From alt.drwho.creative, it's
An unknown location in the Middle East "Father, he has contacted you." "Yes, my dear, I know. Make your preparations; I need complete privacy for this meeting." As his lovely daughter left, the weathered man stood calmly, watching his communications console that somehow received an unusual request nearly a week ago. He had never been one to defer to another, but his current associate had a sizeable ego, and powers which dwarfed his own. He knew that his temporary associate could destroy him, but the "home field" advantage brought them even. With luck and planning, he might yet swing the pendulum in his favor. He sat, turned the display on, and waited for his "partner" to deign to notice his presence. "I apologize for the delay, great one." "You disappoint me, Ra's al Ghul. You were rumored to be capable, for a human." "I was ensuring the readiness of my men. They are in position, and await my word." "A specific event must occur before the shipment can be delivered. It should come to pass within forty-eight hours." "As I said, all is ready. I shall contact you once it is in my possession. My payment is still satisfactory?" "Your desires do not conflict with mine, so your payment is satisfactory. Notify me if your plans are altered in the slightest way." "I will do so, great one." The monitor went blank, and Ra's al Ghul leaned back in his chair. Never before had he agreed to such a hazardous partnership, and he held no illusions that his powerful associate would not destroy him if not satisfied. With luck, his failsafes would not be needed. When dealing with Darkseid, however, it was foolish to not be prepared for the worst. Manussa "Well, it's all over now," the Doctor said. "The Mara is gone forever?" Tegan's voice held just the faintest shred of hope. "Yes, the Mara has been destroyed." The Doctor felt a sudden intake of air, as if the room breathed. Looking back to the wall where the Great Mind's Eye rested mere moments ago, he noticed a pinpoint of light. Before he could blink, a thunderous boom erupted from the wall, throwing the Doctor, Tegan, and the assemblage several feet through the air. The pinpoint, now glowing a vibrant yellow, expanded to encompass the entire wall. Green flashed inside the cylinder, and an armored squad flew through the aperture just as it closed. Quick and precise, two armored men flanked the tube's opening as the others seized the Mara's freshly-slain body. "No!" rang the Doctor's cry as he tried to pull himself to his feet. Tegan lay beside him, stunned. Nyssa was across the chamber, slowly regaining her senses. The lead trooper impassively pointed at the Doctor, who stumbled and fell as a searing beam of reddish energy seemed to destroy the very air he had been occupying. He looked up as another boom rocked the chamber, and the glowing tube reappeared. Quick as a flash, the armored figures were gone, the tube already receding. By the time he regained his feet, the tube had vanished. The Doctor steadied himself, his mind reeling. He helped the shocked Tegan to her feet, the Great Crystal still in his hand. "Are you all right?" "I... I don't... know... what was that?" "Good enough. Some sort of temporal corridor, I believe. We need to get back to the TARDIS quickly; we won't have much time to perform a signature analysis. We've overstayed our welcome anyway." The Doctor helped Nyssa to her feet as well, then stared at the gem in his hand, the Great Crystal, as if seeing it for the first time. "Oh yes. If you don't mind, Director," spoke the Doctor, placing the artefact in his trembling hands, "we'll be leaving now. Thank you, you're welcome, all that. Nyssa, Tegan." The Director, still shaken, looked at the Doctor blankly. "Eh? Leaving? Wait... no, no! We need to question... how did you... you can't leave yet. What did you do?" The Doctor glanced about the chamber, noticed the Federated guards beginning to recover their wits. "Very well, but the quick version. Nyssa, could you take Tegan back to the TARDIS, please? I'll catch up. Now then. The Mara was obviously real, as I've been attempting to make you see all along, and was able to form a body when the young heir placed the Great Crystal within the hollow on the wall. You all looked at the Mara and were instantly fascinated, while I gazed into this crystal..." At this the Doctor revealed the crystal he had discovered. "...Found my psychic center, and directed myself at the Mara. Since the Mara thrives on fear and despair, it attempted to disrupt me, which allowed me to act. I removed the Great Crystal, and the Mara was disrupted in mid- materialization. Hmm. Yes, I believe that about covers it. I must admit to knowing little about that tube, but any information you have is greatly appreciated." "I'd never seen it before," said the Director, now recovering from his shock. "Why would they want the Mara? It is dead, isn't it?" "Yes, it is. That's what worries me. I must see this through, Director. Let me leave. I'll even let you know when I've resolved the problem with the Mara. Please, Director. Time is short." "I thought the rumors of the Mara were based on truth, but I never realized... yes, go ahead, Doctor. I think we all believe in the Mara now. But please, do keep me informed." "I will do exactly that when it is dealt with. Thank you, Director." With that, the Doctor left the chamber and headed for the TARDIS. "She should be okay, she'll need some rest though." Nyssa said upon entering the control room. The Doctor was busy configuring the TARDIS. "Well, that's good to hear. Poor girl. Between the Mara's possession and subsequent removal, I'm a bit surprised that she's not in worse shape. It's a cardinal rule, though, nothing is as easy as it seems. "No offense towards Tegan, but I'm more concerned about that tube. Those soldiers are somewhat familiar, but I can't place them. Whoever they were, they timed their entry perfectly. We were all taken completely unawares. They must have known that the Mara had just died. Unless these people have a habit of collecting large reptilian corpses, we may be 'in the fire,' so to speak. Unfortunately, the second tube seems to have interfered with my tracking of the first, but I'm very close to... ah, there! Destination, Earth. That makes a strange amount of sense, half of the events in that galaxy seem to center on a single planet. Nineteen ninety-six. Who's giving technology to Earth this time?" Nyssa coughed loudly. "Doctor, you're babbling." "Babbling? I'm not babbling, I'm rambling. Entirely different. But I am thinking aloud again, thank you, Nyssa. Are you ready for a field trip?" Gotham City, United States Batman attempted to pry the cage doors open, but to no avail. As well as he knew the Joker, he had to admit (to himself, though no one else) that he was always surprised at the Joker's ingenuity, mad as he was. The steel cage held, and the dark knight rummaged around his utility belt for the phosphorus that would superheat the bars, providing a better attempt at escape. A roar alerted the dark detective, and he ducked & rolled as the bear's meaty claw sliced into his suit. Even with the triple-weave Kevlar, pain flared. His sharp mind noted a bruised rib or two, filed it in priority behind stopping the bear and capturing the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime cackled and looked on as he sat atop a unicycle, clothed in ringmaster's garb complete with top hat and cane. "This is so exciting, I can bare-ly contain my enthusiasm! Hahaaheeeh!" The enraged bear turned toward its fleeing meal and received a Batarang in the nose for its efforts. It howled in rage and charged the figure, who was difficult to see and, because of the Batarang, difficult to smell as well. Another paw sliced through the air, this time striking the barrier provided by the cage. Batman moved to the other end of his temporary prison, clanging the bars with his weapon. The bear turned and rose, towering a full three feet above the hero's six-foot-plus frame. He tumbled and rolled until he was behind the berserk animal, then struck the lock dead-on with a phosphorus capsule. The Joker's giggling diminished as he watched the lock. Seeing his well-made prison hold, his maniacal laughter redoubled, as the Batman's countenance became more determined than ever. "Hee hee hehehehahahaha!!!!! Now that's what I call a Kodiak moment!" As the bear turned toward its agile meal, he removed his cape and wiped some blood from his lip upon it, then tossed the cape toward the bear. After a few tosses, including an experimental strike using the weights on his cape's tail, he tossed the cape at the lock. As he'd hoped, it wrapped around the bars on the door. If the bear's sense of smell was dulled enough by the batarang strike.... As he'd hoped, the bear caught the scent of blood and started toward the cape, which now clung to the lock and door. Just as the bear charged the cape, the dark knight threw himself into the bear with all his might. The bear slammed against the cage the door flew open, and the bear fell forward as two gas capsules landed at the creature's feet. Batman dove out a second later, but the Joker was already fleeing, riding his unicycle with fiendish glee. Another Batarang took flight, this with a thin cable attached. The projectile barely missed the Joker, then arced to the left. The Joker had no time to maneuver as the wire wound itself around his waist, and the Clown Prince was pulled off his getaway vehicle. Batman approached him, but the Joker was in a tangle. He tried reaching for his hat, which now lay beside him. A boot came down on the Joker's outstretched arm. He smiled weakly at Batman. "Oh, come on, Batboy, why so dour? Can't you just..." The Joker's other hand gripped his cane tighter. "...grin and..." He swung the cane by its point, hooking Batman's leg and throwing him off-balance. "...bear it?" The cane swung again, point first, but was parried. Around came Batman's fist, connecting solidly with the Joker and sending the lunatic into unconsciousness. Batman tended his ribs from a nearby building as the GCPD tossed the unconscious Joker inside a police van. In his most recent escape from Arkham, the Joker had been able to get ahold of various cleaning agents, and create his potent Smiley gas. Why doesn't Arkham learn? A familiar voice came in over his earmike, breaking the Batman out of his reverie. "How many times does this make that the Joker's done the circus thing?" "Six. Do you have anything new on the sonic boom, Oracle?" "Yes, but not much. It was powerful enough to shatter windows within four hundred feet. Also, two officers were in the area, but both are missing. The GCPD found their car in Hell's Kitchen, vandalized, but no bodies. Think we have a new maniac out there trying to prove himself? Whoever this guy is, he's not a regular." "What makes you think this is one person?" Oracle shifted in her wheelchair. Why must he always test her? "Well, not much, but there was some kind of light show in the area as well. Looks like trademark super-villain stuff to me." "What kind of light show?" "A 'flickering yellow strobe,' at least in the Gotham Herald's point of view." There was a brief pause, and Barbara Gordon could practically hear the clues falling into Batman's head. "If that's true, then he might not even be human." "Oh-kay. Care to update your hard-at-work information center?" "It might be a boom tube, though I'm not certain." "Boom tube? What's that?" "It's some kind of transport system that the New Gods use. Find what information you can, I'll be checking it out." "And Robin?" "Leave him out, Oracle. This is over his head." "Over his head, but not your own?" Barbara paused, waiting for the usual lack of reply when Bruce knew she wouldn't like something. Sure enough, there was only silence. Gotham Heights, suburb of Gotham City Clark Kent was restless. Despite his experience as a reporter, as well as the countless obstacles he has overcome as Superman, everything about Arkham Asylum sent a chill through his spine. How Bruce was able to deal with such insanity on a constant basis, he didn't know. His fingers hovered at the keys, but thoughts of Arkham made it difficult for him to put down what he needed to. The Daily Planet sent Clark to Gotham to report on the Scarecrow, recently captured in Metropolis and delivered to Arkham via Superman. Bruce hadn't been happy to learn that Superman had entered Gotham, but he always did consider it his duty to defend the entire city single-handedly. No doubt he'd be less pleased if he knew that Clark was still in Gotham, writing a follow-up article on the use of fear. He was planning on using not only the Scarecrow as an example, but the Batman as well, which would no doubt draw some heated comments. He put thoughts of Gotham's protector out of his head and was about to put thoughts to paper when his super-sensitive hearing picked up a low roar. He paused, concentrating, and picked up the sound clearly - a loud boom, originating about three miles to the northeast. It wasn't an airplane, and though he rarely visited Gotham, he didn't know of anything in the city that made such a noise. For a moment, he considered staying in his hotel room. Surely Bruce would hear about the noise and check it out on his own. Even so, he knew his conscience would not let him just sit around, though he was sure Bruce would handle things in his own way. Two seconds later, the room was empty, the window open. Hell's Kitchen, Gotham City "Not the brightest of places, Gotham," the Doctor noted, stepping out from the alley the TARDIS had materialized in. Refuse lined the streets, and people hurried by without seeming to acknowledge the presence of the Doctor, or anyone else for that matter. Nyssa followed a minute later, and wrinkled her nose. "What a disgusting city! How can people keep anything like this around?" "That's one of the wonders of this time period. Pollution on this level really takes effort to achieve. I'd almost admire their dedication, if the landscape was a bit more pleasing. Is Tegan coming along?" "No. I mentioned the name of this place and she actually cringed. Said she's been here before, but suddenly felt really tired and decided to stay behind." "Well, we should let her be. It may be her first peaceful sleep in the last few days." "I can nearly feel the refuse of this place. I feel... dirty. What are we looking for? I hope we'll be able to leave soon." "Well, the tube's energy signature ended near here. It shouldn't be all that difficult to locate, even in a city as infested as this. Just keep your head down, and don't meet anyone's eye." He glanced back to the TARDIS, snug in its corner, then began walking along the street. He had been walking less than a minute when a voice from behind made him turn. "Hey, you two need a ride?" Less than a hundred feet away, a group of teenagers was approaching. The apparent leader carried a cane, but was not limping, and another young man was almost certainly cradling a gun. The Doctor spoke in a hushed tone. "Just keep walking; these people shouldn't bother anyone who ignores them." "Hey, I'm asking you if you need a ride!" "No thank you, we shan't be going far." "If you want, old man. You can go, but the lady should really have some protection. It's too dangerous to be roaming around." They were less than fifty feet away; their hard-soled boots were audible in the quiet streets. "Well, we shall have to roam quickly, then." Nyssa and the Doctor kept walking, but both noticed the sound of footsteps had ceased. They walked another hundred feet before the Doctor turned. The small group was slumped against a corner, seemingly tied together. All appeared unconscious, and the leader's cane was gone as well. The Doctor looked around, but saw no sign of people, no trace of another being from his position. He shrugged. Well, they've been dispatched by someone. Quite efficiently, too." He took a couple steps forward before noticing Nyssa hadn't kept walking. "Nyssa? We're quite all right." No answer. "Nyssa?" He turned to his companion, who was staring up in complete shock. Following her gaze, he noticed a shrouded figure atop a nearby building. The darkness and some type of cloak made it difficult to discern a race, and the figure was apparently masked. "Well, it appears we have a guardian angel."
"Nyssa?" The Doctor turned to his companion, who was staring up in complete shock. Following her gaze, he noticed a shrouded figure atop a nearby building. The darkness and some type of cloak made it difficult to discern any details, and the figure was apparently masked. "Well, it appears we have a guardian angel." Batman paused for a moment and looked down at the couple on the sidewalk below and at the bundle of punks near them. Groaning to himself, he ducked back from the roof's edge and redoubled his efforts to get to the scene of the 'boom tube' arrival as quickly as possible. Though he'd only seen the pair for a moment, it had been obvious that they had not tied up the crooks themselves, which left few alternatives, only one of which was credible: Superman. Despite what the Man of Steel probably thought, he knew all about Clark Kent's extended visit and, until now, hadn't particularly cared. That was something Superman just never understood. His problem with Superman wasn't one of territoriality. If Clark Kent wanted to weekend in Gotham, fine. The problem was that Superman's occasional appearances undermined Batman's own effectiveness, up to weeks afterward. Once introduced to an ultra- powerful alien, criminals simply didn't fear him so much. As he leaped across Twenty-Eighth and landed on the parking structure for the McDowell Shopping Centre, Batman suddenly became very worried. Superman had found what he was looking for easily enough; someone had smashed a man-sized hole in the side of the shopping centre and marched straight ahead, turning a Hallmark store to rubble. Without hesitation, he had followed, flying past the destruction and into the centre's broad corridors. There he'd found a decorative fountain which had been ripped out and tossed aside, leaving a ragged hole in the floor. Alighting at the hole's lip, he paused and tried to peer through the floor, but lead pipes -- odd finding those in a building this new, he thought -- blocked his view. Meanwhile, he could hear conversation coming from below. "Why must I dig?" a gruff voice moaned. It sounded familiar, but Superman couldn't quite place it. "It is why you are here," a higher, more sibilant voice responded. "Do you question your father's judgement?" "No," the first voice sighed. "But couldn't I at least have a shovel?" "No." Superman slipped through the hole, then ducked into a shadow as he saw the two intruders. One, a compact but stout creature, had torn up the basement floor and was scrabbling at the cement beneath. The other, a small, emaciated man in a long robe, merely watched. "What would Kalibak and Desaad want under a mall?" Superman thought to himself. Deciding that whatever it was couldn't be good, he stepped forward and grabbed Desaad by the shoulder and threw him over an oblivious Kalibak and into the side of an immense air circulation unit. He stepped up behind the digging figure and was about to tap him when Kalibak stood up without warning. "I've found it!" Kalibak yelled happily. Almost immediately, Superman felt his stomach tighten and his knees wobble. Finally noticing the slumped shape in front of him, Kalibak tilted his head. "Desaad?" He quickly turned around, and Superman saw that he was holding a rock about as large as a loaf of bread. A green, glowing loaf of bread. "Kr-kr-kr..." Superman stammered as he tried to back away. "You!" Kalibak shouted. "Here for more?" He trudged closer to the retreating hero. "Why do you flee? Do you fear me?" Superman staggered back into a wall. "Kr-kr-kr..." Kalibak paused, confused. Suddenly, a mass of black swept between the two. Batman kicked Kalibak away, then draped his cape over Superman. "Lead lining," he whispered. Kalibak dropped the Kryptonite rock and lunged for Batman. The human simply stood still until his attacker was close enough, then he did a standing backflip and kicked Kalibak in the face. The alien flipped backward through the air and landed facedown on the Kryptonite, shattering it with his forehead. Batman took a brief moment to look back at Superman, who was not looking well. In that moment Desaad ran to where Kalibak lay, grabbed a shard, and activated the portal back to Apokolips. Batman started to run over, but stopped when he felt a quivering hand on his leg. He watched as Desaad shook Kalibak awake, and the pair stumbled into the portal and were gone. Once darkness returned, Batman began lifting Superman onto his shoulders and carrying him toward the hole. Once he was under it, he saw four arms reach down through it. "Here, let us give you a hand," a man's voice said. When he looked up through the hole, Batman was surprised to see the couple who'd been he'd passed earlier. Kalibak looked up at the imposing form of his father, Darkseid. "I apologise, father. We only brought back a small bit of the green stone." He closed his eyes and braced himself for the pain he always felt when his father was angry. "That is enough," Darkseid said simply. Kalibak opened one eye. "You are pleased?" "I am satisfied." Kalibak relaxed. "When Superman attacked..." "Superman was there?" Kalibak grinned. "Yes, but he seemed weak, unwilling to fight." Darkseid's eyes flashed. "I hope you did not kill him." Kalibak's face tensed so quickly, the smile was still there. "Umm..." "It is critical that Superman lived." "I'm, umm, I'm sure he did! Yes! Another man came and saved him!" The glow in Darkseid's eyes faded. "Let us hope so." Kalibak nearly collapsed. "You have performed the task, Kalibak. You may return to the mines." "No, father, please!" Kalibak screamed. He was still screaming when he vanished. The Doctor and Nyssa dragged the ill man away from the hole and examined him while the other man did something below before coming back up to the surface. "Thank you," Nyssa said as the man returned, "for before, I mean." He pointed at the other figure. "He did it." "Well then," the Doctor said, turning to the man lying before him, "thank you." "Dnmnnt," the weak man mumbled. "What did he say?" Nyssa asked. "I think he said not to mention it," the Doctor answered. He looked up at the man in black again. "I'm the Doctor, and this is my friend Nyssa." He held out his hand, but the man did not reach out to shake it. "Ah." He withdrew the hand. "Who are you, anyway?" Nyssa asked. For a fraction of a second, the man actually seemed taken aback. "I'm Batman." Nyssa looked to the Doctor, who shrugged. "That's Superman." The Doctor snapped his fingers. "Of course! And if he's ill, then that green glow we saw must've been..." "Kryptonite," Superman finished. "Speaking of which, Batman..." His master's throne was turned around as Desaad carefully approached. In his hands, he held a satin pillow, and on the pillow was a syringe. "It is ready, my lord." The throne rotated until Darkseid faced his minion. "Distilled essence of Mara," Desaad bragged. "The purest of evils. And it's right here in this hypodermic with a Kryptonite needle." "Excellent. Have Kanto deliver it to Ra's al Ghul at once. With that running through his system, Superman will be the greatest of my servants. The Earth, the universe, will be mine."
Nyssa leaned toward the Doctor and murmured, "'Superman'?" "Superman isn't his name," he explained. "It's just what the inhabitants of Earth call him because he can fly, lift heavy objects, and see through walls." "He's not from this planet, then?" "No. His own home planet was destroyed many years ago; something you and he have in common, perhaps." "Actually," said Superman, "I've always considered Earth to be my home planet." He smiled reassuringly, realising that neither Nyssa nor the Doctor had noticed he was listening. "You forgot to mention 'super hearing'." "And 'invulnerability'," said Batman, "to just about everything except Kryptonite. Which brings us back to the question of what those two wanted that Kryptonite for." "The usual thing, I imagine," said the Doctor. "Trying to kill Superman." "No. They only took a small fragment. Enough to inconvenience Superman slightly, but not enough to kill him without prolonged exposure. They had something specific in mind." Superman nodded in agreement. "I'm not sure I like the idea of Darkseid having something specific in mind." "Darkseid?" the Doctor queried. Batman suddenly remembered that he didn't know anything about these two people in their strange outfits. "Why exactly are you here, 'Doctor'?" "Oh, we just happened to be in the area, and we thought we'd drop in and see how the old place was doing...." Batman's frown didn't alter by so much as a single muscle. "Actually, we were following a transdimensional corridor. You haven't seen one around, have you? I thought I heard it around here a couple of minutes ago." "Why?" "Because whoever was using it stole the body of the Mara." "What is a Mara, and why does its theft concern you?" "Large, scaly, and dangerous. It's a long story." "Tell it." The Doctor sighed. "Once upon a time, an advanced civilisation created a special crystal that could be used to amplify the power of the mind...." Ra's al Ghul examined the syringe, taking care not to touch the faintly glowing green point. He had no intention of coming into contact with the liquid it contained. After a moment, he nodded, and carefully placed the syringe in a padded wooden box, where little clasps held it in place. He closed the lid of the box, locked it, and removed the key. "As far as sight alone can tell, it is what I was promised," he said to the messenger who had brought the syringe. "You may assure Lord Darkseid that, for my part, all is in readiness and will be carried out as planned." The messenger's face formed itself into an expression that, had the face been human, Ra's al Ghul would have assumed was a smile. "My master will be happy to hear that, I am sure." He left. Ra's al Ghul looked at the key in his hand, then at the box, as if he could still see the syringe through the exquisitely carved wood and the layer of lead within. He was still in the same position when his daughter cautiously entered the room a few minutes later. "Father, the messenger has departed." Ra's al Ghul nodded, but did not look up. "I expected him to remain. Had *you* relied on some other to fulfil part of a plan, you would have had him watched to make sure nothing went wrong." Her father smiled. "Our... associate... has no need of such measures. Nobody *ever* fails him." He looked up. "Nobody, at least, who remains in this world." His daughter shivered. "And, in any case, there are certain advantages to not being in evidence in the rare event of something going wrong." She nodded her understanding. He returned to staring at the box. "I considered a similar plan to this, once. The opportunities in the random havoc created if the Last Son of Krypton suddenly became less than his usual benevolent self... But creating a formula that would work the required changes is a difficult task without the resources at our associate's disposal, and in the end I concluded that the result would not be worth the effort. However, circumstances change, and I find that certain portions of that plan are useful after all." He smiled slightly. "Life is strange, sometimes." He looked at the key he still held in his hand, then inserted in the lock and turned it. The mechanism clicked. "Time to go," he said. He picked up the box, and left. "Speaking from experience with the dark side of a single city," said Batman, "a being created from the dark side of an entire planetary population sounds like something I wouldn't want to tangle with." "It sounds like the kind of thing that would interest Darkseid, though," said Superman. "Although I don't know what use it is to him dead." "Or what connection it has with a nearly-insignificant quantity of Kryptonite," added the Doctor. "But I expect we'll find out." "We?" "Nyssa and I are certainly not leaving until we know what has become of the Mara," the Doctor said. "Will you be staying here in Gotham, or returning to Metropolis?" "I'll be here for the next few days," said Superman. "I haven't finished my... business here, yet." Batman considered the possibility of objecting, but quickly decided that he wanted to know what was going on as well, and he'd never find out if he told Superman to leave his city. The Doctor produced a small device from one of his pockets. "This," he explained, "is a temporal path tracker, which I've set up to detect the energy signature of the... what did you call it? The 'boom tube'. As soon as they arrive, I'll know." Batman reminded himself to ask Oracle what she could find out about the Doctor. "The tricky bit," the Doctor went on, "is letting you know that I know." "That's not difficult," said Batman. "What we do is this." The next arrival, however, would not be by any means that the Doctor's tracker would register. Somewhere in the Middle East an aeroplane was taking flight. Its occupants had been entrusted with their task by Ra's al Ghul, and their destination was America. They carried with them two boxes. The larger of the two boxes was built mainly of lead and contained mainly Kryptonite. It wasn't much Kryptonite, but it would weaken the Man of Steel enough that he would be unable to resist a sudden and brief attack. (Ra's al Ghul had kept the Kryptonite, even though he had abandoned the plan for which he had gathered it; Kryptonite is valuable stuff. Had Darkseid only thought to ask, the raid on the shopping centre would have been unnecessary, and the shape of events may have been very different.) The smaller of the two boxes was made of wood, intricately carved and firmly locked. Its contents were far more dangerous than mere Kryptonite.
The next morning... From Robinson Central Terminal, along Grand Avenue, turning right into Davenport Row; Gotham City A dark people carrier with blacked-out windows cruised away from the station and out into the streets of Gotham. Inside, a young woman sat on a swivel chair and looked at the two boxes on the table in front of her. She glanced at the buildings and people and sweeping by outside and sneered slightly. A man in the passenger seat turned to face her: "The address, Mistress Talia?" Talia glanced at the open files that surrounded the boxes. "We'll start in little Bohemia, and search the bars in that quarter. He shouldn't be too hard to find." "Isn't it..." the man paused and lowered his eyes. "What?" "Isn't it a little early?" "He's probably been drinking since last night." "Understood, mistress. Right turn," the passenger said to the driver. A cafe in Hell's Kitchen, Gotham City The Doctor sat opposite his companions. "And he could fly?" said Tegan around a mouthful of buttered toast. "Yes. Just seemed to think himself into the air," Nyssa circled her hands in a rather vague way. "Wouldn't somebody who could do that have made it into your news media?" "Maybe not outside of America. Nobody takes anything that happens here that seriously. Any sign of that temporal corridor, Doc?" "Hmmm?" Tegan sighed and waved her hand in between the Doctor's face and the box sitting beside his untouched cup of tea. "Tegan," he said irritably picking up the box and turning away. "Doctor, you haven't taken your eyes off that thing all morning. We had to stop you tripping over three vagrants on the way from the TARDIS!" "And it wouldn't surprise me if you've been up all night staring at the temporal path tracker. You did say it would alert you with a noise if it picked anything up." The Doctor looked up, frowning and chewing on his bottom lip. "Yes, well, a watched pot never boils, I suppose." He smiled and looked at his tea. "Talking of pots," he picked the cup up and took a sip. Then he spat it out. "It's cold!" he said, mournfully. Tegan and Nyssa looked at each other and barely kept from laughing. The Coward Lounge, Greenwich Village, Gotham City "Well?" asked the woman. 'I'll Follow My Secret Heart,' played on a sound system in the background. "What's in the box?" "Open it and find out." "I see." The man sat back and cradled his gin and tonic. He wore a green tweed jacket, a brown bowler and checked trousers. "Aren't you interested?" The man glanced across at the silent piano, around the empty bar, and then back at the woman and the two men in black behind her. He looked into the woman's eyes and she looked right back. "What does it profit a man if he gain the world but lose his soul?" "What?" "Do you think I don't know who you are? Boredom has always been my personal demon. What's yours?" "The gift I have to offer you is the cure for all boredom." "When is a gift not a gift?" "When there's a price." "And what's the price in this," he looked at the box. "Case?" "A small one. Destroying a hero." "The Batman? Because I couldn't..." "Not this time. Perhaps in the near future. That would be up to you." "Then, who?" "The answer is in the box." "The answer to 'who'?" "The answer to everything." The man laughed. "I already know the answer to everything. And it doesn't come in a wooden box." "Or the bottom of a glass." "What sort of man hates a cup full of water?" "A golfer." "An easy one." "Mr Nigma..." "Shhhhh," he interrupted. "My name is Smith, remember. Smith." "Of course. With a question mark at the end, perhaps." "Perhaps," he smiled humourlessly. "This gift will give you immense power." "Yes, you said." "So?" He looked away, around the lounge again, and then back into the woman's eyes. "Two schoolboys were playing on a toolshed roof. Something gave way and they fell through, onto the floor below. When they picked themselves up, the face of one was covered in grime. The other's face was quite clean. Yet it was the boy with the clean face who at once went off and washed. Do you want to know why?" He picked up the box and held it out. The woman took it. "The next time you see either your father, or your former lover," he smiled and Talia scowled at him. "I heard it on the grapevine. The next time you see either of them," he paused. "Yes?" The Riddler pulled his bowler hat down over his eyes and sat back. "Tell them to look in a mirror." Talia stood and walked briskly out of the pub. The Batcave, under Wayne Manor, in the hills overlooking Gotham City Batman sat in front of his computer in the middle of a video link-up. "You couldn't find anything on him at all?" "Well, you didn't give me much to go on. 'Doctor'. I tracked down a Quicktime of some footage from a program broadcast on Britain's BBC3 in the 1972, some sort of accident at an archaeological dig. It was on a UFO site, one that mentioned 'the Doctor' as a government department creating alien invasion stories to cover secret weapons tests. All very garbled. There are various references to other sites, to zines and books which talk of a mysterious Doctor, but I can't actually track any information down. However, the title without any name attached is frequently linked with weird happenings: Britain's Mars landings, countless alleged ET encounters, conspiracies, illegal experiments, etc. Some even hint at him being an alien himself, others seem to think 'the Doctor' is a codename for agents working for the CIA/MI6 etc. One person suggested the Doctor was working for the UN." "The UN?" "Well, something called UNIT. I tried hacking into their systems but there didn't seem to be anything there. Either these guys have really, really good security, or they're horrendously underfunded." "UNIT. Yes, I've heard of them". "Well, somebody on one of the more obscure and esoteric newsgroups suggested that he had worked closely with this UNIT in the 70's but had recently turned against the establishment and become a free agent, perhaps a vigilante. But a bunch of other people said that was a silly idea and flamed this guy off the group." "Nothing concrete?" "I wouldn't every describe what I've got as jello." "Well, thanks anyway." "No trouble, Bats." Oracle's end of the line went dead and Batman settled back into his chair and took his cowl off. "Well, I'm off," said Tim as he wandered into the cave. "What?" said Bruce. "To Metropolis. That thing Superboy said he wanted help with." "Any idea what it is?" "He didn't say. Just where and when I was meant to meet him. Actually, it was his 'agent' who got in touch." "Agent? Now why didn't I think of that?" Tim grinned. "Yeah, that would work. Batman could open museums, go to dinner-dances. You could even go on Jerry Springer." "I don't think I'm violent enough." "You're sure you won't need me?" "Between Superman and this Doctor I think I've got things covered." "Sounds to me like you'd need all the help you can get just handling those two." "It's not a problem. Now..." He stood. "I should probably get some sleep." Afternoon... The Glacier Club, Gotham City "Immense power? Wauk. The key to making all my dreams come true? Wauk. In this box?" He shook the thing, and Talia winced. "Are you completely insane?" Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, dressed in an ankle-length (on him, anyway) black silk kimono over a white shirt and cream trousers, chewed on his cigarette holder. It was a nervous habit. His neatly rimmed black hair was plastered against his scalp and swept back to form a shallow widow's peak. "This box contains a force beyond the wildest imaginations of this planet." "Does it really?" Oswald put the box on the table. He yawned and leant over to nibble the ear of the blonde on his left. The brunette on his right started rubbing his shoulders. "Yes. Money, position, women. Anything could be yours. And nobody would stand against you, everyone would kneel at your feet. You would be in absolute charge." Oswald paused and looked at Talia. "Absolute? What, even over you?" Talia narrowed her eyes. "You expect me to believe that you would bring me something that could give me absolute power? The power of life and death? Why would anyone give that away?" "It is in return. For a favour." "If the power is great, why not take it yourself? Surely whatever favour you want from me would then be within your capabilities." "It does not suit me." "Then I shouldn't think it would suit me, my dear. Good day." Oswald stood and began to leave. "But this force will allow you to do anything you want!" Oswald was disappearing up a staircase. "I already have everything I want." "What have you got? A club. A public face that a few people are willing to forget was behind bars last year?" "What else could I want? My business interests are very profitable. My girls are very loyal." "What about revenge?" "Been there, done that. Sharky, Randy, and all the others." "And the Batman?" Oswald paused. "His time will come." Talia picked up the box and started, slowly, to leave. "You're afraid, Penguin." "Waugh!" He swung around and pounded down the steps. "Afraid?! You wake me up barely after midday, have me open my club to you, and dare to accuse me of cowardice?! Intelligence is my failing. Your offer is too suspicious. I could only possibly stand to lose. Lose what, I don't know. But I have little to gain in return. What you describe is impossible, there is nothing like it in this world." "It's not of this world." "Waugh waugh waugh," Oswald laughed. "Now I know you're crazy. Mad bitch. Get out of my club." "You will regret this, Penguin." "I never regret a thing." Fire Island, resort off the coast of Metropolis "For the eight-hundred and fifty-second time, I'm *really* not happy about this. I'm not happy about leaving Honolulu, and this is definitely a bad idea." "Nonsense, SB. It's a whole untapped section of the market." "But..." "But nothing. Just being here isn't going to harm your regular fan base. But it will open our merchandising interests up to loads of new and willing consumers. You're going to go down huge here." "Please choose your words more carefully." "Oh don't be silly. They do it all the time in the UK." "With boy bands, not superheroes." "They don't have superheroes over there. And it's a recognised marketing strategy. It said so in that book I bought." "What about Robin?" "Should be on his way." "He's coming?" "Erm, yeah." "Wait. You didn't tell him what this was for, did you?" "Well..." "Leech?" "No. No, I didn't exactly tell him...." "That he was coming here for a public appearance on the beach." "No." "He's going to be pissed." "Well, he can keep his costume on." "Oh, great. So, I have to parade around in skin-tight speedos, and he boils to death in his midnight costume and mask." "And you have to convince him it's a good idea. Improving superheroes' images everywhere, or something. I've promised everyone he'll join you tonight. The councillor thought it was quite a coup. Now, hurry up and get your clothes off -- I only booked this hut for an hour." 23 Green Acre, East Norwood, suburb of Gotham City "Leave me alone." "Doesn't it interest you?" "No." "You were a pioneer of genetic manipulation, Doctor Langstrom. Even today your experiments are beyond the capabilities of all other scientists." "I destroyed my work. It was too personal." "You found a way to distil the traits that make one species different from another, to transfer characteristics from one animal to another." "But I had no control over the eventual changes. My experiments were wildly unscientific. I was weak, I abandoned scientific method for fast results and paid the price. I spent months as a monster. I don't care what you have to offer, I will not repeat my mistakes." "What I have to offer you is beyond harnessing the characteristics of animals. In this box I have the formula that delineates between reality and dreams, between the outside. Between good and evil." "Superstitious nonsense." "Not at all." "I don't care what you say or what you believe, I am not interested. Get out of my house." Talia picked the box up off the work bench and walked out of the garage. Excelsior Motel, Gotham Heights, suburb of Gotham City Clark Kent sat in his hotel room, watching television. He'd spent most of the day staring blankly at the blinking screen of his laptop, only touching it whenever the screensaver came up. He knew that once he hit his stride it would take him mere seconds to write the article. But he just couldn't get his mind round the subject. Fear. There was too much else to think about. Darkseid. Batman. The Doctor. He'd kept quiet, but he'd heard the double heartbeat as soon as he met the Doctor, and a quick glance inside the stranger had shown two hearts, and a lot of unusual biology. Somewhere in the corner of his mind something was screaming 'Time Lord' but he wasn't entirely sure what that meant. So, he was watching television. CNN. A female reporter with a dark bob and glasses: "Officials in Gotham and Metropolis today denied that there was any rivalry between the cities' respective Y2K attractions. Though neither is completed, both attractions will be unveiled to the public this evening, Metropolis' Millennium Park will be opened by Superboy and a special guest. Mayor Grange, who will be at tonight's opening in Brigstone Beach, today rejected claims that trying to promote Gotham's Doomsday Plaza to the public was a marketing nightmare. Manchester City, ten miles west of Gotham and actually part of that City's sprawling conurbation Plants, vines, creepers and assorted foliage filled the dilapidated chemical factory. Talia stood in the forested entrance, flanked by her two men. A short distance away, in a light and rainy mist, writhing vines cradled the wooden box, probing it warily. "Why should I be interested?" The voice was melodious and dreamy, and came from the darkness of the canopy above. "It is the key to what you and my father both seek. The return of the Earth to the arms of Mother Nature. An ecological paradise free from the destructive pollution of mankind." "I seek the death of mankind, not its obedience. I am acquainted with your father. A strong man. But as cold and mechanical inside as any man. Less pliant to my will, but no less worthy of my wrath. He wants order in the world, his order throughout it. I want only chaos." "No! You want the natural order of things." "And the natural order of things is no order at all. The patterns imposed by man are meaningless, a system imposed on the wild and free." "That is not so." "What have you brought me, daughter of an unnatural ancient?" "A gift from another world that will restore this one." "Another world?" The vines tightened around the box. "Yes, it feels alien to me. Not part of the natural environment. Like this city. Like your father, who cheats nature's cycle with his Lazarus Pit." Poison Ivy appeared on a flower-encrusted walkway far above Talia. The vines suddenly whipped the box back into Talia's hands. "Go. Before my friends eat you." As the plants around her started to vibrate menacingly, Talia stormed out of the shell of a building. She stormed across the car park with her lackeys in tow. She stormed towards their vehicle. She angrily climbed back into the people carrier. "I think we're going about this entirely the wrong way." She picked up two of the three folders she'd been given -- the one she'd been working from all day long, and the other based purely on sketchy information from her father's latest associate. She leant forward and spoke to the driver and passenger. "Find me a teenage boy," she said. Apokolips Darkseid sat in his throne room, brooding and trying to think up new forms of torture. "What are you doing?" The voice was placid but still sent shivers down Darkseid's spine -- or, rather down the spine of a part of a great evil. The voice was a part of a darkness even greater. "Nothing. All is proceeding as planned. I have followed your instructions faithfully." "You have left the matter in the hands of an agent. A third party. This was not my instruction!" A ghostly figure melted into existence at the foot of the steps to Darkseid's throne. The figure was slightly taller than the average human, dressed all in black with a crested animal head- dress. "Guardian, I trust the human I have employed in this matter." "You trust no-one! And that is wise. You merely hope this human will not betray you. But you have already betrayed me!" "No! No, I swear I have not." "Failure will cost you, Darkseid. You think yourself powerful. Your powers are nothing compared to mine. You have placed yourself in my hands. The rules that protect others will not protect you." "I am loyal, I have served you well!" "You rest on your laurels, puny godling." Darkseid was suddenly wracked with pain. He writhed on his throne. He screamed and the world shook. "I cannot go to Earth myself." His pain faded. "But you could send your own people, monitor events more closely." "Why can't you?" "I cannot intervene at this stage. That is why I have need of your inadequate services." Suddenly, the figure grew to immense size, dwarfing Darkseid, larger than the palace itself yet still seemingly contained within the throne room. "Send your people to Earth, have them attack Superman now before the moment is past and my target departs." "Yes. Yes, oh mighty Guardian. And then... then, will the Source be mine?" "You will have what you seek. I guarantee it." "You can give me the Source?" "It is within my power. If my scheme is successful, the Source will be yours." The figure faded away. Darkseid smiled with immense satisfaction. Soon, the universe would be his. His own little toy in the multiverse that would be the Black Guardian's. And, of course, he would give Ra's al Ghul the Earth. Just before he destroyed it. Darkseid's voice echoed throughout Apokolips: "Desaad! Go back to Earth. And take my fool son with you." Evening... Thirty-ninth and Beaumont, Tri-corner, Gotham City Jed was standing on a street corner. A little black van pulled up in front of him. It wasn't the first car he'd wandered over to in the course of the evening, wasn't the first window he'd poked his head into with a grin and a hole in his heart. It was the first car that he was pulled forcibly into. Well, that night, anyway. Inside, an incredibly attractive woman made him an offer he simply couldn't refuse. And all he had to do was allow her to give him a quick injection. Just a drop or two. He was going to use the rest on a very special man. A Superman. Hell's Kitchen, Gotham City Tegan and Nyssa and a very conspicuous Doctor were window shopping in the night lights of the city. "One of the most interesting things about Gotham," said the Doctor, "is that it is imbued a unique -- well, unique for Earth -- spatial and temporal status. Along with Metropolis and New York it is almost nothing more than an expression of cities the world over, concentrating on certain parts. Gotham, with its grey, black and gunmetal coloured spires and blocks, embodies the darker aspects of city life. Metropolis, with its bronze, silver and gold towers and sun-baked open spaces, many of the lighter aspects. And both cities exist in a symbolic limbo in time -- people and places seemingly from decades in the past and years in the future exist at the same time. New York combines features from both, and from even more places. The sheer diversity of cultures, generations, ideas, races, genders, and many other things has created, in all the three of these places, cities that defies simple categorisation. And the growth and concentration of these cities has given them a place on the fringes of reality, almost a dimensionally transcendental quality. All three cities are quite plainly real and exist now, yet in part they are the same city, and in part only one can exist at a time, and in part again the same city exists in the same form at any point in the twentieth and early twenty-first century. It's almost like Gotham and Metropolis have come into existence so that the universe has somewhere to put the extra bits from an already crowded New York conurbation. Or vice versa, perhaps. I really must make a study of these places one day." Tegan turned to Nyssa. "Do you have any idea what he's talking about?" "Yes, but I think he's making it all up." A beeping sound suddenly emanated from the Doctor's pocket. His hand scrabbled inside and pulled out the tracer. "It's picked up a temporal displacement. A large one it seems. Some distance away." He looked up, into the street. "Taxi!" A yellow cab pulled up and the Doctor and his friends piled in. "Where to?" said the driver. "South," said the Doctor. Then he turned to Tegan, and whispered: "How much money have you got on you?" Night time... Armageddon Plaza, overlooking Brigstone Beach and the bay south of Gotham City "Lousy tourists!" the taxi driver shouted out of the window as he sped away. "Rather unhelpful individual. We did pay him what was due." "But we had him driving all over the place, and we didn't tip him." "Of course, the gratuity. I should have realised." "Doctor," said Nyssa. "Are you sure about this trace?" "Yes, it's around here somewhere." "What about that crowd?" Tegan pointed at the throng on the other end of the plaza. "No, it's nearby here somewhere." "Oh, Doctor," said Nyssa. "What about the signal?" "Yes, yes, the signal. Hold on." The Doctor patted his pockets. "Ah, here it is." He removed a blue cylinder from his pocket. "What's that?" asked Tegan. "A simple sonic device. It's to signal our two new friends." He pressed a button on the top. Across Gotham, in a cave underneath Wayne Manor, Batman leapt to his feet and dashed across to his car as alarmed bats flew down from the shadows above. He drove out into the Gotham night, keeping his eye on the bats as they flew. They were being inexplicably drawn to the imperceptible noise from the device the Doctor had been able to rig up on Batman's instructions. Elsewhere across Gotham, Clark Kent heard the noise too, and flashed across his room and into the night. "Look," shouted Nyssa. "There it is!" "Yes, it's a bit hard to miss," shouted Tegan over the noise. The Boom Tube had appeared seconds before, on the beach just below the plaza. "You two, don't get too close!" shouted the Doctor. Tegan and Nyssa had been following him back towards the land side of the plaza when the tube had opened, and were now between it and him. "Something isn't quite right." Then there was an ear-splitting explosion and a flash of brilliant light. When the light faded Tegan and Nyssa were gone. "No!" said the Doctor. There was riots applause from the other end of the plaza, and calls of "what a show!" Metropolis Park, Metropolis Robin stood at the side of the stage, his arms crossed and his jaw set irritably. Superboy smiled out at the crowd. "I hereby declare..." There was an ear-splitting explosion and a flash of brilliant white light in the middle of the stage. Robin ran forward as most people ran away. And he got to Superboy's side just in time to catch one of the two women who appeared a dozen feet about the stage. Superboy caught the other one. "Wow," said Superboy. "Kalibak, you fool," came a voice from behind. "What have you done?" Armageddon Plaza, overlooking Brigstone Beach and the bay south of Gotham City Superman and Batman, who had both arrived minutes after the Doctor sent the signal and were in time to see the explosion, were examining the beach and the paved plaza. The Doctor was distractedly examining a sign for a fortune-teller stall that was apparently going to be where he was standing once the plaza was finished. "I can't trace it," he said to nobody in particular. "I don't know where they went." "We'll track them down," said Superman. "You don't understand. They could be anywhere in time or space. Unless I can find the source of that corridor, and track them from there with the TARDIS, I'll never find them." "Then we'll trace the corridors back to their source," said Batman. "It isn't that easy," said the Doctor. "I'm sorry," said a new voice. "I'm afraid I'm lost." Superman flew up the wall and landed on the plaza. The Doctor turned round and saw that the new voice belonged to a teenage boy. Batman climbed up and stood beside the Doctor as Superman approached the boy. The boy was sitting on the floor, a box in front of him and some cylinder clasped in his right hand. As Superman got close to him, the boy flipped the heavy metal lid of the box open. Suddenly, Superman doubled over, screaming. Batman and the Doctor both stepped forward to help but paused. Their eyes focused on the little boy. It was... Adric, the Doctor saw. Adric, curled up on the floor, a shouting Cyberman towering over him and brandishing a gun... Jason, the Batman saw. Jason Todd, curled up on the floor, the Joker laughing above him and brandishing a gun... But it was OK. Adric had a gun himself. Jason had a gun himself. The boy could protect himself. "Use the gun!" shouted Batman. "Shoot him!" shouted the Doctor. Neither knew what they were saying. The teenage boy raised the syringe, pointed it at the struggling Superman. He glanced to the shadows at the edge of the plaza, waited for Talia's signal. She gave it.
Armageddon Plaza... Superman and Batman, who had both arrived minutes after the Doctor sent the signal and were in time to see the explosion, were examining the beach and the paved plaza. The Doctor was distractedly examining a sign for a fortune-teller stall that was apparently going to be where he was standing once the plaza was finished. "I can't trace it," he said to nobody in particular. "I don't know where they went." "We'll track them down," said Superman. "You don't understand. They could be anywhere in time or space. Unless I can find the source of that corridor, and track them from there with the TARDIS, I'll never find them." "Then we'll trace the corridors back to their source," said Batman. "It isn't that easy," said the Doctor. "I'm sorry," said a new voice. "I'm afraid I'm lost." Superman flew up the wall and landed on the plaza. The Doctor turned round and saw that the new voice belonged to a teenage boy. Batman climbed up and stood beside the Doctor as Superman approached the boy. The boy was sitting on the floor, a box in front of him and some cylinder clasped in his right hand. As Superman got close to him, the boy flipped the heavy metal lid of the box open. Suddenly, Superman doubled over, screaming. Batman and the Doctor both stepped forward to help but paused. Their eyes focused on the little boy. It was... Adric, the Doctor saw. Adric, curled up on the floor, a shouting Cyberman towering over him and brandishing a gun... Jason, the Batman saw. Jason Todd, curled up on the floor, the Joker laughing above him and brandishing a gun... But it was OK. Adric had a gun himself. Jason had a gun himself. The boy could protect himself. "Use the gun!" shouted Batman. "Shoot him!" shouted the Doctor. Neither knew what they were saying. The teenage boy raised the syringe, pointed it at the struggling Superman. He glanced to the shadows at the edge of the plaza, waited for Talia's signal. She gave it. "It couldn't be Adric!" the Doctor mumbled to himself. "He sacrificed his life back in the dawn of time to..." "I don't know how the Joker is doing this, he's already killed Jason, unless..." Something strange began to occur, the single image that was seen differently from two perceptions began to split apart.... The Doctor could see both Adric and another boy in a ragged circus costume very similar to Robin's, the boy himself was raggid and beaten to a pulp. Behind him was a clownish man with a sinister looking smile, pasty white face and green hair wielding an obnoxiously long looking gun. Batman could see Jason, all beaten and bloody, and a second, intelligent looking young man. Behind him was a tall silver cybernetic man, with the only human looking features left were the general shape of a man encased in a metal shell. Both boys were holding the gun, which was now duplicated exactly. "Kill the boy!" the Doctor and Batman cried in unison before looking at each other in bewilderment. Adric turned to Jason, Jason turned to Adric, they each fired the needle containing the Kryptonite serum into each other. "You fools!" Talia roared out. "The serum will do nothing to you!" That's when things began to get weird, each boy began to glow intensely, as the serum shot through their blood they began to glow and grow. They then turned to each other and began to grab at each other. "Not HIM!" both Batman and the Doctor cried out in unison. Again they looked at each other. "They's killin my friend Sooperman!" A great hulking figure wearing a dirty blue shirt with a jaggedly cut "S" sewn onto the front, dove past Batman and the Doctor. "Uh..." the Doctor stammered. "Bibbo, NO!" Batman cried, as Bibbo slid behind the two battling boys, slammed the lid to the box closed and rushed back the way he came. "Who is that idiot?" the Doctor asked. "Just about the luckiest idiot alive, and too much to explain right now." By this point, the two boys, and their tormenters behind them, has merged into one hulking figure who fell to the ground, as if it were dead. "Bibbo save Sooperman for ye." Bibbo handed Batman the box containing the Kryptonite. "Thanks, I think." "What has happened?" Talia was at the verge of tears before she disappeared, leaving the hulking body lay where it fell, and taking Jed, who was standing there taunting Superman, who still lay on the ground half- conscious. "Darkseid will not be pleased by this, he will not be pleased by this at all!" "Sooperman, you okay?" Bibbo held out his hand to help Superman up. "Yeah," Superman slowly got up to his feet, holding his head as he did. "But what are you doing here?" "I dunno, first thing Bibbo remembers is serving beers to a coupla locals, y'know?" "Yeah." "Next thing I knows, is I'm standin' here watching dat kid open dat box of Kryptonite, y'know?" "Yeah." "So I decides ta take action, and do somethin' fer my pal Sooperman, who has always been dere when I needs him da most." "Well thanks," Superman patted Bibbo on the back, then slowly approached the figure on the ground. "Superman, no!" Batman called out, but Superman was already leaning over the body. "UNGH!" Superman cried out, as he jumped back several yards. "Sooperman, look!" Bibbo pulled the needle out of the figure and held it up for Superman to see. "Kryptonite," Superman tried to examine it with his X-Ray Vision from where he was, but the lead casing blocked a full analysis. "How'd they get it in a liquid form though, and how did it do what it did to the boys?" We can get back to your lab and find out," The Doctor suggested. "Well, you can anyway. I want to try to track down Nyssa and Tegan." "Fine, but take Superman with you, I think he can prove to be quite valuable." "NO!" Superman stated. "Why?" "Because if that creature is not as dead as it appears, I may be the only one who can stop it." Superman began to fly away. "Where are you going?" Batman asked. "Don't worry, I'll probably be back here before you know I'm gone, and if he comes around, just keep him contained." Superman flew due north. "No wonder Superman works alone," Batman spun around to the Doctor, "he moves around so fast it's hard to keep up with him!" "I can be of some help to you mistah," Bibbo suggested. "I dunno." The Doctor shrugged for a moment, looked at Batman who only shrugged, then back to Bibbo. "I have a feeling that I'm going to regret this, but -- come along." "Thanks, mister. Say, what do I call ye?" "I am known as 'The Doctor'." "Doctor Who?" "Just call me Doctor." "The Name's Bibbowaski, you ever hear of 'The Great Bibbowaski'?" "The boxer?" "Yeah." "Of course, that Bibbo!" "HUH?" "I was at your last fight, you were doing good, but your opponent took you by surprise and knocked you down... hard, and..." "Go on, says it, it did some damage upstairs," Bibbo tapped his finger on his forehead. "Now all I's good fer is serving up drinks at a two-bit bar." "I wouldn't know about THAT!" "So what are we lookin' fer?" "There was what you would call a "Boom Tube" that snatched up two of my friends, Superboy and Robin." "A 'Boom Tube', huh?" Bibbo smiled. "Well, even though they cans take ye almost any place ye want it to in a flash, there are two general places they connect to." "There are?" "New Genesis and Apokolips." "How is it you know so much?" "Ye don't think I runs dat two-bit bar fer nothin' does ye? People comes ta da bars, people talks, Bibbo lissens. Sometimes, it's people plannin' a bank robbery, sometimes..." "I get the picture." "Where are we?" asked Tegan, as she, Nyssa, Superboy and Robin were all being dragged by chains down a long walkway with flames shooting up on both sides. "Hell, I would assume," Nyssa suggested. "Don't consider yourself lucky," Superboy said. "Hell is a vacation next to this place," Robin added. "Why don't one of you two 'heroes' do something here?" Tegan cried out. "How?" Robin asked. "Use your powers, maybe?" Nyssa suggested. "Lessee, I have no powers, except for slightly accelerated strength," Robin said. "And even though I am a clone of Superman, my powers come from outside sources, all of which were taken from me the moment we arrived." "Oh," Nyssa moaned, looking up to see an eight-foot tall stone-featured man standing there. "We're dead." "DON'T CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY!" the eight-foot high stone-featured man roared out. As he clasped his hands behind his back, his eyes glowing red. Superman was at the Fortress of Solitude for one thing, and one thing alone, the Kryptonian Battle-Suit, he knew that the suit would be able to at least partially shield him from the Kryptonite that was running through the creature's blood. He also knew that as dead as the creature appeared to be, it was going to come too and do whatever the Kryptonite gave him the power to do. In a flash, he was in the Battle-Suit and flying south towards Brigstone Beach, on the southern tip of Gotham City. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" the bald-headed man laughed out. "I came here on a small piece of business, and now I may be a witness to the creation of the one thing that can destroy Superman! I have got to get control of it, but with Batman standing guard over it until Superman gets back, it'll be hard." A thin smile came to Luthor's face. "I need a diversion, but what?" Luthor glanced around the street for a brief moment, and spotted the Batmobile. "Of course," Luthor pulled a small device out of his pocket and placed it around where he thought the gas-tank should be. The device exploded, setting off a few car alarms around the Batmobile, but the Batmobile sat there unscratched, and kept the explosion contained in a pocket of shielding. "What the--?" Luthor looked shocked. "You'll have to do better than that Luthor!" Batman didn't even turn to face Luthor, but pulled out one of his batarangs and tossed it, a long rope was emitted and tied Luthor's arms together tight, until the Police apprehended him. "You promise not to tell anybody about what you're going to see?" the Doctor asked Bibbo. "Hey, Bibbo sees lots of things he's probably not supposed ta see." "Don't worry, it's more of a precaution because it contains technology that's still far beyond what man presently has, and if..." "Yeah, yeah. Bibbo's heard it all before from even Sooperman." Bibbo looked at the tall Blue Police Box. "What's so special 'bout an old fashon'd Police Box anyways?" "Step inside." The Doctor gently nudged Bibbo into the TARDIS. "He-e-y, 'dis is nice, a little plain, but nice." Bibbo looked around the inside of the TARDIS. "Bibbo has a question for ye though, how'd ye make it bigger on the inside than on the outside?" "It's the technology of my people," the Doctor gave the brief explanation. "Wow!" Bibbo sighed. "How big is it on the inside?" "As big or as small as I want it to be, some of the corridors go on for miles." "Hey, we better go and rescue your friends." "Which planet should we try first?" "You askin' Bibbo?" "Forget it," The Doctor reached out to the controls, flipped a coin and pressed a set of switches that directed them to... The creature that was once Adric and Jason Todd (with an equal mix of the Joker and a Cyberman) began to stir. It stood up to its feet, steadied its balance and looked around. "Where is Superman?" the Creature roared, with a human/robotic voice. "Right here!" Superman hit at the creature from behind, knocking it forward. "By the way, you have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am, but I don't know who you are." "You may call me "The Kryptonite Kid", because I have pure Kryptonite running through my veins." The Kryptonite Kid held out his hands and fired a shot of pure Kryptonite energy at Superman. "Can't touch me!" Superman said, as the energy bounced off of his armored suit. "That was just a demonstration!" The Kryptonite Kid turned up the juice, and again the energy on, this time at full blast, ripping the Battle-Suit off like it were made out of paper. "Oh, no," Superman cried, as pure Kryptonite energy was being fired at Superman again and again. "That suit was supposed to be my ace against him." "Die, Superman. DIE!" One more blast was shot out, there was a loud blood-curling scream from Superman and a moment later Superman's cape floated down into a stunned Batman's arms.
"You may call me "The Kryptonite Kid", because I have pure Kryptonite running through my veins." The Kryptonite Kid held out his hands and fired a shot of pure Kryptonite energy at Superman. "Can't touch me!" Superman said, as the energy bounced off of his armored suit. "That was just a demonstration!" The Kryptonite Kid turned up the juice, and again the energy on, this time at full blast, ripping the Battle-Suit off like it were made out of paper. "Oh, no," Superman cried, as pure Kryptonite energy was being fired at Superman again and again. "That suit was supposed to be my ace against him." "Die, Superman! DIE!" One more blast was shot out, there was a loud blood-curling scream from Superman and a moment later Superman's cape floated down into a stunned Batman's arms. Standing defiantly, the creature that called itself the "Kryptonite Kid" - a curious amalgam of silver, purple, and yellow, smiled gloatingly, its blood-red lips clashing with his silver skin. Blank white eyes peered through a domino mask and beheld the wanton chaos throughout the plaza. "I did it," the creature gloated. "I destroyed Superman!" Quickly recovering from his recent shock, Batman calmly inventoried the situation, attempting to devise a plan of action. Alien metal suddenly clanged behind him, as the pieces of the Kryptonian battle armor fell to the ground. Suddenly, Batman heard a sickening crunch, which was followed by some slight tremors. Luthor, quickly creeping away from the Batmobile, trying to avoid detection. The creature had ignored the wooden box, but there was no conceivable way to acquire it without facing the creature. Instinctively dropping Superman's cape, Batman observed that the creature was beginning to develop a greenish glow, as if its power was building. "Compared to Superman, you'll be easy," the creature snarled. "After all, you're only human." In a flash of thought, Batman reached around his back, and ran his fingers against the rear of his utility belt. Quickly he snapped off one of the cylindrical compartments, double-checking its contents. Normally, this compartment - a vial of acid - would be used if he had to burn his way out of a cell. However, given the power that the creature exuded, it would not do that much damage, but it would give Batman a few critical moments. Just as suddenly, Batman hurled the vial into the creature's face. As it smashed apart, the creature felt the acid begin to burn into his flesh, and it grasped at his face. While he was bent over, Batman headed for the Batmobile, opening the door by remove control. The Batmobile's shielding might provide some comfort, but if that thud were what he thought it was, it would buy him some vital time. The creature then stood up, the acid harmlessly bubbling against its face. Green energies seemed to build as the creature began to stand defiantly. A slight throbbing noise built as the creature took a few steps towards the Batmobile. Batman was almost inches away from the door. "You cannot get away, Batman,' the creature threatened. "I will destroy you... and show you how powerful I can be." Just then, in the blink of an eye, the Batman found himself behind the wheel of the Batmobile, just as a blast of energy hit. The Batmobile shook slightly, but remained unharmed. "Your vehicle will not protect you," the creature snarled. "Let me show you the full extent of my power!" Just then, the throbbing built to a crescendo. The creature began to be swallowed by a greenish light. Just then, a sudden flash, and the creature collapsed into a pile of dust. Batman turned to see a very bruised tattered Superman sitting next to him. On top of Superman's lap was the wooden box, partially wrapped in a familiar red cape. "What happened?" Batman asked stoically. "His energy blast knocked me off balance," Superman responded. "But I was able to recover. One burst of super speed, and I was able to get us here. Our friend subconsciously pulled his punches." "That doesn't explain what happened just now," Batman countered. "Why was that thing consumed by its own energy?" "Kryptonite can be just as deadly to humans as it is to me," Superman explained. "Only it takes a much longer time. Years, so to speak." "That's why Luthor sneaked away like he did," Batman countered. Making a mental note to visit Luthor, Superman said, "Yes. From what I've heard, he's learned about Kryptonite the hard way. Whoever gave that boy power didn't count on Kryptonite hurting humans." "That 'boy' almost destroyed you and I," Batman countered. "It was. Which means we need to find out who's behind this," Superman asserted. "We should call the League on this." "No," Batman asserted. "Tactically, we would be at a disadvantage. We already have the Doctor involved, for what reason we don't know. We don't need people punching first and asking questions later." "Agreed," Superman responded. "I think we should get some more information on this Doctor. Or, at least, you can tell me what you already know." "The cave, then," Batman declared. "You'll get a chance to recuperate, and I will analyze the box and some of that dust. It might give us a clue as to what's going on." "Fine," Superman answered tiredly. Hopefully, they could figure out what was going on. And what role the Doctor played in all of this. "Who are you?" Tegan asked. "I am Darkseid," the stone man with the glowing red eyes announced. "I am ruler of Apokolips. I also see that, again, my dolt of a son has failed me." "Big fat hairy deal," Superboy quipped, and suddenly sprang at Darkseid. Twin crimson beams emerged from Darkseid's "eyes" and hit Superboy square in the chest. Superboy crumpled to the ground, and Nyssa ran to check on him. "Whelp," Darkseid said. "I ask for the three who challenge my dominion. I get an inferior genetic copy, an ignorant protege, and two provocatively dressed human females." "For someone who's willing to blast someone for no reason," Tegan snarled. "You have a really poor sense of priorities." "He *is* right about you being rather provocatively dressed," Robin said. "*You* should talk," Tegan countered, then pointing to Superboy, asserted, "We don't even know if he's dead." "He'll be all right, Tegan," Nyssa announced. "He's just stunned." Robin stifled the urge to make a comment about pining for the fjords. "Of course," Darkseid countered. "He and the boy will make great slaves in my minds. You and the other female, of course, will serve me well." "Just what to you mean by serve?" Tegan asked sardonically. "If it is my will, I can have you work in the mines. You may even be fortunate to do something worthier, like provide me a son to replace the worthless husk that is Kalibak," Darkseid responded. Tegan was about to lunge at Darkseid, but Robin held her back. He whispered, "I don't think that's a good idea." Calming herself, Tegan asked, "And if we're not fortunate?" Darkseid responded, "I do not think you want to know." With that, he summoned several of his personal guard. "Escort them to their... waiting area," Darkseid commanded. "I think I will figure out my... use for them." With that, Darkseid departed, and made his way to his private sanctuary. As he entered, the Black Guardian turned to reveal himself. Darkseid's face showed no fear, no trepidation, no regret. Darkseid began, "My apologies, Guardian. I fear that, in ignoring your command, I have failed you yet again." "What do you mean?" the Black Guardian asked, glowering at him through coal-black eyes. Darkseid explained what had happened and who had been apprehended. When Darkseid finished, the Guardian smiled a particularly satisfied smile. "Do not fret, Darkseid," the Black Guardian said. "In fact, be joyful. You have provided excellent bait for the prize that I truly want." "What is that?" Darkseid asked. "Hey, Doc, where ya suppose we are?" Bibbo asked. "I believe this particular area is called... Armaghetto," the Doctor responded. Exiting the TARDIS, both men beheld their surroundings. Thick, noxious- looking gray fumes wafted through a sky painted a particular dirty orange color. Buildings seemed to lurk menacingly, their architecture bent at strange angles. If Gotham and Metropolis were polar opposites, Apokolips was the third side of the triangle - an entire realm where the collective darkness of the multiverse held reign. Quickly, the Doctor glanced at the celery stalk on his lapel - the veins of the stalk were red. Although not fatal to human or Time Lord, the Apokolips atmosphere was particularly unhealthy. The sooner they came to the some resolution of this crisis, the better. "Bibbo, who told you about boom tubes?" the Doctor asked. "What?" "Boom tubes. You mentioned something about boom tubes being the only way here. Who told you?" "I dunno. I just kinda knew, I guess. It's da same with my appearin' to save Sooperman - I just did." Sighing, the Doctor realized that Bibbo really was the Great Bibbowski, and not some shape shifter, or someone in disguise. Someone had used another innocent as bait in a very complex trap. However, the Doctor then realized that it meant there were other players involved some higher players. "The more powerful the enemy, the more intricate the trap," the Doctor mumbled. "Whadja say?" Bibbo asked. "Nothing," the Doctor said. "Let's explore, shall we?" Trolling through the streets of Armaghetto, the Doctor and Bibbo saw the results of Darkseid's rule. Although the Doctor had seen countless worlds where tyranny and oppression held sway, Armaghetto was the only place where he actually felt helpless to do anything. As people quickly glanced up to check out the strangers in this realm, the Doctor saw broken spirits in their eyes. If there was hope here, it had long been extinguished. It made the Doctor glad he had left his world all those years ago. "Doc, ya mentioned dat ya saw my last fight, right?" "Yes, I did. I believe it was against Ted Grant." "Dat was a long time ago. Longer dan I tink you wuz alive," "Oh, I was a young man, then. Much younger. I was... taking a sabbatical." "Huh?" "I was taking a break, not of my own choice. I saw much of Earth, helped a lot of people." "Dat's good, Doc. Jeez, I wunner where we're goin'" "Hopefully, to where that boom tube originated from," Just then, a squadron of parademons flew down from the sky, several of them landing in a pattern surrounding the Doctor and Bibbo. Most of the residents of Armaghetto scurried into their homes, hoping that the parademons would not do too much damage as they dealt with these intruders. "And I think we're about to find out," the Doctor announced. After relating the news about the box to her father, Talia was surprised to see that Ra's Al Ghul did not engage in his usual fiery temper. "My daughter," he said. "As I had related before, there were certain elements of my initial plan that I wanted to keep, and I was correct in my assumption." "But Father, when Darkseid finds out..." "I will have retreated to an area of safety," Ra's Al Ghul declared. "Let the detective take matters from this point. We shall not be discovered." "But Father..." Talia began. "And, my daughter," Ra's Al Gul interrupted. "Do not *think* of attempting to contact the detective on your own. We must retreat skillfully. If we are fortunate, nothing can be traced back to us." "Here is your cape, Master Clark," Alfred said, handing Superman a silver tray with a red cloth on it, accompanied by a coffee mug. "And your coffee - cream and one sugar." "Thanks, Alfred," Superman responded, taking the tray from Alfred and smiling. "It is rather nice to have someone who can articulate gratitude, and not just grunt incoherently," Alfred responded. As soon as Superman placed the tray on a nearby table, Alfred turned and left. Batman - or rather, Bruce Wayne without the cowl - entered from another part of the cave, holding a computer printout. As Superman took a drink of coffee, Bruce announced, "Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that hypo had a Kryptonite needle. It was meant for you." "And the bad news is...?" Superman asked. "There's something... organic in it. It demonstrates empathikinetic properties," Bruce responded. "So it influences emotions. Come from anyone we know?" "I checked all known criminals who utilize emotions, or who can influence the emotions of others. The only one unaccounted for is Psycho- Pirate, and Animal Man reported that he had been dealt with. Tricky case - Psycho-Pirate actually had Animal Man convinced that we were all characters in a comic book." "Could it have something to do with that Mara thing the Doctor spoke about?" Superman asked. The words "Time Lord" shouted themselves in his mind. He still didn't know what that meant. A constant beeping sound was heard close by. "Oracle. She must have something for us," Batman declared. Quickly, both men went through the trophy room and entered the Batcomputer annex. Superman silently wondered how Bruce managed to move a giant penny *and* a giant robot dinosaur into the cave without causing suspicion. However, soon they came upon the Batcomputer - a giant complex machine consisting of one large main screen, several smaller screens, and an elaborate control console with conventional keyboard and other assorted controls. The familiar cape and cowl were hanging on a nearby mannquin. A greenish, female face greeted the two men. "Batman, it's Oracle." "What's going on?" Bruce asked. He always seemed to have that tone of command, Barbara Gordon thought - he could easily do Dad's job. "I did a cross-check on that Doctor person you asked about - I wanted to play a hunch. I double-checked his identity against alternative sources - the League database, some old declassified Justice Society files, some historical files, and some not-so-easy-to-access British intelligence files." "British intelligence? I thought you said that UN organization the Doctor belonged to wasn't easily accessible," Batman said, having placed the cowl back on. Superman noticed that the night vision lenses in the cowl gave Bruce's eyes an eerie, unnatural look. No *wonder* criminals were a cowardly, superstitious lot. "Let's just say that Waynesoft was a *very* good investment," Oracle quipped. "Find anything?" Batman asked. "Well, unofficially, England has records on a 'Doctor' appearing in something called the 'Shoreditch Incident' in 1963. Some involvement with a Post Office Tower, and then a big blank. Like someone erased a videotape in the middle of a movie. Bits and pieces, nothing that can be easily reconstructed." "What else?" Batman prodded. "However, I came across some data on the founding of Opal City that suggests the Doctor may have had a hand in that. Several Justice Society members - Ted Knight, Rex Tyler, Wesley Dodds - report having had workings with a man called the Doctor. Funny thing is... three different men called themselves 'Doctor'." Batman and Superman looked at each other puzzledly, trying to make sense of the new information. Oracle then continued, "Here's the kicker - in several League databases on other planets - Thanagar, Rann, Colu, several others - there's mention of a time traveler who has intervened in their affairs. A gentleman called..." "The Doctor," Superman interrupted. "Listen, Oracle, can you cross reference the Doctor with the words 'Time Lord'." Barbara Gordon was surprised to hear Superman; after all, he and Batman were as different as night and day. Literally. However, after a few moments, she said, "Several worlds *do* mention a race called the Time Lords. Depending on who you ask, these Time Lords are either a race of omnipotent superbeings, a politically corrupt race of powermongers, or a bunch of aliens with *way* too much time on their hands." "You know what this means, Batman?" Superman asked. "I think I do," Batman answered. "The Doctor knew about the Mara, has been in the right place at the right time; he's behind this." Bound by several large, intricate chains, the Doctor and Bibbo found themselves escorted down a rather long hallway by two parademons. As they walked down the hallway, flames shot up from both sides. "One of these days," the Doctor muttered. "I think I shall ask Dante if he ever visited here." Just then, both men found themselves face-to-face with Darkseid. Seeing Darkseid's countenance, the Doctor wondered just exactly *what* kind of life forms lived here, and how they came into existence. "Are *you* the Doctor?" Darkseid asked. "I am," the Doctor answered. "May I, in return, ask who you are?" "No," Darkseid responded, his eyes glowing red. Suddenly, two omega bursts emerged from his eyes....
Bound by several large, intricate chains, the Doctor and Bibbo found themselves escorted down a rather long hallway by two parademons. As they walked down the hallway, flames shot up from both sides. "One of these days," the Doctor muttered. "I think I shall ask Dante if he ever visited here." Just then, both men found themselves face-to-face with Darkseid. Seeing Darkseid's countenance, the Doctor wondered just exactly *what* kind of lifeforms lived here... and how they came into existence. "Are *you* the Doctor?" Darkseid asked. "I am," the Doctor answered. "May I, in return, ask who you are?" "No," Darkseid responded, his eyes glowing red. Suddenly, two omega bursts emerged from his eyes.... There was a blinding flare of energy, and when everyone had rubbed the spots from their eyes, they saw the Doctor standing there, entirely unharmed. Darkseid's face narrowed in anger, while the Doctor was smiling politely. "Darkseid, I presume," he said. "We haven't met. At least not yet, but the omega beams are as unmistakable as a signature. Your son is well, then?" Darkseid's scowl grew fiercer. "How did you survive?" The Doctor smiled. "Oh, a gadget I happened to have, a technique I learned from Tibetan monks, an old Time Lord trick, something like that. A mere trifle. You wouldn't be interested. I was hoping we could discuss more important things; perhaps why you needed the body of the Mara, or what you were doing with kryptonite?" His smile vanished abruptly, leaving only a cold stare. Darkseid replied, "The Mara's venom is a potent, concentrated fear- inducing toxin. My allies distilled it from the Mara's corpse, and mixed it with certain chemicals. It would have made Superman my slave-" "And the kryptonite was used as a local agent to weaken his system long enough for it to take effect," the Doctor said, nodding absently. "How very clever. And what would you have done, once Superman was under your control? Taken over the world, I suppose? It seems very popular among you people." "No," Darkseid said. "I would have forced him to bring you, Doctor, to me. To Apokolips." Behind him, the air shimmered and shifted, as a figure formed from the air: a figure with a cruel, ancient face, robes of shadow. "To the one I serve." He dropped down to one knee as the figure laid a withered, bony hand upon his shoulder. The Doctor went ashen. "The Black Guardian..." Superboy woke up feeling like the entire Dallas Cowboys cheerleader squad had used him as their personal trampoline, and he didn't mean that in a good way. He rolled over, groaning softly, to look up into the faces of the two women (the two extremely good-looking women, his libido pointed out) that had been dragged here with him. "Where's Robin?" he asked, his voice slightly slurred by lingering pain. "Over by the door," one of them -- Tegan, he recalled -- responded in an Australian accent. "He's trying to pry it open or something. I don't know why he's bothering, it's a foot of solid rock." "It's a superhero thing," Superboy said as his sat up, shaking his head to clear it. "Put us in a cage, we try to escape. It's just reflex." "Indeed," a smooth, wheedling voice said from the doorway as it opened. Robin leapt back just in time as the stone slab slammed into the wall where he was standing. "We are used to accomodating you relentless do-gooders. That is why this cell is completely, totally, and in all ways escape- proof." The other girl, Nyssa, asked, "Who are you?" The man stepped into the entryway of the cell. His eyes were hidden by the hood he wore, but his face was set in a smug, arrogant grin. "I am Desaad, majordomo to the almighty Darkseid. It is my task to interrogate you, and ascertain the full measure of your knowledge of our current plans." "You mean to torture us," Tegan said sourly. Desaad's smug grin widened. "Oh, I sincerely hope so. But I expect that you will undoubtedly prove truthful, our of some wish to avoid pain and suffering." He gestured, and two armed parademons stepped in to stand behind him, a reminder of what awaited. "First, I wish to know everything you know about Doctor Fate." "Who?" asked Tegan. "Who?" asked Nyssa. "Huh?" asked Superboy. "Why do you want to know about Doctor Fate?" Robin asked. Desaad snorted. "Surely you don't believe me to be this naive, do you? You expect me to believe that you know nothing of Fate's visit here, at my Master's command? That you did not know that Fate worked a powerful magic on Darkseid, altering him completely? That since that time, he has been consumed with the need for revenge against this 'Doctor'? That he has even resorted to working with Ra's Al-Ghul, a mere human, in an effort to get to him?" "Nope," said Robin, speaking for all of them. "Haven't heard of any of that." Desaad shrugged. "Oh, well. I suppose I shall just have to torture you for a while, just to make sure. Then I can leave you in here to rot." In a blur of motion, Superboy was flying through the air, slamming into the parademon on Desaad's left in a move that left it embedded in the wall. "Don't count on it!" he shouted as Robin swept the other one off its feet with a kick, then hammered an elbow into its skull to put it down. The two girls, in turn, shoved roughly past Desaad and out of the cell. Desaad reached down and grabbed the semi-conscious parademon. "Stop them, you fools," he shouted. "They're heading for the communications tower!" Superboy and Robin exchanged a look, shrugged, and turned to face Desaad. "And where exactly is this communications tower?" Desaad glared at them. "Nothing could induce me to tell." Superboy glared back, cracking his knuckles. "Not even if I ripped off your head, arms, and legs, and used the rest of you as a doorstop?" Desaad cringed. "Very well," he said, a whimper entering his voice, "I shall tell you." Robin shook his head. "Better yet, you're going to show us." As Batman and Superman looked at each other, trying to make sense of the puzzle set before them, Oracle said, "Here's the kicker: in several League databases on other planets -- Thanagar, Rann, Colu, several others -- there's mention of a time traveler who has intervened in their affairs. A gentleman called..." "The Doctor," Superman interrupted. "Listen, Oracle, can you cross- reference the Doctor with the words 'Time Lord'." Barbara Gordon was surprised to hear Superman; after all, he and Batman were as different as night and day. Literally. However, after a few moments, she said, "Several worlds *do* mention a race called the Time Lords. Depending on who you ask, these Time Lords are either a race of omnipotent superbeings, a politically corrupt race of powermongers, or a bunch of aliens with *way* too much time on their hands." "You know what this means, Batman?" Superman asked. "I think I do," Batman answered. "The Doctor knew about the Mara, has been in the right place at the right time... he's behind this." Superman and Oracle both said, "No," at the same time. Superman said, "I was watching him when he made his explanations to us. His body is alien -- there's two hearts, some interesting structures in his lungs, and a very high gilial cell count -- but I'd still know if he was lying. He wasn't. And neither were his two companions." Oracle said, "Also, he's received testimonials from some of the most qualified and reliable sources I've ever seen. Wesley Scott considered him 'one of the finest gentlemen I've had the honor to work with'. The people of Rann created an entire new award just to give to him, although it looks like Adam Strange got it later on. According to this, just about the only people that didn't like him were the Durlans, and I'd consider that an endorsement." Batman sighed. "Alright. Then what did you mean when you said, 'Do you know what this means?'" Supeman said, "I meant that if Oracle has information this widespread -- and I'd never imagined that she could have -- she might be able to find something on this Mara." "Mara, huh?" Oracle said. "Well, let's see." Both Batman and Superman heard the sound of hands over a keyboard. "Hmm, there's a few preliminary references. The Thanagarians fought a war with the Sumaran Empire, according to this. Something about Hong Kong here -- no, wait, that hasn't happened yet." "Hasn't happened yet?" Batman asked. "I've gotten ahold of a few accounts from time travellers -- messes up causality something wicked if anyone tries to use the info, though. It's mostly there as a curiousity. Oh, hey, Gotham!" Both Batman and Superman said, "What?" "According to this -- it's a reference in a police report. Paramilitary guy got busted, officers overheard him say something about 'the Mara'. He's in lockup right now. And... uh-oh." "Uh-oh?" "He's an agent of Ra's Al-Ghul. It's not in the report, of course, but I recognize the clues. Which means that in addition to Darkseid, Apokolips, and all that, we've got one of the world's deadliest immortals out there." Just then, the computer lines beeped. "Incoming communication," the system display said. Batman pressed a button, and heard Robin's voice. "Batman?" he said. "This is Superboy and myself. We're on Apokolips -- it wasn't our idea, believe me -- and we're with the Doctor's companions. We believe the Doctor to be elsewhere on Apokolips, but we don't know where as yet. However, apparently the whole thing has been a trap for the Doctor. The Mara was meant as bait, and it appears to have worked perfectly. We don't know why Darkseid has it in for the Doctor, but there's some connection to Doctor Fate -- not Kent Nelson, the other one. The one that wasn't around for very long." Superman watched, thinking that it was lucky for Robin that he couldn't see Batman's expression, as Batman said, "Alright. Can you get to the boom tubes from where you are?" After a long moment, Robin responded with, "I think so." "Then do so. Set co-ordinates for Gotham Plaza. We'll have Superman come through to you, and you come back to Earth." Where it's safe, he added mentally. "Batman out." He turned to Superman. "You'd better contact Kent and Inza Nelson. Neither you nor I have any experience with magic, and it sounds like that's what's going to be needed on Apokolips." Superman frowned slightly. "And what are you planning to do while I'm on Apokolips?" "You don't want me to tell you. That way you can be honest when you say you had no idea." The darkness of the cell didn't bother Group Leader Nathan El-Fadil. After all, he was a soldier in the armies of Ra's Al-Ghul, dedicated to saving the world from itself; he'd faced down men whose only desire was to kill him, he 'd strode through battlefields that even the toughest of men would have considered slaughterhouses, and he'd done it all without collecting a scratch. His lord was immortal, beyond judgment and punishment, and soon, the people who had put him within these walls would be begging to set him free. Then he heard the sound behind him, in the darkness of the cell. A scraping noise, a sound made by someone who merely wished to indicate their presence so that they could get him to turn around. He made his first mistake. He turned around. Batman's eyes glowed white in the darkness. They shone with an arrogant, alien, unreadable expression as he stared at the prisoner. After a long moment, he finally spoke. "Ra's Al-Ghul," he said, in a voice that sounded like the wrath of God. "The Mara. I need to know where he is. What he's doing. All of it. Now." El-Fadil smirked. That was probably his second mistake. "You think me soft and weak? I am a servant of the immortal one, the Head of the Demon. You are flesh and blood. You will weaken and quiver in fear, like the rest of them, when my master is finished, and I will tell you nothing." Batman sighed. "I don't want to hurt you," he said. "Of course not; our master has spoken of you. He called you 'weak'. He said-" There was a rush of air, and before he could begin to react, Nathan found himself lifted into the air by his throat. He struggled against the hand that held him, but it was as immovable as stone. "I don't want to hurt you," Batman repeated. "I want to kill you. I want to do it slowly, painfully, over the course of several hours. I want to leave your body parts strewn around the city in interesting places. I want to make it so that they'll have to put your jaw back together to reconstruct you from dental records." He slammed the Group Leader into a sitting position on his bunk. "Nobody will interfere. This is Gotham. People have been conditioned not to respond to the sound of screams. The guards don't care about you. Ra's Al-Ghul has left you in here. With me. In the darkness. And I want to kill you. "But if you tell me everything I want to know, I'll settle for just hurting you." Nathan El-Fadil looked up, and saw no trace of an expression on the face, in those empty white eyes. He licked his lips, cleared his throat, and began to speak. Batman walked out of the cell. After a moment, Commissioner Gordon walked alongside him. "A little more bloodthirsty than usual," he commented, tapping his pipe. Batman frowned. "Ra's tends to condition his soldiers pretty strongly. I had to put the fear of God into him if I wanted to get any information." "Fear of yourself, more like." He chuckled at Batman's sour expression. "Don't worry, old friend, I know you well enough to know that you'd never carry out those threats." Batman nodded, the gratitude evident in his face, even if it was nothing he could say. "I'll need you to keep him locked up for at least 24 hours, Jim. If what he said is true, I can't afford to let Ra's Al-Ghul know I'm onto him." James Gordon nodded, and took off his glasses. He looked down, pretending to clean them, and said, "Don't worry. He'll be in here for as long as we can possibly." He finished his mental count and looked up to find Batman gone. "Lot harder to find ways to let him do that with no paperwork to stare at," he muttered to himself as he walked off towards his office. "You'll excuse me," the Doctor said, "if I ask a few questions about how all this came to pass? I mean, I'll admit I don't drop into this neck of the woods too often, but I'm sure I'd remember this particular friendship." The Black Guardian sneered. "It has been a long time, Doctor, since you thwarted my efforts to gain control of the Key to Time. I have worked hard to recover the strength that you took from me when you destroyed the key. And all through that process of recovery, I planned my eventual revenge." "Oh, don't sell yourself short. That trick you tried with my fourth self, that was quite clever. Shame it didn't work." Bit of a drastic way to solve it, he admitted mentally, but best not to let him know how I got rid of the Swarm. He might try that trick again. Darkseid frowned. "I warn you, Doctor, my master is perhaps accustomed to being interrupted by ones such as you, but I will not tolerate it. Apokolips is home to the finest torturers in the known universe; there are Time Lords here who have been in agony for millenia, kept on the threshold of regeneration until their very cells shriek with torment." "And how did you get him on your side?" the Doctor asked, fixing the Black Guardian with a penetrating gaze. "From what I understood, he's not the type to kneel." "I will tell you, Doctor, only because there is nothing you can do to stop it. I know your tiny little mind well; all this is merely a ruse to gain time while you seek a solution. I can tell you that there is none. Darkseid is mine, and the answer lies in an irony that I must savor. "Some time ago, Darkseid had cause to destroy a hero of this world, a costumed protector of the forces of Order known as Doctor Fate. Fate had been imbued with the power to alter reality by his masters, the Lords of Order, but Darkseid believed himself above such things. He was unworried. "As it transpired, he should have been. Fate managed to strike past his defenses, and touched him with a force meant to humanize him, to make him a good person. Fate touched him with love, Doctor. It made him understand what it was to love. "But Darkseid was not meant to love." A light of understanding dawned in the Doctor's eyes. "You did something to that, didn't you? Corrupted it, made yourself the object of his devotion? No wonder he serves you." "Oh, he was grateful, Doctor, make no mistake about that." The Black Guardian's words were cruel, designed to be a lash at the Doctor's heart. "A being like Darkseid, on a world like Apokolips, trying to love? One might as well take a blind man, give him sight, and bid him to stare at the heart of a supernova. This is not a place for love, Doctor. This is a place for hatred, and pain, and suffering. This is Hell, and love must die stillborn here." He smirked. "And this is also your new home, Doctor." And on Earth, a wound was being ripped into the world. The hidden channels of power through which all life flow were being laid bare, stripped of their coverings and filled with caustic, toxic acids. The life forces pooled together with these forbidden chemical nightmares to form a sizzling demon's broth, a formula that was every alchemist's wet dream, a bath that would restore life time and time again, for a price that no man could bear. A Lazarus Pit was being born. Ra's Al-Ghul and his daughter Talia watched the operation, and the shimmering, sickly glow of the Lazarus Pit reflected differently off of their eyes. In Ra's eyes was the gleam of the fanatic, perhaps of the mad, while Talia's eyes reflected worry, devotion, and perhaps a little fear. The fear would be important, later on. "Is this why we allied with Darkseid, Father?" she asked hesitantly as the final chemicals were added to the Pit. "To get the corpse of the Mara?" Ra's nodded, watching as the vast, serpentine corpse was hauled in by his servants. "Exactly. Darkseid can have Superman; I don't want him. I want this creature. Imagine it, Talia, a being composed of pure fear, crystallized into living form! Imagine what I can do with it if I control it! It controlled whole star systems; it can easily control a single world. And with it under my control, I can finally make the world the place it should always have been: a paradise." "Somehow," a deep voice said from behind him, "I think that the Mara would have other plans." Ra's did not turn. "The detective," he said. "I'd ask how you found me, but I'm sure I already know. You deduced my plan, and traced me to the nearest spot where I could create a Lazarus Pit. Very nice. Very clever. Also, I think, too late." Batman lunged, but the Mara's body was already sliding into the Lazarus Pit. Darkseid smiled, his eyes already beginning to glow again with the fury of the Omega Beams, and then he stopped, his eyes fading in shock as two more people entered the room. One was Superman, clad in his familiar red and blue, while the other. The other was wearing a costume of blue and yellow that smelled of age. Not of must and dank, but of antiquity, of the essence of time itself, well-preserved, bringing to mind the march of history that leads back beyond the capacity to imagine, that was what it smelled of. The figure wore a helmet that looked Egyptian or Roman or Greek or perhaps Atlantean now, and it wore an ankh, symbol of eternal life. It hovered in the air just as Superman did, but it looked as unnatural as Superman did natural. It was Doctor Fate. The Doctor smiled. "Hullo," he said. "Fancy meeting you here, and with such excellent company, too! This must be Fate, I presume?" Fate spoke, the helmet booming and magnifying his voice with echoes of wearers long dead, strange accents rendering his speech exotic and learned. "I am," he said. "I am here to undo that which was done by my predecessor. To halt a wrong done in the name of right." The Doctor shuddered slightly. "You can't be thinking... there has to be another way. Darkseid is a great evil; you cannot unleash him upon the universe again with no capacity for compassion!" "I must, Doctor. Darkseid was created to be the shadow of existence, the flaw in creation. He may someday be overcome, but not in this fashion. Love is not in his nature, and to force it upon him is a wrong that will breed other wrongs." Fate's hands flared with strange energies, and beams of multi-colored light streaked out at Darkseid, knocking him to the ground. The Black Guardian stood and watched all this with a snarl of fury upon his face, but did not act. He spoke, though. "You have not escaped me, Doctor," he said. "This was but the first of my plans, the beginning of the gauntlet you must run for me. I promise you this, Doctor. You will die. And you will die screaming my name." The Doctor smiled innocently. "Still not enough power to affect the physical universe, then? I suggest you skedaddle. Before this Darkseid chap recovers enough to want to talk to you about what you did. He doesn't seem the grateful type." The Black Guardian's eyes were almost black with hatred, but he faded away with ill grace. Then Darkseid stood up. "Everybody run," Superman said. "I'll hold him as long as I-" Darkseid held up a hand. "I have no intention of doing battle. This was a plan I conceived, true; but it was not a goal of my choice, nor a design I wish to adhere to. I do not desire your deaths today. That was the Black Guardian's wish, and now that I am free of him, I wish to spite him as best I can, by letting you free. Be grateful, for you are one of the few that will leave Apokolips unscathed." He said no more as they left his throne room. Meanwhile, back at Gotham Plaza, Robin and Superboy were looking at each other with apprehension. "So what do you think'll happen to you?" Superboy asked. "Probably a lecture on irresponsible team-ups or something," Robin commented. "He doesn't like other super-people. Thinks I shouldn't either. Yourself?" Superboy waved a hand. "Supes should be cool with it. I mean, I'm supposed to be in training for this cosmic stuff, right? Should be no problem at-" A shudder passed through him. "Anyone else feel that?" Tegan and Nyssa looked up from their own conversation. "Yes," Nyssa said. "What was it?" "Not sure," Superboy said. "Like..." It hit him again, a wave of icy chill, like falling into a freezing lake, falling. What if his powers gave out? He'd never thought about it before, but what held him up? His own mind? Then it could go away at any time! He imagined his body pulped against conrete, impaled on a tree as he plummeted from the sky, heroic no more. Fear wracked his body. He was already too lost to understand that the others in the square were already undergoing the same thing. And all over the world, as the Mara rose, terror reigned. In Bangladesh, a group of missionaries suddenly began exhorting the crowd to believe that Christ was dead, and that there was no God. In the swamps of Lousiana, alligators began devouring each other in frenzy while a man of moss and weeds tried to console his wife and child. In Coast City, the entire populace was transfixed with visions of an alien craft annihilating their whole town while their protector was off on an alien world. High above the earth, the Justice League pictured their satellite losing its air; they found themselves morbidly imagining, over and over, the horrors of explosive decompression. And in Gotham, the small fragment of the Mara within the Kryptonite Kid reignited, and he formed together again, a matrix of pure radiation, synaptic gaps of energy and a heartbeat of high-frequency light. And outside Gotham, the Mara rose, its mind subsumed by the frenzy that was resurrection, striking out blindly at everything within range, and its range was a world of people. Batman fought down the waves of fear. Lifetimes of mental discipline kept at bay the images of himself as a child, watching helplessly as his parents were gunned down again and again, as he moved towards Ra's Al-Ghul. It wasn't like he wasn't used to seeing them all the time in his mind anyway. Ra's was on his knees, his eyes clenched shut as he muttered beneath his breath. As Batman neared, he heard them, a litany of names, gasped out, over and over, each one different, never repeating. Batman smirked. He had one advantage over Ra's right now. He didn't have as much past to be haunted by. A single well-placed blow took out Ra's Al-Ghul, and another let Talia slide into unconsciousness, probably a blessing in both cases, at the moment. That only left... Batman looked directly at the snake. Twenty feet long, from tip to tail, with venom that was undoubtedly lethal -- probably inducing death through stimulation of the adrenal glands until the heart burst. Death by fright. Oh, and the fear effect was even more intense when you looked directly at it. It was all he could do to remain standing, let alone fight. And this was without any conscious will; once it snapped out of the frenzy that was induced by the Lazarus Effect, it would undoubtedly become even more dangerous. No problem. Batman unclipped a pepper gas bomb from his belt, and hurled it up at the thing. It might be, as the Doctor said, some sort of "living fear", but it had a physical body, and that meant physical weaknesses. His aim was off, and it only struck near the face instead of directly into its snout, but the bomb still had its effect. The Mara recoiled, its hiss now one of pain instead of rage, and Batman felt the fear lessen slightly. Good. Now, for an encore. He unclipped two Batarangs, preparing to throw. The Mara felt the gas permeate its membranes, choking and burning it, and with the pain came the return of consciousness. It remembered the mind, forcing its fear back upon itself, choking it with its own toxins, and then death, and now it was here. Alive. Saved. And it looked down on the little thing that stood before it, and saw that it was unafraid, and felt across the world, where others were fighting its fear. Enough. This was not a good world for it to be incarnate. As much as it hated the bodilessness of the Dark Places of the In-Between, it hated death all the more. It would abandon physical form, sneak away into the minds of these humans, and return upon its own terms. And besides. Lots of bloody mirrors around here, too. Even as Batman threw his Batarangs, the Mara faded from sight, becoming nothing but a phantom, then nothing at all. The fear faded, leaving nothing behind it. He looked down at Ra's Al-Ghul, and Talia, and he walked away. Epilogue -- Exit: The Kryptonite Kid! On the streets of Gotham, a glowing man stood up from where he had become incarnate once more. He looked up at the night sky, and said, "It wasn't enough, Superman. Whatever it was you did to me, it wasn't enough! I'm more than human now! I'm free from the prison of the flesh! I'm pure Kryptonite energy, now, and I will find you! And one day, I will destroy you!" Then three bullets -- three lead bullets -- ripped through the energy matrix that formed his head, their dense metallic structure fatally disrupting his 'brain'. He toppled to the ground, again dissolving into thin air. Natt the Hat looked over at his friend. "Why'd you do that, fool? Gotham ain't exactly Mayberry, but poppin' a cap into some superdude's probably gonna piss off the Justice Squad or somethin'." Tommy Monaghan put away his gun. "He was talking smack about Superman. You don't come into the Cauldron and mess with my boy Supes, not if you want to walk back out again." "Say no more." And two friends walked off, into the Gotham night.
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