“We’re agreed, then?” Batman asked his comrades. “It’s our responsibility, our duty, to bring our world’s justice to this lawless world. To put a stop to rampant lawlessness here, before it results in tragedy like it did on our world.”
“Agreed,” Green Lantern said. “But we’ll have to be careful. If the Justice League of this world is anything like we were before 12-11, they’ll resist.”
“Hal is right, Bruce,” Aquaman said. “Just as we would have before that day.”
“I know,” Batman said. “But that won’t stop us from doing what has to be done.”
“Anyway, Reagan got it in the big boom,” Oliver Queen continued. “Bush was off somewhere doing V.P. stuff, putting a wreath on a grave or somethin’, so he took the chair, but he’s just Superman’s puppet. The League has the real power.”
“And no one resisted?” Aquaman asked. “Except you, I mean. None of the other heroes?”
“Well, not all of them went along,” Queen said. “Some of ’em were just as disgusted as I was and tried to change Superman’s mind. When that failed, they turned their backs. Diana, J’onn, and Shayera went back to their people. Katar stayed; he thought Superman had the right idea. The rift broke up his marriage, which just made him even more ready to take it out on the super-criminals. Ray quit super-heroing altogether; he’d been thinkin’ about it for a couple of years, anyhow, had even started trainin’ his replacement, who took over as the Atom. All the other heroes in the world were given the choice: you’re with the League, or against it. I was the only Leaguer who decided to fight back. Barry might have, but he’d long since left to live in the future with his wife.”
“What about Dinah?” Green Lantern asked.
“Who?” Queen asked, a quizzical look on his face.
“Dinah Lance,” Batman prompted. “The Black Canary.”
Queen looked incredulous. “What, the comic-book character? Sure, she’s here! We double-dated with Archie and Veronica last week! Quit kiddin’, will ya?”
Green Lantern and Batman exchanged thoughtful glances.
“So you organized this resistance group to fight back against Superman and the League?” Aquaman asked.
“In any totalitarian society, you’ll find a resistance,” Queen said. “There are a few ex-costumes who threw in with me; my lieutenants.” Queen’s keen hearing caught the sound of footsteps. “In fact, here they come now.”
The five displaced Justice Leaguers watched as a door opened, and three forms walked through it. They all gasped in shock, but it was no greater than the shock of the three newcomers.
“Ollie!” the red-haired woman cried. “I can’t believe it! You betrayed us!”
“Once a Leaguer, always a Leaguer,” the bald man sneered.
“At ease, you guys,” Queen said. “Much as I hate clichés, this ain’t what it looks like. I’ll explain.”
The five Justice Leaguers marveled at the sight of Queen’s three lieutenants in the resistance movement: Barbara Gordon, Jefferson Pierce, and one other.
“Lex Luthor?” Green Lantern cried in disbelief.
“That’s my name,” the bald man said, whipping up a pistol from his hip. “Don’t wear it out.”
The Caped Crusader went into an explanation for those who were doubting their word. “And the next thing we knew, we were in your world,” Batman finished.
Queen looked up from the table at his second-in-command. “Well, Luthor?”
“He’s telling the truth,” Luthor said, removing a pair of futuristic-looking goggles from his face. “Or at least he thinks he is. Sorry, Ollie, but you’ve got to admit the story sounded pretty far-fetched, even for folks in our circle.”
“I still don’t believe you threw in with Lex Luthor,” the Flash said. “I mean, come on! Lex Luthor!”
“Who has more experience in Superman-fighting?” Queen said. “Who’s ever come closer to winning?”
“I was never a typical super-villain,” Luthor said. “Money, world domination, they were never my ultimate goals. I mean, sure, they’re nice; I wouldn’t turn them down out of principle or anything. But my main goal has always been one thing: get Superman. And now that he’s more villain than I ever was, well, it was a partnership made in Heaven.”
“Or somewhere,” Pierce muttered.
“It’s a shame your Doctor Light whammied Green Lantern’s ring,” Luthor pointed out. “A power ring would make a big difference in this fight!”
“Look, we didn’t come here to help you take out a rogue League,” the Flash pointed out. “We didn’t even come here by choice! Our number one priority is to get home!”
“No, it isn’t,” Batman said simply. “We didn’t choose to come here, but we can’t leave this world the way we found it. We have to do something.”
“Batman’s right,” Aquaman said. Green Lantern nodded assent.
“Well, heck, of course he is,” the Flash said. “I don’t know why I said that. I’m just jumpy, I guess; I want to get home. I don’t want to be stuck in some Orwellian version of my world!”
“I just hope you have a world to go to, if you do find a way,” Luthor said.
All heads snapped up in his direction. “What does that mean?” Batman demanded.
“I have orbital micro-scanners in place all over the city, watching,” Luthor said. “I checked their record of earlier tonight. The five of you were en route to Justice League headquarters — what used to be the U.N. Building — then there was a flash of light, and the five of you were standing around wondering what was going on. The rest you know.”
The five displaced Leaguers glanced at each other, then back at the master scientist. “Are you telling us–?” Batman began.
“That these alternate timelines, as you call them, must abhor a vacuum,” Luthor confirmed. “When Light’s machine sent you into this world, your five counterparts here disappeared. I can only assume they went–”
“To our world!” the Flash cried out. “Those super-Nazis are tearing up our home right now! Oh, my God, we’ve got to get back there!”
“Capital suggestion, swifty,” Luthor sneered. “Now all you have to do is figure out how.”
“So we’re agreed, then?” Batman asked his friends.
“I’m still not sure,” the Flash said. “It sounds… a bit…”
“What?” Green Lantern demanded. “Harsh? Brutal? Do you remember 12-11? The bodies? The rubble? Do you?!”
“Of course!” the Flash snapped back.
“Then we do what has to be done,” Aquaman said simply.
“Correct,” Batman agreed. “A triple strike. We take out Arkham Asylum, Belle Reve Prison, and Superman’s Island simultaneously. That will either drive all remaining villains into hiding, or get them to attack openly.”
“And we take them out,” the Atom said, “with help from this world’s League. If any get squeamish about our methods, Hal’s ring can change their minds.”
Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Atom laid their hands on top of each other in a stack. The Flash hesitated but a moment, then added his hand to the pile. “Agreed,” he said.
“I still can’t get over it,” Luthor cackled to himself as the Batmobile approached the hidden entrance to the Batcave. “So Batman is Bruce Wayne! I never guessed that! Of course, I never devoted much time to the problem.”
Batman had found the Batmobile of this world, using the homing device in his own utility belt. Oliver Queen, Lex Luthor, Barbara Gordon, and Green Lantern were in the vehicle with him. Green Lantern sulked quietly. He would have rather been in on the other maneuver they had planned this night, but with a useless power ring, he’d have just been in the way.
“Most super-heroes revealed their identities in the wake of 12-11 and the Super-Patriot Act,” Barbara said. “It seemed redundant, somehow. Our Batman kept his secret, though.”
“Typical,” Queen said.
“Must have come as a shock to you, Luthor, to learn that Superman was Clark Kent,” Green Lantern said.
“Are you kidding me?” Luthor asked. “I knew it all the time!”
“What?!” Batman demanded.
“Sure. I’m supposed to be the world’s most brilliant man, aren’t I? Superboy and Clark Kent move from Smallville to Metropolis at about the same time? And there were a host of other clues, too. If I couldn’t figure that out, how brilliant could I be?”
“And you never used this knowledge?” Batman asked.
“It was my secret weapon,” Luthor said. “My last resort. I wanted to beat him on my terms, not expose him to the world. My own fault, I guess, coveting that secret; I lost it when he revealed himself.”
“So why are we heading to the Batcave?” Barbara asked.
“Superman is the biggest threat in this League,” Batman said. “I have something in the cave that can take him out.”
“If you’re thinking kryptonite, Bats, think again,” Queen said. “There ain’t no more.”
“He’s right,” Barbara said. “Green Lantern — our Green Lantern — located all the kryptonite on Earth with his ring, and Firestorm got rid of it.”
Batman never took his eyes off the road. “Your Batman kept his identity secret when everybody else revealed theirs.”
“True,” Luthor acknowledged.
“So it’s logical that he would keep some other things that everyone else gave up, too.”
The rest of the journey was conducted in silence.
“I don’t want to pour any cold water on this project,” the Atom said from his perch on Aquaman’s shoulder, “but what if there’s some kind of password or secret code that we won’t know?”
“I think their system would be more high-tech than that,” Aquaman said. “Retinal scans, brain-pattern scans, things like that. Which we can pass.”
“Here’s hoping,” the Flash said.
The three dimension-displaced Justice Leaguers approached the towering structure that used to house the United Nations. The many flags were gone, replaced by a single flag bearing the insignia of the Justice League. Aquaman repressed a shudder. Unconsciously, his grip on Jefferson Pierce’s arm tightened. Pierce’s hands were manacled behind his back; he was the Leaguers’ prisoner. That was the pretext.
The foursome stopped at the doorway of the structure. A beam of golden light shone on them from above.
“State your name,” a hidden mechanical voice said.
“Wally West,” the Flash said.
“Adam Cray,” Atom said.
“Arthur Curry,” Aquaman said. “With a prisoner.”
A moment’s hesitation. “Voice print acknowledged. Enter, Justice Leaguers.” The doors hissed open. With a momentary glance at each other, the four walked in. They had not gone twenty paces when a muscular figure turned a corner to greet them. Aquaman hoped his surprise did not show. The honor wings were gone from Hawkman’s helmet, and the red disc with the hawk’s-head symbol had been replaced by a featureless black diamond.
“Greetings, Arthur, Wally, Adam,” Hawkman said. “I came when I heard you had a prisoner. Well, well, the erstwhile Black Lightning. Quite a coup!”
“Bet you were hopin’ for Ollie,” Pierce muttered. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“We’ll get him one of these times,” Hawkman promised. “He can’t hide behind trash like Lex Luthor forever!”
“Hidin’?” Pierce asked. “Is that what he was doin’ when he blew up your reeducating facility in the Mojave?”
Hawkman’s triumphant smile turned to a frown. “Arthur,” he said, “take the prisoner to the holding cells. I’ll see to his treatment personally.”
“The holding cells, sure,” Aquaman said. “Say, Katar, did they replace that blown light fixture down there?”
“Light fixture?” Hawkman asked quizzically. “I wasn’t informed of any burnt-out light fixture in the holding cells.”
“Well, it’s just a routine maintenance problem. Won’t bother me; I can see at the bottom of the ocean. I was just curious.” Aquaman turned to Pierce. “Let’s go, Pierce.” Confidently, Aquaman marched his “prisoner” to the holding cells. His question had brought the cells to the foremost of Hawkman’s mind, where his limited telepathic skills could read their location.
“You’d better get busy logging our capture of Pierce into the computer record,” the Atom said to the Flash. “It’s your turn, you know.”
“I know, I know,” the Flash whined. “I’d rather be out busting heads, you know? Making the streets safe.”
“The streets are plenty safe now,” Hawkman assured him. “With the Justice League watching them.”
The Flash felt a cold tingle down his spine.