Omega Crisis, Part 1 (Wilkins / Kilburn / Bowers) Jul 5, 2016 4:55:05 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on Jul 5, 2016 4:55:05 GMT -5
THE DC2 UNIVERSE PRESENTS…
At the end of the universe, an entity hooded in purple waits, as silent and still as the passage of time immemorial.
At the end of the universe, an entity hooded in purple waits, ready to devour your hopes and dreams for the future, and your heart-held memories of the past.
At the end of the universe, an entity hooded in purple waits…
…Or at least, that’s what the legends of the 31st century foretold. But it was never going to be as easy, and as convenient, as that, was it?
…AN ADVENTURE A DECADE IN THE MAKING…
The thing, clothed in robes of mauve and periwinkle, a bandaged body and shadow-shrouded face, stood on the precipice of eternity and looked back on every moment of time that had passed since the inception of such a concept, and beyond.
From the vantage point at the end of all things, it watched and waited for the catastrophic, tectonic end of time to crash down on the shores of this singular, final moment.
At the end of the universe, an entity hooded in purple waits, for the light at the end of the timeline to be extinguished, and for reality to finally rest after a long fought battle against the forces of inevitability.
…THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF AN ENTIRE UNIVERSE…
The entity, the embodiment of entropy and the inevitability of all things-- known across time as The Hooded Man, The Inevitable End, The Parasite-Who-Waits-Between-The-Ticks-Of-The-Clock-- the force of nature known as the Time Trapper could hardly stand still.
For the Time Trapper plotted and planned. The Time Trapper sought something beyond even its imagination.
And when the Time Trapper’s imagination was sparked--
When the Time Trapper began to believe in something more than itself--
Then, and only then, would the Time Trapper begin to make its move across time--
And nothing… would be the same… again…
…Planets would die hours earlier than their greatest scientist could predict…
…In dark alleys, three shots would be fired instead of two…
…On mythical islands, doors leading to doom would open when they should have forever remained closed…
Rings wouldn’t spark, lightning wouldn’t strike, lives would never be lived and could never be saved.
And then all, that would be left, from the alpha all the way to the end, would be…
PART ONE: “UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD”
Story by Susan Hillwig, Don Walsh and Charlie Wilkins
Written by Charlie Wilkins
Cover by Nathan Kilburn
Edited by Mark Bowers
For the DC2, and for Brandon Herren. Gone too soon.
“Oh my God,” whispered Barbara Gordon. The realisation struck her like a smack to the mouth, stinging and sore and red for days. She knew, better than she’d ever known, what was coming in the future. The day was here, the final day, leading to the rest of her life. She sat up in bed, ran her hands through her hair, and said, “I’m getting married today.”
Today was the day of the wedding of the decade, the culmination of every hardship and travail. Today was the day Barbara Gordon was getting married to the love of her life, and nothing was going to wipe the smile off her face.
“Today is the first day of the rest of my life,” she said, and the words reassured her. Of all the lives she’d lived-- librarian, vigilante, leader-- this was the one that excited her the most. Nothing would change, apart from everything. Every part of her life would suddenly collide, every moment and every experience would combine with those of someone else, and something new would be born from it.
Barbara was at home in the apartment she kept in the great city of Gotham, ready to join her dad-- James Gordon, the long-retired Commissioner of the GCPD and current Mayor, both a hero to her and the entire city -- for breakfast. After that, she’d head to the grand hotel to get ready for the day’s events. Her bridesmaids would be there, the dress would be there, they’d have a drink, get dressed and ready and not long after, there’d be the church…
She began to hum Richard Wagner’s Treulich geführt-- the Bridal Chorus-- her excitement, for a moment, getting the better of her.
“You’re right to be excited,” said Barbara, sitting up in bed, “you’re about to marry the man of your dreams.” She never took herself to be the excited bride. She never expected to feel giddy at the thought of her wedding. She never had aspirations to that kind of thing. She thought about her mother, dearly departed, and her words of wisdom that came steady and clear, even as she drifted away from the living.
“Never let love define you. You define love. The love you share is between you and the person you share with, only yours, just as someone else’s love is theirs and no-one else’s. Don’t follow the example of others unless you truly believe in it being right. Don’t marry because you feel you have to, marry because it’s the last thing you can do to say ‘I love you’, but also remember, more than anything… follow your heart, my beautiful girl.”
Glancing over to the photos framed at her bedside, she saw her mother, the same fiery red hair-- Irish blood and temperament flowing through her veins-- and disposition that Barbara herself held. Back in the years before the cancer. “I wish you could be here today, Mom,” said Barbara. She stroked the photo and then was up, stretching, working out the kinks.
Thoughts quickly wandered back to the wedding. Barbara’s dad would walk her down the aisle and her beautiful love, her Daring-Young-Man-on-the-Flying-Trapeze, would be waiting for her. The young couple would pledge themselves to each other in front of all their friends and loved ones, and they’d spend the rest of their lives together in wedded bliss.
“Did I forget anything?” Barbara asked herself. She cast her thoughts back across her eidetic memory. One of the plusses about having a photographic memory meant that planning a wedding was a bulletproof affair, but even then, she couldn’t help but feel as if something was amiss…
Barbara’s phone vibrated and began to play the song her fiancé, the groom, her future husband, had chosen to represent him when he called. She hated it. Ty Parr's theme to the National Aerobic Championships was a song he, for some reason, loved, and he’d managed to lock out the settings that allowed her to change it. She could have, of course, changed it back if she put her mind to it, but it was the kind of hate that she enjoyed. So why not keep it?
“Hey you,” said the voice on the other end.
“Ohhh, isn’t this bad luck?”
“Only if I see you, Babs.”
“Yeah, but still,” she gently bit the tip of her finger. She felt like a school girl. “Not that I don’t love hearing your voice…”
“There’ll be plenty of time for that for the rest of our lives. Look… I just spoke to Tim. He told me about our early wedding gift. It’s a doozy.”
“Do I want to hear about it now?”
There was a knock at Barbara’s door. “Who could that be?”
“Using my immense and well-honed detective skills, I’m going to say Dinah and Helena.”
“No-oo, I’m meeting them at the hotel. Maybe my dad? But then--”
“Barbara Edwina Marigold Gordon!” came the voice behind the door. “Wake the hell up! You’re getting married today and we come bearing gifts!”
“Dinah..?” said Barbara. “Dick, how did you know? And since when is my middle name Edwina Marigold?”
“You better let us in, Helena’s hungry!”
“Hey, don’t drag me into this,” came a second voice.
Barbara stumbled out of bed and began to pull on some pants while propping her phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Dick, you can’t just tell two of my best friends to come over and then claim to be the world’s greatest detective. Bruce never resorted to this kind of thing.”
“Shows what you know.”
“Speaking of…” she started, unsure of how to continue.
“No word from him. No hide nor hair.”
“It’s fine. I’ll see you later, Red. I love you.”
“And I love you too.” She shrugged the phone onto her bed and then made her way to the door, where Dinah Lance and Helena Bertinelli stood, their arms open and excitement on their faces. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, honey. We come bearing grave news,” said Helena, trying her best to affect a dour expression.
Dinah punched Helena in the shoulder. “Your wedding present. Well, one of them. We wanted to share the news before someone else spilled the beans.”
“Can’t it wait until the ceremony?” said Barbara. “I mean… you know… the wedding ceremony?”
Helena rubbed her shoulder, a pained look on her face. “This… this can’t wait.”
THE NIGHT BEFORE, BLÜDHAVEN:
“...Nightwing has to die!”
Blockbuster, known to his mother as Roland Desmond, stood in front of an assortment of metahumans and theatrical villains, all with one thing in mind-- the death of Dick Grayson.
Not that they knew his real name, but they knew his actions, they knew that Nightwing was the one who, time and time again, ruined their schemes, their plots, their plans. After ten years of having your life ruined by the same masked vigilante repeatedly, enough was enough.
“I held Blüdhaven in the palm of my hand. I had it in a chokehold and that sonofabitch took it all away from me. So that’s why I sent the call out to all of you. That’s why we’re gathered here today. Once and for all, we’re going to kill him!”
There was a murmur of agreement. Not a cheer or a roar like Blockbuster expected, but he took the rumble as a positive. With enough manpower he could kill Nightwing, and then if he could direct their efforts into the retaking of his criminal empire, then all in all the last ten years wouldn’t have been such a drag.
“I have one question,” said a woman in the back. She took off her fedora and whipped off her black wig. Her blonde hair was cut short, and not even the dark sunglasses she wore could dim the brightness of her blue eyes. “Did you really think we wouldn’t catch wind of this?” She shrugged. “I mean, you may not have heard, but we’ve been busting you guys all night. Did you think you were the exception?”
“Who-- who is that?” asked Blockbuster.
“Oh, no,” Brutale took a step back as the woman stepped forward. “Oh, no!”
Stood in all her glory, Kara Zor-El-- aka Superwoman-- grinned. Her eyes flared as she allowed her heat vision to build up, inciting terror in the hearts of the criminal element assembled in the large, cavernous sewers beneath Blüdhaven. It was a trick she learnt from the man whose heroic career led her to this exact moment in time, and when better to honour him?
“Who that?” said Amygdala. “Who pretty cape lady?”
Electrocutioner looked at the towering monstrosity known only as Amygdala and then over at the Kryptonian Woman of Steel, then back again. “It’s the bad woman who wants to lock you up, ‘Myg! She’ll lock you up if--” Superwoman stood in front of Electrocutioner and lifted him up by the front of his shirt. “--oop!”
“Enough from you,” said Superwoman. “If you all stand down and surrender I’m sure the judge will go easy on you. If not, I can’t--”
“No go back dark place!” screamed Amygdala, careening into Superwoman, an act that sent him flying backwards as he simply bounced off her. Electrocutioner winced, expecting the impact to crush him, but she simply held him aloft in one hand, away from the action.
Before Amygdala could get his bearings and continue his attempt at attacking her, Kara Zor-El released a low whistle in his direction, causing a sensory overload in the unhinged villain’s already damaged brain to knock him out cold without landing another blow.
“We can take her if we work together!” said Blockbuster. “Why-- why are you all-- running away?”
Superwoman simply smiled. “As much as I’d like to see you try, I have a tight schedule tonight. So I bought help.”
The ceiling buckled then raised up-- up-- up-- and the forces behind the act were revealed as the dust cleared. Fire and Ice, Green Lantern, Hawkwoman with the Atom on her shoulder, Power Girl and Wonder Woman floated overhead, knuckles being cracked and anticipation growing. They were just a small contingent of the Justice League, but they’d be enough to take down Blockbuster’s motley assortment of vicious killers and colourful maniacs. The villains may have had the team outnumbered but the Justice League had them outgunned, and they were ready to unleash ten different shades of beat down on all the bad guys in view.
Superwoman pointed at Blockbuster and the grin appeared on her face once more. “You’re under arrest. Just like every other wanted criminal across the Earth today. No villain left behind. Welcome to the rest of your life. Welcome to a Justice League world.”
“Today is a terrible day,” whispered Blockbuster.
“Today is the best day,” retorted Superwoman, flying toward him, fist cocked back.
“You all did what?” said Barbara, shocked by what her oldest friends in the business had just told her.
“Total global crackdown,” said Dinah. “Every super team across the world teamed up while you were sleeping and took out every single super villain running free. Justice League and Society, the Titans, the All-Star kids--”
Helena beamed. “Even some of the Outsiders brushed off their capes and lent a hand. Buncha slackers…”
“That’s-- that’s-- that’s crazy!” said Barbara. “Why did you tell me? Or-- oh, man, is this what Dick was talking about?”
“Tim told him this morning,” said Dinah. “We wanted your day to go without a hitch. So here’s us, cleaning up the world, for our best friend.”
“Whose idea was this?” said Barbara.
Helena put her fingers up to her head and pointed them upwards. “Who do you think?”
“And… and…” started Barbara.
“I think our girl is speechless,” said Dinah.
“A rare thing to behold,” said Helena. “So, I know we’re butting into your morning time, so we’ll hook back up with you at the hotel. You’re seeing your dad for breakfast?”
“Yeah,” said Barbara. “Guys… I… thank you. Doing that, doing all of that, it’s… amazing. Astounding. I can’t possibly…”
“You’re our best friend,” interrupted Dinah. “We’d walk through hell and back-- and we have, remember?-- we’d do all of that, again and again, if it meant making your life better. So this one’s for you.” She stood. “Have a great morning. But I promise you, this afternoon will be better.”
“Enough of that,” said Helena, rummaging through Barbara’s refrigerator. “Our supreme leader is getting married today, so, ah, brilliant,” she pulled out a bottle of champagne that Barbara didn’t recognise, “right now, we have a half dozen toasts to toast!”
Dinah purred. “Helena isn’t getting into the bridesmaid dress without some courage in her.”
“That’s a lie,” came Helena’s abrupt response, as she poured the champagne into three glasses. “I’m just excited!”
“Then let’s toast, yeah?” said Barbara. She raised a full glass. “To my sisters.”
The big man tumbled through the back alley, and if anyone had seen him, they might have thought he was drunk, or homeless, or both. What the big man was, in all truth, was terrified. The figure chasing him was only seen by him, and across the continents, as he’d run, and sometimes fought, defied but never won, he’d realised that time and time again. It was like the figure chasing him was a vibration in space, reverberating back and forth like a Doppler Shift, blurred, never clear, but there, again and again, looking at him, approaching him, step for step, move for move, never giving him a moment’s peace.
Immortal is as immortal does and that meant the big man never slept, but he was haggard, exhausted, and knew that if the figure found him, touched him, then that was it. His empire had toppled, his fortune faded, all he had were the clothes on his back and the fear in his stomach
Vandal Savage was running, and he didn’t know from what, but he knew that sanctuary was near.
“You look uncomfortable, Mr Mayor.”
James Gordon’s face wore a knowing expression. “What are the voters going to think when they found out what my daughter has married into?”
Barbara Gordon, the only other person in the room and sat opposite her father, smiled the same smile her mother used to. “Oh? What do you mean by that?”
Gordon motioned all around him. Father and daughter were sat in the Grand Hotel’s restaurant. Wayne money had purchased privacy for the two of them, they were the only ones in during one of the busiest times of the year, but the business wouldn’t be out by anything. Heck, knowing Tim, they’d have made an even tidier profit than usual. But still, it might look a bit fishy to those who cared to fish, but Gordon never cared for public perception.
Do the right thing, always, no matter how they looked at you after, was what he’d hoped to instil in his daughter, and look at where her life had led her? She’d listened.
“This is nothing, and really, the only piece of nothing I asked from those pesky Waynes,” said Barbara. She picked at the bowl of fresh fruit with her fork, eating the breakfast dispassionately. She could still taste the champagne Dinah and Helena had poured for her back at the apartment. She wasn’t drunk, but fruit didn’t much hold her attention.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“You know… I was beginning to get worried.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think… all a father wants for his daughter is for her to be happy, more than anything,” said James. “I don’t want to sound like I’m pontificating. Nothing like that. But after everything,” his voice lowered, “the life you lead, I mean, and after everything you’ve been through, I didn’t think you’d ever… well…”
“I’m not settling down,” said Barbara. “It’s nothing like that.”
James held his hands up. “Honey, I never said that. I think I’m getting my words all mixed up. I have one speech I need to get right today, and that’s at the reception.”
“Sounds like you’re looking for an excuse to get out of it,” replied Barbara.
“By no means! I’ve had it in my back pocket since you left home,” said Gordon. “A few topical references added here and there. It’ll be a winner, I assure you.”
“What do you mean, then?”
“After everything you’ve been through, and I mean everything, I was scared you wouldn’t find happiness. But I see the look on your face when you see Grayson, I see the way you light up… and my god am I the happiest father alive.” His hands found hers, and she squeezed his fingers tight. “I love you, my beautiful girl. You make me so proud.”
“I’m not even sure why I’m here,” mumbled Jason Todd. “I have work to do at the school.”
“Barda lets you teach children with that attitude, skunk hair?” replied Roy Harper.
For some reason, the man once known as Red Hood and the man now known as Red Arrow, did not get on. Maybe it was their similar stories, their paths the same but diverging near the end. Jason Todd had evolved past his sins, sought help to overcome his demons, and was now one of the Assistant Principals at the All-Star Academy in San Francisco. They’d all heard the opinion of Barda Free, the Principal: Todd was one of the best men she’d ever known. She couldn’t have asked for a better teammate, for example, when the Academy was dimensionally-lifted into Lady Styx’s colosseum during Jason’s first semester teaching.
Red Arrow, on the other hand, had his downs, his outs, but he always found his way home. His divergence from the path of the righteousness always led back quickly and efficiently, while Jason’s did not. Maybe it was because they saw their failures in each other. But still, put them in a room together, and watch the sparks fly.
“Boys, enough sniping,” said Wally West. “We both know it’s all going to end in tears.”
“Listen to the Flash, Speedy,” said Todd, running a hand through the trauma-induced white streak in his thick, dark hair. “You don’t want to end up looking bad out there.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Harper. “What are you gonna--”
“Jason, Roy, we’re his brothers,” said Tim Wayne, as he entered the room in the back of the church. “None of us by blood, but through something bigger and better. We’re all his brothers and we’re here for him, so drop the attitudes. Both of you.”
Jason scratched the back of his head then shrugged nonchalantly. “Sorry, Harper. Old habits.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Roy, extending his hand. “I was just messing with you.”
“Yeah, but it still cuts deep,” replied Todd, with a wink. “And I don’t wanna’ see Big Tim worked up, do you?”
Harper laughed. “Jeez, yeah. He might beat both of us up!”
Tim rolled his eyes, but then gave his own knowing smile to th two men. “But the thing is… you know I could.”
No one argued with that.
Across the room and nervous, Wally West looked out at the courtyard outside the window. Tim made a beeline for him, as the others groomsmen continued chatting.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Wally. “I’m just thinking about being a kid, being a Teen Titan, and where we are now. You’re you, big leagues, I’m the Flash--”
“Big leagues,” agreed Tim.
“Sure, sure, and yet the more things change, the more I’m stuck in a backroom with the Boy Wonders. Nothing wrong with that, but I just think about it and get lost in the past a bit.”
Tim nodded. He remembered the days when he was Robin, later Red Robin, and then there was his excursion out in the world, his return as the Shrike, and his current position as the man at the top of the pile in Gotham City. The Dark Knight himself. “How’s Linda?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Good, she’s headed over in a bit. The kids are staying with her mom and dad for the weekend. So, we’ve got some peace and quiet. A brief respite-- Jeez, I sound like Jai and Iris are a burden, but far from it!”
“No, I understand, I get it,” said Tim. “I’ve been with Steph for a couple of years, and we’ve beaten around the bush about it. I just wonder if it’s the right thing for us to do. Marriage. Kids. I mean, I’m not even thirty…”
“Making me feel old, kiddo,” said Wally, no hint of patronisation. “Barry always used to say that you should do what feels right, when it feels right.”
“Good advice. I’m going to check on Dick. Make sure the hotheads don’t tear their suits.”
“I’ll try my best,” said Wally, patting Tim on the back as the younger man left.
In another of the side rooms, Dick stood at a mirror as Tim entered. Without looking over his shoulder he began to ask the first of two questions. “Any sign of Damien?” He fiddled with his tie, growing aggravated, and when that happened, he seemed to lose any ability to tie a Windsor.
“I’m afraid not. Then again, how can you be sure the post will reach a jungle fortress in the far east?” Tim gently slapped Dick’s hands away from the tie. “What are you feeling? Half-Windsor? Full-Windsor? How about an Eldredge?”
“Dealer’s choice,” replied Dick, straightening up, his chin tilted back.
Tim tied a perfect Trinity knot and then examined his handiwork. “Strong style.”
Dick checked himself out in the mirror. “Just like Alfred taught us. Or tried to teach me.”
“Yeah, yeah, says the golden boy,” said Tim. “How do you feel?”
“Nervous. And I’ve faced off against gods and monsters before. Hell, I’ve gone one-on-one with the Joker. And none of that compares. How do you think Babs feels?”
“Knowing her? Zen calm,” said Tim. “And about the other thing…”
Dick tucked a stray strand of hair behind his ear, not belying any emotion. This was the second question hanging over him like a cloud. “No word?”
“None,” said Tim. “When he said he was going away, he really meant it. My sources can’t track him down, and that’s not for lack of trying.”
“I thought he might make it back in time for this,” said Dick. “But with his condition…”
“Brother, I know,” said Tim, hand on Grayson’s shoulder. “I’m sure if he could get away, he would.”
“Guess it’s just us then, the Sons of the Bat, against the greatest challenge I’ll ever know,” said Dick.
“You know that’s bull,” replied Tim. “Marrying Babs is going to be the most natural thing to you in the world. You were made for each other.”
Dick chuckled quietly. “I know, I know, I’m just…” He sighed. Clenched his fist. “I miss him. I miss Bruce.”
“You and me both,” replied Tim.
Built at the centre of Theodore Roosevelt Island, the JSA memorial was the grandest of its kind. Bordered by dense forest and numerous nature trails, the monument paid homage to every single member of the All-Star Squadron, the memory metal shifting and changing every day, so that the configuration and layout of the statues was different every time you visited.
Visible from most points in the park, the centre piece was the massive statue that stood as tall as the team’s old brownstone headquarters. Immediately surrounding the statue itself was the memorial wall, engraved with the names of every superhero who had passed on, in the line of duty or by their lives simply running their course.
Leaning against the edge of the wall, watching the newcomer who had dropped out of the sky to pay her respects, was a man, nearly in his thirties, dark circles around his eyes and a wry smile on his lips.
“I thought you were on Justice League duty today,” asked Todd Scott, aka the shadow-steeped hero Obsidian.
“Yeah, I am,” said Kendra Saunders, better known as the winged adventuress Hawkwoman. “But in an hour or so. Just doing the rounds now, before settling in for a long night of monitor duty.”
Todd wandered over and gave Kendra a side hug. “Sounds like you pulled the short straw on today of all days.”
“Ah, I was never close to the bride and groom, not like most others; it’s all right. Ollie is pissed though, but he’s going to make it to the party afterwards, which is more his scene.”
“I can only imagine. Poor Di,” said Todd, rolling his eyes. He looked up at the statue as it shifted to show the first generation of Justice Society members. “What brings you to the remembrance wall?”
Kendra stuffed her hands into her pockets. “I was on my way to the museum, actually. I heard Rick was still in a bad shape?”
Todd grimaced. “Jesse thought it was one of his flash forwards, one of his visions into the future, but… Well…”
“He hasn’t woken up from it yet,” offered Kendra.
“Yeah. Doc Mid-Nite’s with him now, they’re running all the scans they can think of, but it’s like his entire nervous system was run through by a lightning bolt. And that’s not even the oddest thing.”
“Oh, great. How can this get worse?”
“The tachyon hourglass he wore, the one given to him by that android Hourman from the future? It vanished as soon as he had the seizure,” said Todd.
“The plot thickens. How’s Jess?”
“Putting on a brave face, but she’s terrified. That’s the thing when our kind gets sick, there’s never a precedent. No recommended course of treatment. Shall we go in and say hey?”
Todd led the way down one of the winding paths on the island, until the forest gave way and the massive Justice Society museum punctuated a clearing. Tourists buzzed about, but no one paid the two of them any attention, a slight shadow-field playing tricks with light and rendering them invisible. The two heroes slipped into the museum and headed down to the medical zone in the restricted areas, where Jesse Tyler bounced off the walls of the room that held her husband, Rick.
Noticing Kendra’s arrival, Jesse stopped mid-pace and turned on a heel, walking toward her old teammate. They embraced, and Hawkwoman held onto Jesse Quick’s shoulders as they broke off the hug. “How are you holding up?”
“Oh, you know,” said Jesse. “I think we’ve all been better.”
Kendra squeezed her arm and then looked over at Rick. “Is it okay if I stick around for a while with you guys, until I have to head up to the moon?”
“Trading one bout of sitting around doing nothing for another,” said Todd. “Fun.”
“Ignore him, he’s as worried as the rest of us,” said Jesse.
“I always ignore Obsidian,” replied Kendra. She headed over to Rick and brushed a strand of hair out of his eyes. “C’mon, Tyler. Don’t be lazy. You've got us all worried now.”
Ray Palmer knew nearly everybody assembled in the church, with only a few of Barbara’s close civilian friends and family, and a selection of Dick’s old circus friends, eluding him. That was fine. Why not let himself be human for a change, not a superhero, and have the mystery and perhaps embarrassment of meeting-- or re-meeting-- someone new?
“You all right there, honey?” asked Jean Loring, his wife of nearly fifteen years.
“I’m fantastic,” said Ray. “After everything-- every crisis that stains the skies red, every alien sun that rises instead of our own, every time something terrible happens-- it’s just… fantastic that we get to come to one of these.”
“More people in capes than came to ours,” said Jean. Her eyes washed slowly across the pews. “I recognise some of them…”
Ray chuckled. “Oh, is that a hint of jealousy?”
“It’s a hint of being observant,” said Jean. “All the lives these two touched. Every team they were members of, every life they saved and every person they ever met… it really is fantastic, isn’t it?”
“That’s not all though,” said a beautiful blonde who approached the couple. She wore a dark green, almost black suit with a white shirt and scarlet tie, and patted the two on the shoulders. “Their influence reaches beyond today. The next decade... century… the next millennia. These two are about to build a dynasty.”
“Rip? Rip Hunter?” said Ray, surprised. “Is that you?”
Hunter grinned. “You remembered! I was afraid this new face was going to throw you.”
“Rip Hunter,” said Jean, sounding out the name as she tried to place how she knew it, “the time traveller? Is this a bad omen?”
“Oh, no, no, I’m not here to warn anybody of impending doom, not at all,” said Rip. “I came because this is a safe point in time for me to have a drink or three. Open bar! No temporal anomalies, no divergence or convergence to split the timeline. Just true love, and a wedding to remember.”
Ray chuckled. “Well, it’s nice to see you. Normally when you’re about, the world is about to end.”
“Don’t jinx it,” replied Rip. “Besides, the Time Sphere is parked outside, just in case.” She paused. “Say, do you still have one of old man Hyatt’s Time Pools in your lab?”
“Yeah, collecting dust. I’m not one for time travel. I focus on the here and now. Why do you ask?”
“Wondering,” said Rip. She made her excuses and went to say hello to Booster Gold, who was currently embarrassing himself in front of the emerald-haired heroine known as Fire. At the sight of Rip, Gold slumped in defeat.
On the other side of the church, a group of men of varying ages laughed and slapped each other on the backs, glad to see each other and revisit old jokes. Guy Gardner was being mocked for his large, Nordic beard and plaited hair, Kyle Rayner generating a dainty helmet that landed on the side of the redheaded hero’s head at a jaunty angle.
“That’s more Obelix than Beowulf, Kyle,” mused John Stewart. “I thought you were an artist?”
Kyle looked confused, mouthed ‘Obelix who?, but Guy simply shrugged, and the emerald construct dissipated from his head in a burst of blue light.
“I guess it is my turn to take a hazing,” he said, gruffly. “Can’t we go one gathering without laying in to someone?”
“Ah, c’mon, Gardner, we barely see each other, it’s only right,” said Hal Jordan, patting his old partner on the shoulder. “Besides, you’re usually the instigator; you’re just sad because we’re picking on you!”
A beautiful woman, hair as white as the snow, sauntered toward the men and leaned in toward Hal, whispering in his ear. Guy smiled proudly as his wife, Tora, left the group, while Jordan looked terrified.
“What’s up, Hal?” asked Hank Henshaw, scratching his beard, having held back from the banter between the others.
“Ah, Mrs Gardner said she’d freeze my testicles if I kept picking on her husband,” said Hal. He looked uncomfortable but when he looked across the room toward Chloe, his wife, she saw her grinning at him from where she stood with Tora.
“Hell, I’m a 21st century man, I don’t mind my wife fighting my battles for me,” said Guy. “God damn, does it feel good to be seeing you gents again. Better at things like this than the end of the world, you know?”
“Gents? Jeez, c’mon,” said Kyle.
Hal excused himself and made a beeline toward Wally and Linda Park-West, meeting Chloe in the middle. Hal made a quiet apology, but then brushed his fingers across his wife’s obviously pregnant stomach, leaning down to whisper, “Never be like your pops, always be like your mom.”
Kyle headed toward his girlfriend, Donna Troy, sat on the groom’s side. He kissed her on the cheek, and she returned the gesture on his lips.
Hank rejoined his wife, Adrianna, who was sat patiently at the back of the bride’s side, while John sat with his wife, Katma, who gently chastised him for encouraging their rowdy behaviour. John simply shrugged and she rested her head on his shoulder, not concerned overly with banter between old friends.
“Do you think this’ll go without a hitch?” Guy asked Tora, when he settled into his place on the pew. Next to his wife sat her best friend, Beatriz da Costa, who was sat next to Michael Jon Carter, who was seated next to Ted and Kimiyo Kord.
“Don’t jinx it,” said Tora. “But it’s not like we left the house without taking that into consideration.” She patted his right hand, where his blue power ring throbbed. “We are sat in the densest gathering of superheroes the world has never seen outside of a world-ending event. Anything comes our way, we can take care of it.”
Guy picked up Tora’s hand and kissed it gently. “Hell, anything is possible if I’ve got you by my side.”
“How do you feel?” Dinah asked Barbara, as the latter looked at her reflection in the mirror, admiring the dress designed and made for her by Pauline Gambi of Central City fame.
“Pretty zen,” replied Barbara. She looked herself in the eye. She was lying, of course. She was terrified. “You?”
“I’m still buzzing,” said Dinah, with a wink. “Shame Oliver couldn’t be here, but somebody had to pull the short straw for Justice League duty.”
“Everybody really stepped up,” said Helena. “Cyborg’s running the show up on the Watchtower, he’s got quite a crew to step in just in case things go crazy while we’re all down here. He’s built for the reception, more than the wedding.”
“Ugh, you’re making me feel so guilty!” said Barbara.
“Hey, don’t let me hear that crap,” said Grace Choi, the tattooed Amazon fiddling with the hem of her bridesmaid dress as her wife, Kate Spencer, tried to make her settle down. “I’m fine, I’m fine, but what I’m wanting to say, is that you’ve done so much. So damn much over the last, what, twenty years? We’ve done it together, ain’t we? New Outsiders, the Birds, hell, when we were the Justice League, we saved this world time and time again, you especially, you deserve a bit of special treatment.”
“You’re going to make her feel worse,” said Kate. “That Catholic guilt of hers.”
“I’m not Catholic,” replied Barbara. She motioned to Helena with her thumb, “That’s her thing”.
Helena smiled, tried to act surprised, but Kate continued. “You know what I mean. You take all this on yourself, so let someone else take it on instead. For one day. For one night. The world isn’t going to end because you get married, you know?”
“I know, I know,” said Barbara. She resigned herself to her feelings, but thought it best to change the subject. “Where’s Zee?”
“Chatting to the priest,” said Helena. “Don’t worry. We’re here for you. And if the sky falls on our heads, we’ll still be here for you, propping it up shoulder-to-shoulder.”
“You guys really have no idea how to make me feel better about myself,” said Barbara. “Apart from Katie, of course. She gets it.”
Dinah and Helena shot Kate a look. Spencer shrugged, and Grace kissed her on the cheek. The group of them, best friends for over ten years, had come a long way, and they still had so much further they could go.
THE SLAB; AMERICA’S ULTRA MAX PRISON:
“I hate to spring this on you, but we’re at maximum capacity, so we’re pulling in everybody, even the newbies who aren’t due to start for a couple o’ weeks,” said Chief Marriott, leading his young charge, Officer Banks, down the long and winding corridor.
The chief spoke with a brogue, an accent that the younger man couldn’t place. There was American there, for sure, an accent built over time, but the foundation was foreign, English maybe, or Irish? Banks had never left the state, let alone the country, so he wasn’t sure.
Marriott continued. “Some kind of super muk muk mega-bust went down last night. Every prison in the damn country-- hell, the world, is suddenly near-bursting at the seams with every super villain you’ve possibly heard of.”
“The seams’ll hold though, yeah?” said Banks, uncertain. Nervous to have been called up so early, but excited nonetheless. His grandfather, Alan Banks, had been one of the guards here back in the day before supervillains were a thing, and his father, Thomas, was a cop, recently retired.
“Oh, ha, don’t be blushin’, kid. This place is built to last. The guy running the show, Warden Norman? He’s been in charge for over ten years now. And every year since he’s introduced some crazy additions to the security. Y’hear about Apokolips, Exodus-- sorry, it’s, what New Genesis, now?-- all dem future-science-super-cities in the sky? All those aliens and the like? There’s a trade agreement between our worlds that let us trade technology, medicine, whatever. It’s all covered in the NDA you signed. Norman has made this place a fortress, both inside and out. Jeez, the world ends, I want my family here, not out there.”
“Apokolips… with the gods and stuff?” Banks’ uncle died when Apokolips invaded the first time, nearly twenty years ago, he thought. The yearly memorial programming was harrowing to watch, but he was just a kid then. His dad had nearly broken, hearing about his brother, but he’d soldiered on, didn’t let the weight of the horror weigh him down.
“The stuff indeed,” said Marriott. “Yeah, safer than sin, the Slab. And you know why they call it that?”
“The Slab, you mean? Yeah, ‘cause back in the day, back in my grandpa’s day, the only way you left here was feet first.”
“Damn fine senses of humour, back in the day,” said Marriott. “C’mon, through here.” He motioned toward a door, and biometric scans recognised the chief for his rank, for his identity. “You’ll love this.”
Deep body checks were made. No enhancements detected. No unstable metabolism that indicated shape-change ability. With permissions granted, three doors, both a metre thick and bolted in place, shunted open. Forcefields dropped and laser grids disengaged.
“To end our tour, we call this section of the prison the Potter’s Field. Unmarked and unremembered.”
“Isn’t a Potter’s Field for folks who died? Without names or whatever?” asked Banks.
“Our resident is close enough to count.” In front of a sealed door, Marriott raised the shutter that covered the viewing porthole, allowing the two of them to look inside.
“Yeah, you’re looking at John Doe, aka the Key. A man who once claimed to be able to unlock any door. After he faced off with the Justice League one too many times, he ended up here and never once has he attempted to get out.”
Banks scratched his nose, unimpressed. “Why’s that?”
“The guy’s a vegetable. Completely unresponsive. According to the doctors, he experienced a massive psychic trauma over fifteen years ago-- The Flash ran him through some kind of… hey, you know what? The details don’t matter. Sufficed to say, he saw something his brain couldn’t handle, and it’s left him comatose. Now he’s just a drooling mess that we have to take care of.”
“I wonder what he saw?” murmured Banks, leaning in to look through the porthole that led to the Key’s cell.
“That’s not a question for us to even try to answer,” said Marriott. “All we have to make sure is that--”
Marriott suddenly grabbed his chest, and Banks yelled in surprised as a thick patch of blood spread outward on his superior’s uniform.
The senior officer keeled over, revealing a man stood behind him clad in blue and gold, in his hands a now bloodied lanced weapon that was razor sharp on one end and with two scales-- slowly swaying after the violent act of stabbing Marriott through the heart-- on the other.
With one swift movement, Banks’ throat was cut, and he was on the floor, staring up in unblinking silence at the man who had just murdered him.
The stranger cut through the door to the Key’s cell with one arc of his weapon, and then stepped inside, even as numerous alarms blared throughout the prison. Someone was inside. Something impossible had happened. Knockout gas began to flood the floors. Genetic markers identified staff, contractors, people who should remain unaffected, but for whatever reason, the intruder was unaffected.
The Key, with his greyish skin and bone-white hair, was unconscious, hooked up to a half-dozen machines designed to keep him alive and, in case he awoke, in a state of sleeping. The cell was sparse, with enough room for a medical team to work if necessary, but the systems were self-sufficient. No one needed to come down here unless they really had to. No one particularly wanted to. Those who had in the past had claimed they’d heard whispering, a chorus of quiet voices speaking in tongues...
The man known as Libra stood over the body of the Key and smiled under his mask. He raised his lance over the chest of the comatose villain and the tip of the weapon began to crackle with beguiling black light. And with no further fanfare, he plunged the weapon into the Key’s chest, undoing the binding magic that had kept the Key out of the world for so long…
The Key awoke screaming, his consciousness returned to his body in the most violent manner imaginable. The last thing he remembered was the Flash racing him through the gates of Heaven itself, and there was a bright light-- the brightest of lights-- and then… he was… here…
“What… what… what is happening?” gasped the Key. His lips were dry, his mouth drier. A thought crossed his mind-- I’m as old as my tongue, a few months older than my teeth, but the fragments that made up his head ached and he was desperately thirsty.
Libra stood silent, his hands still clutched around the lance that was embedded in the Key’s chest bloodlessly. There was no wound, just a transfer of power, of awakening.
The Key couldn’t calm down. His throat was dry like the desert and his body ached from lack of use. How long had he been laying here? How long had it been since the Flash ran his mind straight out of his body?
“Oh God! Oh God! What did-- what did--!?” Were words leaving his mouth, or were sounds, like twigs snapping, like gravel being kicked underfoot, emerging from his lips?
Behind Libra, a shape began to form. As this shape, smaller than a man, swathed in bandages and the same crackling, black energy that ran through Libra’s lance, began to take shape, Libra slowly dragged his weapon out of the Key’s chest. There was a pop as the tip left the Key’s body.
“My master will speak now,” said Libra, breaking his silence. “Prepare yourself. It will hurt.”
“You have been through the final door,” said the shape.
The Key’s eyes couldn’t focus on the figure but he could feel the immense psychic pressure that came with being in its presence. It was as if his eyes could see something, but his mind refused to acknowledge its presence. His brain screamed no no don’t look don’t listen run crawl hide but his body was old and fragile, weak from lack of use and dystrophy. He wasn’t sure if the shape was even speaking, or if it was thinking directly into his brain. Each word landed hard in his cranium, and he felt something inside his head give way. Blood began to trickle out of his nostril. Blood and maybe more.
“I-- I saw the light,” said the Key. “And now I know how to… unlock the secrets of the universe…” Why was he saying that? Why was he telling this thing the truth?
“I have need of your knowledge,” said the shape, “I need you to open the doors for me.”
“Wh-which?” asked the Key.
“All of them,” replied the shape.
Timothy Wayne stood beside the groom, along with the other groomsmen. His mind ticking over as he checked the variables in his head. Stephanie said he was always in his head, and now, of all the times, he should remove himself from it, so he took a step back mentally, and winked at his girlfriend as she shook her head disapprovingly from her seat. Oh, she knew him so well.
Divinity Church was in the family, both the Wayne one and the other one, and that meant all these fine men and women and those who didn’t assign such labels to themselves had a chance of freedom and relaxation, without the fear of their unmasked faces being plastered across the covers of the tabloids.
The wedding had started. Dick and his groomsmen waited at the head of the church, and the Bridal March sounded. Grayson looked down the aisle as the most beautiful woman in the world was escorted toward him by her father. Even grey-haired and retired, the former Commissioner still looked like he could kick Dick’s ass. While he wore an expression of warmth and pride, Grayson could imagine his future father-in-law threatening him with a night in the cells, just like he had when he’d come to their door to collect Barbara for their first ever date. That was back when he was midway through his teens and prone to blushing, and she was still the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
Gordon moved Barbara’s hand over to Dick’s, and whispered quietly, just for him to hear, “Look after her, Grayson. I know where you live.”
“Forever and ever,” replied Dick, and the ex-Commissioner winked at his future son-in-law.
Barbara pulled her veil back and Dick gasped, despite himself. They hadn’t seen each other for the last week or so, the final preparations for the wedding keeping them apart. And even though she hadn’t changed one bit since he’d last seen her, he couldn’t help but feel awe in her presence. She blushed, and said, “you big goof.”
Quietly patrolled by a contingent of Kryptonian robots, there was no one under the roof of the Divinity Church that could reveal an identity, cause trouble, slip a secret. The ‘civilian’ party, some of Barbara’s old college friends, some extended family, members of the GCPD invited as a courtesy to her father, were there under a fugue state, the Martian Manhunter obscuring memories so that when all was said and done, no one would question the fact that beings such as the Red Tornado were sat on the bride’s side.
The ceremony moved forward. The reverend, a woman-- or maybe a woman?-- who, at different angles, looked young and old at the same time, who to some was black and others white, whose heritage could be, at different angles, found in Native America, or somewhere along the Nile, or maybe Japan, perhaps, had introduced herself as Zauriel, but those under the fugue heard something else, not-that-that-it-mattered, why-would-you-ask?
The archangel, the guardian of the land of the living, there on assignment from Heaven, officiated beautifully, and when she was about to ask the eternal question, the one that caused those all around to seize up when they were at other weddings, a long silence spread across the hotel room.
“…If anyone has any reason why this couple should not be joined in matrimony, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace…”
Tim reached out across the room with his thoughts. Anybody? Anybody? he asked. And then he found himself sad, thinking about his adopted father, how Bruce had gone missing earlier this year with his wife, Silver, and how he said he’d be around if they needed him, but now was his time to find some peace.
Vandal Savage crashed through the very back of the church, away from the congregation, straight into the arms of a gaggle of Kryptonian robots. He looked up in horror, had he come so far just to be stopped at the gate?
“Are you all right, sir?” asked the first robot, a smaller model resembling a Japanese woman, the tell-tale click behind the eyes informing Savage that he was being scanned.
“Can-- you see-- that--?” asked Vandal, pointing behind him. The Doppler shift. The figure in space. Creeping, creeping, coming ever closer. He asked again in Kryptonian-- when you lived as long as he did, you picked up languages like pairs of shoes by the door. Often and with boredom. “Can you?”
“Standard scans show nothing,” replied the second robot, taller, Teutonic, blond hair and muscles bound tight behind skin. All for appearance’s sake, Savage knew. These robots could survive almost anything. “Scanning deeper.”
“Gods, Gods,” whispered Savage. The figure was in the room with him. The face was unclear, a blur, a distortion, but the fear it instilled in the immortal caveman was unbearable. He had to get away. “Only I can see him, but he’s there, and he’s coming!”
“Elevated heart rate detected, adrenal response higher than normal,” said the Japanese robot. “Vandal Savage, we know who you are. And we believe you.”
“So get behind me,” said Kara Zor-El, as she appeared at the door that led into the church. She pushed Savage so that she was now stood in front of him, and her face locked in an expression of defiance. “If there is a presence here, invisible to my senses, identity yourself, please. If this man has done something to anger you, we can talk it out, but you can go no furth--”
“No, no, no,” whispered Savage. “Sanctuary, p-please.”
Superwoman looked down at Savage. What a curious sight the broken caveman made. How many times had he promised-- vowed-- to eat her intestines after defeat? Promised to devour her grandchildren’s babies? This pathetic creature was nothing but someone to pity.
The Doppler shift figure had reached Superwoman, but she couldn’t see, even as her eyes scanned all the frequencies available to her Kryptonian eyes. The Doppler shift figure reached out and brushed her cheek, and she gasped, some otherworldly energy ripping through her, before collapsing forward, to be caught by the twin robots on guard.
Vandal crashed through the inner back door of the church and found himself in front of a congregation of superhumans. “I’m being chased. And it’s--”
There was a loud slam as the front door of the church swung open dramatically. The doors to the backrooms, to the rectory, leading out to the courtyard, all swung open in one swift movement. The rooms where the groomsmen had gotten changed, that Jason had locked on his way out, clattered open, the doors swinging back against the walls. There was a noise across the city, a similar noise, front doors opening, cupboard doors opening, even elevator doors and dog flaps, any door, any mechanism capable of opening, locked or otherwise, opened, and the sound it made was strange, foreign, but recognisable all the same.
Meanwhile, the figure that had chased Savage across the world, across continents, reached out for the immortal caveman, and Rip Hunter jerked out of her seat. “What in God’s name is that?”
“What?” asked the Atom. His hand was on his white dwarf belt, ready to shift his size in whichever direction was needed.
“That thing behind him, what is it?” Rip squinted. She could make out the shape, but why couldn’t the others?
Guy grimaced in the back of the church, stood up and aimed his cerulean ring at Vandal Savage. “Calm the hell down, you bastard, and get on your hands and knees!” His wife, Tora, stood, her beautiful dress replaced by a layer of ice that revealed her superhero costume.
Others followed suit. Tops and tails were suddenly bright costumes. Emerald lights strobed, crimson lights, and then it was a room of superheroes on one side of the room, and Vandal Savage on the other.
The church was immediately evacuated in a scarlet blur, lightning crackling in the air as Wally West pulled his uniform out of the Speed Force and became the Flash-- before anyone could blink, the only people left in the room were those empowered, enhanced or superpowered, and they were ready for anything.
While all this was going on, Tim glanced at Dick-- who nodded-- and then spun back around, grabbed Savage by the lapels of his grungy suit jacket and hurled him up and over, sending him flat on his back and evacuating the air from his lungs in one swift move.
Grayson put a knee against the side of Savage’s chest, under the ribs, and put pressure on the point. A quick, sharp reminder that he had landed himself in a world of trouble. “What are you doing here, Savage?”
“I can feel it creeping at me from both directions,” whispered Savage, quickly. “Eating, nibbling, taking bites out of what I was, and what I become.” He looked behind Dick, and saw the figure still moving toward him. “It’s here, why can’t you see it? It’s going to take me away forever.”
Emerald bands of unbreakable willpower flowed over Savage’s body, projected by John Stewart, so Tim stood and looked to the Martian Manhunter, whose fingers were against his temples-- mindscan, standard protocol.
Before he could get anywhere, J’onzz cried out, toppled over as something struck him square in the brain. Ted Kord caught his old friend and helped him sit on a spare pew, but the Martian’s nose was bleeding, and his hand was on his head.
“Are you all right?” asked Kord.
“Something… has haunted this monster… for his entire lifespan…” whispered J’onn. “And he only… just realised…”
The assembled heroes were moving in close to Vandal. They’d heard J’onn’s words, and were concerned, but they couldn’t see what had driven the caveman into the church. How had he even known to come here?
Before anyone else could speak, Rip squinted. “There is something else there,” she spoke with authority, “Booster, focus, can you see it?”
Booster Gold looked around, then at himself. “What do you mean, Booster? What am I-- ?” He focused on the space around Vandal Savage, and felt a sharp pain in his brain. “Oh, oh Jeez, what is that?”
“Flash,” said Barbara, hiking up her dress to give her some movement, “I need a mile quarantine zone around the church. Get everybody out. GLs, link up with him, give him intel.”
“On it.” Kyle Rayner, in his Green Lantern uniform, focused on detecting the heart rates of every man, woman, child and animal in a mile radius, and fed it into the mind of the Flash. Wally was gone, faster than light, and back before he missed a word.
“Clear,” said the speedster, quickly.
“Uh, folks, we should get Vandal out of here, get him away from--” Before Rip could say another word, the figure ignored Vandal, took steps towards her, and she felt an unsettling emotion rush her. Fear? “Oh, oh, no!”
Guy scooped Rip up in a strobing blue construct and sent her to the other side of the room. The incandescent light of the azure Star Soul flowed over him, a sentient power he’d wielded for over a decade. “We can’t see whatever’s in here with us! Tell us how we can, so we can get this situation resolved!”
“Let me,” said Zatanna. She considered the spell required, and then shouted, “laeveR !lla” Energy cascaded across the room and struck the point in space where Rip stared and Vandal Savage cowered from. The magical spell bounced back, and the room filled with dozens of faded images of a man-shaped thing, crackling silhouettes, but nearly as soon as they became clear the room fizzled and emptied, and Zatanna keeled over, into the arms of Grace Choi.
“It’s some kind of temporal anomaly! Out of synch with the timeline, but visible to those with… with long lifespans or who have spent time… out of…” Something occurred to Rip that horrified her. “It’s the bogeyman.”
Guy’s head whipped around. “The what-in-the-hell?”
“The one unstuck from time,” said Rip, quickly, “the eternal walker. Oh, this isn’t good, he’s never been involved before.”
“Where-- what-- is he?” asked Hank Henshaw, standing beside the other Green Lanterns, and Guy, the sole Blue Lantern. “Can we… bring him into focus? Into synch?”
Rip looked around, shaky, “I can’t… I can’t see him anymore, we need to find him, before he, it, oh, before it gets worse…”
Vandal was gibbering, snot dribbling, sobbing. “I’m forgetting. Both ends.”
Barbara Gordon cursed her luck and stepped forward, ignoring the fact that she was dressed for a wedding and not for rallying the troops. “Lanterns-- Gardner , Rayner-- stick around and lock the area down. You too, Rip; and J’onn. Where’s Kara? I want the church cleared of so many of us-- this might be a trap. Dick?”
“Clear out, got it,” said Grayson. “Tim, take Savage, secure him. The Fortress?”
“Makes sense,” said Tim.
“We’ll find Kara,” said Roy Harper, grabbing Jason by the arm and heading to the back of the church.
Before Tim could activate the site-to-site teleportation that would send him and the prisoner to Superwoman’s Fortress of Solitude, Vandal screamed and everyone’s attention was on him once more.
The superheroes looked at where Vandal Savage had been bound, as two hands-- Visible! Tangible!-- reached through the caveman’s chest and tore him apart from the inside out. It wasn’t a bloody explosion, simply a case of matter ceasing to be held together. One moment he was there, then the next he had gone, as if he had never been. The constructs that held him dissipated into stray energy, and then there was silence.
Booster Gold went to say something, but he let out a hiss, like the air in his chest was suddenly gone. There was a muted sound, like a muffled explosion, and the blond-haired champion from the 25th century ceased to be, just like Vandal Savage.
Rip staggered back. “There’s something wrong with the timeline! I need to get to the Time Sphere! I’ll be back!” She slapped her wrist and vanished from sight, leaving the heroes confused as to what was happening.
“Where’s Booster?” asked Ted, desperately.
“My ring can’t pick up any traces of him, just a smattering of chronal energies,” said Rayner. “It’s like he was…”
“Don’t-- don’t say it,” said Ted. There was a weight in his throat. Like he wanted, or quite desperately, needed to cry. He swallowed. Not yet. Not now. Kimiyo gripped his arm, though her other one was glowing bright, ready to release a bolt of energy if needed.
Rip Hunter landed in the seat of her Time Sphere. Alarms were blaring, which was scarier than they had a right to be considering any problems should have been beamed direct to her arm gauntlet, which connected the temporal computers on the ship to her at all times. “What… what is happening…?” she asked the computer, typing furiously, bringing up readings, information on the occurrences of the last few minutes.
And then it clicked, and the blood drained from her face. Something terrible-- something world-shattering-- was happening to the timeline. From one end to the other, she could see, very clearly, very straightforwardly, that--
--The golden spear pierced the back of her chair and her stomach. She felt the tip push past her spine, lacerating, grinding as it went, then emerge from her front, sending blood onto the windows of the Time Sphere. She grabbed the crimson-stained shaft of the lanced weapon, for whatever reason-- defiance?-- with one hand while her other slammed into the console, pressing a smattering of buttons pathetically. Then she felt the shaft twist, shift, and be dragged back out again, this time with the spearhead severing her spine in two on exit. She doubled over. Sprawled out over the console, as her life poured out of her front.
Libra looked down at the now-deceased time traveller, and his head tipped to the left. “Dead women tell no tales. Be them truths or no.”
Libra exited the Time Sphere and then with an arc of energy projected from his spear, watched as it exploded, fragments of future metal and ancient mechanism flying in every direction. Just like the craft had been mere moments ago, Libra was out of phase with reality, so he wasn’t injured by his act of destruction.
Back inside the church, Red Arrow and Red Hood helped the downed Superwoman up.
“Kara, are you all right?” asked Jason. He wore his suit, but his scarlet mask, the one he kept on him always, now covered his features.
Superwoman looked at him and saw her reflection. “Something… something…” She felt her face where something or someone had touched her. She could see a burn mark, lapis in shade, fading as slats of sunlight reached her through the window. “Something hit me hard and--”
Before she could say anymore, there was a sound outside the church, so she burst through the wall, pleasantries and sacrilege be damned, and saw Rip Hunter’s Time Sphere explode into fragments and shards.
Stood in front of the explosion was a man clad in blues and golds, a bloody weapon in his hand. She went toward the explosion, right to the centre of it, but she’d awoken too late. She watched as Rip Hunter’s body was reduced to ash before she could pull her corpse from the wreckage, and the blast sent her heel-over-head, only the act of digging her fingertips into the courtyard floor preventing her from colliding with the back of the church.
The man who she suspected caused the explosion looked back at her. The explosion hadn’t harmed him, and there was an ethereal quality to his body. A quick scan showed he was neither there, nor not there. Was he the man Vandal Savage had been running from?
Libra vanished from the scene of the crime, and Superwoman was helped up by John Stewart and his wife, who had come out to see what was happening, followed by Red Arrow and the Red Hood.
“What was that?” asked Katma.
“Rip Hunter’s dead,” said Superwoman. “I got knocked out by something-- where’s Vandal Savage?”
Back inside the church, Tim Wayne had backed into a corner. The live feed of information that fed into his right eye via a state-of-the-art Wayne Tech info-lens was telling him something horrifying. Others in the room were getting the information from other sources, but they all looked to him for clarification. When Cyborg’s voice came up over the direct line between Tim and the Justice League’s Watchtower, it was confirmation enough.
“What’s wrong?” asked Dick. “What else is wrong?”
“Cyborg is fielding requests for assistance from across the globe,” said Tim. He pressed a button on his watch and his black suit and tie transformed into the blacks and greys that identified him as the Dark Knight of Gotham-- the Batman. His voice dropped an octave, distorted by the cowl. “Every cell in every prison, across the world, has been opened. Every locked door.”
“A worldwide prison break, after what we have witnessed?” said the Martian Manhunter. “It cannot be a coincidence.”
Superwoman heard what they were saying and realised the implication for her. “Every prison?”
The Batman blinked. In that moment, he understood too. “Go!”
Superwoman vanished in a blur of red, blue and gold, straight for the Fortress of Solitude.
Dick gripped Barbara’s hand. He knew what she was about to say.
“The wedding is postponed,” said Barbara, succinctly. “We’re under attack right now. As of this moment, we’re all the Justice League. And here’s what we’re going to do…”
In the corner of the room, invisible to everybody, a figure whose body Doppler-shifted from side to side, out of synch from the timeline, from reality, watched as war plans were laid out.
For all the good it would do them.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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