Friday, December 31, 2010

Earth-349: The Last Story, Part 4

By Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Disclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical world within the pre-Crisis
DC Universe. The DC Universe is owned by DC Comics, Inc. This story also
makes use of characters and concepts owned by other publishers. The use of
these copyrighted elements is done only for the amusement of the author and his
readers, and is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.

Disclaimer #2: This story is not recommended for persons under the age of 18,
or the easily offended, especially for those who are uncomfortable with themes
such as underage pregnancy and pantsing.

Synopsis of Parts 1, 2 and 3: Jonni Thunder commanded her pet Thunderbolt to
summon up the man she would have been if she had been born a boy.
Unfortunately, her male counterpart was a criminal. Also, being just as much a
“Thunder” as Jonni was, Johnny was able to command the mystic Thunderbolt. He
forced the Thunderbolt to use his powers to turn four of his friends into
counterparts of Jonni’s most famous teammates in the Justice Association of
America, and the super-criminals abducted their opposite numbers. With their
most powerful members out of action, the JAA decided to call upon their missing
comrades’ enemies to provide the power they needed, offering pardons and other
inducements. So far, the Atom has been rescued from Cyclotron by Hawkman and
Yellowjacket, Batwoman has been rescued from Nighthawk by *** and Blockbuster
(off camera), the Flash has been rescued from Johnny Quick by Dr. Alchemy and
the Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern has been rescued from Eclipso by ****
and the Tattooed Lady (also off-camera). Superwoman remains a prisoner of her
own evil counterpart, and the evil Johnny Thunder has not yet been located.



Zatanna and Luthor stood on the roof of the Clinton Building, looking down at
the public square below. The other buildings facing on Weisinger Plaza were
far taller, and most of them didn’t have flat roofs.

Luthor wore a massive suit of powered armor, its body like an elongated egg,
with stumpy legs below and weirdly-proportioned arms that ended in mechanical
hands like those of a metal skeleton. The entire outfit was painted in green
and purple, amusingly reminiscent of the purple business suits and green
neckties he was fond of wearing.

They stood on the rooftop, watching while the red-suited villain gloated over
the captive Superwoman, who hung naked in the middle of a long frame that must
have been magical, since she was unable to tear its straps or break its frame.
They were still there because they knew full well that the pair of them could
never have defeated Superwoman. They were waiting, hoping that more members of
the Justice Association would show up before he tried to kill or rape the Woman
of Steel. Even then, they were not at all sure that the entire JAA would be
able to defeat someone with Superwoman’s powers, especially one who had no
scruples against killing them.

They both knew that what they really needed was another Kryptonian, but so far
as anyone knew, Kara Jor-El was the last child of Krypton.

The plaza was empty, the people having been driven away by Thunder’s arrival,
and the streets blocked off by the Metropolis police soon after.

The man standing over the bound Superwoman was a splendid male specimen, his
flawless muscular body well-displayed in a tight-fitting outfit that looked
like a 19th Century military uniform, executed in red silk with golden boots,
sash, gold-braided sleeves and a waist-length white cape piped in gold. A
broad golden lightning bolt slashed down the front bib of his double-breasted
tunic.

He gesticulated wildly in the air while he ranted at Superwoman, pacing back
and forth. Her red and blue uniform lay crumpled at her feet, and he kicked at
it as he passed by.

“We need to know what he is saying,” Luthor said tersely.

“I can give us both superhuman hearing, but it’s liable to be rather painful.”

“No need. This suit has a shotgun mike.”

He moved his fingers, almost as though he were typing on an invisible keyboard,
and a sneering voice emerged from his chest.

“—soon as my guys get here with their own prisoners, we’re gonna have us a
little press conference, let folks know that from now on America belongs to the
Thunder Squad, an’ the Justice Association is outta business!”

“That’s to our advantage, at least,” Luthor said with a nod. “We have time to
wait for the rest to show up.”

Zatanna grimaced.

“So Superwoman can hang there for as long as it takes for backup to arrive.
Just great.”

“She is not suffering any physical harm, and her dignity can scarcely be
further impaired.” His voice suggested rather strongly that he didn’t at all
mind seeing Superwoman humiliated.

Thunder pointed to the dangling straps to either side of Superwoman.

“And just to make sure everybody knows what that means, you and your pals are
gonna provide sorta a visual aid, on live TV.”

Superwoman said nothing in response. Her mouth was held open by a ring gag,
but she could have used the power commonly called “super-ventriloquism” to
speak clearly anyhow. Clearly she was not speaking so as not to give Thunder
the satisfaction.

“Let her go!” a commanding voice barked out from above the rooftop. Zatanna
and Luthor looked up to see a bare-chested man in star-spangled shorts who
seemed to be standing on empty air. He dove as though toward a swimming pool,
hands before him, slicing through the air faster than it seemed possible he
could fall, yet landed unharmed on his feet before Thunder.

The villain stepped up to the stranger, looking cocky and unafraid, seemingly
prepared to exchange threats and witticisms, then sucker-punched him, hard in
the belly. The stranger doubled over around the fist and then flew backward,
smashing through a shop window. He began to stagger out of the display window,
obviously shaken, and Thunder stood waiting for him, not leaving his captive’s
side. The stranger staggered towards him, saying in an unusual accent, “You
are facing a Myrmidon, Johnny Thunder. I will punish your hubris in usurping
the lightning bolt of Zeus!”

The man’s courage would have been inspiring, if it were not so obvious that he
was impossibly outclassed.

“Luthor, that idiot is going to get himself killed.”

“Let him.”

“No. We’re going to have to move, ready or not.

“Nwod ot eht azalp ylefas,” and a wind lifted them as though they were
weightless and swirled them down to the plaza almost as fast as they could have
fallen, yet set them down unharmed. Finding himself committed against his
will, Luthor raised the right arm of his suit and fired a green ray at
Thunder’s back.

The villain turned away from the bare-chested man, moving so quickly that all
Zatanna could see were the golden flashes of his braided cuffs as he crushed
the shoulder and hip joints of Luthor’s suit and then tore off his helmet – and
nearly his head with it.

“Johnny Thunder, I presume?” Luthor said coolly through bleeding lips.

“Captain Thunder, now,” the blond villain said.

“So, you actually turned yourself into one of your supermen, and the most
powerful. How typical.”

“Of course I made myself into the Superwoman guy. What am I, stupid, I should
trust someone else with this kind of power?”

Luthor tilted his head in a way that suggested he would shrug if he could.

“I am not known as being particularly stupid,” he said mildly, “and I would not
burden myself with that kind of power and be unable to set it aside when I am
done with it.”

“Oh, so you’re sayin’ I am stupid? Let’s see how stupid I look when I –“

Captain Thunder cocked back a fist but never brought it down on Luthor’s bald
skull. Its forward motion was prevented by a much smaller hand that clamped
around his wrist.

The hand belonged to a red-haired boy of about thirteen, who was dressed in a
costume identical to Superwoman’s, except that instead of wearing blue tights
under his red shorts, he was bare-legged.

The boy had planted both red-slippered feet on Captain Thunder’s back to
prevent him from punching through Luthor’s head. The blond villain was about
to swing his left hand to swat the boy away when a blond girl of about ten
grabbed it. She twisted his thumb back until he gasped with pain, allowing the
boy to get him into a full nelson.

The girl was dressed in a long-sleeved white bodysuit that left her legs bare,
along with blue boots, gloves and red cape. She undid Captain Thunder’s sash
and then began rolling down his pants. The indestructible fabric hampered his
efforts to kick at her.

Zatanna gave a sigh of relief, even as she moved in to lend her magic to the
struggle. Superwoman was indeed Krypton’s last child, but it appeared that
there were some grandchildren.

Superwoman, in such a situation, might have used her heat vision or super-
breath to drive off an attacker. Captain Thunder did neither, perhaps because
he hadn’t had much practice, perhaps because he didn’t have those powers. A
nimbus of tiny electric sparks began to form around his head, as he began to
mouth some word, but whatever he was doing was interrupted when a third super-
powerful child appeared, a tiny creature that looked to be about three years
old. Its gender was hard to determine, in a purple bodysuit with green cape
and cowl, a gaudy yellow-and-white sunburst on the chest.

The little one dove between Captain Thunder’s legs from behind, grasped his
dangling testicles and yanked backward, hard. The villain’s eyes crossed and
he slumped as though in a faint.

The older children took advantage of the distraction to truss up the villain
with his costume, and gag him with his sash. Then they went to free Superwoman.

The Woman of Steel quickly restored her costume and then hugged the smallest of
her rescuers to her bosom.

“Thank you, sweetie. Are you all right?”

“Nova, call me da Nova! It my see-kurt in-den-dy.”

Superwoman smiled ironically.

“Oh, yes, we wouldn’t want to spill any secrets, would we?”

She looked pointedly at the older children.

“Hey!” the boy said indignantly, “we just saved your-“

“Yes, that’s true, you saved me from great pain and suffering, possibly even
saved my life, and I’m grateful, and I’m very impressed. But we are going to
talk, later.”

Superwoman stiffened her fingers and sliced through the front of Luthor’s body
armor, then pried it open with her hands until he could climb out, dressed in a
purple coverall and green deck shoes.

The air abruptly began to shimmer above the Plaza, and within seconds a huge
object shaped like a top had materialized above the ground. A blond man in a
red-trimmed green uniform jumped out of it and went up to the group surrounding
Superwoman, hands raised in the hope of not alarming them. A small golden
object rather like a model spaceship circled his head in short, nervous
movements.

“I, uh, come in peace—“

Superwoman cut him off.

“You’re a rip hunter, aren’t you?” she said, pointing at the emblem, a stylized
tear crossed by nine stitches, on the left breast of his uniform. “Come to
stitch up damage to the time stream?”

“Uhhh, yes, Ma’am. Only this time, we’re just here to check out an Indian
Summer – uh, that means an undocumented –“

“An undocumented historical event that can’t be viewed on a chronoscope, yes.”

The young Time Patroller looked around.

“People have been arguing for centuries about what exactly happened on Miracle
Monday. I see the legends were right, at least, that it involved you, and also
the debut of—“

The man’s next words were blotted out by a weird booming noise from the
hovering vehicle, which was also rippling in the air again. Had he said “hung
fence”? “Young vents”? Nobody was sure afterward, and Superwoman declined to
talk about it.

The time traveller started almost guiltily, and began moving around the Plaza,
pointing at people and objects, calling orders to the little machine that
continued to fly about his head.

Zatanna, having finished creating magical restraints to replace the improvised
bonds the children had used, sidled up to Superwoman, looking toward the Woman
of Steel’s three young rescuers.

“Um, Kara, how old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

Overhearing this exchange, Luthor sneered, “Who says a teenaged unwed mother
can never amount to anything?”

The boy in the Superwoman costume was suddenly in front of Luthor, grabbing him
by the front of his coverall and shaking him savagely.

“Who the Hell asked you?”

Superwoman grabbed the boy by the cape and yanked him away from Luthor.

“Later,” she hissed.

An amplified voice suddenly boomed out from overhead.

“HEY, FOLKS, HOW ARE YOU DOING DOWN THERE?”

Overhead, another large and odd-looking vehicle hovered, this one looking like
nothing so much as an immense version of an Egyptian scarab brooch. It settled
quickly to the Plaza with a rush of air that didn‘t seem like enough to hold up
a vehicle that size. The side slid open and out came the Flash, the Martian
Manhunter, Hawkman, the Atom, Jonni Thunder (now dressed in a sweater and
skirt, with a green plaid beret) and Blue Beetle. The time traveler ran up to
them, peppering the JAA’ers with questions.

Zatanna and Superwoman bent over the bound Captain Thunder while Jonni
approached them. Zatanna addressed him sternly.

“All right, now, we’re going to take the gag off, and you are going to give
Jonni Thunder her voice back, and that is all you are going to say, got it?”

After a long pause, Captain Thunder slowly nodded. Superwoman removed the gag
and he sighed, “Thunderbolt, give the bitch her pipes back.” As soon as he had
finished, the gag went back in, with some force.

The Thunderbolt appeared instantly and extended a hand towards Jonni. A spark
flew toward her throat, much as though it were a static electricity discharge.

Jonni Thunder winced and cleared her throat. “Thank God,” she said hoarsely,
and gratefully took a cup of coffee from a tray Blue Beetle was carrying around.

Jonni looked down at herself.

“Okay, first, gimme my muscles back!”

Jonni’s body grew thicker and heavier. She flexed her arms, then her legs.
She grinned and smacked her fist into her palm. She looked down at her body
thoughtfully.

“Hmmmm…. Guess I’ll keep the tits.”

The Thunderbolt sighed like a static discharge.

“Thought you might.”

“Okay, now let’s see about erasin’ this jerk and all his works.”

The Thunderbolt raised a hand.

“No, Jonni, you don’t want to do that, either. See, the reason the Thunder
Squad didn’t just kill their counterparts right away is that every time you
change the world the way I did when I created them, it puts a strain on what I
can only call the fabric of reality itself. And in the last 24 hours, that
fabric has suffered some serious strain.”

“So we should, what, wait awhile before deletin’ ‘em?”

“Altering their histories after they’ve had time to firm up could cause even
more damage.

“Look, couldn’t you just put up with the existence of five more antisocial
nitwits with super-powers? Not as though you have never dealt with any of
those before.”

Superwoman put a hand on Jonni’s shoulder. “I think we should take the
Thunderbolt’s advice. He knows more about these things than any of us, and if
he thinks that is the safest way for us to go, we should listen.”

Jonni looked thoughtful, then shrugged. She was about to speak when suddenly
the ripple in the air around the hovering time machine grew much larger and
more violent. The time traveler looked up with alarm. A chocolate-colored
face poked out of the open hatch and called, “Booster! We can’t hold it any
longer!” She looked frightened.

The man on the ground turned, raising his arms, and called out, “Go! Leave me!”

Or was it “Don’t leave me!”? Nobody was sure about that, either, and Booster
declined to talk about it. In any event, the head vanished, the hatch closed,
and the top-shape vanished in a rippling that somehow looked very dangerous and
painful this time.

The Time Patroller stared at the empty air for a moment, then collapsed,
sobbing, his head in his hands.

“Lost!” he wailed. “Lost in an Indian Summer forty years long!”

Blue Beetle put her arms around the man and led him off to a restaurant’s
sidewalk table to sit him down. The little golden flying device continued to
circle them.

The Thunderbolt said sadly, “I was about to add that time travel, and travel
between parallel worlds, will also be very difficult for some time to come.
About forty years, evidently.”

Jonni Thunder cleared her throat.

“Well, if Superwoman and the Thunderbolt both think we should just leave things
be, I guess a dope like me shouldn’t try to be smarter than you.

“Kinda weird, though, to think that these clowns who didn’t even have any super-
powers day before yesterday are gonna be trouble for us just like the Joker and
stuff has always been, and it’ll be like they always were.

“Anyway, yeah…kinda weird.”

A muted rumbling that had been building in the distance for some time grew a
good deal louder. A stubby, round-nosed aircraft appeared just at rooftop
level and settled on five screaming jets next to the Blue Beetle’s vehicle.
Iron Maiden was first out, followed by Captain America and the Human Torch.
Moments later, Batwoman and Batgirl emerged also. They quickly determined that
the confrontation they had expected to join was already over, and that no-one
needed any help, and decided to simply join the crowd.

Batgirl stayed with the Avengers, but Batwoman went directly to Superwoman.

“You’re all right?”

“We all seem to be. Looks as though everyone is here except Green Lantern.”

“She’s a little busy, but I saw her for a moment. She and the baby are doing
fine, and Star Sapphire is with them.”

“So, he really is the father, then?”

“If I hadn’t been sure of it already, I would have been when I saw them
together.”

Jonni Thunder looked around the now-crowded plaza.

“Weird, how much has happened in just a day. This…this isn’t really even
Earth-349 anymore, is it? It’s more like…Earth-349A.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” the Thunderbolt said, shaking his electrical
head-equivalent. “The world changes all the time.”

“Oh, man, I hate it when you say stuff like that! It hurts my head to think
about it!”

“So don’t think about it. Most of the time you don’t need to think about any
of this stuff, like time having three dimensions, or… or a lot of other stuff.”

Jonni Thunder looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged and chirped, “Well,
the good guys won and all’s right with the world. How else could things have
ended up?”

The Thunderbolt laughed like crackling static.

[See more Earth-349 stories at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Earth-349]

[Contact the author at dr_psycho1960@hotmail.com]

Earth-349: The Last Story, Part 3

Earth-349: The Justice Association of America
Part 3
By Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Disclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical world within the pre-Crisis DC Universe. The DC Universe is owned by DC Comics, Inc. This story also makes use of characters and concepts owned by other publishers. The use of these copyrighted elements is done only for the amusement of the author and his readers, and is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.
Disclaimer #2: This story is not recommended for persons under the age of 18, or the easily offended.
Synopsis: Jonni Thunder commanded her pet Thunderbolt to summon up the man she would have been if she had been born a boy. Unfortunately, her male counterpart was a criminal. Also, being just as much a “Thunder” as Jonni was, Johnny was able to command the mystic Thunderbolt. He forced the Thunderbolt to use his powers to turn four of his friends into counterparts of Jonni’s most famous teammates in the Justice Association of America, and the super-criminals abducted their opposite numbers. With their most powerful members out of action, the JAA decided to call upon their missing comrades’ enemies to provide the power they needed, offering pardons and other inducements. So far, the Atom has been rescued from Cyclotron and Batwoman has been rescued from Nighthawk. The fates of Green Lantern, the Flash and Superwoman remain unknown. The Martian Manhunter and Doctor Alchemy have volunteered to go to Hub city to rescue the Flash.
When the male Johnny Thunder had altered history to turn the members of his gang into the men he remembered, it had not greatly affected the world for most of them. They had been career criminals in both lives, and their somewhat different histories had only affected a few criminals, police officers, prosecutors and parole officers. The exception had been Johnny Chambers, now known as Johnny Quick.
Chambers had been a television newscaster, the most popular in the Hub City viewing area. When his life-history had been altered to conform with the male Johnny Thunder’s memory, the change had affected more than three million people. Reality itself was weakened in Hub City, in a way it hadn’t been anywhere else. A pervasive sense of malaise had settled over the city, turning it from one of the brightest metropolitan areas in the Midwest into a place of shadows and fear. The vague sense that there was something wrong with the city was turning into a general impression that everything was wrong, and people were starting to act accordingly. Where once the streets had been among the cleanest in the Midwest, now they were strewn with blowing litter like some European slum. Where once the inhabitants had walked the streets freely by night, they now huddled in their homes come dark, afraid of a lawlessness they had not actually seen, yet still expected.
The Martian Manhunter and Doctor Alchemy had arrived in an unmarked business jet owned by the Justice Association through a front group, Fairplay, Inc. Doctor Alchemy was dressed in civilian clothes and carried papers identifying him as “John Element”. The Manhunter had assumed the identity of Marcia Xavier, private investigator, one of her less often used guises. Under those names they had rented a car and driven deep into the city, stopped only once by a street patrol of mixed police officers and street hoodlums, led by the Flash’s old enemy, the Golden Glider. All had worn the red armband of the new regime.
The Hub City Opera House had crisp new posters, put up just the day before, advertising next week’s opening of the musical comedy More Fun, but the steps were dusty and begrimed as though it had been abandoned for years. Whichever was the case, the Opera House was now being used by Johnny Quick as his headquarters. Red banners with a stylized golden eagle shape at their center hung from between the Opera House’s pillars.
Two guards stood at opposite sides of the front steps, a slender man in a blue Arctic parka and a chubby woman in a white fireproof suit. Each held an odd-looking handgun. As the heroes watched, the two exchanged glances and made kissing movements with their lips.
“Captain Cold and Heat Wave,” Doctor Alchemy said softly. “Old enemies of the Flash’s.”
“They’re a couple?”
“Evidently.”
They drove past the Opera House and parked in an alley. Al Desmond pulled his Philosopher’s Stone from inside his jacket and passed it up and down his body, transforming John Element’s business suit into Doctor Alchemy’s hooded academic gown. Marcia Xavier relaxed her body and began to transform herself into the likeness of the Trickstress, a Hub City criminal who was not generally known to be in FBI custody.
“The Trickstress is about half a head shorter,” Doctor Alchemy observed. “And her, um, breasts are smaller.”
The Martian Manhunter shook her head, giving a good imitation of a Trickstress smile.
“This is the height I’m most comfortable at, and changing height is the hardest thing to do when I’m in a hurry, especially if I expect a fight. And breasts just a bit bigger are a great distraction from any flaws in the face or posture.”
They almost walked up to the Opera House that way, but at the last moment Dr. Alchemy remembered, and caused a pair of regulation Johnny Quick armbands to coalesce on their upper arms.
Apparently, Johnny Quick’s operation hadn’t gotten as far as ID cards. The Martian Manhunter plucked the password out of Captain Cold’s mind while he was ogling the Trickstress’s cleavage. Getting into the Opera House was as simple as that.
They had expected the main stage to have a board table or maybe even a throne. Instead, it bore a dense collection of electronic devices, at least one of which was emitting a high-pitched whine. At the center was a device that might have fit in at some futuristic gymnasium. The Flash, unmasked, was chained to it by her wrists and neck, her body a blur from the waist down as she ran. An electronic display indicated that her speed was ranging around “600”, but there was no obvious indication of what scale of measurement was being used.
“That’s the Cosmic Treadmill. It was the original source of the Flash’s powers.”
“Is he…draining her?”
“I think he’s trying to. It makes sense: if he can siphon off her speed powers to add to his own, he’ll become more powerful, and eliminate the Flash as a rival.”
The Flash’s frantic running was being supervised by a short but muscular man in a green outfit. From time to time he aimed the slim rod in his hand at her buttocks and hit her with another arc of electricity. The Flash seemed to be too exhausted to show much sign of pain, but the speed indicator would temporarily jump into the 700s.
“I suppose those are more from what the Flash calls her ‘Rogues’ Gallery’?”
His upper face out of sight under the hood, Doctor Alchemy rolled his eyes in annoyance.
“Actually, she doesn’t like that term, but yes, they’re all Hub City super criminals: the Thinker, the Elongated Man, Shade and Etaoin Shrdlu. The one with the fancy cattle prod is the Weather Wizard. Like Captain Cold and the Heat Wave, they have fought the Flash in the past, and doubtless they like the idea of having a new, criminal Flash on their side.”
The Thinker noticed the newcomers and with no visible pause to consider, pointed at them and barked, “Not Trickstress. Get them!”
The Manhunter leapt into the air, tucking and rolling the way the acrobatic Trickstress might have, though Doctor Alchemy could tell she was using her Martian telekinesis. She flew past the villains and straightened out in midair to drive her right foot into the control bar of the Cosmic Treadmill. No sparks flew and no parts came off, but the speed display went dark, and the high-pitched whine dropped rapidly in pitch.
The Weather Wizard extended his wand and hit the Manhunter with a much bigger bolt of lightning than he’d previously used on the Flash. The Elongated Man extended his arms to grab her, flinching away just in time to avoid being shocked. Etaoin Shrdlu dashed toward the wings, presumably in search of his linotype machine.
While the Manhunter was trying to regain her feet after her kick, the Thinker stepped forward in a way that seemed both too slow and too clumsy to be significant, put his palm lightly against her forehead and pushed gently. The Manhunter fell on her ass.
The Manhunter recovered quickly and moved at phenomenal speed, but not nearly fast enough, since a hostile person with powers equivalent to the Flash’s was in the same county.
To the people watching, Johnny Quick seemed to simply appear out of nowhere, standing almost where the Manhunter had been, his gloved fists on his hips, his famous grin looking much less reassuring than it once had on the evening news. His costume was red and yellow, but the yellow was closer to gold, the red darker, and the gold eagle emblem on his chest was downright sinister, since it had appeared on flags and armbands all over the city.
The transition was so sudden that Dr. Alchemy at first did not recognize that the blur of green and blue that shattered half a dozen seats to his left had anything to do with the Martian Manhunter disappearing from the stage. His awareness caught up slowly, first to the strange apparition in the audience, then the disappearance of the Manhunter from the stage, then the presence of Johnny Quick where the Manhunter had been.
Dr. Alchemy looked at the splintered seats and had a hard time understanding what he was seeing. The creature was olive-skinned and hairless, with a long low crested head that suggested a skull more equine than primate. Its chest was enormous, implying lungs made to breathe something thinner than the atmosphere of Earth, and was covered only by the crossed red straps of a harness that supported a long blue cape. The straps crossed between breasts that jutted out alarmingly, like warheads, though the creature’s body otherwise showed no sign of fat, and only very small, ribbonlike muscles.
He didn’t know that he was the first Earthman ever to see the Martian Manhunter in her true form.
The fight would have already ended by now, with both of the intruders killed by Johnny Quick before J’Onn J’Onzz hit the seats, except that her kick to the Cosmic Treadmill had freed the Flash. Although physically and emotionally exhausted by the abuse she had suffered at the hands of the Rogues, the Fastest Woman Alive still had enough energy to engage Johnny Quick in super-speed hand to hand combat, which meant that Johnny’s subordinates would have to deal with the other heroes.
People tend to expect combat between superhumans to be something glorious and dramatic, like a cross between a World War I dogfight and an operatic swordfight, but the reality is that whether the combatants have super-strength or invulnerability or super-speed, they tend to wrestle and claw at one another like battling insects. A fist, even one that can penetrate steel, is not much use against skin that can shrug off artillery shells, and when two super-speedsters are fighting, a kick or punch is less use against someone who can roll out of the way as rapidly as you can strike.
The battle between the Flash and Johnny Quick was no exception, and it was over in a fraction of a second. Friend and foe alike stared in astonishment as they saw the Flash and her imitator vanish into a red and yellow blur, and reappear strangely transformed, their costumes in tatters and their bodies covered with hundreds of fine scratches. The Flash lay on top of Johnny Quick, obviously winded by the struggle with her counterpart, but Johnny was bound with strips from his costume and was unconscious, not merely exhausted. She had even removed his mask and put it on herself, in token of her victory.
Before the villains on the stage could move to stop the Flash, she was in the audience, at the Martian Manhunter’s side. The Manhunter in good hands, Dr. Alchemy moved to shield them from the Rogues. Aiming the Philosopher’s Stone like a handgun, he turned the Weather Wizard’s wand into a plastic flower and the Thinker’s helmet into a straw sombrero, neutralized the Shade’s power over darkness by turning his suit and frock coat from black to white and adding optical whiteners, deleted the lubricating oils from Etaoin Shrdlu’s linotype machine and removed the elasticity from the Elongated Man’s stretchable costume. The latter tried frantically to extricate himself through the neckhole, but by the time he had emerged, clinging to his boxer shorts with one hand, all he could do was wave his free hand in surrender.
When all of the rogues had been bound and placed under the supervision of a squad of police vouched for by the Flash, the Manhunter turned on her JAA signal device and updated the Association on the situation in Hub City. She looked up from it to speak to the Flash and Dr. Alchemy, while beginning to resume her usual blue-skinned false form.
“I have some good news to share. Star Sapphire and the Tattooed Lady have just rescued Green Lantern from Eclipso.”
The Flash looked as though she wanted to ask a question. After a pause, the Manhunter nodded.
“Mother and child are both fine. It’s a girl.
“As for the current crisis, everyone who can get there quickly is asked to head for Metropolis to confront the last of Johnny Thunder’s agents. This one will be the counterpart of Superwoman, so folks are expecting quite a fight.”

[See more Earth-349 stories at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Earth-349]
[Contact the author at dr_psycho1960@hotmail.com]

Earth-349: The Last Story, Part 2

By Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Hawkman and Yellowjacket both flew with artificial wings. Beyond that,
they had almost nothing in common. They had volunteered for this mission
because each of them, in his own way, loved the Atom very much, but that was
one of the ways they differed most of all.

Hawkman had arrived at Lilliput in so much of a hurry that he had not
had time to contact their pest control service and get their clearance to
land. One of Lilliput’s biggest purchases from the outside world in the 20th
Century had been shotguns which they could adapt to discourage raptor birds
that made their way through the gravitational anomaly that prevented most
intrusions from outside. Fortunately for him, the gunners recognized him and
waved when he approached, and he was easily able to retrieve Yellowjacket from
the electrical power substation where he was working off part of his sentence.

Hawkman had scooped up the tiny figure and tucked him into the center of his
wing harness, behind his chest emblem. He was accustomed to carrying a small
body there, from all the times the Atom had hitched a ride that way, but Henry
Pym was not used to riding that way, with a man’s sweaty bare chest against his
back and a stiff wind in his face, so he had a tendency to fidget. That was
especially uncomfortable since Pym’s work boots were a good deal harder than
the ones the Atom wore with her costume.

Hawkman briefed Yellowjacket as they flew from the South Pacific toward
Califia. According to what Jonni Thunder had told them, Johnny Thunder had
empowered a member of his gang, Alfred Kurtzberger, to be a counterpart of the
Atom, and Kurtzberger had said he needed access to a nuclear reactor. There’d
been a report of a costumed person calling himself Cyclotron seizing the Santa
Teresa Nuclear Plant, so that was where they were headed first.

While still over the Pacific, Hawkman’s hyper-acute distance vision spotted a
column of tanks and troop trucks moving along the Coast Highway. He swooped
down towards a Jeep that was flying a Brigadier’s flag, paused while he was
recognized and then clung to the running board to confer with the General.

“The state police have the neighborhood around the plant evacuated already,”
the General said briskly. “There have been civilian injuries but no deaths,
but only by chance – this guy is in Superwoman’s class, or close to it, and
he’s a lot less careful how he uses it. The guards at the facility shot him to
no effect, then evacuated. The police haven’t engaged him, just cleared
everyone away and set up a cordon. Their spotters say he’s tearing the plant
apart, so he has to be stopped right away. I have no objection if you want to
get there ahead of us, do whatever you can.”

Hawkman nodded once and took off. He knew it was a serious concession for the
General to authorize him to go ahead of them, possibly to have the situation be
already in hand by the time they arrived, and wanted to spare him needless
embarrassment.

As they flew over the police cordon and the park-like grounds of the facility,
Hawkman saw first the tall spire of the tetrahedral cooling tower, like a
pyramid elongated into an obelisk, and then the white dome of the reactor’s
containment shell. He also saw the wreckage of damaged buildings around the
reactor. He saw the raw gashes made by carelessly-tossed fragments of building
and furniture and equipment. The site bore the marks of gigantic strength,
carelessly used by an inexperienced hand. And in all probability, strength was
the least dangerous power this “Cyclotron” possessed.

He had already demolished several outbuildings, and built a long helical
incline around the containment structure. He was now working with frantic
speed and energy, using the strength in his bulging bare arms to crush and
shape more pipe and sheet metal into a long straight shape along the ground at
the end of the incline.

He wore a short-sleeved yellow shirt and blue shorts but was still
sweating under his blue half-cowl. Then Hawkman realized that the fin on his
cowl was not red, but glowing cherry-red. It was a radiator, shedding waste
heat from some powerful device, presumably the heavy pack on his back.

“It won’t work,” Hawkman called out from overhead as he swept down. He
had calculated his approach so that the words would coincide with his winged
shadow passing over him. The maneuver served as well to startle the prey of a
Hawkman as of a hawk.

The villain looked up, showing an expression that was likewise
reminiscent of a fieldmouse flinching at the cry of a stooping hawk, before he
straightened himself and put on a look of arrogant self-assurance.

“You don’t even know what I’m doing here, so how could you know whether
it will work?”

“We tried something like that on Laputa almost a hundred years ago,”
Hawkman replied as he came in for a landing before Cyclotron. “You want to
create a volume where the physical constants can be altered, and do something
within it that can’t be done in the normal universe. But the volume this
construction will create will be too big – it will be dangerously large, and
you’d need more power than even a commercial nuclear reactor can provide.”

“I don’t need the reactor to provide power, only materials. The
affected volume needs to be big enough that I can stand inside it—“

Hawkman turned pale when the madman said that.

“—and as for a power source, you’re looking at it. I didn’t pick the
name ‘Cyclotron’ out of a hat.”

“There are several reasons why I can’t let you do that, fellow,”
Hawkman began, bracing himself for a leap that he hoped he wouldn’t have to
make. He suspected that colliding with this small but burly man with
superhuman strength would be a lot like flying into a concrete wall, but a
literal flying tackle was still probably his best move.

But then the man began to shrink visibly, his bulging arms and thighs
going back to more normal proportions. He strained to stay upright, staggering
under the weight of the device on his back, then collapsed and lay flat on the
ground, his limbs moving uselessly for a few seconds, and then he appeared to
lose consciousness.

Yellowjacket flew up from the backpack, growing to visible size, while
Hawkman tried to turn Cyclotron over before he suffocated. He wound up having
to use his harness’s antigravity effect to lift the thing – it weighed about as
much as a small car.

“Okay, this fellow is out of action. We can turn him over to the Army
when they arrive. Our next priority is to locate the Atom – not to steal
contraband technology!”

He said that last with emphasis, as the normal-sized Yellowjacket pried
at a hatch on Cyclotron’s backpack.

“I just might have an idea on that subject, Hawkman,” Yellowjacket said
acidly as he worked. “Think about that name ‘Cyclotron’. What’s the slang
term for cyclotron?”

“A cyclotron isn’t the sort of thing that you think of as having a slang name,
unless you mean…”

Pym flipped open the hatch. Nestled among the tightly-packed cables
and pipes was a tiny figure that might have been mistaken for a doll.

“…Atom-Smasher.”

Pym got the Atom free from the machine, with some help from Hawkman.
At last, the hero held his friend in his hand, unconscious but seemingly
healthy. He was about to tuck her carefully into her usual place behind his
harness when the first Army vehicles arrived. He handed her over to a medic
while a Corporal approached with a walkie-talkie.

“There’s a call for you, Hawkman,” she explained. “Justice Association
business, apparently.”

He took the phone with a nod in place of a salute.

“Hawkman? Batgirl here. Congratulations on rescuing the Atom. If
Yellowjacket hasn’t flown off yet, remind him that he is still serving his
sentence in Lilliput until such time as the Atom or the King pardons him. Good
news from Gotham: Wonder Warrior and Blockbuster have rescued Batwoman from
Nighthawk. If you are up for it, your presence is requested in Metropolis to
confront the male Johnny Thunder.”

When he hung up, Hawkman headed for the tent marked with a red cross and was
surprised to find Yellowjacket helping the medic with the Atom. She was
conscious already, and seemed to be well.

He left them alone and stepped from the tent. Without ceremony, he rose into
the sky, his mouth wide open as though screaming while he accelerated upward.
A pair of tiny, almost invisible flaps rather like gill slits opened just under
his ribs, allowing air to flow through his lungs and out again without his
needing to exhale. The minute or so it would take him to pass through the
troposphere would charge his blood with enough oxygen to sustain him while he
flew, wrapped in his wings, on a suborbital trajectory across the continent.

[To Be Continued]

Earth-349: The Last Story, Part 1

The car bounced over the rutted road, which had been carefully prepared
to give it the appearance of one that was seldom-travelled and had never been
of any great importance.

The driver of the car was rather similar to the road. She also went
out of her way to conceal herself beneath a very ordinary exterior. No-one,
sizing up the small, stocky woman with blotchy skin and her haircut as cheap as
it was short, would have given her a second glance. She was neither attractive
nor interesting nor alarming nor offensive. She drove up to what appeared
to be a very ordinary gate, held shut by a chain and padlock, and with a sign
on it warning any passersby that Broome Air Force Base was closed, but remained
Federal property, and warning of dire consequences for any trespassers. She
reached inside her jacket and pulled out what appeared to be a Middletown,
Pennsylvania, Police badge in a leather wallet. She pressed on the eagle’s
left wing and the gate swung open from what had appeared to be the hinge side,
leaving the locked chain undisturbed.

As the gate closed behind her, the driver began to change, her blotchy
dun-colored skin becoming a smooth poreless robin’s-egg blue, her hair becoming
glossy black with a dramatic white streak, her plump and squatty form becoming
tall and smoothly muscled, her drab brown suit becoming a form-fitting red
bodysuit with cobalt blue gloves, boots and trunks.

It would take a fellow Martian to really understand the powers of J’Onn
J’Onzz, let alone her mind. But at the headquarters of the Justice Association
of America, she did at least have a few friends who understood her at least a
little. The League’s formation had been a life-saver for the lonely exile.

The Martian Manhunter drove into a seemingly decrepit building and
parked her little blue Volkswagen next to a very elegant-looking Polish sports
car. There were no other cars in sight, but that was no indication of how many
would be at the meeting. Some members typically arrived under their own power,
after all, and some had vehicles that were too big to park in this building.
She went to an unmarked wooden door along the building’s east wall and fingered
her badge, which had morphed into an octagonal belt buckle. The door opened
outward soundlessly, revealing a set of elevator doors which after a moment
slid open to reveal an immaculate elevator car.

The elevator delivered her with quiet efficiency to an atrium that was
sufficiently large and well-lit that visitors did not feel oppressed by being
in a windowless space some four storeys underground. The Manhunter looked
around at the various members of the Justice Association who were already
present. She did not smile because it was not a Martian practice, but she
nodded pleasantly at those who smiled at her. Most did.

The Manhunter walked across the atrium, exchanging greetings with one
person or another. She hadn’t seen any of her particular friends, such as
Batwoman or the Atom, but she did spot Hawkman talking with three strangers who
appeared to have metallic skins. She joined the group, who seemed to be
discussing metallurgy or perhaps alchemy.

“When the statue is fully refurbished, the skin will be completely
replaced. Instead of ordinary copper, it will be sheathed in stainless
manganese bronze, and will never turn that ugly corroded green color again.”

“Nice,” the gray-colored woman said. “But will the torch still have
that red white and blue aviation beacon? I know it isn’t needed anymore,
thanks to radar, but-” She broke off and nodded towards the Manhunter.

Hawkman finally noticed the Martian. He greeted her and started to
make introductions, but the chirpy copper-colored one broke in with a loud
“Hi! I’m Penny, and these are Buffy and Buck!”

The pale silver gentleman smiled indulgently.

“What my obstreperous sister means is, we are Silver, Nickel and, er,
Copper.”

The Manhunter nodded. “I get it, you’re some of Wanda Magnus’s
kobolds. I understand Copper Penny and Silver Buck, but how does Nickel yield
Buffy?”

“Hold out your hand,” the nickel woman said, with a warmer smile than
her “brother”. The Manhunter complied, and in a moment a small coin fell into
her palm. It was one of the new five-cent pieces, replacing the familiar
portrait of President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) with that of President
Joseph Black Diamond (1909-1917). It had the current date, 1966, but instead
of “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”, it was identified as a product of “MAGNUS
LABORATORIES”. She turned it over and finally remembered that the Mint had
also replaced the old three-honeybees design with a shaggy American bison –
popularly though inaccurately known as a “buffalo”. Beneath the animal,
instead of “FIVE CENTS”, it read, “PURE NICKEL”.

“Buffalo Nickel,” the Manhunter said, delighted, and held the coin out
to the metal creature.

“Keep it if you want,” Nickel said, “I’ve got plenty.”

She patted her rounded hip, her hand clanking against her flank.

J’Onzz felt a surprising wave of nausea but suppressed it and dropped
the coin into one of her suit’s many pockets.

J’Onzz was about to call out a greeting to Aquawoman when she heard a
commotion behind her, near the elevators. A lushly-upholstered blonde woman
dressed in diaphanous green draperies that were not well-suited to the weather
or to public occasions was standing among a knot of JAA members who were
variously puzzled, concerned and annoyed by the intruder. The woman held a
large white signboard on which she had clumsily written in grease-pencil, GUYS
YOU GOT TO HELP ME.

“Young lady,” Mister Terrific began sternly, but the Star-Spangled Kid
touched his arm and leaned past him to look into the woman’s face.

“Jonni?”

The woman nodded, beginning to weep silently.

Johanna Tetzlaff had been a moderately successful professional wrestler
under the name Jonni Detroit when she saved a child from a kidnapping attempt
and was invited to a testimonial dinner for “lifesaving heroes” which included
police, military veterans and assorted ordinary citizens like herself. She was
seated next to the Buddhist evangelist and alleged mystic Peter Cannon, also
known as the Thunderbolt, when he suffered a massive myocardial infarction and
died in the middle of receiving the pepper from Jonni. Their eyes met just as
he died, and for some minutes after he slumped to the table, she didn’t realize
he was dead, since she could hear his voice in her head. Later than night,
Cannon’s spirit for the first time manifested itself in the form of a “living
thunderbolt” that resembled a humanoid shape formed from sizzling blue
electricity.

Before long, Jonni had worked out a testy but functional relationship
with the Thunderbolt, and had begun a semi-professional career as what she
called a “sort-of superhero” under the name Jonni Thunder. After much
negotiation, the Thunderbolt agreed to use his powers to carry out any spoken
command she might give, although he tended to be lazy and would sometimes use
rather creative interpretations of her words to avoid extra work.

Jonni and her Thunderbolt had crashed the first JAA meeting and after
that she had become a kind of mascot, not exactly a member and never quite
taken seriously in spite of the Thunderbolt’s power, but always welcome.

Now, Jonni was in the midst of the assembled JAA, all of whom were more
or less distracted by her transformation from a short, muscular woman whose
face had always been more good-natured than handsome into a stereotypical
pneumatic pinup girl. That her usual slacks and plaid jacket had been replaced
with gauzy garments suited for displaying her new curves didn’t help them in
paying attention to the words she scrawled with increasing speed and sloppiness
on her whiteboard.

Pushing a curling lock of her newly-lengthened blonde hair out of her
eyes, Jonni explained that on a whim, she had asked the Thunderbolt to show her
what she might have been like if she’d been born a boy. The Thunderbolt had
conjured up a male “Johnny” Thunder, summoning him from a parallel world rather
than actually creating a person by magic, which would have taken more energy.

Alas, Jonni’s counterpart turned out to be enough like her to share the
potential for developing a link with the Thunderbolt, and enough unlike her to
be a rather ruthless sort of criminal. He had seized control of the
Thunderbolt, forcing him to agree to the same rules that had governed his
relationship with Jonni, and had neutralized Jonni by the simple expedient of
ordering the Thunderbolt to remove her voice. While he was engaged in
modifying Jonni, he’d also ordered the other modifications the JAA had noticed.

Jonni had finally escaped from her counterpart’s lair in the middle of the
previous night, and had made her way to JAA headquarters. The tale she told
them, first through her whiteboard and later through a teletype, was troubling:
the male Johnny had already had the Thunderbolt abduct the most powerful
members of the Justice Association and turned five members of his gang into
their male counterparts. Now, each of the heroines was being held prisoner by
her counterpart at various locations around the continent, for some purposed
which was unclear to Jonni but surely was not going to be good for them, or for
the rest of humanity.

“Sounds like a classic Type 2 case,” Wonder Warrior said with a confidence that
sounded all too obviously forced. “Split up into pairs and each group confront
one bad guy.”

“I doubt if pairs will do it,” Aquawoman observed grimly. “Not if we’re doing
this without Superwoman, or Green Lantern, or the Flash.”

“And not if we’re going up against bad guys who are the equivalents of all of
those, plus Batwoman and the Atom,” noted Captain America.

“And the Thunderbolt,” added Lamplighter.

“Yes, and the Thunderbolt,” Hawkman agreed.

“Well, then, let’s make it Plan 2B,” Wonder Warrior persisted. “B for Badguy.”

The barbarically-clad muscleman smacked his fist into his palm, warming to his
subject. “Each of our missing comrades has enemies who have power to rival
their own. Some of them are in prison, or we have some other sort of leverage
on them so we can get them to co-operate. Sometimes an enemy who understands
you is better than a friend.”

Some rolled their eyes at yet another of Wonder Warrior’s Myrmidon aphorisms,
but Hawkman nodded thoughtfully.

“It’s as good a plan as any, and clearly we do need to work fast. All right,
let’s get a couple of our lawyers on the phone to Federal and military prisons,
and get some Blackhawk planes on their way to the prisons right away. No sense
in waiting until we hear back first.”

Batgirl looked up from a teletype which was still spitting out a long scroll of
yellow paper.

“There’s Blockbuster and Poison Oak at Blackgate Prison, Luthor and Mother
Terra at Fort Superwoman . . . . Do we want to look at Arkham Asylum?”

“Only if we don’t have any choice,” Hawkman answered. “But out west there’s
Hector Hammond at the UCCC Medical School Hospital, he would probably be
usable.”

“I was going to check the West separately, start with the places closer to
here.”

“Carry on. Okay, people, do we have any volunteers for the teams?”

Hands went up, and voices called out.

“Remember, people, these are supposed to be the counterparts, the equivalent,
of our most powerful members. Don’t volunteer for a mission just because
someone is your friend, and don’t go asking to join in after a team has been
formed. We all know what happens when too many go on one mission, especially
when there’s a lot of firepower involved. Now, I’ll be going after the Atom
myself –“

There came a catcall from the back at this revelation. Hawkman and the Atom
had been the closest friends among the founding members of the Association, and
nobody was surprised that he was ignoring his own admonishment against wanting
to help a personal friend.

“—and I’ll be recruiting Yellowjacket. It’s okay, Batgirl, I know where he
is. Who else wants in on this one?”

In short order the teams were formed, a few volunteers were turned away or
persuaded to go on another mission, and the others were busying themselves with
arranging transportation for the chosen teams, making sure that medical
supplies and other vital equipment would be available, or else checking to see
what else besides the rescue missions needed doing. It was something often not
understood by the general public that the biggest difference between the
Justice Association and a more conventional police or military organization lay
in the speed with which it could act – at least when it had someone in charge
who could get the group’s members to co-operate.

[To be continued]

Earth-349: The Last Story, Prologue 3

Natalie Richards looked up from her desk when she heard a knock
at the door.  She stretched out an arm and opened it, and since
Richards was still widely known to the world as Doctor Fantastic, a
former member of the now-disbanded Fantastic Four, when she
stretched out an arm it really stretched. The door, some ten yards
away, opened, and Jane Arbogast entered. She'd already removed
and stowed her Iron Maiden armor, and like Richards was wearing
an AIM coverall, its beekeeper-style cowl thrown back.

Richards had spent her entire life surrounded by scientists and
intellectuals, and she knew that social awkwardness was something
of an occupational hazard, but until her previous visit, Iron Maiden
had always kept her armor on the entire time, even the helmet. That
had seemed a bit much, even to Richards.
Arbogast had been terribly nervous on her previous visit, but she
seemed a good deal more relaxed this time.

Richards finished what she was working on and rose from the desk
just as Arbogast got to within normal conversational distance. She
rose and extended a hand, and was glad to see that this time Arbogast
took it without hesitation.

"Good to see you again, Richards. Is Palmer here?"

"Not yet, and I was expecting her half an hour ago. Oh, well, you know
how she is: she can arrive via telephone at any moment, so naturally
she's always being delayed at the last minute."

"So, let's see your Museum of Many Worlds, shall we?"

Richards smiled. She admired Iron Maiden's direct, down-to-business
approach, presumably honed by running the day-to-day operations of the
worldwide company owned by her reclusive boss, Tony Stark.

Richards led Arbogast down a corridor to a large double door. It was after
six on a Sunday night, so there were few staff members around. Richards
punched a six-digit code into the latch and opened it. Lights came on
automatically all through the cavernous space.

"This was a dining room for the staff until we built a smaller and more
pleasant one, but it's just about perfect for a museum."

Much of the space was still empty, but Arbogast could see that the
museum's collection was already impressive, and included entire airplanes
and automobiles, as well as display cases containing everything from
furniture and clothed mannequins to coins, stamps and newspapers.
 The smaller cases had many drawers each, containing yet more artifacts
from parallel worlds.

Richards went up to one case which displayed an assortment of
newspapers and magazines that displayed unfamiliar celebrities,
unfamiliar fashions, unfamiliar sports and even unfamiliar plants and
animals. She opened one of its drawers and lifted out a newspaper, a copy
of the Pittsburgh Courier about a year old. The biggest headline read,
"PRESIDENT ROBESON MEETS WITH EMPEROR SELASSIE".
 Smaller ones indicated that the Indianapolis Clowns had defeated the
Newark Eagles in the third game of the World Series, that Harry
Belafonte had received his sixth Academy Award for Best Director,
and that Surgeon General "Torchy" Brown had begun a new national
campaign to wipe out syphilis.

"This is from Earth-319," Richards said, smiling. "The funny thing is,
you could read the entire paper without guessing what the biggest surprise
would be if you were to visit there."

Arbogast took the paper and carefully opened it.

"Something more interesting than the fact that the President's first name is
Paul rather than Kenneth, I take it."

Richards laughed.

Earth-349: The Last Story, Prologue 2

Earth-349: The Martian Manhunter
by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Disclaimer #1 This story is set in a hypothetical parallel world within
the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but not
limited by that story or any other.

Disclaimer #2 Some characters appearing in this story are based on
copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics and
others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or disparage those
copyrights.

Disclaimer #3 This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the
easily offended, especially those who are uncomfortable with such topics
as transgender, undocumented immigration and linotypism.


The police had Etaoin Shrdlu in custody, with eight finger cuffs
added to the handcuffs to ensure he didn't get a chance to work his
powers on any typewriter or telephone dial he might pass. The
typesetting machine Shrdlu had stolen (a priceless artifact, the
one Mark Twain had bankrupted himself trying to perfect) was
undamaged, in the custody of a curator from the Hub City Museum of
Science and Industry. The police already had the usual anonymous
statements from the Flash and from herself. She could spare a few
minutes.

The Martian Manhunter laid a blue-gloved hand on the Flash's shoulder.

"If you need me, I'll be up on the roof."

"Something you need to do?" the Scarlet Speedster asked, mildly
curious.

"Just going to look at the sky. Join me if you want."

After a minute, she did.

The sun was just below the horizon, the sky clear, dimming slowly.
Two stars were just visible, low in the west.

"Which one's Mars?" the Flash asked.

The Manhunter turned, her face betraying surprise.

"Mars is somewhere to the east, not visible yet to human eyes.
Those are Venus and Mercury."

"Oh. I just assumed --"

"Seeing Mars as a tiny orange dot just makes me feel more homesick,
Rose. But a double evening star makes me feel right at home."

"Oh, right. You can see this from Mars, can't you?"

"It's quite common. Of course, on Mars it's more likely to be
Earth and Venus. But this is nice."

The sky was darker now. Five or six stars were visible directly
overhead. The Manhunter pointed upward.

"Leaping J'emm, the one you call Orion, is also familiar.
Something to remind me that I'm not too far from home. A long way,
but a measurable distance."

The Flash placed a hand on the shoulder of the Manhunter's red
bodysuit.

"You'll get home, Joanie. It'll happen."

The Flash left moments later for another of her endless patrols of the city.
The Manhunter considered her options. The Middletown police were expecting
Detective Joan Jones to be on duty in about twelve hours. She could fly, which
would get her home at about three in the morning, exhausted (she was no
Superwoman). She could catch a commercial flight to Philadelphia and take a
cab from the airport, but that was a lot of money on a police officer's salary.

She finally decided to try her luck at Corkin AFB. Flying under her own power
to just outside the gates of the base, she landed behind a defunct gas station
and began to change.

At her mental command, her red bodysuit began to crease ad seam itself into the
blue uniform of a Captain in the U.S. Air Force. The technology that allowed
her to alter her suit had been derived from her race's innate ability to alter
their bodies. She'd tried to explain it once to Natalie Richards of the
Fantastic Four, but the concepts had been so alien to Terran science that she
hadn't made much progress.

The suit changed faster than the Manhunter's body, but she soon caught up. Her
robin's-egg blue skin changed to a peachy pink. Her close-cropped black hair
turned blonde, and grew out enough to need to be pinned up. Pins emerged from
her skin and migrated into place. Her tall and heroically muscular body shrank
to a more modest stature, with bigger breasts and hips. She'd tried to explain
principles of Martian biology to Dr. Nelson Fate once, but he also hadn't
understood much.

It would take a fellow Martian to really understand J'Onn J'Onzz.

She walked up to the guard post at the gate and produced the ID of Cpt. Jane
Jahns. The Captain was listed with the base's Intelligence office as on
detached service, mission usually classified, liable to show up at any time and
to be shown every courtesy. She had to persuade the base commander that she
didn't need a fighter jet and pilot commandeered for her, that a space on the
MATS flight to Olmstead at 2100 hours would be fine.

The alterations that reality underwent that night were minimal in most parts of
the country, including Middletown. None of the Manhunter's special martian
senses noticed anything. The disruption was more severe in New Devonshire, New
Troy, Califia and Wabash, and most especially bad in central Ohio, inand around
Hub City. There is no way of saying what effect the event might have had on
J'Onzz's Martian body and mind if she had still been in Hub City when it
happened.

Earth-349: The Last Story, Prologue 1

Earth-349: The House of Mystery
Prologue to the Last Earth-349 Story
by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Disclaimer #1 This story is set in a hypothetical parallel world within
the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but not
limited by that story or any other.

Disclaimer #2 Some characters appearing in this story are based on
copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics and
others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or disparage those
copyrights.

Disclaimer #3 This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the
easily offended, especially those who are uncomfortable with such topics
as transgender, transformation, wizardry and beer-drinking.

The immense winged shape descended from the sky, black on black, almost
silent. It released its passenger without quite touching the ground, softly
enough that the woman was able to stay on her feet as she landed.

She turned and looked up at the creature which had carried her to Coast City
and called out, "Cor kcab ot worc," and watched while the dark silhouette
shrank to tiny size, still hovering. The crow flew off, seeming none the worse
for having carried a human being over a thousand miles.

Zatanna brushed down her tailcoat, checked her stockings, pulled her top hat
from a vest pocket and restored it to normal size. She climbed the hill toward
the House of Mystery, admiring the way its slightly canted windows looked like
malevolent yellow eyes as they shone out at the world.

The group was called Vertigo, because it had met for its first year at the
eccentrically-designed Vertigo House in Boston. These days, meetings rotated
among various places of power around North America, ranging from the crypt in
an old cemetery to the inner sanctum of a very unusual church. Tonight, they
were meeting at the historic House of Mystery, at a gathering hosted by its
caretaker, a man who was said to be more than he appeared. But then, in a
group like Vertigo, that was said about just about everyone.

Tim Moone, otherwise known as the Enchanter, was the doorkeeper for this
month's meeting, Zatanna saw. He was wearing a very old green velvet coat
which had once been quite showy and which still had a vague air of distinction
about it.

"Hi, Zee."

"Tim. I like your jacket."

He grinned.

"Recognize it?"

"It does seem vaguely familiar...."

"Think of the Wizard of Oz."

"The book, the movie, or the man himself?"

Moone looked startled.

"You mean there really was...?"

He recovered quickly.

"Think of the movie, the scene in Kansas, where the Wizard is Professor Marvel,
the down-at-heels magician."
------
Zatanna moved closer and ran a hand over the jacket's sleeve.

"This is the jacket Frank Morgan wore?"

"Yep. More than that, though. For the Kansas scenes, the costumers bought
most of the clothes and props at second-hand stores, to get an authentic look,
make a strong contrast with the Oz scenes. They were especially happy with the
jacket, even before they found the tag inside."

He held the jacket open so that Zatanna could see, beneath the stencil mark
that identified it as property of MGM studios, a faded tag, still clearly
reading "LFB".

"L. Frank Baum?"

"The very one. Authenticated by his widow."

Zatanna felt a chill. This kind of synchronicity was magic in more senses than
one. It was no wonder that Moone was pleased with having acquired it.

While they had been talking, a new figure had approached. At first Zatanna
took the creature for some sort of demon with yellow skin and green hair, but
on closer inspection it was obviously a young woman in body paint and an ill-
fitting fright wig. Besides that, she work only striped shorts, sandals and a
red feather boa.

"Greetings, mortals," the stranger growled in what she clearly hoped was an
inhuman voice, and tried to sidle past the pair.

Moone sidestepped to prevent the woman's passing through.

"Excuse me, Miss. Do you have an invitation?"

She cocked a painted eyebrow at him.

"Bar not my way, O Tim the Enchanter. The Creeper goes where she has need to
be."

She raised both hands and made a threatening catlike gesture that made her bare
yellow breasts jiggle, but Moone was not distracted by either display.

"I'm sorry, I can't let you in if you're not a member or the guest of a member."

The creeper slumped in disappointment.

"I don't get it," she said in a normal voice. "The crooks in Gotham City all
buy my demon act, but you guys who meet spooks all the time never do."

"That's just it," Zatanna butted in. "People who meet real demons are the last
ones who'll be fooled by a phony."

The creeper turned on Zatanna, glaring.

"Beware, mortal -- um, I mean, I'm not a phony! I have superhuman strength and
reflexes. I've beaten Dr. Tzin-Tzin, and Hellgrammite! I --"

"All well and good," zatanna said impatiently, "but you're not one of us. Your
powers smell of technology, and your outfit smells of greasepaint. You go
meddling with real supernatural phenomena, and you might go home to find out
that the yellow doesn't wash off anymore."

The Creeper swallowed hard, and probably turned pale under the paint.

Zatanna made a sudden gesture and the young woman flinched.

"Don't worry. I wouldn't do something that nasty to you. But there are those
who would do much worse, for less provocation than your little bluff here
tonight. That being the case, I don't feel too guilty about sending you home
in -- etairporppa sserd!"

The Creeper looked down and saw that her paint and costume had vanished,
replaced by a schoolgirl uniform complete with white knee socks and a pleated
skirt in a poisonous yellow-green-red plaid. She screamed and ran down the
hill, her pigtails flying around her head.

The two real wizards shared a laugh as they watched the gatecrasher flee.

"I don't think she'll have the nerve to try anything like that again."

"She does, she'll be spending a couple of weeks at a really nasty boarding
school I know about."

Zatanna went inside and found the gathering had already reached its lively
stage. She obtained a mug of beer from a Sumerian priestess who made it
herself acording to the old recipe. Sipping it, she walked around, exchanging
greetings with people she knew or recognized.

A squatty dark-skinned man in slacks and a pullover was talking with Lydia
Tarrant, better known as the Tattooed Lady. Zatanna didn't recognize him until
he turned slightly and she saw the huge star sapphire clinging to his forehead.

"Well, something must be up," Star Sapphire insisted, "or she wouldn't be
late. It's totally not like her."

Tarrant shrugged. She was wearing the shortest, lowest-cut black dress Zatanna
had ever seen, showing off a great deal of her tattooed skin Her ever-changing
collection of purplish tattoos shifted and rustled as they adjusted to the
shrug.

"Maybe she changed her mind? She keeps saying she's not one of us. And
knowing I'd be here, well, I know she doesn't like the idea of this being
neutral ground where she couldn't try to bust me."

Star Sapphire shook his head.

"I finally convinced her that the stones weren't some kind of intergalactic
science. It took her years to admit it, but now that she believes that our
powers are supernatural, she -- Zatanna!"

"Sapphire, Lydia."

"Zatanna, you've worked with Green Lantern, you know she isn't the kind to
back out of something at the last minute. And she wouldn't be late for no
reason, either."

The small man was looking seriously worried. Zatanna didn't know what kind of
relationship the two of them had, but he was clearly taking Green Lantern's
tardiness seriously.

Zatanna gave a dubious shrug.

"I could try to locate her by magic...."

"No, don't bother. I have better connections with her than anyone else, and I
can't raise her."

Feeling sorry for the man but with nothing to offer him, Zatanna moved on. In
the next room, a group were peering into a crystal the size of a beachball. It
showed a landscape like a fantasy loosely inspired by ancient Egypt, but she
knew it was really the other way around: this was the otherdimensional realm of
the beings once worshipped as gods by the ancient Egyptians, and which had
influenced the development of Egyptian civilization.

A bearded man, flamboyant in riding breeches and a green silk shirt open to the
waist, was talking excitedly to the group looking into the crystal, making
extravagant gestures with both hands.

"So like, they told me they could send me back, but since I'd only just barely
survived the trip out, it'd probably kill me if I went back again as Mitzi
Merlin. So they put my mind in this body that'd been vacated by their Prince
Ra-Amon like, thousands of years before."

Zatanna stepped through the group to lay a hand on the Prince's arm.

"Hey, Prince, so glad to finally meet you in the flesh...the new flesh, that
is. You know, back when you were a woman and I was a man, I had the biggest
crush on you...."

The Prince shrugged off her hand without being obvious about it and raised both
hands in front of him in protest.

"Sorry, honey, but unlike you I didn't change teams -- I still like boys!"

It Doesn't Take Long

...to get used to having someone around your home.

And then you don't, anymore, and it really hurts.

And you wait in patient hope of a reunion.

And you do what you can, meanwhile.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Playing Cat and Mouse (Over and Over In My Head)

For several years I have been haunted1 by "Cat and Mouse"2, an episode of The Twilight Zone3 in which a woman invites a stray cat into her home and learns that he is a man who has lived for centuries cursed to spend every day as a cat.4
They become lovers, which is beneficial to her since she has hitherto been crippled by extreme shyness (she is the "mouse" of the title), and he makes it clear from the beginning that he is interested only in a very casual relationship. Even so, she is crushed when she learns he has had sex with a friend of hers. So much that she decides to drug him, and he wakes up the next day in a cat-carrier at a veterinary clinic, where she is arranging to have him "fixed".

1 No, that is not too strong a term.
2 Which never should have occupied so much space in my head, but there it is.
3 And not even the classic Rod Serling series, but the 1980s color revival.
4 At night, he can change voluntarily between cat and man.


So why does this story keep coming back into my mind? Specifically, why did it climb into my head when I woke up at 3:00 AM and prevent me from getting back to sleep before the alarm went at 4 and I had to get up?

What does it mean to me? Do I feel as though I am in danger of being emasculated -- sexually, or socially, or . . . what? I don't get it.

My sex life is actually pretty good right now, and I seem to have better control over my sexuality than before -- it's been quite awhile since I did anything stupid and destructive on account of listening to my dick.

Not having regular work bothers me a lot. That could be it. It certainly makes me feel weak and helpless and impotent, and it prevents me from "doing my duty" by my wife and to a lesser extent by other people I care about.

Do I feel as though I am, like the cat-man, the victim of some immense, cruel, disproportionate revenge?

Possibly. Several times recently I have felt ill-used by demands and complaints that seem irrational and arbitrary.

I don't know. And I don't know why I have been feeling so irritable all morning when it has actually been a very enjoyable and undemanding day.

I've been feeling very pleased with myself over my increased self-awareness since I went through therapy, but times like this show me that there will always be limits to it. But at least I am noticing that my feelings are irrational, and not trying to blame them on someone or some circumstance around me.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Maybe it's been a long year for you. A hard one. A disappointing one.

Maybe you lost someone -- to death, or circumstance, or estrangement.

Maybe you didn't do something you wanted to. Maybe you didn't stop doing something you shouldn't do.

Maybe you are far from home, or someone close to you is far from home. Maybe home doesn't feel like home anymore.

Hang up a string of lights anyway. Listen to happy music. Or if you can't bear to, at least listen to something encouraging.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g4lY8Y3eoo

The year is ending. A new year is coming. It's going to be different from last year, one way or another.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It Wasn't True

I looked at an old post today, and was shocked by what I saw there.

I wrote about how it was that, when it seemed there was no chance I would ever be reconciled with my wife, she asked me to come back and try again, and how my abrupt decision to give her a trial hurt other people.

What I wrote back then was an attempt to paint a gentler picture of what happened, out of a desire to exculpate myself for going back on my word, and to scold someone else for what I perceived as going back on hers.

What I said simply wasn't true, and I think I knew even then that it wasn't.

I was really a mess back then, but that is not an excuse for the many ways in which I hurt the people around me. Having figured out that my mind was confused and disordered, I should have withdrawn from human relationships as much as I could until I knew who I was and what I wanted. Instead, I rushed about in all directions at once, causing harm all around me.

And then I distorted and misrepresented what I had done.

I shouldn't have done that, either.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Earth-349: The Secret Six

Disclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical world within the pre-Crisis
DC Universe. The DC Universe is owned by DC Comics, Inc. This story also
makes use of characters and concepts owned by other publishers. The use of
these copyrighted elements is done only for the amusement of the author and his
readers, and is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.

Disclaimer #2: This story is not recommended for persons under the age
of 18, or the easily offended, especially for those who are uncomfortable with
themes such as organized crime and serial polygamy.

The Galaxy Broadcasting System’s headquarters building houses most of
the network’s Gotham City facilities, which are much more extensive than they
were when it was merely the Gotham Broadcasting System. Even so, the network
does not take up all of the building’s 55 floors.

The entire 49th floor is leased by Sigma-Hex Associates. They are not listed
on the building directory in the lobby, and only the freight elevators stop at
the 49th floor. Their lease indicates that they are a firm of security
consultants, but once they had promised not to handle toxic chemicals nor to
store large quantities of cash or portable valuables on their premises, Galaxy
Properties did not inquire too closely into what its tenants did.

On March 2nd, 1968, two people met in one of the smaller offices in the
Sigma-Hex suites. They hunched over a conference table, their heads close
together, since in spite of the ambient noise that permeated the entire floor
they did not want to turn up the sound on the small tape recorder between them.

One of the listeners would have been instantly recognized by anyone in
the country. Phil Ochs had been a celebrity as a musician even before his
agent had tried to kill him with a faked drug overdose, and turned him into the
toxic avenger known as Poison Oak.

The other was not so famous among the general public, but like Ochs was
well-known to the law enforcement community. Wynona Hudson was the daughter of
a 1920s film actress, and claimed that her father was Wyatt Earp (she sometimes
called herself Wynona Earp). That might or might not be true, but there was no
doubt that she was also known as Deadshot, and was wanted for far more felonies
than was Ochs.

They were not trespassing – they really were Associates of Sigma-Hex,
although they more commonly referred to their organization as the Secret Six.

Poison Oak had retrieved the recorder from the large primary conference
room, the one where the group usually had their general meetings. They hoped
it had recorded the conversation which their colleague Thomas Blake, otherwise
known as the Cheshire Cat, had just had with their leader, whom they knew only
as Mockingbird, and who claimed to be one of them.

The Cheshire Cat was not one of “Gotham’s Most Wanted”, not to be
mentioned in the same breath (followed by spitting) as the Joker or Two-Face,
but he was a wanted criminal with multiple outstanding warrants against him in
Gotham and in several other large Eastern cities.

He was not, as rumor would have it, sexually obsessed with Catwoman,
nor with the Mad Hatter. He also did not have powers of invisibility or
teleportation, nor was he in possession of a panther-skin belt which granted
him superhuman agility and the traditional nine lives of a cat.

He was not terribly prepossessing: short, thick-bodied, with curly hair
and chubby cheeks. Taken all in all, he looked rather like the actor Michael
J. Pollard. In costume, he looked like Michael J. Pollard in a tabby striped
body stocking and cat-eared mask.

Ochs pressed the Play button and the tape reels, the size of silver
dollars, began to turn. Ochs nodded, satisfied with the sound quality.

One voice was clearly Blake’s. The other was one they had all heard
often enough, the buzzing voice of their boss, who spoke to them only by
telephone or recorded message, his or her voice always disguised by an
electronic filter.

“Do you know why this group has six members?”

“Alliteration?”

Mockingbird ignored the mockery.

“I was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the war. They held me for
two years in a camp on the island of Bensalem in the Philippines. We learned,
after a few months, that we needed to live in groups of six: two to scrounge
for food and medical supplies, one to guard our stash, and one to look after
the two who, at any given time, were sick.

“If there were more than six in a group, they couldn’t gather enough
food for all of them. If there were fewer, then not all of the work would get
done, and they’d starve or die from disease. We had to live in sixes.

“I developed a theory from that experience, that in any given field of
endeavor, there was an optimum size for a team. Most of the time, it didn’t
really matter whether a team was slightly too large or small, because there was
a margin for error. But in situations like a prison camp, or a war zone, or a
police patrol, deviating from the optimal number can result in needless death
and in mission failure.

“I studied groups like this one, both law-abiding and law-breaking,
very intensively for two years before forming my own. I am convinced that it
needs to be a group of six, and a mix of genders, and encompassing certain
skills and abilities. And I repeat: I am convinced that the number and makeup
of the group is responsible for its success.”

There was a long pause, in which nothing at all could be heard.

“Blake, since the Secret Six was first formed three years ago, it has
had fifteen members, losing eight after between two years and two months.”

“Yes. Of the original group, only Deadshot and myself remain.”

Deadshot looked up to see if Ochs was eyeing her. The fact that only those two
remained did not eliminate the later-arrived members from consideration: they’d
found clues that suggested some of the more recent members had used someone
else’s identity. A couple of them had never even unmasked in their presence.
But she and Blake were the leading suspects, of course. Assuming that
Mockingbird wasn’t just mindfucking them with the claim of being one of the Six.

“That’s right. And of our nine losses, two were by death, one by disability,
one by voluntary resignation and five due to pregnancy.”

“Yes.”

“And of those five pregnancies, all of them have been your responsibility.”

“Yes, well, it’s something I do. Something I like to do. I’ve been doing it
since I was thirteen years old.”

“Having sex with women?”

“Fathering children. It’s why I became the Cheshire Cat in the first place,
after I’d used up my own money.”

“Yes, settling a trust fund on each child. A need for a large income is a good
strong motivation, one that makes it easier to predict your behavior and makes
me feel secure in having you on the team.”

“Only now you have a problem with it, apparently.”

“Not with making babies per se, but when you do it with teammates, and thus
take them out of the game, that becomes a problem.”

“Well, you don’t have to retire a team member just because she’s pregnant. I
mean, it’s usually not a big problem until the third trimester, and for the
first few months afterward.”

“My policies are my own business, Mr. Blake, and they are not up for
negotiation. If you don’t like them, you are free to leave the group, but I’d
much rather you stayed. You are a very valuable asset.”

“But you want me to stop knocking up my teammates.”

“Yes. Surely there are other women upon whom you could bestow…trust funds.”

“And if I don’t knock it off, you’ll have me neutered, I suppose.”

“Of course not. I respect your abilities far too much to want to make you an
enemy for life.”

Blake chuckled, and continued in an odd tone of voice that gave Ochs the
creeps.

“Oh, I don’t know. If I thought I was facing a threat like that, I’d do
anything to prevent it, as though my life were at stake. But once it was done
and there was nothing I could do about it, who knows? After all, neutered cats
are healthier and live longer.”

“That’s as may be,” Mockingbird continued, in a tone that suggested he too
found Blake’s comments rather creepy, “but in any event, that was not my
intention. If you won’t agree to stop impregnating my team, I will fire you
immediately, and the same if you, er, violate those terms.”

“All right,” Blake said uncertainly, “I can agree to that, except….”

“You need not concern yourself about whether to break it off with Iron-Fisted
Kate – she learned this morning that she is pregnant, and has already been
informed that she will have to leave the team. But there must be no more after
her – is that understood?”

“Yes, Mockingbird, I understand. And yes, I will abide by your . . .
regulation in this matter.”

“Thank you. That is a considerable relief to me. You really are a valuable
member of this group. Good day.”

There was a brief rushing sound which might have been a door opening on a
drafty corridor or an elevator shaft, and then silence until they heard Blake
push his chair back and go through the door.

“Huh,” Hudson said when Ochs had turned the machine off. “That was
interesting, in a gossipy sort of way, but it doesn’t really put us any closer
to knowing who Mockingbird is.”

“Further, I’d say. For one thing, Mockingbird’s story about being in a PoW
camp contradicts what he told me once about having been in the OSS, and
spending most of the war with a Jewish partisan group in Poland.”

“No kidding? Mesmero told me Mockingbird had told him that she’d been too
young for the war, but had gone to Korea with her brother, who died there.”

“Mockingbird lies a lot.”

“That’s true enough.”

“Well, at least I know this much,” Ochs said firmly: “that I’m not
Mockingbird, and Blake isn’t. That just leaves you, Kate, Juan and the chick
in the black hood.”

“Unless of course Blake was sitting there talking into a filtered
microphone, either to deceive us or because he’s even more cracked than we
thought.”

Ochs sighed.

“I wish you hadn’t said that.”

“Well, at least you’re still sure about yourself, I suppose.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dogs Playing Poker, Presidents Playing Dumb




I found this pic awhile back, and was inspired to create a modified version that more accurately depicts the modern Republican party's relationship with its roots.
Today I saw it figuring in a post on Balloon Juice, so I am posting them here.

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2010/11/08/art-appreciation-101/#comments

Friday, October 1, 2010

Earth-349: Jimmy Olsen

Earth-349: Jimmy Olsen
By Anton Psychopoulos, PhD
Disclaimer 1: This story was inspired by a story published in Superman #349,
1980, and also by a story published in Jimmy Olsen #105, 1967, both of which
are copyright DC Comics, Inc. It also draws inspiration from other sources,
including the works of Jack Kirby. This story is written solely for amusement
and is not intended to infringe those copyrights or any others.

Disclaimer 2: This story is not constrained by the stories which inspired it.

Disclaimer 3: This story is not recommended for person under 18, or those who
are uncomfortable with issues of gender and identity.


Jimmy Olsen woke up in the same bedroom he had been waking up in all month. He
supposed that made it “his” bedroom, although he was reluctant to think of it
that way because it seemed as though that would mean surrendering to his
situation, and he didn’t want to do that until he knew what on Earth his
situation was.

His brand of soap (Tugboat) was in the shower, though, and his shaving cream
(Spice Islands) and deodorant (Gladiator) were in the medicine cabinet, and the
clothes in the closet fit him and were more or less his preferred style, so in
about half an hour he was ready to hang his camera around his neck and face the
day.

His neighbor, who looked a lot like him aside from being a couple of inches
taller, was also going out, dressed much as Jimmy was, although his bow tie was
crooked. They both passed their landlady, a slightly plump woman with graying
red hair, who was shampooing the hallway. Jimmy noted with approval that her
bowtie was very neatly tied.

Jimmy stepped out into the street, where there were Olsens as far as the eye
could see.

Cars went back and forth, driven by Olsens of both sexes and all ages, obeying
the directions of a redhaired policewoman who was directing traffic. Jimmy
dodged to avoid a portly, balding Jimmy who was hurrying down the street to
open the bank and nearly ran into a freckle-faced nine-year-old of
indeterminate gender who was hawking newspapers.

Jimmy’s first idea was that the Olsens were all different versions of himself,
snatched by a time machine and dumped here, but that didn’t explain the
females, or the ones who were physically quite different.

A Jimmy of about fourteen, in short-sleeved white shirt, bow tie and leather
jacket, walked down the street holding a transistor radio to his ear. Jimmy
heard a snatch of what Big-O Jimbo, the Red-Haired DJ from the Planet Oh-oh,
was playing on WJO:

I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences

Take in the landscape with all eight senses

Can’t look at hobbles and I don’t like fences

Don’t fence me in….

Jimmy shook his head. Country-Western music hadn’t been the same since the
cowboys had discovered peyote.

Jimmy walked to the next block and entered the diner where he usually had his
breakfast. The waitress was cute and petite, which was a plus for Jimmy, who
was self-conscious about his height (especially now that he shared a town with
Jimmies who might be 5’10 or 6’2 (to say nothing of the nine-foot “Big Jimmy”
and the forty-foot “Turtle-Man”). He’d have made a pass at her by now, except
it felt kind of odd to think about dating someone who seemed like she was at
least his sister, if not himself.

The waitress brought Jimmy his breakfast: six eggs over easy and half a pound
of bacon, with half a loaf of toast, orange juice, tomato juice, prune juice
and a pot of coffee. Every Olsen Jimmy had seen eating had the same kind of
appetite, though they ranged from grossly obese through slightly plump to even
thinner than Jimmy himself.

The waitress smiled openly as she watched him tear into his breakfast, but
Jimmy still didn’t say anything. He hadn’t yet actually seen one of the female
Olsens naked, and he couldn’t quite shake the suspicion that they might all
just be boys who liked to dress up, seeing as how he kind of did himself.

Jimmy thought about all of these things as he ate his bacon and eggs alone at
the counter, while looking idly at last week’s Daily Planet. He’s already read
it. Indeed, he had written most of it.

Neslo the Magnificent entered the diner with a dramatic swirl of his cape, but
that was better than appearing in a puff of smoke as he was sometimes known to
do. When Jimmy had created the “Neslo” persona, he had dyed his hair black,
worn a false beard and used lifts to increase his height. But Jimmy had seen
Neslo in an open-collared shirt and shorts, and noticed his abundant black
chest and leg hair (Jimmy’s own body hair was neither) and sandal-clad feet.

Neslo sat down next to Jimmy and gave the waitress a hard stare. She stood
still for a moment and then nodded. Jimmy didn’t know whether Neslo was really
ordering telepathically, or if it was just part of his schtick, although he
didn’t get the same breakfast each time, and never complained about it.

Jimmy finished and left the diner, leaving coins to pay for his breakfast and a
generous tip, and continued down the street to his job. Along the way, he saw
Secret Agent Double-Five scaling the outside of a building with his hand- and
foot-suction cups. He went into a second-storey window and moments later
emerged holding a female Olsen by the arm.

Elastic Lass suddenly appeared, stretching herself tall enough to grab the
apprehended woman’s other arm, while her free arm entered the apartment and
emerged holding a black satchel from which the ends of strange devices poked.

As he took photos of the arrest, Jimmy tried to remember how he had briefly
come into possession of a set of burglar’s tools from the far future. Or were
they alien burglar tools? It was hard to remember.

A police car pulled up between Elastic Lass’s taffy-like stretched legs. She
and Double-Five handed the burglar Olsen over to a uniformed officer with a
gray-furred wolf face, to the disappointment of a pair of flying Olsens (a boy
in a purple and white suit and a girl in orange and green) who had hoped to
have a role in the capture.

Jimmy continued on his way. The next block ended at Weisinger Plaza, the town
square, where the most important civic organs were concentrated: City Hall,
where a red-bearded Mayor in top hat and red sash held forth in majestic pomp.
The Clinic, where a fat and kindly old nurse kept an arrogant young doctor from
scaring away his patients. The Jail/Police Headquarters, where a hard-faced
Sheriff with six arms was even now taking custody of Burglar Olsen. And the
Daily Planet Building, a grand name for a two-storey building which also housed
a barber shop, a vacuum cleaner store and a used-book dealer. But it did have
a foot-wide brass ringed planet perched on a pole above a glass window which
reproduced the Planet masthead in gold leaf.

Jimmy remembered living in a big city, and being a photographer for the Daily
Planet, which was as its masthead described it, “A Great Metropolitan
Newspaper”. Now he worked for a very different Planet, as its sole
reporter/photographer, sharing its tiny storefront offices with a portly silver-
haired Olsen editor and a scrawny bald-headed Olsen janitor. It was only a
weekly paper in spite of the name, and they were hard-pressed to fill its eight
pages with any news at all, in a town with a population of no more than a
thousand.

It wasn’t clear how the newspaper made any money. Perhaps it didn’t. But once
a week the editor handed Jimmy an envelope containing a sheaf of garishly-
colored bills and shiny silver coins with portraits of assorted Olsens whose
clothing and grooming suggested they had lived in various past generations.
The shops of the town accepted his money, though. The haberdasher sold him
underwear and bow ties, wherever they came from. The restaurants gave him
food, from wherever that came from. There was a lot Jimmy didn’t understand
about his current life, but that didn’t make it all that different from his
other life in that big city called…? He wasn’t sure. Something sort
of…generic, wasn’t it?

Jimmy thought, as he did at least once every day, about talking with someone
about what was going on, at least to his editor. But somehow he couldn’t quite
bring himself to do so. He felt a powerful compulsion -- a powerful need -- to
play along, play his role, pretend nothing was wrong. So he developed his
photos of the burglar-Olsen’s arrest and typed up a brief account of the
incident before knocking off for lunch.

Rather than head for the restaurant where he usually had lunch (if he didn’t
just return to Olsen’s Diner), he walked in the opposite direction, to the end
of the street, at the edge of town.

The town was laid out like a game board, a grid of streets with a single
circular road surrounding it. There were no roads that actually led out of
town. Jimmy had explored the wasteland around the town on foot but hadn’t
found anything worth the effort he’d put into reaching it. This time, he
walked along the curving road, looking left to the sand and rock outside, right
to the bustling little town, and occasionally straight up.

The sky overhead looked…wrong. The sun that rose every morning looked
artificial, somehow, as though if you looked at it through a filter, instead of
sunspots you’d see a Sivana Electric logo. Jimmy snorted at the thought of how
many watts it would be.

That wrongness made Jimmy wonder if they were even on Earth. They might be
under a dome on some asteroid, with artificial air and gravity. Or in a cavern
deep underground. It didn’t matter. There didn’t seem to be any way to get
out of the town, much less its enclosure.

Jimmy heard a distant thudding sound gradually growing louder. He looked out
into the empty land and soon made out the silhouette of the Giant Turtle Olsen,
the only person who regularly walked outside the town (seeing as how he was too
large to fit comfortably anywhere inside it). Jimmy watched the odd sunlight
glint off the many hexagonal plates of the Turtle Man: large ones for his
chest, smaller ones for his limbs, the smallest ones at his neck and groin.

Someone had objected to the Turtle Man walking around naked, and had persuaded
the flying super-Olsens to fit him with a huge blue loincloth, but they
couldn’t get him to leave it on. The Turtle’s yard-long penis, armored except
at the pink glans, dangled freely today. Jimmy was just grateful that he
didn’t, as many turtles did, have two penes.

Jimmy wasn’t sure why he was called a “turtle” man, anyway. With his plated
body he looked more like a dragon than anything from Earth, and really a lot
more like an alien from the cover of some old science fiction magazine. Jimmy
pictured the giant on a cover painting, tearing apart a bridge in a futuristic
city while a rocketship flew around his head.

Jimmy had absolutely no memory of ever becoming a pop-eyed armor-plated giant.

He turned at the next corner and walked back into the center of town. It
wasn’t possible to get more than four blocks from the town square.

A bulbous Olsen, his face obscured by a curtain of hair, a foot-long tongue
dangling to his breast, suddenly stopped and put out a hand to stop his
companion (who had a much more normal face but was entirely robotic from the
neck down). With its other hand, the hairy Olsen-freak pointed upward.

“Wuit! Upp in fa fky!”

Jimmy rolled his eyes. There were three Olsens who flew over the town every
day, as well as one who could strap on a pair of magic wings, and another who
could levitate telekinetically. What was so special about….

Then Jimmy did look up, and saw a flying figure which was definitely not an
Olsen. Even from a distance, there was no mistaking the perfect form and
confident bearing of Superwoman.

The Woman of Steel hovered above the town square, calling out in an
impossibly-loud voice that somehow didn’t hurt Jimmy’s ears.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Olsens! Please listen to me!

“You have probably been wondering, and speculating, on where you are and why
you are here. You may have your own ideas about what is happening. Please
listen, while I explain to you what is going on. You may find what I have to
say upsetting, but I hope you will trust me when I say that I know where you
came from.

“You are clones –“

Superwoman waited for the anguished cries and angry denials of many to die
down, and then continued.

“You are clones, many with your DNA slightly altered from the original, which
is why you come in both genders. Your apparent ages are simply what your
creators chose to grow you to – each of you is actually less than a year old,
some only weeks old.

“Your memories are edited and rewritten versions of the memories of your
original…a close friend of mine.

“You can’t stay in this place. It will soon be incapable of supporting human
life. But I can get you out of here, and I will. I have friends who will help
to place each of you on a parallel world where there is a place for you,
provide you with all necessary documents and assistance to help you get settled
in your new lives.

“Dabney Donovan, the head of the Cadmus Project, is responsible for your
situation. He has committed a terrible crime against you, and he will face
justice. Please take my word for that, also. He will pay.”

Several voices had already been calling out, but now Jimmy found himself asking
the same question as was coming from several others:

“Which of us is the original?”

Superwoman’s face darkened. She shook her head slowly.

“The original Kirsten Olsen…is not here. She never was.”

The implications of Superwoman’s flat statement sank in, and the Olsens stopped
asking questions. One by one, they went to prepare themselves for moving out
of the Olsen town.