“Please,” the boy whimpered in terror. “Please, let me go!”
“We will, son,” Batman said as soothingly as he could manage. “But first, we’d like to ask you some questions. We need to know what’s going on here.”
“You already know what’s goin’ on!” the boy cried out. “You super-guys control everything! You got the whole world in the palm of your glove, man! What you need me to tell you?”
“My God, he’s terrified of us!” Green Lantern whispered. “He actually thinks we’re going to hurt him!”
“And maybe with good reason,” Aquaman said, looking around. “Have you taken a good look at this place? There isn’t even any litter! Any graffiti on the buildings!”
“This child is too terrified of us to tell us anything,” Batman said. “If we’re going to find out where we are, and how to get home, we’re going to need other help.” Batman opened a pouch on his belt, took something out, and handed it out to the boy. The terrified youngster did not move, dared not even flinch. “Son, we’re not going to hurt you,” Batman said. “We’re not going to take you away. Here, I want you to take this. Get something to eat for your sister. Please, take it.” Slowly, the boy reached out a trembling hand and took the bill from Batman’s hand. He gazed at it in wide-eyed wonder, as though it were some bizarre thing he had heard of in legends but never thought to see. “Fifty bucks?” he whispered. “Y-you’re lettin’ me go, and you’re givin’ me fifty bucks?”
“We’re not the Justice League you know, son,” Batman said. “It’s a long story, and one we don’t know all the answers to ourselves. But… well, just be on your way.”
The boy stared at the heroes’ masked faces for a moment, then turned and scrambled away.
“OK,” the Flash said, “so what’s our next move? I mean, we’ve been shunted into some weird world where the JLA are some kind of super-stormtroopers. So how do we find help?”
“If this is some parallel world, like Earth-Two,” Green Lantern said, “how did Light breach the barrier?”
“This is probably something different from the parallel worlds we know,” Batman said. “An alternate timeline, perhaps. We’ve seen enough of those in the past year.”
“What’s the difference?” the Atom asked.
“Well, you see, the — that is, when two — the probability that — well, I can’t explain it,” Batman said. “Suffice to say, a different set of rules applies.”
“I saw a Star Trek episode like this, once,” the Flash said. “Kirk and crew were trying to beam up from a planet, and something went screwy with the transporter, and they ended up in an alternate reality, a Mirror Universe where the Federation was some kind of evil empire.”
“How did they get back?” Aquaman asked.
“Well, it’s been a long time since I saw it,” the Flash admitted. “I think they reprogrammed the transporter, or something like that.”
“Well, without a transporter to reprogram, or Green Lantern’s ring working,” Batman said, “we’ll have to figure our own way out of this Mirror-Earth.” The Darknight Detective suddenly fell silent.
“Batman, what–?” Green Lantern began, but Batman raised a gloved hand, motioning him to silence. The Caped Crusader watched as man-shaped shadows began to detach themselves from the deeper shadows of alleys and corners. In a moment, the silence was pierced by the clicking of dozens of guns.
“Cripes!” the Flash spat, realizing that they were surrounded in a ring of marksmen, guns leveled at them from all angles.
“Don’t try anything, twinkle-toes,” a familiar, gruff voice barked from above. “They won’t miss.”
All five masked faces looked up to the top of a low, four-story building. A dark-clad figure stood on the roof, aiming his weapon at them. But this figure’s weapon was not a gun. The figure’s left hand held a bow, his right the arrow in the string, drawn to his ear.
“I don’t get it,” the Flash asked, rubbing the back of his head. “How can that be Doctor Light? And where the heck are we, anyway? A minute ago we were on our way to the Citadel after a routine mop-up, and now we’re… wherever this is!”
“Batman?” Aquaman asked. “What do you think? You’re our best strategist. What’s going on here?”
Batman examined the laboratory around them. “We appear to be in some sort of alternate timeline,” Batman postulated. “A world similar to our own, but in another dimension, where history is similar to our own, but divergent at some point.”
“Batman, you’re talking Twilight Zone stuff!” the Atom scoffed. “I mean, come on!”
“All right, you explain it, then,” Batman snapped back.
All was silent for a moment, then Atom continued. “Well, OK, but granting that’s true, how did we get here?”
“Apparently, Doctor Light brought us here with his machines,” Batman said.
“Why would he do that?” Green Lantern asked. “Even our own Doctor Light was never that stupid!”
“Perhaps he was searching for a way to escape this world and brought us here by accident,” Aquaman offered.
“Possibly,” Batman allowed.
“If that’s the case, we can figure out this doo-hickey and get ourselves back, right?” the Atom asked.
“Perhaps we can,” Batman said. “But first, I’d like to know a little bit about this world we’ve found ourselves thrust into. If they have a Doctor Light, they must be similar to our world. How similar? How different? Perhaps there’s more work for us here than back home. Flash, Green Lantern, I want you to do reconnaissance. Find out all you can about this place. Report back to me here in one hour.”
“Here?” the Flash asked. “Shouldn’t we just head to League headquarters? I mean, if there’s a Doctor Light, there’s gotta be a League.”
“We don’t know what kind of reception we’d get from this world’s League,” Batman said. “Better to learn all we can first before presenting ourselves. Go.”
Without another word, the Flash and Green Lantern went.
“Batman?” Aquaman asked. “What did you mean when you said more work for us here?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Batman asked. “This world’s Doctor Light was free to build his little machines, whatever it is he was trying to do with them. Perhaps the heroes of this world, if indeed it has heroes, haven’t taken our… proactive approach to the crime problem. Perhaps they need enlightening.”
Aquaman walked to a window and peered out into the night. “I see what you mean,” he said. “Well, if this world’s criminals are still running rampant, as they did in ours, there is indeed more work for us here.”
“Precisely,” Batman said.
“The guns shoot yellow bullets,” Oliver Queen called down from the rooftop. “And my guys’ve been trained how to shoot something that moves really, really fast. Namely, shoot where he’s heading, not where he is. So don’t try anything.”
“Ollie?” Green Lantern asked, barely believing it.
“Don’t call me that!” Queen snapped. “You lost the right to call me that! I’m coming down; don’t any of you twitch, or the boys start blastin’.” In moments, Queen was on the street, walking toward them. His brilliant green costume was missing, replaced by a tight-fitting shirt and pants of flat and lusterless black; otherwise, it was the same Oliver Queen they knew.
“One of my boys saw what happened here,” Queen said to the captured heroes. “How you caught Hector breakin’ into the Kwik-E-Mart to feed his kid sister, and instead of shuntin’ him off to Antaeus, you gave ‘im a fifty and sent him on his way! What’s your game? What are you up to?”
“Antaeus?” the Atom asked. Batman waved him to silence.
“Oliver,” Batman began, “you’re going to find this hard to believe — very, very hard to believe. But we’re not the people you think we are.”
Queen was silent for a moment. “Riiight,” he finally said. “You’re the Rat Pack, right? You’re Sinatra, and that’s Dino in the green. Guess that makes me who? Sam Giancana?”
“No, we’re who we look like,” Batman said. “But we’re not the ones from this world, from this timeline. We’re the Batman, Green Lantern, et cetera, from another timeline, divergent from this one. A world where history took a different turn.”
Queen threw his head back and laughed. “You expect me to believe that? That’s the best you could come up with? Come on, you can do better. How about clones? Robots? Maybe a bunch of impostors, like we pulled on the Key years ago.” Queen turned to Aquaman. “Long time, no see, Blake.”
“Ollie,” Green Lantern said, spreading his hands wide, “we’re telling the truth. We’re the Justice League, but from a different timeline, a different history. You could always tell when I was lying, Ollie. Look at me. Look me in the eyes. Am I lying now?”
Queen stared into Green Lantern’s eyes, staring hard and long. All was tense and silent for a long moment. Then, without taking his eyes from Green Lantern, Queen said, “Bats. Pull up your shirt.”
“Excuse me?” Batman said, an eyebrow raising under his cowl.
“Your shirt!” Queen snapped, moving his eyes to the Caped Crusader. “I want to see if you’re tellin’ the truth! Lift up your damned shirt!”
Batman and Green Lantern exchanged quizzical glances. Then Batman pulled the hem of his tunic out of his belt, and lifted it up to his chest, exposing his stomach and his rock-hard abdominal muscles. “Is this high enough?” he asked.
Queen stared at the stomach for a silent moment. “No scar,” he finally said. “I shot you! Six months ago, when you guys were raidin’ our weapons depot in Suicide Slum, I shot you right inna gut with a hunting-tip! You should have a big honkin’ scar right there!”
“But I don’t, Oliver,” Batman said, replacing his shirt. “What does that tell you?”
Queen was silent for a moment, then he turned to his associates and made a brief gesture. The guns were lowered. “Tells me we need to talk,” he said.
“It’s as bad as we feared, Batman,” Green Lantern said as he and the Flash returned to the tiny lab. “The criminals here are running wild, just like they used to do on our world. In and out of the prisons, like there was a revolving door or something.”
“There’s a Justice League, too,” the Flash said. “Bunch of members I’ve never heard of, but mostly the ones we know. Most of the other heroes are here as well.”
“And 12-11?” Batman asked.
“Never happened,” Green Lantern said.
Batman turned and stared out the window. “It won’t,” he said. “I swear I won’t let it happen here.”
“So the big turning point came when the Injustice Gang got their hands on an honest-to-God nuclear missile,” Queen said. He and the five transported Justice Leaguers sat around a rickety wooden table in a small, dimly lit basement. Armed guards stood by along the walls. “Tried to blackmail the world with it. We got wind of it before their demands went out, but they set up a bunch of obstacles to slow us down.”
“And what happened?” the Flash asked.
“This time, it worked. This was one we missed,” Queen said grimly. “The missile was fired, and the guys who could have stopped it were chasing other threats the Gang had thrown. The missile struck its target.” Queen paused, taking a drink of steaming liquid from a cracked mug. “Washington, D.C. Ffft. Gone.”
“What?” Aquaman cried. “Washington? All of it?”
“Wiped off the map in a heartbeat,” Queen confirmed. “Wanna go see the crater?”
“So, what happened then?” Batman asked.
“Well, Superman took it real hard. You see, Lois Lane was in Washington on a story assignment, and she got it with the rest of them. That did something to ol’ Supes. He quit bein’ a Boy Scout right then and there. Started takin’ a more, shall we say, proactive approach to crime-fighting.”
“You mean–?” Green Lantern began.
“I do,” Queen said. “You saw the result out there. A society that’d make George Orwell turn over in his grave. Super-Big Brother is watching you. Brr.”
“And the people let it happen?” Aquaman said. “There was no outcry? No resistance?”
“Hey, a lot of people thought it was about time, at first,” Queen said. “You didn’t see the pictures, the news footage of the rubble, the bodies, the two-year-old kids with charred black skin crying for their mommies. That was how the Super-Patriot Act got passed so easily.”
“Super-Patriot Act?” the Flash asked.
“Uh-huh,” Queen said. “It gave extra-judiciary powers to Superman and the Justice League — unconstitutional powers. They started rounding up all the super-villains and chucking them in a special prison built on the moon. Antaeus, they call it.”
“A moon prison?” the Atom said. “Doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.”
Queen fixed the diminutive hero with a long, hard stare. “Except it ain’t really a prison,” he said. “Anyone who goes to Antaeus, never comes back.”
Silence hung in the room for a moment.