A/N: This... this is kinda hard to explain, since I can't do day-to-day updates on the story's progress the same way I can on a forum.
More than a month ago, I declared the story dead. My muse had gone away, and writing the story had turned into something painful. I began to wonder why I started writing the story in the first place, and began to distance myself from anything Worm-related, as I realized I only liked the story for sandbox potential, and not for themes and messages, which I like about other stories.
After a while, however, I began to realize that just leaving everyone on a cliffhanger forever was a dick move, as Bird Culture would call it. I considered just posting the notes I had for the story before my muse fled, and I briefly toyed with just churning my way to the end as quickly as possible. Both of those, however, I realized were not good ideas, for different reasons.
So, I compromised: I wrote this massive epilogue, which serves as almost an abridgment of the last leg of the story, told via recollections and flashbacks.
Is it as good as a properly finished story? Far from it. But I think most of you will agree that it is far better than just nothing.
Until next time,
The casket felt so light in his hand, and yet so heavy.
The weather wasn't fitting. It should've been how it was in all the movies, with a cold rain that poured, washing away all the colors. The blue skies filled with puffy white clouds felt almost like an insult as he and the others carried the casket across the empty cemetery. The sun shining on his face seemed like a cruel mockery.
There was no priest for the affair. The big crowd was for the ceremony earlier in the morning, where they all gathered downtown in uniform. In every single last city and town across the planet, there was being a ceremony held, with a collective audience of billions.
There was no crowd around the small pine casket. There was no candlelight vigil as Mr. Hebert spoke in halting words about a story from his daughter's childhood, and there was no twenty-one gun salute when Colin reminisced on the honor of having worked and fought alongside her. Only seven friends and family, and the weight that pulled at each of their hearts.
He went last. As he pulled out the creased sheet of paper that she had written down for him and hesitantly cleared his throat, he felt like he was somewhere else.
"This was a message that was left in her rocket, when she was a baby," he began, voice halting. "It's, um, something from all the houses of Krypton, that she wanted me to say here. She translated it for me, and probably put a little personal twist here and there. She said it was meant for us, not just her."
He unfolded the paper, and began to read.
"Great are the stars, to which we are dust. It is by a star that we were born, and it is by a star that we shall die."
There was a collective wince at that, more felt than seen and heard. A straightening of Colin's back, and a slight twitch at the corner of Dennis's mouth.
"We are grand, and at the same time we are small. It has been in a moment of Creation's history that we have risen and fallen, like a single flash of brilliance in the inky black. The stars did not notice our birth, and they shall not care for our passing. And yet, it is by us that they hold any meaning. Without us to have seen them, and worshipped them, and later strive for them, they very well never existed. If there is no one to witness, can something truly happen?"
"It had been our hope to become All-Knowing, and All-Encompassing. Instead, we are to perish on the same world we first came to being, destroyed by that which gave us life. We are a flickering flame in darkness. And yet, our history is vast to us, as it is all we know. We can look at us ants, and see giants, for no one else can judge us for it."
"Like a flower, we have sprung from the earth and blossomed into something beautiful. It is a tragedy of the greatest kind that the winter chill comes before we can fully take root and spread, but not all is lost. Even as we wither and die, we have released a single seed, and have sent with it all of our hopes and memories."
He paused at that. He had a feeling everyone know what was meant by 'seed'.
"The flower this seed will grow into will not be ours. Our time has passed. Instead, this will be its own flower, beautiful and radiant in its own way, and it is our ultimate hope that it shall grow into something greater than us. Even though we will have been long gone by the time this message can be known, we will still exist in our own way."
"Though we mourn our passing, we do not lash out in a final moment of hate and anger. Instead, we take joy in the time we had, for we are a song in the music of the spheres. It was very good to have been us. And so we may go forward together with laughter in our hearts, and peace, thankful for the past, and for our own courage. For we shall make after all a fair conclusion to this brief song that is us."
He folded the paper and put it back in his suit pocket, taking in a shuddering breath as he stepped away from the podium.
They all stood as the casket was lowered into the ground. His eyes did not mist over with tears, but he felt the pain all the same.
"This doesn't feel right," Colin murmured. "Burying an empty casket."
"Shhh," Dragon gently admonished.
Mr. Hebert poured down the first shovelful of soil. J'onn did the rest, filling it in instantly with a gesture and smoothing it down.
There was a long silence after that. Then, slowly, they began to walk away, one by one.
"I wish the big guy could've been here to see it," Dennis muttered.
Weld could only nod as he continued forward, and began to reminisce.
It took two more cities before Scylla and Charybdis were finally destroyed, their cores shattered by some phased attack she'd made. She was always good at surprising him with yet another thing she could do.
He still remembered the rumbling beneath his feet when the ground split open a few minutes later, revealing Kon and what remained of Behemoth. A literal world-shaking battle, Dennis joked later. He certainly didn't forget to make jokes about the sight of the nude hybrid, which had seared itself into many people's brains.
They needed the humor, after the flash of golden light in the skies, followed by the discovery of the Simurgh's remains. After the intoxicating sense of victory, it served as a sobering reminder of what they were up against. The entire world seemed to be turned upside down, and seeing her and Scion look at each other for a moment didn't help. The relief when the golden man simply flew away was unlike anything he could recall.
He knew it wouldn't last.
They could barely fit in the living room. It was a small house, after all, and the creaking of the floorboards beneath his feet didn't help. There was something inherently funny about it, honestly; the girl who could have anything, living in a rickety mess of a house.
Mr. Hebert and J'onn simply stood in one corner, talking to each other in hushed tones. Occasionally, one of them would have a small smile on their face. Colin, Dragon, and Duncan took another, holding a more animated conversation. Dennis and Emma sat on the couch, holding hands. Dennis seemed to be doing his damndest to cheer her up, regaling her with amusing stories of working in the League.
Weld simply stood in the middle of it all, watching them. He remembered the last time they were all gathered here; a far more festive occasion.
Dennis sat in one of the armchairs, Emma snuggled on his lap as they poorly sang along to some jaunty old Christmas tune. The adults were playing some kind of guessing game involving word association, laughing and shouting as they did. Kon had passed out on the couch, a carton of egg nog on his chest. The poor kid had been exhausted after his fight, and had uncharacteristically agreed to some indulgences at the festivities that doubled as victory party and Christmas celebration in one.
Weld stood in the room, watching the merriment with a smile on his face. This was definitely much better than the Christmas parties back in Boston.
He turned to see her, smiling warmly at him. She was wearing a goofy Christmas sweater and slacks, the reflections of Christmas lights dancing across her glasses. It was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen.
"I am," he replied.
"What do you mean, but?"
She gave him a coy look. "I know when something's up."
He sighed. No use in trying to hide it.
"I'm just worried, that's all."
"I know," she said. "I'm worried too. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy ourselves today, can we?"
She looked at him for a moment, then took his hand. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?" he asked, feeling himself tugged along.
"Up," she said, a strange smile on her face as they began to scale the stairs.
The door slowly swung open, and Weld stepped into the silent room. It was only the third time he'd been inside, and he noticed new things every time. The posters of musicians and scientist on the wall, or the small art station she'd set up for sketches.
His eyes fell on the bed, and he smirked when he realized that the bed frame had been replaced since last time. He sat down, feeling how it creaked beneath him. More memories surfaced, far more private than the others.
He felt anxious as he stepped inside, looking around the room. He was so preoccupied that he didn't notice her putting her cape on the exterior knob before shutting the door.
"Is everything alright?" he asked, turning around to see that she'd taken off her civilian clothes, revealing the uniform beneath.
She pulled into a sudden kiss, embracing him gently yet strongly. He returned it after a moment, surprised by how... passionate it was. They finally broke the kiss, and he was quick to connect the dots on what was intended.
"A-are you... are you sure..." he whispered.
"If you don't want to, we don't have to," she said, pulling off her glasses and letting her beautiful blue eyes shine. "Do you?"
There was something strange about it. The suddenness of it, as though something urgent had happened behind those eyes. He didn't comment on it, however, dismissing it as just anxiety. He simply returned the kiss, pulling her into a tight embrace.
He felt her guide his hands up to the nape of her neck, where there was a kind of magnetic 'zipper'. She had him pinch it between his thumb and forefinger, then pulled out of the kiss, staring into his eyes.
"Pull," she whispered in his ear.
He looked up to see Dennis standing in the doorway. The red-haired boy had an uncharacteristically glum look on his face as he leaned against the wall, watching intently.
"How are you holding up, man?" Dennis asked.
"I'm alright," he lied.
"You're not exactly convincing."
"I think it's more for me than you."
"We're, uh, heading out," Dennis finally said. "Emma and I, that is."
"How's she holding up?"
"About as well as anyone else who lost their best friend. I think she'll be alright after a while."
"At least she's got you."
"Yeah. She's got me." Dennis turned to leave, then looked back. "I understand if you don't wanna talk right now. But if you ever want to hang out and talk, just holler."
"Thanks, Dennis," Weld said. "For everything."
"Least I can do," the red-haired boy replied. "I'm in the League, aren't I?"
He walked out, and shut the door behind him. Weld laid down on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
Sometimes, being unable to sleep really made things awkward.
They simply lay at each other's sides, holding hands and looking up at the ceiling. For the longest time, neither of them spoke.
"We broke the bed," she finally said, giggling.
"I really hope they didn't hear the crash. I'm not sure if I could live with the embarrassment if they did."
"Puh-lease. I already considered that."
"Lemme guess. Kryptonian technology?"
They giggled for a few moments, and continued to look up at the ceiling. Weld didn't know how long they stayed like that. It could've been ten minutes, it could've been five hours.
He did know that if he had a working heart, it would've seized when he heard what she said next.
"Weld, we need to talk about something."
He walked out of the house to see J'onn and Mr. Hebert standing on the front porch, staring at the night sky. The old Martian had returned to his natural form, orange eyes glowing in the darkness as they peered upwards.
I don't mind if you decide to stay here for a while. I think we could use the company.
Weld obliged. He titled his head back, and looked at the stars.
"Before we learned the truth about Krypton, I used to wonder which one she came from," Weld said. "Never considered that I was standing on it."
I can only imagine the shock, J'onn said.
"Tell me about it," Mr. Hebert said, sounding very far away.
For a few minutes, they stargazed in silence. Weld's gaze fell on a familiar red light on the horizon, brighter than most of the stars. It felt strange, looking at his friend and former bosse's home planet.
My time on this world is over, J'onn said.
Weld looked at him, but said nothing.
I have done what I had to do. The last of the destroyers is gone.
"I can't imagine how you're feeling right now," Weld said. "I can't imagine keeping up a mission for a hundred years, let alone a billion. Spending so much of that time fighting, or thinking about how you're going to fight, only for that drive to vanish overnight."
It's like carrying a boulder on your back for almost all of your life, J'onn said. And suddenly... it's gone, and you can stand straight again. But standing straight feels strange, now.
"What are you going to do now?"
I am going back into that cold emptiness, and ensure this planet stays safe.
"But there's no more of them, right?"
J'onn gave him a pitying glance. There are worse things than the worms out there, Weld.
"Oh," was all he could say.
Do not fret. This world has something better than the worms, too.
"Had," he said, softly.
J'onn gave him that strange Martian smile. You don't actually think she's good for good, do you?
With that, he took to the sky, and soon disappeared from sight. Weld watched for a few moments, staring skyward.
"I hope that he's right," Mr. Hebert said.
"I hope so, too, sir."
Mr. Hebert made a humorless laugh. "Sir. That was something she used to tell me about. How polite you were, and how wholesome you could be."
"I see," he said.
"She really cared about you, you know. The way her tone changed when she mentioned you... Annette used to do that, when we first started dating."
Weld looked at him. "She talked about you sometimes, sir. Said she was lucky to have you as a father."
"I was the lucky one," Mr. Hebert said, softly. "I knew when that rocket opened up, that she was going to be someone special. Didn't know how she was going to be special, but I knew it was going to be something."
Weld kept silent. He couldn't imagine what it'd be like, outliving one's own child.
"I never regretted finding that rocket. I'm not going to start now." Mr. Hebert looked back up at the sky. "She's there, somewhere, and she's going to come back one day. Call it a father's instinct."
"I hope she is."
"Hope is what she's all about." Mr. Hebert smiled ruefully, then walked inside. "Goodnight, kid."
"Call me Danny."
"That's more like it."
The door shut. Weld turned back, and continued stargazing for a few moments.
Then, he continued walking.
Things stayed awkward for months after that.
It was understandable. To have such a bombshell dropped on him would take time to recover from. But when annihilation loomed at any moment, time was a luxury.
At first, he thought it was for the best that they didn't really have time to talk. There was so much that needed to be done; secretly preparing evacuation plans, scouting out potential allies, and getting the weapons ready. The time apart would be good for them, to work things out on their own.
It was Dennis who pulled him over one day, when there was a lull in patrolling.
"Dude, we need to talk."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you need to patch things up with her before it's too late, man."
He'd straightened at that. "Clock, I don't know what you're talking about. There's no problem with Superwoman and I."
"Yeah, that's totally why you two haven't been on any dates since Christmas," Dennis said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"We haven't had time-"
"Bullshit! That's bullshit and you know it. I've still been able to go on dates with Emma, and the only reason I pull less shifts than you is because I need to sleep." Dennis took a deep breath. "I know you're hurt, man. Something as big as that, especially when she didn't tell you until Christmas..."
Weld stared. "You..."
"Do you seriously think being a joker's the only thing to me?" Dennis asked. "Believe me, man. I know how people act when they know they only have a while to live."
A moment's pause.
"Do you wonder how I got my powers? My trigger event?"
"I know most don't like to talk about it," Weld said.
"Consider this a special time." Dennis sighed. "I never really told you, but my dad... well, he has leukemia. Stage III."
"Yeah. I'm genetically compatible, so I agreed to let them take some of my marrow, and well... after a few donations, I just got terrified of that big-ass needle. You can feel it punching through your bone. And one day, I just suddenly froze the thing when it touched my skin."
Dennis paused for a moment, then continued. "What I'm trying to say is... you have every right to feel the way you do. Having your girlfriend hide that she's dying from you like that probably hurts more than that needle. You're probably too nice to actually be angry about it, but when my Dad was going through the worst of it, I got mad. I got angry at him for making my mom cry herself to sleep every night, and for making my uncle get so stressed that he turned grey at forty. And I got angry at myself for being angry at him."
"Then my Dad got really sick. Nasty infection from an operation. We were told he'd be lucky to make it till morning, but he pulled through. Still, I remember thinking about all the things I'd never get to do with him again. He was unconscious for most of it, so I couldn't even talk to him. Looking at him in that bed, and realizing that I may never actually get to tell him how I feel...
Weld said nothing.
"I'm not expecting you to just make up on the spot because of what I said. But just remember that if take too long, you might never have the chance."
Dennis rolled his shoulders, and continued walking. "Let's get going, man. Last one to the pick-up has to buy at Fugly Bob's."
For a moment, Weld simply watched his friend walk away. Then, he followed after him.
The transfer pad flashed, and he found himself in the Fortress.
The vast halls felt like a mausoleum, despite how brightly lit they were. There was a certain air to it, a solemn stillness that wasn't found in most other places.
His heavy footsteps echoed through the crystalline halls as he passed the terrariums and libraries and labs they'd spent so long working on. He briefly paused by the holding tank they'd made for Noelle, the same day they formed the League.
He wondered what she was doing on Earth Aleph, now, then continued on.
After a while, he became aware of sounds coming from one of the labs. He jogged over, hand forming into a blade in the off-chance he needed to use it. He sidled up to the open doorway, then peered inside.
Colin was hunched over the workshop table, working on his helmet. Not for his Defiant persona, however; Weld noticed a distinct pair of horns protruding from the black cowl.
"Come in if you'd like," Colin said. "I'm not doing much."
Weld shifted the blade back into a hand, and stepped inside. "Evening, Colin."
"Sorry if he's a bit gruff," Dragon interjected from a panel on the wall. "He's been throwing himself into his work since he got here."
"I can't blame him," Weld said.
"How are you holding up?" Colin asked, setting a tool down and grabbing some kind of glowing screwdriver.
"Everyone's been asking me that. I guess the answer is: what you'd expect."
"That bad, then."
"That bad," Weld echoed. "I kinda want to talk about something else."
"Like what?" Dragon asked.
"Like what we're going to do now." Weld rubbed the back of his head. "J'onn left."
"We know," Dragon said. "He told us first."
"Does Dennis know?"
"We were planning on telling him when he comes in for his next shift, if he doesn't know already."
Weld leaned against the wall, hands in his pockets. He watched Colin tinker for a few minutes.
"Is the League even still a thing anymore?" he finally asked.
"It needs to be," Colin said. "Crime rates are going to spike unless we do something to counteract it. We've been talking to the capes we scouted out before what happened, seeing if any of them are going to join."
"It's inconclusive so far," Dragon replied, softly. "It's going to be a while before the dust fully settles. We've connected with two other Earths, and there's all the rebuilding efforts and humanitarian aid we're looking at. We were lucky the casualties are only in the millions."
She sighed. "I worry we won't get as many volunteers as we liked. She was a more than just our powerhouse and leader. She was a beacon. Without that..."
"Yeah," Weld said. "Yeah, I can see that."
"We're also keeping an eye out for any remnants of Cauldron," Colin said. "We might have a potential shadow war on our hands, for all we know."
"You still haven't told me the whole picture of what happened with them."
"And I'm not sure I ever will," Colin said. "Too many risks."
Of course it was too many risks. They had always done their hardest to keep him distanced from anything regarding that organization. Maybe they were afraid he'd be too emotionally compromised on the matter. He decided to change the subject, before it got more uncomfortable than it already was.
"Any change with the big guy yet?"
"Same as before," Dragon said, glumly. "You can go see for yourself if you want."
A sigh. "Might as well."
"Just one thing," Colin said suddenly, more forceful than expected.
Colin looked at Dragon, then back to him, an uncomfortable look on his face.
"Brainiac made us aware of her, er, will. She'd written one almost a month ago. Most of it deals with her civilian life. She left Emma some things, and even gave Dragon and I charge of the archives as well."
"Okay. Is something wrong?"
"Well... she left you the Fortress."
He stared numbly for a few moments.
"She left me the Fortress."
"She explicitly stated that in the event of... well, apparently this entire place belongs to you. She even programmed Brainiac to obey you instead of her."
More out of reflex than any biological need, Weld swallowed hard. "Why me?"
"Because," Dragon said, "she said that if anyone else could be trusted with the League's future, it was you."
She was standing alone near one of the large windows in the Fortress, staring out across the Arctic landscape. It seemed as good a time as any to go over and talk with her. Not discuss a mission, or their plans regarding Scion. Just them, and a talk that was long overdue.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey," he echoed.
They looked at each other for a few moments. There was a tension in the air, so thick he could practically see it. He wasn't sure if it was the low Arctic light, but she looked paler than usual.
"Weld, I'm sorry." She rubbed her arms, in an uncharacteristically vulnerable gesture.
"I know," he said. "I'm sorry, too."
She looked at him, surprise clear in her eyes. "For what? I betrayed your trust by not telling you earlier. You didn't do anything."
"What you did... it hurt. But I can understand why you did it." He took a step closer. "I can't imagine what you're going through. I can try, but I'll never get close. You might've hurt me, but I'm not the one who's dying. It's like trying to compare a molehill to a mountain."
She turned her gaze away, looking at the floor. "When I told you, I was afraid of what you'd say. I... I guess I was scared that you'd..."
"I won't," Weld said. "I should've talked to you sooner. I want to make this work, even through rough times."
She wiped her eyes with the ball of her palm. "Can we make this work? You and us? Even knowing everything that's going on, everything that's going to happen to me?"
He took her hands into his, rubbing them with his thumbs. "You're Superwoman. You can do anything."
She smiled at him, holding his gaze with damp eyes.
Then the smile faded.
It happened so quickly. Her cheeks turned bright red, then deathly pale, completely drained of blood. Her eyes rolled up, and she collapsed into his arms. Blood began to smear over his shoulder, red and slick.
Weld remembered screaming for help, and remembered gently lowering her to the floor to check her vitals. The sight of the blood leaking from her eyes and nose would be forever etched into his mind.
When red light flooded through the window, he turned to see that the sun had changed. No longer was it a small orange disc, but had expanded and turned the color of blood. For a moment, he thought back to the simulation she'd shown him, of that grassy field on Krypton.
He was vaguely aware of J'onn and Legend rushing to his side. He heard them barking orders, but didn't process him, even as Dragon's suits came with the functioning Phantom Drives. He didn't know why that was needed; a Phantom Drive wasn't going to cure her disorder.
Then the ceiling erupted in golden light, and the Drive activated.
The hole in the ceiling was almost completely patched up, now. Kryptonian technology was simply astounding in its capabilities, even considering the limitations it did have.
It was kinda funny. He never stopped being in awe of the miracles it could achieve, and yet he damned its failures harder than anyone else.
Something caught his attention in the corner of his eye, and he realized he was walking past the Phantom Zone Projector. When they finally invented the device, they needed a test subject to see how well it'd work on someone else. However, there was a considerable risk that anyone who went in would never be able to leave. The test subject needed to be someone whose life had already been deemed forfeit by the law.
Thankfully, they had just the person in mind. He turned to look at the rhombus-shaped hole in reality, and its sole occupant.
"Evening, Jack," he said.
Jack Slash glared at him, but could do little else. The name of his prison was apt; he was little more than a malignant spirit inside that dimension, incapable of doing harm to anyone ever again. He wouldn't even be able to harm anyone else thrown in alongside him, though no-one else had been deemed dangerous enough for that punishment.
Weld sighed, and left Jack to continue watching subtitled episodes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.
He'd never felt so useless until now.
He was being in a shuttle, along with Dennis, and shuffled between realities while the more powerful members of the League did what they could to delay Scion, even for a moment. Even Dennis was being useful; he was hunched over her unconscious form, freezing and refreezing her, trying to delay the inevitable as long as he could.
Weld, on the other hand, could do nothing. He couldn't operate the legion of shuttles and drones and other war machines that Dragon constructed, nor could he fly and provide covering fire, like J'onn and Duncan. Even Colin could fly one of the larger war machines.
What could he do against Scion? They'd been constantly helping him improve himself, absorbing stronger and stronger alloys to the point where he was probably in the top ten in terms of pure toughness. They'd even placed an antigravity device into his uniform, to allow him a limited form of flight.
And yet, despite the constant improvements he'd gone under, his strength was minuscule when compared to the entity. Anything he could do, others on the League could do better, and a hundredfold.
With her, it was more likely a trillionfold.
Through the windows, he saw the landscapes of various Earths flicker by. He saw Earths without atmospheres, and Earths covered in nothing but inky black oceans that were churned by torrential rainstorms.
Suddenly, the shuttle came to a sudden stop, touching down on the rocky soil of some frigid-seeming Earth. There was a flash in view, and he saw some of Dragon's drones appear, accompanied by J'onn and Duncan.
"We need you outside ASAP," Dragon barked.
The doors slid open, and Weld obliged, sprinting out. J'onn landed to greet him, smoke still rising from some of his blackened flesh.
"We've been barely able to slow him down," the Martian said. "We hurt him, but there's only so much damage we can do at any given time, and we still don't have the firepower to keep him off-balance."
"Then how are we delaying him right now?"
"Kon," J'onn replied, grimly. "But even he won't last forever. We need to pull out one of the emergency plans and try to target his psyche."
Weld nodded, remembering what this was going to entail. "Do it quickly."
J'onn raised a hand, and Weld grimaced as he felt his body forcibly changed by an invisible force. He guided it along with his own limited shapeshifting abilities, doing most of the legwork. In less than a minute, a female companion to the entity stood in his place, with skin of silver.
"Good." J'onn himself shifted, turning into a alabaster counterpart to Scion. "Let's hope this works."
Weld felt himself lifted into the air, and brought within range of the Phantom Drive. There was a spurious sensation of motion, and he realized he was on yet another Earth, this one covered in seemingly endless desert. He vaguely realized he was floating tens of miles over the surface, skimming the edge of space.
And yet, he could still see the battle between Kon and Scion. He could see flashes of golden light that carved mile-wide craters into the land, as well as impacts that parted the clouds from the sky and splintered the earth beneath. The entire area was criss-crossed by angry red trenches carved by Kon's breath attack, gasses spewing out from the exposed mantle.
Suddenly, the fighting stopped, and Weld realized Scion was flying towards them. Despite having no adrenal glands, he could still feel the dread pooling in his stomach as the harbinger of human extinction approached.
"Stay calm," J'onn warned.
Scion came to a stop less than a hundred feet away, an ominous golden glow suffusing his figure as he studied the two. For a moment, his face remained the same emotionless countenance it had been for decades.
Then, a look of pain crossed his face, followed by anger. He bared his teeth, howling, screaming. He raised a hand to lash out-
-and the Projector teleported in behind him.
There was no time to destroy it, no time to react. Simply a flash of light, and he was gone. When Weld's vision cleared, he realized that the rhombus shape of the localized Phantom Zone portal had taken Scion's place. Inside, he could see the golden man screaming still, filling the void with fearsome light.
"D-did it work?" Weld asked.
There was a moment's pause as the glow intensified.
"No," J'onn said.
Scion simply disappeared, then reappeared outside of the portal. He waved his hand, and the Projector crumbled to dust.
Kon slammed into the entity, both of them tumbling into the sky at hypersonic speeds, and Weld was whisked back.
He stopped before the transparent wall, gazing at the laboratory within. His silver eyes studied the macabre figure standing in the center, being attended to by countless devices whose function he could never understand. It almost reminded him of Behemoth, towards the end of its 'life', when most of its false flesh had been stripped away. A hulking skeleton of glittering crystal, with loose strands of flesh keeping it connected.
"Good evening, Weld," Brainiac said.
"Good evening," he mumbled back, numbly aware that he was now the one in charge. "Uh, Brainiac, do we have any progress so far?"
"None so far. The cellular tissue is still alive, and even slowly regenerating in some places, but any attempts to speed it along has proven fruitless. There is no telling whether he will revive, or if his tissues are simply undergoing runaway processes."
"O-okay," Weld said. "Keep doing what you're doing. But if there's no sign after a week... let him be buried back home."
He sighed, and walked away, leaving Kon-El behind.
The chase had begun once more, but with a more vicious tempo.
Weld could barely witness it as the shuttle made jump after jump after jump. He saw golden blasts boil oceans and shatter continents as Scion continued after them. He saw glimpses of the League and Kon engaging the entity, along with others.
They couldn't stop Scion. They hit him with energy blasts, telekinetic attacks, spatial warping, fields of altered time... each shrugged everything off, or quickly adapted to whatever actually hit him.
Finally, a blast grazed the shuttle, and it came to a sudden stop as it hit the ground. There was a moment of discontinuity, and Weld vaguely realized he'd tumbled nearly a hundred meters away from the shuttle. She laid down near him, no longer frozen in time by Dennis.
Weld got to his feet and hurried to her side, checking her pulse. He barely felt a sign of life coming from her. Her eyes were still rolled up, fresh blood pouring from their corners. She coughed violently, painting his face in spatters of dark red as she heaved.
"No," he murmured to himself. "No. Stay with me, stay with me. Please."
Space folded a half-kilometer away, Kon smashed into the ground, smoke rising from his chest. Weld watched with wide eyes as the hybrid struggled to his feet. Massive gashes had been torn into his grey hide, and most of his spikes had been broken away. The wounds were healing, but far slower than expected.
Kon ran forward, crossing the distance before Weld could process the information. A massive hand grabbed him, and she was picked up in the other.
"We must move swiftly, Sister's metal lover," the hybrid said.
Weld felt immense forces pulling at him as Kon jumped upwards, clearing kilometers in a single bound. Behind him, he became vaguely aware of a flash of golden light.
"I must take the time to make a simple request of you," Kon said, far calmer than he should have been. "Should my body be destroyed, ensure that the remains are given the proper rites."
He could only nod. They landed again, and Kon began to run, the faint pop of a sonic boom reaching Weld's ears. He tried to crane his head to see her, but could only make out Kon's brawny chest.
Scion was in front of them, now. He floated above them, body trembling as a massive golden sphere formed around him.
Kon suddenly stopped. For a moment, Weld saw the hybrid's eyes look far away, beyond all that was happening. In the midst of Hell, he looked as serene as a still pond.
"Hold on to her," he said. "Hold on to her, and never let her go."
He brought them together. Weld held on to her as tightly as possible, wrapping his legs around her torso, looping his arms with hers. He had a bad feeling of what was going to happen next.
"මම ඔයාට ආදරෙයි, සහෝදරිය," Kon said, and punted them skyward.
The impact was not like anything he'd ever experienced. It was as though a brick wall had slammed into every nanoangstrom of his body, compressing it. He felt himself spinning around, like a runaway top. He caught glimpses of the black of space, then of the world below them. He saw a brilliant flash of light, followed by an explosion that seemed to practically bare the Earth's core.
Through it all, he held on to her as tightly as he could, refusing to let up for even a moment.
He couldn't bear to be in this tomb anymore.
Dragon picked him up with a drone, and flew him back to ex-Director Armstrong's home in Boston. They exchanged no words during the flight; neither of them was in the mood for talking.
Nobody was home when he was gently deposited on the front lawn. Sighing, he unlocked the door with the spare key and stepped inside, making a beeline for the room the former Director had set aside for him. It was the closest thing he had to a home of his own.
At least, it was now.
He opened the door, and was surprised to see a small box on his bed. Hesitantly, he approached it, then flipped the lid open. Inside was a case of some sort, and he carefully worked the latches, then swung it open.
There was a silver flute inside, gently nestled in a mold, along with a handwritten note. With trembling hands, he took the note out and began to read.
For my musical man of steel,
This used to belong to my mother, before she died. This is perhaps my most treasured possession, even more than the message that Kal-El left, or the cape. I never learned how to play, though. Isn't that funny? I know how much you love to listen to music, so I thought you'd like to give making it a try.
Love, your girl of steel.
Weld smiled faintly, and put the case back down. Sitting down on the bed, he reached under and pulled out a shoebox. He never wore shoes, but there'd been an old one lying around, and he decided to put it to good use.
Slowly opening the box, he pulled out a bright red cloth, and stared at the familiar symbol woven in yellow.
Hope was lost.
Even through the spinning caused by the kick into orbit, Weld could still see the golden man slowly approaching. No one else had come to oppose the entity. Either they were all dead, or had no idea of where they were. Either way, the end result was the same.
That didn't mean he was going to do nothing. He extended a hand into a blade, and swiped at Scion's chest as he approached. It sliced clean through, sending droplets of golden blood floating into the void, and he repeated the action, striking over and over, even as each blow hit less and less.
Scion seemed to be swiftly growing bored. He caught Weld's hand and severed it with a flash of golden light, discarding it like garbage. With a flick of his hand, he pulled him away from her, even as a steel fist pounded into his flawless face.
Scion regarded him for a moment, then turned to the lifeless figure floating in the void. He slowly extended a hand, as though to reach out and grab her, as though to taunt Weld with the inevitability of her coming demise.
Then, hope sprung anew.
A delicate hand grabbed the golden man's wrist, crushing it like soap foam, and Weld managed to see a look of surprise on Scion's face. Then twin beams of red light struck the entity in the chest, severing his other arm and sending him flying back. Weld found himself spinning through space again, only for a hand to clamp down on his shoulder.
He turned, and found himself staring into her blue eyes.
The bleeding had stopped, and a flush had returned to her face. A faint blue light seemed to suffuse every inch of her body, but it was not like Scion's. Instead, it was as though she was but a sheet of paper, allowing the light to pass through her.
She smiled at him, and he found himself smiling back.
Then a narrow golden beam washed over her temple, and she frowned.
For the first time, as she turned to glare at the entity, Weld saw a look of genuine rage on her face. Not disappointment, or the constrained anger he had seen before.
This was like seeing the wrath of God.
Scion fired with a massive beam, the same kind that had shattered continents, and it simply stopped. There was no crackling of a forcefield, or any other sign of deflection; it was as though space itself simply ran out before it could reach her.
Gently letting go, she darted towards Scion, but it was like there was no sense of movement. She was in one spot, and then she was in the next, both hands plunged into his chest. Like she was simply spreading her arms, she forced Scion's chest open, widening the portal to the real him.
Scion silently screamed, blasting her with unholy energies, but she seemed unfazed by it all. When her eyes flared red, and blasted into his portal, he suddenly went limp.
She grabbed Scion by the neck, then gestured with her free hand. A circle opened in space, and Weld caught the impression of an endless tunnel of concentric white and black rings.
Then she disappeared inside, dragging Scion with her.
The circle closed, then immediately reopened, spewing her out. This time, however, Scion was nowhere to be found.
Weld could only watch in awe as she took him by the shoulder, and they were suddenly back home. Not on some random Earth, but home, in Brockton Bay. They gently alighted onto a street, right by the park. Now that there was finally an atmosphere, he found the power to speak.
"I know," she said. "When I was out... something happened. I... I can't explain it. At least, I don't have the time."
"Did you kill him? Is he gone?"
"Gone, but not dead. I didn't give him the luxury. He's in one possible future, a googol years from now. The only thing he has for company are a few scattered leptons and photons, drifting through emptiness. He killed countless innocents to try and avoid the heat death of the universe, so I brought him right to it, to enjoy for the rest of his life."
"But why?" Weld asked.
Her mouth tightened into a thin line.
"Because he killed my baby brother. Because he was going to kill you, and everyone else I loved. Killing him would have been a kindness."
Weld shook his head, as though trying to pull himself out of a dream. "I... I don't know what's going on. Everything's happening so fast."
"I wish I had time to tell you everything that's going on," she said. "It's a lot for me, too. There's so many more things I can do, and see..."
She looked up, at the swollen red sun. Numbly, he realized that her skin was beginning to split in places, light spilling out. God, it was as though she was full of stars.
"But I don't have time," she said, softly. "I need to be there, to undo what he did."
"Can you do that?"
She smiled. "I'm Superwoman. I can do anything."
She pulled him into a soft kiss, wrapping her arms around his. Weld felt cloth in his hands, and he realized she was giving him her cape.
Pulling away, she stared into his eyes. Then, she gave the broadest smile he had ever seen on her, even as tears began to pour down her cheeks.
"I love you, Weld," she said. "Forever and always."
Then she was gone.
He was still standing there, holding her cape in his hands, when the rest of the League finally returned. When the sun suddenly shrank back into a small bright disc, and the skies turned blue once more, he was still standing in that street, staring upwards.
Sighing, he put the cape back in the box, and laid down on the bed. He fumbled for his old cassette player, and began to play the music. He needed to lose himself in song.
A few seconds passed before he realized it was the tape she had given him.
Pulling the earplugs out, he simply closed his eyes. While he almost never slept, it occasionally came to him, especially in times of long-term stress. This was definitely one of those times.
He didn't know how long he laid there, waiting, but eventually sleep found him.
He woke to see a ghost staring at him.
"Hey," she said, sheepishly.
He bolted upright, eyes wide. She was sitting on his bed, legs folded into the lotus position. Her uniform was nowhere to be seen; she was dressed in her civilian clothes, braces and all.
He reached out to touch her, but his hand passed through nothing but air.
"I'm not actually here," she said softly. "I guess it's kinda like astral projection. It's not easy, either, so I need to be quick."
"Y-you're alive," he breathed.
"I'm more than that. When I collapsed... I think I saw them. Kal-El. Mom. Others. They told me that I was undergoing the ultimate stage of human development, into something called a solar-radio-consciousness. They said that every possibility was before me. I could've become one with the Source, and play in the fields of consciousness forever."
"But you didn't."
"I had a choice," she said. "And I chose to be me."
A pregnant silence.
"Are you ever going to come back?" he asked.
"I might come back tomorrow, or I might come back in ten years." She straightened a little. "I want you to keep up the good fight while I'm gone. You, and Colin and Dragon and Kon-"
She gave a small laugh. "You're going to be in for a surprise."
He looked down. "I don't know if we're up to it."
"What do you think the symbol on my chest stands for? Between all of you, you can step up. You're much stronger than you think you are, Weld."
He looked back to her. "Is that why you left me the Fortress?"
"Do I need to answer that?"
"I guess not."
"Glad to see it." She smiled broadly. "Goodbye, Weld."
"Before you go..." Weld sucked in a breath. "Taylor, I love you too."
A smirk. "I know. Time to wake up."
He woke to his phone ringing.
For a moment, he simply stayed in place, unwilling to move. The sun was out, shining through the window, and he hated it.
He could hardly remember his dreams, usually, but this one stuck with him longer than usual, like a thorn in his toe. Of course he couldn't even find solace in sleep; it was fitting that his own brain would continue to remind him of what he'd lost
Slowly sitting up, he fumbled for his phone and flipped it open.
"Weld here," he muttered, irritably.
"Weld, it's Colin." He sounded urgent. "It's about Kon."
At once, the feeling disappeared.
"It's astonishing; there was no nervous tissue left, but he still has-"
"I know," Weld interrupted.
"How... never mind. Be here as soon as possible; he wants to talk to you for some reason, something about a dream..."
"I'll be right over."
He snapped the phone shut, then got up. He made for the door, then paused, thinking. Turning back, he knelt down and pulled the shoebox out from under the bed, and flipped it open. Slowly, he removed the cape, staring.
Some had suggested giving it to the Smithsonian; others wanted it for the life-sized statue on the Rhode Island State House, the one they made after Leviathan's final attack.
He looked at it for a moment, gently rubbing the fabric with his thumb.
Then he stood up, and went to the mirror.
It was not easy work, molding his tissue delicately, but he could manage. Slowly, but surely, he began raise and lower parts of the skin on his chest, physically carving it where needed with a nanoknife Colin had given him for a utility belt. Eventually, a recognizable symbol became visible on his chest. There was nothing he could do about the lack of color, but he didn't wish to completely mimic it.
Then, he slung the cape over his shoulders.
For a few moments, he considered the appearance. Similar enough to honor her legacy, but different enough from mere mimicry.
Satisfied, he went for the door.
For the first time since she left, he felt something inside himself, bubbling up from his heart and spreading throughout his being.
I could see him go to the transfer pad, even from ninety three million miles out, and the sight put a smile on my face.
Everything felt so different now, and at the same time, it felt as though things had never changed. I could see and hear so much more than before; I could hear the music of the spheres, and witness the mechanics that held the universe together, an experience that no one else could share.
And yet, I was still me.
It could be a while before I finally stabilized the Sun's core, and finished the celestial machinery that would keep it from ever being threatened again. But it would be finished, and one day Superwoman would return to Earth and keep up the never-ending struggle for truth, justice, and freedom.
Until then, however, I was content with being Taylor Hebert.
As I watched the little blue sphere that meant everything to me, I shifted my gaze, peering at the structure of the Source in a certain place...
-where I see you...
You have been reading:
The Girl of Tomorrow