time broke down in your future, and we experienced the brunt of it. Multiversal leakage. People went mad. Rip Hunter, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle—I’m sorry, Mister Kord—people who made a name for themselves in hushed circles lost their minds. People who had exposed themselves to the time stream, to the Bleed itself, they couldn’t hold the information anymore. We lost any ability to get back.”
“I do what?” said Blue Beetle. “And how do you--?”
Starman cleared his throat. “Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are the multiverse’s foremost protectors of the time stream. This isn’t common knowledge, it’s information we gained only recently. But we know what you’re doing, sir. And you might want to bring Booster in on this… the walls of reality are buckling.”
“You do that?” asked Doctor Light, looking Blue Beetle up and down. “You actually travel through time?”
“Not all the time,” said Blue Beetle hesitantly. “Rip Hunter said we had to keep a low profile, had to make sure no one cottoned on. If people find out it’s us then what’s to stop them killing our great-grandfathers and making sure we were never born? I don’t know if I like you guys knowing that fact and sharing it so flippantly.”
“I’m sorry, but now isn’t the time for subtlety,” said Red Robin. “Atom, you’ve been doing work on the multiverse recently, and you need to share your findings right now or else--”
The entire Hall of Justice shook. The structure of the place creaked horrendously, and the Justice League were ready for an attack a moment later. Something had hit hard, and Guy Gardner’s ring spluttered information up from the centre of the jewel in the middle of it. “Something just tore through the upper levels and splashed down a couple of hundred meters away from the hull of the place. My ring didn’t even detect it until it landed. Not good.”
“Why not?” asked The Flash.
“Do you not listen to me? My ring is operating on silent constantly, scanning the atmosphere for alien incursion. I’m a Green Lantern, it’s my job. So if my ring didn’t detect a UFO piercing the sky, then it’s got one hell of a cloak, and either way, major power levels are involved.”
Superman nodded sharply. “Flyers, I want to know what hit. Flash, you evaluate the damage here.”
“We’re coming with you,” said Starman.
“Like Hell--” barked Guy Gardner.
Superman’s hand went up, and the Green Lantern fell silent instantly. “I trust these people. If you don’t--”
“Before you finish that sentence,” said Blue Beetle, shuffling from one foot to the other, “can I ask where Red Robin went?”
“And my brother!” interrupted Arsenal.
Catman landed hard on the concrete, and immediately took in his surroundings. The city was twisted and dark, and he had no idea of where he was. “I brought you here for a reason.”
“What?” Catman turned, and saw Red Robin standing on the edge of a rooftop, admiring the view. “What just happened?”
“The Justice League march into hell. Alone. No one to back them up. Who are the greatest threat to a would-be-world-conqueror?”
“Is this a pop quiz?” asked Catman, snidely.
“This is life and death,” retorted Red Robin. “Answer the question.”
Catman folded his arms impatiently. “The protectors. The Leagues, Societies, Outsiders and the Titans. The do-gooders.”
“And if the world-conqueror could overtake your mind? Turn you against your morals and your values, who would be his vanguard?”
“All of the above.”
“Yes, but… but…” Red Robin nodded. “Not all the Societies, Tom.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Justice League will need help. Just in case. If the world begins to fall, they’ll need an army, and I can’t convince a certain type of person to help out. But you… you could.”
“What do you mean?”
“Remember what I told you about your DNA allowing you access to a forbidden part of the world?”
“Sure, Santa… oh.” Catman felt things fall into place. “That’s… a tall order.”
“Of course it is. You’re in the Justice League, kid. Impossible missions all around.”
“And what’s yours?”
“I’m going to go convince a man who took an oath never to kill that the only way to save the world will be to, potentially, kill a god.”
“Huh,” mumbled Catman.
“Remember,” said Red Robin again, as he tapped his head, “visualize, and arrive. And remember that you’ll be landing in the middle of a nest of vipers.”
“Right at home, sir,” said Catman, as he blurred out of sight.
Hall of Justice:
“Sonofabitch teleported out, piggybacked our own technology,” said Guy Gardner. “Want me to go get him?”
“Can you get a location?” asked Animal Man.
“Sure thing--” said Guy.
“Then send me,” said Buddy, “I’ll handle Red Robin and his friend.”
“You won’t handle anyone,” said Arsenal, squaring up to Animal Man. “We came here to save you, don’t you threaten my--” The young marksman turned as she felt a warm hand touch her back. “Oh.”
“Sister, my compatriot meant no offense,” said Wonder Woman, “but you must understand our position. Now, your teammates’ presence is requested… Mary Marvel, Superwoman, Starman, Aleea, you all have the ability to fly, will you accompany us to the splash site?”
“Of course!” said Starman, before looking to his teammates for the OK. “I mean…”
“Arsenal,” said Doctor Light, “I can create a hard light platform for you, if you want to join us too.”
“Yes, umm, I’d like that,” said Lian Harper, awkwardly. “Sorry. I mean… my brother, my half-brother even, he’s a loose cannon and I’m always… I’m always looking out for him… I don’t want anything to happen on my watch.”
“I understand,” said Doctor Light. “Come on, we’ve got a mystery to solve, yes?”
Catman landed hard, the air in his lungs shunted out of him by the rough landing. He looked up at the sky, saw it tinged blue, and exhaled as he realized he was where he needed to be.
“Who the $%^& are you supposed to be?”
Thomas Blake, Jr. looked up at a familiar sight. “Oh, $%^&.”
Thomas Blake (Snr), the Catman of the present, looked down at his future son, a complete enigma to him, and drew his bowie knife out of its sheath. “You have ten seconds to explain what you’re doing here—in that costume—in my costume—before I slice you navel to neck and watch your insides fall out, kid.”
“You’re not going to believe this,” said Tom Blake.
“You’d be surprised,” replied Thomas.
“I’m… I’m your son. From the future. And you need to listen to me if you want to live beyond today.”
“You threatening me, kid? You expecting me to believe that $%^&?”
“Lex Luthor built this protective shield, didn’t he? He’s the one who designed the DNA configured defensive grid? Means that only certain people can get in and out. How could I get in here, Catman? How else could I get in here unless I was your son? Has your Doctor Malthus reported a fault? A problem with the system? No. I’m telling the truth. And your instincts are telling you just that. No spike in my heart rate despite the fact you’ve got a knife pulled on me. Think about it.”
“You…” said Catman, considering for a moment. His mind was racing. The passenger in the back of his head was whispering, and he tried his best to ignore it. “I’ve never known Lex Luthor to screw up something he’s put his mind to.”
“No, I don’t think he would.”
“You…” Catman paused. “I…”
Tom removed his mask, and held his arms open and wide. “You meet my mom for the first time next year. You mess around some, and then a year later things get serious. I’m seventeen, Dad. I’m seventeen and you died before I could walk. Excuse me if I don’t make much sense right now, you’re pretty much a ghost to me.”
“Who…” Catman looked at his knife, and then spun it around in his hand, sheathing it in one smooth movement, “who is your mom?”
“You sure you want me to spoil the surprise?”
Hall of Justice:
“The automated repair systems went to work immediately, sealed the hole up but good,” said Barry Allen, rushing around the upper levels of the Hall of Justice. “Cells are locked down, our special guest is still in stasis.”
Good, said J’onn, psychically. I’ve relayed the message to Kal... if what these visitors say is true we must be double vigilant.
“And what’s double infinitely?” pondered the Flash.
Not enough, said J’onn, and Barry heard the weariness in his thoughts. We’ve arrived at the splashdown point. High concentrations of cosmic radiation. Familiar readings, according to Lantern.
“Familiar how so?” asked the Flash.
Starbreaker, said J’onn.
“We’re sorry--” said Arsenal, “--we didn’t know. We didn’t know it would come back with us.”
“Let’s not assign blame,” said Hawkman. “If you have brought him down upon us, we shall stop him. It isn’t in our nature to back down from a fight, and regardless... I’ve wanted another crack at that vampire.”
“I can’t find him,” said Aquaman, surfacing from beneath the waves. Green Lantern emerged after him, covered in an emerald diving suit. “Whatever landed is long gone.”
“Then why the big entrance, and no follow-up?” asked Starman. “Why else would he land here, other than to start a fight?”
“Distraction?” said Superman. “Maybe he wants our eyes elsewhere.”
“Then why not land in Metropolis?” asked Mary Marvel. “Gotham. Paris, London, Moscow-- this doesn’t seem like the most logical course of--”
“The Hall,” said Superwoman suddenly, before shooting away from the investigation site. Starman and Mary Marvel followed immediately, on instinct, and then the present League went in hot pursuit.
“The Cell,” said Wonder Woman, “J’onn, tell Barry! Katar, Arthur, with me to Cell Zero!”
“He knows,” said J’onn. “Hurry!”
“Well, you certainly look uglier,” said the Flash, as Starbreaker rose up from the shadows in front of him. His scarlet skin shimmered, and the rest of his body, clad in obsidian robes, clung to the walls and the darkness like a second skin.
“Speedster, I remember you all. I remember your Justice League. I remember you dead and gone, in the future, and I remember the past, where you suffer forever,” hissed the vampire.
“Yeah, well, that’s all well and good, but I’m afraid you’re not going anywhere,” The Flash spun his arms around, twin vortexes forming and pushing Starbreaker back a step. The shadows flexed, and suddenly the vampire had dug in. “Stand down and give up, before--”
Superwoman and Starman broke in through the wall, and levelled their eyes and cosmic rods at the creature. “I thought about it,” said Theo Knight, “like my grandad would, and I realised... a cosmic rod for a cosmic vampire? That’d smart like nothing else. Do as the man says, you creep.”
“Whelps,” said Starbreaker, moving slowly, dipping low and ducking all around as more heroes flocked around. “Insolent, broken creatures. You, all of you, you die. Suffering. You save the world but then I come, and I kill, and I slaughter, how sad for you.”
“No-one’s dying,” said Superman.
“You do, Superman. And the rest of your friends. Leaving the world defenseless for what comes,” continued the vampire. “It’s delicious.”
“I don’t like this,” said Guy Gardner. “Energy readings are all over the place, can’t even get a proper target lock on his mass-- this isn’t right. Why’s he gloating?”
Keep scanning, said J’onn. His mind is a storm, I’m struggling too-- keep trying--
“My herald is imprisoned, is he not?” Starbreaker said, “Byth, my servant? No matter, you have brought me from a place where I was a burning star of power. And with that power-- I have no need for heralds. The cosmic flotsam of the universe becomes my clay.”
“I’ve got it! He’s not here! He’s projecting! I can’t get a lock on him because that’s not really him! Smoke and mirrors!” Guy’s ring exploded out and tore through the shadow form of Starbreaker, disappating him instantly.
“What world would serve me better?” echoed the disembodied voice of Starbreaker. “A world of light and happiness, where good conquers evil, where things like me are banished to the dark...? Or a hole in the universe, where humanity is enslaved by a dark force greater than your combined might? Where suffering is the only thing you feel! Hurt! Anger! Pain!”
“You won’t win,” said Starman defiantly. “We’ll stop you.”
“Drive light through my heart,” said the fading voice, “drain me of hate, of pain, of all the things that power me, and I will always return. But it, the thing I see on the horizon, he will destroy you all. Grind your souls to dust and your bodies to ash.”
“Lantern, do we have his location?” asked Superwoman.
“Multiple readings on the miasma of crap that makes up this freak-- Gotham, Metropolis, Fawcett City-- Coast City--” Guy’s ring was clicking loudly as more and more information was drawn out. “Smallville, Central and Keystone-- What is...”
“All those places,” said Starman. “We know those places, from the history books--”
“I’d hope so--!” said the Flash. “They’re our home cities-- What’s he doing?”
Starman shook his head. “No, no, those places, a few years ago, like, over twenty-three by our count, from where we’re from, they were the central locations, the beacheads, of the Apokolips invasion... Aleea, Starbreaker, he feeds on emotion, right? And all sorts of energy, yeah?”
“Yes,” said Aleea Strange, “he can dig up buried emotion, feed on it like a leech, and those places are scabs of festering hurt... Eight or more Starbreakers, constructs similar to the ones made by Green Lantern’s ring, and one of them the real deal-- is there any way to differentiate?”
“My ring is working through the readings, but it could take some time!” said Guy.
“Then we split up, teams of two, and we take the fight to each-- and the team that finds the true Starbreaker... calls for back up.”
“Sounds good,” said Mary Marvel. “Who’s with who?”
“Lantern and Arsenal, you take Coast; Mary, you and Diana take Gotham; Starman and Hawkman, you take Metropolis; Aleea, you and I will take Central City, and Firestorm, you take Keystone; Superwoman and Doctor Light, you’ll take Fawcett. Flash and Atom take Smallville; Beetle, get Booster on the wire and take New York; J’onn and Arthur, if you would stay here, make sure Cell Zero is protected?”
“Reasonable enough,” said Aquaman, “but what about Red Robin and Catman?”
“Animal Man tracked them to Gotham-- Batman is aware of the situation, it’ll be handled,” said the Martian Manhunter. “Mind-link has been extended to our guests. Justice League is go.”
Animal Man could smell Red Robin. For all the vigilante’s defenses, he couldn’t get rid of that olfactory stink that came with existence, and duplicating the sense of smell of a sniffer dog, Animal Man began to scurry across the rooftops. Then he stopped. The smell got strong, so close, and he was suddenly aware that he wasn’t alone.
“Red Robin-- we need to know what’s going on--” he said, calling out. “Come back in, alright?”
“What’s a Red Robin?” asked a young man, as he stepped out from the shadows. “I’ve been following you, Animal Man-- Why are you in Gotham?” It was Tim Drake. Robin. Twelve years old, eyes wide and a smile on his face.
“Oh, no,” thought Animal Man. Red Robin knew. Used the city against him. Used its heroes. And with the smell so close, so nearby-- that meant--
“He means me, kid,” Red Robin landed between Robin and Animal Man, his cape pooling around him like a lake. “Baker, we need to talk-- you, Robin, you’re doing good work, but this is important-- Let Batman know through your mask microphone that Red Robin needs to see him. Now.”
“Cool,” whispered Robin, before doing just that.
“You trying to make an impression on the kid, Red?” said Buddy, moving slowly around the edge of the building. “Bit paradoxical, isn’t it?”
“The name means something else to me,” said the older Tim Wayne, “and you and me, we need to talk.”
“I thought you might say that,” said Animal Man. “Say your piece.”
Red Robin nodded sharply. “I’m going to tell you how the world ends, Buddy. Plain and simple.”
To Be Concluded.
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