Chapter 1: Mistakes
"It's moving towards the Science Centre! We have to get ahead of it, now!" Superman's voice was loud and imposing as he hovered authoritatively over the panicking crowd.
Wonder Woman thrust herself into the air, pulling down on a lamppost. It struck the pavement with a dull metallic thud and the asphalt cracked beneath it. The crowd's voice rose and fell as it backed away from the makeshift barrier. They were a mindless, ebbing sea, and their cries were like those of frightened sheep, far from safety and sanity.
"They're panicking- we have to keep them back!" Wonder Woman clenched her jaw and kicked down another streetlamp. Superman grimaced.
"Leave it to crowd control! Don't waste your energy here- it's that we need to worry about," he paused briefly, then scrutinized the area. "Booster Gold! Herd them!" He yelled down and pushed forward, towards the rising, acrid smoke- puffing and dissolving into the contaminated air like ink in water. A young blonde swerved to the side, and, her crimson cape catching a draught while letting him pass, swooped down towards the agitated throng below.
Below, blurs of various colours and speeds circled its large, metallic feet. Superman grunted and drove himself into its bulging, gleaming shoulder. Staggering forward, it bellowed in fury, drowning out Dove's cries for civilians to seek safety. Wonder Woman veered around its temple, lassoing its head in an attempt to pull it forward.
"Dove! Where's Flash?" Hawk suddenly turned at screamed over the noise. "Don't tell me he needed a snack now of all times!" The heat and smoke stung their eyes, and their sweat felt thick and poisonous as it poured down their faces. Their suits were melting against their skin.
"Where is Black Canary for that matter?- Hey, look out!" The brothers ducked for cover a large, leaden foot came smashing down on a public fountain. Water exploded from beneath its shoe and vapourized into sharp, hot steam.
From left of the intersection there was a cry of pain and frustration as Wonder Woman hit and slid into the scorching ground. Her lasso hung loosely from its thick, stalwart neck.
Gargantuan metal fingers grasped blindly at the air; Superman, dodging aggravatedly, slipped through the spaces in between.
Suddenly, it swung around and began its painful, angry descent. Wound between its legs was a long, stretched, purple body and a mop of flaming hair. Beside its feet, a tall, well built, sweaty figure in red.
"The bigger they come, the harder they fall!" He chuckled triumphantly, looking at its silent, fallen body. The Elongated man twisted tightly around its ankles, and a small, reddish-blue insect seemed to crawl up towards its head.
"Good job, Flash." Superman's voice was tired and stoic. He floated down gently to where Wonder Woman was sprawled. She lay on the dented ground, awake and still.
It was up again. The Elongated Man lay writhing on the ground, screaming for God in the steaming water that gushed from the broken fountain. Hawk was tending to an unconscious Dove, smashed into the rid side of the City Museum. The Flash was dancing and teasing, screaming obscenities in front of it in a desperate attempt to distract.
"This is my town!" He screamed. "No one gave you the right to destroy it!"
Flash swore at it. Its attention was now on him. Flash grinned, panting. "Try me!" He screamed once more and took off down the main street. An infuriated, deep-throated, metallic growl ensued, followed by its thunderous, echoing steps and the futile screams of people trying to get out of the way.
"What the hell is he doing!" Green Arrow waved his bow below Superman's confused, suspended figure. Wonder Woman twitched in his bulky arms.
"I don't know, but it had better work!" Superman pushed through the crackling smoke and the heated air, following the trail of black, smoking footsteps down the street. Green Arrow followed in his shadow, jumping tentatively over the scalding cracks in the tarmac.
In the low contrast of the smoky horizon, a building began to collapse.
The Flash set his jaw resolutely. He felt his suit and mask become waxy and thin against his skin. He was running relatively slowly, compared to his maximum speed, and, now, he was waiting for the monstrosity behind him to grind to a slow, mechanical halt and crash to the pavement. Any time now….
He hopped over a fire hydrant, pushing and screaming for civilians to get out of the way. Most of them had already done so out of instinct.
It began to decelerate sooner than he expected, for as he turned onto the fourth street, its steps became slower and shorter. But he was distracted, and, soon, his steps mimicked those of his follower's, almost coming to a complete stop.
He pivoted in a dazed shock. There was a deafening sound of something large being wound down but, in his mind, all he saw were the two faces before him, withered, old, familiar, and all he heard were their strident, desperate screams of fear and awe.
"Wally!" Superman screamed. But it was too late for him to hear, for he was in a sedated state of frozenness, neither able to move nor speak.
Within seconds, it came down with a deafening roar. The echo resounded for what seemed like an eternity, and all the city was silent.
Superman landed in front of the Flash. Blood was seeping, gushing onto the pavement from beneath its heavy, hot, leaden palm.
"Wally!" The Flash was looking past him, over his shoulder, at the formless, crumpled entity. Wonder Woman looked up at Superman.
"Clark," she said quietly. "I'm fine now, you can put me down." She was gently allowed onto her feet.
"Wally!" Superman looked at the pool of blood beneath its large metal hand. Civilians were beginning to congregate around the entrance to the street, buzzing; the noise was heightening. Green Arrow was trying to push them back, creating a sort of crisscrossed barrier with overlapping arrows whose tips stuck into the tarmac.
Suddenly, Superman punched Flash across the face, silent and exasperated.
Flash swore and looked up, bewildered.
"You had time to save them! You had at least ten seconds to save them!" Wally's face was blank, unresponsive. Superman grunted in frustration. "Don't you understand! We have casualties! We have casualties!" Flash's face suddenly changed.
"Oh, God." He stared in slow realisation at the expanding pool of blood. "Oh, God." He bent over and threw up. Superman stood before him, observing him silently as he wiped his mouth.
"Clark, he saved us." Behind him, a figure drew itself to full height. "He had the idea that I should shrink and get inside of it and screw it up- change the wiring and all that." The Atom sniffed and rubbed his nose. "He found the Elongated Man by himself, who was supposed to be on leave, and gave me time to climb in. And with something like this in a crowded city, I mean-"
"He had time to save them. I watched it."
"What is the point of being the fastest man on Earth when you have the opportunity to save but don't do anything! Those casualties could have been avoided. He just stood and watched them die."
Superman was livid. He walked over to its unmoving body and grunted as he pushed the bloody hand of its flattened victims. They lay mangled beneath it, in the gore, heat and dust.
"Hey!" A young, feminine voice called from over a building. "We think we might have an idea of who'se behind this!" Supergirl stood smirking self-righteously on its dusty rooftop, Lex Luthor's scowling face in her firm grasp. Black Canary sat hunched beside her, an expression of significant disturbance on her face as she regarded the two decimated bodies below.
Superman glared at the Flash, then looked over his shoulder to Green Arrow and the Atom where awaiting his command.
"Arrow- keep the crowd away and try to get the bodies identified. Atom, check on Elongated Man and Hawk and Dove," he then turned to look at the Flash. "You- we'll talk about you later. Diana, come with me."
His lips twitched derisively and he climbed into the air, his cape fluttering behind him. Wonder Woman arched her back slightly in an attempt to stretch her sore muscles and slowly and gently rose into the air, her compassionate gaze resting on the Flash until they landed on the rooftop and out of view.
Flash looked at the Green Arrow, who had already resigned to his orders, and the Atom helplessly. He suddenly felt very tired.
A short, slight woman had had the gall to hop over Green Arrow's arrow-barrier and slide past his watch. Flash stared, fatigued yet unabashed, pursing his lips in the silence of his disbelief. She stood, nearly hysterical in her tears as the Green Arrow tried to calm her down. Her auburn hair was stringy and wet with sweat and angry tears, and she rubbed her puffed, crimson-circled eyes furiously with her hands.
The Flash's shoulders hunched over, and he wondered if it was still worth it to ask, or to offer.
He wondered if he had the courage.
He looked at his hands. They were quivering.
He wondered if he ever did.