Your are Helena Wayne and you wonder if you are a fool.
Your small group makes its way back to the Milky Way Galaxy—back to the entry to the negative universe.
You took your gamble and you won—you think. Your group rides towards the battle at speeds no human has ever traveled, propelled by pure, invulnerable mystic power. This is power beyond power and magic beyond magic. And it is all contained within the surface of what appears to be one young woman.
You look outside the green bubble and you see what appears to be Jade. But it isn’t. Your plea struck the chord you had hoped, even though you never had the chance to voice the words. The Starheart’s guardian, M’Laa knew better than to stand in the creature’s way. The creature took control of its child and blazed into Hyperspace.
The creature has spoken to you and assured that it will do Jennie-Lynn no harm. You believe it…but you wonder if it cares about any other living sentient.
But Superboy seems to believe. Still young and innocent, this Kal-El believes that as long as Jennie-Lynn is part of the creature, life stands a chance. You would argue the point, but you want to believe him, too.
It feels like a surreal scene. You are Wendy Darling standing with Peter Pan. And Peter Pan only has eyes for Tinkerbell.
But Tinkerbell’s mystic parent is the most dangerous creature that has ever existed. The creature is composed of almost the entire mystic energy of the Multiverse.
You watch the creature turn to smile at
And, for the first time in a very long time, you smile with wonder. Because, now you understand.
Jennie-Lynn is the candle in the wind. She is young, naive, innocent, unskilled, untrained, and just beginning to learn to be a hero.
But she is already a champion—the Champion of Life and the Champion of the Green Flame. And the champion of the creature’s heart.
You see Alexander Luthor’s gateway up ahead. As an unexpected act of charity, the creature opens its own portal to the Negative Universe. As your team approaches the battle, you wonder if Alan Scott’s ring has begun to blaze.
The Anti-Monitor’s fortress is just ahead. You see the team of heroes fighting the structure of the fortress. They are not winning. ‘Jade’ scowls. And you know that the ride is almost over. It all plays out here and now.
After checking on Dr. Banner, Donna exited from
the subbasement. The scientist remained asleep
in the room that Al Pratt had arranged. Donna
joined the Flashes, Stella,
“Now that we finally have time to talk, care to explain what happened to the bracelets?”
“Actually, no.” Stella answered. “More because I don’t understand it myself, than anything else. Our bracelets are supposed to be mystic and invulnerable, but mine fell off in the middle of an explosion.”
“Explosion?” Donna countered with disbelief.
“That’s enough.” Donna turned on her. “Just for that, you can be first. Not that I don’t appreciate it, but how does Raven know enough to plan a battle? Not to mention establishing a communications net to get the job done.”
Donna laughed cruelly. “After what I saw today, I can’t argue that! I just wonder what else you are.”
“What do you mean?” Stella responded with disbelief.
“I see a hidden hand here.”
“What?” Donna asked with incredulity. “What do you mean?”
She smiled slightly. “When
Wally nodded. “That makes sense. But I have to admit that you’ve become much more focused as of late.”
“True daughter of the Thorn she may be,”
Dawn’s eyes narrowed and her face flushed red with anger, “but a truer friend I
could never want.
“Enough!” Donna ended the conversation.
“What?” Five voices sounded as one.
“Hear me out.”
“Then none of it was a dream.” Stella pondered. “My nightmares were a warning and a guide.”
“Which,” they heard Thea’s voice approaching them, “would seem to fit the pattern.” The scholar walked up to them and took Stella’s left wrist in her hand and examined it.
“Interesting.” Thea turned the naked wrist over. “As if they had never been there. Perhaps they were not.”
“What?” Stella asked with shock. “They certainly felt real.”
Thea smiled. “The Amazon Bracelets are the Bracelets of Submission. And Stella, you have never willingly submitted to anyone or anything.” She smiled even more warmly. “Ever.”
“Guilty.” Stella replied with good humor. “And what else has your research turned up. You wouldn’t make that pronouncement without a reason.”
Thea grinned. “You know me too well.” She winked at Donna. “Stella, you are an Inheritor, part of a team that has been assembling through time. I can tell because of the mysterious circumstances that surround the birth of several of the team members: several, but not all.”
“Including mine?” Donna asked.
“No.” Thea answered. “You are a critical part of the team. But you are a natural part of this universe.” She pointed to Helena and Stella. “They are not: at least not in their entirety.”
“Excuse me?” Stella questioned.
Thea smiled. “More details later, dear friend, but these are the essentials. At your birth, seers saw a different set of prophecies. The far future changed. It became slightly less dark. Forty-five years ago, another change occurred. We still don’t know what to tie that to. Then, twenty years ago, another change. The future became much more difficult to read—as if a balance had been altered and the seers needed to come back into adjustment with it.”
“Faith.” Dawn stated simply and proudly.
“Sixteen years ago…” Thea continued.
“Sam.” Dawn considered with a smile.
“And several months ago.” Thea concluded.
“Raven.” Wally answered. “Not Helena Wayne, but Raven—the bird of prey.”
Steven Grant Rogers sat in his rancid, smelly cell. Enclosed on three sides, the fourth side consisted of a clear force-field. He scratched at the ever-growing beard gracing his chin. A man of action, Steve did not take confinement easily; even though he knew that release from this confinement could only mean one thing—death.
He searched his memory, struggling to remember all the others who had been abducted from his Earth with him. They had been the sole survivors of that world—his world was in the final throws of its destruction at the moment of his capture.
He remembered his early years somewhat fondly…the World War II battles…And then his world no longer made sense. He and Bucky Barnes had tripped a booby trap while trying to deny Baron Zemo a victory. The resulting blast killed Bucky and sent Steve into suspended animation. Steve Rogers literally spent decades on ice. Then he awoke to a nightmare.
His fellow Terrans had consumed themselves with the persecution of metas…And the metas, in return, seemed interested in nothing but control of his world. Odd and strange voices like Dr. Fate and the Spectre who tried to moderate between the two sides only frightened the population even more. Metas like Magneto did nothing to help.
He remembered the story of the Fantastic Four. Their powers gained as the result of a scientific experiment, they were still marked for death by the governments of his world.
Avengers…and the Justice Society…the two remaining bands of heroes on his
world. Thor, Iron Man, Yellow Jacket, the Wasp, himself as Captain
Mutants were registered and quickly dispatched. The government circulated the stories of ‘camps’ modeled after the Japanese internments during World War II. Government overseers in every country trumpeted how much ‘happier’ the metas were to be with each other and to never have to worry that their odd abilities might endanger their fellow men.
Then one day, Steve Rogers found the mass graves. Instead of learning the lessons of the Holocaust, the governments had found it to be an effective tool to dispatch those who were different.
Steve tried to expose the truth. Then, forced to choose between the truth and the Avengers, Steve left the Avengers. He tried to enlighten the media, but the media insisted that the mutants had been at fault. And the media used the mass graves to stoke fear of the mutants even more.
Steve remembered with disgust when a young man revealed himself to be from an alien world. The young man wanted only to protect his friends and neighbors. But Superman was forced to choose exile or death. He was never seen again, not until the end: not until the final attack.
The invaders had quickly captured the few heroes who posed any threat to their intentions and brought them here: the Superman, Thor, Iron Man, Yellow Jacket, the Batman, and himself. And they watched over monitors as their Earth had been quickly conquered, ravaged, and then finally destroyed. Then each hero was imprisoned in a cell designed to nullify his or her specific abilities.
Over the intervening months, the few remaining survivors of his world had been called into the arena to fight for their lives.
But the battles were always rigged. The heroes never won. Thor’s hammer was shielded and he turned into Don Blake—an easy kill. Iron Man died as soon as the electronics keeping his heart pumping were shut off. Superman? The solar radiation he required was taken from him when he needed it the most. Steve could not sleep for days after hearing the agony of the Kryptonian’s death scream.
And now there was a new stock of Kryptonians and their equivalents. Steve knew they would go into the arena before him. They had bought him at least an extra week of life. And there was the rumor of another creature—a creature so dangerous it had been placed in suspended animation upon capture.
As Steve leaned back into his cell, he pondered other stories he had heard, of other Earths: Earths that had repulsed the very invaders who had destroyed his own. In those worlds, the mutants and other metas had found a way to work together. He wondered how they could bridge the impossible gap.
What did I miss? What couldn’t I find? And could the metas believe in the blessings of liberty.
Was there something I could have done?
He heard a girl cry for her mother. The mother cried for the girl, but they could not reach each other. They did not speak English, but Steve still understood them. The prison had universal translators so that each prisoner could understand the agony of the others.
Steve heard a young male voice speak to the girl. Comforting, it spoke gently to the young girl and began to tell a story. Finding his own solace in the story, Steve listened.
Dana the Amazon, of Thea’s personal guard, ran from the subbasement. “Princess Donna!” She yelled. “Dr. Banner is missing!”
Stella fired her X-Ray vision at the room, and then vanished. Reappearing seconds later, she signaled Wally West. They both vanished and Dawn soon followed.
Understanding, Donna flew out of the warehouse
and into the sky. She heard
Donna flew back into the warehouse and retrieved the Raven. A minute later, they stood with the Flashes and Stella next to the smoking remains of a short-distance teleporter.
“Cute.” Donna muttered. “Very cute. Well, at least we know who we are dealing with. I just don’t know why he is so interested in the warehouse.”
“Really?” Stella asked with a curious smile. “And who might our new friend be?”
“Doom.” Donna growled. “Dr. Victor Von Doom, soon to be deceased. Just as soon as I catch him.”
Wally snorted. “All I want is the ticket concession.”
“For you, Wally,” Donna chided, “almost anything. Almost!”
Donna felt genuinely surprised when Wally simply smiled.
“Ah the forgotten almost sins of youth. But, it is getting late and Dawn and I do need to go home.” He smiled warmly; then he vanished.
Dawn waited long enough to stick her tongue out at Donna. Then, she vanished.
“What was that all about?” Stella chuckled.
Donna felt an unexpected jealousy. “I wouldn’t know.”
Stella and Helena shrugged at each other.
“Call us if you need us.” Stella bid farewell. Then, she and Helena vanished.
Donna thought she heard
Huntress’ Wood—the following morning
Lannie Kyle landed outside the cave. She shifted from her powered form back to her human form and ran back into the cave before she had a chance to get cold. The late April air was warming, but still not warm enough for her unprotected mortal form.
She found Wally in the cafeteria. She answered the question in his eyes. “Much better. Whatever is happening to me is about complete.” She grinned with satisfaction at him.
“I certainly can’t complain. I can go almost anywhere without being detected.” She put her hand through the table and withdrew it. “And I can do some things without having to convert to my powered form.”
She felt Wally embrace her. Continuing her chatter, “Of course some things are better when I’m just me!”
Lois Kent entered the room and picked up a plate.
“Have we heard anything?” Wally turned and asked Lois with concern.
“There was…” The three of them heard John Stewart’s voice strain behind them as he entered the room. “There was a horrible battle above the planet Myrg. Faith and Sam were on planet. Katma and her friend Kara Gand were the first responders.”
“John?” Lois asked.
“Darkseid’s minions killed ten billion people. Ten billion.” His voice cracked. I’m so sorry, Lois, but Sam and Faith are missing. All we know is that Faith was severely injured during the battle: but nothing more. They and Kara have not been seen since.”
“Katma?” Wally asked as he reached for Lois.
“Alive.” John answered. “If just barely. Faith was able to discharge most of the yellow radiation that Katma suffered after a particularly nasty explosion. But it will be weeks, if not months, before she can return to duty.”
Lannie’s eyes burned white. “Lois, I can only tell you two things. The first is that Sam and Faith are still alive. And the second is that I will not return until I’ve found them.”
With that, Lannie converted to her powered form, phased through the ceiling, and headed for outer space. Above the planetary plane, she charged into hyperspace.
Bewildered, John sputtered. “What? Who?”
Taking strength from Lannie’s words, Lois recovered enough to speak. “That was Lannie Kyle, the Seeker. That’s the Alterverse Scott we’ve been telling you about.”
“Former Alterverse Scott.” Wally emphasized. “They can’t have her back.”
After a hint of a smile, John frowned again. “I can’t stay. But I’ve left a communications device in the satellite that Faith had requested. It has to stay in the satellite, but Ray can tie into it from here. It’s a link to Oa.”
Wally sighed. “This is not good. The metas and the military are becoming agitated in the free zone. As long as you’ve been around, the metas haven’t been anxious to try anything. But, now that you’re leaving, there’s a hell of a power vacuum.”
John looked at him with tired eyes. “Wally, ten billion people died because the Green Lantern Corps screwed up. Pure and simple, the Corps and the Guardians let themselves be sabotaged. And that almost cost me the one person who matters most to me. I’m sorry, but my first duty is to the Corps. It has to be.”
“John,” Lois interrupted, “I’m so very sorry, but Earth needs you just as badly. No other member of the Corps can even set foot on this world.”
“I’m sorry, too.” He sighed. “Kiliwog and his trainees will continue their patrols above Earth. Mongul won’t be getting a lot of supplies anytime soon. But I can’t do any more. I have to go back to Oa. And I have neglected the rest of my sector.”
Lois debated responding, but held her tongue. She warned Wally with a glance. Then, she finally responded. “John, do what you have to do. I know you carry burdens enough. We don’t need to add to them.”
John nodded. Then he walked back out of the dining area towards the Oracle cavern. Wally fumed.
Lois chided. “Hal
Wally drew in a breath. “I hate waiting.”
Lois smiled ruefully. “Tell me about it.”
Twelve hours later--elsewhere
Sam wiped the blood off of his face. Another training session in the arena, another beating. He understood the game—they allowed him a taste of his powers as he sparred and then cut all solar radiation to him at a time of their choosing. With a sigh, he remembered his first trip into the arena and his first spar. At that point, they had not realized the true scope of his powers. They cut the yellow solar radiation, leaving only red.
Which was just fine with Sam. He had remained somewhat powered and had done quite a bit of damage to his sparring partner before they realized their error. Eighteen feet tall, the creature still hadn’t stood a chance against Sam’s true strength.
He doubted he would get such an opportunity again. His cell had remained lighted, but no solar radiation leaked into the arena or the area of cages where he had been held.
He felt his jailers drag him out of the arena and back down the hallways, back towards the cellblock. He passed other cages containing Kryptonians and Daxamites and even a few de-powered Green Lanterns, Blue Lanterns, and Red Lanterns. He looked into the cages containing Karik, Leftin, Aidin, and Kara Gand. Finally he felt the bottom of his own cage as they threw him in. And he heard the door slam shut.
“Mister Sam, Mister Sam?” He heard Aidin call. “Are you ok?”
Sam forced himself to sit up and nodded slowly.
“Please, Mr. Sam?” Kara’s panicked daughter pleaded. “Can you tell me about the ‘lost boys’?”
Sam gave himself a minute more. Then he continued the story.
And down the hall, Steve Rogers listened. And waited his turn in the arena
The shining angel flashed into a void. What the hell is going on here? Lannie wondered. I’m not even in a universe here. This isn’t a probability; it’s just an empty address where no probability exists. And as soon as I got here, the signal went somewhere else. I know it’s not a wild goose chase; my power doesn’t work that way. But how do I keep winding up at vacant addresses?
Unless…oh. Someone really doesn’t want to be found. Rats!
Lannie jumped to the next location she sensed.
Earth, the free zone, western Virginia
“Why do we put up with this?” The meta growled. “The normies and the soldiers seem friendly now, but what real assurance do we have that they won’t hunt us, too? Better to take over, now, before they wipe us out.”
“But, I heard that metas took the zone!” A second meta spoke as he jumped from the top of a tree to the ground, forty feet below. “Why would the normies want to wipe us out?”
“Because,” the first meta answered, “they always have before. And if Luthor retakes the zone, we’ll be the first sacrifice.”
“You’re afraid.” The second meta deduced. “You’re afraid that the zone government is going to turn on us.”
“Yes.” The first meta turned to him. “I’m only fifteen and I’m afraid, Jeffrey. Afraid that they’ll do to us what they did to our mother. I’m just a girl, Jeffrey, I haven’t had a chance to live yet.”
Lannie jumped to another empty void. What a waste of time! I guess I should feel fortunate—I can actually survive the voids. I just can’t make any sense of them.
How do I catch up to Sam and Faith? I can’t move quickly enough. By the time I get to where they’ve been…
And that’s it, isn’t it. I’ve botched the job. I don’t want to go where they’ve been…I want to go where they will be.
Lannie concentrated. She reached out to the elements of the old gift that remained to her and focused on her kinswoman. Where will you be, Flameling? Where will you be?
Lannie sensed a location and jumped to it. Puzzled, she floated in another void.
And then, without warning, an object as large as a world materialized on top of her.
Sam watched the little dark-haired girl as he told his story. It took a while for him to tell the story—so many of the concepts were alien to her. The idea of a ship and a crocodile and even a clock made no sense to the curious young mind. But, the story gave her courage and kept his interest. He could hear Kara relax a little when her daughter—not that Kara truly relaxed in this place, even after finding her children alive.
Sam took advantage of the opportunity to speak to Aidin’s brothers when he could. Products of a high-tech world, their experiences were vastly different from his. He could tell that they considered him to be little more than a country bumpkin who found a way to amuse their brilliant sister. A country bumpkin who had no relevance in their worlds. But he also noted that they didn’t interrupt his story.
And telling the story kept him from his own pain.
Several hundred yards away
What is this place?? Lannie phased through the ship, careful to keep immaterial and invisible. Cell block upon cell block upon cell block. And then the arenas… so many. And so many cameras and recording devices.
Ah…There is Sam. Looks depowered, but healthy. What a cute little girl! And that woman—looks like Kira and Kara Zor-El. Those two young men look like Mondra Lessis—Mon-L back home.
This places senses cold—there is something missing from the solar radiation here. That must be how they are controlling Sam.
Interesting…empty cells along the back rows here, without the monitoring equipment. Hmm, there’s someone in that one. Looks a bit grungy, but who wouldn’t. Bet he’d clean up well, though.
Through this…Lannie felt the structure jump to another void and forced herself to stay with it. Through this door…some other structures…and I sense Faith in that direction. Lannie phased through another series of walls. She saw a series of chambers with monitoring devices. Each set had its own individual redundant set of controls.
She floated until she found the one containing Faith’s life force. She floated around it and prepared to phase through it. Then, she encountered a problem.
I can’t get through. This is some kind of stasis chamber. Cunningly brilliant solution! No need to worry about her powers if she is suspended in time. It also means that she is unlikely to heal from her injuries.
Lannie phased back through the bulkheads and towards the arena. She saw a sight that sickened her. A fighter, mauled and battered, managed to survive a death match. He grabbed a guard and forced the guard to lead him out of the arena…or so the fighter believed. The guard led him to a transport room. The fighter forced the guard to send him to the last destination in the transporter’s memory. The guard complied without struggle. Once the fighter disappeared, laughter broke out among the entire guard staff.
“Blazing fool! Jumping into the unknown. This transporter is always set for an antimatter universe. Sucker!”
The ‘abducted’ guard smirked. “I love doing that. Pity we can’t record the event on the other end. I wonder if he died before he exploded?.”
Lannie felt sickened. But still, a plan formed in her mind.
An hour later
Steve Rogers rolled his shirt into a ball and threw it towards the ceiling once more.
Then he realized that he was not alone.
“Who are you?” He whispered. “And what do you want?”
“I want to know,” an angel whispered to his mind, “what this place is.”
“It’s a place for the damned.” Steve Rogers told her. “I was brought here along with my fellows once my Earth was destroyed. Neither Gods nor men could stop the creatures that destroyed our world. We had no defenses.”
“What happened to your metas?” Lannie inquired. “Where were they?”
Steve closed his eyes with a remembered pain. “Our metas? Our metas and humanity found each other to be enemies. Humanity won the battle, but I don’t think anyone really won—except our conquerors. Men like Magneto wanted nothing more than to conquer the world. Creatures like Dr. Fate and the Spectre claimed to be on our side, but they only terrified the populace even more. Somehow, I always felt that something was missing…some critical thing that our world lost.”
“The Flash?” Lannie asked.
“Never heard of it.” Steve answered.
“Green Lantern?” She suggested. At his sideways nod, she asked again. “Hawkman, Martian Manhunter? Still, a negative response. Superman?
She watched Steve’s immediate reaction.
“We had an alien who looked human who called himself
that. But he stayed out of sight after
the government put a price on his head.”
“I don’t know…I loved
Lannie nodded. “I’m sorry. I know what it is like to have to leave your world behind, but at least my home world still exists. But, now, I’m trying to protect those I love from another world. Tell me, would you be willing to help even metas and aliens?”
“My name is Steve Rogers. I
was once Captain
Lannie smiled. “Call me Lannie, Steve. I’ll be back.”
Doiby Dickles looked out from the Royal apartments, quarters that Ramia had found for them near where the palace had stood. The desolation saddened him. He pulled off his derby and placed it over his heart.
Days after the battle, Myrg’s cities were still filled with the stench of the dead and burning buildings. The Green Lantern Corps continued their restoration work, but Myrg had lost a considerable portion of its infrastructure as well as a quarter of its population. Nothing could replace the battle dead. Ten billion men, women, and children breathed no more.
And the extent of the ecological damage was almost impossible to gauge. Days after the attack, an unusual number of earthquakes still ravaged Myrg’s surface. Mostly a water planet, many of the quakes triggered Tsunami-height waves. The Green Lanterns prevented severe flooding, but with the odd consequence of yellow fish falling on the populace from a clear sky. Fortunately, Myrg’s hungry citizens found it an odd blessing more than an irritation.
Doiby observed Ramia focusing only on the security of Myrg. The peace-loving Empress geared for war and Doiby feared Myrg’s future to be that of an armed camp. Ramia’s priority had been the restoration of military capabilities, with much less attention paid to the civilian infrastructure. And their allies had begun to arrive; legions from twelve different worlds patrolled the Myrg solar system. Doiby understood: if Myrg were to fall, the remaining alliance worlds would be next.
Then, Doiby felt another pang of guilt. He turned the remains of a wooden crossbow in his hands over one more time. Ramia’s staff had tried every trick they could to get the pieces of wood away from him, to preserve with the remnants of clothing the Huntress had left behind.
But he couldn’t bear to part with the crossbow.
He could hear Katma Tui talking to John Stewart in the background. Despite John’s objections, Katma had insisted on staying near where Kara Gand had left her. That thought brought a smile to Doiby’s lips. Of course, the populace knew who Katma was and what she had done. Her continued presence on planet salved the resentment the Myrg population would have otherwise felt towards the Corps. And soon Myrg would have its own Green Lantern; one who would not trigger the natural Xenophobia of the citizenry.
Doiby wondered if he still had a reason to be on the planet. A soldier he could never be again. In earlier years, Doiby had served in World Wars I and II. At the time they had been great adventures to defend freedom. But now, facing the true horror, he only felt sick.
As he heard Ramia’s footfalls behind him, he realized once more that the populace could only fear his alien origin. He wondered if he could ask John Stewart could take him back to Earth and away from people he could only anger and terrify. He felt it was the least he could do for them.
With a sigh, he waited to hear the anger in Ramia’s voice. Instead, she placed her hands on his shoulders and watched him handle the crossbow’s remains.
The Empress sighed. “Charles, I wonder if you’ll ever forgive me for what I had to do.”
He felt her hands tighten. “Ten billion people, Charles. Ten billion. And the only reason I didn’t lose them all was because of you. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?”
“Me?” He questioned. “I didn’t do nuthin…nuthin but be another alien yer people are afraid of. I tink maybe I should go. I just make ‘em afraid.”
“Oh Charles!” He heard genuine fear in her voice, fear he had not heard in all the time he had known her—not even in the din of the battle. “Charles, this world stands because of you. For all my power I could do absolutely nothing. Nothing! Not a damned thing. We only live because those who care for you paid the price for our survival.”
“Charles, we have to defend ourselves! We can’t let there be a next time! Never again. I owe that to those who still live.”
He felt her arms slip around him and tighten.
“Charles, I can’t do this alone. If you leave, Myrg falls. That is the truth of it.”
Once more, he turned the remains of the crossbow over in his hands. He closed his eyes.
The Gulag—48 hours later
“Steve, I need your help.” Steve Rogers looked at the angel once more. She had what appeared to be a sack in one hand. “I need to shut a stasis unit down just long enough to swap out its contents.”
“What’s in it?” He questioned. “A Kryptonian? A Daxamite? Or another Angel?”
Lannie smiled. “Neither. Just a young woman who deserves a chance at life. Someone who represents Lady Liberty’s torch on our world.”
“How do we get there? He asked.
“Just hold my hand.” She touched him and he could feel himself phase out of reality. She walked him out of his cell, past several others, and into the chamber of stasis units.
“Ugly.” He gazed at the dozens upon dozens of containers. “These are the creatures that this place’s owners can’t figure out how to kill in the arena. A young woman? Shouldn’t be much of a threat to them.”
Lannie chuckled. “This is Veridian, the Lady Green. Her force of will is a wonder to behold.”
“Royalty?” Steve asked. “What would she know of liberty?”
Lannie laughed. “You’re about to find out.”
Puzzled, he followed her until she stood in front of one of the smallest units. She frowned at the device. Eight feet tall, it resembled nothing so much as a silver cylinder with a dozen silver roots extending into the floor.
“When I give the go ahead,” she requested, “push that button and then hide yourself behind that cylinder over there.”
“Steve, as soon as the stasis unit shuts down, the backups will kick in. I have to get her out before they do. Then I have to hide her. Once I do, I’ll be back for you.”
He nodded. Letting go of her, he phased back into the real world. Then he realized that she was straining to hold the heavy bag. As she signaled, he tripped the switch. She disappeared for a moment then reappeared on the other side of the cylinder. She no longer carried the bag. Instead, she now held something else. And it appeared to be burning—burning green. Then, Lannie vanished.
Steve quietly stepped towards the cylinder that Lannie had suggested and hid behind it. He heard the maintenance crew enter. The crew walked towards the cylinder and checked readings. Apparently satisfied, they walked out of the room.
Ten minutes later, Lannie returned. Her expression was one of fearless fury. “They hurt her, Steve. They damaged her badly. But she’ll recover. And when she does…”
“You’re not an angel!” Steve spoke with sudden comprehension.
“I never said I was.” Lannie confirmed. “Just a very angry meta.”
“And was that a meta I freed?” Steve asked, suddenly afraid despite himself. “Will you kill me now? I’ve done your bidding.”
In the years to come, this Steve Rogers would name one defining moment in his life—when he saw the horror in her eyes as she could not find words to answer. Instead, she wordlessly and safely returned him to his cell. Finally, she spoke. Believe in Lady Liberty as you never have before. Believe in the Green Flame of the Torch. The Champion of the Life has been freed. You only have to choose whether to stand with her.
Several hours later
Lannie gazed down at the barely animated form. She wondered how it all held together.
“Eat.” Lannie commanded. “We have to put some meat on those bones.”
Hands far too fragile to pick up the food surrendered to frustration. Lannie prepared to hand-feed her young relative until she realized that the food was moving through the air under its own power.
Lannie unwrapped several pounds more food and vanished.
Sam smiled with mischief as he continued the story.
“Tinkerbell did not like Wendy at all. In fact, she was more than a little jealous. In fact…”
Lannie smiled as she phased overhead. She flew back through the hallways and towards the arena one more time. She entered slowly and took her time inspecting it. Interesting…This entire place has no real sunlight—none at all. But the arena rooms do. The games keepers increase the power to just a fraction of full. What would happen if it got stuck on high? Bet it would broadcast through the walls. And we’re not far from the cages or the transporters. Interesting…
Lannie grinned as a plot formed in her mind.
She flew overhead and towards the crew cafeteria. Sneaking in towards the kitchen, she liberated another twenty pounds of food. Lannie flew back to her hide-away.
She materialized in the hideaway with her latest booty. Looking for her kinswoman, she found no food and no Faith. What? Nothing. All right, I’ll find you again. She dropped to the floor and sensed. Ah! Of course. Silly of me.
Lannie shifted out of her powered form.
“Honey, I’m home!”
Green Flame materialized in front of her. “Interesting new look, Faith.” Lannie smiled at Faith’s flaming emerald hair and skin. “Now you really resemble Linda!”
“Don’t remind me.” Faith sighed. “I’m recovering, but I’m still coming out of shock. I think my power levels are at their all-time lows. Ah, well, at least I know that Sam likes the color.” She smiled mysteriously.
Lannie handed her another chunk of food. Faith took it in her left hand and tore off a piece.
“Lannie, where the Hell are we? And what’s with the wings?”
Lannie shrugged. “I was the first born and Linda has the demon powers. Daddy used to call me his little angel. Guess he wasn’t kidding.” She smiled ruefully.
“Faith, I’m what’s called a seeker. I can find anything anywhere if I have a remnant of it. And I’m tied to both you and Sam. When you went missing, I went hunting.”
Faith nodded appreciatively.
“Thank you. Now, where are we?”
“I haven’t got a clue!” Lannie admitted. “We’re in what appears to be a trap for Kryptonians and other high-power metas. I pulled you out of a stasis unit. Do you remember what happened to you?”
Faith frowned. “I had already been damaged. Sam, Kara, and I were desperately trying to blow up a rather large ship. We were hit by a combination mystic/cosmic powered blast. I couldn’t stop it and the Kryptonians were taken out by the mystic part of the blast. Then, I woke up here. Have you seen Sam?”
Lannie nodded. “He seems to be fine, for now. When he’s not getting beat up in the arena, he tells Kara’s youngest the story of Peter Pan.”
Faith appeared thoughtful. “Escape routes?”
“Only one I can see.” Lannie confirmed. “I can phase out of here, but that doesn’t help the rest of you. And if we use their transporter, it will dump us in an antimatter universe.”
Faith grinned. “That’s how they make sure no one survives the trip? You go poof as soon as you encounter any kind of matter?”
“That’s about it.” Lannie confirmed.
“But once there, you could find a positive matter universe?” Faith suggested.
“Yes.” Lannie confirmed. “Although that’s a risk. I can’t tell you which one will be closest.”
Faith breathed in hard. “Give me 24 hours and I should have the power I need.” Despite herself, she yawned. “But, right now, I need another power nap.” She yawned again.
With that, Faith stood up and walked over to a small alcove. She grabbed a small bundle of clothing and mashed it together for a pillow. Then she fell fast asleep.
Sleep well, little Flameling. Lannie watched her kinswoman sleep soundly. Sleep well.
Twelve hours later
“But Tinkerbell…” Sam continued the story. “Tinkerbell…”
“Tell her the rest of the story, Terran!” Leftin Gand yelled. “At least be good for something, you back-water loser!”
“That’s enough!” Kara commanded. “Leave him be. He has reasons to be uncomfortable with the story. He’ll tell it when he’s ready.”
Sam gathered his thoughts.
“And Peter called Tinkerbell’s name. But Tinkerbell couldn’t answer him. And there was no light shining from her. As he picked her up in his hand, he…”
Footfalls sounded in the halls. A dozen oversized biped guards stopped in front of Sam’s cell and pulled him out. Then they stopped in front of Aidin’s cell and pulled her out.
“Mommy!” Aidin screamed. “Help me!”
Sam struggled in his captor’s hands, but they held him tight. “Put her back!!!” He fought.
“You must be joking!” The leader taunted. “Today, we get to play my favorite game! ‘Only one comes back!’ And tomorrow, we’ll play it with another two of you!”
They laughed as they pulled Sam and Aidin towards the arena. Kara and her sons could hear Aidin scream in terror.
…and overhead, an angel watched with silent rage. She followed the entourage towards the arena. Phasing through the arena, she observed what awaited…a forty-foot tall creature with six arms, each with a different weapon. She noted the operator in the booth above the arena with his hands on the solar controls, and watched as he spun the dials slightly into the yellow spectrum.
As Sam and Aidin were pushed into the arena, they felt the slight lift of metered yellow sunlight.
“Only one of you can return tonight, Kryptonians!” The operator laughed. “Enjoy your final minutes of life!”
Sam gazed at Aidin. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you. And, if we get through this, I’ll tell you the rest of the tale. I promise.”
He felt the young girl grab for him, just before the monster charged at him.
Ten minutes later
Sam wiped the blood from his cheek. He had hidden Aidin behind an outcropping of rock and did his best to run from the creature. But the creature was faster, stronger, and more agile than Sam. He feinted to the creature’s left and ran. Then the creature caught him, picked him up, and threw him into the arena wall. Sam fell in a crumpled heap.
“No!” Aidin screamed. She ran towards the creature and kicked it. The creature laughed, but let Aidin closer to Sam. Then he aimed his club at both of them.
“Please, Mr. Sam!” She pleaded. “Please, Mr. Sam, wake up! Please! You have to tell me the rest of the story! You promised!”
The creature aimed his club and began to swing at Sam and Aidin. But as the club headed for the girl, the room took on a slightly yellowish hue. The club hit Aidin at full speed, splintering as it did.
Almost unaware of the club’s impact, Aidin looked into the sky. “Tinkerbell!” She spied the tiny yellow pinprick in the sky, firing yellow solar towards her and Sam. “Mr. Sam!!!! She’s real! She’s real!”
Then the yellow energy was drowned out by all of the full-intensity red solar energy the operator could pour into the Arena.
Too late, the operator realized his mistake. His quick action immediately had the desired effect—it deprived Aidin of her power.
But Aidin was not, and never had been the threat. The concentrated red solar energy quickly energized and healed her companion. As it did, Krypton’s last son took full advantage.
“Peter Pan! You’re really Peter Pan!” Aidin screamed with joy as she watched Sam fly towards the control room. A quick blast of heat vision disabled the controls to the Arena’s solar projectors. Then, he blasted through the surrounding walls with his heat vision. His X-ray vision confirmed his suspicions—the cellblock was in chaos. He flew down towards the young Aidin and picked her up. With a brief blast of super-breath, he tossed their bewildered opponent to the other side of the arena. Then, he smiled at Aidin.
“Well, Wendy, ready to leave this dump?” He winked.
“Peter Pan! Peter Pan!” Aidin enthused. “Please fly me away from here!”
Sam flew her out into the hall.
Steve Rogers turned over in his bunk. Once again he saw the angel. This time, she spoke to him with words.
“Steve, I understand what happened to your
world. But I pay my debts, so I offer
you a choice. This is your chance. Be Captain
Then she vanished and Steve heard explosions as cell walls blew apart. He heard the guards scream and run from the room. More cells blew open. More prisoners escaped. And Steve heard the Klaxon sound.
“Faith?” He heard Kara Gand. Then he heard another angry, slightly accented young voice.
“Muzzle your damned dogs, or I’ll leave them behind.” Steve could not help but snicker. Her meaning and the identity of the dogs was all too clear.
“Mother?” He heard Leftin. “That…”
“Hush!” Kara commanded with satisfaction. “Or I’ll have you fixed!”
He heard other voices, other metas, other Kryptonians, other Daxamites taking advantage of the confusion to flee.
And then he saw her as she stood in front of his cell. A young woman, barely half his weight looked up at him with confidence. Wearing a black, white, and green costume, her hair was a darker shade of emerald green than her skin, but both clearly marked her as a meta.
“Thank you for my life, Mr. Rogers.” The young meta smiled grimly. “I’m called Veridian and I’d like your permission to remove you from this place. I can’t tell you if we’ll make it home, but we are certainly not staying here.”
His look of agreement was the only answer she needed. She destroyed the cell wall. As he stepped through, he watched her fire towards the stasis units. Creatures of unimaginable power began to awaken.
“Pity we can’t stay for the party!” Faith’s flame lifted Steve off the ground. She accelerated briskly. As she flew, she caught up to Kara and her sons. With a growl to Leftin and Karik, she lifted family off the ground and sped to catch up to Sam.
“Tinkerbell!” Aidin crowed. “Tinkerbell!”
“More like Tinkerhell, if you ask me!” Leftin posited.
Faith rolled her eyes. Unbeknown to the Daxamites, she had added an understanding of English to each of them. Then, she led Sam towards a transporter room. As they entered, Sam barely recognized Lannie at the controls.
“Folks!” Lannie warned. “This is about to get very ugly…very ugly.”
She flew to the transporter to join them.
An antimatter universe
The small team flashed into the universe. As they did, the Emerald Fire surrounded and protected them. For a moment, the small group looked out at the oddly colored stars in the sky.
“Well?” Leftin demanded. “Take us home!”
“Leftin, it may not be that easy.” Kara replied. “We’ll get there as soon as we can.”
“Leftin,” Karik countered, “I’m just happy to be out of there. One step at a time.”
Faith?” Kara asked. “How much power do you have left?”
Faith yawned. “Not much. About enough for one jump. Lannie freed me, but I didn’t have enough time to heal. I’m having a hard time fighting off sleep.”
Lannie nodded. “Our hand was forced when Aidin was pulled into the arena.”
“My name isn’t Aidin, any more.” The young girl stated. “That’s Peter Pan.” She pointed to Sam. “That’s Tinkerbell.” She pointed to Faith. “Those are the lost boys.” Aidin pointed to her brothers. “And I get to be Wendy!”
“As I recall,” Faith teased Sam in a whisper, “Tinkerbell won Peter’s heart.”
Sam blushed. Then he noted that Lannie stood inside the bubble.
“This is an antimatter universe, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Lannie answered. “My aura may protect me, but I’m not anxious to prove it. And, for whatever reason, I don’t sense the Great Portal in this universe.”
“Amazing! This is simply amazing!” Steve shook his head with a smile. “I never thought I would see anything like this! Here I stand in an antimatter universe, a cosmic event if I ever heard one. And none of you seem the least bit concerned.”
“That’s what you think.” Leftin snarled. “I’m losing out on astronomy classes I need for the space academy.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “How many of your classmates can say they were here? This isn’t just space, it’s anti-space. Don’t you see it?”
Leftin shrugged. His older brother, Karik, looked around. “Wow! Mom, is this what you get to see as a Green Lantern?”
“Sometimes.” Kara admitted. “And many other worlds.”
“Don’t you see it, Leftin?” Karik marveled. “Everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more. And here it is!”
Leftin growled and turned away.
Kara grinned at the group and signaled for their silence. Leftin had lost himself in the view.
“Anything, Lannie?” Faith inquired. “I have about ten minutes left. Then I have to shut down.”
“Got one.” Lannie advised. “Follow me.”
She held Faith’s hand and jumped.
End—Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 3: The Gulag
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-- Story written and copyrighted (C) 2003 by Eldric
-- and may not be reprinted without permission.
-- Otherverse and Multiverse, as depicted in the Continuum Worlds,
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