Author's Note: When I posted Chapter Two, I already had a rough draft of Chapter Three typed out—but the more I looked at it, the less satisfactory I found it to be. It seemed to lack any punch; any sense of a dramatic climax taking place. I knew how each of the five captive Justice Lords would vote to be treated; I knew how I might be able to build on that in later fanfics; but I felt the third chapter (and thus the entire story) just "stopped" suddenly . . . instead of giving the feeling of a "proper ending." So I set the whole thing aside . . . for what has proved to be a ridiculously long time.
Even now, I'm far from sure that I've overcome the aforementioned problem, but I finally decided it was time to grit my teeth, try to whip this into shape, and actually post the final chapter, for better or for worse. Judge for yourselves!
Chapter Three: Final Decisions
Batman and Flash had been delegated by Superman to escort the five prisoners into the conference room; possibly because they were the only members of the League who wouldn't be in the awkward position of trying to order "themselves" around.
They didn't report any trouble as they herded the Justice Lords into the room, so Shayera assumed there had been no futile attempts at violence.
You'd think that losing all their powers and special weapons would have caused a group of tyrants to look . . . deflated. Or depressed. Or somehow diminished.
It didn't seem to be working that way.
Sure, none of the prisoners had flown into the room, and they weren't putting up a fight, but they sure weren't cringing either. Other-Superman looked angry, Other-J'onn looked stoic, Other-Hawkgirl looked impatient, Other-Wonder Woman looked frustrated by her captors' folly, and Other-Green Lantern just looked grim. In fact, Shayera rather expected some or all of the five to start making impassioned speeches about how it still wasn't too late to make this version of Earth into "a better world" by doing things in the Justice Lords style.
But they didn't.
Possibly because they'd talked it over during their night in confinement, and had realized none of the League were likely to listen to such speeches at this point? Luring people into an electrified trap was not the best way to make them more receptive to your propaganda in the future . . .
(Shayera had never enjoyed the thankless task of delivering lectures to people who were just going to tune her out anyway, and it stood to reason that her counterpart would feel much the same. Perhaps the other Lords shared the sentiment—at least, now that they were no longer in a position to force people to listen?)
While she was thinking about this, Superman had stood up to face the quintet of prisoners as he addressed them. He began: "Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I'm sure you're wondering what comes next. We've been debating that, and finally found an approach we can all live with."
(Shayera reflected that if she had called these people "ladies and gentlemen" at this point, it would have carried a strong edge of sarcasm. But when the Man of Steel said the same words, it came across as an automatic courtesy; not meant as a subtle jab at the uncivilized fashion in which the Justice Lords had mistreated "invited guests" after luring them through the portal in the first place.)
Superman was continuing. "This may not have been the hardest decision I'd ever faced, but it was certainly one of the most . . . distasteful."
None of the prisoners took the opportunity to express any sympathy for his plight. (Shayera hoped he hadn't expected them to.)
After about ten seconds, Superman started talking again.
"We have decided that we cannot, in good conscience, allow the lot of you to be incarcerated in any government-run prison on your Earth or ours. I don't propose to review the reasons for that decision. You can probably guess them if you try hard enough. On the other hand, we absolutely reject the idea of killing you as a security measure."
"Big of you," Other-Superman said bitterly. "But I suppose giving your Luthor a get-out-of-jail-free card, and then killing us when we'd hardly done anything on your Earth compared to what he's been doing for years, would just be too hypocritical?"
Wisely, Superman allowed his counterpart to vent and then simply ignored what the man had said, rather than letting himself be suckered into reopening that particular debate. "We sought other solutions, and ended up with two on the table. First option: We can sidestep the normal rules and imprison you ourselves in some secret place. If it comes to that, we will make the living conditions as humane as possible, but you will not be allowed any form of communication with the outside world. Except for a way to send encrypted signals directly to the Watchtower—if you need to report a medical emergency, for instance. Such imprisonment will probably be for life, although we are willing to review that decision at regular intervals to see if changing circumstances have opened up new alternatives.
"Second option: We can purge your memories of all sensitive information, which in practice would mean removing all memory of your costumed careers and old identities. Once that was done, however, you would be turned loose to commence new lives as civilians."
That hung in the air for a bit. Evidently, Superman preferred to give the five Lords enough time to ponder the ramifications of such mind-meddling.
Other-Wonder Woman was the first to speak. "'Turned loose.' Without our powers and equipment, of course. Like taking an unwanted pet and releasing it out in the woods and saying 'shucks, it can fend for itself from now on'?"
Superman clarified what turned loose would actually mean. "We wouldn't just render you amnesiac and drop you in a dark alley, in civilian clothes, with some cash in your pockets, and then wash our hands of you from that moment forward. Instead, we'd hold you here—or somewhere—for as long as it took to set you up with cover identities, Social Security numbers, et cetera, so that you could each apply for legitimate jobs which you were qualified to fill." He paused as if struck by a new thought. "Come to think of it, perhaps we could skip a few steps in that area. Perhaps you'd already have the job waiting for you when you woke up with the new identity implanted in your head—such details can be worked out on a case-by-case basis. Some of us have strings we could pull; ways to set you up with gainful employment if we vouch for you to the right people."
Shayera decided Superman was deliberately dancing around the fact that Batman, in his capacity as billionaire Bruce Wayne, could easily find (or create) a few jobs in his corporate empire for people whom he wanted to help land on their feet. Like most of the other Leaguers, Shayera still wasn't supposed to know who Batman was beneath the pointy-eared cowl; ergo, Superman didn't want to spell this out in front of the entire team!
But it was a fair guess that the Justice Lords all knew each other's secret identities by now (at least, regarding those members who had ever bothered to maintain them). If so, they'd grasp the implication about good jobs being available at a moment's notice if Batman wanted it to happen that way.
Other-Green Lantern spoke now. "The way you're talking about that, it almost sounds as if you've already decided to impose that second option on all of us."
Superman firmly shook his head. "No, we won't be imposing a 'one size fits all' solution upon the five of you; not when it would involve forcibly altering your personalities. I felt that both options were unpleasant enough, albeit in different ways, that each of you should be allowed a fair chance to mull it over and decide which outcome is less offensive to your own sensibilities."
Other-Green Lantern still seemed to be carrying the ball for his teammates. "So either our bodies are locked away forever but our minds remain free, or else the other way around?"
"Given your strenuous efforts to limit the choices of billions of other people, I'm not really feeling your pain," the good John Stewart interjected. "Would you rather we had just lobotomized all five of you on the spot and dumped you at the front gate of Arkham Asylum? Now that would be poetic justice. Luckily for you, we see a bunch of objections—ethical and otherwise—to doing it that way."
Two proud men glared at each other.
Ten other people in the room watched with interest.
Nothing else happened for a bit.
Normally, when it came to taking a stand on principle and glaring at someone who stubbornly refused to grasp the point, Shayera would have bet money on John Stewart to outlast any human opponent. In fact, she'd give at least 5-2 odds in his favor unless it were Batman he was trading glares with. But when John Stewart was, in effect, looking daggers at John Stewart (and vice versa), the situation promised to turn into a very long stalemate before either man flinched and looked away.
Unless someone else spoke up and shifted everyone's focus to another subject, of course. (She wondered if she ought to.)
Actually, it was Batman himself who did so. "Let me clarify one thing. For anyone who takes that second option, we'll make arrangements to assure that even if you unexpectedly lose a good job, you will still have sufficient resources—trust funds, or something—to guarantee you won't feel 'compelled' to take up a life of crime in order to avoid becoming broke and homeless. We aren't just trying to turn you from super-powered criminals into the more mundane variety."
"You make it sound so cozy. But what about my wings?" Other-Hawkgirl demanded. "Were you planning to amputate them so I would 'fit in' better? And then make me forget I ever had them, so I wouldn't weep over the loss?"
Superman looked shocked. "That didn't even come up."
"If you aren't planning to cut them off, then where would you dump me to 'start a new life' if I agreed to this mind-altering perversion? Three of my friends could simply change their clothes and pass for 'normal' in one of your cities—but there aren't all that many winged women strolling around on your world, are there? I never noticed any other green-skinned Martians, either."
"Actually, we were thinking of having Doctor Fate change everybody's faces," Flash put in helpfully. "That would work for your J'onn's coloring and all, and I betcha Fate could make your wings disappear in the blink of an eye! No pain; no scars!"
Shayera opened her mouth to say something scathing—and then bit her tongue as someone's boot kicked her right ankle.
It wasn't difficult to identify the perpetrator; John Stewart happened to be sitting in the chair on her right. Lucky thing it had been him—the only man on this planet who was likely to get some leeway from Shayera Hol where "unauthorized touching" was concerned.
Of course, he was also the only man on this planet who had engaged in enough private chats with her for him to qualify as something of an expert on just what the loss of wings would mean to any red-blooded Thanagarian. That explained why he'd found it prudent to forestall the blistering things she'd wanted to say about Flash's lack of sensitivity.
Probably for the best, she decided reluctantly. No need to give the Justice Lords the pleasure
of seeing us squabbling among ourselves.
Meanwhile, her counterpart was just glaring silently at Flash, who was saying impatiently, "Hey, if you don't like the idea, settle for the 'comfortable early retirement in a secluded location' option instead!" He still didn't seem to grasp the depth of Other-Hawkgirl's outrage at his previous carefree suggestion. (Perhaps because Shayera herself had glared at him so often over the last few years that he had developed partial immunity?)
"Ignore him," John Stewart said quickly. "Who ever said the only places you could end up were right here on Earth? My power ring and I could certainly give you a lift back to Thanagar when this is over. You'd have a new face and a new name, and still be unable to fly, but at least you would be among your own kind."
"Hold it!" Other-Hawkgirl snapped. "If you're willing to send me all the way back to Thanagar to get me out of your hair, why bother with a mindwipe and a face-change on top of that?"
Batman displayed all of his usual warmth and tact as he answered her question. "One: Because you know far too much that could be used against us—or against others. Two: Because you deserve severe punishment for the things you did on the Other Earth. Three: Because we aren't sending you back to the Thanagar of your native universe where we would lose track of your activities, and we sure don't need you trying to replace our Shayera on her Thanagar—as might happen if you were allowed to 'return home' before she did, while retaining her name and her face and the relevant memories to convince her old friends that you were the real deal. Four: Because it would be hypocritical to merely exile you from this world when we are not letting your accomplices off so lightly. Each of you should have known better."
Flash added cheerfully, "But other than all that . . . no special reason!"
Other-Shayera sneered at both of them. "I will accept simple imprisonment instead. As long as I remain in my right mind, there is always the hope that things will change to my advantage."
Hawkgirl couldn't say she was surprised. If the shoe were on the other foot, she wouldn't have "volunteered" to have her old identity scrubbed away, either.
"Then I'm staying with her," Other-Green Lantern said, which likewise didn't come as much of a surprise. Somewhere along the line, Shayera had gotten the impression that those two had gone a lot further with their "mutual attraction" thing than she and her friend John had ever done in this timeline . . . maybe something bad had happened to Hro Talak in the other universe, thereby removing a moral dilemma?
Batman was making notes. "Two for comfortable imprisonment. Do the rest of you need more time to think it over?"
Other-Wonder Woman raised her chin. "An Amazon is not meant to be caged. On the other hand, drinking the waters of Lethe has ample precedent. If we can agree on a few basic points, I will venture to start a new life."
"What did you have in mind?" Diana asked immediately.
"Powers or no powers, I still know how to fight. Why should I lose those skills? If someone attacks me, won't I be entitled to defend myself?"
"Not a ridiculous proviso," Diana admitted. "I think we can work it out. You simply won't remember that you were trained on Themyscira."
Other-Wonder Woman added, "I should like to hear the decisions of my friends, though, before we settle the terms of my . . . exile."
Nobody objected. Batman made another note.
Two Justice Lords still needed to announce their choices (if they were willing to make any).
Other-J'onn stared coldly at his local counterpart and said distinctly: "You are not welcome to tamper with my mind. I no longer have the means to block you, but I certainly shall not assuage your conscience by 'asking for it.'"
"Confinement it is," Batman said, making yet another note.
It came down to Other-Superman. He didn't ask for more time; he must have been thinking hard while his buddies were casting their votes for one fate or the other. "I can see you just aren't ready to use the necessary methods to clean up your world. It would be cruel to make me live every day knowing I could do a vastly better job. So go ahead and blot out my memories; set me up with a life as a 'normal' person; it's what I would have been if I'd grown up on Krypton!"
"Any preferences for your new career?" Superman asked. "English teacher? Technical writer? Or even something in journalism?"
His counterpart shrugged. "Anything along those lines could be a decent fit."
"Not in Metropolis, though."
"Of course not. Memories or no memories, if I started seeing her all the time in the local news, I'd probably end up obsessing on her. You would hate that."
"True. And I'm not about to introduce the new you to a certain redhead from the old home town, either."
Other-Superman chuckled. "I didn't expect you to." The really surprising thing was that his chuckle, and then the tone of his spoken words, had sounded neither bitter nor forced; a show of composure which Shayera had to admire in a man who'd recently fallen from being "a King of the World" to "a powerless expatriate about to lose his memories."
"Something out on the West Coast?" Superman suggested. "That ought to reduce the chance of awkward meetings after you make your fresh start."
The two Kryptonians were referring, without naming names, to matters connected with the "secret identity" stuff that many of the costumed heroes of Earth took so seriously. Shayera knew the special her in Metropolis must be Lois Lane, the old home town was Smallville, and a certain redhead might be . . . Lana Lang, the fashion designer?
She had remembered to let her eyes wander away during that conversation between Superman and his depowered counterpart, as if she found it all too cryptic to be interesting. Since Superman, Flash, and Batman hadn't shared their other identities with the rest of the League, Shayera wasn't supposed to know anything about the private lives of "Clark Kent," "Wally West," and "Bruce Wayne." But of course she did. (However, she hadn't bothered to relay those particular bits of data to her superiors. Located light-years away, they didn't really need to know such trivia . . . at the moment.)
"Kal and I are the only ones taking the amnesia option?" Other-Wonder Woman said thoughtfully. "In that case, here is one of my other . . . requests. Make us neighbors!"
Shayera's friend Diana (whom she kept thinking of as the real Wonder Woman) raised her eyebrows at that. "Neighbors?"
"You heard me. Put us in apartments on the same floor of the same building, or some such thing. Let us at least remember that we are good friends. It's not as if we will have any other old friends or relatives to call upon in time of need, will we?" The two Wonder Women locked gazes. "My mother and all my sister Amazons will be on the far side of a dimensional barrier for the rest of my life, and I don't hear you offering to share the affection of their local analogs with me!"
"No, you sure don't," Diana conceded. "I am not planning to let you settle down on my Themyscira. I wouldn't lie to my mother about your origins, and it would be extremely hard on her nerves if I told her to consider you as my long-lost evil twin who now had amnesia and a new face."
J'onn J'onnz raised a hand and got everyone's attention before he spoke. "This raises another point we didn't discuss before: The sad severing of personal ties. I think we can afford to give each prisoner enough time to compose any 'final messages' they may wish to send back through the portal to their nearest and dearest on the Other Earth."
"And I suppose that before you send them through, you'll be scanning our minds to see if we have hidden any nasty code phrases in our exact choice of words? Activating certain contingency plans, for instance?" Other-Hawkgirl's tone was cynical.
"Of course," J'onn said blandly. "I simply wasn't going to belabor the obvious by mentioning such an unpleasant subject."
After parting messages had been written out and signed by each of the five Justice Lords, and their contents had been vetted by The Martian Manhunter's telepathic prying, the messages were placed in a plastic container to be tossed back through the portal when Other-Batman opened it at the agreed-upon time. No one living would be passing through; not unless Other-Batman tried to spring a surprise on them from his end.
(As it turned out: he didn't.)
A secret prison was carved out of the heart of a mountain in the depths of Antarctica, hundreds of miles away from any research station maintained by any human government. Superman did most of the heavy work, moving at super-speed and drilling through rock with his invulnerable body, but all of the League (and some of the Lords) played a role in suggesting details for this, that, or the other portion of the complex. The library was extensive, for instance, and a wide range of video games were available. The prison ought to be self-sustaining for a long, long time in a worst-case scanario. For instance, tons of stored food—literally tons—were stashed in deep-freezes and storerooms, in case the flow of supplies (being teleported in from the Watchtower at weekly intervals) was ever cut off.
Spot checks on the three inmates, via concealed sensors, confirmed that while they are having some trouble with boredom, they were not making any serious attempt to escape. (Not that getting out of the complex would have done them much good, considering how far a trek it would be to any other inhabited area. This had been explained to them, although they didn't know their exact latitude and longitude.)
Meanwhile, the former Other-Wonder Woman was now known as Cynthia Terruna. She worked as a martial arts instructor in Los Angeles, specializing in teaching women how to defend themselves against overly aggressive males. She sometimes served as a stunt double for Hollywood actresses.
The former Other-Superman was now known as Dan Reed, a technical writer for a California-based subsidiary of WayneTech, composing owner's manuals and the like for various products. In his spare time, he worked on what he hoped would be the next Great American Novel.
The two of them lived in adjacent condos, which they owned free and clear. Cynthia distinctly remembered having inherited hers from her late mother. Dan knew he had bought his with money received from his late father's life insurance. They also knew they had been friends for many years, long before either moved into their current residences; Dan having deliberately chosen a place in that condominium community on the recommendation of Cynthia, a woman of excellent taste.
Each of them also received a monthly check from assets held in trust, enough money to live on if necessary, even if they had suddenly lost their current jobs (and there was no reason to expect that). Any way you looked at it, hunger and homelessness were not likely to become problems—unless these two developed expensive vices and got head over heels in debt, which was not happening.
Microminiaturized sensors embedded in various places, both in the neighboring condos and in the Antarctic prison, had consistently failed to pick up any trace of resurgent superpowers in the months since the fates of the Justice Lords had been determined.
Shayera had finally decided to not mention this case in her secret reports back to Thanagar. She trusted Hro Talak to behave honorably, but there was no telling who else had access to her reports, nor what they might want to do with "spare copies" of members of the Justice League.
Still and all, if Other-Hawkgirl had not obviously been in love with Other-John Stewart, then Shayera might have offered to let her depowered analog go home when a Thanagarian warship appeared in Earth's skies, several months later. But as was, she didn't think that would be doing either of those two prisoners any favors, and there was no need to rush now that "regular diplomatic relations" were being established between the two worlds, right?
Her snap reaction was strongly reinforced by her subsequent discovery of the plan to destroy the entire Earth as a side effect of a last-ditch plan to outmaneuver the Gordanians. A government that would do that to a nonthreatening planetary population was a government that might, for instance, do something equally nasty to an ex-Green Lantern in hopes of extracting secrets from his brain which might have "military significance."
Shayera didn't know if the Guardians of the Universe would feel the need to retaliate against a regime that had tortured an alternate-universe-analog of one of their own hand-picked Green Lanterns, but she deemed it best not to find out. (On a similar note, she had serious doubts about whether the Guardians would have just shrugged and looked the other way if Hro's forces had managed to wipe out Earth and all its inhabitants, but apparently Hro had been willing to take the appalling risk of placing the Thanagarian military in a situation where it was simultaneously fighting separate wars with the Gordanians and the entire Green Lantern Corps! Just another sign that their romance had never been meant to be.)
1. In a comic book published in 1981, the Earth-One Superman helped his depowered clone establish a new life as "Dan Reed," a well-known journalist. (The real Dan Reed had recently died, but Superman was able to cover that up and give his clone some plastic surgery and hypnotically implanted memories to let the clone slide smoothly into the other guy's life without anyone else ever catching on.) I decided to swipe the name; it seems appropriate for a very similar situation involving DCAU characters!
2. In a comic book published in 1953, Wonder Woman first met an alternate-universe analog of herself. Same face, different name; the analog was called "Tara Terruna." I decided to swipe the "Terruna" part; it seemed fitting to pay homage to the first time a "Wonder Woman analog" ever appeared in any medium! Then I changed the first name to "Cynthia" to maintain the whole "named after a moon goddess" theme. ("Cynthia" was occasionally used to refer to Artemis (or Diana) in classical Graeco-Roman mythology..)
3. A year ago, in my rough draft for this chapter, I had Shayera thinking that she didn't know Superman's other identity. But I reconsidered and rewrote. I want to explain why. (Warning! If you honestly don't care whether she knew about "Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter" at the time this story is set, you may prefer to skip the rest of this Note.)
In the three-part "Starcrossed," Batman revealed his own secret ID (and Flash's, and Superman's) while telling the other Leaguers to split up into pairs (in civilian clothes) and find their way to Wayne Manor to regroup. Hawkgirl was not present in that scene—but later she caught up with the rest of the Justice League at Wayne Manor and warned them that she had just found out the real Thanagarian strategy involved destroying Earth.
Shayera's ability to find the League so quickly at Wayne Manor bothered me when I first watched that scene, years ago; it seemed like a plot hole. Out of all the places in Gotham City where the mysterious Batman might reside, how did she know where to start looking? And since loyal Thanagarian troops only knew where to look for her because of a bug that had been planted on her by Kragger, it seems they didn't already have Batman's secret identity and home address in their databases as a result of any of Shayera's old reports.
I finally decided that, in all likelihood, over the last few years Hawkgirl had learned even more about her teammates than they initially realized when the truth about her role as a spy came out (earlier in "Starcrossed"). Specifically, she had discovered items which she had never seen fit to pass along to her superiors back on Thanagar—such as the name "Bruce Wayne" (and, by extension, "Clark Kent" and "Wally West"). She probably told herself those names had no military significance, and were really nobody else's business. But when the time came that she wanted to track down a fugitive Batman, she knew where he normally hung his cape!
Ergo, as I finished up this story (set well before "Starcrossed"), I worked on the theory that Hawkgirl, as result of crafty espionage using Thanagarian technology, already knows a lot about Superman's private life (and Batman's, and Flash's), but that nobody else in the entire universe is aware that she has learned those things—with the sole exception of Shayera's Justice Lords counterpart, who had compiled essentially the same dossiers on her own teammates in that parallel world!