Choices Chapters1: Prologue
Chapter Three: The Justice Society of America
by Marilee Stephens
Dick sat and watched the parade of costumes around him in amazement. Oh, he knew who most of them were. Had met some of their counterparts from his earth even. But to be present for a gathering of the Justice Society of America No, that was an experience. With almost each new appearance of someone through the door, he felt a sense of awe.
Not everyone, of course. He had no idea why the older, white-haired man with the green-checked jacket and bow-tie was here, especially as he didn't seem as totally serious as the others, but off in a bit of his own space. But most of the others yes. Awe was the only word he could think of to describe what he was feeling.
Even in the depths of that feeling though, he had to stifle a quick yawn. He was still tired. After they had foiled whatever the gang's plans had been that night, Richard and Helena had handed them over to the police, while he had remained hidden in the back-ground. There was no need to get any more people in on this situation than there needed to be. By the time everything was cleaned up, and the others had promised to file a full report, it had been close to 4:30 in the morning. They had then brain-stormed for a few minutes about who could possibly be committing these crimes, as after Helena's startling pronouncement of their Joker being dead, he had been a bit stunned.
"Dead!", he had questioned unbelievingly.
"Yes. Several years now"
"Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be"
"I know But the Joker is the ultimate proverbial bad penny. He just keeps coming back and coming back, even if he's been thought dead before "
Richard had reached over and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Normally, I would fully agree with you. But the last time, we actually had a body. One that we watched for several days to make sure that he didn't have a trick up his sleeve. No, this time, he was dead."
Dick shook his head unbelievingly. Dead. The Joker finally dead. While the loss of this earth's Bruce Wayne had filled him with unexpected sadness He almost didn't know what to feel with hearing about the loss of this earth's Joker It was almost too unreal for him.
He had brought his attention back to the others when Helena continued, "So, since he's dead What do the two of you think we're dealing with? Some sort of copy-cat? It wouldn't be the first time."
With that, they had batted ideas back and forth a bit more, as they checked out the scene for any more clues. Richard and Dick collected some samples of the chemicals that the crooks were trying to make off with, while Helena inspected the whole room for anything else. They then headed back to the Manor, where Helena suggested that they try to get at least a hour or two's sleep before the meeting this morning.
But then, as before, Dick couldn't sleep, with even more questions and ideas running through his mind. Finally, about 6:00, he had climbed out of bed and headed back downstairs. Only, this time, he found that he wasn't the only one who hadn't been able to sleep. Making his way down to the cave, where he thought he might try and access some computer files on the Merth corporation and such, he discovered the others, including Alfred, doing the exact same thing. Helena and Alfred were perusing the data files, while Richard was busy analyzing the compounds from the lab. They had talked ideas and possibilities out some more. But there still wasn't enough to go on, though they did find out some information about the compounds.
"And you say that two of these liquid compounds, when combined, formed a powerful explosive?" Dick's reverie was broken by Jay Garrick's voice questioning Richard about the very thing he had been contemplating. He had been pleased to see Jay when he first arrived, and it had showed in his greeting of the older man. When both Jay and Richard had looked at him questioningly at his enthusiasm, he had to explain that it was nice to see someone who actually seemed to be the same, in almost all ways, as his counterpart from Dick's own earth. And that he had long held Jay's counterpart in high regard, as someone who he would like to emulate when he got older. Besides, his Jay was just like a grandfather to one of his best friends had back home. Jay had been pleased, if slightly perplexed at his explanation. But now, after hearing about the previous night's incident, he was in scientist mode, trying to ascertain just what the gang might have been up to with trying to appropriate these particular chemicals.
"Yes Only a 5cc container filled with the mixture, if thrown at a steel-plated door, would be enough to blast the door to smithereens, as well as take out part of the adjacent wall."
"Doesn't sound good, Robin."
"No, Flash, it doesn't"
Dick was about to add his own observations when Helena, who had been seated near him, jumped up and hurried to the door, proclaiming, "Uncle Clark!" in a joy-filled voice.
Dick's train of thought was again derailed when he took in the man entering the doorway, and realized just who "Uncle Clark" was.
"Omigod", he whispered to himself, more awestruck than ever, as Helena enveloped the older, gray-haired man in a tight hug. "Superman."
But not anything like the Superman he was used to. No, this Superman was old, as old as Jay and the others, whereas his was years younger than the Jay Garrick on his earth. As well, the costume was slightly different, with a somewhat more curled "S" emblazoned across his chest, and a slightly squarer build. And, however much as he didn't think it was possible, this one exuded even more of a sense of nobility than his own. He remember meeting the Superman on his earth for the first time, and he had been enthralled. But the feeling he got from seeing this one was even a magnitude in order higher than that. He wasn't even sure why. There was just something about his stance, the look on his face.
He snapped out of his trance to hear the older man's low baritone questioning Helena, "Ñand Richard going to come have dinner with Lois and I again? She would love to see you."
"Soon, Uncle Clark, soon But you have to come and meet our guest." Helena looked to be about to head with "Uncle Clark" over to him when she apparently saw someone else coming in behind him "Karen!"
Superman shook his head fondly at the two younger women who were embracing by the doorway, before heading over to where Dick sat. Richard broke off his discussion with Jay to come over and make the introductions.
"Superman This is Nightwing."
"Though not our usual Nightwing "
"No He isn't. As I mentioned last night, he's apparently from another parallel earth, one that we haven't encountered before." Turning back to Dick, Richard inclined his head towards the older man, "Nightwing, this is Superman." Noting Dick's slightly dazed expression, he ventured, "Dick, there is a Superman on your earth, isn't there?"
"What! Oh, yes There is. Though he isn't old enough to have been a member of my earth's JSA."
"Ah Do you have the Justice League of America on your earth?" At Dick's nod, Superman continued, "Then I guess that's the group he's associated with."
"Well, yes Now Though not for the first several years of their existence."
Both Richard and Superman slightly raised their eyebrows with that. But neither commented. Turning back to the Flash, who had been joined by Hawkman, they unconsciously drew Dick into the previously held discussion.
"What do you think, Jay?" Superman inquired of his long-time friend.
"Hard to say, Clark. I'm going to need to run some tests. A spectral frequency analysis on Nightwing's cells."
"A spectral analysis? What for?", Dick wondered.
Hawkman, while removing the yellow cowl that covered his head, answered. "We've known for several years now that our different universal planes are separated by being on slightly different frequencies "
Flash picked up on Hawkman's explanation, "It's like an FM modulated radio. You know how different FM radio stations send out their signals on slightly different frequencies, such that as you tune up the radio dial, one station will fade out and another will come in". With Dick's nod, he continued, "Well, that's sort of like how this parallel universe stuff works Our bodies are attuned, right down to the quantum level, to a certain frequency "
" while other universes, such as Earth-1's, are attuned to a slightly different frequency." Superman finished.
Dick nodded his comprehension. "So my earth's is attuned to even another frequency than what yours and this Earth 1's are."
Jay nodded, "Yep Which is why I want to do the spectral analysis on you. It'll help us determine just where on the frequency scale your universe exists. Right now, your body is operating on our universal frequency. But there should still be some 'residual harmonic' of your natural frequency that we should be able to pick up." Tilting his silver, Mercury-styled hat back, he thoughtfully scratched the top of his head. "After that, hopefully we'll be able to get you back home. Some universes frequencies lie quite close to each other's, like ours and Earth-1's. Other's lie a bit further out on the 'FM dial', so to speak."
Dick again nodded understandingly. He was feeling better about the whole situation now. These people seemed to really know what they were dealing with here, with the talk of different universes and all.
Speaking up again, Hawkman added to the Flash's last bit. "And since the Crisis, it should be even easier, with our known number of parallel universes down to five, and evidence for most others being gone."
Dick jumped in with the mention of the word "crisis". "Crisis? What did the Crisis have to do with parallel earths? Ours had nothing to do with that. Just the war between the positive matter and anti-matter universes."
"Your earth had a Crisis?", Superman asked harshly, while the others looked at him in equal astonishment. "But how can that be, considering the Crisis dealt with the destruction of the multiple universes?"
"It did? Maybe yours did, our's didn't. All it was about was the Anti-Monitor from the anti-matter universe trying to take over, and maybe even destroy our positive matter universe. I have to admit, I wasn't around for the end of it, I was caught up in something else at the time."
"Hold on a second", Robin instructed "Just when did this 'Crisis' of yours take place?"
"Four Four and a half years ago Why?
"Why? Because ours took place more than a decade ago. That's why!"
After a short pause, the Flash slowly drawled, "Well It looks like we have something of a puzzle here, guys."
Dick was confused. "Why, Flash? So your 'Crisis' happened before the one on my earth. I admit, it's a bit strange, but considering all the other differences between our earths "
Superman interjected as Dick's voice trailed off. "It's not that simple, Nightwing. You see, all the universes that we know of experienced what we call the 'Crisis' at the exact same time. It's what destroyed several of the universes that make up what we consider the multiverse. Now you show up, and state that your universe had it's 'Crisis' at a difference time than what we've all experienced "
"Clark hold on a second. It might not be that at all."
The others turned back to Jay, as he continued. "Remember, our earth's 'time' doesn't pass at exactly the same rate as Earth-1's, though it's not a whole lot different. Maybe this young man's earth's time dilation is much slower than ours, such that only 4 1/2 years have passed in his time frame, compared to more than a decade in ours."
"He's got a point there "
"Yes, Robin, he does But it could also be that there's a different explanation. One's that not so benign. I suggest that we keep all options open at the moment." Hawkman, clearly used to being the leader of the JSA, decided on a route that would be the most cautious.
Realizing that the topic of conversation was getting away from what the meeting's point was, Richard quickly shifted the discussion back to the situation his young doppleganger had found himself in. "So, Jay,when do you want to start the tests on Nightwing here?"
"As soon as Charles gets here I'd like to have him on hand, for both his medical expertise and in case something happens." Turning to look at Dick, he added quickly, "Not that I think anything's going to, mind you."
Dick nodded reassuringly. "That's okay I trust you. Is the 'Charles' you mentioned Charles McNider, by any means?"
"Yep You've got one of him on your earth as well?"
Dick shrugged uncomfortably. "We did But he he died not so long ago."
"Oh". Dick looked around at the small group before him. He could almost feel the sense of unease that arose from each of them. It was probably pretty close to the feeling he had had when he had heard that the Bruce Wayne of this earth was dead.
"Is there any of our other colleagues who's counterparts on your earth have passed away?"
"A a few But most of them went fighting."
The others looked at each other in a knowing manner. Superman answered for all of them. "Yes I imagine that when any of us go, we want to know that it was doing what needed to be done."
Dick was curious, though hesitant to ask about who was still alive on this earth. Still, it might be important who to know was around to be able to help him. Taking a deep breath, he queried in a slow, soft voice, "So who here has gone doing what needed to be done."
Hawkman, after looking at the others for clearance to answer, answered. "Wes Dodds the Sandman. He died a few years back, though more from old age than anything else. He was the oldest one of us Rex Tyler Hourman He died 2 years back "
Flash interceded there, "Yes His son, Rick, is just really getting over his death now. Blamed himself, the poor kid "
"Why?", Dick wondered aloud.
"Rex put the suit back on when Rick and a close friend of his, Beth Chapel, the new Dr. Midnight, were captured on a mission for Infinity Inc. Rex managed to free Rick, but both he and Dr. Chapel were killed Rick suffered from a terrible case of survivor's guilt as a result "
"Yeah I know something of that feeling," Dick added softly.
The others regarded him, but he ignored their questioning looks. When they realized that he wasn't going to fill them in on this, Hawkman slowly continued his previous line of thought. "Atom's out of the super-hero business, due to some serious injuries he suffered about five years ago. We don't see much of Dr. Fate or Spectre anymore, though they will show up when absolutely necessary. Don't know quite why. They've never given us any indication, but they just don't seem to appear as often as they used to."
Dick had noticed that Helena had approached with the blonde woman that she had embraced at the door as Hawkman was going over the last bit. As he finished his sentence, she broke into the small circle of men. "Hey, can we stop with this rather depressing conversation. I don't think this is why we brought Dick here."
Superman regarded the young woman fondly. "Maybe not, Helena. But he's the one who asked."
Helena just gave the older man a stern look, while he smiled benignly at her. Shaking her head, she turned and indicated her companion. "Karen, this is Nightwing Dick This is Power Woman. Do you have a Power Woman on your earth?"
Dick smiled at the rather buxom woman, dressed in white spandex with a red cape, in front of him, before answering the Huntress. "Yes, we do, though she goes by Power Girl. Looks quite a bit like this one, too."
The blonde woman smiled back at him, before assessing him from top to toe and looking up knowingly, as he flushed a deep red. "And you do resemble somewhat that guy over there", she joked, jerking her head in Robin's direction. "Though you dress a little darker. Still," she turned to Helena, with her smile changing aspect slightly, becoming more mischievous, "he is pretty cute. So he can't be exactly like what's-his-face there "
The older gentlemen chuckled and moved off, leaving Dick with the two young women, while Robin hovered a few feet away, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there. "All right, Ms. Starr If you're going to be like that ", he started to warn, just as a hearty welcome hailed from the open door on the other side of the room
"Ah If it isn't my old team-mates And the lost love-of-my-life "
Dick looked over to see a man, younger than Robin, but slightly older than the two women, approach their small group. He wore a blue outfit, decorated with stars, while a gold belt encircled his waist. The outfit seemed slightly familiar.
"Sylvester Give it up. I was never the 'lost-love-of-your-life", Power Woman shot back at the man. "Jonni would kill you to hear you talk like that."
"Sylvester Sylvester ", Dick mused to himself. "Of course Sylvester Pemberton. Skyman."
"Hi, Star What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be basking out on the West Coast with the rest of the Infinitors?", Helena queried in a friendly manner as Robin reached over to grasp the other man's outstretched hand and Power Woman planted a peck on his cheek.
"Wish I was But I had some Pemberton business here on the east coast that needed dealing with. Was up in New York when I heard about our young visitor So I thought I'd come check it out Though, frankly, the thought of two Dick Grayson's hanging around scares me half-to-death", he ended with a smile and a wink at the women, while Robin rolled his eyes.
Dick sense the comraderie that the four others shared, and again noted how much he himself missed that in his life. These people obviously had a history with each other, and were comfortable with that history.
"Seriously, Sly, how are things out west?", Helena was asking when Dick brought his attention back to the others.
"As well as can be expected, Helena We're a little short of man-power at the moment, what with Lyta and Hector being back here for the time being, and that whole mess that went down with Jennie and Hank. I don't think Jennie's quite gotten over that yet. Heck, their relationship ended years ago. Hard to believe it would cause that whole mess. Doesn't help that Todd's currently incommunicado at the moment."
Dick tuned out a bit with that. While the names rang a few bells-and-whistles, he didn't recognize enough to be able to follow the conversation completely. As a result, when the next arrival showed up at the door, he was the first to notice her. And once again, he was stunned into silence.
Even with the passage of years, she was still lovely. But, considering the stories he had heard, that was to be expected. When one was given beauty by the Goddess of Love, that beauty probably would withstand the passage of time. And she was still regal in her stance, just as he had come to expect of her counterpart on his earth. Just as he should have expected her to be this old. The fact that both the Batman and Superman of this earth were of an age contemporary to that of the other members of the JSA would have alerted him to the fact that any one could be any age here. But in some ways, he hadn't expected this. And it caught him off-guard yet again. Just how many differences were there between this earth and his own?
Still gazing at her, even while he noted her beauty, he also noted a haunting sadness illuminating her eyes. Before he could even wonder to himself what had caused this sadness, he heard Superman exclaim, "Diana," as the older Man of Steel moved towards the woman at the door, with Hawkman close at his heels.
As the others turned to note Wonder Woman's arrival, she accepted the hugs given to her from both Superman and Hawkman, who added, "You didn't need to come. We would've all understood."
"It's alright, Carter I wanted to come. Lyta and Hector and the kids are with Steve, and I needed to get away from the house, if only for a short while. And I was curious when I heard the news."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. Besides, I left Steve reading to Daniel and Missy You know what he's like when he gets with our grandchildren."
"That's true. I'm not sure who spoils them more Him or me," Hawkman smiled at the woman in front of him. "Still, I know what it's like to have a spouse who's so ill "
Helena noted that Dick was looking confused at the exchange. Leaning over, she quickly whispered, "Wonder Woman's husband had a couple of strokes a couple of months back. It was touch-and-go for awhile, though he seems to be on the road to recovery now."
"Wonder Woman's husband?!?"
Power Woman, who had been listening in on the exchange, continued for Helena. "Yes Steve Trevor They've been married for years. Their daughter, Lyta, is married to Hawkman's son, Hector. They're members of Infinity Inc., going by Fury and Silver Scarab."
"Yeah except with her dad's illness, they've taken a leave of absence to help her mom out," Sylvester added. "It's definitely put a cramp in our power base, but there's no way I was going to stop them coming back here."
Dick was becoming more confused by the moment. "Wait Fury is Wonder Woman's daughter on this earth?"
"Yes I take it there's a Fury on your earth, but she wasn't Diana's daughter ," Robin put in.
"No That's not exactly possible Considering that Wonder Woman on my earth doesn't appear to be much older than me. There was a Fury on my earth And she did marry the older Hawkman's son. In fact, a a close friend on mine even attended their wedding, as she was on the west coast at the time " Dick's voice trailed off with that thought. When he didn't continue for a moment, Helena started to ask something, though Richard stopped her, as if knowing his younger counterpart would continue. After a moment or two, Dick did. "But I haven't heard much about Fury or Hawkman's son, who by that point was calling himself Sandman, for quite a while now."
"What? Infinity Inc. doesn't keep track of it's members over on your earth?" Sylvester added in a joking tone, as if to alleviate the mood.
Dick looked directly at the older man. "I'm afraid Infinity Inc. doesn't operate as a group on my earth anymore, sir."
"Oh " Sylvester looked a bit down at that thought. "Guess my counterpart wasn't as good a team leader as I am. That is, if I have a counterpart on your earth?"
Dick didn't know how to answer this. He hadn't had to come right out and tell anyone yet that their counterpart on his earth was dead. Somehow, it didn't seem like the best way to continue this discussion. So he decided to keep it simple. "Yes, there was a Star-Spangled Kid who then went by Skyman."
"Skyman? Oooo A complete name change Not just a dropping of the "Kid" part of my code-name. Hhhmmm Now there's something to think on "
Dick was relieved to have avoided having to bring up some unpleasantness that wasn't needed or wanted at this time. Again noting the concerned looks on the older members of the JSA's faces as they clustered around Wonder Woman, asking about her husband's treatments and such, he remembered something that Hawkman has said. "What did Hawkman mean about caring for a sick spouse?"
The other four's faces developed sorrowful looks with his question. Robin answered for the others, "Hawkman's wife, Hawkgirl, died a few years ago. Cancer. It wasn't it wasn't pleasant "
Power Woman nodded. "We all tried to do what we could. But somehow somehow it just wasn't enough." She made a fist, as if she wanted to smash something. Helena reached over and placed her own hand on top of Karen's closed one.
"We did what we could, Karen But some things have to be left up to God, I suppose "
"Still, with everything we can do "
Dick could feel the frustration radiating from the woman in front of him. He thought about what she was saying. If someone with her powers couldn't always solve a problem
"Life goes on, Karen That's the only thing any of us can count on", Robin said. He seemed to be about to say something else, when the window off to the other side of the room burst open. An older man, wearing red and green, with a green, glowing ring, flew into the room.
"Robin There you are "
"What's up, Green Lantern. You knew about the meeting. You knew I'd be here."
"Well Yes, but with that robbery last night "
"What about the robbery. We've already told the police we'd be by later to give more detailed statements."
"You haven't heard!"
"There was another robbery last night Taking place not too far from the one you were involved with, probably around the same time. Considering the circumstances your young friend here ," he nodded towards Dick, " is in, I thought the police would have notified you about it by now."
"The police don't know the full extent of the situation with Nightwing. Alan, what's going on?"
Green Lantern landed. "Well, it looks like while you were busy with the burglary at the chemical division of that research lab, there was another burglary going on in the theoretical physics department of another research lab about 2 blocks away "
"Yes And all the files that were taken had to do with inter-dimensional travel!"
"Nightwing You okay?"
"Yeah, Jay I'm fine. Think this will take much longer?"
"Not too much more, Nightwing. Then we can get on to the main testing." The voice coming out of the darkness didn't belong to Jay Garrick. Not that Nightwing could see anyways. Being in a pitch-dark room made that impossible. But while Nightwing couldn't see, he knew that Dr. McNider could, and that was reassurance enough.
Gentle fingers, that had been testing everything from his muscular reflexes to palpating various pressure points, let up. Dr. Mid-nite had also checked his pulse, respiration and breath sounds, blood pressure. He had taken a small amount of blood for analysis. They had decided earlier that a basic physical would be the best place to start, both to see if Dick had suffered any lasting effects from his little inter-dimensional trip, and to have some base-line readings before they started some of their more serious testing. Finally, Dick felt a small, sharp pull along the flesh of his forearm, where he knew that Dr. Mid-nite had planned to remove a few skin cells for further analysis.
"Okay, that should be fine for now", Dr. McNider stated. As the lights came up, Dick blinked rapidly, before shutting his eyes for a few moments to allow them to adjust back to normal. When he opened his eyes again, Dr. Mid-nite was placing his black cowl, with the darkened goggles, back over his head, and Jay was levering himself off the wall that he had been leaning against, having just flicked the lightswitch back on. Wandering over, he clapped Dick on the shoulder, while asking, "Not too bad, now was it?"
"No, sir. What now?" Dick hopped off the medical examining table where he had been perched. The surrounding room was filled with assorted bits and pieces of equipment that were obviously used for various scientific endeavors, though Dick could only guess at what some of them were for. The three of them had come down here almost an hour ago, after Dr. McNider had shown up upstairs. Before that, Dick had been debating with Robin and the Huntress about going with them to find out more about the other theft that Green Lantern had brought them news of. But even before the good doctor had put in his appearance, all his arguments had fallen to the wayside. As Helena had pointed out, if he wanted to get home as fast as possible, he had better make that his priority, not the thefts.
"Still, it had made him antsy. It was a mystery And all evidence pointed to it being a mystery that he could be very much a part of. The fact that he had undergone a major dimensional shift at the same time that someone was looking into inter-dimensional travel couldn't be just coincidence he had argued. And both he and Robin put forth the notion at the same time that the fact that the robbery they had stopped had seemed to be implemented by someone who was very similar to a person that was dead on this earth, but alive on others. Richard especially hadn't been all together pleased with the thought that they might be dealing with the Joker again. In any case It wasn't a lot, but it was more than just nothing.
"The others had agreed with him, but in the end, they had persuaded him that getting the tests done were more important than him playing detective. Especially, as Richard had pointed out with a wry grin, there was more than just him that could go and do a thorough job of investigating the crime scene.
Dick had flushed at that. Okay, he admitted to himself. He was used to being the one that came up with all the answers. It's what had made his role in the Titans so important. Even without being the physically strongest of them, he had known what his role was there. He wasn't used to not being the only one who could do this type of stuff Unless he was working with Bruce, and to some extent, Tim now. And neither Bruce or Tim were here. It was hard to defer that aspect to someone else.
So he had acquiesced, and they had gone off with a few of the others to look into the matter. A short while later, Dr. Mid-nite had shown up, and he and Jay had led Dick down here. The short physical had then commenced.
And now they were going to do more in-depth testing. Jay was already motioning over to another piece of equipment. "I think we'll try and do a whole body frequency analysis before Charles and I take those cells he collected to do one at the cellular level. Just let me make a few adjustments to this bit of equipment here "
With that, a red-and-blue whirlwind was set in motion around the machine. To a normal person, the rush of the wind generated and the blur of the figure would be disorientating. But Dick was used to super-speed, having grown up with Wally West as a close friend. After 30 seconds, the blur slowed back into that of the older man in the winged silver cap, with the machine sporting a few modifications.
"There Now if you just take a seat here, we're just going to hook up a few cables."
"This shouldn't hurt much at all, Nightwing", Dr. McNider reassured him. Going into further explanation as he attached various metal disks to Dick's forehead, he continued, "We're just going to take measurements of some of the various electrical signals of your body. We can then do a spectral analysis on them to see if any inherently strange frequencies show up within the signals. That might give us a clue as to where to look for frequency discrepancies on the cellular level."
"Just a way of narrowing down the search, then?"
"Pretty much so. So we'll take some EEG, some ECG, a few measurements of EMG and a record or two of your EOG "
Dick cast Jay an amused grin while the doctor rattled off some more medical terms. Luckily, Dick knew that he had meant that that they were going to be measuring his brain, heart, muscle and eye movement activity. Anyone else without the knowledge of the acronyms Dr. McNider had spouted might be wondering just what they were going to be doing to him.
" so you just lean right back in this chair, and relax. I'll be asking you to do certain things during our data collection, if you don't mind", Dr. Mid-nite concluded as both he and Jay finished attaching cables to the various disks that were now attached to various points of Dick's body.
Over the next hour, Dick was kept busy performing a number of small mental and physical tasks. As well, various mechanical and electrical stimuli were applied at various points over his body. While not harmful, some of them had been a bit uncomfortable. After that, he was disconnected and Jay sent him back upstairs, as he was going to start analyzing the recordings they had taken, while Dr. McNider prepared the cells for the spectral analysis to be done on them. Wandering back into the main meeting room, he was greeted by a somber looking group. Robin and Huntress had returned, and were going over their findings with the others present. They stopped their discussion long enough to inquire as to how the tests went. Dick told them that there wasn't any conclusive data yet, as they had just got done the preliminaries.
Nodding, everyone went back to discussing the theft from the theoretical physics lab.
"So the lab belongs to a Dr. Maldar, who's been interested in finding an easier way to access the various other dimensions?", Wonder Woman clarified.
"Yes Since the knowledge of our "sister" dimensions has become more wide-spread in the last decade, certain private sector industries have seen it as a chance to expand their markets even more Having a easy, cheap and reliable way of transversing the dimensions would make for easier trading to be set up", Robin outlined. "As a result, several private labs have been funded to work on this problem."
"I've been hearing reports about this type of thing for years now at work, but didn't think that anyone was really all that close to making it possible. Sure, we can make the occasional trip to Earth-1 and the others when necessary But to do it on a large, long-term scale " Superman was visibly annoyed with the thought. The others looked quite pensive as well.
"True, cousin Though speaking as a business person myself, I can see the logic, skewed as it is. A greater consumer market means for more potential sales."
"C'mon Karen Don't these people realize that there will already be industries set up on the other earths to handle their own consumer markets?"
"Helena When we're talking cash, a lot of people's logic goes right out the window."
Dick watched the conversation unfold in front of him with interest. He hadn't thought a lot of the repercussions that knowledge of other earth-like dimensions would have on a society. And a few more details had been revealed, whetting his curiosity. Why did Power Woman refer to Superman as "cousin" And what type of business did she run? What did Superman mean about hearing reports about this stuff "at work?" He'd have to ask Richard and Helena later.
"Anyways It looks like Dr. Maldar's work was getting her very close to determining a way of making inter-dimensional shifting on a large scale much easier. But it appears that the work is still all theoretical. There hasn't been any practical tests done yet. At least, that's what she told us when we questioned her this morning", Robin concluded.
"So all that were taken were a number of computer files with her various equations and such. She has backed up copies, but didn't give them to us to examine, claiming "intellectual property rights". Can't say I blame her. Anyone else gets a hold of this material, they can claim it as their own work, as nothing's been patented yet." Dick smiled as he could hear the lawyer coming out in Helena's voice. But her next statement brought him back to his own problem.
"Still, we don't know how this ties in with the robbery at the chemical lab, or with Nightwing here. It would appear that they might all tie in together, but there's nothing concrete so far. Still, Dick and I were able to collect a few smudged fingerprints from the lab. We'll see if we can cross-match any of them."
"Good ," Hawkman commended the young woman. "Now, I think we should be getting back to our more immediate situation. That of getting Nightwing back to his own earth."
For the first time, the elderly man in the green checked jacket and bow-tie spoke up. "Say, you think that Thunderbolt could help there?"
A bright flash filled the room as the man finished his sentence. Turning in his seat, Dick could make out a sparkling pink figure hanging in the air behind him, as the smell of crackling ozone rose in his nostrils. The figure darted around the room, like an electrical arc darts between the broken ends of a cable. Upon closer inspection, Dick saw what looked like the top half of a man raising out of the bottom of a lightning bolt.
"I don't know, Master John. How do you suggest we proceed?" the creature spoke in a slightly static-filled voice.
"Well Just try and zap him back from where he came from", the old man piped up again.
"As you wish, Master John." With that, the lightning creature gestured at Dick, even as Dick noticed the others' faces developing concerned expressions. Immediately, a tingling started deep in the center of his body. It then moved out, encompassing all that he was. The tingling then grew, and became stronger, such that he felt his whole body was attached to a large tuning fork, the vibrations getting more pronounced. Alarmed, he looked at the others, but couldn't make them fully out, as they seemed to shift and vibrate as well. Still, he sensed a number of them rising from their chairs, and a sense of panic overtaking them. Or was it overtaking him? He couldn't be sure. But he could now feel himself being physically lifted from the chair, and hanging in mid-air, as the very air around him seemed to be incorporated into the strange vibrational jarring his body was undergoing. It was getting worse, as he could literally feel the molecules in his body being pulled from each other. Pain seemed to be overcoming his senses, as all sense of reality faded around him. Finally, he let out a scream, begging the creature the Thunderbolt to stop. He could vaguely hear the others saying no ordering the man, Master John, to call the Thunderbolt off.
As he did, Dick fell and slumped to the ground. Gasping for breath, he sensed, more than felt, others rushing over to him. Angry voices were demanding to know just what had happened.
"Johnny What were you thinking?", he could hear Helena demanding furiously from just beside him.
"Hey I'm sorry. But the young fella wants to get home. Thunderbolt usually doesn't have much trouble hopping across dimensions, as we found out when my Earth-1 counterpart took control of him. I just thought he could help." The older man's voice fell slightly with that.
"It's okay, Johnny We know you meant well," Dick heard Superman's deep tones reassuring the man. Looking up, he saw him laying a hand on the shoulder of the slumped form of the man in the chair. "Now we just have to figure out why your Thunderbolt couldn't send Nightwing home."
"I'm afraid I don't know," the sparkling creature answered in response to Superman's question. "It should have worked, but there seemed to be some sort of 'barrier' that prevented me from being able to adjust the young man's body to its proper frequency." Moving to hover over Dick, the Thunderbolt continued, "I'm sorry to have caused you any pain. However, there shouldn't be any lasting damage."
"It's okay I'm fine I just need to get my breath back," Dick smiled both at the old man and his apparently magical companion "But don't do it again," he added in a mock stern voice, trying to lighten the mood.
The others slowly responded to his joke, settling back, with small grins crossing their own faces. Only Richard and Helena still looked uncertainly at Dick, making sure for themselves that he was okay. He nodded to both of them, silently conveying that everything was fine.
With that, he slowly rose and regained his seat at the table. Wonder Woman appeared behind him, bringing a glass of water with her. Thanking her profusely, he then sipped at the liquid, as he pondered what the Thunderbolt said about a "barrier. What did it mean? Could there be a chance that he wouldn't be able to get home?!?
A worried frown crossed his face with that thought. The others picked up on it and reluctantly, he answered their questions about what he was concerned about. They could only nod sympathetically. At the moment, they didn't know what else to do.
That is, all except the former Star-Spangled Kid, now Star-Spangled Man. "Look, kid The Thunderbolt's not omnipotent, even if he does want you to think so. Let Jay and Charles finish their tests. We'll be able to work something out. You'll see."
Picking up on Sylvester's optimism, the others concurred, trying to reassure Dick that nothing was settled in regards to how his situation could be handled. He was starting to feel a bit better when Jay and Dr. McNider appeared in the doorway to the conference room.
He turned towards them, hoping that they could lay his last fears at rest. However, the perplexed look on their faces didn't reassure him at all.
Jay, carrying a sheaf of papers, came over to the table. Throwing them down, he got right to the point. "Sorry, but it looks like we might have a small problem "
"Problem!?! What sort of problem?!?", Dick, rising from his chair, demanded to know. Only Helena's tight grip on his forearm made him realize what he was doing, and he slowly sat down, trying to calm the increased sensation of anxiety that, already at a higher pitch due to the Thunderbolt's activity, was racing along his nerves now.
"Easy, son It's a problem But it might not be insurmountable. Basically, we've determined what your body's fundamental frequency is But it's much higher than any that we've dealt with before. And when I was trying to adjust our inter-dimensional transponder to the frequency, I encountered significant feed-back through the system."
Grabbing a chair, he sat down. Leaning over on his forearms, he addressed Dick directly. "It's like this. Remember that FM radio analogy I used earlier. Well, think of it this way. Our earth, and the other dimensional earths we've had contact with, are all set within a small range of the FM radio dial. However, your earth is set much higher on the dial, even off the scale of what we're used to. As well, there's a lot of dead space on the radio dial between our 'stations' and your 'station'. A lot of static. like there's no stations broadcasting in those ranges."
Dick nodded, swallowing the large lump of tension that was blocking his throat at the Flash's description of his situation. But the Flash wasn't done.
"Now, on top of that, it appears that right before we're about to hit the frequency that your 'station' is on, there's a build up of the static "
"The 'barrier' that the Thunderbolt was referring to", Dick added in a monotone.
"'Barrier'? 'Thunderbolt'? Did I miss something?", Jay inquired.
"We'll explain later, Jay", Hawkman assured his friend.
"Well okay I guess 'barrier' is as good a description as anything But whatever this thing is, it's going to make getting you home a little harder. Fortunately, I do know of a few people who can help us there. Unfortunately, it means you might have to make another inter-dimensional trip. Think you're up for it?"
"I guess But where are "
"Where are we going? To Earth-1 "
To be continued in Next month's FANZING!
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This story is © 1999 by Marilee Stephens.
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