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"It's like diving. Only you look up, instead of down," Superman said, his massive physique suspended in the orange sunset. His cape wavered in the light breeze and his arm was outstretched towards Superboy, urging the young man forward.
Superboy glanced down at the scene below him: speeding cars, hurried footsteps, and occasional bursts of hyped laughter or drunken outbursts—Metropolis was a city of pulsating life. Never fully asleep, even crime lurked in unsuspecting shadows. Superboy then understood why Superman loved the city. It was exciting yet dangerous. Angry yet indulgent. Loud yet inviting. Unlike the pervasive silence in the cave—it could even drive ants crazy—Superboy would have been able to call this home.
Like Superman. His father.
Superboy locked eyes with Superman, took one brave step toward the edge of the building. He breathed in slowly, focusing his attention on Superman's figure that floated a few feet above him.
Without waiting for another moment's hesitation, Superboy leapt. With his arms outstretched behind him, he felt the cool air raking through his hair and caressing his face. Superboy saw his own reflection in his mentor's eyes, and Conner never felt so ecstatic in his whole life before. He could feel the weight being lifted off his shoulders and his future seemed bright for the first time. Superman finally noticed him, finally saw him as his son, finally…
And then everything changed.
Just as Superman zipped in sight, he was gone in a second. Caught in mid-air, Superboy lost his concentration. The spark within him fizzled into smoke. As he looked from left to right with urgency, he forgot Superman's earlier warning about looking down. When his gaze fell, he was no longer looking at the busy streets of Metropolis. Festering beneath him were slimy tentacles, sharp claws, listless red eyes, and voices scrambling for attention in his head. Falling into the doom that was his past—his origin—Superboy screamed, attempting to drown out the countless voices in his head.
Come back, Superboy. We need you, Superboy. Help us, Superboy. Superboy…
"Superboy! Wake up. Conner," Megan said frantically, clutching Superboy's face. When competing for dominance against his yells proved futile, Megan used her telepathy to fetch a glass of water. She was about to open her mouth when his hand hit her in the face. Hard. On impact, her body slammed into the wall. Just then, she heard glass breaking in the hallway. She rushed out of the room, hand on cheek, and resolved to getting water the old-fashioned way—the human way, that is.
She was pouring water into a glass when Red Tornado stomped into the kitchen. Despite his blank stare, Megan sensed anxiety.
"It's Superboy. I think he's having a nightmare," Megan said, spilling some water.
"That much I suspected," Red Tornado left her and walked in the direction of Superboy's tireless bouts of roars and grunts. Megan soon followed close behind him, careful not to step on the broken glass along the way. Red Tornado stepped on them as if they were misplaced pebbles.
When he opened the door, Superboy was on his feet with his eyes wide open. Even though they were open, they weren't really seeing Megan or Red Tornado. He glared angrily past them, his hands held in a fighting stance, his teeth tightly clenched. He yelled once more before lunging at Red Tornado.
Red Tornado dodged Superboy's attack, while Megan flew out of the way.
"He's sleep-fighting," Red Tornado said, stating the obvious.
When Superboy tore the door from its hinges and flung it into the hallway, Megan went immediately to his side and splashed water in his face.
As if he were snapped into consciousness, Superboy stopped grunting, his eyes slowly taking in his surroundings. He soon noticed Megan hovering next to him, while Red Tornado stood in the corner of his room. He realized that his face was wet, and the door to his room was lying in the hallway.
"Uh… did I?" Superboy started, looking nervously at Megan's bruised cheek.
Megan winced when his cool hand touched her face but she didn't stop him. "Sleep-fighting."
Superboy took a step back and clutched his head as if he were suddenly in pain. He sat on the foot his bed, trying to remember his dream. His nightmare.
"What is it, Superboy? You can tell me. Us," Megan corrected. She didn't want to seem like the selfish girlfriend who wanted her boyfriend all to herself. She was never the possessive type. Or so she thought.
Red Tornado approached them. "Has this happened before?"
Superboy shook his head. "No. This is the first time." He tried drawing out the horrific remnants of the dream but all he could think of was Cadmus. His genetically engineered siblings, the while lab coats, the smell of antiseptic and regularly oiled machinery filled his mind. After a moment of silence, he finally blurted it out, "Cadmus. I had a dream of Cadmus. But," Superboy suddenly looked up at Red Tornado, afraid that one of the members of the Justice League would take it the wrong way. "There's something else besides Cadmus. I remember seeing Superman…"
"What about Superman?" Megan asked gently. She laid a hand on his.
He looked at her, feeling brave all of a sudden.
"He saw me as who I am. And it actually felt real. He was teaching me how to fly but he disappeared and then I found myself in Cadmus. I was… scared," Superboy said, ashamed of his vulnerability.
Megan shook her head in response. "Conner, what they did to you is unforgivable. It's only natural for you to defend yourself."
"Well, it wasn't Cadmus I was afraid of." Superboy stopped. He sighed, realizing that it was best to let it all out than bottle it up inside. The last time he did that he almost got himself killed against a super-robot. "It was me."
"You?" Megan said, slightly taken aback. "Why?"
"I don't know, Megan," Superboy said. As he dug deeper into the recesses of his mind and the broken shards of his dream, he realized that during the latter part of his dream he wasn't fighting against Cadmus' extraterrestrial creation; he was fighting himself. Or million copies of himself in Superman's full-fledged uniform beating the snot out of him. But unlike his current, normal self right now, they were mindless. Soulless. Children of pure hatred and destruction. The antithesis of Superman.
Like his original blueprint.
Suddenly, Red Tornado's heavy hand was on his shoulder. Superboy looked up in question. "You're nothing like what you used to be. You never were," Red Tornado's voice echoed across the room. "Unless you choose otherwise, man always tends to move forward. Especially with someone whose resolve is as strong as yours."
Superboy smiled for the first time in the day. "Thanks."
Red Tornado nodded and headed out the room. "I got the door," he called out.
Superboy then reverted his attention to Megan, apologizing for the bluish mark that blemished her perfectly green complexion. "Sorry," he repeated, never growing tired of the word.
Megan shook her head vigorously. "It's nothing. It doesn't hurt that much really. Ow…" she winced when her dimpled smile touched the sore spot. "Besides," she said quickly, trying to smoothen Superboy's furrowed brow with her honest-to-good words. "I can conceal this when I'm in school…" Megan suddenly jumped up as revelation struck her. "School!"
Superboy turned around to glance at the clock. "It's already—"
"6:47! Oh dear, oh dear, I'm late. Where are my books and pom-poms? They should be in… my room… This isn't my room!" Megan panicked, scrambled out the threshold. Caught in a rush, she forgot to utter her favorite line in her book. "Sorry, Superboy. I'll talk to you later!"
As Superboy watched her figure disappearing into the distance—and boy, could she run—he wondered if Megan would ever leave him. Just like how Superman did. Suddenly berating himself for associating a dream with reality, Superboy went to the bathroom to freshen up. He glanced at his reflection and sighed. Were those dark bags under his eyes? No wonder she ran out like that…
"Charlie, problem 6. Whitney, 8. Sally, 11." The teacher instructed the respective students to go up front and show their answers to the rest of the class. As Wally watched them shuffle ever so slowly to the blackboard, sleep began drawing him into its most alluring embrace. Though class was in session, he didn't feel compelled to hinder himself from yawning like his lower jaw snapped into a vertical line. He rested his head on his open textbook and snored loudly, falling into one of the deepest clutches of sleep he'd ever had. If this were how fetuses lived in nine months, Wally would have gone back in time and relive and enjoy the moment. But as soon as the thought hit him, it was gone in an instant. The empty seat next to him was suddenly occupied by none other than…
"Artemis," Wally slurred as he lazily lifted his head to look at her squarely in the face. "Since when did you attend Central High?"
"Since I got accepted today, Sherlock."
Artemis never failed to call him all sorts of names. In her eyes, he was practically a master in a thousand guises. The thought always inflated his ego.
"Well, babe, after this class, I'll give you a tour. A few of the hottest spots include the Green Room, the trap door underneath the stage, the biochemistry club that has a total of one member in two years, and the janitor's closet. They say the best time to go to the closet is 10. Which is right after this class," Wally winked at Artemis.
"When you say hot spots, you mean places where fellow classmates suck each other's lips dry?" Artemis scoffed at him.
"That would be a Succubus. I think," Wally shook the thought off his head. "But, what do you say, babe? The closet at 10?"
"Call me babe again and I'll drive a pitchfork to your dick," Artemis said through clenched teeth.
"Whoa there, b—I mean, Artemis," Wally said with his hands held up in surrender. "No need to say my best bud's name in vain."
Artemis squinted her eyes at him in annoyance. "You know what your problem is, you're a pain in the ass and you don't even know it."
"Harsh words coming from such beautiful lips," Wally stared at her dreamily. He must have been an idiot for not noticing how dark and mysterious her eyes were, how lusciously full her lips taunted him, how sexy and taut her arms were when she got angry.
"You honestly believe I'll… like you like you. You," Artemis emphasized the last word with a smirk.
"Sure why not? I'm capable of many things," Wally said. "I run as fast as a speeding bullet. Maybe even faster. I can finish triple-decked nachos in .52 seconds. And I'm quite smooth with the ladies."
"You're delusional," Artemis said with a shake of her head.
"You're beautiful," Wally said, smiling.
As soon as it slipped his lips, however, Artemis suddenly stood up with her bow and arrow aimed at him. Murder was in her eyes.
Wally instinctively jumped out of his seat. Suddenly, the classroom was bare except for him and Artemis having a staring contest. Wally glanced around him, feeling confused at the sudden change. Looking down, he was wearing his Flash suit. He touched his face and felt slightly relieved that his mask was in place. What was going on?
"Don't tell me I wore this to school?" Wally muttered to himself.
"You're an idiot," Artemis said. The sound of pulled string alerted Wally that she was about to release the arrow.
"Hold on. I'm your teammate. Partner. Friend. You don't want to kill me," Wally said, shifting to the side.
Like a famished lioness, Artemis' aim never wavered. "Try dead meat."
Wally dashed out of harm's way, stopped momentarily at her side. "What about potential boyfriend?" He immediately zipped through the door when she growled at him.
The hallway was dark and empty. Running past classrooms, Wally realized that they were all deserted. Shaking his head to ease his anxiety, Wally rushed down the hallway, took a different turn by climbing up the steps, went back down when he found nothing on the top floor. Even the teacher's lounge was empty, which would have been a dream come true, but now wasn't the time to be caught off guard. Something was not right here. And Artemis was acting particularly strange…
Suddenly, the sound of a bow's string ready to unleash murder made him look up. She found him.
He ran for his life. He dodged two more arrows but he knew that her arrows were capable of more harm toward him. She was Green Arrow's protégé after all. She was bound to have tricks up her sleeve.
Looking from left to right, in search of a secret door, Kid Flash felt like he was running out of escape plans. C'mon… c'mon! Let there be a door around the next corner, let there be a door…
Just when he was about to make a turn at the corner, he was knocked off his feet. Her last arrow was something similar to a net arrow but small enough to only bind her target's feet. As she approached him, Kid Flash used his hands to escape from its tight clutches but his efforts proved futile. He began to grow even more nervous when he noticed a hint of a smile forming on her face. If only you can look at me less menacingly, that smile would have been perfect…
Suddenly, he remembered the knife Flash had bequeathed to him a few months back.
"Take it, kid. During times of emergency," Flash had said, handing his protégé the knife.
"Oh, thanks. Always wanted one of these. But Mom was afraid that I'd hurt myself," Kid Flash admired the miniature-sized Swiss Army knife. "Don't you have a different size for this? Like maybe, a bigger one?"
"Don't want you to hurt yourself, kid," Flash ruffled his protégé's hair in jest.
"Thank you, Uncle Barry," Kid Flash now opened the compartment on his gloved arm and plucked out the knife. He started cutting through the strings.
Just as he got through the last one, Artemis aimed another arrow at his hand. This time it was the normal, deadly kind. But she wasn't fast enough for Kid Flash. He sprinted out of target range, missing the arrow by mere centimeters, and found himself in the boys' bathroom.
Doubtful that the sanctuary for boys' pubescent misdeeds would impede Artemis—not to mention that the masculine stick figure stuck to the door should be sufficient warning—from coming in, Flash looked around him for a vent, anything that would offer him an escape route. But something caught his eye. He looked at the mirror in front of him, focused on his reflection. He touched his flash symbol and saw that the mirror didn't reflect his movements. He raised his right hand. Instead of mimicking his exact movement—his mirror self would have lifted his left hand—his reflection raised the other hand. The hand that he was using in reality.
"Shit. What's going on here? I must be dreaming. C'mon, Wally, wake up," he said, pinching himself. When that did no good, Wally closed his eyes and tried to remember what had happened before coming to school.
Scattered images flooded his mind. Flash's voice rang through his ears.
"Keep your eyes open, kid. Don't fall asleep!" Flash had warned.
"Wait—what? You mean to say that Mirror Master is moonlighting as the Sandman?" Kid Flash said, standing back-to-back with his mentor in a warehouse filled with reflective glass and makeshift mirrors.
"He isn't alone. We're up against someone possibly more dangerous," Flash said, punching in the last digits to the equipment. Breaking mirrors individually would cost them too much time so Flash brought and installed a machine that would cast laser light, momentarily inhibiting Mirror Master from transporting from one reflection to the next.
But before Flash could hit the 'Go' button, everything went dark. And Wally found himself at his school… Wherever he was, he was trapped in his own perception of his mind, his thoughts, and maybe his dreams. He was practically living his dreams.
"Flash," Kid Flash said, worried about his uncle's whereabouts. Looking deep into the mirrors, he was staring right at his escape route. He touched the mirror and his fingers fell through it, like dipping into a jar of gel hair product. Excited, he was about to make a jump for it when the door swung open and Artemis shot an arrow at him.
He ducked and moved to the next mirror but she shot at that too.
"Babe, I'd hate to do this, but you leave me no choice," Kid Flash said, sprinting toward her, missing more arrows on the way, and hit her at the base of her neck. She instantly fell unconscious. But knowing that she was only a fragment of his imagination, or dream—whatever—he had to act fast. Whoever put him in this nightmare was watching him. He had no time to lose.
When he heard her shifting, he had to act now or be trap in this dream forever. He dove into the last mirror that wasn't hit and prayed for the best. Just as soon as he lunged into the mirror, he was out of his dream world in one second. But he wasn't in the warehouse. He was transported to another bathroom. A very fancy bathroom with golden faucets and orange incense masking the scent of urine.
Just then, a toilet flushed.
Wally turned around to see who was coming out. Poised in fighting stance, Wally waited for the man—or woman—to reveal himself (herself). When the doors opened, his Uncle Barry looked distraught in his disheveled suit. He had a half-empty bottle of wine in his hand.
"Uncle Barry? What are you doing here?" Kid Flash asked, perplexed.
"Never thought this day would come," Uncle Barry tossed the bottle in the bin, pulled the mask off his face, and splashed water on it. He kept the water running as he wiped his face and inspected his red eyes.
"Have you been crying?" Wally turned the faucet off.
"No, I was washing my eyes out with some Pinot Noir. Of course, I was crying my eyes out and drinking my heart out, because," Uncle Barry miserably sat on the bench next to the sink, tried hard not to cry. "Because… Isis got cold feet."
"Oh." Wally didn't know what to say. Could the accomplice of Mirror Master also have a hand in us reliving our fears? Thinking definitely made his head hurt; Wally could feel a migraine forming.
"Uncle Barry, this isn't real. This is only Mirror Master's ploy to distract us. C'mon Uncle Barry, snap out of it," Wally said, shaking his uncle's shoulders.
As Wally tried to shake his uncle's wits back into reality, the door swung open and Mirror Master appeared with a woman looking much like a mix between Pocahontas' friend Nakoma and dead ex-fiancé Kokuum.
"Uh… who's the exotic girlfriend?" Kid Flash said, slowly standing up and leaving Flash to wallow in his matrimonial misery.
"Name's Dream Caster. I'd have to say, Kid Flash, you're a tough nut to crack. Maybe your mentor can learn a thing or two about naiveté," the woman said with a haughty look.
"Hey, don't talk to Flash like that. He's just down in the dumps a little, but he'll get over it. Soon." Kid Flash countered.
"I wasn't complimenting you. Because your uncle has more balls to admit the truth, well, let's just say he knows better than to chase after girls who hate his guts. As for you, you just never give up, do you? Such an idiot."
"A wise man once told me, 'Every damsel has a fire-breathing dragon inside her. You just have to be the right one to put it out.'" With his arm tucked behind him, he managed to open the compartment that held a smoking bomb that Robin had given him. "And just so you know, only one person can call me an idiot. And that'd be my spitfire, mind you."
Kid Flash dropped the bomb, momentarily blinding them. Wally turned around to grab his uncle, but Flash was already standing right in front of him, looking at his nephew with great pride.
"Didn't know you considered me a wise man," Flash gave his protégé a mischievous wink. Before Wally could object, Flash grabbed him and rushed through the mirror. In that split second, they were back in the warehouse. Flash dashed to the light machine, entered the password, and pressed 'Go.'
A beam of light shot through the nozzle, disabling Mirror Master and his companion from moving any further. He pressed another button that seemed to draw life out of the mirror. Soon enough, Mirror Master and Dream Caster were sucked back into reality. But the kinetic pull and light's effect left them unconscious. When Flash pressed the off switch, Kid Flash handcuffed them.
"So… the wedding jitters?" Kid Flash started.
"It happened. Isis left me at the altar. And then I recognized Mirror Master in one of the pews and I knew I would never, for the life of me, invite him to the wedding. So I figured I was stuck in an alternate reality or something. So I pretended to be distraught, ran to the bathroom—but not before grabbing a bottle of wine—and dabbed my eyes with alcohol. Though I advise you to never ever do what I just did. It was stupid. And it burned." Flash rubbed his eyes once again. "Luckily for me, I got a nephew/partner who managed to find me before I did him." He ruffled Kid Flash's hair.
"You can always count on me, Uncle Barry," Kid Flash puffed out his chest.
Flash laughed. He then turned his attention to the incoming police sirens. "Guess our night's just beginning…"
"Oh c'mon, Uncle Barry. Can we not do this tonight? I got Algebra homework," Wally whined.
"We both know you're not gonna do it either way, kid," Flash joked.
"Oh ye of little faith," Wally said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Which reminds me, who's this spitfire of yours?" Flash asked, curious.
Wally thought about it for a minute. This could be his bargaining chip so he could play video games before his mom disconnected the electricity at midnight.
"If you'd let me go home now…"
"It's Artemis, right?"
"Oh, no fair!" Wally said, pouting his lips in frustration.
"Seriously? I actually got my first guess right."
To be continued…
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Up Next: Miss Martian and her uncle are on a mission together. Wonder how Superboy would feel with Megan gone. I mean, who's going to cook his next meal? Sleepovers may ensue. Suggestions are most welcome, people!