fine layer of red dust flew into J'Onzz's face, carried by the wind. A speck
fell on to his red eye causing him irritation and snapping him out of his
trance. Blinking he looked around his surroundings and gasped in disbelief.
There were dunes of red sand, winds rushed across the land raising clouds into the air. In the distance he could make out five green figures slowly trekking up a large mountain. Closer to him was a collection of stones arranged into a complicated pattern.
"The sign of return?" J'Onzz knelt by the stones running his fingers over them to confirm that they were real "My wife would leave this to tell me when she would return with our child."
J'Onzz clutched a green hand to his face, his head swimming. This was Mars, the world of his birth. Before he was whisked away, before he took the name the Martian Manhunter. His wife and child were alive.
"Good morning neighbour." Came a brisk voice from behind him.
J'Onzz turned round his blue cape swishing as he did so. Standing there, with the red sand swirling around his ankles was a middle aged human, his hair streaked with white among the black. He had comforting smile but his eyes were impossible to see under his thick eyebrows. He was wearing trousers, shirt and a jacket. His tie fluttered in the wind. In his hands he held a pipe and a golf club. The strangest thing was that the man was black and white, there was no natural colour on him.
"Who are you?" J'Onzz trying to make sense of what was happening.
The man chuckled "Sorry, I should introduce myself. I am Mike, thought I'd come and welcome you to the neighbourhood."
"Neighbourhood? What neigb.." The words caught in his throat.
J'Onzz looked past Mike and saw a suburban community, small little homes with beautiful gardens surrounded by white picket fences. Lampposts stood on the corner of the pavements, the roads were empty of all traffic. Children ran back and fore, playing in the Sunlight. Men tended the gardens while the smell of cooking drifted from the kitchens along with the sound of women singing. All in black and white.
J'Onzz looked between the two landscapes. The subtle different shades of Mars brushing against the black and white Earth community. All of this confusion made it difficult for the Martian Manhunter to concentrate. How did he get here? How was this possible? His mind was a blank.
"I don't think I caught your name." Mike smiled and put the pipe in his mouth although J'Onzz noticed it wasn't lit.
"I am J'Onn J'Onzz but I am more commonly known as the Martian Manhunter."
"Quite a title you have there." Mike tapped his foot with the golf club "I am sure you have some interesting stories. Why don't you come over and meet the wife. I am sure June can whip up some cookies or some such."
"You live in one of these houses?" J'Onzz asked looking around.
"No, up in the old castle." Mike turned and pointed past the street to the top of a small grassy hill.
Against the clouds was a large white castle, complete with turrets and towers. It was like something out of an Earth fairytale. This was getting stranger and stranger.
"I would like to go to your castle now." J'Onzz said solemnly.
"Knew you won't be able to resist June's cookies." The pipe in Mike's mouth bobbed up and down as he talked.
Prys sighed with contentment as she sat on her balcony. One hand idly scratched the dragon, which sat at her feet, behind its ear. She stood up and went into her room to find her small sister, Janey, digging through her wardrobe. Silk dresses covered the floor and Prys's large pink four poster bed.
"Janey, what do you think you are doing?" Prys scowled at the little girl.
Her sister's ponytail swished round and put on her best 'innocent' faces "Nothing!"
"You were taking my clothes." Prys snapped back.
"Well, all I have are dungarees. Dad's bringing a guest to the castle and I want to look my best. And any how you were borrowing D'ann!" Janey pointed at the dragon that waddled off the balcony and over to the young girl.
"Nerf?" The animal said.
"I am not mad at you." Janey said throwing her hands around the beast's neck and giving it a big hug, pressing a cheek against its scales.
"A guest?" Prys clasped her hands together "I wonder if its Wade or Cody."
Janey scrunched up her face, her button nose turning red "It's not one of your icky boyfriends. It's one of the green people."
"Green people?" Prys turned a paler shade of white.
Dashing back on to the balcony she looked around the town. It seemed normal enough, the quiet streets, the school, and the cinema, the milkshake shop and sandy dunes. No, that wasn't right. There shouldn't be sand.
Squinting Prys could just make out a line of tall thin people with pointed heads. Prys shook her head in disbelief, this isn't what she wanted at all. Entering her room she rushed past her little sister who was struggling to pull a dress off the dragon's nose, caught on a lose scale.
Darting down the stone staircase she passed two of her brothers Bif and Scot throwing a ball between them. Prys gave a yelp as the ball headed straight towards her head. She ducked just in time but bumped Bif who failed to catch the ball. Instead it bounced off the wall and smashed a beautiful vase, her Mother's favourite.
"Oh no, Dad will go crazy." Bif whimpered.
"Don't worry, I have a plan to get out of this." Scot said looking at the fragments of the vase.
Prys rolled her eyes "Just tell Dad. It's the decision you'd come to in about twenty-eight minutes and Dad will forgive you. In half an hour everything will be back to the way it was."
With that she continued on towards the Living room. Her brothers looked at each other and then at the vase. Slowly they picked the pieces up and put them on to the wooden table.
"So what do we do for twenty eight minutes? "Bif asked.
"Its so nice to meet you Mr J'Onzz." June held out a plate of fresh cookies "Are you sure you won't like any."
J'Onn looked around the room. He was sat on a sofa, which faced a wood chair, and a large glass window through which he could see a turret. There was a felt line of carpet covered with golf balls, a cup at the end of the carpet with a flag next to it. Over the fire hung a family painting consisting of Mike, June, three boys, two girls and a large dragon. It was a bizarre melding of medieval and modern.
June was a middle-aged woman, slightly younger than her husband. She wore a dress overlaid with a white apron, which was completely clean despite the fact June had just been cooking.
"I am sure they are delicious but I am not hungry." J'Onn turned to regard Mike who was struggling to knock one of the golf balls into the cup "How is it that you have a castle?"
Mike took the pipe out of his mouth "Well you know how the saying goes. A man's home is his castle."
J'Onn frowned "I do not believe that it was meant literally. What is your occupation?"
"You know, it's never come up." Mike replaced the pipe and returned his concentration to the golf balls "But, you can bet its nine to five and wholesome."
"Do you work?" J'Onn asked June as she arrange a vase of flowers.
"Oh dear no." June laughed "I am a full time housewife and Mother."
J'Onn put a finger to his mouth as he mused on the situation. These people did not seem real. There were vital details that had been left out. Yet they seemed familiar to him, something from Human culture that explained their behaviour and their lack of colour.
"The Martian Manhunter!" Came a young woman's voice.
Everyone turned and saw the sixteen-year-old girl with a mop of hair and wearing a long dress. Her eyes were wide as she stared at J'Onn. He stood up from the sofa and stared at her, there was something very familiar about her as well.
"Princess, it's rude to yell at guests." Mike said with a warning tone.
"Oh Mike, can't you see the poor girl is surprised." June placed a hand on Mike's arm.
"You're right dear. J'Onn J'Onzz this is my daughter Prys."
"Prys?" The name connected with a memory "Prsym, you were a member of the Teen Titans."
"I think you are mistaken Mr J'Onzz. Our daughter isn't a member of any gangs. She isn't that kind of girl." June said stepping over to her daughter.
"No Mother, he's right. I was a member of the Teen Titans but I left when the old group took the name again. I guess there wasn't a place for me. I was without a family." Prysm looked down at her feet "Again."
"Don't be silly Princess. Your family will always be here." Mike joined his wife by Prysm.
"May I speak to your daughter alone?" The Martian Manhunter fixed the two parents with a stern gaze.
"She isn't in any trouble, is she?" June looked very worried.
"Don't worry Mother. I need to speak with him." Prysm stepped towards the large alien.
"That's my daughter. Always facing up to her responsibilities." Mike looked with pride at the young girl.
Prysm lead the Martian Manhunter out of the castle and down towards the suburbs. The whole way the Martian Manhunter had remained silent while Prysm squirmed. It was almost a relief when he finally spoke.
"Explain this." He said simply.
"This is where I was born." Prysm waved her hand "I was raised by the Psion inside a virtual world. When the others, my Teen Titans, rescued me it was destroyed. My family died."
"It was not real." J'Onn looked out to the red dunes "They did not really die."
Prysm shook her head "But it was real to me and it was all I had. When everyone split up I didn't want to be alone again. So I sneaked on to the JLA base and used the Dream Cube."
"That was captured from a villain long ago. During the time the Atom lead the group." J'Onzz remembered walking past the red cube in its glass case, resting among all the other trophies the group had collected.
"Yes, he used to tell us about his time with the JLA most of the time. He said how it could make anyone wishes come true." Thoughts of the old group brought a smile to Prysm's face.
"It was intended as a trap. Imprisoning them in a world that the victim would not wish to escape." J'Onzz was recalling now the details from the JLA computers.
"That's the point J'Onn, I don't want to escape. I want to live here." Prysm looked about "I have missed all this so much."
"Now that you have explained some of this I can recall answering an alarm on the JLA base. A security breach in the trophy room. I had just entered the room when a red light blinded me. Next thing I know I am on Mars." J'Onn returned his gaze to the red dunes.
"The cube must have crafted your world as well."
"Right alongside each other, black and white mixing with colour." J'Onn saw a pot bellied man using his hose to wash away the sand covering his garden."
"There's colour?" Prysm asked looking about "I am colour blind and can't tell."
J'Onn shook his head "We must leave. If only I could remember how the JLA defeated this device before."
Prysm moved in front of J'Onn blocking his progress down the street "No! If we open the box my world will vanish. I can't watch my family die again."
"I have no intention of living in a fantasy world." J'Onn started to drift into the air "Maybe I can find an exit."
The Martian Manhunter rose quickly into the grey sky. Prysm clenched her fists and a burst of colour flashed over her body, ripping her dress to shreds. When the light subsided she looked like a glass statue glowing with a red light.
Frustration surged within the Martian Manhunter. He had hoped that their environment was still a cube and that the sky would eventually stop revealing a hidden wall. So far he had found nothing. It was annoying to know he was within a prison but not find the limits. He was distracted by a blast of energy, which narrowly missed him.
Turning he saw Prysm in the form he had first seen her during the business involving the whole of the Teen Titans against the JLA. From her hands another blast of energy streaked towards him. Using his great speed the Martian Manhunter dodged out of the way. As she approached Prysm turned a darker shade of red.
"I won't let it happen again." Prysm shouted "If you break the cube I'll lose them forever."
Quickly J'Onn turned invisible and moved behind Prysm. She fired a hail of energy in the air where he had been hoping to strike him and so was surprised when he grabbed her from behind holding her arms.
"I have lost my family but they were real. Do not expect me to feel compassion for illusions." He growled.
Prysm struggled to break J'Onn's hold but he was too strong. Seeking an alternative she used her flying powers she somersaulted behind J'Onn while the Martian kept hold of her arms. Once behind him she pointed her hands towards him and fired a blast at close range hit J'Onn in the chest.
Once his grip loosened Prysm broke free and got some distance between the two off them "Don't tell me they're illusions. They're who I grew up with. How can you judge what is real?"
"Reality is sometimes not what you want. Reality isn't a dream but it has substance." The Martian Manhunter tried to work out the best way to subdue the young woman.
"These people have substance. I love them and they love me." Prysm started to turn green as the Martian Manhunter closed on her.
There was a flash and suddenly there were five Prysm's, each glowing green. They started to weave in and out of each other. The Martian Manhunter stopped, surprised at this new development. If he had been concentrating he should have expected it. After all she was a living prism, able to covert any light passing through her, projecting it as an energy blast or bending it to her will.
"Which one of us has substance?" The five Prysm's said in union raising their hands.
Energy blasts flew towards J'Onn. Two struck him on his leg causing a sharp pain to flow through his body. It felt both as if he had been cut and burnt. At least it wasn't real flames. J'Onn returned fire with his heat vision but it past straight through the Prysm that he had been aiming for.
"Not so easy to tell the difference between reality and illusion, is it?" Prysm chided, sounding more and more like the other teenagers that J'Onn had met.
J'Onn summoned his concentration, there must be a way to workout which was the real Prysm. Some way to work out which was real and which was a reflection.
"Of course." The Martian Manhunter surged forward, barrelling into one of the Prysms.
His gamble paid off as the two fell towards the road, the other female forms dispersing. They hit the ground, tangled up in J'Onn's blue cape. J'Onn pinned Prysm to the tarmac, her attempts to break free in vain.
"How did you know?" Prysm asked, shocked by her capture.
"Your eyes. They were reflecting my image in all of your illusionary forms. All I had to do was work out where you were to get that exact reflection." The Martian Manhunter watched the young lady change to a deep blue colour.
A small boy dashed round the corner and came to a sudden stop upon seeing the two combatants "Holy Smokes, another alien fighting the towns people."
"What?" J'Onn said in surprise, he stood up freeing Prysm.
"Don't hurt me!" The boy jumped over a fence and dashed into a nearby house.
Prysm and the Martian Manhunter looked at each other. Now they had stopped fighting they could here people yelling from around the corner, where the boy had just come from. It sounded like an angry mob. Putting their difference aside for the moment they went to investigate.
A tall thin Martian struggled to free himself from rope that the townspeople had bond him in. The uniformed human was trying to keep the crowd back with little success. Nearby a man in glass rubbed his bruised cheek.
"He's got to be arrested for attacking Mr Book the librarian." Shouted a little old lady.
"Infidels. He struck me first!" Yelled the Martian in his own language. The townspeople stared at him blankly.
"What'd he say?" Asked the uniformed human.
Another green figure pushed through the crowd. While he looked more human with his shorter and thicker frame, round head and slopping forehead the Martian recognised him as one of his kinsman.
"What are you people doing?" J'Onn put himself between the mob and the Martian.
"He hit Mr Book." Said the sheriff.
"Oh Sheriff James, that can't be true." Prysm said turning pink "Why would anyone hit Mr Book."
"I was just explaining that there was no life on Mars." Said the man rubbing his cheek and at the same time tangling his white hair.
"He said our life was a lie!" Said the Martian.
"You said he struck you first." J'Onn naturally slipped into Martian and had to remind himself that all of this was not real.
"His words struck for him. Our ways must be defended." The ropes around the Martians wrists started to tear.
In the distance a horn sounded. The mob was distracted from their captive. In the distance a large group of Martians rushed down from the red dunes towards the black and white town. They held spears in their hands, which they rattled in anger.
"A battle tribe!" The Martian Manhunter said, a tinge of fear in his voice.
"A what?" Prysm asked flexing her hands, ready to fire energy blasts if need be.
"Usually Martian's are nomadic by nature but when attacking, different groups will band together as a battle tribe." Explained J'Onzz.
"They have come to reclaim me!" Yelled the Martian breaking his bonds.
Before she knew what was happening Prysm found herself pulled upwards by J'Onn. Below her the sheriff was struggling with the Martian. Mr Gathers the PE teacher and Mr Dundin who owned the bowling alley tired to help him but the Martian was stronger. The rest of the crowd that had surrounded the area dispersed, rushing away from the approaching battle tribe.
"What are you doing? Prysm regained her calm and used her own powers to hold herself aloft in the air. "We have to help those people."
"Which ones?" The Manhunter let Prysm go "Your humans or my Martians?"
"Gosh, we aren't going to have to fight again are we?" Prysm asked not relishing another battle.
Before the alien could answer there was a loud tearing noises above them. The grey sky start to part revealing a red matrix of girders intertwined with wires. Below them buildings appeared and disappeared while red dust fell like snow quickly covering the town in a thick layer. The Martians stormed through the town while the humans tried to combat them with baseball bats, garden hoses and rakes.
"It's collapsing!" J'Onzz said "The cube can't handle the two conflicting worlds."
"Oh no, is there anything we can do?" Prysm watched a Martian throw a spear at a dog only to be crushed under a sudden heavy fall of red sand.
"There will be a control unit which holds the intregal parts of the cube together. It will take the form of the most important thing here." The Martian Manhunter looked around to see if he could see a likely suspect.
Prysm was already flying towards the castle "My family."
"Hello dear." June said as Prysm flew down on to the battlements "Come to help fight the invaders?"
Nearby Mike was using his golf club to send small white balls flying through the air before striking one of the hordes of Martians trying to break through the wooden doors of the castle. Mike had a wide grin on, his pipe firmly clamped in his teeth.
The three boys had saucepans on their heads as makeshift helmets. They had a large pile of water balloons, which they throwing down on to the attackers, covering the green skinned aliens in water, ink and slime. Little Janey was riding on the back of D'ann, the dragon growling as it looked over the wall.
"Come to help defend the old family home?" Mike said lining up another shot.
"Daddy, I need to save everyone." Prysm said gazing up at the sky which was crackling with energy.
Janey followed Prysm's gaze and gave a short shriek "Daddy, the sky is falling!"
"Hmmm." Mike scratched his smooth chin "I am sure the government will fix it. Nothing to worry about."
"Cripes, there's a lot of Martians out there." Scot shielded his eyes with his hand looking at the devastation in the town "They've torn up all of 5th Avenue and the school house."
"Hurrah!" Janey and Bif said together.
"I better go and whip up another batch of cookies to feed all those townspeople downstairs." June adjusted her apron "Its lucky we managed to get everyone in before the Martians attacked."
Mike took the pipe out of his mouth and gave his wife a kiss on the cheek causing her to blush (as much as a black and white woman can blush) and she giggled.
"Oh Mike, not in front of the children." June quickly turned and scurried back into the castle.
"You don't understand." Prysm said in desperation "If we don't act quickly everything will be destroyed. Not just the town but the whole world. I'll loose you all again."
"Again? We've always been here for you princess and we always will be." Mike's eyes grew wide "Behind you Prys, one of those Martians is attacking by air."
J'Onn flew down from the sky, his blue cape bellowed as he landed. He stared impassively at Mike as the human rushed towards him, ready to strike him with a golf club. Causally the Martian Manhunter grabbed the club and crushed the metal.
"That was my best Open Faced Sand Wedge." Mike said in dismay.
"Hmmm Open faced sandwich." Bif said licking his lips and rubbing his stomach "I am going to see Mom."
Prys watched her hunger brother rush off before turning to her Father "Daddy, you remember Mr J'Onzz, he's come to help."
"I thought he had joined his people and come to hurt us." Mike said backing away from the alien.
"I have no intention of hurting anyone." J'Onn saw the dragon scrapping its claws on the stone floor "Your beast had better not attack me."
"Behave D'Ann." Janey whispered in the creatures ear.
There was a sound like thunder and in the distance a large crack could be seen cutting its way through the town, Main street divided in two. A small group of Martians who were looking for any stragglers in the town where surprised and could do nothing as the crack struck them. They twisted in agony for a moment before they blinked out of existence.
"We do not have much time." J'Onn said "If we are still inside the cube when the systems collapses the energy will kill us."
"That doesn't sound good." Said Janey looking a the light flashing what remained of the sky.
"But, you said the intergal system would take the form of the most important thing here. That's my family, so where are the intergal systems?" Prysm looked at her relatives who could only look at her blankly.
"There must be an icon we can access, one that represents your family." J'Onn remembered something he had seen in the castle earlier "The portrait."
"Lets go." Prysm said in understanding. She looked warmly at her family "I'll be back soon."
Mike waved to her as she followed J'Onn into the castle "Don't worry dear, well hold down the fort!"
Behind him Biff whispered to his brother "When are we going to tell Dad about the vase?"
The family portrait glowed, light rushing along the outlines of the family members. J'Onn ran his fingers over the surface and found that the surface was raised. His eyes came to rest on a small signature at the corner of the painting.
"I painted that when I was with the Titans. Painting was the only way I could create a reminder of the the people I lost. After all, its not like I could take any photos." Prys explained turning a light purple.
"The Dream Cube used the painting as the perfect icon, representing what you held most dear." J'Onn pressed the painting hard and there was a metallic clunk..
The painting unfolded revealing a matrix of circuits that quickly filled the room. Along the girds where breaks which fizzled with electricity, sparks flew from circuit breakers. For Prysm, who had grown up with 50's technology this was far beyond her. J'Onn had seen many types of machinary and had the benefits of being coached through their workings by the brightest minds in the universe.
"It is as I thought. Unable to cope with two conflicting "ideal" worlds the system is destroying itself. The only hope for keep the system going is to combine our powers and fuse the circuits into place." J'Onn said solemnly.
"Then lets do it." Prysm raised her hands, ready to unleash her powers.
"If we fuse the circuits we become trapped. The Dream Cube will never open again." The Martian Manhunter knew his words would hurt the teenager "The luxury of time has been taken from us. We either fuse the system or destroy it allowing our escape."
"But , I can't." Prysm stammered lowering her hands. "My family, I can't kill them. I don't want you to be trapped here because of me but you can't ask me to "
"Its all right dear." Came a kind voice from behind Prysm.
The young heroine turned and saw her Mother standing in what had been the doorway. The rest of Prysm's family stepped forward. They looked at her with love in their eyes.
"We only want the best for you Princess." Mike said put him arm around his wife.
"Yeah, you didn't have to be our big sister for ever." Bif said rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment "We're getting big enough to look after ourselves."
" We all grow up." Janey said and D'Ann growled in agreement.
"You'll always have our love." June said resting her head on Mike's shoulder.
The castle shook as the energy storm outside assaulted the stones, chipping them away. The Martians screamed as they were thrown against the wooden doors of the building before being wiped out of existence.
"Prysm, you must decide now." J'Onn said.
Gritting her teeth Prysm raised her arms and pointed them at the circuitry. A pure beam of light struck the circuitry in a narrow beam, melting the metal together. J'Onn then saw smoke coming from the metal as Prysm continued to push through increasing the strength of her energy blast. A small hole was starting to form in the machinary.
Standing next to the teenager J'Onn unleashed his own beams of red light that emerged from his eyes. Together the hole widened revealing twisting tunnel of blue light. At the far end the JLA trophy room could just be seen. The two heroes could feel the tunnel pulling at them, their escape route back to reality.
"That's my girl." Said Mike "Always facing up to her responsibilties."
The blue light surronded J'Onn and Prysm pulling them towards the trophy room just as the castle crumbled away in a torrent of energy. The whole time Prysm kept her eyes on her family huddling together. Watching them get smaller and smaller.
"I love you." She said quietly, turning a bright yellow, as they vanished from her sight forever.
"I am sorry." Prysm said stepping into the teleporter tube.
"You have said." J'Onn allowed himself a smile "No real harm was done."
"The Dream Cube exploded." Prysm placed her hand on the cold metal of the tube.
"It was a relic of the past. There are other things in the present which are more important." J'Onn set the controls for the teleporter.
"Where are you sending me?" Prysm didn't quite know whether she would appear in a jail cell after all the trouble she had caused.
"I believe the Teen Titans are active again and that Argent, a member of your team, is with them. Maybe they can give you a direction in your life." J'Onn stepped back from the controls.
"J'Onn, may I ask you a question before I go?" Prysm twiddled her fingers.
"A quick one, the teleporter is set." J'Onn watched the timer on the computer tick down.
"I couldn't bear leaving my perfect world. If the cube created your perfect world why did you try to leave immediately?" The teleporter beam started to surrond her.
"Because I always carry my perfect world inside me," J'Onn said just in time.
The teleporter beam completely covered the heroine and carried her away to Earth. For a moment he stood alone in the base. At last he turned and headed towards his sleeping quarters to dream of his wife.
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