#37: Survivalism (Part 3 of 3) Oct 19, 2010 17:25:11 GMT -5
Post by markymark261 on Oct 19, 2010 17:25:11 GMT -5
Issue #37: “Collision Course”
Giant-Sized Conclusion: “Survivalism”
Written by House Of Mystery
Cover by Eli Cadavona
Edited by Mark Bowers
“So talk,” said Animal Man. The gold-and-blue-clad hero pulled his jacket around his body tightly, a bleak chill running through the air. Red Robin was looking out over the city once more, lost in memories of his past, and living them at the exact same moment. “We’ve got time before we reach the teleport booth that’ll take us to the Cave.”
“You’re a good man, Buddy Baker,” said Red Robin. “And you will be great.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Animal Man, a chuckle leaving his lips, “means a lot, oh-mysterious-and-enigmatic-future-Robin.” The two of them began to run, jogging over the buildings and leaping across fire escapes. Animal Man leapt like a grasshopper, but Red Robin had to throw his line, land it, and soar between the alleys if the distance was too great. “But you’re avoiding the point.”
Red Robin exhaled as he landed, and then looked over his shoulder to Animal Man. “You want to know everything. I understand that. I shouldn’t have tried to push your buttons back at the Hall of Justice. I hate the Phantom Stranger shtick as much as the next person. Enigmatic is what this is,” he patted the yellow logo on his chest, “but not who I am.”
“Honesty from a Gotham-based vigilante, surely, yes, the world is ending,” said Animal Man. “But Tim…” he pursed his lips, and considered his question, “how do you know something about me that I have no clue about?”
“The future I was telling you about, and the future that you already know?” said Red Robin, slowly. He was tentative about it. He moved around his words slowly. “You want to know the whole story.”
Buddy Baker noted Tim Wayne’s apprehension, and nodded sharply. “Yes. Please.”
Red Robin sat down against a smokestack, and Animal Man slithered down the side of the roof edge. They were sat three metres apart, but Red Robin’s eyes suggested an even further distance. “The mutliverse leaks I was telling you about… on a fundamental level they affected time travelers. People who had seen what could be, was, what had been… with the walls of reality crumbling people went insane. And you got hit hard. Twisted inside out in the head. You had seen a whole other timeline, and you had forgotten… but the memories festered in your mind like a disease, and when you let them out… you went insane. Vanished in the Russian impact zone, never to be heard from again, apart from one brief moment of clarity you had when you met Freedom Beast. She was the one who told us. She told us what had happened.”
“Wow,” said Buddy. “I… what? I have no idea what you just said.”
“There’s a secret locked in your head-- same as Batman, Doctor Light, Green Lantern-- that only you can find the key to unlocking it,” said Red Robin. “You need to think of certain associations, word leaping to word. Gar Logan, for instance, Beast Boy and future Animal Man. Lex Luthor. Metropolis in ruins and the future burning. You went there, another future, another possible endgame for the universe… you need to remember because then the truth of the multiverse stands revealed.”
“Wha-- ow. Ow! OW!” Animal Man clutched his head as a striking pain rushed through his brain cells. He began to feel drowsy, but at the same time electricity rushed through his veins. Memories began to become clear, like they were being dragged out of the fog. “Ghhhhhhdddddd.” He remembered Chronos pushing the Justice League into the future, where they were hunted by dark version of their friends, where Booster Gold, fat and obsolete, struggled to save them. And he failed. They were caught. Their minds scrubbed all but clean… but the memories were still there, hiding under the surface, and they hurt--!
“There is no future but the one you’re making right now, in this moment, every moment, from the next breath you take to the next decision you make,” said Red Robin, whispering sharply. “We inform the future from the now, and that’s the nature of the beast. There is no set future. No cap to the world we live in. Earth-One will end in fire if we fail today. And if we succeed it might end in fire again. Different threads pulling together… it’s so hard to describe…” He paused, and looked up at the sky, marveling at the lack of red skies. “You and the Justice League went to a future. A future. Not the future. That was the future of that moment. And… oh.” Harsh realization dawned on his face.. “Oh, no, how could I have been so blind?!”
“What?” asked Animal Man. “What’s wrong?”
“That was the future then. That’s the direction the world was heading in. To Lex Luthor ruling the world and the heroes splintered into factions across a ruined landscape. And then there was my future, with a hole in the world and the Justice League dead in the past. I was wrong. I think we might have done this. Our being here, my Justice League, oh my God, I think we might have killed you all!”
Starbreaker lapped up the terror of the Coast City residents he was tormenting. Darkness flickered and warped across the high street, men and women screamed as illusions were drilled straight into their minds, and the cosmic vampire sucked up all that emotion, and throbbed and expanded with each feeding session. “What do you fear?”
“Nothing,” said Green Lantern, a flurry of emerald boxing gloves slamming into Starbreaker’s chest and sending him toppling over. “That’s kind of my shtick, Starbreaker.” Guy Gardner breathed in sharply, and exhaled a barrage of energy blasts, each one pushing Starbreaker further down into the ground. “It’s why I’ve got this ring!”
“I am Starbreaker,” seethed the mass of throbbing energy. All pretense of poise and calm was gone. It was a massive mass of black, with pulsing red energy moving around under the cracks in its skin. “I will show you--”
Arsenal looked through the scope of her high-powered rifle, and flicked through the lenses that could scan the creature. “Lantern, you read?”
“Sure thing, pretty lady,” said Guy, storming straight up to Starbreaker and punching him in the chest, the blackened skin cracking on impact. “What’s the dealio?”
“It’s not the real thing,” replied Arsenal, loading a special ammunition into her weapon. “A construct, like your ring. Like we said.”
“Still, hhgh, putting up a fight,” Guy was about to continue when Starbreaker grabbed him by the head, and the Green Lantern’s forcefield cracked. “Uhh.” The vampire screamed, and drew the energy from Guy’s power ring into himself. He flexed emerald and scarlet, and then began to laugh.
“Energy levels at 5%. Emergency beacon activated,” said a familiar voice from inside the ring. “Recharge or die, Gardner.”
“Thanks, hhghh, for that, kid,” murmured Gardner-- “Arghh!” He was punched hard in the stomach by Starbreaker, and then sent flying through a store front, his ring discharging the last of its energy before the Green Lantern faded into unconsciousness.
Arsenal cocked her rifle, and leveled the weapon at Starbreaker, but the vampire moved too fast, and was already directly in front of the shattered store that Guy Gardner lay unconscious inside. “Hell!” She holstered the rifle around her shoulder and leapt off the side of the building, bouncing once in front of Starbreaker, and then back-flipping inside the storefront, coming to a stop beside Guy Gardner, her heels kicking up dust. “Get up, Gardner, we’ve got a problem!”
“Problem; solved,” said another voice from behind Starbreaker. The cosmic vampire was wrenched up on a platform of shattered concrete, and then sent hurtling down the road. “Green Lantern 2814.1 at your service. That’s Hal Jordan to you,” said the new arrival, putting out his hand. “Let’s get Guy out of here.”
“In a moment,” said Arsenal, as she pushed back Hal, and crouched outside the store. She aimed her rifle at the rising Starbreaker.
“You’re going to shoot it? Seriously?” asked Hal, a look of confusion and amusement on his lips.
“It’s my super power, Uncle Hal,” said Arsenal, smiling. She squeezed the trigger softly, and a spark of blue bloomed out of the barrel of her gun and sent a projectile flying out-- Starbreaker was hit squarely in the chest and its red eyes opened wide, and then it began to break, and shatter, and crumble to the floor, rendered inert. “I never miss.”
“Wh-what?” mumbled Green Lantern.
“Ammunition built to spec by Ted Kord. Energy-dampening, anti-Green-Lantern bullets. Not that I’ve ever needed to use one before but I like to be prepared. Shatters a construct-- a forcefield or a boxing glove or a killing machine-- and renders said energy inert. Starbreaker-construct here was all energy. The name’s Lian Harper,” said Arsenal, putting out her hand. When Green Lantern went to take it she stepped inside his arms and hugged him tightly. “You always were my favourite dead uncle.”
Animal Man and Red Robin rushed over the rooftops of Gotham, heading toward a secret location that would gain them access to the cave beneath Wayne Manor. Red Robin was running hard, sweat dripping down his face. He wasn’t pacing himself, he was already ragged and he was pushing himself beyond that.
“Slow down, Red Robin, you’re going to wear yourself out!”
“I did this!” snapped Red Robin. “So stupid! How could I be so stupid?”
“You don’t know that’s the truth, Tim!”
“But it’s the only thing that makes sense now, Buddy,” retorted Red Robin. “I have to… get out of here, get the team out of here.”
“No,” said Batman, landing squarely in front of the future-vigilante. “That’s not how this works. You have to deal with the consequences of your actions. If you did bring Starbreaker here, and if Starbreaker is the cause of the events that lead to our… ‘deaths’… then you deal with that, too.”
“Br-- “ Red Robin caught himself. “Batman. I can’t have spent all this time trying to save you, only to cause you to die--!”
Batman grabbed Red Robin by the shoulders, and began to talk, low and quiet, so only the scarlet-and-black vigilante could hear. “If you are who you claim to be then you know that I trust you. That is, if you are who you claim to be. I don’t know if I trust you yet, ‘Red Robin’, I don’t know if I can, but you will help us stop this or die trying. Because that’s--”
“-- All that can be asked of us,” said Red Robin, finishing his mentor’s sentence. “Dammit.”
Batman looked at Red Robin in stony silence.
“That was one of the last things you said to me before you vanished.”
Hawkman and Starman materialized in Metropolis, opposite Centennial Park. Hawkman patted his mace comfortingly, and then turned to Starman, who gripped his cosmic rod nervously. “How long have you worn that costume, kid?”
“I’ve been trained my entire life to be Starman, sir,” replied Theo Knight, “by the best.”
“Oh?” Hawkman smiled, and threw his fist toward Starman’s face, but the young hero ducked, drove his cosmic rod under Hawkman’s armpit, and activated the main charge. Hawkman laughed loud, a bellow, and Starman disengaged his weapon.
“You trained me too, sir,” he said slowly. He rubbed his nose, and Katar’s grin formed a smile. “Broke my nose twice with that move before I cottoned on. Eventually you learn to block.”
“If I trained you, then you know you don’t have to call me sir,” said Hawkman. “But enough of these pleasantries. Look--” Hawkman’s mace crackled in the direction of Starbreaker. “Anti-magic, anti-energy,” he said of his weapon, “Starbreaker should disperse on impact.”
“Cosmic rod,” said Starman, as the head of the weapon burned white. “Cosmic vampire? Cosmic stake.”
“I like you, kid,” said Katar Hol, and then, without another word, the two raced toward the Starbreaker. “Whoever lands the killing blow buys the first round.”
Theo blushed. “But Katar-- I’m underage...”
Katar let loose another bellowing laugh, and then his face went stern, and quiet. “Not on Thanagar.”
Superwoman was down. Starbreaker had drawn the solar charge from her cells, and wrenched Doctor Light’s own charge from within her. The two women were tense, limping, but they kept moving, kept out of the way of Starbreaker’s grasp.
“Where’s back up when you need it?” asked Doctor Light, trying desperately to spark her abilities, to do something that could stop the monolith from killing them.
“Thought… thought… (Rao!)… that you could draw the energy out from within the construct, or I could absorb the power of the star that makes up the construct… but…” Superwoman was pale, her eyelids heavy. “You’re right, where’s back up?”
“Here.” Mary Marvel shot down and grappled with Starbreaker. “You. Will. Fall!”
Wonder Woman landed at the side of Doctor Light and Superwoman. “You need sunlight. Both of you.”
“Don’t I know it,” gasped Superwoman. “Thought… you were in Gotham?”
“We knew where Starbreaker was going to be, and Mary,” she motioned over to where Mary Marvel was dragging Starbreaker up into the air, “she knows how to deal with these things, apparently.”
“SHAZAM! SHAZAM! SHAZAM!” Thunder and lightning erupted from the clouds and bolts of pure light smashed into Starbreaker’s chest. “Am I scared, vampire? Am I full of dread? No!”
Starbreaker whined and struggled, but his form shrank in Mary’s grip. “No… you… the… light… the… hope…!”
“I am the champion of this world, from one time to another, and I will never fear you. I will never give in to you. You have been defeated before, and I am defeating you...” The construct fizzled out, leaving Doctor Light, Superwoman and Wonder Woman looking up at Mary Marvel as she held a crumbling pile of ashes. “…Right now.”
“We’ve got company,” said Superwoman, the light of the sun touching her skin and allowing her vision to focus on the just-arrived Captain Marvel and the young Mary Marvel, who watched her older doppelganger float up in the air.
Captain Marvel blinked. “Holy moley.”
Mary looked over to the newcomer and floated over to him. “Billy…”
“Who are you?” asked Captain Marvel. “I can hear the gods whisper, and the way you called down the lightning…”
“You don’t need the Wisdom of Solomon to answer that, Bill,” said the younger Marvel. “She’s me. From… well, the future, I guess?”
“Keep strong,” said Mary Marvel suddenly, her hand clamped tightly on the Captain’s shoulder. “Because you’ll need to. Soon.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Mary Marvel turned away. “It was another construct, like the one in Gotham. We need to regroup with the others.” Wonder Woman nodded in agreement, and saluted Captain Marvel, who acknowledged what had just transpired.
Five Minutes Ago
The Starbreaker construct was a ruin, and Mary Marvel exhaled.
“Good work, sister,” said Wonder Woman. “Do you know where we stand?”
Marvel looked around at the lush park that they had battled Starbreaker within. “Yes.”
“A torture camp was built here by Darkseid’s forces,” she pointed toward a small stream that ran through the park. “Batman blew up a massive slave complex there, and this whole area was a ruin. Completely dead. It took months to revitalize, to get the earth to accept seed, to heal from the scars.”
“I’ve read the stories,” said Mary Marvel. “I was a child back then, but my wisdom twists and changes with time, incorporating all that has come before. It helps me make leaps and conclusions that would be impossible for me to make if I wasn’t empowered by the lightning…” She paused. “I need to tell you something.”
“Yes?” said Wonder Woman, smiling softly.
Mary Marvel hesitated. “So much happens after you don’t return. It’s obvious, the world keeps turning, even without seven of her greatest protecting it. But when you’re gone… the gods return angry. They come back petty and cruel and they want Wonder Woman to resolve a problem… but you’re not there. You’re gone. Your mother is gone. Your sister is demoralised, even if she puts on a brave face. Zenobia steps up, the only other Wonder Woman available, and then the Birds of Prey journey away from this planet, fight forces they cannot possibly comprehend, and more deaths occur, Hawkman loses Hawkgirl, Jonni Thunder is torn asunder, Amethyst never brings peace to Gemworld and the crystalline army march against Earth; more and more threats, more dominos, just because you die. You die and death reigns.”
“We won’t die,” said Wonder Woman. “The future can change. You’re doing it right now, you’re changing everything.”
“But you need to know,” said Mary Marvel, “you need to come back.”
Superman batted Starbreaker, and Aleea Strange aimed her hard-light ray-gun at the centre mass of the thing. “It’s a construct,” said Strange. “My scans show he’s just another construct.”
“No word from the others in regards to whether or not they’ve faced the real deal yet,” said Superman. He punched Starbreaker again and again, high above the streets, Aleea keep the vampire from breaking away with massive pyrotechnic blasts from her armoury. “Can we end this?”
“Please,” said Strange.
Superman inhaled hard and exhaled harder, arctic breath blasting against the surface of Starbreaker’s skin. Aleea was behind the cosmic leech, and then, in unison, Superman unleashed his heat vision, and Aleea Strange ramped up her energy weapons to flash-fry the construct-- the energy thing cracked and crumbled, leaving the duo triumphant.
“Good work, Aleea,” said Superman. His smile warmed her, and she looked away for a split second. “What’s wrong?”
“You don’t come back, Superman. And fighting beside you like this is like… fighting beside Robin Hood, I guess… like a legend that you never in a thousand years imagined meeting.”
“You’ve given us knowledge, Aleea. We’ll do just fine. We’re the Justice League.”
“I need to do more…” she started.
“What do you mean, ‘more’? You’ve travelled backwards in time, sacrificed so much. With heroes like that looking out for us, how can we fail?”
“Lex Luthor wins,” said Aleea Strange, sharply, angrily, “and then all hell breaks loose.”
“You are the only thing keeping this terrifying balance in Metropolis. Your pure, unadultered good and optimism, you keep the city afloat, give them reason to live-- no matter what you say to the contrary-- and with you gone, Lex Luthor goes mad. He didn’t kill you. He should have killed you. He wants revenge, this is all we hear from Metropolis, and he leads the Society into a war… and…” She sighed. “You can’t die, Superman. My dad dies because you do too.”
Superman blinked, at a loss for words. Aleea watched him, this amazingly bright light of hope and heroism, and then, from a moment of doubt came a moment of solid realization. He spoke slowly, confidently. “I won’t. We won’t. I promise.”
“How is he?” asked Arsenal. She had removed her red-padded jacket and was checking her weapons, making sure that everytrhing was clean and prepared for whatever came next.
“Dazed and confused,” replied Hal Jordan, looking down at Guy Gardner’s unconscious body. “Nothing new there then.” He laughed low, and then shook his head and the laughter away. “You’re Roy’s kid?”
“Your ring tell you that?”
“Your tattoo,” he said, motioning to her arm. “Navajo. Roy has the same. And yes, my ring told me that.” He smiled. “You do him proud, I’m sure.”
“He died,” Lian said.
Hal nodded. “You do him proud.”
“You need to know something,” Arsenal said slowly. “Something important.”
“Something’s coming, Hal, and it’s going to be bad,” she said urgently.
“What do you mean?”
“He calls himself the Predator,” said Arsenal. “We don’t know anything more than that. But he comes to Earth. And he takes Jessica.”
“What?” Hal’s ring sparked, and he looked down at the fallen body of Guy Gardner. “What do you mean he takes Jessica? Who the hell is the Predator?”
“The dark secret of the Star Sapphire Corps,” said Arsenal. “You aren’t there to save her… Guy and John go after him, and they die. The Green Lantern Corps pull out of Sector 2814 and focus on holding the universe together. We lose three Green Lanterns, your daughter, and the Global Peace Agency… Chloe Sullivan is never the same. You need to come back, and you need to save your daughter.”[/i]
“The Predator,” said Green Lantern, slowly. “You… what do you want?”
“You need to make a decision, I think, one different from what you would normally. You need to take steps to survive and come back, because you obviously didn’t before, else we wouldn’t be here. You and the others, you’re the glue that holds this universe together, and without you…” Her hands were clamped tightly together, and then suddenly she released them, her fingers outstretched, and she wiggled them away from one another, then shook her head. “You need to come back.”
Green Lantern’s expression darkened. “The Predator…”
“Reports in from other Leaguers,” said Batman, slowly. “Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel dealt with the Starbreaker threat in Gotham succinctly. The Flash joined Firestorm in Keystone to help deal with that construct… but the true Starbreaker still isn’t here.”
“Why would he be here?” asked Animal Man, looking around the cave with a child-like fascination. “We’re on to him. If I was in his position I’d run away with my tail between my legs.”
“He loves it here,” said Red Robin. “I remember when he rose up in the future, ranting and raving and overdosing on the despair that the world was feeling. It took a lot more than just being hopeful and hugging and kissing to take him down.”
“Last time it took an axe to the face, Red Robin, and that axe was the personification of the power of the world,” Batman shook his head, and looked around the map of the world. “The Justice League are regrouping at the--” Red Robin’s hand was gripping Batman’s shoulder, and Animal Man quietly excused himself. “What?”
“I need to tell you something.”
“I’m sure you do,” said Batman, turning to face the younger vigilante. “Speak your piece.”
“My Justice League, we all know things. We all know the circumstances of the future, and what happens when you don’t survive this battle.”
“Let me guess, they’re telling my teammates of all the threats that go undefeated in their absence?”
“World’s greatest detective,” said Red Robin, nodding. “But listen… we all know Batman can never die. Should never die. But eventually we were all taught a lesson. Dick took the cape and the cowl up again. We know he didn’t want to. He’d only just returned to the Titans as Nightwing full time, he didn’t want to play the Dark Knight anymore. And the Arkham Rogues, this time… this time they knew the difference. The asylum was blown sky-high, and the Joker led the charge; Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Ventriloquist, Ra’s Al Ghul, Two-Face, the Riddler, even the small-fry like the Cavalier, Firefly, KGBeast; they went mad. Gotham burned. Eventually it was Dent that killed… that killed Dick.” Red Robin paused. “Shot him twice in the head, not before the Joker’s master stroke triggered, and Gotham went from inferno to ruin. Millions dead.”
“You’re lying,” said Batman, even though he knew otherwise. Red Robin’s cowl was around his neck, his eyes were wide and honest. The words coming out of Tim Wayne’s mouth were the truth, and no amount of self-deception could change that, but he refused-- refused-- to believe that all this would happen with his passing. “What about the other Leaguers, the Titans, the Society, the Outsiders-- where were they? Surely Dick wouldn’t stand alone! No, you’re lying, and this seals it.” Batman levelled a taser from his belt at Red Robin, and he could see a pang of familiarity at the position. Was he a con-man? Some interdimensional grifter, playing a game that seemed so convincing, so damn terrifying, that all who were confronted would follow whatever pied-piper song he sang?
“Don’t--” Red Robin disarmed Batman with a swift kick, and the taser was suddenly in his hands. In a smooth movement he fried the defense mechanism that would have caused the weapon to implode in his hands, and then aimed it at Bruce’s head. “Remember Ra’s Al Ghul’s anti-Justice-League plans? A team of powerhouses poised to intercept any help that Dick might call in. His daughter was one of the leaders of the Society, after all, and with one word from her… Gotham was trapped. Alone.”
“You’re weren’t very convincing before, and with a gun to my head you’re less convincing now,” hissed Batman. There were fifteen ways to disarm Red Robin from this position. He used the one he knew for sure would work: he continued to listen.
“Dick falls. I watch it all. Alfred retires completely. Jason takes up the cowl. That ends bloody and red and then Batman is gone. There’s no Gotham, no Commissioner Gordon, no Wayne Foundation, no Wayne Manor. Gotham is rebuilt slowly, becoming something bright and glittering and it takes me fifteen years-- fifteen years-- to become what I need to be. I study across the world with the best, with the greatest fighters and thinkers I can-- and sure, they’re probably no match for you, they’re a generation removed from the masters you trained with, but I scaled the Lazarus Pyramid, and I survived Ra’s Al Ghul and Two-Face and now here I am.” He patted his chest. “I survived. And the only reason I survived, the only reason I spent fifteen years planning on wiping my life and history from reality, was so that you could survive too.”
“Guys,” interrupted Animal Man, “sorry to break up your macho display here, but there’s an emergency alarm going off back at the Hall. Can you save this for later?”
Red Robin passed Batman the taser back, and then pulled his cowl back on. “I’ve said what I needed to say.”
“And I’ve listened,” said Batman.
Superman appeared beneath the first Hall of Justice, and was instantly confused. “What’s going on?”
“We can’t teleport into the Hall,” said Firestorm, “the forcefields are up, emergency lockdown. So signals are being displaced here, to the alpha site.”
“How does that work?”
“It’s not supposed to,” said The Flash. “The generators aren’t active. Some outside source has amped them up.”
“You don’t think--”
Superwoman looked over to Red Robin as the rest of the Justice League rushed about, trying to make sense of what was happening. She heard snippets of conversation between him and a voice inside his cowl, but she couldn’t understand what was being said. “I’ll activate the transmat system, and you go red for whatever you’re pointed at. You’re insurance, right?” Superwoman went to talk to him, but Red Robin looked at her, and smiled comfortingly. She shivered, and turned her attention back to the matter at hand.
“It’s him,” said Wonder Woman, “Starbreaker is there, it has to be him-- and he’s shut down the psychic link and he’s locked us out.”
“He wants Prisoner X,” said Batman. “We need to get there, now--”
“We physically can’t if we’re locked out by that forcefield,” said Blue Beetle. “Booster sends his regards, by-the-by, but he’s running an errand for Rip Hunter.”
“We can displace the forcefield,” said Aleea Strange. “Professor Palmer, Professor Stein, you know the frequency, right?”
“Of course,” said the Atom, nodding.
“We re-route energy relays through my holo-matrix, the stuff that projects my armour and weapons, right? And we can pierce through that bubble with a communication signal-- boot up the forcefield generators and overload the shield, teleport in!”
Superman nodded. “Get to work, guys.”
Aleea Strange smiled, and looked up from a small compartment on her gauntlet that she had folded open. “Already started!”
The Hall of Justice:
“Shadow puppets, all of them.” Aquaman clutched at his head, emotions pounding inside his skull. The Martian Manhunter was barely holding it together. Starbreaker had his hand inside J’onn’s head, and was clutching at his psychic abilities, flexing his fingers and projecting sheer terror in the immediate area. “You are all so weak. So gullible.”
“We’ll… stop…” gasped Aquaman, his trident was out of reach, and his gloved hands couldn’t seem to support his weight as he tried to climb to his feet, “…you…”
“No, you won’t,” said Starbreaker, slowly. “All you’ll do is suffer, and with the Martian in my grip I can do so much more. Delicious. Projecting suffering across the cosmos-- Oh, what’s this?” The cosmic vampire knelt beside J’onn and smiled. “You’ve trapped something in here, haven’t you? Something immense and ancient. Like me.” He twisted his fingers and J’onn screamed. “The Star Conqueror.” J’onn’s face contorted, a single eye forming in the centre of his face. It blinked wildly, and tentacles formed on the fringes of his jaw. “Meet Starbreaker.” The eye blinked, pure terror and fear projected out, and then vanished, leaving J’onn’s face untarnished but for the pain he was experiencing. “You’re welcome, Martian.”
“Hhhhrgghhh!” Aquaman reeled up, his hands finally having found his trident, and he drove it through Starbreaker’s body. The golden blade pierced the so-called flesh of the vampire, but it just laughed, and swatted the King of Atlantis away. “Ghh!”
“I’m a vampire, Aquaman, you can’t just stab me.” Starbreaker throbbed with power.
“But it helps,” said Aquaman, gruffly, as there was a flash behind him. The Justice Leagues appeared, and they charged toward the creature, two Green Lanterns ensnaring his arms, everyone else barreling in. There was a horrific dread being projected through the halls, and Starbreaker laughed as they faltered in their attack. Hal and Guy’s constructs withered, and they were suddenly on the floor, at Starbreaker’s feet.
“Pathetic. You’re all so pathetic,” said Starbreaker. “I could kill you all right now.”
Red Robin gasped from where he lay, and then winked at Arsenal. Terror faded to confusion for just a moment, but then the waves of horror continued to be sent out from J’onn’s brain, and she winced.
“You probably should kill us all,” said Red Robin, as he pulled himself uneasily to his feet. He was woozy, unable to fully support himself, and Starbreaker watched as he fell against the bulkhead. “Right… now…”
“How are you standing?”
“Dumb,” started Red Robin, pulling a small black console from his utility belt, “luck.” He pressed a button, and there was a fizz of sparkling blue light around his being. Suddenly Tom Blake leaped from the fuzz of energy, and careened into Starbreaker. Red Robin burst forward, and pulled off his cowl as Catman tore into the cosmic vampire, his hard-light blades slashing in and out of the creature’s body. Starbreaker’s grip suddenly loosened out from the Martian Manhunter’s head, and Red Robin’s final act before succumbing to the waves of terror was to wrench his cowl over J’onn J’onzz’s head.
The Martian Manhunter straightened up, and felt every negative emotion leave him. “Psychic-proof mesh,” he said slowly. The Justice League were suddenly free form the Starbreaker’s influence, and the Green Lanterns sprang to attention.
“No! You can’t do this!” Starbreaker said. Catman snarled, and Starbreaker clawed feebly at the young vigilante’s body armour, but to no avail. “What’s wrong with you?”
“He’s gone red,” said Tim Wayne, smiling. “You can’t exert influence over him when he goes red. His brain is built differently. Thanks to his father, that is.”
“I… can’t… hold… himmmm…” roared Catman, and Starbreaker was about to thrash free when Starman dove forward, and ran his cosmic rod through the creature’s chest, globules of pure energy spraying out every which way on impact.
“NARRGHHHH--!” Starbreaker’s eyes opened wide, and Theo Kord removed his hands from the rod, watching as all the energy drained from within Starbreaker and seeped back into his weapon. Starbreaker became inert, empty, and the two Green Lanterns entombed it within an inescapable cage.
Hawkman patted Starman on his back. “A cosmic rod becomes a cosmic stake to the heart of a cosmic vampire. Fitting, eh? Good work, Theo.”
“Thank you,” said Starman. “What are you going to do with him now?”
Hal and Guy looked at each other, and shrugged. “There’ll be a place for him on Oa. The Sciencells will hold him.”
“That was damn awful,” said Gardner. “I hate that thing.”
“Well, yeah, he is a cosmic vampire, Gardner,” said Hal. “Hey, guys,” he suddenly said, turning to the rest of the League, “it’s been a while.”
“Knew you couldn’t keep away,” said The Flash, smiling. “But this new guy you’ve got running with us, he isn’t half bad.”
“You wound me,” said Hal Jordan.
There was another flutter of commotion, and Blue Beetle looked around the area. A glowing sphere of energy was building in the centre of them. “Right, everyone move back!”
“What’s going on?” asked Superman.
The noise got louder, and the sphere grew larger. Suddenly a shape formed, a perfect glass sphere, and inside, beside a red-and-green-clad pilot, was Booster Gold. He opened the glass door to the sphere, and leaned out. “They’re not supposed to be here.”
“They were telling the truth about something then,” said Batman, quietly. “Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, protectors of the multiverse?”
“Was there any doubt?” asked Booster, grinning. “We’re here to take them home.”
“Home is gone,” said Catman. “We all came here knowing that a return journey was impossible.”
Rip Hunter climbed out from his seat and scratched his beard. “There is a timeline with an absence of you within it. You need to reintegrate into said timeline, or the walls will flex, and it’ll cease to exist.”
“What is he going on about?” asked Doctor Light, leaning in to Blue Beetle.
“I have no idea, but he’s never wrong about these things,” replied Beetle.
“So you want us to fall into place like jigsaw pieces?” said Starman.
“We’ll do what’s needed of us,” said Red Robin. “But tell me this, Hunter-- are we returning to where we came, to that hellhole?”
“I can’t tell you that,” said Rip Hunter.
“I can,” said Booster. “It’s different. Things have changed.”
“And do they survive?” asked Mary Marvel. “Did this work?”
“You’ll find out,” said Rip Hunter, “but you’ve already done something inexcusable. You’ve smashed into a timeline and you may have caused irrevocable damage. You’re lucky I’m allowing for reintegration, instead of locking you up at Entropy Point.”
“…Where?” asked Firestorm.
“Leave it,” said Blue Beetle. “A story for another day.”
“Then we go back,” said Red Robin. “Or ‘go’, as the case may be.”
“Flash, can I speak to you?” asked Aleea Strange. She looked over to the rest of the team. It was time for them to leave. It was time to go back from where they’d come back and see what was left for them.
“Of course,” said Barry, and she led him down the corridor into an empty room, then turned sharply, and shook her head. “What’s the matter?”
“Your daughter lives, you know that,” said Aleea Strange. “She’s away from here, living a life far away from where she should be. You know that the Reverse Flash did this out of spite… but there’s a wave coming, from the start of time, and it changes things. Vibrations shift, and dimensional walls shiver. No one noticed, but for Wally. Wally saw it, and he saw the changes. Ray theorized that with the right vibrational manipulation certain events could change. Timelines would merge, and no one would notice. And then the ghosts seeped through, afterimages from dimensions a whisper away, and she was there, Barry. Your daughter. Carrie Allen, alive and well, all grown up and if you were there you could have bought her home. Your family could have been whole.”
“You… can’t say that…” said Barry. “Because then… why…” He looked down at his hands, and then at this hero from the future, a familiar face so very displaced from what he knew. “You can’t say that.”
“Because you know the vibrational frequency of everyone you meet,” she continued, pushing through to the speedster. “You see it, and you catalogue it, and you forget that you know. But that’s your power. Speed and vibrations and the ability to see it all. It’s how you can tune the cosmic treadmill. It’s how you adapt to any timeline you shift inside. Eventually you know the way things are supposed to be. If you were there, and you saw the ghost-image of your daughter, you could bring her home. The world would warp and shift and she would have always been home, don’t you understand? The Reverse Flash wouldn’t have won. She’d be home--”
“You’ve… she…” The Flash ran a thousand possiblities through his head and then swallowed hard. “She’s alive. I know that. Happy. She’s happy, and she doesn’t remember us. Why would I take her away from that?”
“I’m telling you because you need to know,” said Aleea.
The Justice League watched their future compatriots climb into the Time Sphere with Rip Hunter and Booster Gold. “Back in a flash,” said Gold, before Red Robin-- the last one in-- hesitated beside Aquaman.
“You barely survived the last war that struck your kingdom,” said Red Robin, leaning toward Aquaman’s ear, “your enemies will always find a way to get back at you, your majesty, and without you to protect your queen, your son, your peoples… Black Manta wipes them out. Makes the waters toxic. Millions dead, and no one knew.”
Aquaman grabbed Red Robin by the cowl and dragged him down to the floor. “How dare you-- how dare you--!”
“Whoa, whoa, Arthur--” started Hal Jordan, but Arthur looked at his teammate and Jordan backed away slowly.
“It’s a warning. You need to know what happens without you. You all do. There’s not enough time now, but just know…”
Aquaman hesitated. “Don’t threaten my family. Don’t make me hurt you.”
“It’s not a threat,” said Red Robin, as he was pulled to his feet by Aquaman. “I’m trying to give you knowledge. I’m trying to help you all. You need to know that you’re going to have to change the way you think.” He prodded his temples with a gloved finger. “Change or die.”
“Good luck, Red Robin,” said Superman, as the Justice League climbed into the Time Sphere.
Red Robin shrugged. “Our lives might be forgotten, and merged with the way things are supposed to be. I hope so, at least.”
“You hope,” said Firestorm, “the professor says that there’s no guarantee. And…” Firestorm blushed, “he also told me I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud.”
Aleea Strange nodded, and looked over to Superman. “Then we hope.”
The Time Sphere rumbled, and quaked, and then vanished with a pop, leaving the Justice League alone. Superman let the silence rest for a moment, before turning to his teammates. “Contact Barda and Scott. Emergency team meeting.”
“Superman--” started Batman.
“It’s time for the truth,” said the Man of Steel. “We meet in an hour.”
An Hour Later:
“Ray has been conducting a study of the multiverse. Red Robin’s people mentioned it, and it’s time we reviewed the findings.” Superman was sat at the head of the meeting table. The rest of the Justice League were present, nursing wounds, uncomfortable at the tone of the meeting already. “Ray?”
“We’ve been using the Time Pool to send micro-transmitters into what we’ve dubbed ‘The Bleed’. And what we found is not comforting.” The Atom was at full size, and a large projection of a dozen spheres-- more forming every moment until the projection was a mess of lines-- was in front of him. He pressed a button on a controller in his hand, and the spheres began to crumble. "The multiverse is fracturing, whole parallels turning on their heads, whole earths never existing in the first place..." He took a breath, and faced his comrades. "We thought that everything was locked up nice and tight after Booster and Beetle prevented that... that 'Entropy' character from restarting the universe, but the fact is... Prisoner X - whatever we're calling that stone cold sonofagun down in the holding cells - his very being is causing reality to thin. He's made a scab on this reality, that's why we've had the incidents with the 'future' League--"
"Plural," said Animal Man solemnly, "not just one. And the time frame they put out there... both leading to the end of the world, easily enough."
“It’s why it was so easy. There should be… temporal turbulence, you shouldn’t be able to simply walk through time and knock on a door and meet your ancestor. But there’s nothing. And that’s terrifying. The engines of the multiverse are shutting down.”
"What were we to expect?" intoned Batman, his fingers latticed before his cowled visage. "He's the greatest threat known to Earth, to the universe, to the entirety of the multiverse, and we think we can contain him? Tell us, Atom-- tell us what you discovered."
“Not a villain,” murmured Scott Free. “Not a threat. A God. A nihilistic, narcissistic, sociopath.”
There was a murmur of unrest inside the conference chamber of the Hall of Justice. Superman cleared his throat, and the League fell silent, ready for Ray Palmer to continue.
"I've been working with Caulder, Jay, Barry, Martin and Ted, with the greatest superminds on earth and beyond, and we've come to a simple conclusion: on ‘planet fall’, that god-made-flesh created an anomaly in the universe. Time began to crease. Cracks formed. Fractures lashed out every which way in the membrane between realities. Events and persons not of this world bled through. The Black Colossus incident with Lord Havok, the Justice League that just visited and the Justice League that Animal Man was telling us about. It was never this easy before, was it?”
“No. We're heading to the ‘Oblivion Point’; reality wants to heal but the fact of the matter is, as a continuing linear timeline, that's impossible."
"We know who did this though," said Hal Jordan. "We locked him up nice and tight."
Aquaman nodded. "His escape means the end of everything."
"Not true," said Batman. "We know what it means. Red Robin told us himself... the moment that singularity, that scab, opens up, it unleashes a hole in the universe like nothing else we've ever seen... and the seven of us leap down into the pit and we save the whole of reality itself."
"We just don't come back," said Superman.
"When have you believed in an impossible situation before?" asked Wonder Woman, a smile on her lips. "We know what is meant to be. What could happen. That doesn’t mean it will. By the definition of it all, with the information from the future Robin at our disposal, everything can change."
"I believe that one day there might be a challenge or threat that others deign impossible," said Superman, "but never-- ever-- when I’m side by side with this group of heroes. My friends."
"It's coming," said J'onn, "the moment it all changes. The moment he escapes."
"Then he doesn't," said Superman. "We up the ante, we reinforce all our security measures. Batman--?"
"What do you think I've been doing every spare minute of every day since I returned?"
Hal Jordan slammed his fist on the table. "We change our game up. We don’t play by the rules. And we sure as hell don’t let events repeat themselves"
“You back in the fold?” asked Guy.
“For this? To stop this? If I’m wanted.”
“Works for--” Guy Gardner was interrupted as an alarm blared. Black lights flashed as they emerged from compartments lodged into the walls.
Batman tensed up, and his eyes widened. “No.”
They rushed out of the meeting room, and surged down, as a group, toward Cell Zero. The door had a crack, a throbbing crack, jutting from base to top. The door wheezed open, and the man stepped through, removing his chains.
“Lock him down--!” screamed Batman, but the man put his hand to his own throat, and tore, black blood dribbling out from beneath. The Justice League reached out to stop him, but the man fell to his knees, and a red light began to glow from within the death-wound. The skin shriveled and fell away, and a seven foot monster of black light stood revealed. “Oh, no.”
“It’s him,” whispered Scott Free, “truly, him. Can you hear the universe scream?” His Mother Box ping-ping-pinged wildly. “Unadulterated.” There was a tearing noise as the light took a step forward, and the universe ripped open, a gaping red wound in the membrane of the universe. “Darkseid. Is.”
The light stepped silently through the hole in reality and Superman turned to the others. “We’re going after him! Hold the fort! Save the world!” Aquaman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman dove into the wound in space, and Superman placed a hand on Blue Beetle’s shoulder. “In better circumstances I’d welcome you to the Justice League, Ted. But you’ve been here all along, haven’t you? This is how it was supposed to happen. Keep a light on.” And then Superman followed his teammates, and the tear sealed, leaving a group of Justice Leaguers-- Animal Man, the Atom, Blue Beetle, Doctor Light, Firestorm, Green Lantern and Hawkman-- in the dark, alone, not knowing what was going to happen next.
NEVER THE END!
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