Clark Kent stood amidst a massive crowd of people in Metropolis Plaza, attending a press conference held by Ferris Industries. As he studied the paintings and models of prototype aircraft, he scribbled notes on his pad and sighed. It was going to be a boring night, and he smiled as he thought about Lois, who conveniently picked tonight to come down with laryngitis.
"Hey Superman," a voice suddenly called from nearby. Clark was momentarily startled, but quickly recovered as he turned to see Jimmy Olsen approach.
Jimmy studied him for a moment with a concerned smile. "I didn't startle you did I, Mister Kent" he chuckled, "It's just that you work so many hours, I couldn't resist teasing you a little."
Clark smiled, patting Jimmy on the back. "No problem, Jimmy. But why are you here? Did Perry send you down to take some pictures?"
"Nah, I just love aircraft. I'd give my right arm to be able to pilot one of those new models. Take this one for instance..."
Jimmy led him over to one of the models, continuing to chat at a million miles an hour. Clark nodded and smiled, trying to feign interest, but as he listened to Jimmy, he could hear the faintest noise coming from somewhere in the room. It was a bizarre noise, an unnatural, high-pitched whine synched with a heartbeat.
His eyes darted about the plaza as he tried to focus in on the source of the noise.
In another part of the plaza, Carol Ferris adjusted Hal Jordan's tie, as he flipped through a stack of index cards.
"I hate giving speeches," he grunted, "I don't know why you volunteered me for this, Carol."
"Stop whining, Hal," she said with a mischievous smile and a wink, "You knew when you started dating me that I'd be trouble. Now it's too late for you. Besides, you've got it all on the index cards. Just get up there, imagine everyone in the audience is in their underwear, and read the stupid cards."
Hal wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her away from the crowd, into an empty corner of the room.
"I'll be imagining one person in her underwear," he said with a chuckle as he pulled her close and kissed her. For a moment, she resisted. Then she kissed him with relish. It had been a while since they'd been out together, dressed formally like a King and Queen, and she wanted it to last forever.
Thirty-five seconds later, a brilliant light exploded in the center of the plaza. The light was followed by a blast of sub-zero wind, that instantly froze anyone standing near it, turning them into ice statues.
People screamed and ran from the light, which sat at the center of the floor like a beacon, blindingly bright and unmoving. Suddenly, a man staggered out of the light into the plaza. He wore a green and yellow costume which was tattered in several places. Despite the fact he was bleeding from his mouth, and he was scarred and bruised, he raised his pistol and trained it on the crowd.
"Running will do you no good," he shouted, his voice quivering, "It's over, for all of you."
As the man's pistol pulsated, Clark Kent and Hal Jordan both recognized him instantly.
"Mirror Master," they both muttered softly.
Jimmy was so focused on Mirror Master, he didn't notice as Clark backed into a nearby office and closed the door.
Carol Ferris was furious as she studied Mirror Master. "No two-bit costumed thug is going to ruin MY Press Conference," she growled as she started to walk toward him.
Hal grabbed her, holding her back.
"Are you crazy, Carol," he said, trying to hold her as she struggled against him.
"Damn it, Hal, let me go. Someone's got to take this guy out."
"I agree. Go call the police."
"But I can..."
"Go call them now."
Carol shot him an annoyed look as she pulled away from him, running to a nearby phone. As she picked up the receiver, she turned around, to find Hal gone.
"My hero," she snorted as she dialed 911.
Superman swooped down on Mirror Master, snatching the pistol from his hand.
"I don't know what you're trying to pull, Mirror Master," he said, "But you picked the wrong place to do it."
"Agreed," Green Lantern said, rising up through the floor and grabbing Mirror Master's arm. He studied the frozen people standing nearby. "You just better hope these people you froze can be saved, Scudder."
Superman turned and fired a low-level heat beam from his eyes, gently gliding it over each of the frozen victims. Within a few seconds, the ice began melting away, and soon the people were free and dry. They shivered slightly, still feeling the effects of the cold.
"Someone please get these people something hot to drink," Superman called to the crowd, and they gladly responded.
One girl, a 7-year old, continued to shiver as she looked up at Superman. He walked over and knelt down beside her. He undid his cape and gently wrapped it around her. "There you go, honey," he said with a comforting smile, "This will keep you warm."
She pulled it close to her, and stood on her tiptoes to give him a kiss on the cheek.
"Yes," Mirror Master suddenly spoke, his voice still quivering anxiously, "Maybe you two can stop him, prevent him from coming through. I wanted the Flash to help me, but the door opened in the wrong place. My calculations, so badly off, no time, no time..."
"What are you babbling about, Scudder," Green Lantern said as the bright light behind them suddenly began pulsating, faster and faster.
"You're going to help me stop him, or you'll all die," Mirror Master snapped. He closed his eyes and concentrated. The bright light behind him now widened into a portal, and wind roared about it. Suddenly, the portal ejected three large liquid globes, which enveloped Mirror Master, Lantern and Superman. The globes were translucent and flexible, as if crafted from pure mercury.
Lantern fired at the lining of the globe, choking as the air was slowly cut off around him. His beam penetrated the globe, but it quickly resealed, growing stronger as it seemed to absorb his ring's power.
Superman fired several bursts of heat vision, but found the globe resealed faster with each blast. Coughing, struggling for air, he managed to blow one blast of freezing breath. A tiny slice of the globe iced over and shattered. It didn't reseal. Superman, now revitalized by fresh air, began pounding at the weak area of the globe, and it began to crack. Another minute, and he would be free.
It was at that moment that Mirror Master clapped his hands together, and all three globes exploded into fragments. In each of the broken pieces, small reflections of Mirror Master, Superman and Green Lantern could be seen. The pieces whirled like hundreds of miniature tops, hovering in mid-air and shimmering as the crowd watched in horror.
As police officers rushed into the plaza, weapons drawn, the fragments coalesced into one giant ball of mirrors and entered the portal. The portal's blinding light grew dimmer, until it vanished completely, leaving a stunned crowd behind, and one tiny fearful girl, who desperately clutched Superman's cape as if, through sheer force of will, she could make him reappear.
A cold arctic wind howled outside, and snow drifts extended as far as the eye could see, as Superman stood inside a small cave, using his telescopic vision to survey this new land.
"I can't see anything," he said grimly, "Not a building, not an animal. Nothing. It's like we're standing in the middle of an Ice Age."
"We are, in a sense," Mirror Master snorted, clutching his shoulders, his teeth chattering as a piercing cold wind swept through the cave.
Green Lantern grabbed Mirror Master, yanking him from the floor and slamming him against the cave wall. "No more games," he said menacingly, "I'm going to ask you one more time, Scudder, where the hell are we." Lantern's entire body pulsated with a green light, his ring automatically generating a heat field around him to protect him from the severe cold.
Scudder shivered as he burst into laughter. "Pardon me for not being terrified, Lantern," he spat, "But here, there's much worse things to be afraid of than you and that fancy ring. We're in a parallel dimension. I'm sure you've heard of them before. It's much like our world, but with major differences. In this dimension, Captain Cold has acquired near infinite power, and he rules this place like a frigging king."
"Try again," Lantern said, "I'm not buying it. You're up to something..."
Superman calmly turned and walked over to them. "He's telling the truth, Lantern. I was listening to his heartbeat."
Lantern, still skeptical, let go of Mirror Master. "Alright then, Scudder. How did you come across this place? And why did you bring us here?"
"A few months back, me and Captain Cold heard about this jewel they found in South America. It was unique, and priceless. It also had some special properties too, energy properties that would have helped us both."
"The Kandarez Crystal," Superman said, stroking his thumb against his chin in thought, "There was a big story on it in the Daily Planet. You and Cold tried stealing it as it was being delivered to the Central City museum. But the Flash stopped you."
"What a shame," Lantern said, dripping with sarcasm. "When are you going to learn you can't beat the Flash, Scudder?"
"Hey, he stopped us, but we still got the crystal," Mirror Master said with a sly smile, "See, in all the confusion, as the Flash was doing that whirlwind thing, taking out Cold, I was able to steal the crystal. I used my mirror pistol to "hide" it in a small pocket dimension."
"But the crystal that was delivered to the Central City museum," Superman said, "It was a fake?"
"Even better," Mirror Master said with pride, "It was a full-blown 3-dimensional hologram. A solid hologram, no less. You could touch it, hold it, look at it, and you'd never know it was just a hologram. I'm pretty proud of that. One of my best creations."
"We're all so impressed," Lantern said with distaste, "So after you got out of prison, you came and got the crystal."
"Nah, that's where I screwed up big time. For some crazy reason, Cold was released a month before me. I gave him directions to my stash of mirror pistols, and told him how to retrieve the crystal from the pocket dimension. After that, I never heard from him. When I got out of the joint, I went into the pocket dimension, first thing, but I ended up here. I found Cold, sitting in some damned tower made of ice. He had actually crafted the whole thing himself! Ceilings, pillars, stairs, the whole thing. As soon as he saw me, he lit into me. But he didn't use his freeze gun. He used the Kandarez Crystal to amplify his power, and now he was shooting cold beams from his eyes and hands. He zapped me good, then had these soldiers of his work me over. He called'em 'ice shrikes'. Nasty things."
"So how did you get away," Superman asked sympathetically. Lantern was amazed by Superman's ability to feel sorry for anyone, even scumbags like Scudder.
"The ice shrikes are powerful, but pretty stupid. I tricked one of'em into giving me back my mirror pistol. I was so frigging beaten and cold at that point, I couldn't think straight. I meant to pop back into Central City and find the Flash, hoping he'd help me out. I wound up in Metropolis instead. Just my blasted luck."
He paused for a moment, his teeth still chattering slightly, as Superman and Green Lantern glanced at each other, mulling over what Mirror Master had just told them. Mirror Master spoke again, this time his voice deeper, and more grave.
"See, the thing is, before Cold sicced his ice shrikes on me, he said he was gettin' kind of bored with this place. Said he might come back to our dimension and conquer Earth. And as powerful as he is, I think he could do it. If he returns to Earth, you're going to see a hell of a lot of suffering and death. I'm not a hero, but I am a survivor. I brought us here so we could take Cold down before he gets any more powerful. We've got to stop this nutcase."
Lantern chuckled at that. "Wonderful, you create a mess of cosmic proportions and we have to clean it up. Same old story."
"Hey, I'm just trying to protect Earth, you know? I know how psycho Captain Cold is."
"Yeah, well you're not exactly well adjusted yourself, Scudder. Now that I know what's going on, I could use my power ring to take Superman and I back to Earth. Nothing would please me more than to leave you here with Cold. Maybe this time, he'd finish the job."
"Well go then! Leave! I'll just bring someone else here. Maybe I'll find Flash this time, or Hawkman, or that Green Arrow guy you hang around with."
"The hell you will. You're not putting anyone else at risk."
Lantern held his ring up menacingly to Scudder's face. The ring pulsated rapidly with a bright green light that dripped raw power. Superman grabbed Lantern's arm.
"It's alright, Lantern," he said calmly, "We're here now, so let's deal with Captain Cold. If he's this powerful here, he'll be even more so when he reaches Earth. It's best if we stopped him here."
They walked outside the cave and into the snow, as Lantern projected a force bubble around them to block out the cold.
"How far is Cold's tower from here," Superman asked.
"I'm not sure. Twenty, maybe thirty miles tops."
Suddenly, six monstrous figures leaped from the snow. Each stood seven feet tall, with hides of thick ice. Like snowflakes, they each looked a little different, but had elongated heads with rectangular slits for eyes and a mouth. As the creatures breathed, steamed hissed from their narrow mouths, along with drops of orange bile that crackled as it hit the frosty ground. Their bodies were slightly cracked, but massive and seemingly invulnerable. They each had four arms, coated with crystal spikes honed to a razor sharp edge.
They growled, leaning forward as they studied Superman, Lantern and Mirror Master, preparing to attack.
"Good Lord," Superman said as he studied the creatures with a mixture of sympathy and distaste, "Captain Cold must be insane to have created such warped monsters."
"They're getting ready to pounce," Green Lantern said, raising his power ring, "I'm taking them out first."
Emerald energy burst from his ring, forming into the shape of a gigantic battering ram. The battering ram slammed into three of the creatures, sending them flying in all directions in a cloud of ice and snow.
"That's what I'm talking about," Mirror Master said gleefully, pulling his pistol out, "Let's kill'em all."
Superman grabbed Mirror Master's arm to stop him. "No. These creatures are misguided, controlled by a madman. If we can talk with them somehow, break the hold Cold has on them, we have to try."
The three creatures quickly jumped back to their feet, and all six roared as they charged forward.
"They don't look like they're in a talkin' mood," Mirror Master said, "For God's sake, Superman, use your frigging heat vision on'em!"
"No," Superman said, "It might kill them."
"Wonderful. So they'll kill us instead. Great idea."
The spikes quivered on several of the creatures' arms, and suddenly fired. Green Lantern answered with a blast from his power ring, creating an energy net that caught the spikes. He whirled the emerald net around, flinging the spikes back at the creatures. The spikes whizzed by them as they dodged and wove furiously to avoid them.
Superman flew forward, punching two of the creatures. One of the creatures hit the ground, the other stood firm. Superman recoiled, surprised, as the creature slammed into him with an uppercut to the chin.
Superman grunted in pain as he flew backwards 30 yards, tumbling through the air, crashing through two walls of ice before hitting the ground. He shook his head and stood, dusting himself off.
"Nice shot," he said with a bemused smile, as he took to the air. He hurled at the ice shrike like a rocket, pouring on the speed. The shrike stood firm, painfully unaware of the power that was racing toward him. Superman slammed into it with a powerful thud. The creature hit the ground hard and skidded across the ice at blazing speed, disappearing into the distance as it whined in pain.
At that moment, the other creature, the shrike Superman had knocked down earlier, jumped to its feet, wrapping its arms around Superman and squeezing him in a powerful bear hug.
Meanwhile, Green Lantern deflected several more spikes with an emerald force field, as the remaining four creatures came toward him. Mirror Master stood behind him, wanting desperately to run.
"Ah man," he said in fear, clutching the handle of his mirror pistol, "We're screwed."
"Not yet, we're not," Lantern said, creating a massive fan with his power ring. The fan stood nearly 20-feet high, the blades whirling at impossible speed, creating a tornado funnel of wind. The funnel slammed into the creatures, sending them flying backwards. They quickly got back to their feet, and began walking forward, fighting against the wind.
Lantern smiled, suddenly reversing the direction of the fan blades. Now the massive blades whirled in the opposite direction, yanking the creatures forward. The creatures howled as they slammed into the fan hard, and fell to the ground unconscious.
Mirror Master chuckled as he ran over to the four fallen creatures, training his mirror pistol on them.
"Now who's doin' the hurtin'," he said bitterly, "Let's see how you like a little trip to a fire dimension."
Lantern fired a force beam, knocking Mirror Master's arm aside as his pistol fired.
"What the hell are you doin', Lantern?"
"They'll be out for a long time, Scudder. If you think I'm going to stand here and let you kill them, while they're laying there helpless..."
"Listen, they beat the hell out of me when I was in Cold's tower. I'm just gettin' a little payback, that's all."
"Save your energy for Captain Cold. You're going to need it."
Superman suddenly walked over, carrying the massive body of one of the ice shrikes. The creature's breath was strained, a sickening gurgling sound. There was a small black hole on its arm, from which steam rose and hissed like a geyser.
Superman gently laid the creature on the ground. He knelt to the ground beside it, studying it with concern. "I hit it with a low-level burst of heat vision, trying to get free of its grip" he said mournfully, "I didn't think it would affect it this badly. But the sound it made....I think I've wounded it badly. It may be dying."
Mirror Master yawned loudly. "Geez, that's too bad," he said casually.
Lantern ignored the remark as he fired a beam of light from his power ring. The light enveloped the creature, casting a pale emerald glow on Superman's face.
"The ring's telling me it's in bad shape, but not critical," Lantern said, "We can save it."
Superman looked up at Green Lantern with hope. "Tell me what to do," he said firmly.
"First, you have to patch up its arm. Can you manage another burst of freeze breath?"
Superman's chest still throbbed from the creature's bear hug, and he still felt woozy from its attack. "Yes I can."
"Good. Coat its wounded arm with a freezing mist, slow and evenly. That'll rejuvenate it, keep it from going into a coma, and also stimulate its healing system."
Superman inhaled, then pursed his lips as he released a mist of sub-freezing breath. The cloud of frosty air coated the creature's arm, as Superman ignored the pain in his own chest, keeping the mist even and steady.
"Geez, why's he helping the damn thing," Mirror Master said with exasperation, "It tried to kill him!"
"Because he's Superman," Lantern responded, arms folded as he watched.
After a moment, the creature's breath became more steady, as it rolled its head and moved slightly.
Mirror Master trained his pistol on it intently. "Don't even try it, ugly," he said.
The creature suddenly began grunting softly, as if it were trying to communicate. Superman looked up at Green Lantern. "Can you..."
"I'll try," Lantern said, once again surrounding the creature with an energy beam, "Not sure if the ring'll be able to translate, though." For a moment, the creature continued to grunt.
Then suddenly, there were words.
The voice was gravelly and deep, sounding ancient beyond words.
The three words repeated over and over, as Superman listened with fascination.
"I don't understand," Superman said with a hint of frustration, "We're not going to hurt you. Not again."
This seemed to calm the creature, and it rolled its head back and forth, studying them.
Superman laid a hand on the creature's arm gently. "We're here to help you," he said softly, "Free you from him."
"I promise you'll be free of him. Even if it means my life."
Mirror Master gulped at that, looking over at Lantern fearfully.
"Because we know how sweet freedom is, and we cherish it. In our land, we've fought many times to keep our freedom, battled against madmen and tyrants. These tyrants wanted to take everyone's liberties away. But no matter how powerful they are, they never succeed, and they won't this time. You will have your freedom once again."
The creature made a series of soft gasping sounds, which the ring translated into sounds of weeping.
It suddenly stiffened, as it grunted in pain.
Superman stood slowly, gazing at it with concern.
Superman looked over at Green Lantern and Mirror Master, and both were taken aback by the intense look on his face.
"Let's go take down Cold," he said, rocketing to the sky.
Green Lantern smiled, taking to the air in a field of green force, pulling Mirror Master behind him in an emerald globe. Mirror Master grumbled loudly, as he bounced around roughly inside Lantern's energy bubble.
"Hey, can you smooth this thing out," he yelled, "I'm getting beat to hell in here!"
"Sorry. Turbulence," Lantern said with a mischievous smile. He could make it a comfortable ride for Scudder, but for the first time today, he was enjoying himself.
Superman stared ahead, focused, and thought about Cold, sitting in his massive ice tower, full of power, surrounded by hundreds of ice shrikes.
It would be a hard battle, but one they had to win.
He thought back to his boyhood in Smallville, to the hot apple pies his mother baked. She'd set them on the window sill, and he could smell them from a mile away. He'd run through fields of corn, underneath a beautiful blue sky, until he made it home, back to his parents, who were waiting with a cold glass of milk and a slice of delicious pie.
He smiled sadly, with melancholy, yearning for those days in Smallville. After this were over, maybe he'd pay the town a visit once again, lay on the ground, look up at the clouds, and enjoy a slice of fresh apple pie as the sun set.
He hurtled through the ice and snow, Green Lantern and Mirror Master close behind, and Captain Cold's tower looming grimly in the distance...