Author Notes: Thanks to all of you who have read and reviewed and tried hard not to throw objects at my e-mail address because it’s been a while since I posted the opening parts of this. Hopefully, you’ll all think it’s worth it in the end, because I’ve tried really hard to hold off posting until I had the whole thing finished. More fun with flashbacks, here, and I hope they’re not too hard to follow, but like a lot of my stories, too much is happening too many different areas. Oh well. After the recent happenings in Impulse and YJ, I think I needed this, anyway. Hope you all did, too.
FOUR – Renewal
Twenty minutes ago...
“The timing was just kinda out there.” Cassandra Sandsmark said, looking up at the two guys from the couch. Short locks of her sandy-colored hair fell before her eyes, and she brushed them away, distractedly. “I mean, I had seen the whole thing at the pool, when Bart asked her if she wanted to change CD’s, and you could see something... different, I guess... in his eyes. But I didn’t pay any attention to it at first. It wasn’t until Kon had told me that Bart had asked him about going out with someone, that I started putting two and two together.”
“Him and Cissie?” Kon said, blinking. “I kinda hazed him about it, here and there... but man, I never thought they...”
He trailed off, looking at Robin, who was touching his chin thoughtfully. And then Tim slowly nodded, as though pieces of a puzzle were just starting to fit into order in his mind.
Kon glowered. Trust the Boy Detective to have some idea what was going on.
“I didn’t really have any idea until you mentioned it,” Tim said. “But it makes a lot more sense now. To be honest, I thought maybe, because they knew each other so well, she was giving him pointers or something, the same way we did.”
“Men. Go figure.” Cassie said with a small smile. She glanced toward the next room, saw her best friend, frozen and icy, in the stasis cylinder, saw Bart kneeling down in front of her. Every so often, his head turned to regard Secret, but his eyes kept coming back to the frozen girl, as though nothing could take his attention from her for long.
She looked back at the other two. “I know I was giving her a bit of a hard time about it, too. Especially last weekend, after he’d asked her out to dinner.”
“To dinner?” Kon blinked. “He did know that would mean he’d actually have to sit still, right? Is he capable of that?”
Tim glanced at the next room. “I wouldn’t have thought so until I saw him now.”
“I think we might have sold him short.” Cassie said, nodding at Tim. “For that matter, we might have sold her short, too.”
“Her?” Tim raised an eyebrow. “Cissie?”
“What makes you say that?” Kon frowned.
“Not as a teammate or anything.” She exhaled a breath. “It just... well, it takes two to tango, like they say.”
Superboy’s jaw dropped. “Aw, man. You mean they—?”
“No!” Cassie sent him a withering glare. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Kon. I’m saying that you’re treating this as if Bart just decided that he and Cissie would go out and that was that. Cissie wouldn’t have thought twice about it if it was just some sort of friendly get-together or something.
“But I don’t think either of you realize what she felt about him, too. And that’s what makes this all the worse...”
* * *
“What do you mean? This couldn’t possibly be worse.” Cissie glowered at the array of clothes on the bed, and then at the ones hanging off the door of the wardrobe. And, then, just to be fair, she glared at the ones strewn haphazardly around on the floor. Blouses, t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, skirts and jeans— none of them escaped her baleful gaze.
“Well sure it could. You could be freaking out over your underwear, too.” Cassie said wryly, twisting her neck to get a kink out.
Cissie’s eyes suddenly went wide as that realization sank in. She looked down at herself, and pulled at the neck of her oversize sleep tee, which she had put on after deciding her last change of clothes made her look too cutesy. “Underwear. Oh God— ”
“He probably says you’d better not even start. Ciss, you already have plenty of clothes here. I’m sure there’s something that looks fine. In fact, most of it looks fine.” Cassie rubbed at her shoulders. “I still can’t believe that you made me fly all the way to the Elias school to lug all of this stuff to my house. Heck, I can’t believe you have all this stuff at school. Don’t you usually wear uniforms there, anyway?”
“You can never be too prepared.” Cissie said, picking up a suede vest and a white shirt, looking at them closely and then dropping them back to the floor. She let loose a growl and plopped down on the bed. “Unless you’re me. And then you can’t be too under-prepared.”
Cassie looked at her for a long moment, and lifted a pair of jeans to make room on her inflatable chair to sit down. “You’re a little hung up on this, aren’t you? I mean, this is just Bart, right? But the way you’re getting all high-strung about tonight, and all, it’s like...”
“If you make any analogy whatsoever to my mother, Cass, you’ll eat the next set of clothes.”
“No, no. I was gonna say it’s like you’re going out with the guy from Generation Why or something.” Cassie leaned over and plucked up a striped blouse and midlength black skirt, holding them up for display. “These are nice. Opinion?”
“The blouse makes me look fat and the skirt looks something to wear to a funeral. He’ll probably think I’m in mourning because I’ve gained weight.” Cissie said morosely, and then she sighed, draping her hand over her mouth. “Oh, jeez. Cass, I... I know I’m getting high-strung and a little bent out of shape over this.”
“Right. Just a little. Listen, I know I joked about it at the cave, and I’m really sorry. I didn’t know he was standing out there and probably heard everything. But are you... do you really... you know, like him?” Cassie discarded the clothes and picked up a set of faded overalls and a pink shirt. Her eyes lit up. “Heyyyy...”
“Please. Not even. That has farmer girl written all over it.” Cissie said, not even looking up as the other girl dropped the overalls back to the floor and rolled her eyes. “You know, this may sound stupid... but... well, yeah, I know he acts before he thinks. And he sometimes thinks life’s a game, and he says stuff that even I don’t understand. Or pretend to for that matter. And sometimes, he gets really focused on things, to the point that the rest of the world could be yelling, and he wouldn’t even notice.
“But he’s so completely sweet, too, and I really noticed it when he asked me out. There’s just... something about him.” She sighed again and reclined back, staring at the ceiling. “I mean, yeah, he’s cute. Yeah, he has the most awesome hair. Yeah, he’s usually fun to be around, and he asks a lot of questions if he doesn’t understand something, instead of pretending he knows everything. But it’s... more than that. It’s like, when he talks to me, there’s no posturing or anything. No stories, no mindgames, just that big-eyed... innocence, I guess. He just lays it out for you, and you know he’s being open and honest, because he’s just no good at being anything else. So when he told me he really liked me...”
“...you just melted.” Cassie smiled.
“Like movie-style popcorn butter.” Cissie admitted with a bit of a blush. She flopped her head over on the bed, looked at her friend through a thin veil of blond hair. “You helped, though.”
Cassie blinked. “I did? Come again?”
“In the locker room, when you told me Kon said Bart was asking advice about feelings he had for someone, and then started pestering me about it?” She looked back at the ceiling, brushed aside her hair. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t already considered it. I mean, I saw the way he looked at me by the pool, and... I just saw how eager he was to please. The way his eyes lit right up.
“And I guess I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if he was half as focused on me as he gets on videogames? Maybe not him, specifically, but someone.” She paused for a long moment. “I mean, after having my mother live her own life through me, wouldn’t it be cool for someone to... well, for someone to put me first for once?”
“Well, yeah. Of course.” Cassie looked at her. “But that’s asking a lot of him right off the bat, isn’t it? Bart is sorta the poster child for Attention-Deficit Syndrome, remember.”
“Meaning, the whole idea is stupid.” Cissie sighed.
“Why do you say that?” Cassie asked. “You don’t like him?”
“No, I like him fine, but—”
Cassie interrupted. “You think he’s gonna take you to some seedy place to eat?”
“Well, I would hope not, but—”
“Maybe he’s going to deliberately show you a lousy time?”
“I sort of doubt it—”
“You don’t think he’s gonna try to put a move on you or something?”
Cissie’s eyes went wide. “God, no. This is Bart we’re talking about, Cass.”
“Then, no, not at all. I think stranger things have happened, and you never know what’ll happen until you try.” She smiled ingratiatingly and tossed a pair of jeans with flowery trim at the archer. “And incidentally, I’m totally for the two of you having a good time. I think he’ll be paying attention to Cissie King-Jones tonight, not Blast Orbit Vega, or whatever the videogame of the week is.”
“Really?” Cissie asked, sitting up slowly.
“Really. And who knows? Maybe he’s just been waiting around for the right person to show that he can think before he acts.” She picked up a buff sweater from the bed and dropped it on Cissie’s lap.
Cissie made a face. “Too frumpy.”
“Too bad.” Cassie grinned at her. “If he’s going to learn to think before he acts, you’re going to learn to not over-think.”
She was silent for a long moment and then smiled.
She quirked a grin. “Don’t thank me yet, Ciss. You still have makeup to obsess over.”
Cassie then leaned over started to pick up a few of the outfits and neatly stack them, pretending to ignore the way Cissie’s face paled all over again.
- ~ -
She was in the living room at ten-fifteen— studying, she swore, not just reading the same paragraph over and over— when she heard the crack of a gunshot outside and instinct took over. By the time she realized that the noise was a human body, or for that matter a pair of them, breaking the sound barrier, she was already behind the couch, making a grab for her wig and goggles.
She slowly peeked her head out, looking at the clock. They were back fifteen minutes early. Then she stared at the door, waiting for it to open and Cissie to walk through— mostly so Cassie could ambush her with an immediate barrage of questions, starting with, “How was it?”
The door, as though sensing her, stubbornly and resolutely stayed closed.
She took a few steps across the living room, toward the front door, listening. She figured she’d hear a telltale giggle or one of them raising their voice somewhat or something, or the doorknob clicking open.
But no. Nothing. Not a thing.
She was about to tiptoe a few steps closer and actually press her ear to the door when the doorknob clicked with the sound of a spare key opening the lock, and the sound of another gunshot came from the porch. And then, before Cassie could drop to a chair and look suitably innocent and not at all like she was trying to eavesdrop, Cissie was inside, pressing the door closed with her behind, leaning against it and staring off into space with a goofy smile on her face.
She stood that way for a good ten seconds, not even noticing that Cassie was standing in the same room. Ten seconds became fifteen, and the only sound in the room was a soft, happy sigh from the archer at the doorway.
“That good?” Cassie enquired, with a small smirk.
“Mmm?” Cissie murmured, blinking, and then went wide-eyed as she pulled herself out of her daze. “Ahhhh! What are you doing here?”
Cassie looked around herself for a moment and then raised her eyebrow. “I sort of live here. At least, last I checked, I did.”
“Well, yeah, but—” Cissie started.
“Unless... oh, my God!” Cassie slapped her cheeks, dramatically. “What if Mom’s been playing a horrible hoax on me for the last few years?”
Cissie crossed her arms. “Are you quite through?”
She grinned and thrust her arms behind her back. “Pretty much, yeah.”
“Okay, then. I meant, so what are you doing here, in the living room?” Cissie rolled her eyes and sighed. “Oh, wait. I know. You were waiting up for me because your curiosity just wouldn’t be satisfied. And now you’re going to have me tell you all the gory details of my night out. And if I just tell you I had a nice time, or it was okay, it wouldn’t be nearly good enough. Right?”
Cassie picked her textbook off the couch and displayed it. “Actually, I was studying.”
Cissie flushed and looked like she felt about five inches tall. “Oh.”
Cassie let the quiet fall for a couple moments.
“But since you’re here now, well, my curiosity just can’t be satisfied. So spill all the gory details, Ciss.” An impish grin grew on her face. “And don’t give me any ‘I had a nice time’ or ‘it was okay’, because that isn’t nearly good enough.”
Cissie smirked. “It was different. Nice. Does that work?”
“Try again.” She led the way into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of milk. “Define ‘nice’. Meaning you didn’t have a date interrupted by super-villains or budding world disasters?”
“Well, that too.” Cissie smiled and a bit of a blush touched her cheeks. “But I mean... he was really sweet, and really well-behaved, too. He didn’t blather off at the mouth too much, and he held the doors open and pulled out my chair for me and... well, it was just so different from any way I’ve seen him before. You know, he actually likes things besides video games? I had no idea.”
“Mm-hmm,” Cassie said with a knowing smile, closing up the fridge and making her way back toward the living room. “It sounds serious.”
“Well, it’s too early to tell. But tonight definitely made me look at him in a new light. It was actually kind of charming, the way he acted. The whole night he was attentive, open... honest. I mean, he didn’t try to force a goodnight kiss on me.
“Handsome, too.” Cissie smiled and sat down in the easy chair, idly twirling her hair around her finger. “God, there’s two words I didn’t think I would say in the same sentence: Bart and handsome. But it’s true. He can just make you melt, the way those big amber eyes just seem to look right through you.”
“Oh, and that hair,” Cassie supplied helpfully.
“Oh, yeah. The hair. It’s always just this side of unruly, but it’s such a perfect sort of wildness; he was nuts when he cut it. It’s the kind of hair you just want to run your han...” She stopped and blushed again, noticing at Cassie’s ‘I told you so’ expression. “Okay, maybe I think he’s more than just a little cute. I must be somewhere near out of my head.”
“Sounds like you are.” Cassie grinned and set her glass down on the end table, picking up the textbook from the couch again and marking her place. “So, where did the smitten little speedster take you? Olive Garden?”
“Uhm...” Cissie blushed, a bit more. “Well, no.”
“Oh, good. Too cliché. Milano Inn?” She asked, and then persisted at Cissie’s shake of her head. “Hmm. Iari Brothers? No way. Too swank. Pizzano’s? No. Dress code. Oh, Hera. Tell me he didn’t take you to Medici House. I would kill to go there.”
Cissie shook her head again, looking a bit embarrassed.
“Fine. Then where?” Cassie said, putting her hands on her hips.
“Just some all-night place, I think. I don’t remember the name.”
“An all-night place?” Cassie asked incredulously, racking her brain of all the Italian restaurants she knew. “In Gateway?”
“Uhm, not quite.” A small smile peeked up from under Cissie’s nose. “In Rome.”
Cassie blinked a couple times, mouthing that. Then she flounced down on the couch, crossing her arms and pouting. “I want a new boyfriend.”
* * *
Two minutes ago...
“He took her to Italy? On a date?” Kon’s eyes bugged. “Oh, get out.”
“It wasn’t all that surprising, once I thought it through.” Cassie said and shrugged, looking back at the speedster and the frozen archer. “I didn’t really get a chance to find out much more about that night from her; she wasn’t all that open about it. But you could see the way her eyes lit up whenever I asked. Just like his did. It must have been really special. Or at least on the way to becoming it.”
“Must have been,” Tim said quietly, as Cassie saw Bart raise his head, slowly, in the next room.
“They were going to go out tonight, too,” Cassie said despondently, then shook her head. “Hera, for all I knew, he was going to take her to Mexico or something. It’s just really sad, seeing how— ”
And then there was an explosion of noise and a burst of wind, and whatever Cassie was going to say was blown right out of her head.
The wind yanked at Robin’s cape, whipping it around wildly, but Kon was the first one to get his voice back.
“What the hell?” He gaped.
Cassie looked to the door, saw Suzie approached with a wide-eyed expression. That was all that she could see for a few moments— Secret’s smoke had been whisked all over the next room in the wind’s gale fury and was just now coalescing back into human form. She sounded worried. “I think maybe I did bad. We were talking, and then Bart just— ”
Sure enough, the stasis cylinder in the room stood alone; the frozen form of Arrowette now stared down at nothing. No wild-haired speedster sat at the base of the machinery, keeping vigil.
“Blew out,” Cassie said, stunned. Her eyes grew wide as she tried to think. “Hera, where could he go? We’re on the moon.”
Kon rubbed at his stubbled chin, trying to piece together as well. “Volcano’s being held here. You don’t think he’s going to try to...”
He trailed off, thankfully. Cassie couldn’t bring herself to think of Bart as a murderer, even if he really did love Cissie. She shivered.
“I don’t think so. Not Bart.” Robin glanced at Suzie and put his mask back on. “But I don’t know what he is doing. And he may be in worse shape than we thought. So we’d better find out, before he hurts himself. Or someone else.”
“How, Robin?” Suzie asked. The tendrils of smoke writhed around her restlessly, as if it were feeding off Suzie’s own apprehension. And if that was the case, she was a step short of being worried sick. “He ran out so fast I couldn’t even see him!”
Robin motioned them out into the hallway, pointing out a trail of debris immediately. He began to follow it at a jog, then a dead run. “This is still Impulse we’re talking about. If he didn’t leave a trail, that’s when I’ll really start worrying about what happened to him.”
And so they followed on, finding the trail leading back toward the teleporters, and Robin immediately called the JLA. And shortly after that, Cassie watched as everything hit the fan all at once.
* * *
The screen remained lit in front of him, and the data flickered before his eyes, scrolling upward. Hunter took a sip of coffee and exhaled softly as he watched all the facts and figures of the file that had been called up for him.
He frowned deeply. “How sure are you of this?”
“More than just sure.” Waverider said impatiently, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He looked at the other members of the Linear Men, seated around the conference table.
“Ninety-eight-point-two percent sure.” Liri Lee supplied.
“With a one-point-eight percent margin for error.” Matthew Ryder voiced, much like a death knell.
The three didn’t flicker at all. There was no strobing, no continued speech by thirty different temporal selves. Just Matthew, Liri, Waverider and Hunter. For some reason, Hunter found it a little unsettling that they were all stable and not shimmering throughout the timestream. It just felt wrong.
But he understood the reason for it. In the main conference room of Vanishing Point, it was an unwritten rule among the Linear Men that you appeared in the ‘here’ and ‘now’— so to speak— so that you were focused on the discussion at hand and nothing more.
As such, meetings like this didn’t happen often. And they usually meant worst-case scenarios.
Hunter looked at the screen again, humming in thought. “He’s not exactly a regular temporal violator, is he? Is there evidence he’s done it before?”
“We’re having a hard time telling.” Waverider murmured.
“Explain.” Hunter said, looking across the table with a raised eyebrow.
Waverider’s black eyes shied away from their usually hard look, became a bit more apologetic. “For one thing, we can’t find him.”
Hunter pinched his lips. “Can’t... find him?”
“The temporal spike isn’t making matters easier. Already changes are forming in the timeline, which makes tracking a single individual or entity more difficult. Each separate individual has a set chronometric pattern encoded into their DNA that marks them from a particular timeline.” Liri Lee offered, calling up a chart, which showed a red line breaking into two branches, one red, the other green.
“If the timeline diverges,” Waverider said, following the red line all the way along, “the proper chronometric pattern should still be traceable, and it should mark him as being from a divergent timeline.”
“Hypertime signature.” Hunter grunted. “By itself, that should be more than enough to find him.”
Liri nodded and cued the graphic back to the temporal spike they had been monitoring. “Ordinarily. We think our job might have been made a bit more difficult because he himself is responsible for the spike. But above and beyond that, it seems as though shortly after the spike itself was created, he dropped out of the timeline altogether.”
“A temporal casualty?” Hunter suggested. “Maybe the timeline erased him.”
“Doubtful.” Ryder stepped in. “He appears to be something of a time anomaly, himself, so he’s less apt to having temporal changes affect him. Unfortunately, that also makes it extremely hard to track and pin down data on him. What little we know leads us to believe that he himself is a temporal traveler, having an origin point of somewhere in the thirtieth century. It is unknown what happened to take him to the late twentieth and early twenty-first, but his travel backwards into time seems to have coincided dramatically with case file Zero.”
“The Zero Hour event.” Hunter said, his mind already in fast-forward. “Meaning that...”
“Meaning that standard chronometric tracing systems are somewhat prone to error, anyway. But we’ve managed to piece together a little, here and there. And what data we’ve found leads us to believe this is an isolated case. Although he certainly would have the knowledge to regularly break through the timestream, if he so desired.” Liri tapped a sequence on her computer, lighting up the main screen with a new influx of data. “Wrote his first e-text on human thought and reaching the mind’s potential at twenty. Had eight doctorates by age twenty-eight, including one for Quantum Theory at Oxford. Cured the genetically-engineered Leimann Virus in 2032, with no prior microbiology degrees. Nobel Prize in science twice before age thirty-five. He’s a prodigy.”
“That just makes him smart.” Waverider pointed out, darkly. “It doesn’t make him less dangerous to the timestream, quite the opposite. Remember, Extant wasn’t much more than a street-punk before he stepped out of the time-stream.”
“If someone with a lot more knowledge is responsible for a spike that changes the flow of time, he has to be stopped.” Matthew added, touching the beginning of the graphic on the monitor; the flat line that represented the timeline looked like the heart-monitor of a man who’d run a marathon. “For all we know, the crest of that spike could end up destroying the Earth, if we let the new timeline stabilize. We don’t know what changes are going to be effected until we get a more secure reading. We may be having a hard time tracking him, but he has to be at his entry point to the timestream. I say we hit his entry point and— ”
“And what?” Hunter interrupted tersely. “Kill him?”
Liri glanced up from the data-screen, her eyes narrowing. “The history and the future are in our hands, Hunter. Ours alone. That’s not at all hard to understand, is it? Whether he’s a regular violator or not, whatever the outcome he’s trying for, he’s disrupting the normal flow of time. And that makes it our responsibility. We should be stopping him, not speculating about it.”
“For God’s sake, you’re making him out to be some sort of world-threatening villain. Listen to yourselves. Comparing him with Extant, saying he could wipe out the Earth?” Hunter stabbed at his own screen, angrily. “Are you reading the same file I am? Assumed a ‘costumed identity’ upon his first appearance in the twentieth century. Founding member of Young Justice. He even became the Flash for a couple years before retiring the whole metahuman side of the equation. Then taking up a teaching profession, and eventually living a quiet life before he dies—”
Waverider slammed a fist down. “Hal Jordan. Hank Hall. Walker Gabriel. You don’t have to tell us that costumed heroes don’t try to erase their own mistakes, Hunter. You can’t say that they don’t circumvent their own laws when they feel the need arises. Power corrupts.”
Matthew raised his own voice. “And even if he’s not a villain, we have no way of knowing that he’s not world-threatening. Even if he has the best of intentions, there’s nothing to say that those good intentions won’t cause some incalculable temporal disaster. Hunter, no one man’s wishes should be above the possible safety of the Earth’s timeline! That’s madness!”
“Spare me.” Hunter’s brow lowered. He was about to interject another point when the door to the room whisked open.
An unruly-haired man with a strong chest that stretched his nondescript grey jumpsuit stepped inside, looking the four over. His jaw twitched once, beneath a five-o’clock shadow that had stretched to quarter-till-ten, and then his eyes swung to the white-haired Linear Man. “It’s all right, Hunter. You tried. That’s all I could ask.”
He looked at the three seated around the table, who were gaping at him in wide-eyed shock. And then a small, thin smile twisted his lips upward. “Sorry. Even time-proof doors aren’t always completely soundproof. I couldn’t help hearing some of what you said outside.”
He made his way inside, dropped himself into a chair and folded his hands sanguinely, continuing to meet the gaze of first one Linear Man, then another.
“Let me guess.” He said, and that grin rose a bit further. “You were talking about Bart Allen.”
* * *
“I’m sorry, Robin, but we didn’t feel the need to lock the teleporters from the members of Young Justice. We didn’t bring you up to the Watchtower for imprisonment or incarceration.” He said, crossing his arms across his expansive chest and flicking a blue-eyed gaze to the leader of Young Justice. “You’ve all been through a traumatic ordeal.”
He was not a he, he was most definitely a He. Even without flying, without his red cape flapping in a breeze like a flag, he was bigger than life. And Cassie had to admit that Kon was right. No matter when she saw the man with the big red and gold ‘S’ shield on his chest, he seemed to project a bizarre aura of both trust and inapproachability. Like he was both the most human person in the world and at the same time, the least human.
Of course, in the monitor room they’d been escorted to, above and beyond human seemed to be the norm. The room itself was immense, the darkness pushed back by the light of a multitude of holographic screens that projected scenes from all over the world. Sitting in a hovering chair as though he was watching each one with scrutiny was the Martian Manhunter. Every so often, Cassie caught his head turning incrementally, as though one particular screen caught his attention. But he said nothing.
He left that to the more human types, apparently, although she wasn’t at all sure if Batman should have been included on that list. He didn’t have to say anything. A look from those pupil-less eyes was more than enough to give her the shivers. She knew Wonder Woman, of course, and she’d met Green Lantern and Flash when they’d visited the cave. The Flash had been a little more vocal about Young Justice being unready for responsibility; Green Lantern seemed to be a lot more likable. And there was Red Tornado, too— as always, the android’s face mask gave no indication of what, if anything, he was feeling. If he was capable of feeling.
But right now, feelings were apparently brushed aside. The adults were all business. Cassie felt almost like she’d stepped into a meeting of the gods. And yeah, although she’d done that once, she wasn’t all that eager to make it a daily occurrence.
“The JLA merely extended an offer of indefinite sanctuary on the Watchtower, to sort out your thoughts after such a horrible event, as well as for us to discuss how it would be best for you to proceed from here.” Superman continued. His voice was softer than she remembered it, and she could see sorrow etched on his face. Despite herself, she was surprised that he cared all that much.
“And to offer moral support, if you needed it,” Wonder Woman interjected, in a low tone.
“Agreed.” Superman nodded. “But none of you were in any way required to stay here.”
“So we’ve got the who’s-at-fault of this down,” Robin said archly. “None of us are. But the point is that Impulse roared out of the Watchtower, and for all we know, he could have thrown himself into deep space.”
“Unlikely.” Batman said.
Robin flashed him a look. “Good. Then you can trace him down on Earth.”
“Is that the best idea?” Green Lantern said. “When— If someone I knew died, I’d... probably want to be by myself for a while.”
“This wasn’t just ‘someone he knew.’ This was someone that we just found out he cared a lot for.” Robin said, and Cassie could see that he was doing everything he could to hold his temper in check. “We all want to make sure he’s all right. At the very least, you can do that much, right?”
“For the leader of a defunct team, you have a lot of orders to throw around.” Batman said quietly.
Cassie, Kon and Suzie all looked from Batman to Robin, their eyes wide. The questions thudded around the inside of her head like lead weights. Defunct team? Does he mean us?
For his part, Robin did not answer any of them yet; his jaw set slowly and his eyes narrowed. “For there to be a team in the first place, you learn not to abandon your friends when they need you. No, I don’t expect Impulse to do anything rash...”
“That’d be a first.” Flash murmured, sotto voce.
“...but by the same token,” Robin said, swinging that glare to the Flash, “this isn’t exactly an ordinary situation— ”
“Nor is this.” Came a voice that was soft and shadowy, and somehow crept around the inside of Cassie’s head like a cloud of feathery fog. She shook her head, and saw Kon, Robin and Secret staring at one another with wide eyes. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who felt it.
“J’onn?” Superman said as the red lights faded slightly. He looked up toward the ceiling, as did the assemblage. Several of the holographic screens shifted to different views, away from media sources and to computer projections, and they backlit the green form of the Martian Manhunter, who sat in the womb chair, his knees drawn almost up to his chest, his hands steepled before his chin. He glanced down at the collection of heroes, and his red eyes glowed softly. “I believe this warrants our attention, Superman. We are receiving signs of seismic disruption. So far, no injuries have occurred, but there may be aftershocks. And I do not believe this will be the last.”
Kon’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, yick. Now we have an earthquake? Where? San Fran? LA?”
The Manhunter looked at him. “Chicago.”
Cassie stared. Batman, in the meantime, made his way to the computer console. “Localized?”
“No.” J’onn shook his head. “My apologies for this intrusion, my friends, but it’s far easier to relay the facts to you this way.”
And suddenly, Wonder Girl saw everything. The screens lit up before her face, although she instinctively knew the face wasn’t her own. She heard the reports, saw the alert signals on the JLA monitors, saw and heard the computer displays. It was an odd feeling, as though her senses had been multiplied a couple hundred times, and she could suddenly sense everything all at one.
But she stifled her gasp and watched. The first alert was a small tremor in Chicago, barely measurable. Nothing much, on its own— the New Madrid fault could have caused small tremors, even that far north. But then she heard/saw/felt reports of another tremor outside of Cleveland. In the northern counties of Pennsylvania. By Hartford, Connecticut, it was a point-zero-five on the Richter scale. None of it caused any damage, but if it was continuing to grow...
Cassie shook her head as the vision faded; her mind suddenly felt like it was filled with cotton; her senses felt muffled compared to a moment ago. She looked up at the Manhunter. “No offense, but it’s really freaky when you do that.”
“None taken,” he responded, in that same serene, yet rumbling, tone. But he never glanced up from the monitors.
Batman was already calling up a world map on the main screens, studying it.
Superman peered upward. “Whatever it is, it’s cutting a swath, moving generally along a straight path, within a few degrees... and if the data’s accurate, it seems to gain strength as it goes.”
“Orbiting weapon?” Green Lantern asked.
“Not likely.” Batman said, his eyes narrowing at the screen.
“It would almost have to be moving geo-synchronously to keep on such a tight latitude,” Superman added. “And this is moving against the rotation of the Earth. West to east.”
Cassie looked at the computerized projection, a red line that was crossing the northern United States, into the Atlantic. And somewhere, in the depths of her mind, she knew what it was.
Robin voiced what she already knew. “Impulse.”
Wonder Woman looked at Robin, then the Flash. “Is that possible, Wally?”
“It’s possible.” Wally said, tapping his chin. “Relativistic theory says that the faster an object moves, the more mass it gains, upwards to the speed of light, when it converts to energy. A hundred some-odd pound kid could conceivably go fast enough to set off seismic disturbances. I know Bart can’t attain light-speed, but he can move pretty fast.”
“Fast enough to have him causing a lot of damage in his wake,” Superman said. “Especially in places that are unused to dealing with earthquakes.”
“To say nothing of running through populated areas...” Wally’s voice trailed off and his eyes narrowed.
“What is it?” Green Lantern asked.
“If that is Impulse, he’s traveling on relatively the same line of latitude.” Wally intoned.
“We know that,” Cassie said, looking at the streak of red as it made its way across the Atlantic, north of the Azores, heading toward the mainland of Europe.
Wally turned to them. “Flash Fact, people: Chicago and Rome are on the same latitude.”
“Oh, crap.” Kon breathed.
“Go, Wally.” Superman said instantly. “Head him off, if you can. Find out what he’s doing. If he’s running, trying to blow off steam, he—”
“Time,” Secret interrupted.
The soft voice seemed to cast a spell that brought everyone to instant silence, caused them all to turn and look at the smoky young woman.
Cassie found her voice first. “What, Secret?”
“Time.” She seemed a little embarrassed by the sudden attention. “That was the last thing he said before he disappeared. He was talking about Cissie, about how he missed her, and how they’d just gone out last week, and then he mumbled something and said, ‘time’, and before I could ask him what he meant, he was just... gone.”
“Time... time...” Wally murmured, thoughtfully, and then eyes went wide beneath his cowl as he stared at the on-screen map. “Oh, hell. He can’t be.”
“What is it?” Suzie asked, but there was a burst of speed-force electricity that seemed to grip the air, and a torrent of wind that yanked the smoke clinging to her body along toward the door, and it was only then that Cassie realized Secret was asking the question to an after-image.
Robin straightened out his cape, looking from the fading form of the Flash to the empty doorway as the wind of Wally’s wake slowly died. “Someone has to say it. Holy déjà vu.”
Secret pulled herself back together with effort and frowned. “I swear I think they do that just to see if I’ll blow away on the breeze. Where did he go?”
No one could answer that for five solid seconds, and then the JLA comlink crackled to life over the loudspeakers.
“Flash to Watchtower.”
Although the Martian Manhunter was on monitor duty, it was Superman who answered. “We read you. Where are you?”
“Just blazed through the Swiss Alps. About ten seconds outside of Zurich, and then straight into France, then the Mediterranean. I’m on an intercept course with him; I’ll try to catch him outside of Rome. I think I know what he’s doing.”
Wally’s voice cut through the roar of wind, but Cassie still winced slightly— it was like listening to someone talking on a car-phone on the freeway with the window rolled down. She muttered. “Care to share with the class?”
“And that is?” Superman asked.
“Two words.” Wally said over the clamor of air rushing past at twice the speed of sound. “Time travel.”