Scattered, Part I
There came a time when the Old Gods died. And the brave died with the cunning. The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil. It was the last day for them; an ancient era passing in fiery holocaust. Lokee, god of mischief and bastard son of the chief god Wotan, led the forces of darkness against the God World, and God World burned. Asgard burned beneath the touch of Rag'narok, and the Old Gods died.
Within the safety of her Sanctum Sanctorum, separated from the gods of the Third World by time and by the roiling storm of Paradox which maintained the Flashpoint, Pandora watched the destruction through her scrying mirror. Heimdall fell and was no more. Thor met his end. Wotan died. The Rainbow Bridge was rent asunder and all who stood upon its fiery span were cast down into the depths.
The final moment came with the fatal release of an indescribable power which tore the home of the Old Gods asunder - split it in great halves - and filled the universe with the blinding death-flash of its destruction. In the end there were two giant molten bodies, spinning slow and barren - clean of all that had gone before - adrift in the fading sounds of cosmic thunder.
Asgard was gone, and the Rainbow Bridge had gone with it.
None of which explained how or why the Rainbow Bridge had just deposited nearly a dozen beings onto the Earth, and inside her Flashpoint.
The magical signature of their arrival could not be mistaken for anything else: Bifröst had brought them here. Somehow. Dead and long forgotten Bifröst, which even now lay in utter ruin, some few remnant parts scattered between what was left of the twin planets of Apokalips and New Genesis, had been used to bring a new factor into this crisis.
Why now? If the Old Gods had survived Ragnarok, why had they chosen now to make their presence known again? Now, when she was so close to her goal. Just a little longer, and it all would have fallen into place!
Pandora tried not to grind her teeth: inflexibility had led to the destruction of far too many gods. It would not lead to hers. This interference was already throwing things off course, and it required a response. It would be far easier if she still possessed her Mother Box, but it had been taken from her long ago when she had been banished from New Genesis for all time: the Highfather had accused her of ‘unleashing the evils of the universe’ with her experiments. It had been a ridiculous charge, but it still rankled.
She didn’t know what had become of her Box since then. Destroyed along with New Genesis, perhaps? No matter. Steepling her hands in front of her face, she considered carefully what course of action to take.
Of course. There. That was the first. Her course decided, Pandora began her work. They would not
derail her plans, not when she was this close! She would merge the three universes, and from their wreckage would arise one that could endure what was to come. She had to.
There wasn't any other choice.
by P.H. Wise
A New X-Men Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 9: Scattered, Part 1
Disclaimer: The DC Universe and its associated characters is the property of DC comics. The Marvel Universe and its associated characters is the property of Marvel Entertainment LLC. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is owned by Fran and Kaz Kuzui. Some of the text of this chapter is taken from the Flashpoint comic series. Some small amount of text is also taken from ‘The New Gods.’ I don’t own those, either.
He floated above the ruins of Paris, most of it underwater, with only the tops of skyscrapers and the upper half of the Eiffel Tower showing that there had been a city here. Overturned boats were scattered all throughout amidst floating debris.
His name was Abin Sur.
“Ring,” he said. “Scan for life signs.” “One life form detected,”
the Ring announced.
Abin Sur looked about and saw no sign of life. “Where?” he asked. “Who?”
He looked up. Thaal Sinestro of Korugar floated in the air above him, clad in the uniform of a Green Lantern and surrounded by a nimbus of green power.
“Thaal,” he said. “Have the Guardians sent you to take my ring? For refusing to leave this world to die?”
“No,” Sinestro said. “The Guardians do not know I am here. I need to tell you of a prophecy, foretold by Atrocitus.”
Sinestro nodded. “He called it the Flashpoint.”
“What madness do you speak of?”
“A Flashpoint is a moment in time with infinite potential for transformation. It can change everything, moving forward and backward. Not just an alternate universe spun off where a man turns left instead of right, but a moment when all that was, all that is, and all that ever can be is in flux, and there can be a complete transformation of an existing timeline on a level that not even Atrocitus fully understood. Someone from Earth created this one. They altered history, and not just the history of this world, but the history of the entire universe.” He let that sink, and then went on, “Atrocitus spoke of a prior timeline. One where Ungara still exists.”
A hope long extinguished rekindled in Abin Sur’s heart. “Is,” he began, “Is my sister still alive?”
Sinestro shut his eyes, bringing his emotions under control. “... No,” he said, his voice still thick. He looked Abin Sur in the eye. “And neither are you.”
Abin Sur swallowed. His hope went out. “... I see,” he said.
“But a being from this backwater planet is attempting to alter the timeline once more to resolve the Flashpoint. He calls himself the Flash.” Sinestro clenched his fist, and an image of the Flash appeared in the air, lightning crackling around his form as he ran in front of a spinning Earth. “I can make this Flash change the world in our image. I can fix everything.
Abin shook his head. “Atrocitus has poisoned your mind with his lies, old friend.” He allowed a green spiked mace to coalesce in his hands.
Sinestro held out his own hands, and a double-bladed sword formed from his will. “Atrocitus told me that as long as you’re alive, I will fail.” There was sorrow in his tone, but his will was too strong for that to sway him from his course. “I am sorry, Abin. I truly am, but I will bring you back, too. I promise.”
Their battle was a bitter thing. A sad thing. Will against will, and Sinestro’s was the stronger, for Abin Sur truly did not wish to harm his oldest, dearest friend, and Sinestro had the will to do so to his own. Abin Sur’s constructs shattered before Thaal Sinestro’s, Sinestro plunged one end of his double-bladed sword through Abin Sur’s shoulder, and Abin Sur knew pain.
“I don’t want to do this,” Sinestro said, “But once the Flash’s power is mine, this will never have happened, and you won’t remember it.” He twisted the sword, allowing the lower blade to snap off inside of Abin Sur’s body, then raised the other. “I am sorry,” he said, “But the universe needs me.”
“You are not a god, Thaal,” Abin said.
“No,” Sinestro said sadly. “I’m not. Goodbye, old friend.” He brought the blade down.
Abin Sur reached into his own well of willpower, reaching out through his connection to the ring, drawing in power beyond even Sinestro’s wildest dreams. Light blazed around him, and then… a word. A whisper. He felt something settle between his will and the ring. Something soft as silk, yet tougher than steel. The glow winked out, and his eyes had time to widen.
Sinestro’s blade struck home. And as he died, Abin Sur saw a woman floating in the air for just a moment behind Sinestro. A woman all in purple, and beautiful, with eyes that carried a sense of immense age. There and gone.
His ring departed from his finger, and he quickly lost sight of it.
Darkness took him.
Darkness gave her up. The Ginnungagap released her, and she arrived in a burst of rainbow-colored light; immediately, something flashed around her. Her eyes gained focus, but whatever it was had already faded.
Irma frowned, taking in her surroundings. “And we’re back in people-in-tube-land,” she groused. And so she was: she stood in a long corridor sprawled with black cables. At regular intervals, glass pods held naked humans suspended in an unknown fluid, each pod shining with pink light. A mist hung in the air. Something had gone wrong. She thought over what she knew about the situation. The Rainbow Bridge not properly calibrated. An unstable timeline. Extra-dimensional travel. … Oh hell. She could be anywhere, or anywhen. She briefly considered calling out, “Hello?” The general ‘evil scientist lab’ vibe of the place made her think twice.
She instinctively reached out for the other two thirds of her mind, her other selves, the partial-gestalt consciousness inhabiting three bodies which were individuals but not, and she felt... nothing. Irma's eyes widened. "Celeste?" she asked. Nothing. "Phoebe?" Nothing.
It felt as though the ground had just opened beneath her feet. She was empty. Incomplete. It felt... she wasn't sure what. It wasn't just 'alone,' but 'alone was close. The Fire was still with her.
Irma Cuckoo shivered.
‘OK,’ she thought, ‘I’m not where I should be. Think.’ She did. A minute later, she set out down the corridor,
“Strange,” a cold, mechanical voice said, echoing down the corridor. She couldn’t quite tell which direction from sound alone, but telepathy revealed the source: a creature. A man. Brainiac. “It should have materialized here like the first,” Brainiac said. A pause. “Activate security sweep.” His mind vanished from Irma's awareness, and she got a sinking feeling.
Two others. Two other conscious minds. There. Bart Allen. Patty Spivot. Another mind caught her attention. A strange, convoluted thing, full of varying impulses and desires, and far more knowledge than any single mind should ever hold. She didn't immediately recognize it.
Security sweep. She’d had just enough time to process that thought when a red light filled the corridor. Alarms flashed, and then there was the sound of an explosion from somewhere up ahead. She closed her eyes. The fire was there, waiting for her. It always was. It always would be, now.
"Stop where you are," a calm, mechanical voice said from the corridor behind her. When Irma turned, she saw a tall green-skinned alien clad all in black, almost chitinous armor, and set with pink gems which glowed the same color as the glass tubes. There was knowledge, there. Brilliance. A mind like she'd never seen before in all her life, and she could sense his telepathic influence as a gentle pressure against her mental barriers.
"Who are you?" she asked.
Brainiac nodded. "I completely understand." A slight smirk appeared at the corner of his lips. "There are forms to be observed. I am Brainiac, and you are my prisoner. Will you surrender, or shall we engage in the customary contest of wills?"
Irma thought about it. The pressure against her mental barriers grew stronger, but it wasn't threatening them yet. "What do you want with me?" she asked, and wished her sisters were here with her. Together, they were always stronger than any one of them was on her own.
"To study," Brainiac replied. "To learn. Perhaps to dissect. You needn't worry: you may find it unpleasant, but I can keep you alive through the process. You are an anomaly, and your energy signature bears a curious resemblance to another test subject. Perhaps what I learn will be of use to me in the war effort."
"Oh, sure," Irma said. "I always let people dissect me when they ask politely."
"Sarcasm. A common defense mechanism in young humans. How disappointing." Brainiac shifted his stance. "Enough."
The pressure of his telepathic power against her mental shields suddenly surged. It wasn't like a hammer, or like an icepick: it was like the freaking tide. Relentless. All encompassing. If her sisters had been with her, Irma might have been able to stand against it, but without them she had only seconds to decide: embrace the fire within her, or let a stronger telepath break down her shields and gain unrestricted access to her mind. If she took in the fire again, she might not be able to let it go. … But if she didn’t, she was dead. Not much of a choice, but it was one, and she made it; the air filled with fire.
Barry wasn’t taking the news very well. “Wait, you’re saying this is MY fault? All of it?”
Batman’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.
“In the original timeline, you learn all this when Professor Zoom resets your, uh, internal vibrations,” and God but it felt silly to say that, but Barry nodded like he understood exactly what she meant, so Karen went on. “You were at your mother’s grave on her birthday. It was her first since you’d learned that Zoom was responsible for her murder. And you… well, you went to the past, to the day your mother died. You shattered history, and the lives of the people closest to you were put onto paths that followed the cracks.”
“I don’t remember,” Barry said. His face was visibly less burned than it had been ten minutes earlier.
Luke frowned. “Can’t you just, uh, reset your vibrations to find out if she’s tellin’ the truth?”
Flash shook his head. “Not without help. Maybe if I had one of the other users of the Speed Force here.”
“Well, it gets worse. There’s a woman out there named Pandora. I don’t know if she’s the original or not, but she’s a witch, and her witch-fu is strong. She’s trying to take advantage of the situation to reshape history the way she wants it when she interferes right at the moment you’re fixing the timeline. It wipes out your entire universe, Barry. There’s a new one put in its place, but it’s not the same.”
“Original timeline?” Batman asked.
Karen nodded. “Uh, yeah. It’s hard to explain.”
“You’re in the comic books,” Luke Cage said. “We looked your ass up.”
“Yeah,” Karen said with a wince, “That.”
Batman looked at Luke Cage. “... Comic books?”
Barry shook his head, “Earth Prime. It makes sense. There’s a Superboy from there.”
Batman gave Barry a dubious look. “If you say so.”
“So yeah,” Karen said, going with it, since it was easier than explaining the truth. “The information we got from Earth Prime made Power Girl, um, upset. We came here to try to help.”
Barry nodded. “I assume she’ll be able to confirm all this when we meet her?”
Karen nodded. “Yeah.”
“Do you people have any idea how stupid that sounds?” Batman asked.
Karen flushed red, and nodded. “Reasonably good, yeah,” she muttered.
Barry shrugged. “Welcome to my life.”
“All right,” Karen said, “So here’s the plan. We’re not going to just let this entire world end and be replaced with the old one. We’re going to save as much of it as we...”
"No," Batman said, his ever-present scowl growing even more pronounced. "We're not saving this world. We're replacing it with the other one."
"I don't think you understand what you're asking for," Karen began.
"I understand it perfectly. We change things back to the way they're supposed to be. I'll die. Bruce will live."
"Everyone else in the world will die, too."
Batman muttered something angrily, indistinctly.
Luke Cage held up a hand, forestalling Karen's reply. "Think about it, man," he said, "If you want to die, I ain't gonna stop ya, but are you really gonna make everyone else in the world die with you?"
The Flash didn't say anything, but stared down at his own hands.
"You got kids? Either of you?"
Karen shuddered at the thought. "No."
Luke Cage nodded. "Yeah. A little girl."
"What's her name?" Batman asked.
"Danielle," Luke replied.
"Tell me something, Mr. Cage. If you thought it would save Danielle's life, what would you do in my place?"
Luke Cage was silent for a long moment. Then he shook his head a little regretfully and said, "All right, maybe I can understand where you're coming from."
"But," Karen began, "maybe there's a way to save the other world without destroying this one."
"Maybe," Batman allowed.
"And if not," The Flash said, speaking up for the first time since he'd been told his role in all this, "If this world is going to be destroyed anyways, we can at least save as many people a we can."
Batman muttered something angry, and then nodded reluctantly. "As long as Bruce is alive at the end of it."
"That much I can promise," Karen said. “The first step is to get in touch with Cyborg.”
Coast City. Less than half an hour from Edwards, and twenty minutes from Fort Rock. Assuming you’ve got a Green Lantern ring to provide transport and not a car, that is. It was one of the bigger California cities, with more than seven million residents living right up in Sonoma County. Technically, Coast City itself was the more westerly part that actually went right up to Bodega Bay, but people who weren’t from the region tended to identify the whole urbanized region that consisted of anything north or west of Petaluma as “Coast City.” All of that might have thrown Prodigy, Mercury, Hellion, and Spider-Woman if they’d known more about the California Coast in their home world. As it was, they knew they were in a place that didn’t exist back home, but that was good: Booster Gold was supposed to show up in Coast City. Supposedly, he should have a way to keep them from being erased by an unstable timeline.
They'd walked along the highway in full costume for almost an hour to get to the city limits, cars passing every now and again, but otherwise empty. There was military checkpoint ahead, and as they drew near, they could hear the sound of raised voices.
“...and that’s another thing!” One guard - a Corporal by the name of Jenkins - was speaking loudly with another guard. “Why does San Francisco get to be called ‘The City’ all in capital letters like it’s the only one around? Coast City has five times their population! We should be The City! Fuck San Francisco!”
“I hear ya, Corporal," Private Pyle said. Neither of them noticed as the group walked by in full costume.
"God damned San Franciscans..."
Private Pyle nodded his agreement.
Corporal Jenkins grinned suddenly. “Hey, you ever wanna piss ‘em off? Call it ‘Frisco.’ They lose their shit.”
“I shit you not.”
Private Pyle laughed, though his voice was a distant thing by now, fading into the background. “I’m gonna have to try that…” he said, and his voice faded beyond the range of hearing. They were through, and there was a noticeable military presence in the streets, and the population seemed subdued and fearful. But when people saw them, they actually seemed to brighten, and some of them smiled. A soldier waved to them with a smile, murmuring something about it being ‘good to have some heroes on hand.’
"There's something weird going on here," Prodigy said.
Spider-Woman nodded. "People are on edge. I think they might be expecting an attack. It would explain the military presence "
Prodigy shook his head. "That's not what I mean." He, Mercury, and Hellion exchanged glances.
"Nobody's freaking out," Mercury said, with wonder in her voice, and it was true: people gave the costumed group curious looks, but the hostility that they all but took for granted as mutants... wasn't there. It felt like... . "I don't suddenly look normal or anything, do I?" she asked.
Prodigy looked her way. Mercury was the same liquid-metal girl she'd always been. "This is weird," he said.
Spider-Woman looked around and shrugged, and it did incredibly interesting things to her chest that Prodigy very carefully tried not to take notice of. Hellion didn't make any such effort. "Seems normal enough to me."
Prodigy and Mercury looked at each other, and he was suddenly aware of the divide between himself and his teammates. He wasn't a mutant anymore. Not since M-Day. People still treated him like one, though, mostly because of who he kept company with. He'd lost his powers, but people still feared him, still hated him. He knew that. So how the hell did people like Spider-Woman get treated like a totally different class of person by the general public, to the point that she... he ended that train of thought. He was being uncharitable.
"Yeah, but you're not a mutant," Mercury said. She was talking to Spider-Woman, but Prodigy felt it all the same. Some wounds would heal with time. This wasn't one of them. "You wouldn't get it."
Spider-Woman's mask hid her eyes, so Prodigy couldn't actually tell if she'd rolled them or not. "Not everything has to be about your mutant persecution thing," she said. "Excuse me?"
Spider-Woman put a hand to her forehead. "Right. Look, all of you just keep an eye out. Depending on the timing, Booster Gold could be here any..." A construction site maybe a hundred yards down the street went up in a spectacular fireball, and all of them felt the shockwave like a thump to the chest. "...minute.”
They arrived on the scene just in time to see a figure dressed in blue and gold flying away. Two soldiers were on the ground, and Prodigy wasn’t sure if they were unconscious or not. Booster Gold, presumably.
“Hey, wait!” Hellion called.
The figure in blue and gold looked back over his shoulder, and then…
And then a particle beam satellite shot him out of the sky. Booster Gold tumbled head over heels, slammed into a wall, and then landed on the roof of a building nearby.
“All right, kids,” Spider-Woman said, “Let’s get to work. I’ll go see if he’s OK. Hellion, make sure they can’t hit us with any of those blasts from above. The rest of you, meet us on the roof.”
Spider-Woman went up to check on Booster, and Prodigy nodded at Hellion. “Get us up there, then put up your shield, OK?”
“No problem,” Hellion said. He lifted himself, Prodigy, and Mercury up to the rooftop in short order. Half a second later, a semi-transparent dome snapped into being above them. A few seconds after that, a second particle-beam struck the shield from above. Light flared, and a dangerous rumble went through the building, but the shield held. A third blast never came.
“Is he OK?” Prodigy asked.
Booster Gold opened his eyes. “Ugh. What hit…” he saw Spider-Woman leaning over him. Spider-Woman, with her long dark hair and a figure that was beyond amazing which her costume only served to emphasize, and what was visible of her face absolutely perfect. “... me. Uh. Hi.”
Spider-Woman smirked. “Booster Gold, I presume? You all right?” She held out a hand.
Booster grinned, and gave a thumbs up. “That’s me. And I’m always all right.” He took her hand, and she pulled him up to his feet.
A little blue and gold drone floated down next to Booster. “Sir, I believe we have arrived in the wrong timeline. We are in an alternate universe.”
“I got that, Skeets,” Booster said.
“Actually,” Prodigy said, “It’s worse than that.”
Booster raised an eyebrow. “OK, one, who are you people? Two, worse how?”
They told him.
“My name is Patty Spivot,” Patty said. She had short blonde hair, intense blue eyes, a cute face with a pert nose. Her costume was black with a white lightning bolt going down the front, and form-fitting enough to display her slender build. Without her helmet, she looked more like somebody’s favorite older sister than a superhero.
“You…” Kid Flash said, “You were the woman with the Reverse-Flash.” Kid Flash was a boy perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old. He had short brown hair and striking gold eyes, and was dressed in a yellow and red version of the Flash costume that left his hair exposed.
“I was doing fill-in work at the Central City lab,” Patty said. “They asked me to help clean up after the Reverse-Flash trashed the place. I…” She looked down at her helmet. “I decided to do something bigger
with my life.” She held up the helmet. “I don’t know how we got here, but according to the data readout inside my helmet, the year is 3011. We’re in the fifth century of Brainiac’s occupation of Earth, and… he’s the only thing standing between Earth and the Black Lanterns.”
Kid Flash staggered. “... No… this can’t be 3011,” he muttered. “I was born
in the thirty-first century. It wasn’t like this. Unless...” he looked up. “Unless something changed the timeline. But if that’s true, and I’m locked out of the Speed Force, nothing is protecting me in this new timeline…” He looked thoughtful. “Those chambers Brainiac had us in must have been shielding us from the effects of the time stream while he studied us.”
“Makes sense,” Patty replied.
“Your bike can travel through time, right?” Kid Flash asked.
“It could, if it had its Speed Force tank.”
Kid Flash noded. “Then we’ve got to find that tank and get back home fast. We’re not supposed to be here.”
The air grew warmer, and a fiery light could be seen coming down the hallway. Something was coming.
“I’m gonna guess that’s a bad thing,” Patty said. She hopped onto the cosmic motorcycle. “Get on.”
Kid Flash staggered once more. “I…”
There was no warning. One moment, they were talking in relative safety, the next a seven foot tall disturbingly skeletal robot had emerged from a service corridor and opened fire. Heard a noise like an angry hornet as something went past her ear, and then it felt like someone hit her in the shoulder with a sledgehammer. A hot, searing pain went through her, and she went down.
“Patty!” Kid Flash shouted. “Of all the times not to have my speed!” He dove for cover, and she stared at her shoulder in shock. A finger sized hole had been punched clean through her costume, through her shoulder, and out the other side.
The robot leveled its gun at Kid Flash...
And then a blonde teenager surrounded by an aura in the shape of an enormous firebird flew into the room. A finger-thick lance of flame shot out from the palm of her hand and cut the robot in half at the waist before she drew it back across its gun, the touch of the fire rendering whatever alloy the thing was made from into liquid metal instantly. The heat was beyond description, and for a moment, Patty was sure she was going to die. She clenched her eyes shut and looked away, and her face went from normal to moderately sunburned in the space of a second. And then it was gone. The heat was gone.
A blonde teenaged girl in a skin-tight red and gold costume with a gold bird emblem on its chest landed lightly in the middle of the room, next to the rapidly cooling remains of the robot. She looked first at Patty, then at Kid Flash.
“Who are you?” Patty asked, clutching her uninjured hand to her shoulder in an effort to stop the bleeding.
Something exploded in the distance, but the girl didn’t flinch. “Call me Phoenix,” she said, and extended a hand, not quite able to hide a smirk. “Come with me if you want to live.”
Power Girl appeared in a burst of rainbow colored light ten thousand feet above Metropolis, and she didn't appear alone. Layla Miller appeared in the air beside her, and unlike Peej, she had no power of flight: Layla let out a surprised shriek as gravity took hold.
Power Girl swooped down to grab her before she could get far, and then began the long powered descent to the city below. Metropolis gleamed like a star in the night, light and sound and color of every kind mingling together with the rush of wind, the murmur of city-voices, and the distant thunder of heartbeats. She landed on the roof of the Daily Planet in the middle of downtown Metropolis, walked to the edge of the roof and stared down at the city.
Monorails glided smoothly on raised tracks. Cars moved with the flow of traffic. The hum of the city was everywhere. She closed her eyes, and she could hear the teenaged couple walking past the Daily Planet building on the sidewalk, hand in hand. She could hear the old man muttering about ‘kids these days’ under his breath as they passed. She could hear the cat moving in the alley across the way. She could hear the conversations of thousands all around her.
“... and you call me the minute you hear from Lois Lane!” It was the voice Perry White, inside the building.
Power Girl laughed. She’d done it. She was here. She was home. … Almost. Almost home. The ‘almost’ was all that kept her from crying happy tears there on the roof. She scrubbed at her eyes, and then turned. “We made it,” she said.
“Yup,” Layla said neutrally. A moment later, she tapped her communicator and spoke into it, got no reply, and frowned.
“OK,” Power Girl said, “We’re in Metropolis.” Power Girl paused as she considered the skyline once more, taking note of the LexCorp building. She blinked. Hadn’t Lex Luthor been killed by Krypto in this timeline? A moment’s concentration had her peering through the building’s superstructure until… there he was, working in his lab, his left arm and right leg obviously mechanical to her super senses, but decidedly alive.
It occurred to her that she could probably enlist his assistance. He’d likely be willing to help if she handled it correctly. And then Power Girl considered carefully all the possible ramifications of going to LexCorp to get assistance from Lex Luthor.
OK. That was a bad idea, and there was no way that wasn’t going to end in tears. Power Girl clenched her eyes shut as she got her head in the game. ‘Come on, Kara,’ she thought to herself. ‘You’ve got a genius level intellect. Try using it instead of just bull-rushing in like you always do.’
She thought about it. The whole situation. Put it all together. Throughout the whole Flashpoint, despite Tara Markov’s total betrayal of everything a champion of Earth was supposed to be, there was never any indication that Strata had taken action. There were a few possible reasons for that, and none of them good. Given that Tara Markov had her powers in this reality, Strata had to exist as well, so that wasn’t it. She worked it through, her thought processes taking her through the chains of logic in a fraction of the time it would have taken a human.
Power Girl looked up. “We need to find Atlee,” she said. She was expecting argument. Resistance. She was expecting Layla to tell her they needed to meet up with the others.
What Layla actually said was, “Okie dokie.”
"If she exists here at all, she'll probably be in Strata. There's an entrance nearby, I think, but we'll have to be careful. There's no telling how the Terrans will react to us."
She took Layla into her arms Superman style. "Hold on tight," she said, and took off, heading inland.
Most people would have found that an awkward position to hold a conversation from. Most people, of course, were not Layla Miller. Layla raised an eyebrow and looked up at Power Girl. “OK," she said, "I'll bite. Who are the Terrans, and what’s Strata?”
Power Girl raised an eyebrow in turn, mirroring Layla’s expression exactly.
Layla sighed. “Reports of my omniscience have been greatly exaggerated.
Power Girl tried not to giggle. When she saw Layla's put-upon expression, she failed in her attempt. It felt good to laugh. "Sorry," she said. They reached the city limits and flew on past, and occasionally people on the ground would notice them and point them out to their fellows.
“Strata is a society that lives in large cave-systems deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Terrans are one of several nonhuman races that live in Strata. The Terrans in particular are linked to the Earth and to its sanctity in a way that is difficult for any non-Terran to ever really understand.”
“This Atlee girl is a Terran?”
Power Girl nodded. “Right.”
“But she looks human?”
After that, PG accelerated to the point that it was no longer possible to talk. Mountains sprang up in the distance, growing slowly closer. The land grew less and less populated, sources of light fewer and farther between, but Power Girl knew the way. Their destination was a tiny cave entrance set onto the side of a cliff a hundred feet above barren valley floor where a summer fire had burned away the green.
Still carrying Layla, Power Girl flew through the entrance, made her way through a long, winding, downward sloping passage, and then came to stop just in front of a great black pit in the earth set at the heart of a jagged, dry cave: a hole that went straight down for almost a mile.
There was a soft but clear clicking sound as Layla turned on a flashlight and swept it across the chamber, then onto the hole. She leaned forward and peered down into the pit, shining her light down to illuminate only the tiniest portion of it.
Darkness. Darkness and stone walls, close air and the weight of the mountain above. “Relax,” Power Girl said. “I’ve got you.”
They began the descent.
Santo grimaced, and wiped the non-existent sweat from his brow. He, Sooraya, Josh, and Ms. Marvel had arrived here about ten minutes earlier, and Ms. Marvel’d gone up to do some aerial recon, leaving the three of them on the streets of, he wasn’t sure where. None of it looked familiar. It was all gothy and depressing, dingy, dark, and sense of quiet despair filled the air. So Detroit, probably.
Ms. Marvel landed. “This way,” she said, and they followed her down a dingy alleyway. There were people here and there, and when they saw Ms. Marvel and Sooraya, they started to come forward, but then they saw him and Josh and stopped in their tracks. Strangely enough, nobody wanted to mess with a giant made out of rock walking alongside a boy with awesome gold skin. Not that he’d ever tell Josh he was jealous, though sometimes he thought about finding a big gold deposit and making a body from it just to show off.
An uncomfortable silence held for a few more minutes, and then he couldn’t contain himself any longer. “So,” Santo said, “Uh, how about them Yankees?”
“I’ve never cared for sports,” Sooraya said.
“... er, yeah, me neither." Josh added.
Santo frowned. Barbarians. They kept walking, and after few seconds, he broke the silence again. “How about you, Ms. Marvel? You see the Yankees game two days ago?"
Ms. Marvel raised an eyebrow. “The Angels knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs a week and a half ago."
“Well, yeah. It was a rebroadcast. But it was still awesome to watch the Yankees crush the Red Sox!"
Ms. Marvel’s eyes narrowed. "You shut your mouth."
"What? They DID. 8-4!"
"And we came back the next game to take the series with a 10-1 victory, Yankee-boy."
Santo blinked. "Wait, you're a..."
Ms. Marvel smirked, and Santo went pale, looking to Sooraya and Josh in alarm. “Try not to freak out, guys, but our Avenger's one of THEM."
"Still don't care about sports,” Sooraya said, sounding bored.
Josh ignored him entirely.
Santo kicked a piece of trash in frustration, and it went clattering off into the distance. “This sucks!”
The communicator chirped. “Anyone receiving? This is Luke Cage. Nightwing’s with me. Avengers, X-Men, anyone out there?”
The group went silent, and Ms. Marvel tapped her own communicator. “This is Ms. Marvel. I’m reading you. I’m with Rockslide, Dust, and Elixir. What’s your position, Cage? Over.”
“We’re in Gotham, north of the river. You?”
“Gotham,” Ms. Marvel replied, “We’re about seven blocks west of a run down Yacht club on the north side of town.”
Oh. Well, not Detroit, then.
A pause. “You’re in Crime Alley. You’re gonna want to head east until you hit the,” Another pause, “Uh, Robert Kaine Memorial Bridge. There’s pedestrian traffic allowed there. We’ll have a car meet you there, got it?”
“I read you, Cage. We’ll be there. Over and out.” Ms. Marvel looked at Santo and the others. “Let’s move, people.”
“So just to be clear, we can go back in time if we get ahold of your Speed Force tank?” Irma asked.
Patty nodded. “Without it, my Cosmic Motorcycle is limited to, well, normal motorcycle speeds.”
Actually finding the Speed Force tank for Patty’s bike proved to be harder than it sounded. Mostly because Brainiac’s fortress was filled with hostile robots, and all of them were looking for them. Irma had blown a hole in his mechanical chest and given him third degree burns on the parts of him that were still flesh, and the guy held grudges.
There was a first aid kit in the storage compartment, and before they did anything else, they took care of the hole in Patty’s left shoulder. It was a clean wound, it had missed any major blood vessels, and they were able to bring the bleeding under control without too much trouble, but she would need to see a doctor before too long.
The tracker on Patty’s bike gave them an idea of where it was, so there was that, at least. They hit the robotic guards hard and fast, Irma burning down two of them with pencil-thin beams of Phoenix-fire even as Patty took down a third with a swing of what looked like a futuristic night-stick. When she hit the huge hulking robot with it, yellow lightning arced across its body, and it went down in a smoking heap.
“We’re clear,” Kid Flash said. “Is that it?”
The ‘that’ in question was a glowing orb suspended above a black and purple-black stand that looked like it belonged in Mordor.
When Patty didn’t answer right away, Irma glanced her way. She saw what was wrong immediately: pain was flashing through Patty’s mind, radiating out from her left shoulder. Patty took off her helmet, let it drop to the ground, and wiped her forehead with the hand on her uninjured arm.
“You ok?” Kid Flash asked.
Patty pressed her lips together into a thin line in order not to wince. “I think I might have overdone it with that swing just now. Give me a minute.” She checked her bandages, grimaced, and then glanced towards the glowing yellow orb. “That’s it,” she said. She tossed the nightstick-device, which stopped in midair and then reformed itself into her motorcycle, with wheels made of speed-force lightning. “Plug it in.”
“Uh, how?” Kid Flash asked.
“Just shove it into the back of the motorcycle. The bike will do the rest.”
Irma picked up Patty’s helmet. “So this thing feeds you information, right?” she asked.
Patty nodded. “Yes. It just sort of… well, this is going to sound funny, but it talks to me.”
“And it has some kind of time-line monitoring function?”
Irma put the helmet on. “Helmet,” she said, “Show me what happened to the timeline.”
The world tilted sideways. A thousand images flashed through Irma’s eyes all at once. People and places she didn’t recognize. Men and women, human and nonhuman, all dressed in green and black costumes with a green and white emblem on their chests. ‘Green Lanterns,’ her mind supplied. A vast skull-shaped ship descending from the sky. Names came with faces now. Batman stood atop a building in the middle of gotham. Seven figures dashed along within the Speed Force, running all as one. Barry and Bart Allen, Jason Garrick, Jesse Chambers, Wally West, Iris West, Max Mercury… Superman vanished only to be replaced by a sickly looking boy. Wonder Woman conquered all of England. Aquaman waged war upon the surface. The world cracked open like an egg. A blonde woman with cruelty in her brilliant blue eyes stood against a teen girl who had black hair and violet eyes, but otherwise had the same face, the same jaw, the same brow, the same body. Each bore the name of Terra, and the world trembled where they walked. More and more and more, a thousand faces and places and then…
Her eyes opened. She pulled the helmet off her head. Her thoughts were racing.
Patty eased herself onto the Cosmic Motorcycle. “OK,” she said, “I’m setting the time engine for the twenty first century.”
Irma blinked. “... Wait.”
“We have a time machine,” Irma said..
Patty and Kid Flash paused, exchanged glances. “Look,” Patty said, “Setting right what went wrong is one thing, but crossing your own timeline and altering your own past is the best way there is to get erased by paradox, and I'm not going to risk it."
Kid flash nodded in agreement.
Irma smiled. “Don't worry about that. I don't intend to change the past. I just want to arrange a few things for the future. OUR future."
Patty frowned. "We don't really have enough in the Speed Force tank to make more than a trip or two..."
"A trip or two is all I'll need. We’ve got a minute. Look around. Take anything that seems useful. If anyone hears approaching robots, we leave."
Patty sighed. “Fine.”
Five minutes later, with the motorcycle’s saddlebags stuffed with loot, the sound of approaching robots sent them running.
"This is a really bad idea," Kid Flash muttered.
"It'll be fine," Irma insisted.
"We could be predestining ourselves to a really horrible end. We could be arranging our own deaths, and then when we go back to actually do it, we'll have no choice because to do otherwise would be a paradox that would be even worse!"
"All I'm doing is getting a few of Brainiac's devices to the person I'm pretty sure knows how to use them best," Irma said.
Patty started the motorcycle, revved it, and drove through the wall and into time. A moment later and a thousand years earlier, the Cosmic Motorcycle reappeared driving down the road of a distinctly 21st century America. And something was exploding in the distance. Several somethings. Every now and again there was a crack like a sonic boom, and... Layla Miller was waiting on corner.
"Hey Layla," Irma called.
Layla waved. "Hey Irma. Hey Kid Flash. Hot Pursuit."
Kid Flash looked at Irma. “Irma, huh?” he asked.
Irma didn’t dignify that with a response. What she thought of the name ‘Bartholomew’ didn’t require saying aloud, and she pointedly ignored the fact that Patty’s code name was apparently, ‘Hot Pursuit.’ “How'd you know we'd be here?"
Layla gave Irma a look.
"Right. So, uh, do we give this to you?" She gestured to the Cosmic Motorcycle’s saddlebags, stuffed with objects liberated from Brainiac’s lab.
Layla shook her head. "I’ve got a message from you. You told me you need to talk to yourself right away. After that, you better get going. If you’re here too long, Power Girl’s going to see you, and you said that you left before she got here.”
Irma nodded. “Thanks Layla. Tell me I said thanks, too.”
“Already did,” Layla replied.
Making telepathic contact with her future self was one of the strangest things Irma had ever done. It wasn’t like joining with her sisters as the Three-in-One. It was more like two mirrors facing each other, reflecting one another to infinity. The presence of the Phoenix shard made it worse, sending out weird vibrations through the whole. There were echoes of herself in herself through herself and mirroring herself to herself through herself and on and on and on, and both of herselves flinched slightly at the contact. She didn’t try for a full joining: she was pretty sure that would be a bad idea. But the link was formed. *Hey, me. How’re things?*
Irma asked. *Hey, myself.” Irma replied.
It was hard to tell which one of them was sending what, even for her. When a mental voice is exactly like your own in every way, things got confusing quickly. Get confusing quickly? One of those. *Tell me about it,*
an Irma sent. *Let’s just get this over with as quickly as we can.*
Irma sent. *Tell me where to take the supplies we stole from Brainiac.* *OK, first you need to find Booster Gold. He’s in Coast City nine hours and fifteen minutes ago. He’ll be able to tell you what they are and what they do, so that I’ll know what they are and what they do and can tell the others, got it? After that, take them to London bridge. Southern end. Twelve hours from now. I’ve already told Prodigy and Cyborg to expect you.* *Cyborg?* *Spoilers.* *Why don’t you just tell me what they are and what they do?* *Because that’s not how it happened.* *... I’m starting to hate time travel.* *This was your idea.* *Yours, too.* *Don’t remind me.*
Irma severed the link. They were gone before Power Girl arrived.
“Santo, you made it!”
Santo grinned. “Karen, my man!” He clasped her hand, released, fistbumped.
Karen grinned, too. It was hard not to. “Hey Sooraya. Josh. You heard from anyone else yet?”
“Hello, Karen,” Sooraya said.
Josh shook his head. “Not so far, but we think the Rainbow Bridge might have scrambled our communications a little.”
Barry Allen was no longer dressed in a poor man’s mummy bandages. It had taken him all of a second to make himself a new costume, and most of the second and third degree burns he’d inflicted on himself with his first failed attempt to access the speed force had now healed: he looked the part of the Flash.
“Flash,” Karen said, “These are my friends. The big guy is Rockslide,” she gestured to Sooraya, “That’s Dust,” she indicated Josh, “And that’s Elixir. Guys, this is the Flash.”
The mutants exchanged glances. “The same guy who…?” Santo began.
“Yeah,” Karen said.
The Flash looked slightly uncomfortable, but nodded. “Nice to meet you,” he said.
“Nice to meet you,” Santo, Sooraya, and Josh echoed.
“This is Ms. Marvel,” Luke Cage broke in, gesturing to Carol.
“Flash,” Carol said.
“Who’s the angry looking guy in the shadows?” Santo asked.
“That’s Batman,” Cage said.
“Batman, huh? What’s his power?”
The shadows seemed to lengthen slightly, and Batman’s glowing red eyes fixed upon Santo.
Santo shivered. “Uh, nevermind. I don’t think I wanna know.”
“We’re about to go meet up with Cyborg in Metropolis,” Karen said. "He's the guy who's trying to organize the American superheroes."
Ms. Marvel nodded. “Works for me. Let’s move.”
Colonel William Conner was having a bad day. Not that it was unusual to have bad days anymore. Seemed like the whole world was going that way lately. Something in the water, he guessed, and then let out a half-hearted chuckle at his own pun. Damn those Atlanteans. Damn them all to hell. They’d been expecting attack for a couple days now, and along comes some bozo in blue and gold flying right into the airspace above Coast City without so much as a warning from any of the radar boys: it was like he had just appeared in midair. Given that the United States didn’t actually have any flying heroes, odds were good that he was an Atlantean agent.
And now, this. This… incompetence. William Conner could tolerate many failings in a soldier under his command, but incompetence was not one of them. So he’d stormed into the operations center for the Coast City defense force in order to read the report for himself. Major Finn was the officer in charge of the operations center when he arrived. He was some corn-fed Iowa farm boy turned special forces soldier who looked like he belonged in a recruiting ad and not in the actual Air Force, which grated on Conner’s nerves. Wasn’t Finn’s fault, but it still annoyed Conner something fierce. The incompetence displayed by the people at the checkpoint wasn’t Finn’s fault, either, but that didn’t stop Conner from taking it out of his hide.
“And they just walked in right past the eastern security checkpoint?” Colonel Conner asked. He was in the operations center for the Coast City defenses, they’d been expecting an Atlantean attack, and it had arrived in the form of the flying man in blue and gold: none of the existing American heroes were fliers, and the Amazons would never use a male operative. That didn’t leave very many possibilities.
Major Finn nodded. “Apparently so, sir.”
Conner’s anger was a slow, bubbling sort of thing. “I want the soldiers on duty there in my office as soon as this crisis is over. You as well, Major.”
Conner scowled. “You were the commanding officer for the watch, son.”
Finn didn’t get angry. Didn’t seem to react at all, except to nod. That was a credit to him. “Yes sir,” he said.
“Dismissed,” Conner said. Then he glanced up at the clock. “Is General Adam ready with Project Six?” he asked.
A dark-haired woman with captain’s wings on her uniform nodded. “Yes, sir,” she said. “But we’ve never actually tested Project Six in real combat situation. Is it really ready for this?”
“Captain, Atlantean infiltrators have just met up with a flying Atlantean who just took no damage from a weapon capable of vaporizing entire city blocks. I don’t see that we have a choice.” Colonel Conner flipped a switch on the control board in front of him and spoke into the microphone beside it. “Tactical, inform General Adam that we’re ready for deployment.”
“...so we need some way of stabilizing ourselves against the effects of an unstable timeline,” Prodigy said. “We don’t belong here, and we’d rather not just stop existing entirely when this universe goes back to normal.”
“Huh,” Booster said. “Right. OK. I have no idea how to do that.”
Hellion frowned. “This is the right guy, isn’t he?”
“Uh, you’re Booster Gold, right?”
Mercury exchanged glances with the other X-Men present. “Why would Karen send us to this guy if he couldn’t…”
“Karen?” Booster asked, interrupting Mercury.
“Yeah,” Mercury said. “Karen Zor-L.” She looked to Prodigy, “She’s not going by ‘Starr’ anymore, right?”
“Don’t think so,” Prodigy said.
“You know Power Girl?” Booster asked.
“Her too,” Hellion said. “We don’t know Kara as well as Karen, though.”
Booster blinked. Karen and Kara? “Supergirl’s here, too?”
“Who?” Mercury asked.
Booster paused a moment, not really sure what was going on anymore. “Kara Zor-El?”
“What about her?” Mercury asked.
There was movement in the night, though none of those present noticed it. A dark shape all covered in green cloth was coming towards their rooftop in long, bounding leaps.
“Uh,” Booster said, “So who’s on first?”
The others looked confused.
“Sir,” Booster’s tiny, floating mechanical companion said, “I have searched my databanks, and I believe I can provide instructions for the manufacture of the devices our new friends require.”
“Oh thank God," Booster muttered. "Whatcha got, Skeets?"
"Do you wish me to explain the science, sir?"
Booster thought about it, shuddered, and shook his head. "Magic doohickey that wards off paradox. Got it."
A huge figure covered in green cloth landed on the telekinetic dome with a thud. All eyes went to it even as it reared back its fist and drove it through the barrier. The barrier flashed white, and then burst like a soap bubble, dropping the figure to the roof.
“Shit!” Hellion yelped.
The creature was humanoid, and almost nine feet tall, dressed all in green cloth that covered every inch of its body, but failed to conceal the awful bone-spikes that jutted out of it at its elbows, knees, knuckles, and shoulders. It peered out at the world through two glowing orange lenses affixed to a silver helmet of sorts which swept around to the back of its skull, with tubes reaching down from there to a belt made of the same material. “Freeze,” it said, its voice as gravely as if it had been gargling iron filings for an hour.
“No way,” Booster muttered, staring at the creature with wide-eyed terror. It was the being he had never wanted to see again. The being that still gave him nightmares. A creature he had fought once before, and which had damn near torn him apart. The creature that had killed Superman.
Then the creature spoke again. “Atlantean agents, by the order of the Surface Defense Protectorate, you are ordered to surrender yourselves.”
Everyone on the rooftop froze.
“... You can talk? How?”
The creature seemed to straighten. “My name is General Nathaniel Adam.”
Booster blinked. “Nate?”
Then it charged Booster Gold, its ever footstep carving furrows into the roof. He barely managed to evade its punch, and when he hit it back, all he succeeded in doing was tearing the cloth covering the creature’s face, revealing bone spikes and grey skin on a face that only looked vaguely human. “I am authorized to negate your threat by any means necessary,” it said.
Spider-Woman’s venom blast struck the creature, and she might as well not have fired at all.
Without Surge there to lead them, leadership of the New X-Men defaulted to Prodigy, and he went into action immediately. “Hellion, Mercury, battle plan four.”
Hellion and Mercury nodded, and that was as far as they got before Booster yelled out, “Don’t let it hit you! This thing is the biggest nightmare threat the world has ever seen! If it hits you, you’re dead!”
Doomsday smirked, and it looked strangely wrong on the creature’s face, as if it were only aping the human expression without actually feeling the emotion behind it. “Surrender or be destroyed.”
“This is a mistake,” Booster said. “We’re not who you think we are. We’re not with Atlantis.”
“A likely story,” General Adam said through Doomsday’s lips. This time, his bony spikes struck home as he drove them into Booster Gold’s stomach, straining the man’s force shield to its limits and sending him staggering backwards.
“Damn it!” Booster Gold yelled.
Mercury struck the beast full in the face with a fist in the shape of a warhammer. Doomsday whirled towards her, growling low and dangerously, but it was operating at human speed, and she was able to react in time to save herself from its returning punch: she shapeshifted a hole into her center of mass where its bony fist would have otherwise connected, and it struck nothing but empty air. Mercury flowed around its fist, literally, her body morphing wildly to avoid contact with its follow-through, and then she was slashing at its eyes with fingers in the shape of blades. She sliced neatly through the lenses of its helmet’s goggles, and her blade-fingers scraped savagely against its eyeballs, and against the bone-spikes that grew out around them, and she drew back her hand with a pained hiss and retreated out of melee range.
Her attack did precisely nothing.
Spider-Woman followed up with a kick to the creature’s crotch. That, at least, got its attention, and she nimbly avoided its return attack just as Booster Gold blasted it from behind.
“Batter… UP!” Hellion shouted, and sent the thing flying into the air with his telekinesis. It wasn’t talking anymore: it was roaring in fury. Up it went a good twenty feet before gravity overcame momentum and it started to come back down. Hellion hit it again, sending it up another twenty feet. Then a thought occurred to him, and he seized Doomsday in his telekinetic grip, holding him immobile in the air a good forty feet above the roof. “So,” he said, “This is the biggest nightmare threat the world has ever seen, huh?”
Doomsday roared, flailing its arms in midair, growing angrier by the moment.
Hellion grinned, and set the monster to tumbling head over heels in midair even while it hung helpless. “Big bad Doomsday,” he said. “Not so big now, are you?”
“Uh,” Prodigy began, “Hellion, maybe you shouldn’t make him mad like that.”
“The hell are you doing!?” Booster yelled. “Get rid of him! Knock him into orbit if you can! Send him flying as far as you can! You’ve probably only got seconds until he evolves a countermeasure to your…!”
Doomsday roared in triumph: there was a flash of light, and it fell free from Hellion’s telekinetic grip.
“... powers,” Booster finished.
“Oh, crap,” Prodigy, Mercury, and Hellion all said at the same time.
They flew through sightless caverns and empty places, and only the feeling of the wind of their passage and the warmth of Power Girl’s body told Layla she was alive at all. Their pace had slowed, and several times they had to crawl on their bellies to squeeze through terrible narrow passages in the rock, lit only by Layla’s flashlight, in order to access deeper, darker caverns beyond where creatures dwelt which had never known the sun. Kara seemed to know the way, seemed not to need the flashlight, even. But even here, in the roots of the world, not all was dark, not all was sightless. In time, Layla became aware of a faint light in the distance - a ghostly blue that cast strange shadows down the widening tunnel. Kara seemed to tense, and her pace quickened.
The tunnel sloped downwards, and they flew down it for several minutes as the light grew brighter around them and the sound of running water grew in the distance. Then, all at once, they reached the bottom, and the tunnel opened into a vast cavern with mushrooms the size of buildings, each of which glowed with a gentle blue light. The cavern walls were different here - too smooth to be natural. Water flowed through the cavern in a gentle river lit from beneath with beds of glowing fungus. Buildings grown from the rock stood at regular intervals, usually beside unfenced fields now grown verdant with glowing plants of every description save leafy. Kara and Layla stood at the beginning of a well maintained road, leading through the mushroom forest and to a great rocky gate set into the far cavern wall, perhaps a mile distant.
“This is Strata?” Layla asked, staring about it wonder.
“Part of it,” Kara replied. “Atlee showed me around, once. This is where they grow a lot of their food.” She looked around. “But there should be people here.”
As she looked upon the gate in the distance, it occurred to Layla that she could hear the distant sounds of battle, muffled but still audible. The occasional incredibly faint, distant scream. Rumbles that could have been explosions. Tremors in the earth.
“... I’m probably worrying for no reason,” Kara said. “I’m sure everything’s fine. We’ll find her, you’ll wake up her memories. We’ll leave.”
Layla shivered in Kara’s arms as they flew ever closer to the gate. There was a guard station which had been hastily abandoned further up. Someone’s meal stood abandoned but still warm.
“That would work better if I didn't know for a fact that your super-hearing means that you were probably hearing the screaming and the sounds of explosions and tremors in the earth ten minutes before I could."
Kara nodded as she landed in front of the gate. She set Layla down on her feet. “Yeah,” she said, “Probably. You ready?”
Kara pushed open the gate.
A terrible orange light blazed beyond. The great city of Strata was one of the wonders of the modern world, seemingly grown from the living rock itself, its sweeping columns and spirals and great towers and shining courtyards carved as water carves, with no sign other than its presence and obvious design that ever a tool was pressed to stone. Deceptively delicate aqueducts brought water to every level of the city, and shockingly green of trees were planted in regular intervals along the walkways. Light there was like unto natural sunlight, reproduced here through the technology that was the legacy of the Astronaut God from whom the underground races had sprung. Groves of trees and fungus and vines and many other plants were scattered here and there upon platforms that seemed too delicate to support their own weight. Normally, the walkways would be crowded with Terrans and members of the other races who called Strata home. But not today.
Screams and the sounds of battle flowed freely through the open gate: the city of Strata was on fire. Demons ran loose through the street, slaying all they encountered with wild abandon. The very cavern walls seemed to boil as elemental spirits gone mad poured out of them, sending terrific gouts of flame, water, magma, gusts of wind, and sprays of icy shards in all directions at random intervals. A few powered individuals struggled against that tide, and in the midst of the fray, a lone human-seeming girl with black hair and violet eyes commanded the very rock itself against her enemies as she fought a losing battle to save her city from an all out demonic invasion.
Layla took all this in with wide eyes, and said the only thing that could be said: “Oh, crap.”
The Cosmic Motorcycle shot out of the time-stream and went straight into the wall of a building. Irma had just enough time to recognize the danger she was in. Her heart leaped up in her chest, and then… then they were driving up the wall. Driving. Vertically. Up the wall.
That she was able to keep a calm exterior throughout the experience was a credit to her, though no less would be expected of a daughter of Emma Frost.
“According to my helmet’s sensors,” Patty said, “Booster Gold should be around here somewhere.”
They reached the top of the building just in time to see Hellion take a punch from Doomsday. He was able to deflect most of the force by angling his telekinetic shield, but enough go through that he was knocked senseless. Spider-Woman was breathing hard and backing away, Prodigy was hanging back further down the roof, and Mercury was in the process of dodging just a little bit too far when she was already at the roof’s edge. She evaded the creature’s follow-up to the punch that sent Hellion sprawling, and plummeted from the roof.
Booster Gold let out a curse and dove off the roof after her, put on speed, and caught her just before she would have hit the ground.
“This isn’t working!” Mercury shouted even as Booster deposited her back on the roof.
“Everyone can relax,” Kid Flash called, “Cavalry’s here!”
Doomsday turned to face the new threat.
“Irma!” Prodigy called. “Don’t let it touch you! It’s as strong as the Hulk!”
Irma’s eyes widened, and Patty tried to alter course, but by that time it was too late: the creature’s fist hit the Cosmic Motorcycle. The vehicle discorporated into lightning, which quickly reformed into what looked like a futuristic glowing nightstick that clattered across the roof. Irma, Kid Flash, and Hot Pursuit were sent flying.
Even as he tumbled through the air, Kid Flash’s eyes widened. On the other side of the country, in Gotham City, Barry Allen became the Flash once more, became the Speed Force conduit, and when he did, the power flowed back to all the others once again. For a moment, a lightning symbol seemed to be imprinted upon Kid Flash’s golden eyes.“The Speed Force,” he whispered. “It’s back!”
He blurred, and a millisecond later, he and Hot Pursuit were standing on the roof, completely unharmed.
Irma twisted her body, applied some of the telekinesis she had gained along with her Phoenix-shard, arrested her momentum, and landed as gracefully as if she had planned the impromptu dismount from the beginning.
“All right, people. We need a plan, here. Irma, what do your new friends bring to the table?”
“I’m the fastest teen alive,” Kid Flash said proudly.
“... Right,” Prodigy replied, a dubious look on his face.
Booster Gold had engaged Doomsday once more, though he was able to trade blows with the creature, his suit’s force-field was getting dangerously depleted, and it showed in the increasing look of panic in his eyes.
“Fine,” Kid Flash said, “I’ll SHOW you.” He blurred and then reappeared twenty feet away from Doomsday. Lightning crackled around him, and Doomsday slowed. Slowed. Stopped in mid-punch. The creature seemed frozen where he stood, unable to move, unable to act, unable to do anything.
Booster Gold staggered backwards. “Just need to… catch my… breath.”
Then there was an awful sense of building pressure
as Speed Force lightning gathered around Kid Flash. Then he shot forward, the air visibly distorting around his fist. Then he was gone beyond the range of human perception, and all the others saw was a flash of light and an horrific boom of thunder as Kid Flash achieved relativistic velocity and hit Doomsday with an Infinite Mass Punch.
Doomsday vanished across the horizon.
Kid Flash stood directly in front of where the creature had been, his fist still extended. He drew it back slowly, savoring the moment, then turned to face the others with a grin.
Everyone who wasn’t Booster Gold or Patty Spivot stared at Kid Flash in utter astonishment.
It was Prodigy who found his voice first. “What the hell was that?”
“Well,” Kid Flash said, “First I used the Speed Force to bleed off all his kinetic energy, and then I channeled the Speed Force’s extra-dimensional energies to impart the relativistic mass of traveling near the speed of light to my blows. It lets me hit with the force of a white dwarf star.”
Kid Flash looked around, feeling a little uncomfortable at the reactions of those present. “What?” he asked.
“You punched him at nearly the speed of light?” Prodigy asked.
Kid Flash nodded.
“How did your fist not turn into a thermonuclear blast?”
“Uh, why would it do that?”
Prodigy’s eyebrow twitched slightly. “Because it’s moving at NEARLY THE SPEED OF LIGHT. Every air molecule between you and your target should have been fusing with your hand.”
Kid flash blinked. Then he thought about it. “Speed Force?”
Kid Flash shrugged.
Irma frowned, and briefly waved her hand in front of Prodigy’s face. “I think you broke him,” she said, and when he shot her an annoyed look, she winked at him.
Hellion coughed, tried to pick himself up off the roof, and stopped short with a pained wince. “Ugh,” he muttered, “Think I might have broken a rib.” He looked up. “Hey, uh, Celeste.”
“It’s Irma,” Irma said.
“Irma,” Hellion confirmed.
Prodigy shook his head, and then looked at Hellion. “You OK, man?”
Hellion coughed again, winced again. “Been better.”
“Uhuh. Now what important lesson have we learned today?”
Mercury helped Hellion to his feet, he coughed a third time, and then he managed, “... Don’t taunt the nice Doomsday monster when you’ve got it at your mercy and should be getting rid of it.”
Hellion glanced sidelong at Mercury. “You know what I miss?” he asked.
“Bad guys in our own weight class,” Hellion said. “Remember when we used to fight bad guys who couldn’t really do worse to you than break an arm, or maybe blast you with ice-beams or something?”
Mercury looked a little wistful at that. “Good times,” she said.
“Good times,” Hellion agreed.
Atlee fought at the heart of the storm. Not for her own life, but for the lives of every citizen of Strata. Failure was unacceptable, and that meant that failure was impossible. It was as simple as that in her mind. She had to win, and so she would. There wasn’t any other choice. She would stop these creatures, and that was all there was to it. With a gesture, she rent apart a hostile being made of rock and magma and sent its shards spraying into a host of lesser demons. The magma did not trouble them, but the rock pierced each of them in a dozen places. They fell, and did not rise. A moment later, a demon-summoned blast of magma took her on the left side and knocked her over, but otherwise seemed not to harm her. “I really hate magic!” she muttered. “I really, REALLY hate magic.”
The few other empowered Stratans were somewhere behind her. She couldn’t see them anymore. There were too many demons. Too many maddened elementals. Her breath was labored now, and for all that she could clear the streets in front of her with a wave of her hand and a surge of earth and stone, another wave of demons replaced the first almost as quickly as she could crush them.
She had to get to the sorcerer. He was the one controlling all of this. Directing all of this. He was somewhere ahead - she caught glimpses of him from time to time. All she needed to do was…
A blast of hellfire sent her scrambling for cover and disrupted her train of thought. She sent horrible shards of stone, each several hundred pounds and sharpened to needle-points all in a volley after the source of the hellfire, and was rewarded by a bellow of rage. She grinned fiercely and pressed her attack, putting a shell of stone between herself and a magical blast of concussive force that shattered it. She took the opportunity to send its fragments into the demonic ranks at gunshot-speed. A shadow passed over her, and she had time to duck before a hell-wrought scythe passed through the space her head had only just evacuated. She spun, came up on the balls of her feet, and swung her fist at the sword-wielder; rock gathered to her fist as she did, and when she struck the red-skinned, black-armored scythe-wielder with his heavy roman-style helmet, she hit him not with her own flesh, but with an enormous stone fist that weighed nearly a ton by itself.
He was rocked back on his heels, but he recovered with far more speed than was fair. A wave of his hand sent the rock flying backwards away from her. “Foolish girl,” he said. “You stand before Lord Satanus of Hell. Surrender, and I may--” and that was as far as he got before she summoned a wave of stone and magma to crush him like a bug. She poured on the pressure, building force upon force until the deceptively liquid-behaving stone she wielded against him began to crumble and crack from the forces being exerted by it and upon it.
There was a flash of red light accompanied by the smell of brimstone, and rock exploded out from the demon in a blinding rain. The demon towered over Atlee, glaring down at her.
“Sorry,” she said with a smirk. “I keep forgetting. This is the part where you monologue at me. Continue.”
“I may not have access to my full power under these binding, but I have more than enough to--” and she crushed him beneath another torrent of rock.
When he emerged again, it was with a furious roar and a swipe of his scythe that came too quickly for her to react to. She was dead. She was SO dead.
A hand struck the flat of the scythe hard enough to send cracks throughout its frame and swatted it away. Then there was a blur, and something struck the demon with the force of a runaway train. It went flying backwards into the cavern wall. Twenty FEET into the cavern wall.
Atlee looked up. A teenaged girl was floating there clad all in red, white and blue, younger than she remembered but still recognizable, and her heart leaped at the sight. Before this moment, Atlee had been half-convinced that she’d only dreamed of the surface, of the Justice Society, and of… “Power Girl,” she breathed.
Gotham looked different from the rooftops. The glow of city lights seemed to fill everything. The sound of the wind was omnipresent, and the vast shapes of zeppelins moving above the city, docking with skyscrapers, lent a strange and ghostly feeling to the skyline. He was waiting for them on the roof of one of the many Wayne casinos, beside the mooring mast where his airship had docked. It was raining, and the scent of petrichor had replaced the more normal and less pleasant smells of Gotham city.
“I have to admit,” Cyborg said as the group approached, “I didn’t expect your call.” He was a tall black man, broad shouldered and handsome, and the left side of his face had been replaced with gleaming metal and a glowing red eye. He was covered in armor, all shining steel over a flexible, matte black underarmor that protected his joints.
“Vic?” Flash asked. “You look… broader. Taller.”
Cyborg glanced at Flash. “Have we met?”
“My name is Barry Allen,” Flash said, “But…”
“You’ve never met,” Batman broke in. “He’s new to Gotham. Super-speed. Goes by the name The Flash.”
The others introduced themselves in turn. Elixir, Dust, Rockslide, Miss Marvel, and good God but it felt weird for Karen to stand in front of the goddamn Batman and say, “You can call me Nightwing.” If this had been Bruce Wayne and not Thomas, she was pretty sure she wouldn’t have had the nerve.
Now that she thought about it, Thomas Wayne's Gotham DID seem a lot more Frank Miller than the normal one did. Maybe… no. She stopped that train of thought in its tracks, took it out back, and shot it in the back of the head, execution style. That way madness lay.
“All right,” Cyborg said. “We know each other’s names. Now, why are you here? What do you want from me?”
Karen glanced at the others and opened her mouth to speak. “It’s…” another voice cut her off even as she began - a resonant, powerful male voice, and filled with the strength of its convictions, and a willingness to do what must be done, no matter the cost. Karen looked up to the voice’s source and nearly choked.
“They are here for the same reason that I am here, Victor Stone of Earth,” Thaal Sinestro said as he descended from the sky to land amongst the assembled heroes. “They have learned of the Flashpoint, and they are here to save the universe.”
END CHAPTER 09
Author’s note: The chapter was getting unmanageably large (I had reached 20k words and counting), and I figured it was better not to keep people waiting for such a long time between updates, so I divided it into two parts. This is the first. Unfortunately, this also meant that most of the scenes with Karen or Kara in them got pushed to the next part. Oh well.