Meanwhile, if such a word has any meaning in the ever-changing, yet changeless realm known as the dreamscape, the gold-and-red-costumed Sandman led Wonder Woman through the apparently endless passages of his vast golden Dream Dome.
“I have seen the wonders of Science Island, and yet nothing of Paula’s equals the technological or magical splendor of this place!” she said with sincere awe in her voice. “I also feel strangely revitalized! My injuries have faded away!”
“As if they were but a dream,” said the oddly smiling Sandman.
“You said you loved my sister,” said Nubia. “I fear she never mentioned you to me or our mother.”
The Sandman nodded and said, “And I still do. But my passion for Diana is entirely one-sided. However, perhaps that will change if I wait for her to mature once more, or is that nothing more than a faint dream?”
“I thank you for your help,” said Nubia. “I have enjoyed this rather mystifying tour, but I would like to achieve satisfaction by bringing down that Lawless League.”
“That shall be done,” said the Sandman. “Nubia, the criminals were only empowered through the power of the reality-altering ruby Doctor Destiny employs. I have a rapport for that gem, since it feeds off the essence of my home here. It is time I removed it from his possession. While I may only leave this realm for a limited amount of time, I know you can achieve our mutual goal on your own if I but direct you to our enemy and nullify his ruby’s power.”
Wonder Woman nodded eagerly and said, “He created my attackers, and I will gladly vanquish him.”
“Merely drop down that slide, and you will emerge in Doctor Destiny’s lair,” said the Sandman.
Wonder Woman hesitated for a moment and then clasped the Sandman’s gloved hand in thanks before hurling herself down the odd slide. She sailed through a cloudy limbo and emerged on her feet in a laboratory. “Must all the scheming scientists of Man’s World equip themselves in such a manner?”
Doctor Destiny whirled to face her. He wore his customary light blue costume with a cowl that framed his gaunt, skeletal features. “I don’t know how you found me, but you won’t live long enough to regret it!” He raised his ruby gem and laughed madly as he said, “The Materioptikon will make your every moment a living nightmare!”
Nubia stood confidently before him with her hands on her hips. “You don’t realize how foolish it was to wrong me! I am the rightful daughter of Hippolyta, but I was raised as the child of dread Mars himself! You do not have the power to create the stuff of my nightmares!”
She moved forward in spite of the ruby’s lurid red glow and the mental alterations it created within her mind. Her features remained grim but unchanging as she walked calmly up to him and slapped him across the lab. Jumping forward, she lifted him into the air with one hand as her fist pulled back to aim a blow at his gaunt frame.
“My ruby! It is not responding!” he cried.
Wonder Woman lowered her fist and hurled him across the room once more. “I know. It must be like a bad dream for you!” she said with a thin smile. Before he could escape, she grabbed him again and ripped his ruby from his cloak. “Now to deal with your monsters,” she said, dropping the ruby and raising one high-heeled boot over the spot where it fell.
“Stop! Do not destroy it! I may find a better use for it still!” The words came from thin air, and she recognized the voice as the thin and reedy sound of the Sandman.
“Very well,” she said.
The Sandman loomed before her as one of his portals opened, and he said, “I may not depart, but you may put Destiny and his ruby inside.”
She nodded and, gently lifting Doctor Destiny, pushed him through the portal. He cried out once, but the Sandman’s voice echoed with more volume. “Fear not, Doctor Destiny. You will never menace the outer realms again, but I will grant you something you’ve long desired. You will sleep an endless sleep, and what dreams will come!”
Wonder Woman scowled as she whispered in the now-empty lab, “But what of the Lawless League?”
As the portal closed, the Sandman cried out, “They were shaped by twisted dreams via the ruby. Allow me to use it to alter them for the better!”
True to his word, within the odd dreamscape, the Sandman and his dream monsters positioned the captive Doctor Destiny within a clear sphere, and in a few moments his face grew calmer and even blissful.
“He dreams for the first time in years,” said the Sandman. “Let him cherish the experience, since he will never leave here again. Being his guard will be but one more of my duties.” His nightmare creatures Brute and Glob made no reply as they followed noiselessly at his side. The Sandman smiled as he lifted the ruby and said, “Now to turn nightmares into dreams of a better tomorrow!”
Wonder Woman started to leave the laboratory when she saw newcomers enter, and she swiftly realized they were her teammates. “But how?” she said. “My signal device was shattered!”
The Phantom Stranger spoke for the other assembled Justice Leaguers as he said, “I have my ways, and they were known to your sister, as they shall be to you in time.”
The Atom was slightly worried as he joined his friends in the battle arena where Despero and the alien from Planet X watched and played their cosmic game.
I’ve been feeling pretty good about myself since I’ve had a few victories against creeps like Insecta and Spellbinder and Neptune, but this whole outer space galactic game scenario is pretty heavy, he thought. I sure hope I won’t let the others down.
As he saw their six opponents, he frowned deeply. That ape-like creature makes J’onn seem like a dwarf, he thought, watching as the hairy golden simian roared and leaped at the stolid Martian.
J’onn J’onzz stood his ground and was knocked flat in seconds. He is clearly stronger than I am, but that type of brute power often indicates a weaker mind, thought the Martian Manhunter as he stood up and wrestled with the bigger alien until he could focus his thoughts and project them.
“You will surrender! We are not your foes! Be calm!” he said telepathically, trying to tame the animalistic alien’s thoughts.
Superman was facing a strange foe as a weird amoeba being oozed across the arena, leaving a slimy purple substance in its wake. How strange, he thought. It has no true nervous system. That would make it resistant to pain. He noticed his blows merely expanded the rubbery creature before it snapped back intact again, with no sign of injury. However, as it oozed across his body, he felt a stinging sensation. It seems to have some kind of paralytic agent in its juices, like a jellyfish! he thought. I can’t assume I’m naturally immune, either.
Batman was equally confounded as his foe smiled at him and posed seductively. Her long white hair and curvy golden body made him feel oddly out of control. She’s beautiful! he thought, his pulse racing. I can’t raise a hand to her. I want to protect her, not fight her! He steeled himself and fought the impulse to surrender to the lovely alien. She’s not touching me. My eyes are shut, so it’s not a hypnotic effect, yet I still fill compelled to love her. My mind doesn’t seem to be under attack or even persuasion. I’d know that feeling from fighting enemies like Doctor Tzin Tzin or even Despero himself!
The Flash might have enjoyed trading foes with the caped crusader, as he faced an ugly alien with rough spikes all over his brawny body. The scarlet speedster knew that his best efforts would not do much against a creature with such an armored hide. I could land a million punches without ever cracking that spiky shell, he mused as he drew closer to the towering beast.
Before he could take any action, the alien fired a dozen of the spikes directly at the hero. He vibrated at super-speed and allowed the deadly projectiles to pass harmlessly through him, but all the while his keen mind was racing as well. If I don’t want to end up as speedster on a stick, I’d better try something a bit more drastic. Obviously, he launches those razor-like spines when he feels threatened. Let’s see what happens when I accelerate the process!
The Flash dashed forward as the spikes exploded in his path, and he managed to dodge them all until he touched the beast and loaned his super-velocity to its own system. All of the spines erupted at once, and the Flash received a few cuts, but it also gave him a chance to attack the temporarily smooth alien. He landed a dozen blows in a second, leaving the alien stunned at his feet. “Those spines are starting to re-form, but we’ll have this game over before he can wake,” he said with a smile.
Green Lantern’s foe was a strange, golden-hued humanoid with smugness all too apparent in his strutting manner. “Your ring is useless against the color gold,” he said. “You can neither harm me nor contain me. My alien might is greater than your puny Terran strength, so you have little chance of surviving this encounter!”
The hero smiled with determination and said, “Well, a fella named Goliath seemed to have the upper hand, too, once, but he learned the dangers of being too self-confident.” He walked up to the mocking man and punched him in the face with a stinging right cross that dropped him flat and left him unconscious. “My power ring couldn’t directly do a thing to you, but it could boost my own strength until I was naturally strong enough to K.O. you,” he said, though the golden alien could no longer hear him.
The Atom, meanwhile, was now being chased by a weird transparent being that appeared to be made of a glasslike substance. His edges are as sharp as a dagger! He could slice me in half at my six-inch size! thought the Atom as he rode the air currents and floated just out of reach of the crystalline attacker.
Reaching into his vest, he pulled out a miniature vial. Aiming it at the creature, he adjusted it until it expanded and broke open to coat the odd being with a gooey substance that effectively muffled its sharp edges. He pulled out his miniature laser and shattered the being into fragments, which fell apart but failed to cut anything thanks to the protective goo. He’ll re-form in time, he thought. I can tell that from what I saw earlier. Still, this has bought us time. Thank goodness for the shrunken gear Ray and Ira gave me.
Batman had also taken decisive action against the maddening beauty. Relentlessly, he marched forward and put her to sleep with a deftly delivered karate chop. Nose plugs did the trick once I realized she was using a type of scent or pheromone to create those feelings of love in my mind, he thought.
The Martian Manhunter had been equally successful, as his mind accomplished what his brawn could not. I’ve managed to make the alien beast docile by flooding his primitive mind with thoughts of peace, he thought as he stood over the now-docile beast. It was rather fortunate that the alien’s mind was so much like that of an Earth animal or pet.
Superman had found the way to win as well. While his super-strength could not harm the amorphous creature, he had other resources at his disposal. He used his super-breath to freeze the creature in a block of ice that enveloped it no matter how it oozed or poured its odd body. “That should hold it,” he said.
He turned to face the others, and upon seeing their equally victorious demeanors, Superman shouted, “Game over, Despero! We played, and we won!”
Despero smiled down on them and said, “Of course you won. You always win. That was the point! You see, I wanted nothing more than for you and your colorful allies to achieve total victory. That, in turn, paves the way for me to claim victories of my own in the system that once belonged to me!”
“What are you saying?” demanded Batman. “We defeated your champions. You have to honor the rules of your cosmic game. The other alien’s planet should be safe from you now!”
Despero nodded and said, “My benighted Batman, my ally here never had anything to fear from me. I felt pity for the way his people lost all sense of personal survival. Thus I agreed to test various races for him and help him find the group best suited to stay on his planet and safeguard his helpless race. You bested the last group of champions, and as you Earth types used to say, you became the fastest guns in the cosmos!”
The alien from Planet X said, “Thus you have been judged to be the best defenders my world could ever find. I am so appreciative.”
“Great Guardians!” cried Green Lantern. “We were his champions all along! He wanted us to win so we’d be bound to take the place of the ones we beat!”
“Exactly, although honor has nothing to do with it,” said Despero. “The alien from Planet X, as you so quaintly called him, has a means of forcing your cooperation — one-way teleportation via my third eye. Once you all land on his world, certain compulsions I’ve secretly planted within your minds while you fought will force you to stay there forever. No power ring or Martian mind might can break it. You’ll live and die on his planet, and you’ll fight to save his people from any and all threats and natural disasters. That will give me freedom to reclaim my dominion without your interference!”
Despero’s laughter filled the arena as the heroes exchanged looks of surprise and concern.