by Doc Quantum
“All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.”
–Edgar Allan Poe, A Dream Within A Dream
On the Rock of Eternity, connected to the universe of Earth-S, the wizard Shazam gazed into the antimatter universe of Qward. What he saw surprised him.
Where there had been no Earth before was now a vibrant, pulsing world located in the solar system. After watching more carefully, he was astonished to discover that this was not just any world but the alternate world of Earth-Three — which he knew had been one of the last universes destroyed during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Shazam now knew what no one else did. That weird world where heroes were villains and villains were heroes had somehow survived the Crisis.
Shazam soon learned the reason.
The genius of Alexander Luthor, its science hero, had apparently come through at the last second. Desperately using a modification of one feature of his amazing armor to save his world, he had attempted to make the entire globe intangible so the antimatter could pass harmlessly through it.
Apparently, through some amazing quirk of fate, a being known as Infinity — who originated from Earth-Three’s 30th century but who had been freed from the shackles of time itself — had given his life to save this world and everyone who had died on it when the antimatter consumed it. (*) It was the combination of Luthor’s quick use of his armor, a teleportation ray, and the sheer power of Infinity that had somehow transported the entire planet and everyone on it through space and time to the antimatter universe some months after Earth-Three’s apparent destruction. Moreover, this Earth and everything in it — which had once been made of positive matter while in the Earth-Three universe — was now made of antimatter like the rest of the antimatter universe, and thus would not be destroyed by any antimatter that came into contact with it.
[(*) Editor’s note: Infinity’s role in saving Earth-Three is revealed in Legion of Super-Heroes: Heroes No More?]
Luthor — unknowingly assisted by Infinity — had saved billions of people and in doing so had even saved his enemies, the powerful Crime Syndicate. They, along with the entire populace of the planet, were asleep and would soon awake. With a slight application of magic, the wizard Shazam ensured that the Crime Syndicate would sleep longer than anyone else, allowing that world’s law enforcement to imprison them.
But Luthor’s armor was drained of most of its power and perhaps burnt out for good, presenting him with an opportune moment to retire. After all, with no super-criminals loose, what harm was there in a retired hero? Life seemed to have turned out well for Earth-Three.
A frown suddenly grew on Shazam’s bearded face. There was trouble looming on this world after all, but he was at a loss to understand how it could be stopped. All he could do was watch.
Alexander Luthor suddenly awoke, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead. He looked around himself in a panic and searched for his wife, Lois. She was right next to him, sound asleep. Memories of death and some kind of white wall of energy quickly fleeted from his waking mind more quickly than he could remember them. Lois was safe and sound, though. She was all that mattered, she and their son — their son!
Jumping out of bed, he raced toward the room their newborn son and his crib had been kept in, but the little boy was gone; not only that, but there was no evidence he had ever been there at all. What was happening? Luthor fell to his knees and began to weep. Everything was wrong, so wrong.
Without waking his wife, Alexander Luthor went to his laboratory and began conducting tests upon tests in a futile effort to discover what had happened. He vaguely recalled making a futile attempt to save the entire planet through the use of his armor at the last moment, but wasn’t that nothing but a dream? He set aside his twelfth-level android project for now and tried to figure out whether what he had dreamt was indeed a dream or a reality. What he discovered after several hours shocked him to his utter core.
The universe had changed.
It was true. It was still 1985, but the world known as Earth-Three, including all of its people and possibly other worlds as well, had somehow been transported or absorbed into a universe of antimatter. Normally, he would not have been able to tell the difference, since matter and antimatter were essentially all relative to which side one was on, but he had instruments that were attuned to the parallel worlds of Earth-One and Earth-Two, and it appeared that they were still intact, although divided from each other by a barrier of unknown origin. Earth-Three, however, now existed in a universe of antimatter and was now made of antimatter itself.
Could this have been part of his dream — the vision of a white wall of antimatter, and the face of Superwoman vanishing behind within it, utterly consumed by it? And then — oh God — the vision of his own son. He and Lois had sent their only son away to safety on Earth-One.
He knew this was the truth, despite finding no reports of any kind on the news. Some kind of crisis had happened, which had caused Earth-Three to be absorbed into this antimatter universe. His son was gone, and yet somehow he knew that Alexander Luthor, Junior, was safe. He was not only safe, but was with… his mother?
Luthor shook his head and blamed the blurriness of his thoughts on lack of sleep. He was a man of science, and none of this could be proven. Still, he would worry about this supposed newborn son he dreamt of no longer. And soon enough, all those memories of having had a newborn baby son would vanish and become like an elaborate dream that was increasingly difficult to remember; already all evidence that Alexander Luthor, Junior, had existed at all had disappeared. This was a mystery, one of several anomalies left over after the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
“My men found them here, just lying unconscious,” said the police commissioner of Metropolis, Tobias Whale. “They’re being kept in a containment cell, but it looks like they still haven’t woken up. Thought you might be able to help us with a better containment system until their trial dates come up.”
“I can do that,” said Luthor, stifling a yawn. It was early afternoon, and he hadn’t slept at all. “Let’s only hope the legal system doesn’t muck this one up again.”
For years, the Crime Syndicate of America had been safely imprisoned in the force-bubble in the nexus between dimensions. They had recently been freed, however, thanks to the efforts of a particularly clever lawyer. A criminal attorney in every sense of the word — Cockburn, Luthor thought his name was, or similar — had argued before the Supreme Court that such imprisonment constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and that the Syndicators had never had their day in court. Despite Alex Luthor’s protests, the attorney’s arguments convinced the court to free the Crime Syndicate from their extra-dimensional prison to await trial. Naturally, they had escaped conventional imprisonment several days ago.
The fact that they had all been found like this — all together and unconscious — was either a great deal of good luck or a set-up. His instincts told him, however, that whatever had caused him and his wife to send their only son away in a dimension-traveling rocketship was likely the same thing that had left the Crime Syndicate in their present condition.
“Oh, well. Let’s not knock a gift horse in the mouth,” said Commissioner Whale, patting Luthor on the back.
Luthor began calculations on the possibilities of recreating the prison made for the Crime Syndicate by the JLA of Earth-One.
Drat, he thought as a warning beep began and a systems diagnostic told him what was wrong. It looked like whatever had happened to the Crime Syndicate had also done a number on his suit. The suit’s power reserves are at an all-time low. I knew this day was too good to be true.
Luthor began working quickly. He would ensure that these criminals were back in their custom-made prison before they woke up. He wasn’t ready to deal with them just yet in his present condition.