And All For the Want (6/6)
A Batman Beyond / Justice League Unlimited - R 'Verse Story
by BillA1 and Merlin Missy
Copyright November 2007
(One Week After Darkseid Invades Earth)
It was the first thought Donna had once the bubble deposited them at the old iron works. She'd not counted on Fred stepping into this mess, but she wondered if at some subconscious level she left a doorway in her bubble for him to step in. No one got into a Lantern-created forcefield unless the ring wearer wished it. She just hadn't let herself known she was wishing.
Now there would be no one in the other timeline who would remember her, who would mourn her loss. Damn him. But there was no anger in her cursing. She was glad he was here. If she was going to die, she was glad he would be with her here at the end.
There was no time to think about death right now. Her ring wouldn't connect to the central battery. This was bad. She knew she didn't have enough charge in her ring to get them back to their timeline, but she'd thought she could consult the central battery and use its knowledge database and chronometer until her ring was empty. The central battery didn't recognize her or her ring. It could be because there was another Green Lantern of sector 2814 ring connected to it, or maybe this was how the Guardians ensured the Lanterns didn't mess around with time.
"Hey, GL! You with us?" Metamorpho asked. Fred stood next to her, not quite as nervous as she thought he might be, having just signed on for a suicide mission.
She nodded. "Yeah. Just thinking."
"Good, because I'd hate for you to miss any part of this meeting," Rex said flatly. "This looks to be the right place." He looked up in the sky, then back to Donna. "I think it's close to the right time." He paused. "You got a fix on the local time yet?"
She took a deep breath. Bad news didn't get better with age. "No," she answered. "And I don't have much juice left. We'll have to wing it."
Both men were silent for moment as if the finality of this mission had just hit them. Metamorpho placed his hand on her shoulder. "Okay then," he smiled at her. "We adapt and overcome, just like old times in the Corps. Well, my old Corps." He removed his hand. "We wait, but I need to be clear on something before we get started. No prisoners and no failures. Everyone understand?"
Donna nodded. So did Fred.
The three moved off toward a cleared out area nearby where they could watch the foundry. They settled in to wait. Rex became a fog bank and enveloped them, but he ensured they all had an unobstructed view of their target area.
There was a flash of bright light. Near the foundry door, not more than thirty meters from where they stood, Hourmaster and three armed goons appeared. He looked just like the boy's drawing. Fred drew an arrow from his quiver.
"Did the others say anything about reinforcements to you?" he hissed.
One of the goons stopped and looked at the fog bank they were in, then glanced up at the sky. He said something to one of the others, then suddenly drew his weapon and fired at them. Donna threw up a protective bubble around herself and Fred while Metamorpho let the laser discharge pass through him.
She dropped the bubble and just missed hitting Hourmaster with a mallet she'd constructed. Another goon fired at her and she ducked out of the way of the blast.
Fred fired his net arrow at the thug next to Hourmaster and it pinned the man against the foundry entrance, blocking Hourmaster's way. The man poured a liquid over the netting and the webbing dissolved. "I think they were ready for us," Donna said as Fred pulled out another arrow.
"Less talking and more fighting," Metamorpho growled as he shot a fireball at the goon to Donna's left. The thug rolled on the ground and came up throwing a grenade at Metamorpho. Mason jumped toward the grenade and changed his body composition so that he completely absorbed the blast and the shrapnel. Then he formed all of the metal fragments into a ball and threw it back at the guy.
"Here!" Mason yelled. "You lost this!" The metal ball hit the goon in the chest with sufficient force to kill him instantly.
Donna grabbed the guy who'd had fired at her by the ankles with her ring, picked him up and slammed him into the ground hard. The cracking sound was sickening. She turned her attention to her primary target and threw up a wall that the fleeing Hourmaster ran into. Stunned for a moment, he took a device off his belt. Donna didn't know what it was and she didn't want to know. She formed a glowing green crate around him.
Fred fired a boxing glove arrow and punched the goon who'd escaped from his net arrow. The man dropped to the ground. "Best thing Dad ever invented and it still works."
Donna heard Metamorpho shout again, "No failures!"
She yelled at Hourmaster, "You've been a bad boy. Drop it!" She hit Hourmaster's fingers with a constructed yardstick so hard that he dropped his little toy. She wasn't sure that she didn't break his hands, but she really didn't care.
Metamorpho grabbed Hourmaster around the arms. "Let's go." He forced the villain to an area on the backside of the foundry where they were met by Fred who had dragged the three limp bodies of the goons.
Hourmaster writhed in pain from the crushing grip on him and from his now swollen hands. "How'd you find me?" He squinted. "And who are you?"
"Call us the dream team," Fred said. "Why are you here?" Fred growled at the man. He had drawn a hunting arrow and aimed it at Hourmaster's head.
"I don't have to tell you anything."
"Oh, I see," Mason said, extending his neck around the villain so that he was facing Hourmaster. "You think we'll turn you over to the authorities. Sorry, pal." Metamorpho's arms became iron vices and he squeezed Hourmaster as he continued. "But you thought wrong. Y'see, we're not from the League now." He tightened his grip. "We're from a League that's been through a lot of hell because of your little field trip through time."
In moments, Hourmaster was screaming from the crushing grip, "Toyman! I was here for Toyman. I was going to take him to the future and put him to work inventing for me." Donna was sure Metamorpho would crush the man to death if he didn't give the answer he wanted. She'd never seen this side of her friend before. She didn't think anyone had.
They were from another League, sure. But they were still Justice League. "Metamorpho," she said with a warning.
"You're lying!" Metamorpho screamed back, not hearing her or not caring. "Toyman escaped from Green Lantern and called for reinforcements."
"Or we thought he did," Donna said. "Hourmaster took Toyman and one of the baddies here must have called for the reinforcements. That's when Lantern Stewart got killed." She paused. "I think we did it. I think we got here in time ... at the right time."
Fred nodded. "Okay, now what?"
"Metamorpho, let loose," Donna said.
"That's not how we're playing this one, Lantern."
"Do you want payback or justice, Rex?"
He squeezed again and Hourmaster squeaked. "I'll take both."
"Not like this," Fred said. "He won't hurt anyone ever again. We're going to make sure."
Hourmaster's eyes were practically popping out of his purpling face as Metamorpho held him a heartbeat longer and then went slack, still holding him but no longer crushing him. Donna nodded, then ringed an airtight bubble around Rex, Hourmaster and the three goons. "No prisoners. No failures."
She and Fred watched as Metamorpho continued to restrain Hourmaster while part of him turned into a clear gas. She reminded herself that this was for the greater good as she watched the man struggle against the body holding him firm and what she knew to be poison gas. How many atrocities over the years had used "the greater good" as their rallying cry? Had any of them ever done so to keep their future selves from having to do the same? Finally, the criminal who had been known to them as simply Hourmaster slumped in Metamorpho's arms and was still. Mason dropped him to the ground beside the bodies of his henchmen.
When Metamorpho gave her the signal, Donna dropped the bubble around him and the four dead men, as Fred said softly, "That's it then. We're done and our own timeline's gone."
She wondered how it would feel to fade out of existence, wondered if her dad had been right and she was about to be judged for what they'd just done, what they'd all done over the years.
"Maybe," Rex answered. "But we're not quite finished. We have to get rid of these bodies so that there's no evidence of what happened."
Donna frowned and then it came to her. She turned to Fred. "Give me some rope from one of your arrows." Fred actually looked physically ill as he broke one of his arrows to get to the cord. "Here," he said, grousing as he handed it to her.
She handed the rope to Rex. "Tie them all together tight, as tight as you can." She retrieved the device Hourmaster had been fiddling with. If he'd planned on taking Toyman back with him, he had a portable time machine, and sure enough, this looked to be the very device. It looked simple to operate. Donna said to Rex, "Pick a number between 200 and 230."
"214," he answered as he completed tying the criminals together.
"Nice choice." She keyed in the number and then said to the others, "Step back." She surrounded her team in a bubble and using her ring put the device on the dead Hourmaster and pressed a button. In a couple of seconds, there was a whine and the four bodies disappeared in a flash of light.
"Where'd you send them?"
"To meet the dinosaurs. 214 million years ago in the middle of the Triassic Period." She added, "Dinosaurs were going to be part of next week's lesson plan. No need to waste the knowledge."
Fred managed a smile. Metamorpho didn't join him. His frown deepened. "Have we seen the last of this Hourmaster guy?"
Fred snickered. "Well, if GL did it right, he's having lunch with a T-Rex about now."
"Yeah," she said, watching the spot where the bodies had been. "Guys, do either of you feel like you're about to fade out of existence?"
Fred shook his head and Metamorpho shrugged. "I feel like that whenever there's a strong wind."
"We took care of things," Donna said, more to herself than them. "We shouldn't be here anymore. Our timeline never existed."
"Maybe we have more to do," Fred said, and indicated the iron foundry, where just past the corner, Donna could make out Toyman and Giganta approaching.
"We can't get involved," Metamorpho said. "This is the real history happening right now. We shouldn't even be seen."
"Right," Donna said. "Rex, can you bring up that fog again?"
Things unfolded before them, forcing them to back away as the League arrived. Donna watched Lantern Stewart enter the foundry with Hol, felt Metamorpho chuckle around them as his younger self came on the scene. "Wow, did I ever look young," he said quietly.
The explosions shocked them. The sight of Metamorpho being blown to bits, even as he was surrounding her, broke her head a little. "We should go help," she said, as Fred pulled her back beside him.
"This is where we don't interfere," he said, even as the foundry collapsed in with Stewart and Hol inside.
"But we came here to save him," Metamorpho said, and the fog was shifting, and he was about to do something stupid.
"Wait," Donna said, although she didn't want to, and it hurt worse as they watched Fred's mother come in with the rest of the League, saw her fight with the reinforcements the villains had sent and heard her cut off scream as another explosion took down a still-standing wall on her and Doctor Light.
"I'm going down there," Fred said.
"You're not," said Metamorpho, and together, heartsick, they watched the League below them remove Rex's lifeless body. "Not quite how I expected this to go," he said quietly.
As the day dragged on into a chilly night, they kept an eye on the recovery efforts. Their comms let them listen in on some of the League traffic, but the news was bad.
"We were too late," Fred said, as they heard the status of his mother's condition: stable, compound fracture in one leg. The younger Rex Mason was dead, and there was no sign of Stewart or Hol among the living. Vixen had survived uninjured. Dove and Question didn't get so much as a hangnail. Was this the change they needed? Would it change everything?
Donna's ring hummed in and out of life. She used the little power she had to scan the debris from their location. "I can't pick up Stewart's ring."
"So?" asked Fred.
"You can't destroy power rings. It's like it's just … gone." And with no ring, Gardner wouldn't become a Lantern. No match to light the fire. It might be enough. It had to be enough.
With the coming of the night, Metamorpho had dropped the fog and resumed his normal form. "I came on this mission thinking I was going to die. Looks like I was right."
"I think we fixed it," Donna said. "Look, you're dead, and that's bad."
"But you weren't in the League in their dreams," Fred said, picking up on her thoughts.
"Yeah," said Donna. "And Lantern Stewart and Hol are missing, but you've heard the comms. No one has found anything."
"Transporter?" Metamorpho asked, hope dawning on his face.
"Could be," said Fred. "Maybe they got blasted to the other side of the universe by accident, and they take a while to get home. Could be that Warhawk comes along on their way back. Gets kind of boring traveling in a big green bubble after a while. They'd have to do something to pass the time." Donna couldn't stop her smile.
"What are we going to do?" Fred asked, while they kept out of sight of the news choppers searching the area with spotlights.
"Watch," said Metamorpho. "Stay out of the way of history. I remember these guys. I remember who I used to be. They're not like us. They don't do the things we do. Not sure I blame them." He looked over where the other heroes were still looking through the rubble. "Me, I'm thinking that a year or two from now, I'm going to look up Sapphire."
Donna said, "Are you sure that's wise?"
"I've been getting better at human forms." A wide grin split his face. "And this would be motivation to practice. Don't worry. I won't tell her it's me. I just want to see her again." He sighed. "What about you two?"
She looked at Fred. He took her hand and squeezed it. "We'll figure something out," he said. "Anywhere in particular you'd like to go?" he asked her.
The romantic in her wanted to answer, "Anywhere with you," but neither of them was much for romance, and anyway, she'd already made up her mind on one important thing.
(Sixty Years From Now)
"Remember," Cassie said, and Merina stared at her until Cassie finally dropped her arm.
"What was that?"
"Hourmaster was about to unravel history. I wanted to fix a copy of the proper timeline somewhere."
Merina rubbed her head. "That explains the headache. Anyway, it doesn't look like anything changed."
Beside her, Rex was kneeling down beside Kai-Ro. "C'mon, buddy," he said, gathering their friend into his arms. "I'll get you to a hospital."
"Be careful," said Merina, noting the blasts that had scored his armor already. He gave her a little nod and a tight smile that said plenty and promised more, then took off.
"Little help, people?" came Micron's voice over the comms. "These guys are vanishing." Even as he said it, Merina saw a goon three meters away pop out of existence amidst a bright light.
"Got it," said Terry over the comms, and there was a small explosion where the main machine used to be.
Merina looked at Cassie and they began a sweep of the area around them to clean up the remaining henchmen and take stock. Hourmaster had gotten away. An unknown number of his goons were with him. Lantern was hurt pretty badly. What a lousy day.
(One Week Later)
Kai-Ro had the late watch, his first since he'd recovered from his injuries. The night was proving quiet, which appealed to him. Enough anger had radiated through the corridors of the Metrotower these past several days to last him many battles' worth of aggravation.
The perimeter alert glowed green. Kai-Ro pressed the button to see who it was, and then a pleasant smile came to his face.
"Welcome, Shock," he said, and let his old acquaintance into the building.
Justin prepared his own coffee while Kai opted for a glass of milk; his experiments with caffeine always had gone awry. "How've you been? How's everyone?" Justin asked him as he measured out the grounds.
"We are well. The usual problems have surfaced. If you see any of the others, do not say 'teamwork' in their presence. It is currently functioning as a curse word."
Justin laughed and sat down across from him. The coffee machine mumbled to itself in the corner.
"How is your family?"
"We're doing okay. Dad and Uncle Richie are redesigning our headquarters. I think they're bored."
"I have heard you are working with Green Arrow again."
"Yeah. Fred relocated to Dakota a few months ago. We're trying to do some teamups, scare the bad guys, you know."
Justin sat back. "Dad's talking about working more with the League."
"I had gathered." Kai allowed himself to wonder if Justin would say more, but instead, Justin went to get his coffee. Static's team hadn't been the only ones to walk, run, or back away slowly from the League. When Superman had been overtaken by the Starro creature, he said --- after --- that he'd retained some small amount of awareness and control, and had driven away the rest to protect them. The only ones who had stayed were those who had no other place to be, like Kai-Ro himself, but orphans, outcasts and misfits had always constructed the core of the League.
Justin returned to his seat and stared at his coffee.
"Remind me. How did you get your ring?"
"I found it in the temple's garden. It sang to me from among the leaves."
"You were really little."
"Yes." Four years old, and the Guardians had been most displeased. Lantern Stewart hadn't been happy either but he'd trained Kai anyway and then handed over the sector. Some days Kai didn't know whether to thank him or send him a paper bag filled with flaming dog excrement.
"And the Lantern before you?"
"Aislynn. From Odala. She died not far from the temple." He took a sip of his drink. The ring had recorded the last few moments of her life, which had been horrible, if mercifully brief: a rescue mission gone wrong and no survivors. "Why do you ask?"
Justin moved his cup around in his hands. After a while, he said, "You're going to think I'm crazy. But … I had this dream."
(Key West, Florida - 13 Years From Now)
Ollie stretched his arms and groaned a little as something popped. The ache in his muscles wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, but at least Merlyn wasn't going to be causing this part of Florida any more problems. He managed a jaunty little wave as the police car pulled away from the curb, and was rewarded with a growl from the bad guy, muffled by the doors.
Not a bad day. Well, night. It was almost nine, local time.
He went to touch his ear for a transport and then stopped. He was hungry and wanted some dinner, sure, but canteen food didn't sound appetizing. A quick visit to a handy alley, and he was out of the Robin Hood getup and back in street clothes, taking a stroll and looking for a place to grab a bite. He rejected the big chain places out of hand; mom n' pop joints didn't always have the best food, but Ollie was big on supporting the local economies when he could.
He turned another corner and a grin spread under his beard. He just hoped the name "Quivering" didn't mean the place doubled as a porn shop. Wally was still teasing him about the last time.
The lights were lowered in the restaurant, candles and a few darkened lamps providing what illumination they could. Dinah would have called it atmospheric, and he made a mental note to bring her back here if the food was good. The waitress, a pretty thing about his age, took his order with a smile, and kept his coffee cup filled while he waited for what turned out to be the best eggplant Parmesan he'd ever tasted.
While he ate, his eyes adjusted to the dark, and he noted with amusement the framed news clippings along the walls. His own masked face was prominent in the pictures, as were Dinah's and Kyle's. The waitress flipped the sign on the front door to "Closed," and when Ollie went to pay the check, she stopped him.
"Don't bother yourself," she said, with a grin. "You eat free here, Mr. Queen."
"I couldn't do that," Ollie said.
Behind her, a guy came out from behind the counter. The cook, from the way he was dressed. Where the waitress' face was split with a grin, his smile was more nervous.
"It's all right," said the cook. "Call it a trade."
Ollie slipped a friendly smile on his face even as he tensed for another fight.
"A trade for what?"
The cook came over and sat down across from him. "You know your secret identity is the worst-kept secret in the League, right?"
Ollie scowled. "I wouldn't say that."
The waitress laughed and went back to the coffeepot. She brought over a cup for the cook and refilled Ollie's cup.
"It's all right," said the cook again. "Look, you could say I'm a big fan. I'd really love to hear about some of your adventures. Please?" The guy had to be older than Ollie was, silvery-grey shot through his thinning blond hair, but he sounded like one of the kids who begged him for his autograph on the street.
Ollie glanced at the waitress. "Won't the missus object to the time? It's kind of late."
"'Missus?'" asked the waitress, and snorted. "You lock up, okay, boss?"
"Thanks, Jen," said the cook. As she collected her purse and left, the man said, "My wife is home grading papers tonight. Trust me, she won't mind." The guy put on a half-smile. "And speaking of wives, please pass on my best wishes to yours. I hear she's due soon."
"Next month," Ollie said grudgingly. The ultrasounds looked great, and they were trying to pick a name for him.
Ollie took another sip of the coffee. Dinner had been fantastic. Maybe it was worth a story or two for a fan. "'Worst-kept secret,' huh?"
The guy did grin then. "Yeah. But I won't tell."