This story is based in the 5 Earths Project continuity, and is built on what was written before by myself, Brad Cobb, and Martin Maenza. For those unfamiliar with the setting, it assumes that there were 5 earths left after the great Crisis on Infinite earths. Earth 4 is a combination of Charlton and MLJ/Red Circle characters.
He met with the group he had selected in the city of New York.
He handed each of them plane tickets and a vial of formula designed to alter the strands of DNA in each of them in a different way.
He gave them their mission and sent them on their way.
Christopher Smith stood behind a plastic window. The action arm of his new agency were working out below.
He expected several more members from their native countries in the next few days. He was new to this group commitment, but so were the rest of his agents.
They were individuals who were becoming a group to rival any in the world.
Sarge Steel checked the monitors that his technicians were watching. He knew he made his people nervous but something was up.
He felt it in the air. It was a calm before a sudden storm.
"Major Force has escaped from the Brightwell facility, sir," said one of the men. "The FBI and Marshall Service have put out an alert."
"Let me know if they get a good lead. Dawson, see if we had an eye over Brightwell. Cornell, call Hennessy and place him on alert."
Steel thought for a second.
This was something, but not what he had expected. That threatening feeling was still there.
Akira Moto smiled.
He had made a place in his yard that would serve as a concealed workshop. It had taken a bit of work, but the equipment he had found had been easily adapted to suit his needs.
Figuring what he wanted to do was the hard part.
Akira decided in the long run that he could not be a full time hero like Kodama Katana, the spirit sword. Instead he must turn his talents to emergencies and rescues when possible.
Blaine Whitney picked up his phone on the third ring. He sat in a swivel chair, looking out of his office window on the crowded streets below.
"Whitney," he said. "Hello, Roy. I haven't talked to you in a while. How have you been?"
He listened intently to the voice on the other end.
"I don't have my talents any more, Roy, but I will be glad to have a look at your problem.
"Sure, I'll get a plane out there as soon as I hang up.
"See you in a day or two, Roy. Say hello to Lucy for me."
Whitney hung up the phone. A frown pulled across his face as he called the airport to check to see if his plane could be readied to go.
He wondered was going on. He hadn't seen Roy in a while, not since the sixties. He placed the problem to the side until he had more information on the problem.
He already knew it was going to be something dangerous. It would have to be for Roy to ask for him as the Wizard.
He walked along the edge of the cliff, scarf blowing gently in the wind. The brim of his black hat fluttered slightly, shading the cool eyes underneath its protection.
He had been asked to deal with a serious problem by the collective monitors. It was something they felt he was uniquely suited to undertake with some degree of success.
The Mysterious Traveller hoped he could do what was expected of him, for the man he was going to meet, and for his Earth.
He stood outside of the Sentinels building. He didn't think anyone was on the premises yet.
He had drank his vial on the way here and felt the raw energy building in his system. He went into a nearby office building, and changed clothes in a public restroom.
Now he glared at the building in front of him and the brick began to melt under some unseen heat.
Time to earn the magic elixir he had been given and destroy the Sentinels.
He walked forward, molten brick melting before him as an alarm sounded.
That meant that Captain Atom, or Booster Gold, or even Thunderbolt would soon be on their way to their deaths.
The United Nations Intervention Task Force had established their quarters in Switzerland near Geneva. While out of the way, it wasn't inaccessible to the general public.
Two men standing outside the fence did not raise any eyebrows until they revealed colorful costumes under their coats.
One dressed in green with a white chevron across his shoulder took to the air. He pointed at the UNITF building and a giant fist smashed through the wall.
A woman stood outside the Crusaders building. She let her coat fall to the ground, revealing a black one piece bathing suit and boots. She tossed her mane of red hair as she leaped over the security wall.
Alarms sounded as she smashed a hole in the ground floor face. Time to destroy the group before they could interfere with the plan.
She wished she knew more about what the plan was.
He knew the travel agency was a cover as soon as he saw it. The only entrance to what he wanted that he could determine was a secret elevator.
He had been given a bundle of equipment to utilize since his power would not be in physical might as his colleagues had been given.
No, his power had been an increased capacity for mental processing.
Now to put it to work.
Moto smiled. His agents had begun his plan by distracting the agencies who would respond to phase two.
He sent coded messages to Japan and Cuba. Clones would activate the toxin he had released on the two island countries in preparation for the events he had planned to the last detail.
Soon he would reap what he had sewn.
Moto's agents swung into action as soon as they got the signal.
The first thing they did was to move the things they guarded from their hiding places and plant them.
Then a helicopter flight dropped chemicals on the things. The crews cleared out of the country as the chemicals took effect. They knew that the countries they were in were about to become uninhabitable for human beings.
One shuddered, glad he was not going to be around when the people started dying.
The ground pulsed as Moto's invention began to operate.
A man sat on a cliff where few men dared to go. He shook uncontrollably as the wind blew his tattered green cape around him. He looked up when his visitor's shadow fell over him.
"Who are you?," the man demanded, purplish gray hair stirred by the wind. He rose to his feet with what seemed like considerable effort.
"I am known as the Mysterious Traveller," said the visitor in black. "I have been asked to help you with your problems, Pariah."
Only one member of the Sentinels answered the bell, as the man in blue strode forward. He held his beetle gun in his right hand as he rushed from the Bug hangar on the roof to the ground floor.
He avoided the heat beams being broadcast by the superhuman, as he took aim with the Beetle gun. He pulled the trigger, contacts in his glove and in the weapons grip, firing the flash.
The blue monster blinked for two seconds.
That was enough time for the Beetle to switch functions and blast him back through the fence with a compressed air charge.
"O'Kent, stop that hand," Peacemaker ordered as he grabbed his helmet. "Red Star, back‑up for O'Kent.
"Long, MacGraw, Emu, Svarog, grab the other man."
Smith headed for the door and the launch pad on the roof. His jet pack would take him into the fray as fast as he could fly up the emergency stairs to the roof.
Red Star paused in his flight to give the massive Scot a lift, but he was already gone. He shook his head and flew out of the room at his own spectacular speed.
Joe Higgins slipped his cowl on as he ran down the stairs to confront the woman pounding her way through his new building.
What a time for Steel Sterling to be handling another case across town.
Joe didn't think he could match his own physical power against that of his opponent. She seemed far stronger than he was. Still he was a Crusader, and a Crusader never gave up the fight.
Joe reached the ground floor and headed right for the wall. He leaped forward, planting a boot in the woman's lovely face. She fell back from the unexpected assault.
Joe pressed his momentary advantage with a flurry of blows that drove the woman back from her improvised entrance.
The smell was the first thing that Steel noticed. He had smelt it before. He couldn't place it, but knew it was something to do with a case.
He racked his brain for the answer until he passed out at his desk.
All the WEB personnel succumbed to the gas being pumped through the air conditioning system.
A phone began to rang and no one picked it up.
Moto's genius slipped the elevator open, pleased at his handiwork. Now all he had to do was destroy the equipment and men, and the job was done.
He started planting the explosives he had in his bag.
Blue Beetle sized up his opponent as he launched himself through the melted hole, and flipped and landed on his feet. He had put out a distress call at the first alarm until help arrived.
Things didn't look good for the home team.
First the guy was barely phased by the flash or being blown into the fence. Then those eyebeams were hot enough to melt brick. Flight was suddenly evident and the Beetle leaped over the other man in blue with a false hearty "Toro, toro."
The intruder smashed through the wall of Sentinel HQ, as easy as ripping paper.
Jock O'Kent and the Emu were the fastest members of UNITF. Almost as soon as the attack started, they were in motion, two vibrations throwing slipstreams behind them at near sonic speeds.
O'Kent raced to where the giant fist smashed at the building. The wielder brought the fist down again to shatter brick and concrete. The giant Scot caught the glowing appendage in both of his own hands. His muscles groaned at first as he held it.
The Emu raced through the front doors. The other man was dress in red and racing to meet him. The speedsters began to swing at each other in a multiple image mixed with strong wind and flying dust and turf.
The Shield and his female opponent squared off against each other in front of the new Crusaders building.
The woman swung at Joe with a fist that had already punched through brick. Higgins slipped the punch over his shoulder, ramming her in the ribs and knocking her back several inches.
The brunette dug in her toes and punched Joe in the chest. He flew against the wall. His armor had taken the brunt of the blow but he knew he would be carrying a large bruise in the morning.
The gadget man finished setting his explosives. He made sure the detonator was working before going upstairs in the elevator.
All he had to do now was press a button and the WEB's nerve center would be gone.
A strong hand knocked the detonator out of his hand as soon as the elevator door opened. He saw the follow up punch almost before it was thrown. A simple head move slipped the punch to one side as he brought a knee up. That caused the man to stumble back.
The gadget man's eyes went to the detonator. A man with one arm and one eye was not going to stop him from carrying out his task.
He walked over to the stranger, preparing to kill him with his bare hands.
Akira Moto finished hooking up a homemade radio frequency scanner. If it was being broadcast in Japan, it would be picked up. That way he could learn about things that he could help with.
He looked around his small work area, dusting his hands together. He had done a lot of work making it livable so that he had a place that his father would not know about to object to the undertaking he was engaging in.
He wanted to make his father proud, but did not want to defy his authority openly.
Two identities seemed best for the time being.
Peacemaker and Red Star flew from the roof of the UNITF building. Their target was the green clad intruder trying to hold the giant Jock O'Kent in place.
Peacemaker aimed the automatic weapon he carried at the man in green and cut loose. Instantly a green bubble cut off the flow of rubber bullets.
The hand disappeared as the man turned his attention on the two heroes flying to intercept him.
It was a mistake.
Jock O'Kent bunched his tree stump legs and leaped in the air in a blur of motion. One ham‑sized hand swung on an arm of steel. The green bubble buried itself in the ground like a baseball being hit for a home run.
The bubble popped as the man tried to get his concentration back.
A stubby pistol burped a red cloud into the crater. It dispersed quickly on the slight Geneva breeze.
The Emu and the other man battled across the lawn of the installation. Neither saw Svarog drop Lui Le Long and Jock MacGraw close at hand.
The Chinese hero focused his concentration, calling upon his partial training in the Thunderbolt regimen. He picked the perfect moment and swung his right hand. The unexpected punch caught the invader in the side of his red cowl. The man skidded across the grass.
Jock MacGraw didn't hesitate. Three steps and a kick sent the man down for the count.
MacGraw fell on the man's back and cuffed his hands to his ankles. He looked around, blank mask covering a satisfied expression.
"Any more?," he asked, noting that the other man had fallen to a knock out gas.
Peace reigned for the moment.
A mist took shape at the Crusaders building, becoming a humanoid figure. He had been called forth by the threat being presented. Time for Mr. Justice to take a hand.
Suddenly there was a giant in the small yard. A gloved hand closed around the powerful woman. A sudden throw and Moto's agent cratered the ground.
The Shield rushed forward. The woman was on her hands and knees, trying to stand. A huge fist drove her back into the ground like a giant wrecking ball.
"Looks like she's out," the Shield said.
"Good," said Mr. Justice, reverting to his normal size.
Hank Hennessy tried to grapple with his opponent. The infiltrator landed two blows along the man's single arm. The one‑eyed commando kicked as his foe tried to get to his feet. The remote control for the planted explosives slipped from the man's hand and slid across the floor.
He kicked Hennessy in the head, growling with frustration. He went to get the remote and destroy the secret operation under the building.
New arrivals forced him to reconsider. He changed course from the explosives detonator. He found a hiding place behind the desk, so he could watch the newcomers as they entered.
"How do you know who I am?," Pariah asked. Desperation and lost hope dominated his face.
"We met during the Crisis," said the Traveller. "I am one of those who helped the Spectre at the dawn of time. I have been asked by the Monitors to help you with your current problem."
"What do you know about it?," demanded Pariah. "I don't believe you."
"What I say is true, Kell," said the darkly garbed wanderer. "I have heard your tale before and I can help you if you want to be helped."
"How?," said Pariah, disturbed somehow by the use of his name that this stranger shouldn't know.
"Shall we walk?," the Traveller asked, gesturing back the way he had come. "I think that will keep the disruptions to minimum."
Pariah nodded, falling in beside the guide.
"Let me recount events as I understand them," the Traveller said as they walked. "That will allow me to clarify your situation in my own mind."
"Go ahead," said the sole survivor of his universe. "I already know it well enough another retelling won't hurt like it used too."
"A terrible burden to have to destroy your universe even when you find you didn't," agreed the other, wind blowing against his ascot and coat.
"You were the most brilliant scientist of your earth," began the Traveller. As he spoke, Pariah saw the past come to life around him, as if invoked by the memories he possessed.
"You had learned everything except one. That was the origin of the mutiverse and the antimatter universe. You designed a chamber from which to observe the event, never dreaming of the events that would unfold next.
"As you studied, antimatter swept through your universe, destroying it, and trapping you in your chamber until sent forth by the Monitor."
"You felt guilty as you watched, first, the destruction of your own universe and then the many that followed. Each one was your fault, even if indirectly.
"Finally with five universes left, you became privy to the Monitor's real plans to save what remained of the positive universes.
"An audacious attack into the antimatter universe against the Anti‑Monitor, which led to the death of Supergirl and the Comet."
"All of this is true," said Pariah. "How do you know of it?"
"It's my duty to know," said the Traveller. "The world breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the crisis was over.
"Then the Villain War began. The heroes of the free Earths had to fight on this earth and two others. You had been drawn away during this conflict."
Pariah shuddered at the memory. He had been pulled to the Dawn of Time and held prisoner by the Anti‑Monitor in a scheme to make the antimatter universe the supreme and only result of the big bang.
"I and others assisted the Spectre in the Anti‑Monitor's defeat. All that were at the Dawn of Time were returned with their memories to a single earth.
"That's was when the Anti‑Monitor launched his final assault and was defeated by the heroes of the combined earth.
"Then the One Earth became the Five Earths again."
"Your life became somewhat settled on Earth‑1. You were glad to finally have something of a peaceful existence after the years of watching earths die.
"Then you were captured by the race known as the Dominators. Supposedly they did experiments on you, altering your DNA. You believed yourself a radiator of entropy, bringing bad luck to those close around you.
"You decided to sacrifice yourself by boarding the mother ship. Your new ability caused the ship to explode, causing everyone but the monitors to believe you had died.
"I'm afraid the Dominators did not cause your new power. It was something you always carried with you."
"That can't be true!," Pariah said. "I didn't cause disasters with my presence before I was captured."
"You are immortal and invulnerable," said the Traveller. "You also teleport to where you are needed. The most important thing about you is the fact that you have been linked to the antimatter universe for a long time."
Pariah paused, the mind he had used as his earth's greatest scientist rapidly considering the possibilities of this new information.
"You are saying the Dominators did not change me because they could not in any fundamental way. All the trouble I have been having is because somehow I lost some kind of internal restraint because of what they tried to do. It just served their purposes to try to use the enhancement to help the invasion.
"You have to be kidding," Pariah said.
Blaine Whitney saw the airstrip, and arrowed in for a landing. His deft hand brought his plane down as gently as a feather. He rolled the plane to a rental hangar he had secured over the phone from New York.
He shut the plane down and headed for the small terminal. Roy Stevens was going to meet him there. Whitney carried a duffel bag on his shoulder. A familiar anticipation coursed through his system. A weird problem that needed to be solved took him down memory lane, and Whitney had total recall.
He spotted Roy in a waiting room for the airport. Roy had a few more lines, less of his gray hair, and a smile for the airport clerks to display the ease he had with people and his surroundings.
"Hello, Roy!," Whitney called as he approached.
Roy Stevens led Blaine Whitney from the airport to his pickup in the paved lot.
"Thanks for coming, Blaine," Stevens said, gesturing for Whitney to throw his bag in the bed of the truck.
"What's going on, Roy?," Whitney said. "You mentioned that you were having problems at your ranch."
"Yeah," said Roy. "I haven't seen anything like it. Something is getting at my cattle, and I haven't been able to stop it."
"What kind of animal?," Blaine asked.
"I don't know," said Roy. "It's getting past the fences and dogs and attacking my cattle in the middle of the night and not leaving anything but remains behind. Bite marks aren't any kind of mountain cat or wolf I ever saw either."
"Any other predators that could fit the bill?," asked Whitney.
"Maybe a real, real hungry bear that's lost its mind."
Whitney frowned at the information. He knew that any animal that attacked would leave a trail. Then the predator itself would have a recognizable bite mark.
He wondered what was going on.
Hank Hennessy blinked at the sudden change as he lay on his back. The guy was still here in the building. The team leader forced himself to get up. He picked up the remote detonator, knowing the guy had planted explosives in the command center below.
The Shape appeared in the doorway. He looked around the wrecked cover area, eyebrow raised.
"Intruder," said Hennessy.
The Shape nodded as he formed a giraffe's neck to look around the room. He saw someone crouching behind the counter from his elevated point of view. He sprang over the wooden barrier silently. The intruder directed his action into the floor. The Shape rebounded instantly to his feet.
The Mastermind was caught between two options. Both of which looked poor to his accelerated thinking.
He jumped the counter, and headed for the door. Hennessy tried a simple kick to try to slow him down. The intruder swept him to the floor, and continued. He heard the Shape in pursuit with a stretching of rubbery limbs, but once outside he expected to escape.
He opened the door. A wave of foam swept over him before he could get out of the way. Instantly the white stuff hardened in place, holding him in a grip of stone.
"Isn't that a bummer?," said the Prankster, grinning ear to ear.
Akira Moto half‑listened to the radio as he worked on some more equipment he felt he would need. He had customized a gravity device from the electronics he had discovered in that abandoned storage facility.
He fitted the works inside a housing of a chest plate. He would place the plate to the body of armor he was building. He ran small command wiring to a microphone inside a helmet. He would eventually be able to hook up a small computer that operated by voice command from that rudimentary system.
Right now he just wanted something that would allow him to carry out a small patrol from the air.
Later he would add to that.
The device's offensive powers would be better defined.
He couldn't count on being underestimated the next time he met an enemy.
The Mysterious Traveller and Pariah regarded each other, thinking about what they had discussed. The Traveller seemed as cold as the wind, whistling through the mountains.
"Let's say you are correct in your summation," said Pariah, finally. "I admit that I did have some control over my wanderings between the Crisis and my capture. How do I get that back?"
"Training," said the man in black. "All things need practice. This is nothing but the same."
"Where shall we begin?," said the wanderer.
"We shall examine some places that might have need of your particular talents," said the Traveller. "Shall we go?"
"After you," said Pariah, gesturing with one hand.
The two walked along, reality distorting around them.
The energy wave cleared and Pariah found himself walking in a dark forest. His companion stood at his side, hands in his coat pockets.
"Where are we?," Pariah asked.
"A divergent timeline, where fairy tales are the norm," said the man in black. "What happens next is up to you."
"That's a big help," said the last survivor of his universe as a wolf howled. "A wolf?"
The Traveller was gone.
"I guess I had better get on with my training," Pariah said, as he trudged forward, watching the shadows shift under the twisted trees.
The Blue Beetle wondered how he was going to deal with the juggernaut he had confronted. He didn't have a lot of raw power at his disposal, and the Bug was the biggest distraction he had available.
Still he had to do something.
He worked the controls in his glove. The Hangar at the top of the building opened, and the rebuilt vehicle scarab he called the Bug took to the air in a whoosh of jets. It rotated as the invader stopped ripping the wall and looked up at it with a piece of concrete in his hands.
Ted Kord pressed the gauntlet controls again. A swarm of man‑sized scarabs flew out of the belly of the Bug. Small lasers fired from their mouths as they knifed through the air. The blue powerhouse found the piece of concrete chopped apart as he was enveloped in the cascade of energy.
Peter Cannon frowned when he got the signal at his penthouse. It was a distress call from Sentinel HQ. Of all of the team, Peter only acted when there was no one else to heed the call. An emergency was the only reason he was summoned by the Sentinels.
Tabu, his friend who always pushed him to accept the role of hero, appeared with his red and blue costume before he had a chance to say a word. He tried to hide a smile as he handed the costume over.
In seconds, Cannon was making his way across the New York rooftops. His skill made it easy for him to leap across any gap, run at top speed, balance on limb‑like piping and brick facing. He paused when he drew near the Sentinel building, seeing the Bug take to the air.
He saw the laser spray and grimaced as the man easily shrugged off the bombardment.
The Blue Beetle wondered what his next trick was going to be. The invader glared at the offensive robots and they exploded under some invisible heat.
Where was Captain Atom when you needed him?
Beetle worked his remote. A stream of firefighting foam jumped from the Bug's forelegs. It blasted his enemy across the small yard.
"Should have tried that first," the Beetle said, as he triggered a net to fire on the juggernaut while the man was down.
"What do you think about that, Mr. Happy?," he taunted.
"I think I should have killed you first," said the powerhouse, ripping the net apart.
Suddenly the Blue Beetle was in the air. A crushing pressure pinched at the protective mesh of his azure costume. Everything started going black as he was slowly strangled to death.
"Uf‑da!", sounded in Beetle's ear. The pressure on his neck suddenly vanished as he was dropped to the ground on his knees. He coughed as Thunderbolt stood between him and certain death.
"Another insect challenging me?," said the powerhouse. "Do you think you can beat me? Do you think you can beat the Ultra Humanite?"
"I can," said Peter Cannon. "I will. I MUST!"
The two men came together so fast Beetle didn't see what happened. One second they were facing off. The next moment, Peter Cannon stood alone, arm extended, taking a deep breath. The Ultra Humanite lay on the ground, knocked out.
"How did you do that?," said the Beetle.
"You can do anything with the proper frame of mind and a small amount of education," said Cannon, breathing slowly.
"I got a degree," said Beetle, as he tried to think of something to hold the sleeping juggernaut.
"But do you know how many places you can grab a man and kill him with a simple pinch of two fingers?," said Thunderbolt, smiling a rare smile.
"Okay," said Beetle. "I concede the point."
Tetsuo Moto studied the information being fed to his control center. All of his secondary creations had been stopped by the heroes of the world. They had wreaked havoc and caused destruction, but the heroes in residence had stopped them finally.
He turned his attention to his twins. They were growing without interference where they had been planted by his hirelings. Soon they would be covering the island nations where they grew.
All he needed was time and his strange plants would be unstoppable by any conventional means.
He tapped his fingers against the arms of his captain's chair. These heroes might be more of an obstruction that he had planned on. He didn't want his pods to be destroyed like Fido.
Blaine Whitney had examined the scenes of the attacks. His memory revealed no matches to the tracks that had been left behind. He thought about that and the fact the tracks did disappear as Roy had said.
A mystery worthy of looking into by the former man with the super brain.
Whitney stood on the porch, considering his next move. If he could predict when the thing would attack, he might be able to pursue the thing back to its lair. The disappearing tracks suggested some kind of flying ability.
A winged puma seemed outlandish, but topped his list of suspects at the moment. A trained winged puma the way it only attacked Roy's ranch and none of the other spreads on either side of the site.
A motive had yet to surface in this unwieldy tangle for a human agency, but Whitney felt there was some intelligence behind all this.
Sarge Steel sat in his chair, rubbing his eyes. The gas had given him a migraine, but he was back on the job and mad as a hatter.
Someone was going to pay dearly for this.
"The team is interrogating that guy down in the Brig," said Tiffany Sinn, his assistant, from the door. "Also we weren't the only ones."
"What do you mean?," asked Steel.
"The Sentinels, Crusaders, and Peacemaker's UNIT were attacked too," said Tiffany. "New metas like our guy."
"Where are these guys now?," said Steel.
"The Shield and Blue Beetle gave theirs to NYPD," said Tiffany. "UNITF is holding theirs."
"Get Smith on the phone," said Steel. "See if he has found out anything yet."
"Right," said Tiffany, vanishing from the door.
Akira Moto finished his work. He had a protective armor that could fly at the moment. It looked rough and barely serviceable, but he knew he had done a good job. Now he had to get some sleep before school in the morning.
Tomorrow he would test it and work on other applications for the gravity field.
Now he had to rest and think about his other responsibilities.
He didn't realize school would be the last thing on his mind as he turned in. His uncle's scheme would see to that.
As the sun arose on the day, Akira readied himself for his. The morning news was concentrated on a strange growth exploding near the city of Tokyo. He wondered if he should do something. He decided to wait and see what the official forces could do about the problem.
If they needed a hand, he would gladly see what he could do.
School beckoned him on.
Pariah walked along, alert and wary. He wondered about the whole chain of events that had brought him to this. Had he really allowed himself to be such a victim? It seemed so hard to believe that he had been a pawn for one force or the other for so long.
Now he seemed a pawn again.
"Hey mister," said a voice from above. "Could you give me a hand?"
Pariah looked up. A small boy was entrapped in some kind of net, hanging from the branches of trees standing close together. He was dressed in pajamas and slippers.
Pariah allowed himself to take flight. He grabbed the sticky strands in his hands. He pulled on them with all of his strength. The net would not give.
"Better hurry, mister," said the boy, looking over his shoulder. "Something's coming."
Pariah concentrated on the web. Some piece of entropy struck the web, severing it in several places. The boy began to fall, but the wanderer snagged his shirt as a man‑sized spider appeared from the leafy branches.
It chittered nastily at the two.
"Gonna have fly guy stew," the spider said squeakily.
The prisoners were in separate cells. Red Star and Svarog were with Peacemaker in one cell with the speedster. The two Jocks and Lui Le Long were with the energy shaper. They had been interrogating the two since their capture. They had learned nothing.
Suddenly the speedster stood up. Svarog clamped a steel hand on the man's shoulder. Before he could urge the man back into his chair, the prisoner began to shake until a small wind was generated.
Then he fell to the floor in a heap.
"Svarog?," Red Star said, thinking the android had done something he hadn't seen.
"Earth angel," said the laconic Soviet agent.
Peacemaker bent over the man, feeling for a pulse. He frowned thoughtfully when he didn't find any.
"What did you do, Svarog?," the weapons smith asked.
"Why is everyone picking on me?," asked Svarog.
"The other one," said Red Star, silently cursing the man who had taught Svarog to talk in American rock and roll.
The three rushed out into the hall. An emerald flash emitted from the other room. The door opened, and MacGraw stepped out in the hall. One glance said it all.
"The other's gone too?," he said to confirm his suspicions.
"Dead," said Christopher Smith.
"I wonder if the others did the same thing," said the Scot.
"We'll soon find out," said Smith. "Let's get these two to a coroner and get an autopsy for both of them. Someone let the Emu know we'll need his chemistry skills."
The other three villains also suffered attacks and died. The Ultra Humanite had died last in the Vault maintained for superhuman criminals by New York City.
Sarge Steel arranged for the Sentinels and Crusaders to be brought in the loop as UNITF and the WEB tried to determine what happened to the prisoners they had detained.
Then the satellites began to feed a dual situation to the monitor boards.
Two giant beanstalks had appeared. One stood on Cuba, the other on Japan. The State Department had tried to get in touch, but Castro had denied intervention by US forces, except at Guatanamo Bay.
The Navy had moved in to begin an evacuation if it became necessary.
Steel couldn't do a thing for Cuba. Instead he ordered his team to get ready to fly to Tokyo. The Peacemaker would have to handle the Cuban area of operations as part of the UN effort, if he could.
Blaine Whitney heard something while he had slept. That had made him snap awake, aware of his surroundings. A small sound like a cow snuffling came to his keen senses.
He jumped out of bed, stepping into his boots before stepping out of his window. He stood on the porch roof, letting his vision adjust. When he was ready, he jumped off the porch and walked along warily to where the cows had been corralled.
He knew Roy's beast was out here somewhere with him.
Whitney heard a claw scrape on the gravel drive. He turned softly, waiting for the creature to make the first move. It didn't fear him as a normal animal would. He sensed that as it gently padded toward where he stood.
He saw it finally, a dark form crouching against the lighter driveway. It seemed to be glaring at him as he watched it.
Pariah and the little boy stepped back from the spider. The boy tugged on his arm, signaling him to flee from the thing. Pariah swung the boy up, feeling lines of force extend outwards. They vanished as the spider flung a web at them.
"Damn, I missed!," the spider chastised itself with a snap of its finger‑like projections at the end of one arm.
"That was neat," the little boy said after they reappeared down the path. "My name's Danny. What's yours?"
"It's Pariah," said Kell quietly. "How did you get involved in that?"
"I'm following my friend, Kupkake," said Danny. "Some ogres took her, and I have been trailing them. Running into that spider was bad. Lucky you came along when you did."
"Yes, lucky," Kell said.
For whom is what he thought.
They went along the path slowly, watching for signs of the ogres' passing. A feeling began to draw Pariah forward. He knew it of old. He welcomed it, seizing Danny's hand. The pair vanished in a swirl of his tattered green cloak. They reappeared in the camp of the ogres.
"Smooth move," Danny said, kicking one of the bestial humanoids in the shin.
Pariah grimaced, staring an ogre into catching itself on fire.
"It's not what I expected," Pariah said, sweeping a green haired female into his arms, as he gathered Danny close again.
A second later, they were gone.
UNITF arrived in Cuba an hour after the threat had been revealed. They circled the expanding tendril before landing at the US base at Guatanamo Bay.
"We'll see what it can do against energy first," said Peacemaker.
"That substance looks very familiar," said Red Star. "I don't remember where I have seen it before."
"Right," said Peacemaker. "Let's see what it can take while you try to remember."
Peacemaker, Red Star, and Svarog took flight. The mechanical man's hands were transformed into lasers. The three fired at the huge plant. Their energy bolts and the Peacemaker's explosive slugs had no effect, except to remind Red Star where he had seen the substance before.
"This is the same as the giant monster Captain Atom and I encountered marching on Moscow," he said in the small mike he had built in his costume.
"Are you sure?," Peacemaker asked.
"Yes," said Red Star. "It absorbs my nuclear power in the same way."
"What can you do, O'Kent?," asked the weapons smith.
The giant Scot braced himself at the base of the root. He brought back one hand. He swung blindingly fast. His blow transmitted through the plant, coring a small column through the thing. As soon as it opened, the hole closed on itself.
Akira Moto marveled at the giant plant dominating the skyline. His school, as well as thousands of other things, had closed as the small Japanese Defense Force and the US military tried conventional tactics against the thing. The Kodama Katana had tried cutting it down with his invisible blade. The rip sealed almost before he finished the cut.
Akira hurried home. If he could get there before his father, he could leave a note and leave with his prototype armor in hopes of lending a hand.
He had some tools he could take with him and modify to fit whatever he found after he examined the plant thing.
He reached home, and searched for his father. A note on the answering machine said he had been called in to consult. Akira knew it was about the plant without being told.
He went to his secret workshop. He donned his armor, exhilarated that it was working as planned. He took to the air on a wave of antigravity, heading for his rendezvous with destiny.
Pariah watched as his new comrades ran to where the mermaid lived with others of her kind.
"A job well done," said the chilly voice of the Mysterious Traveller. "How do you feel?"
"I feel good," said Pariah. "I actually helped someone on my own without any threat to me and it felt good. I never felt like this when I helped the others during the Crisis."
"It wasn't as personal perhaps," said the man in black.
"Perhaps," said Pariah. "Is the lesson over?"
"Perhaps," said the Traveller.
Everything distorted in heat mirage pattern, then refocused.
"Perhaps not," said the cold voice out of the air.
Pariah raised his hand for a moment, as if to protest. Then he let it drop. It wouldn't do any good. The Traveller was already gone, leaving him stranded in another forest without a guide, or was that part of the learning process.
Was he supposed to find his own guide?
Pariah concentrated, extending his awareness outwards. He had been drawn to evil randomly before, tracking the progress of the Anti‑monitor. This time he wanted to be drawn to evil purposely so that he could find someone to guide him out of this forest.
Blaine Whitney watched his adversary quietly. It was a strange beast, and looked somewhat deformed. It glared at him angrily. The former Wizard could tell it was going to attack. His predictive nature was asserting itself as he fell into a guard position.
The thing looked like a cross between a large cat like a puma and a canine like a wolf. Its fangs looked three inches long. Its paws seemed equipped with retractable claws. Whitney could not quite make out the color of the coat in the dim light. The way it shifted in the available light made him think it was something neutral like tan.
The creature leaped at Whitney, claws extended for rending and tearing. The man with the super brain traced its flight, stepping out of the way before it connected. He swung the edge of his hand against its neck before it could twist around in midair and try to bite him before it landed. It landed in a roll, gaining its feet in an instant.
A strange sound vibrated in the air before the combatants could renew the fight. The puma‑wolf raced off with a strange huffing. Whitney chased after it, barely keeping it in sight as it plunged across the ranch.
Where was it going?, he thought.
Pariah appeared in the middle of a party. A roast, he decided. The guests of honor were tied to stakes in the middle of piles of wood. A man in tattered clothes out of Chaucer held a torch up high, ready to begin the festivities.
Pariah rushed forward without thinking. The assembled crowd resisted his efforts to move to the front and stop the burning.
"Good‑bye, Mr. Sage," said the boy.
"Good‑bye, Dickey," said the man the anachronistic suit.
Pariah paused, concentrating on the lit torch. Maybe his control over entropy would make it go out.
It was a simple solution for the immediate problem.
The fire blazed up, consuming its fueling wood in an instant. Pariah shrugged, then elbowed a fat woman out of the way, pushing himself up to the front. The spokesman for the crowd dropped the torch, blowing on burnt fingers.
"That's what you get, you meanie," said Dickey with a laugh.
"Shut up, you," shouted the spokesman, still nursing his fingers.
Pariah stepped forward, sensing something bigger approaching to do harm.
"The witch wants you cooked," said the spokesman. "So cooked you will be."
"I think not," said Pariah, trying to sound forceful and determined, wondering how Batman would handle things as he finally extracted himself from the crowd. "I think we'll be going, and you'll have to strike a new deal with your witch."
"Stop him," cried the village chief, pointing a finger at the man in green. "The witch will destroy us if he interferes."
Pariah sensed something in the air. He started to turn. Some kind of lightning threw him through the air.
Evidently the witch had arrived, he thought dryly.
Akira Moto arrived at the cordoned off area where the giant stalk touched the sky near Tokyo. He saw several colorful figures below. One was the gray garbed Kodama Katana. He caused his new armor to hover as he drew his equipment closer.
The first thing was to find out what the thing was made of. For that he needed a sample to examine and test. He used a scalpel to cut off a small piece. The cut sealed immediately after he pulled his sample free. The small piece writhed in the grip of his gravity field as if trying to rejoin the larger whole.
"What is your business here?," said an even voice to one side.
Akira looked over. The Kodama Katana floated in the air, hand at his hip. Shadow from a wide straw hat hid his eyes and the upper part of his face.
"I'm running tests on this substance in hopes of being able to stop its growth," Akira said, trying to sound calm, but aware that one false move could send him into battle with the swordsman.
Akira had no illusions he would win the duel if it came to that.
Pariah picked himself up, thinking he was doing better than his clothes. He threw himself clear of another lightning bolt as the witch drifted down on her broom.
At least the villagers had scattered away from the fight. That left no one to worry about but the boy and his mentor.
Pariah decided to attract the witch's attention from the potential hostages by taking flight. He wove through the air, leading his sudden foe away from the other two. Hopefully that would allow them to escape their bonds and vanish into the forest.
Lightning danced around Pariah as he swept through the air. He turned, thinking bad thoughts. The witch's broom exploded under her in a wave of invisible entropy. He smiled, glad of the upper hand for once. The witch screeched to a hard landing through the branches of the surrounding trees.
Blaine Whitney paused to examine the strange track left behind from his strange quarry. He was still going the right way. He kept on the indicated direction until he lost the visual clues he had been using.
The strange puma‑wolf had vanished just like the other times.
This time was different because Whitney was not an ordinary man to be put off when he was so close.
He closed his eyes, concentrating on his other senses. His mind automatically catalogued what he smelled and heard, sorting them into what to follow and what to dismiss. He heard a squeak that seemed out of place. Then a familiar chemical smell drifted to him.
Whitney began to follow that smell.
Peacemaker had hoped the powerhouses in his team could disrupt the giant plant easily. He should have known better he told himself. Time for the detectives to do what they could to determine the origin and possible weakness of this thing.
The Emu had arrived from Geneva with the news that their captives had died from cellular disruption.
Temporary lackeys, thought Smith as a sample was secured by O'Kent. The writhing plant was taped down to be examined and tested.
The detectives began to run tests on it, first with chemicals, then moving onto more exotic methods. Energy caused the sample to grow and was quickly abandoned. Long and the Emu moved on with the testing.
Jock MacGraw had frozen in place, black mask hiding his expression.
She's down, thought Pariah. Time to put a stop to this menace.
The wanderer charged forward, arm cocked back. As soon as he was close enough, he swung with all of his might. His fist impacted hard against the witch's face. She flipped over on the ground.
He grabbed her hands, and pulled them back behind her back. He looked around for something to tie her hands behind her back. Mr. Sage arrived, pulling his tie away from his collar. Seconds later, they had the witch's hands tied with the striped piece of cloth.
The witch screeched at the rough treatment until a handkerchief was used as gag to shut off the expletives.
"Thanks, mister," said Dickey.
"My pleasure," Pariah said, feeling a smile on his face.
So that's what a smile feels like.
I wonder why I don't remember ever having one.
I guess I never had a real smile before.
"Well done," said the Traveller, suddenly at his side again.
Blaine Whitney followed the scent he was tracking through the heavily wooded area that led on to Roy Stevens's neighbor's ranch. His mental encyclopedia had failed to identify the odor. It seemed akin to ammonia. Something else was present in the smell.
He had no idea what.
Suddenly the scent stopped.
The Wizard paused, standing still, concentrating. A faint scrabbling came to him. He bent down and examined the ground ahead. He found a small hole the size of a gopher. He thought he saw movement inside the hole, but it was gone before he could focus on it properly.
So the monster shrank when it was done with its attacks. All that left now was who did it, and why. Whitney was under no illusion that the beast was an undiscovered natural creature.
There was a mind behind the animal slaughter. Otherwise the creature would attack the neighbor's ranch too, since it was closer to the lair and easier for the thing to escape into cover in case some ranch hand saw it.
Whitney decided to wait until daylight before seeking his answers.
Reality changed for Pariah again. He found himself in a lab with some of the strangest equipment he had ever seen. One was a globe of the Earth and the surrounding area of space. Giant red demon bats were descending on the planet from Mars.
Pariah looked around for something he could use in the strange observatory as a weapon. He was unarmed and alone.
No surprise there.
Pariah paused to gather his thoughts, wondering how he should act.
There was only one recourse.
He gathered his forces and sent himself in front of the strange bats. He appeared, startling the brutes. As the gigantic creatures swerved off course, children spirits surrounded the outcast. They held up round discs in their hands. Rays struck the bats, driving them off.
Pariah floated in amazement. One of the giant bats went for him as the flock was driven back. He focused on the bat, calling on the entropic feeling he was slowly getting used to feeling.
The bat felt something break in its wings. It kept coming forward because of the lack of friction. Pariah punched forward, stopping the creature with an invulnerable fist. It squeaked in pain. Pariah pushed on the creature, sending it backwards away from the melee.
The kids herded the creatures away from Earth rapidly. A man in a strange costume appeared, encouraging his followers as he headed for Mars on a beam of light.
Pariah seized his bat as well as he could. Then he arranged his will, and the pair of them vanished in a small flash of light.
Time to take the creature home and let it return to its own roost as well as it could.
Pariah let the creature drop to the red ground as soon as they appeared. He sensed movement around him, heard a weapon charge up. He flexed his mind and vanished, stepping across the intervening space to the control room of the Martians.
As soon as he appeared, equipment began to break apart in a circular wave. Martians drew weapons that fell apart as they became aware of the threat. The wanderer gathered himself up and vanished as a man tried to restore order to his troops.
Then the ray arrived as the man known as Stardust appeared in the sky. He played a variety of rays over the installation, melting the buildings before flying off.
Akira Moto went about his tests methodically. His gravity unit allowed him to work in the air as he systematically broke his sample down.
He was not encouraged by what he found.
The plant absorbed everything and grew larger. It grew over any wound, resisted any chemical, took any type of energy and used it for food.
Akira pondered his next step.
Something had to kill the thing. It couldn't keep growing until it crushed Japan under its monstrous weight.
He wouldn't let it.
"Stop," said the Kodama Katana, standing in the air beside him. He had watched every procedure fail calmly. "What would happen if the plant had no energy to draw on?"
"I don't understand," said Akira, who had forgotten about his watcher until the man had spoken.
"This is a plant," said the swordsman. "A monstrous plant, but still just a plant. A plant needs light and water above all. What would happen if we cut off its light?"
"I don't know," admitted Akira. "Let's find out."
He placed a cover over his sample. He gave the sample a minute without light. When he pulled the cover off, the sample was noticeably paler and weaker.
"You were right," Akira said, laughing. "It does need sunlight."
"The next question is how to turn the sun off for the rest of it," said the master of the invisible sword.
"I have no idea," said Akira.
"Let's consult with our American friends," said the Katana. "Perhaps they have a solution for us."
Halfway around the globe, UNITF made the same discovery as MacGraw watched the Emu undertake some of the same tests done by their counterparts. He had taken half of the sample and placed it under a Styrofoam box. He checked it when the Emu had given up everything else.
The sample had turned to dust.
Blaine Whitney retraced his steps as soon as the day arrived. He had armed himself with a small pole. He had noted the three inch fangs and the claws the puma‑wolf possessed and decided to take an elementary precaution.
He found the hole easily. He rammed the pole into the burrow, hoping to entice his prey out to the surface. The staff did not reach the end of the lair as he hoped.
How far did the tunnel extend?
Whitney walked along in a grid pattern, searching the ground carefully. He was rewarded by another hole in the ground. Obviously an escape exit. He scanned the surrounding woods with his keen senses. He spotted a small track in the soft loam. The ammonia scent drifted to him.
He started walking.
He still thought a human intelligence was behind the strange animal. This theory was given substance by a set of fresh automobile tracks on a service road he discovered after a few more miles of walking. The car had come from and headed back to the highway leading through town from the tracks.
Whitney smiled, his memory locking the tread pattern away. If the car was still there, he would find it. That was a sure thing.
Now what he did after that, he was still deciding on.
Pariah concentrated and stepped back to the Earth. He found that he was some kind of spirit, passing through solid objects. He concentrated. He flickered, becoming real in a second of strobing light.
"Welcome back," said the chill voice of the Mysterious Traveller. "How do you feel?"
Pariah considered that question carefully. He was in control again. His powers were operating as they always had, with a better sense of what he could do.
He had always considered his powers a curse, a doom dragging him in front of the extinguishing assault of the Anti‑Monitor. Now he was able to go where he wanted to even through the barriers between worlds if he wished.
It was a freedom few others enjoyed. With that freedom came responsibility, and that responsibility is what had led his mentor to him.
An extremely strange mentor at that.
"I think I am well on the way to being a new man, with a better understanding of what makes me the person that I was, and can be," said Pariah.
"Then I leave you to that," said the Traveller, stepping into an alley, and vanishing.
Blaine Whitney arrived in town. He began his search at the hotels. He inspected every tire he saw until he found the car he was looking for. He tapped it as he went into the hotel.
The lobby was plain and pretty sterile in tan and brown. A carpet covered the floor to the steps leading to the other two stories. A small state flag hung on a staff next to the registration desk. The clerk was a stocky man, most of his hair gone, small eyes behind glasses. He glared at Whitney as the publisher came inside the lobby.
Whitney went to the desk. He could smell the strange ammonia in the closed lobby. The air conditioner had pushed the smell all over the room.
The creature had to be in the building.
"I was wondering if you knew who owned that blue Buick outside in the lot," Whitney said. He gave the clerk the license number.
"Sir," said the clerk. "It's against the hotel policy to give out information."
"I see," said the Wizard. He walked towards the exit.
There is more than one way to skin a cat, he decided as he went around the corner of the building. He grasped finger holds in the wooden siding and began to climb the building swift as he would have when he was younger. He climbed on the sloped roof and entered a third floor window.
Now to track that smell to its source.
He began his search slowly, alert for any sign of his quarry. The smell wafted up from below. He descended the stairs, following the smell, listening to the rooms as he went.
He stopped in front of one room when he thought he heard a weak kitten. He listened at the door.
Tetsuo Moto cursed as he watched the satellite feed to his headquarters. He had underestimated the resolve of his opponents. He had thought with their homes destroyed, he would have a free hand to carry out his plan.
He was wrong.
The American WEB and the new UNITF were preparing to destroy his babies.
He could not allow that.
He sent an activation signal to two of his creations he had planted in Japan and Cuba. Maybe that would buy his beanstalks time to germinate and spread all over the world when the wind carried their seeds to other land masses.
Let's see how those heroes cope with what I am sending their way now.
Giant creatures exploded out of the oceans near Japan and Cuba. They headed for the temporary headquarters the two groups had settled in with building destroying speed.
Let's see them deal with Spike and Tyke, Moto thought. He made a note that his two lizards had spawned three times as fast as he had planned.
Spike breathed on Tokyo, setting buildings on fire as he closed with the WEB reaction team. His tail sliced through obstacles horribly swiftly as it waddled forward.
In Cuba, Tyke was snapping trees, and burning anything in its path, as it headed for UNITF.
Jock O'Kent waited patiently for the beastie to arrive. The Emu, MacGraw, and the Peacemaker were working on some way to cover the monstrous triffid up. Red Star and Svarog was in the air as the thing came on.
They were going to let him have his shot first.
He waited for his chance, tree trunk legs bunched. He hoped this one didn't heal up like the beanstalk. The lizard spotted O'Kent, and breathed flame at the Scot. The hero exploded into the air, like a rocket. He diverted the flame with one hand as he headed for the creature's head. He punched, directing all of his movement down his arm and into the muzzle of the monster.
Tyke seemed to freeze. Then its head snapped back from the force of the blow. It staggered two steps, and then fell over with an earth shattering crash. O'Kent landed beside the creature. He knew it was dead as soon as his feet touched the ground.
"Wipeout," said Svarog, hovering over the decomposing carcass, multiple lasers extended from his arms.
The WEB team had just the thing to cover the genetic plant. All they had to do was get enough of the ingredients to produce a large enough batch.
First they had to deal with the giant lizard bearing down on them.
Hank Hennessy wished he had a powerhouse on the team. Still they had to make do with what they did have.
"Prankster, get that foam ready as fast as you can," the one armed man said. "We'll try to get you some time."
"Right, boss man," said Frank James, rushing off to gather the chemicals he needed.
"Specs, you and I will take the left," Hennessy said. "Shape, Flag, and Judomaster take the right. Keep your distance and don't do anything heroic until I come up with a game plan."
"Mr. Hennessy," said the Kodama Katana, descending from his spot in the air. "My associate is helping your Prankster. I will assist you against the dragon."
"Right," said Hennessy. "Let's do this."
The group dispersed to their stations. Fighters would be too late to prevent any move by the lizard to crush the small team of agents. They had to hold it off with the little they had.
Hennessy was not optimistic about the results of the endeavor. Then he suddenly had a plan.
Blaine Whitney used a pen knife on the hotel door lock. It sprang open for him easily. He slid the door back silently. The mewing became a tiny growl.
Whitney saw a man leap up from the plain wooden chair provided by the hotel. The man's hands were behind his back. Whitney thought he knew what was in the man's hands.
"Allow me to introduce myself," Whitney said. "I am Blaine Whitney. I am wondering what you know about a strange creature that has been terrorizing Roy Stevens's ranch."
"I don't know what you are talking about," said the tourist. "I don't have any such creature."
"I know that you do," said the Wizard. "Do you want to talk to me about it?"
"Dr. Diablq does not talk to inferiors," said the round faced man. "I get rid of them."
Dr. Diablq brought both of his hands around, hurling the miniaturized predator at his persecutor. The Puma‑wolf began to grow as it sailed forward. Hideous teeth snapped in the air in anticipation.
The Shape nodded when he got the relayed instructions. He was to cause a distraction for his team. Looking at the forty foot tall monster, he knew that was a case of easier said than done.
The rubber man formed springs out of his legs. He began to bounce off of the monstrous Spike. The lizard roared annoyance as the WEB team member silently emulated the style of his fellow team member, the Prankster.
While the monster was distracted, Hank Hennessy readied two blocks of plastic explosive with detonators. He charged forward, carrying the blocks in his one hand. He dodged around the waving tail, and placed one block on one leg. Then he ran over to the other leg. He embedded the second block against the giant scales.
Spike looked down at the annoyance on the ground. He took a deep breath, getting ready to loose a fire blast on the running agent. A giant fist impacted off the side of its head, bringing its attention back to the Shape.
Then the twin charges went off, staggering it forward.
The Wizard knew the thing would go for his throat. He ducked to one side, swinging his arms in a circle. His hands grasped the puma‑wolf's neck, then redirected the creature into the floor with a solid thump. Whitney followed through with a stomp. He heard a snap, knowing his attack had been fatal.
"Let's try again," he said, turning his full attention on Dr. Diablq, who had drawn a strange looking pistol.
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