“No!” Lex Luthor cried, seeing the familiar flash of heat-vision a fraction of a second before Batman did. “Get down!”
Before Batman could react, he felt gloved hands slamming into his shoulder blades, felt himself propelled off the window ledge down into the room. Behind him he heard a cry of agony. He landed expertly on his feet and looked up to see Luthor lying limp, cradled in Green Lantern’s arms, a look of shock on the Emerald Gladiator’s face. Thick, dark smoke rose from a hole in Luthor’s chest.
“Luthor — why?” Green Lantern asked.
“Batman — our best chance,” Luthor struggled to say. And then his voice was stilled.
“Lex Luthor dies a hero,” Oliver Queen said, shaking his head. “The whole world’s gone crazy today!”
Everyone had been stunned by Superman’s act and Luthor’s sacrifice, too stunned to act. Queen’s words brought them back to the moment.
“Stop Batman!” Hawkman cried. “Get him!”
“Oh, no, ya don’t!” Queen declared, notching an arrow to his bowstring and firing in one fluid motion. Cyborg’s sonic projector was just coming to bear on Batman; it was struck head-on by an emerald shaft that exploded into a brownish liquid that sizzled and steamed on the polished chromium surface.
“My hand!” Cyborg cried out. “Acid!”
“Traitor!” Hawkman snarled, leaping at Batman, hands open to grab.
“Takes one to know one!” Barbara Gordon’s voice cried out from the window as she leaped down. Her feet collided with Hawkman’s jaw, sending them both sprawling into the corner of the room.
“The rest of you, don’t move!” Green Lantern cried out, raising his right fist above his head. “I have you all covered!”
“Oh, yeah?” Metamorpho said. “The Green Lantern I know would’ve had us all in a ring bubble by now! I don’t know what’s goin’ on, but I’ll take my chances!” Forgetting Batman for the moment, Metamorpho launched a barrage of golden missiles at Green Lantern. Furious at himself for having to do it, Green Lantern leaped to the floor, evading the projectiles.
“I’m sorry, Clark,” Batman said, whipping out his right hand. A sleek black batarang flew from it straight at Superman. Acting instinctively, the Man of Steel caught it in his right hand. The pressure of his super-strong fingers cracked the thin lead sheeting covering the batarang; Superman gaped in horror at a deadly glow that flashed from underneath the lead.
“Bruce,” Superman whispered. “What have you done?”
“No!” Firestorm cried out from the corner. He had recovered from the blows that had knocked him out and had scoured some of the powdered milk from his hands, enough to project a beam that turned the kryptonite batarang into hydrogen gas. But it was too late. The golden radiation had done its work.
“Bruce,” Superman said, in shock and betrayal. “Bruce.”
“I had to do it, Clark,” Batman said. “You forgot what makes us who we are. By accident or design, we were each of us granted abilities above the norm. We have a responsibility to use those abilities to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We can’t take that duty too far; we can’t enforce protection by becoming a police state.”
“Was that–?” Metamorpho gaped.
“A gold kryptonite batarang,” Queen said. “Supey ain’t super no more.”
“No, but I am!” Metamorpho growled. His enraged form suddenly swelled to five times its normal size; the next thing the heroes knew, they were encased in a massive white sphere. Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman, and the Atom were all inside Metamorpho’s prison. Before they could react, the temperature inside the sphere suddenly grew stiflingly hot.
“Phosphorous,” Batman said. “Metamorpho’s trying to roast us alive!”
“If only my power ring were working!” Green Lantern cried out, not in fear but in impotent rage.
“If only the real Flash and Atom were here,” the Atom moaned.
“What do you mean, real?” the Flash demanded.
“Come on, Wally, you know we’re the second string,” the new Atom said. “Our predecessors were the brains of the League! They’d have figured a way out of this by now, or at least how to get G.L.’s ring back on line.”
“Yeah,” the Flash muttered in self-deprecation. Then, eyes wide with realization, he repeated, “Yeah!” The Scarlet Speedster turned to Green Lantern. “Hal! Your ring! Gimme your ring!”
“Huh?” Green Lantern asked. “Wally, what are you–?”
“The ring, man!” the Flash demanded, palm out. Without another word, Green Lantern handed it over.
The Flash closed his fist over the ring, then began to shake his hand up and down. It shook so fast it became a scarlet blur, then became invisible altogether. His four fellows watched with mounting interest as the temperature grew and grew. Finally, they gaped in surprise as the Flash’s hand stopped moving, and a brilliant emerald glow shone through his clenched fingers.
“Catch,” the Flash said, tossing the glowing green ring to Green Lantern.
“You know it,” Green Lantern said. In mid-flight, the ring changed course and sailed right onto his finger. Emerald force blazed forth from it, pushing out against Metamorpho’s phosphorous bubble. With a muffled scream, Metamorpho burst. Green Lantern was sure the element man could pull himself back together, given enough time.
“How’d you do that, Wally?” Green Lantern demanded.
“Physics 101,” the Flash said. “The color of incandescent radiation is dependent on vibrational wavelength. Doc Light must have changed the vibrational wavelength of your ring somehow, but I vibrated its molecules until they realigned to its natural vibrational wavelength and restored its green color.” The young hero winked at his longtime friend. “Flash fact.”
Minutes later, the five dimension-lost heroes stood with Oliver Queen, Barbara Gordon, and Jefferson Pierce. The defeated Justice League had been temporarily imprisoned in their own cells, reinforced by Green Lantern’s power ring. “I don’t know how to thank you guys,” Queen said. “I have to admit, I was despairing of ever bringing down the Justice Rogues! We’d never have done it without your help!”
“Luthor surprised me the most,” Barbara said. “I thought he was just stringing along with us for a chance of getting Superman! I never dreamed he’d sacrifice himself like that!”
“He’ll get a hero’s funeral,” Queen said. “He’ll never know about it, but it’s all we can do for ‘im now.”
“We have to return to our world now,” Batman said. “You realize the fight may not be entirely over. When we go, our counterparts will return, including this world’s Green Lantern.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Green Lantern said. “I’ve contacted this timeline’s Oa with my ring. I don’t know how this Green Lantern flew under their radar, but now they know he’s been doing just what they busted Sinestro for. He’ll be dealt with.”
“Yeah,” Queen said, less than enthusiastically. “Hooray for the good guys.”
“Before we go, I have one question,” Batman said. “I’ve heard the term 12-11 more than once since our arrival. What does it mean?”
“Why, that refers to the date the Injustice Gang nuked Washington,” Barbara said. “December 11, 1987.”
Batman and Aquaman exchanged glances. “What’s today’s date?” Aquaman asked.
“October 10, 1990,” Queen said. “Why?”
“Light’s machine threw us through time as well as dimensional space!” Green Lantern said. “When we left our world, it was December 9th, 1987!”
“That — that’s the date the Injustice Gang stole the nuke!” Pierce cried.
“How?” Batman demanded. “Where did they get it?”
“Everybody in place?” Batman asked into his communicator as the Batplane hovered above Arkham Asylum.
“Ready,” Green Lantern confirmed.
“Here, too,” Aquaman said.
“On my count, then,” Batman said. “Three… two…”
In a blinding flash of light, Batman and the Atom disappeared from the Batplane’s cockpit, leaving the sleek craft hovering above the asylum, silently awaiting further instructions.
“You’ll never get away with this!” the naval captain snarled at the two costumed men standing over his bound form. “I swear–”
“Don’t; it’s a bad habit,” Shadow-Thief mocked. He turned to his companion. “Everything secure, B.M.?”
“All secure,” Black Manta said, not looking up from the controls. “We now control this submarine and its nuclear payload! And don’t call me B.M.”
“Whatever,” Shadow-Thief said. “I’m working on our demand speech. How’s this sound: To the President of the United States and both houses of Congress: stick ’em up!” The bearded villain chortled at his own joke.
“Cute,” Black Manta said, his voice ringing hollowly inside his helmet. “Radio the others. Let them know we’ve got the sub and the nuke. We can–”
Suddenly, the floor beneath the villains’ feet lurched upward. Black Manta grabbed the control panel to steady himself; with a cry of surprise, Shadow-Thief was pitched backward onto his backside.
“What the devil’s happening?” Shadow-Thief demanded, instinctively going into his shadow form.
“How in the world should I know?” Black Manta shot back.
“I don’t know, you’re the submarine expert!” Shadow-Thief declared. “Do subs do this?”
“Um…” Black Manta said, watching as the walls of the submarine took on an eerie, emerald glow. “This one does. Now.”
Hovering above the icy Atlantic waters, Green Lantern held the submarine suspended in a power-ring fist. Aquaman watched from the water, the Atom on his shoulder; Batman and the Flash stood on a platform provided by Green Lantern.
“Just like they said,” Green Lantern acknowledged. “But we got here in time.”
“Yeah, no 12-11 on our world,” the Flash said. “Right, Batman?”
“Right,” Batman answered, staring out into the night sky above the ocean. He was still shaken by the thought of what his best friend had become on another world. What he had become. What any of them could become, given the provocation. Was there really that little difference between the Justice League he knew and the one he saw on another world? Were they really that close to the line between protectors of the innocent and totalitarian stormtroopers, just waiting for a shove?