The Last Son of Tomorrow
Prologue: From Endings, Beginnings
"This would be easier if you just let me carry you."
"Just between you and me? I hate it when you do that. Besides, I'm fine."
Clark glanced at the younger hero whose arm was slung over his shoulder, and whose mask hid an agonized grimace. His expression was blank, and Terry knew without even asking that he'd looked him over with his X-ray Vision. He could tell from the pain that he didn't see anything good, either.
But the Man of Steel had been dealing with the unhealthily stubborn Bat Clan for years and had long since learned that it was easier to beg forgiveness then ask permission. In a blur of superspeed—which nonetheless gave Terry time to feel embarrassed—Terry found himself in a chair in the middle of the Bat Cave. By the Bat Computer, Bruce was typing away quickly at something he could not see, but Ace shown for his absence.
He glared up at the leader of the Justice League.
"I expect stubbornness like this from Bruce, but you're usually mature enough to accept help, Terry." Superman said. In another situation, he might have had an amused look on his face.
But today, there was no laughter on Clark Kent's face. There wasn't much laughter anywhere.
"I told you I could have made it back here on my own. You should be out there helping everyone else, not helping me hobble back here. We may have won, but there's no shortage of people who are injured."
"I asked him to bring you here." Bruce interrupted, sitting in front of the Bat-computer. His fingers danced across its keyboard with more speed then Terry had ever seen, opening and closing windows as fast as he could and download bars were appearing and filling just as quickly. Hooked up to the powerful computer were a number of portable hard drives. They weren't small ones, either; there could have been petabytes of data on those things, maybe even exabytes.
Bruce was storing everything he could find, Terry realized, but it only served to make him more confused.
"What's going on, Bruce? There are a lot of people that need help," he said, a hint reproachfully. The fresh memories of the Quardian Invasions and the destruction they'd wrecked on the many Earths hadn't faded in the slightest, even after their counterstrikes had begun. "Maybe more people than have ever needed help before."
"The Anti-Monitor is dead," Bruce said, though his voice held no joy. The former Batman had been forced to stay largely out of the conflict, even as so many people died all around him—Terry could barely even imagine what that must have felt like. Perhaps it had been a bit like he'd felt when he'd had to pull his mentor out of his Exosuit when he'd joined a battle to save his life. "But we're not in the clear yet. That final battle…"
Terry looked down. He didn't need to be reminded—anyone who was there would never be able to forget it. But it still wasn't over? What could possibly be happening—
Realization struck like a lightning bolt, but it was several times as painful.
"Don't tell me…" He said, shaking his head in denial. It couldn't be. Everything they'd done…all the people that had died…it couldn't all have been for nothing.
"The worlds are merging. I can't say how it'll happen or what the results will be, but they are and we just have to accept that." Bruce said, as blunt as ever. "We don't have much time so we need to work fast. Where is everyone else, Kent?"
"They're on their way," Superman replied. "Rex and Kai-ro are close by, they're just waiting for Richard and Virgil."
"What's the plan?" Terry said, shelving his despair before it could even begin to take root. Of course there was a plan; Bruce always had a plan. And so long as they had one, there still hope, which meant it was way too early to give up. "What do you need me to do?"
"Do you still have Barda's Mother Box?" Bruce asked.
"Of course," Terry said, a hand going to his belt. "I'd never leave home without it; she gave it to me right before…"
"Energy cannot be created or destroyed." Bruce said, interrupting his painful memories. "The Anti-Monitor might have been able to destroy Universes, but that energy still exists. Even with the worlds merging, that energy will have to go somewhere. If it can be found, then it's not too late to save everyone."
"So we need to find it? Any idea where to start looking? We haven't exactly got a lot of time here."
"We don't have anywhere near enough time," Superman corrected. "We won't be able to find it before the world's merge."
"So we aren't going to bother trying," Bruce said. "We just need to get someone through to the other side. If we can just keep someone who knows what happened from being rewritten, then we still have a chance."
And by someone, they meant him.
"And what about all of you?" He asked, his voice rough. He already knew the answer.
"We don't matter," The former Batman snorted. "If we can get you through, it doesn't matter if every last one of us dies. You could save trillions upon trillions of lives. There isn't a member of the Justice League that wouldn't give their lives for that."
"Besides," Superman said. "Don't write us off yet. We all believe in you Terry, and if our lives are in your hands, none of us are worried."
Warhawk and Green Lantern swept into the room, Static and Gear close behind. Rex had an ugly looking gash across the left side of his stomach, three red lines on the left side of his face, and deep bags under his eyes from too many sleepless nights. Terry was glad he couldn't see his friends back, however, or the marks that had been left when a group of the Anti-Monitor's Thunderers had managed to tear his artificial wings away and strike at the vulnerable flesh beneath. He'd had to carry his friend to safety and had come out pretty badly in that fight himself, but he at least had Mother Box.
Kai-ro had removed the bandages from around his head, revealing the claw marks of whatever Shadow Demon had managed to get past his shield. The beast had tried to tear the calm Green Lantern's head clear off and had, from what Superman had said, paid for his foolishness. Beneath the Green Lantern's self-repairing costume, Terry couldn't see sign of any other wounds, but this was the first time he'd ever seen Kai-ro look really, genuinely tired, which was more than enough to make him worry for his friend.
Static and Gear had made it out of things with their fair share of scars to show for it, but carried themselves like it was nothing. Terry knew about the burns and bandages they hid easily beneath their costumes, but had spoken to them in private. The two older heroes must have been tired, but they didn't let it show, proving what they said about those that lived to old age in a profession where most die young.
Really, Terry wasn't sure why Clark had bothered worrying about him. As soon as Mother Box had a chance to fix him up, he'd be fine, and he'd come from the battle with the least physical injuries after the Man of Steel. But then, Superman's injures had been a bit deeper then the flesh, so Terry was probably the best off, period.
Gear squinted, eyes turning immediately to the Batmobile.
"Did you already make the modifications?" He asked Bruce.
"As much as I was able, but we still have some time. Just work fast."
"Already on it." Richie said, moving towards it, the legs of his backpack extending. "Guys, help me out."
Superman, Static, and Kai-ro immediately began moving materials and disassembling the Batmobile according to his instructions, quickly taking pieces of it apart and putting them back together.
Terry nodded, shoulder's tight.
"What's wrong?" Virgil asked, floating over to look at him. "You're getting nervous over something as small as jumping past the end of the Universe? For shame, Batman—for shame."
Terry tried to smile at the older man's jokes, but he couldn't.
"I get that one of us has to go through…but why is it me? Why aren't one of you sitting in this seat?"
"We're hedging our bets," Warhawk said. "I think it goes without saying that none of us have ever done this before."
"Long story short," Richie began. "We're breaking out all the stops to be sure this works. The stuff I added to the Batmobile should help it get through in one piece, but it's obviously untested. So we're going in with you. Hopefully, if something goes wrong, I'll be able to fix it before I'm wiped from existence or something. Static and GL here will be putting up additional shields around the Batmobile and Supes is going to help push it into the next Universe."
"Guys…if you do that, then you'll all…" Terry had known this was going to happen, but he still had to drop his gaze. Suddenly, it was unbearable to meet their eyes.
"Die? Disappear? Vanish?" Virgil asked. "Maybe. But we'll get you through, even if we do. It's gonna be tough on you, too, but you have to keep driving, no matter what you see happening to us."
Terry worked his jaw and nodded once.
"All of you…I'm not good with speeches and I know, but…It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to work with all of you," Terry said, secure that his mask would hide any tears he couldn't stop. "The thing about this that's going to hurt the most is that this new world might never know about all the heroes that fought until the end to help save lives. But I promise that at the very least, I won't forget."
"Man, don't start getting solemn and depressed on us." Richie sighed.
"None of us think of this as goodbye," Kai-ro said.
He looked around him at the others, and they each showed their assent.
He looked back at Terry, eyes bright. "We know you are too stubborn to ever give up. So go save the Multiverse."
He was seized with the sudden impulse to get up. Terry hauled himself onto his feet, pushing through the aches and pains that flared with the motion. He found the pain meaningless, and stood tall and prideful before his team. There was so little room for sentimental words in the Justice League. He wanted to make this woefully inadequate, but true, gesture. He wanted to stand as equals with them in their last moments.
They understood and accepted what was needed of them. It was time he embraced what was needed of the Tomorrow Knight.
On his own, he moved to the Batmobile, opening it was a hiss of released air. In the back seat, Ace laid among the few belongings he kept inside it, head between his paws. From his dropped ears and expressive eyes, Terry couldn't help but feel he knew exactly what was about to happen.
"Thank you." He said, climbing inside. "All of you. For everything you've done. But I'll take things from here, guys. What do you need me to do, Bruce?"
"Open a Boom Tube when I give the signal and then drive as fast as you can." His Mentor replied.
The computer sounded as the last of the data finished loading into the hard drives and a moment later Superman deposited them in Terry's lap.
"This is everything we could get that looked like it could be even remotely useful. And I mean everything." He said. "We have no way of knowing what things will be like on the other side, but something in there should help."
Terry gave a nod and the hatch of the Batmobile slid closed with a hiss. Inside, Terry lifted a hand to the communicator by his ear.
"I won't think of this as goodbye…but I want to say that I…Bruce, I want you to know that I consider you a father. You took a kid like me and made a good man out of him. I just want to thank you for that."
Bruce silently listened to Terry's voice through the communicator in his own ear. No one in the room but Superman could hear it, which was how he preferred it and was probably why Terry had done it.
Unlike Terry, his features and expression were in plain sight. It was hard to keep the stoniness, but he did.
It's a lot easier with a mask, isn't it Terry…, Bruce thought. And you are worthy of that mask.
"'For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you…my only son.' That's how it went…right?" Bruce murmured back before raising his voice. "Everyone, in position. It's almost time."
"You ready, Mother Box?" Terry asked, fingers tight around the handles. He received a simple 'ping' in response and took a deep breath in response.
Outside, Bruce began the countdown, staring up at the computer screen intently.
"Our window is going to open in five…four…three…two…one…now!"
Before them, a hole appeared in space and time, punctured by the will of a machine.
As Mother Box opened the Boom Tube instantly and Terry floored the gas. He reached max speed almost before he entered it and that was before Superman grabbed it and helped push. Warhawk stood on top of the Batmobile, bracing himself against the speed with his Nth Metal wings. The strange material was known for interacting in unusual ways with pretty much everything and Terry could only assume that they planned to use it to aid the transport. A moment later, Gear activated some kind of machine and Rex relaxed, standing without any trouble. Outside, Kai-ro and Virgil had already raised their shields around the car.
This was it.
Traveling through a Boom Tube was a strange experience at the best of times. The portals allowed for extra-dimensional point-to-point travel, but he wasn't completely sure how they worked— and as far as he knew, he was the only human to ever be given permanent ownership of one, and that was just as things had gone to hell, so there hadn't been a lot of time to figure things out. There were many names for it—the Electron Road, the Matter Threshold—but it was the same thing either way. A bridge like Bifrost, connecting two points, but for as simple an explanation as that was, it was hard to describe what it looked like. At its base, it was a tunnel through the fourth dimension, but that was much more complex than it might sound. A two dimension square was simple, with each corner connecting two edges. A three dimensional cube was slightly more complex, with three edges. But with four edges, the result is a much more complex shape—even more so, considering what the fourth dimension was. Instead, it was simpler to describe how it was in normal space; there was always a deafening boom, a quick trip through…where ever the Mother Box took him through, and he was at his destination.
The place it took him through was strange beyond words, but it was over so quickly, that it usually didn't matter. Confusing shapes mean nothing if they flash past to quickly to be seen.
Except this time. This time, it was different. The trip that usually passed instantly was drawn out greatly and they were speeding through a tube that didn't seem to have any exit or end.
It wasn't hard to figure out why. The Boom Tube connected two existing points, but they were trying to connect two points that couldn't exist alongside each other. When the old Universe existed, the new one wouldn't have been formed yet and when the new one did, the old Universe would no longer exist.
They had no destination.
Terry tapped his communicator again, ignoring Ace's whimpering. He didn't know what this was like through the senses of a dog, but it was flat-out weird for him, so it probably wasn't pleasant for Ace. But there really wasn't anything he could do about.
"Gear, how are we going to get somewhere that doesn't exist?"
"It will exist, Terry. The Universe is being rewritten, remember? We'll be coming across one soon enough."
Gear seemed to ponder something for a moment.
"…Think of them as ripples in a pond—each ripple is going to sweep over everything and remake it. Nobody in normal space-time will even be able to notice it, but in this Boom Tube, we should be able to see them coming."
"But won't we be rewritten, too?"
"Only if it touches you."
"We're coming up on one now." Superman said, interrupting their conversation. "Terry, get ready to open another Boom Tube when Richard gives you the signal."
"A Boom Tube within a Boom Tube?"
"We have to go deeper, man," Gear said, smiling. "The Mother Box opens a portal into Fourth Dimensional Space to connect two points through a tube. We contacted the New Gods to ask for their knowledge on the subject and they said that if one could stay in a Boom Tube for more than an instant and you found the right place to do so, a Mother Box should be able to open a portal into even higher dimensions. We have to get high enough to just skirt around the edges of the change if we want to get you through this. Fifth dimension, at least, but maybe even the Sixth or Seventh. Then we'll all try and get you through the weakest parts of the change."
Terry opened his mouth before shutting it. Now wasn't the time to ask for answers that he probably wouldn't understand.
"Just tell me when," He said, squinting up ahead instead.
In the distance, Terry thought he could see something very, very bright.
"I'm relaying the instructions to your suit, now." Gear said. "Just open a Boom Tube and it'll do all the work. Get ready, because we're coming up on a dimensional weak point…now."
Another Boom Tube opened on the side of the 'lane' they were on and Terry's suit moved on autopilot, turning off the 'road' they were on to enter Fifth Dimensional Space.
"Try to avoid any Imps, Terry," Superman said. "The last thing we need is Mr. Mxyzptlk interfering."
"I'll try, but I can barely see where I'm going." Terry said, looking at a tube that had height, width, depth, and a couple of other things. "Gear, what's going on. My eyes are…"
"Looking at five dimensional things with five dimensional colors and shapes. I know. Supes, you still got this?"
"I've been to the Fifth Dimension before," Clark replied. "It's not a problem."
"My only regret is that I can't see if I can correctly model the curvature of Spacetime in Fifth Dimensional space or try to unify gravity with the electromagnetic force. Oh well; we probably wouldn't have time for that anyway. Can you still see the changes coming, Clark? I can still detect dimensional weak points, but I'm having trouble determining if we need to go higher. A lot of my scanners are getting weird readings."
"Its…dimmer. Farther away. But it's still pretty strong. I'm not sure Terry would make it through that in one piece."
"Got it. Sixth dimension, here we come. Terry, open another Tube in three, two, one."
Curving straight up into another Boom Tube, Terry grimaced and had to shut his eyes for a moment as what he saw—or tried to see—hurt his eyes. Ace's whimpering had begun to shift into angry growls, but the dog hid his head under something as well, muffling the noise.
"Damn it," He head Gear curse. "Something is definitely interfering with my tech. My scanners aren't picking up anything. We'll have to punch through here. Superman, can you see anything?"
"I…think so. Kai-ro, thirty seconds until impact."
Terry risked opening his eyes, activating a filter to protect them from the bright light. He saw Kai-ro nod and the bright green backpack he was wearing dissolved, revealing a Green Lantern Power Battery. Pressing his ring against it, Kai-ro solemnly began to recite the oath.
"In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!"
The shield around the car brightened and they began to pick up the pace, speeding quickly towards a danger they could not see—and so they could do nothing but wait for impact.
And impact they did. The car shook enough that Terry worried it might fall apart even as he was thrown forward in his seat and Ace let out a startled yelp as he was jostled around unpleasantly. Terry had to grit his teeth to keep from biting his own tongue as his entire body shook. He pushed his thrusters to the limit, trying to make some headway, but it was like trying to swim up a waterfall. He felt Superman push as hard as he could and worried that the Batmobile might not be able to take it—
But the shields did not fall. They stood against a force that was changing all of existence and while they couldn't move past it, they weren't wiped away instantly either. For a long moment, they stalemated that force.
Then, Kai-ro spoke.
"It's been an honor," He said. "I'll see all of you later."
The ring on his finger glowed bright—brighter than any of them had ever seen it before—and cried out in warning.
Warning Kai-ro of Space Sector 2814: Willpower limit reached! Willpower limit exceeded!
There was an explosion of bright green and suddenly the car jerked forward, against the changing world, breaking through. It didn't stop there, either, but continued to move forward, inch by inch, as everyone pushed it to continue on. Superman's hands left dents on the car as he pushed as hard as he dared and it would have broken to pieces if Static hadn't shielded it against him as well.
As the light of Kai-ro's sacrifice faded, Warhawk moved to the forefront of the car, his Nth-Metal Wings put together in a shield before him and the force seemed to change upon the ship, even as the wings began to crack under the force as they slide further into the next Universe. Rex held them up valiantly, pushing his strength-enhancing armor to its limits as he kept them upright against the storm of power that would end their world. They inched forward with him shielding them, for an unbelievable moment follow by another. The Nth-Metal held up, impossibly, for five more seconds, before it broke under the weight of the new Universe.
"May you fly safely home." Rex recited in Thanagarian, a 'prayer' for safety between fellow warriors.
The barriers of Kai-ro and Rex fell, but a new one immediately stood up in their place. The power Static had gathered around the ship and the energy of the Sixth Dimension itself began to funnel into a device in Gear's hands, raising a final shield against the storm.
"Terry, listen to me," Gear spoke. "There's not much choice, now. You're going to have to make the jump into the Seventh Dimension."
"I thought I needed a weak point for that?" Terry replied through shaking, gritted teeth. "Are your scanner's working?"
"No, so we're just gonna have to make you one instead." Richie said, his backpack removing itself. "As soon as this shield falls, open another Boom Tube and go."
The backpack attached itself to the device Gear held, its mechanical armors working quickly to make adjustments. As it finished integrating it, Static lifted it, moving it to the edge of the barrier it created, even as their final shield began to crack.
Gear pressed a button and it exploded, even as another Boom Tube opened.
Terry closed his eyes, both against the seven-dimensional brightness before him, and to keep from having to see Richie's and Virgil's unprotected forms disappear.
But that didn't keep him from hearing Clark scream as he continued to push the Batmobile forward with no protection but his Kryptonian Heritage. He sat in the dark, afraid of opening his eyes and losing them, and he could do nothing but listen to Superman scream and the Batmobile rattle and groan.
And then, in an instant, the screaming stopped, as did the force upon the Batmobile.
"Mother Box?" He asked after a moment of silence. "Are we through?"
The Mother Box pinged an affirmative and Terry took a deep breath.
"Take us back down."
While the trip up to the Seventh Dimension had been slow, relatively, with entire seconds between jumps, the trip back down was bone-shakingly, heart-poundingly fast. He exited one Boom Tube after another and careened back into normal spacetime in less than a second.
Turning down the thrusters, Terry stepped hard on the brakes even as he quickly glanced around for anything he'd need to avoid hitting—but was pleased to find nothing but a clear blue sky. Pulling up as he slowed down, he stopped the car and took a look at the new world he'd made his way into.
Beneath the blue skies were small forests and green pastures. Startled by his sudden entrance, a flock of birds had taken flight, which, together with the plants, confirmed that there was life on this world, which he was kind of hoping was Earth. Almost as relieving was the sight of the black pavement of highways crisscrossing the land.
Not only was there life, there was intelligent life. And hopefully human life, at that.
Setting his car into camouflage mode just in case, he turned to the easiest way to figure things out and turned on the radio. Immediately, a singing, definitely human voice filled his car with some country song, he guessed. Pleased that it had worked, he began fiddling with one of the knobs, quickly scrolling through the stations. He switched through four more music stations, a sports station narrating what he assumed was a football game, and then found a news station giving the weather, before stopping, satisfied that he was probably on Earth.
Even better, he wasn't stuck in the ancient past with the dinosaurs, either. From what little he remembered about the radio, and assuming technology had advanced at a roughly similar pace in this Universe he was probably no earlier than 1900, because the radio became common somewhere around then. Chances were, he was probably closer to his time then that, based on the number and type of stations.
Actually, that gave him an idea and he turned on his GPS to see if it would work.
It did, narrowing down the time frame even further. After a few seconds, it determined that he was somewhere in—or rather, over—the state of New York, which put him near both Metropolis and Gotham…if they existed at least.
"That was easy enough," Terry murmured, staring at the screen.
After a moment of deliberation, he decided to try and head towards Metropolis first. He made a habit of not lying to himself so he didn't think for a moment that it was anything but what it was—he wanted to delay seeing what Gotham was like, if just for a little bit longer. More than that, he wanted to delay seeing Bruce and potentially finding out that he'd never been born. Or was killed. Or, hell, was evil.
God, if the Joker was the good guy in this reality, he wasn't sure he'd be able to take it.
So he'd check on Metropolis first. It was a big enough place that he should be able to notice if anything was obviously wrong and it's be easy enough to check up on what's happened to Superman from there and then the other heroes. If this world had heroes.
Terry shook himself. He could think up possibilities for this world until his head exploded, but there was really only one way to find out. He'd just have to hope Superman's parents hadn't misaimed and shot him to Apokolips or something.
"Mother Box, can you open another Boom Tube for me? I need to go to Metropolis."
With its usual ping, the Electron Road opened before him and the disguised Batmobile was off, leaving nothing behind but the echoing roar of its engines.
Terry landed his car quietly on the roof of a building and reached into the space behind his seat by Ace. The now much calmer, yet still saddened dog shifted out of the way silently, letting him quickly reach what he was looking for; the small bag he always left there, in which he kept several items that were pretty much required in his line of work, including an advanced first aid kit and his civilian clothes, along with everything Bruce had given him before he left. He pet Ace awkwardly, unsure of how to provide comfort for something like this to a dog, but he hadn't been the only one to lose people in their transit. Ace had known Bruce even longer then he had. Part of him wondered if Bruce had sent Ace with him for him to look after, or if he'd entrusted Ace with looking after him.
Scratching him behind the ears one more time, he left Ace to guard the car and glided down into the alley by the building, where he changed quickly and stored his costume in the backpack he kept his change of clothes in. Sliding into it, he walked out into Metropolis.
As he'd noticed before parking, he was right; everyone was human. There hadn't been any strange mutations or curses that had turned the population into vampire werewolves or anything, which was nice. The Earth hadn't been conquered by demons, aliens, or madmen, either, which was even better. He'd gotten more than enough of that kind of weirdness when they were fighting the Anti-Monitor. On the downside, there weren't any flying cars, either, so he was probably in the past.
He pondered what to do next, but just for a moment. He could either go check on Clark personally, which could be troublesome, whether he wanted to talk to the reporter or the Superhero. He suddenly realized that he had no idea where Clark had lived before his slow aging process had required him to subtly move. He could check the Fortress of Solitude instead, but Superman might not be in there and a random stranger wouldn't be welcome besides.
But all of that was much more complicated then the second option, so instead he walked to the Metropolis Library and asked the lady at the deck if she could direct him towards any books about Superman.