Friday, December 31, 2010

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?”
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.”

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