All rights belong to owners, I make no claim to any of these chars.
Eve stared out the window. Strange patterns formed and unformed beyond the glass. Another storm, she mused. Unavoidable. She should have gotten used to them by now, but she still hadn't.
She held a steaming cup of something dark and strong in one hand. She ran her other hand through her hair and idly mused that it was getting a bit long. Finding a decent salon to get that dealt with was more complicated than she really wanted to think about. A lot of things had gotten more complicated the past few months. Since Oa and everything that had happened after.
She took a long sip of her drink and muttered. "This sucks."
Mercy came up behind her, dressed in a fuzzy pink robe that had originally been meant for a much shorter woman. She had fluffy bunny slippers on and slipped her arms around Eve's shoulders and nuzzled her neck. "I told you not to drink that crap."
"We're out of the regular coffee." Eve said leaning back into the taller woman. "I told you I should've done the shopping last time."
Mercy rolled her eyes. "That's what I said." She replied.
Eve took another sip and made a face. "This is actually worse than nothing. I am impressed and appalled."
"If it tastes so bad," Mercy said with a laugh, "Just dump it in the sink."
"I made the cup already," Eve said with a grimace. "I hate to waste it."
A hand snuck into their field of view and the cup was pulled away from her. A second mug of fragrant, well-steeped sweet tea was slid into her emptied hand. "Wha-" she began to say.
Lex smirked at them over the cup of horrible tasting recaff. Eve had to admit to herself that despite his multitude of near-brushes with death, he looked deliciously good. He'd put on a little weight since they'd started travelling, but most of it had been muscle. She grinned to herself wickedly at the thought that it was probably from the regular exercise he was getting now. The standard white jumpsuit that the ship had plenty of in stock fit him like a second skin, even with all the additional pockets and loops he'd added to the tough material. Good enough to eat, first thing in the morning. Life really was good. She glanced over to Mercy and realized that the redhead was probably thinking something similar.
Then Lex had to go and spoil it by opening his mouth. "Unlike you wimps, I actually like this crap."
"Where did you get the tea?" Eve asked suspiciously, not that she wouldn't drink it, but her inventory records showed they should have been out.
Mercy took a deep breath of the scent. "You've been holding out on us, haven't you?"
Lex chuckled, leaning against the bulkhead and took another drink, "I had a tin in my room. I'm not sure how it ended up there."
Mercy shook her head and said in a voice heavy with mock horror. "He's hoarding necessary supplies. We should have him walk the plank, Cap'n."
Eve nodded, getting into the spirit. "Aye, we ought."
"You realize, if you get rid of me, no one would be able to keep the Moonraker running," Lex replied airily.
Mercy made a dismissive gesture. "You just tell us that to make us think you're useful."
Eve put a finger to her chin and said with exaggerated thoughtfulness, "Well, you thought he was useful last night."
Mercy blushed crimson. "He was... distracting."
Lex waggled his eyebrows, "You loved it."
"You were tolerable." Mercy said, unable to hide her smile.
Eve laughed, reaching out to hug Lex. "I'm not sure how we ended up like this, but I'm glad we did."
Lex returned the embrace and grinned. "We ended up like this because someone couldn't follow orders."
Mercy sniffed. "I was too following orders as I recall."
Lex shook his head, "That's not how I remember it..."
Lex closed his eyes and whispered aloud, "Goodbye."
It seemed appropriate to do it right. This was his big finish. He stood up, allowing his seat, the cigar and his drink to vanish as he raised one hand before him, fingers in position to snap.
His suit was pressed and he had to admit to himself, he looked good.
His moment was perfect. He almost wished someone could see him do this.
At the precise moment that he snapped his fingers and the connection to the central battery was severed, a golden sphere manifested next to him. It was a hundred feet in diameter and completely and incongruously... there. He was certain that it couldn't possibly be a new Willworld. They couldn't manifest without a mind calling it into being. He was the only one there. He extended his senses once more and confirmed that he had indeed shut the link back to the Central Battery down completely and there were no minds within the now moon-sized parasite universe. The moment of closure had allowed a brief surge of energy back into Malthus. Not enough to bring the Guardians back, but more than sufficient to halt the collapse for just a few minutes more.
No minds... except his senses seemed to stop at the edge of the golden sphere.
It seemed to be taunting him with its presence. He hadn't expected his last moments would be spent dealing with a puzzle, but it was something to do while he waited for the lights to truly go out.
There was a sizzling 'pop' noise as the golden sphere vanished to reveal some sort of space plane. It had a blunt, vaguely aerodynamic body and was done in white with purple trim. The design was several years out of date, but he could just barely make out the writing on the nose. That just told him exactly who had arrived, even if his senses within Malthus hadn't picked up two very familiar minds now that the sphere was gone.
Lex stared. Unable to process or accept what he was seeing. Well, actually he could, he just did not want to.
A hatch just ahead of the stubby wings popped open and a rope ladder unrolled neatly down. Down the ladder, neatly dressed in her form-fitting white jumpsuit climbed down Mercy. Incongruously enough she was wearing her chauffer hat and her hair was tucked up neatly inside it. She looked unexpectedly glorious.
There was no real ground any more precisely, but Lex hadn't been in the mood to float and he was sharing orientation with the Moonraker and Mercy. The conscious thought of matching their orientation helped him gather his self-possession and allowed him to switch gears from delighted ogling to righteous indignation in record time.
"What are you doing here? Which part of 'keep her safe' was too difficult for you to understand?" Lex roared.
She sniffed, crossed her arms. "Which part of 'don't die' is too difficult for you?"
He scrubbed a hand down his face, trying to wipe clear the frustrated and twisted anger that was written on it. "I trapped myself in this place... to save the universe." He pounded his fist into his open palm at every word for emphasis, "To. Save. You. And. Eve. You being trapped in here. With. Me! That kind of invalidates what I was trying to do!"
Mercy gave him a cheeky grin. "So it's kind of a gift of the magi thing?"
"Will you please, not change the subject?" He groaned.
She patted his cheek cheerfully and replied, "Well, I'm not sure if you remember, Lex... but I really don't work for you. I was following my employer's orders."
"Where is-" Lex began to ask, when Eve showed herself.
She didn't use the ladder as Mercy did, she simply floated out of the door and into Lex's very surprised arms in a single gold-trailing bound. Lex knew he could've caught her gentle as a feather, mutable as the laws of physics were within Malthus, but he ended up turning the catch into a spin to bleed off her speed as she clung to his neck. A small, cynical part of his mind thought, Isn't this some sort of romantic movie cliche? The other parts of his mind that were enjoying the breathless hug Eve was giving him were telling that part to shut up.
"What are you doing here?" Lex asked when he'd finally managed to stop spinning. The question had escaped before he pulled back enough to get a good look at her. Golden hair, check. The rest of her outfit was considerably more remarkable. She was in a gold and black Gold Lantern uniform that clung to her like a second skin. Lex had seen her in business suits and no small number of casual 'lounging at home' outfits, but this was the first time he'd ever seen her in something that managed to cover her completely, while still showing to best effect every inch of her figure.
Eve for her part seemed to enjoy the staring. Her cheeks colored prettily and she even posed a little for him to give him a better look at her in the surprisingly comfortable outfit. She had something else in mind to say, but when she opened her mouth, she said, "You could've at least sprung for a diamond."
Mercy chuckled and replied. "Usually when a guy gives a girl a ring, he tries for a little romance."
"And a diamond." Eve added helpfully.
"What are you talking about?" Lex asked genuinely baffled.
Mercy laughed at the expression on Lex's face and patted Eve's back. "I told you he hadn't thought of that at all."
Eve sighed and glanced over her shoulder at her taller friend, "You're right. The only way we're going to get a romantic bone in his body is if we have it surgically implanted."
"Still waiting for an explanation?" Lex muttered in annoyance.
Eve leaned in and kissed Lex's cheek. "I thought you were giving Mercy a ring for a specific reason."
Lex frowned, "Yes. So she could protect you better."
Mercy finally got her bubbling laughter under control and began to hum, "Dum-dum-dadum! Dum-dum-dadum!"
"Why are you humming the wedding ma- Oh!" Lex exclaimed as enlightenment finally dawned, "No! That's not why I sent her the ring!"
Eve's face was a portrait of mock disappointment. "I know that now. I was hoping for a June wedding. Mercy doesn't have a lot of other friends so I was hoping I'd get to be at least a bridesmaid!"
Mercy shook her head, "Maid of honor. No question."
"See?" Eve all but wailed, "Now there is no wedding."
"I... I... you just managed to completely derail me being mad at both of you."
"I know," Eve said, her voice suddenly normal as she patted him on the cheek in the same fond way Mercy did. "I could hear you being difficult and we probably don't have a lot of time."
Lex took a deep breath. "Well managed. You're correct. Although, why are you wearing the ring instead of Mercy?"
Mercy crossed her arms across her impressive chest and looked away mumbling.
"I don't think I heard that," Lex said.
"I couldn't figure out how to get it to work." She admitted, blushing almost as red as her hair.
Lex was unable to resist. "You couldn't get the ring... which is controlled by thought... to work."
Mercy glared at him. "Laugh and I will beat your head in with your own spine."
Eve said a little reprovingly, "That was a little cruel, Lex."
He smiled and impulsively gave each of them a kiss. "Sorry, sorry. I... well... welcome to Malthus. Collapsing universe." He looked around at the better lit sky, but could see it was darkening once more. The universe was roughly half Earth's Moon in size now. "We have about ten minutes before the whole thing completely implodes and smooshes us to quantum foam. Smoosh is a scientific term."
"That should be enough time for you, right?" Eve asked.
"I'm sorry, enough time for what?" Lex said with mild annoyance. Again, it was like no one had bothered to fill him in on half the conversation.
"To figure a way out of here." Eve replied.
"This was the plan?" Mercy boggled. "You said you had a plan. We just had to get to Lex!"
Eve nodded. "I do. The plan is... we're going to die if you don't come up with a way to save all of us, Lex." She smiled brightly.
Lex said gently, holding her by the shoulders. "Eve, I don't know if you caught my last message out, but I snapped the last link this place had to our universe. We're like a life raft adrift in the white hot gutters of creation... and to extend the metaphor, the life raft is leaking very badly. If I had some way to save myself before, don't you think I would have taken it?"
Eve nodded conceding his point, but responded confidently. "That's true, but earlier you were far less motivated to find an escape."
"I-" Lex began, but stopped, not able to respond. It's true. Perhaps there had been another way out, but he hadn't considered them as deeply as he might have, he admitted to himself.
"That situation has now changed. Please Lex. You've always come through for me in the past." She said softly.
He looked at her uncertainly.
She nodded, as though he had agreed with her. "Furthermore, you now have available assets which you can use..."
Mercy pointed out unnecessarily, "There's us. And the Moonraker."
"And this." Eve held up her closed fist, showing the golden ring with its lantern design. "If this works like a Green Lantern ring, then it should be able to do anything. Including get us out of this, if you can figure out something."
Lex stared at the glittering golden ring as though fascinated. It wasn't quite glowing at the moment, but the sheen and color of the material were fascinating. Lex wondered if the others were as polished.
She continued, but Lex was hardly listening anymore. "In case you don't though... at least you won't die alone." She smiled softly. Mercy grumpily nodded agreement.
Then Lex's breath caught as an idea occurred. One that hadn't been considered before the arrival of his unexpected company.
"Okay... well done. We might live through this yet." Lex said with a grin. He turned to the Moonraker and raised a hand, visualizing the blueprints for the necessary changes in his head.
As the women watched, the unfolding and refolding. Transforming itself in elaborate motions reminiscent of metal origami.
"I'm going to need a few minutes for this..." Lex said. He gestured behind him and a pair of deck chairs with a table bearing mai-tais popped into existence next to Mercy and Eve.
Mercy eyed the chairs and drinks for a moment before reclining in one deck chair and sipping her drink. Eve shrugged and took a seat, but hadn't touched her drink.
Mercy finished her mai-tai then asked slowly, "Lex... if you can make anything you want pop up here... why didn't you just make some sort of escape thing yourself?"
Lex replied absently, his concentration still on his work. "First, I'm not sure if anything I manifest in here is going to continue to exist once I leave. So the last thing I want is for whatever beautifully crafted escape ship I create vanishing the moment I reenter our universe. Especially since I would have had no way to confirm where I was liable to show up. I could've ended up in deep space. Or in the heart of a star. Last place I should be naked in."
Eve nodded. "But the ship actually exists in a way that will stay... so you're just changing its substance, right?"
Lex nodded. "Yes." Lex replied. "I'm not pulling anything out of the vacuum. Using one hundred percent recycled components."
Mercy looked skeptical, "So you were stuck because you didn't have any stuff to work with?"
"No. That and I severed the last tie this universe has with ours." Lex smirked as the final panels on the former interstellar space plane folded, shifted and slid their way into newer configurations. "Even with the Moonraker we'd still be stuck here if it weren't for the ring. The ring is tied to the new Central Battery we have set up on Earth."
"Where on Earth?" Mercy asked.
"California." Lex replied. "The Coast City monument."
Eve nodded. "So what do I need to do?"
Lex turned back to them even as a ramp unfolded from the belly of the now redesigned space plane. It had gone from stubby to sleek while retaining the general color scheme. The tiny hatch on the side was gone. Replaced by a full loading bay underneath the vehicle.
"Long story short... the link your ring has back to our reality is tenuous compared to the ones that used to be here." Lex said as he ushered them into the new Moonraker. "So we can't tug on it directly to home in on our reality, because if we do that it will snap and we are left wandering the multiverse with no route home. Instead we're going to have to try and trace it back. Like following a thread through a maze."
The women were agog at the changes to their ship. Lex led them up. Up a second deck that hadn't been there before, they came to the bridge. Lex took one of the seats and gestured to the other two to take their seats. "I've got the engineering and pilot's station. Eve gets navigation. Mercy, you have weapons and co-pilot."
They all slid into their seats. Mercy smirked as she cracked her knuckles. Eve looked at her own station which seemed to have in addition to a touch screen display also included a lantern-symbol shaped depression.
Lex pointed it out, "Press your ring to that when we're ready to transition to another reality. The slide engines will try to match us to the next closest reality to bring us back home."
Mercy asked, "How many hops is this going to take?"
"No way to tell." Lex said. "We've got no reference points out here besides the ring. We could just be a single universe away. It could be hundreds. The important part is that this will take us out of the collapsing universe and certain death."
Eve looked slightly excited as she pressed the ring into the panel. "We could end up anywhere?"
"We could end up in places we couldn't even conceive of." Lex replied with a chuckle.
"Let's go, then." Eve said, letting a burst of will through the ring. Lights flickered on and their ship seemed to drop out from beneath them and the graying universe transformed to blood-red.
The flare of gold from her ring faded and her station stopped glowing.
Mercy scowled, "What happens if the ring runs out of charge?"
"The ship's got a universal convertor that runs the ship and lets her ring charge at her station." Lex replied absently, his attention taken up by the view. He stared into the crimson infinity before them. "Transition space. The Bleed. It was just a theory..."
He flicked the external cameras on, but the screens remained blank. "Damn. Nothing's recording. I'm guessing that's conceptual space out there. Our brains are interpreting it to something we can comprehend, but none of the equipment can-"
"Are we supposed to be moving?" Mercy asked suddenly, looking at her panel.
Lex stopped short and glanced down at the instrumentation. "Yes. We are on our way."
"It's beautiful." Eve murmured breathlessly. She got up from her seat and hugged Lex. "I'd never thought to see things like this before I met you."
Mercy stood and crossed her arms. "Okay, so I guess the 'trust in Lex' plan did work out after all," she said grudgingly.
Eve playfully stuck her tongue out at the redhead. "Told you."
Mercy stretched, moving closer to the two, "Lex, you did count for the possibility that we would be stuck on this thing for a long time, right? Weeks or months?"
"This hop will probably take about nine hours, by the looks of things." Lex pulled free from Eve's embrace for a moment to reply, "But, yes. We've all got individual staterooms-"
"Beds?" Mercy asked, in a slow, thoughtful tone that Eve recognized.
"King sized in each room." Lex replied. "Why do you ask?"
Mercy shrugged with exaggerated nonchalance, "There's a bit of tradition we probably should indulge in. No big deal."
Eve looked confused, "Tradition?"
Mercy grinned wolfishly, putting her arms around the other two, "You know... when someone saves your life... that kind of deserves a reward."
Lex stared. "What are you talking-?"
Eve caught on before Lex did. "Lex... darling? You talk too much." With that she kissed him into silence.
Mercy nodded approvingly. "We're only going to need the one bed, I think."
Lex was stunned as Mercy leaned in to give him a kiss of her own, while Eve grinned.
"How bad is that storm out there right now?" Mercy asked, taking a glance out the window.
Eve held her ring finger up and pulled up a golden glowing reading from her navigation station. "About a factor 4. Not great, but not bad. Our little trail of breadcrumbs is in good shape."
Lex said, "That's why I was looking for you guys. It looks like the storm's going to crank up to a factor 8 in the next few hours. I was wondering if you wanted to duck out of the Bleed for a bit to wait it out."
Mercy brightened up, "Did you have somewhere in mind?"
"Next universe we're coming up on looks like a close parallel to ours, including having an Earth."
Eve nodded, "Sounds good. Maybe they'll have some coffee available for us."
"I wonder if this one will have a Lex." Mercy chimed in speculatively.
Lex shuddered. "The last couple of places that had a Lex Luthor weren't exactly hospitable."
Eve tutted, "They were perfectly hospitable until they realized you weren't going to share dimensional travel with them."
Mercy made a face, "Too hospitable. That last one was really sleazy."
Eve frowned, "But so's ours."
"No, ours is kind of adorably clueless." Mercy said with a nod. "Well... maybe a little sleazy."
Lex narrowed his eyes slightly, but Eve defused the situation with a laugh and a well-timed kiss.
Lex shrugged then cleared his throat, "If we're quite done? I've got the Moonraker ready to transition into real space anytime."
Eve grinned, her eyes aglow with excitement. "Let's see what we can find today."