Que Dye opened his eyes first. He found himself chained to a rack, unable to use his speed to his advantage. A quick look around told him the rest were chained in pretty much the same way. Escape became his first priority, even if he had to leave everyone else behind.
Taking the chains attached to his wrists in both hands, Que began to rub the links against the rack he was bound to. Smoke wafted out from the friction as the links clattered against the metal until he was finally able to snap the chains with a simple pull at high speed. Now to work on the rest of his body.
Que had a set of manacles at his wrists, chest, waist, knees, and ankles. Chains were wrapped around his body and still held his feet in place. So Que began to shake in place. He couldn’t control his vibration, like the Flash could, to move through solid objects. Still, he knew he could beat against his bonds until he either hurt himself or snapped them under the constant movement.
The Nerve groaned once. Then he was awake, looking around. He never said a word as he put his weird talent to work. His blocky fingertips pried his chain apart on his left hand. That allowed him to snap the lock on his wrist manacle with a finger-flick. That, in turn, gave him enough leeway to reach across to the next rack and pull the IV out of Adam Love’s arm. A pinch snapped the teleporter awake with a feeling of solar plasma running through his veins.
As the Nerve went to work on the rest of his manacles, Que shattered his rack with a crash. The Nerve hurried with his metal warping as Que slapped Mike and Danny awake.
Adam teleported from his bonds and shook Nikki by the shoulder.
“Go ‘way,” Nikki mumbled. “I don’ wanna get up yet.”
Adam touched Nikki on the shoulder and popped in and out of existence. Nikki staggered for a second from the sudden change.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Nikki said wearily, punching Adam in the arm.
“Where are we?” asked Mike, shaking his head.
“How do we get out?” said Que as he rubbed the shallow abrasions on his wrist and arms.
“What the $&*^%*& is going on?” Danny said, holding one hand to his head.
A tinkling sound was the Nerve’s only contribution to the conversation as he snapped the lock on the door. He peered cautiously out into the hall adjoining the cells. Everything looked clear, with not one security device in sight. Something seemed wrong about that, but they only had two ways out. Through the door was one. Through a wall was the other.
The Nerve started down the corridor to freedom. The others would catch up when they quit arguing. Putting his hand on the wall, the Nerve tried to read the building. Everything had a nervous system, and that was his talent — knowing what would break when he applied his touch to it.
He reached a T-section at the end of the hall. One way was more rooms, while the other had a desk with some nurses walking around it. The Nerve frowned. Was this a hospital?
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The Nerve turned, hand raised to strike. He relaxed when he saw it was just Que.
“Nik said for you not to do anything,” Que Dye said.
“Whatever,” said the blocky Nerve, listening to the world. Everything had a central trunk line to a brain; everything did except single cell organisms, and his ability was telling him that something was out of place.
“I’ll wait here,” said the Nerve, watching the nurses and doctors walk up and down in the hall. Strangely enough, no one seemed concerned about the two of them standing there.
“I’ll wait with you,” Que said.
“You can trust me not to do something rash,” said the Nerve.
“Remember Widener?” Que said. “You threw that crap all on him.”
“He shouldn’t have ticked me off,” said the Nerve. “All he had to do was get us in. He flapped his lips instead of doing his job. I almost got arrested over that.”
“Still, you put him in the hospital,” said Que.
“What’s your point?”
The rest of the group of thieves came up. Nikki looked a little irate, her pale face flushing slightly. “What are you doing?” she asked the taller Nerve.
Nikki rolled her eyes. She had heard that before. One time he had rigged a trap for no apparent reason. When things had gone south, he let the trap spring close, and that had been enough to get the group clear.
Turning her attention to the people moving around, she realized that none paid any attention to the bandits. Something was wrong there, she decided. First and foremost, though, they had to get clear of the building.
Nikki led the way to an emergency staircase. Maybe a trip to this world’s Washington, D.C., would be worthwhile. It would beat looking for trouble and trying to find the guy who put them here.
She wasn’t anxious to meet Superwoman, the brunette she and Adam had beaten. Tangling with a big gun wasn’t their style, even if Mike was sure he could deal with Ultraman one on one. Mike thought he could deal with anyone.
The small group of thieves made their way downstairs. They did draw stares from the people there as they crossed the lobby, but they ignored them, heading for the front doors.
Outside, they looked for some kind of transportation. A van filled their needs admirably. Adam teleported inside and popped the locks.
“Can I drive this time?” the Nerve asked.
“@*$&^ no,” said Danny. “You fell asleep at the wheel the last time.”
“That was three years ago,” said the Nerve. “Give a brother a break.”
“In back,” said Mike, climbing into the driver’s seat himself.
“I drive well,” said the Nerve in protest.
“In back,” commanded Nikki, pointing as she climbed into the front passenger seat.
“Yeah, we don’t want to hit a state patrol car again,” said Que as he sat behind Mike.
Adam climbed in behind Nikki and shook his head. Danny and the Nerve claimed the last seat in the van. The Nerve grumbled, despite warnings from the rest of a terrible beating they were going to give him when this was done.
“I’m extremely scared,” he said sarcastically, holding up his hand and vibrating his forearm in mock fear.
“They’re driving off,” said Ultraman.
“Stick with them,” said Owlman from a receiver in his ear. “We definitely want to get whatever they used to arrive in our world.”
“Right,” said the man in blue, taking to the air in a single bound. He soared high above the city, following his prey south.
Ultraman held back from just torching the van with heat-vision as it rolled down the highway. He didn’t care about how the group got here. All he wanted was the Fist. He would wait for a bit, and then, when he had what he wanted, he would destroy the Fist and everyone who stood with him.
Mike Redmon drove south, the van’s radio up as loud as it could play. He glanced at the gas gauge and realized he would soon have to make a pit stop. “How much money you got on you?” he asked Nikki.
“About five hundred,” said Nikki.
“We’re going to have stop and get gas in a bit,” Mike said. “Hungry for a Whopper, too.”
“Right,” said Nikki. “Need a map as well.”
“The exits for Bludhaven are coming up,” said Mike. “Let’s stop there.”
“Right,” said Nikki. “Then we can get a fresh plate for this thing. Someone probably reported it gone by now.”
“Tell me about it,” said Mike.
He found a strip of restaurants and gas stations just off the highway. He also found a Burger King and pulled in. The group got out of the van, stretching kinks out of their muscles. They went about their business as calm and relaxed as they could. High above, the following Ultraman waited for them to get back on the road.
After several minutes, the van was steadily rolling south. As the hours passed on the road, the group switched up at the wheel, except for the Nerve. No one wanted to let him drive.
Reaching the outskirts of the city that would have been Washington, D.C., on their world, they noted with some bewilderment that the nation’s capitol was named Arnoldtown, D.C. Driving a bit farther, they discovered that the Georgetown of this world was called Benedictus.
Eventually, the van pulled onto the street that led to the counterpart of the weird Georgetown house on Earth-One where the nightmare had begun.
Mike pulled into a slot, and they abandoned the vehicle. If the cops were up to par, it would be towed and logged as a derelict until someone saw the hot sheet from Gotham City and made the connection.
“He’s waiting on us,” said the Nerve.
“How the #$%^ do you know that?” said Danny.
“Cause I’m psychotic,” said the Nerve. “I know these things.”
“You’re half-right,” said Adam.
The super-thieves scaled the wall and headed to the manor. It looked the same as the last time they’d been there. Mike tried the door, and it opened to his touch. They stepped inside.
A minute later, a green bubble dropped on the lawn. Three members of the Crime Syndicate of America — Superwoman, Johnny Quick, and Owlman — stepped from Power Ring’s green energy bubble as it dispersed on the wind.
Ultraman soared down and landed beside the group. “They went in and never came out,” he said. Reaching for the doorknob, he pushed the door open and stepped inside. The others followed cautiously.
“Why do I always $^%[email protected]#ing wind up in a *^%*^%^ garbage can?” Danny Williams complained.
“Like attracts like,” the Nerve said cheerfully.
“%*#$% you and your mother,” said Danny, flipping out of the open dumpster.
“Cool it,” said Mike, frowning at the two.
“What happened here?” asked Adam, hands on his hips.
“Looks like someone nuked the place,” Que said absently.
Nikki bent down and examined a newspaper lying on the pavement. “Gotham again,” she said.
“Good gravy,” said the Nerve, finally taking a good look at their surroundings. Despite the outburst, he seemed to take the massive destruction of downtown Gotham City far more placidly than the others.
“Incoming,” said Mike, noticing the approach of their recent enemies, the five founding members of the Crime Syndicate.
The two groups sized each other up for a long time. Finally, Owlman — a guy dressed sort of like Batman but older — stepped forward. “You don’t want to be here,” he said. “We don’t, either. Truce?”
“Truce,” said Nikki Snow. “How do we get back home?”
“The same way we got here, unless this is a one-way trip,” said Owlman. “That house must also touch here.”
“You think?” said Mike.
“Not now, Mike,” Nikki said. “When we’re out of this, that’ll be a better time.”
Mike subsided, glowering at the other group.
“So we go to Washington — or, Arnoldtown, whatever — and find out what’s going on?” Nikki said.
“Yes,” said Owlman. “I’d think it would be better if we were traveling together than watching out for someone to stab us in the back.”
Nikki knew he meant to use her and her friends as cannon-fodder in case something heavy-duty crawled out of the woodwork. She wondered who was kidding who here.
“Problem, Owl,” said Ultraman, gesturing down the street.
A crowd of metal skeletons ambled toward the two groups, holding various weapons reminiscent of battles fought long ago. Then pterodactyl-men dropped from the air, trying to pin the human villains in one spot. All of them chanted “Hunter” in a single voice.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Owlman.
“Second that,” said Nikki.
Ultraman flew straight up and punched a hole in their net, only to be shocked that the ptero-men managed to cut lacerations in several places all over his body.
Power Ring threw solid energy at the creatures to widen the hole.
Mike Redmon picked a direction and started walking. The data processor he called a brain told him where to punch, where to block, and how to inflict damage against his metallic opponents. Whenever his fist hit something, a skeleton went down. The Nerve said he was a super-boxer, but he had never lived up to the thought until then. Soon, he had a small pile of bodies lying in front of him and to both sides.
Que Dye came in one side. Somehow he had taken one of the skeleton’s swords and turned it into a lightning of steel. His sheer speed allowed him to cut through the metal like cutting through butter.
Then the other speedster in red was on the other side, cutting the metal things down. “When this is over,” Johnny Quick warned, “I’m gonna pay you two back.”
“We have to get these guys out our faces first,” said Mike. “Then you can bring it on.”
The Nerve had wandered from the combat. He wasn’t much of a fighter, and he was aware of that. He was an entry man, and he knew what to press to break anything. He had discovered that the skeletons were using a subway to enter the battle, and he avoided them as he crept closer to the underground entrance.
Pressing his hand against one side of the stonework, he noted it was soft to the touch and partially ruined, like everything else he had seen here. He took a deep breath, then stiff-armed the tunnel entrance as hard as he could. The whole structure collapsed under the blow. The chanting of “Hunter” was momentarily cut off by the collapsing brick.
The Nerve looked around for something to barricade the entrance to buy the united groups of villains time.
Ultraman, Power Ring, and Superwoman controlled the sky, while the Fist and the two speedsters had established a slowly retreating wall against the main force of skeletons. Adam Love and Danny Williams were watching the sides, keeping flanking elements in sight.
Nikki Snow smiled as she bowled through a crowd sneaking up from behind. She smiled until she came to her feet and realized the Nerve had vanished. “Ohhh,” she growled under her breath.
“Hunter!” screamed a skeleton in her ear.
Nikki dropkicked the metal thing without thinking. She hit the ground and bounced back to her feet, reflexively controlling her mass up and down the scale.
Suddenly, the skeletons stopped their attack, pausing in expectation.
“This isn’t good,” Nikki heard Owlman say.