Six extraordinary thieves gathered outside a dark, unlit manor that looked like something from The Munsters or The Addams Family. They’d heard stories about the riches to be found in this building on the outskirts of Georgetown in Washington, DC.
“Are you sure this is the place?” Ernest “Que” Dye whispered to his five companions, regarding the small mansion.
“I’m telling you, this place is a gold mine,” said Adam Love.
The short, heavyset Nikki Snow and the athletic, bald Mike Redmon looked at each other. Nikki rolled her eyes as if to say, “Whatever.”
Danny Williams put his cigarette out in the palm of a hand. “Let’s $*#&*$ get this $#%^ over with,” he said, dropping his jacket to the ground. Bouncing slightly against the surface of the wall, he leaped over it easily.
“Time’s a-wasting,” said Mike, grabbing the top of the wall and pulling himself over. The slight stubble over his head and his broken nose gave him the appearance of a former boxer. That was partly why he was called the Fist.
The other three, and a fourth silent member, also scaled the wall and headed for the mansion.
Working their way to the door of the mansion, the small group of thieves paused as big white flakes began dropping from the sky.
“Snow?” said Mike.
“What the #*$%*%?” demanded Danny, looking up.
“Never mind that,” said Adam. “Let’s see what this guy has.”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” said the hitherto-silent member of the group, who was known only as the Nerve.
“You’re bothering me, Nerve,” said Mike.
Nikki tried the door of the big house. It opened quietly. After a moment’s hesitation, the group of thieves slowly moved into the dark mansion. Walking in, they noticed a flickering light and stopped as they realized it was a lit fireplace. Moreover, there was a man sitting before it who was dressed in old-fashioned formalwear, a dark suit with a white overcoat, with a cane resting limply in one hand. He had dark hair and a goatee, and he almost looked like he had been expecting them.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” the man said suddenly, waiting for several long moments before casually turning his head to look at them as he sipped at a glass of wine in front of the fireplace. To the group’s displeasure, a forbidding leopard came from behind the chair to stand at the man’s side in a protective stance.
The thieves were startled, to say the least. It was up to the bravest member of the group to show some courage. Nikki Snow stepped forward and said, “Word is you have a fortune in this house. We want it now.”
“Surely,” said Baron Winters, taking another sip of wine and gesturing behind him dismissively. “It’s in the next room.”
Que and the Nerve went into the next room. The others waited for a while, but the two did not come back.
“What the #$%*& are those two bozos doing in there?” said Danny, who stepped into the room. He also didn’t come back.
The rest of the group glared at Baron Winters angrily, but the man continued to gently sip his wine gently and merely shrugged.
“What’s going on, man?” said Mike.
“Maybe they are having problems with the safe?” suggested Winters.
“Maybe there ain’t a safe in that other room,” said Mike threateningly, but still wary of the leopard at the Baron’s side.
“Certainly there is,” Winters said calmly. “I’ll show you, if you’d prefer.”
Rising from his seat, he strode over to the door, pausing at the threshold for a moment. The group of thieves followed him quietly. Mike kept an eye on the leopard, which strangely seemed content to lay in front of the fireplace and stare back at him.
Winters stepped over the threshold, and the group, led by the short Nikki Snow, quickly followed. A moment later, Winters stepped back into the room. He was alone.
“It’s no wonder your agents die so often,” said a chilly voice from the shadows.
A man in a cloak and hat stepped from the darkness, and a medallion of gold around his neck caught the light eerily. Shadow seemed to unnaturally mask his stern features as he regarded the Baron.
“What’s your point?” said Winters, raising one eyebrow.
The man in black said, “I am surprised at your choices, not to mention the way you recruited them.”
“I don’t tell you how to conduct your business, Stranger,” said Winters testily. He disliked being questioned. “Don’t tell me how to run mine.”
“Just so long as it’s done, Winters,” the Phantom Stranger said, fading away as silently as he had appeared.
“Everyone is a critic,” Winters said to his leopard, Merlin.
“Where’s the house?” Que Dye asked as he stumbled against a wall.
“Where are we?” asked Mike Redmon. “This doesn’t look like D.C. to me.”
Adam Love walked to the head of the alley the group was standing in.
“#[email protected]#[email protected]#$!” Danny Williams screamed as he got to his feet inside a dumpster, pushing the lid up.
“Could have been worse,” said the Nerve, standing in place.
“How?” asked Nikki Snow as Danny vaulted over the side of the receptacle. She wasn’t sure she really wanted to know the answer; the Nerve tended toward a strange — sometimes bizarre — outlook on situations.
“Could have landed in a ton of elephant crap,” said the Nerve calmly.
“We are definitely not in D.C.,” said Adam. “Not in Metropolis, either, from the looks of things.”
“Excellent,” Mike said sarcastically.
“Let’s find out where we are,” Nikki said. “Then we can decide on what we need to do.”
“Right. Let’s go, Que,” said Mike, starting off in one direction, while Nikki and Adam went in another.
“Why do I always get the problem child?” the Nerve said as he and Danny went in a third direction.
Danny blew a flame from his mouth and lit a cigarette, then said, “Shut up.”
The Nerve paused for a moment and looked around calmly. He raised a hand as if to say something, then paused again. “Um. Do we know anybody in green who can fly?” he asked calmly.
“No. Why?” asked Danny.
“I think we have some trouble on our hands, then.”
Adam Love and Nikki Snow walked down the street, quietly observing the strange city around them. “It kinda reminds me of Gotham,” Adam decided.
“Me, too,” said Nikki. “Except that some of these buildings are named wrong.”
“Tell me about it,” said Adam. “I don’t remember anything named the Zucco Building.”
“Maybe it just looks like Gotham,” said Nikki. “Let’s find a newspaper.”
“Might have to wait,” said Adam, indicating a figure descending toward them with a nod of his head. It was a brunette woman in boots and what looked like a one-piece black bathing suit with an S insignia.
Mike Redmon and Que Dye had gone a third way, and the two longtime friends now walked in silence. It was a city, and it needed to be looted, but not now. A way to go home was uppermost in their minds. What good was it to rob a city if they were cut off from the world of their birth?
“Gonna kick that guy’s butt,” said Mike, thinking about that smug chump back in Georgetown.
“Gonna have to kick someone else’s butt first,” said Que, pointing to a man descending out of the sky who looked a lot like Superman.
“He’s got a friend,” said Mike, bracing his feet as a man in red sped up to confront the two friends.
“You two have some guts showing your faces again,” said the man in green, who looked like a Green Lantern wannabe.
The thieves had guessed right. They weren’t on their world anymore. This was Earth-Three, the dark mirror world where heroes were villains and villains were heroes. And this evil doppelgänger of Earth-One’s Green Lantern was called Power Ring, a member of the Crime Syndicate. The villain created a giant green fist that erupted from the ring on his hand and smashed it down at the two thieves.
Danny Williams back-flipped from under the blow, but the Nerve wasn’t nearly as fast, and he vanished under the terrific impact.
Throwing his cigarette away, Danny inhaled deeply, then exhaled flame and smoke in a torrent. At the last moment, Power Ring managed to place a protective shield in front of the fiery breath.
Then Danny ran out of steam as he ran out of breath, and Power Ring changed his shield into a ram. He used it to try to crush the agile fire-breather as he swooped down over the street. Danny was cussing a blue streak as he leaped from one object to another in a dazzling display of footwork.
The blocky man known as the Nerve slowly stood up in the crater made by his body. Fury darkened his normally placid face as he looked around for his enemy. When he saw his attacker, he charged in a lumbering gallop.
The ring-slinger had devoted all of his concentration on the whirling dervish that was Danny Williams. Power Ring never heard the other man coming.
Wide blunt fingers struck along Power Ring’s spine, and pain shot up his nervous system into his brain. His energy constructs faded as he tried to get free from the contact. The Nerve mercifully tossed him away, and the villain shattered the Plexiglas window of a parked car. He hung on the door, trying to breathe through the blood on his face. His eyes rolled up in the back of his head as he fell into unconsciousness.
The Nerve took a deep breath, his fury dissipating in small steps. He frowned deeply, rubbing his face. “I am getting too old for this crap,” he said.
“I have been waiting for this for a long time, heroes,” the brunette Amazon called Superwoman told Adam Love and Nikki Snow as she pulled her golden magic lariat from her hip.
The two thieves looked at each other, then back at Superwoman. Adam popped out of existence as Nikki ran away on feet too light for a woman of her barrel-like build. The Amazon scanned the surrounding buildings as she threw her lariat at the running woman, managing to drop it over Nikki’s shoulders, pinning her arms together and halting her progress.
Nikki instantly froze in place. As the hovering Superwoman pulled on the rope, she found that she could not move the shorter woman with a casual effort.
A pop suddenly sounded in the villainess’ ear. She tried to look around, but found only Adam’s fist in her face.
“You dare strike the granddaughter of Mars?!” cried Superwoman, backhanding Adam. He flew down the block, heading for a storefront. He popped again and vanished.
Nikki took advantage of the distraction, letting the magic lariat pull her into the air, leaping with it. She took on that strange solidity again just before impact, then slammed the flying woman into the ground. The street shattered, causing Superwoman to fall helplessly into the sewer system. Nikki, on the other hand, landed lightly. Adam popped in beside her as she looked down in the hole.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Adam. “She hits like a mule.”
“Why did she think we were heroes?” Nikki asked, starting to run.
“Don’t know,” said Adam. “But this is bad, Nikki.”
Mike Redmon brought his hands up, and he could feel energy race through his body as Ultraman dropped out of the sky and landed so closely he was almost in his face.
“Give it up, Fist,” said the dark-haired Ultraman. “You couldn’t take me on your best day.”
Mike swung in a blur, and his fist met the other’s face with a burst of light. Ultraman didn’t even wince at the powerful blow.
“My turn,” he said with a wide grin. The super-villain in blue swung with blinding speed at Mike’s head. Anyone else would have been caught off-guard and smashed into the ground, but not Mike and his calculating brain.
Instead, the boxer moved his shaved head two inches to the left, and the fist passed by a narrow margin on the right. Ordinarily, Mike would counter-jab or hook his opponent in the head and body, but he knew that wouldn’t do him any good against this super-guy.
So he grabbed Ultraman’s shirt by the red U and flung him into a storefront while he was still off-balance. His calculating mind screamed to his reptile brain that he was basically fighting this world’s Superman, and he knew he and Que needed to split the scene before things got serious. He glanced at his friend.
Que Dye and the red-clad Johnny Quick were exchanging near-misses at supersonic speeds. Mike picked his moment and hit the super-speedster below his ear, sending him into a wall.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Mike.
“I’m with you, man,” Que said, carrying Mike from the scene in a blur.
The small group of thieves regrouped at the spot where they had first appeared on this world, which they now guessed was some kind of alternate universe with an evil version of the Justice League of America. They didn’t notice the man in gray — Owlman of the Crime Syndicate — following the Nerve and Danny Williams from the rooftops.
They agreed that these heavy-hitters wanted them — or people who looked just like them — dead for whatever reason. They also concluded that they didn’t have the resources to battle the Crime Syndicate despite how Mike felt. Mixing it up with a Superman clone alone was a bad idea in everybody else’s book.
“So we’re screwed,” said the Nerve simply. “Unless we find someone with trans-dimensional abilities to help us.”
“That’s about right, baby boy,” said Mike. “So how do we go about finding a guy like that?”
“That guy in Washington,” said the Nerve, his eyes blank as the thoughts poured forth in a fit of inspiration. “He lives here, too.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Nikki.
“The Winters guy,” said Adam. “He should be here, too, or a duplicate.”
“Hold on,” said Que. “How are we going to get there with the Super Fiends after us?”
There was a tinkling sound, followed by a splash of red mist in the alley as a special sedative formula cascaded against the group. Taken by surprise, the super-thieves collapsed where they stood.
“Let’s see what our catch of the day is,” said the gray-clad Owlman as he descended from the rooftop. The disgraced former medical doctor examined each of the fallen group members. After his examination was complete, he found himself wondering what in the world was going on. These both were and weren’t the people he and the rest of the Crime Syndicate had known as heroes and opponents for the last few months.