Nick did the only thing he could think of–he flew.
Whoever this guy was, it was clear that he had been issuing orders to Legion from afar–possibly another dimension. Those orders had included keeping the rest of the League alive–which made Nick the primary target.
As soon as Nick turned and took off, War flew off after him. The gunfire tore through the floor where Nick had once been, gouging out silver dollar sized holes; Nick aimed for the window and flew out into the cold night.
Behind him, the wall exploded as War tore through it and pursued.
Nick, Daniel said. Where the hell are you going?
Whoever he is, he’s after me, Nick said. If I can lead him somewhere unpopulated–
Nick, he’s going to kill you! I don’t know the specs on that thing, but it’s got more ordnance than a tank, and it’s moving at least as fast as you!
Nick glanced over his shoulder. War was rapidly gaining. Yeah. I know. Get Lim here. Going to need backup.
It was at that precise moment that he felt something hit him from behind. One of the bullets struck the rim of his rocket; he was sent spiraling off course, hurtling down toward the highway.
It was night–only a few cars buzzed past. Still, even putting one car in danger was an unacceptable risk. But Nick needed to make an emergency landing before he could take off again. He twisted his body around, slammed his foot into the street, and drove it down through concrete. Asphalt tore up around his ankles as he skidded to a halt.
War landed several yards ahead of him with a ground-shaking whump. For a moment, the massive suit of powered armor was illuminated by a set of headlights behind him.
Nick armed his roachbots and raised his arms. War turned, slammed his fist down into the hood of an oncoming car–crinkling the front like foil around his fist–and grasped it with his other fist, pulling it off the street and over his head. He flipped the car down, driving its rear-bumper into the street–glass popped on all sides as it crumpled into a makeshift shield. Nick’s roachbots fired, each exploding on contact–blossoming into a red flame that turned the car’s underside to smoking slag.
War kicked the vertical car forward, sending it flying straight toward Nick. Nick braced himself, caught it beneath the axle, and fed his rocket a brief shot of thrust to slow it down. More sparks flew under his feet as he was sent skidding. When he stopped, he gently lowered the car to the street–the family of four inside looked dazed and bruised, but still alive. He kicked the car’s side, sending it spinning off the road and out of harm’s way.
War lifted his arms. The plates near his wrists lifted, exposing what looked like a set of copper coils.
The force of the energy blast was hard enough for Nick to feel it in his teeth. He flew back at least a hundred yards, right before his back slammed into the upper portion of a bridge.
When Nick finally got back to his feet, he felt War’s fist closing around his throat.
“It’s over,” Nick hollered through his helmet. “Goddammit, it’s over–Legion’s–”
“This isn’t about Legion,” War replied. “This is about you and me.”
The air began to shimmer with what looked like multi-colored fragments of glass. Nick got that familiar tingle at the nape of his neck–the tingle that told him the omnisphere had been activated.
“Where the hell are you taking me?!” he shouted.
“Home,” War replied.
Suddenly, the world around them erupted into a brilliant, blinding light. And then–
–then they were falling into a highway, asphalt crumpling beneath several tons of military-grade power-armor.
War let go of him. Nick dropped to the ground in a crouch, then jumped back.
His helmet’s readout fed him data in quick, informative bursts. Connection with the other Leaguers had been lost. No internet, no phone signals, no radio signals. GPS indicated that he was somewhere near–
Nick straightened and stared past War, toward the cityscape behind him.
A cracked and shattered skyscraper stood out on the horizon, tilted to the left.
“Where is this?” Nick asked.
“I told you,” War responded. “Home.”
“Where the hell did they go?” Haley asked.
“I just lost contact with him,” Daniel said. “He just–”
“Is he hurt?” Vaughn asked. “Unconscious? Would that–”
“No, he just disappeared,” Daniel said. “One second he was there, one second he was gone.”
“Oh God,” Haley said. “Does that mean–”
“Omnisphere,” Anna said.
They all turned and looked at her.
Anna shrugged. “It would explain why you lost contact, right?”
“Yes,” Daniel said. “It was so sudden. Like he popped out of existence.”
“Then where is he?” Haley asked.
Anna looked to Daniel. “Can you track down where you last had contact with him?”
“I think so, yeah,” Daniel said.
“If they used the omnisphere,” Anna said, “that means they left one behind, in this world–wherever they teleported over.”
“Right,” Haley said. “Let’s move.”
The suit’s GPS continued to flash Nick his location.
Grand Lake Michigan.
The highway was abandoned. Hundreds of cars stretched out in every direction, rusted and overgrown with vines that had started to swallow up the highway. No matter what direction he looked in, there was no signs of human life–of animal life.
“Who are you?” Nick asked.
“I was you,” War replied. “Then you failed.”
He fired the wrist-mounted energy cannons once more.
This time, Nick was ready. He kicked his rocket on and flew into the sky, letting the blast split apart a rusted cadillac behind him. War followed him–and War was faster.
When he slammed head-first into Nick’s chest, alarms started flashing across his screen.
“You’re so fucking ridiculous,” War told him. He shoved his fist against Nick’s chest and charged the energy cannon again–this time, firing at point blank-range.
The chest cavity made an awful crinkling sound. Cracks appeared in the external armor; Nick’s screen immediately went red.
When Nick hit the ground, he was traveling at a good hundred mile clip. A highway bridge folded, buckled, and gave way.
He went straight through and slammed into the off-ramp beneath it.
War descended from above. On his shoulder, the miniature missile launcher reappeared; nine red tips emerged, locked on Nick. “Just a bad joke,” he said.
Nick gritted his teeth and unleashed every last sonic he could, straight for the tip of those missiles. The sound caused the windows of several surrounding cars to burst–even the bridge above gave a slight wobble.
The sonic blast slid past War like oil off a duck’s back.
“Sonics,” War said. “Really? I mean, really? You never took any of this seriously.”
The missiles fired. Nick kicked himself to his feet and soared straight up–right past War’s nose. The missiles had already locked into place, and followed him up through the hole in the bridge in a series of silver streaks.
Nick turned his speed up as high as it could and banked hard to the left. He instantly felt g-force seizing hold of his stomach–his body felt like it was being ground into fine porridge. With a press of his thumb, he activated the suit’s anti-tracking measures; the last of his roachbots spread out behind him, each firing off an ECM burst before detonating.
Eight of the nine missiles veered off course. The last one hit him dead-on.
The explosion seared through the armor. Nick felt the heat bite at his legs and back, felt it smear its way across his arms. Several of the red lights went out–and the suit’s left arm locked down. The engine behind him made a loud choking sound, then died.
Nick plummetted straight back down into the highway, slamming face-first into the top of an ancient yellow punch-buggy. The hood cracked beneath him and formed a cradle around his upper torso.
“Lives were on the line,” War called out to him from above. “People were dying. And you? You’d fly in with a fucking guitar.”
Nick’s right arm still worked. He used it to pull up a command interface in his helmet, inputting commands by curling his fingertips into his palm. With what was left of the suit’s circuitry, he began to type, trying to pull up the right program–searching for a signal. Praying that the signal was there.
“Did you think this was just a game, Nick? People died. Because you wouldn’t take this shit seriously. Because you wouldn’t do what needed to be done.”
War hit the street somewhere in front of Nick. With a soft beep, Nick’s helmet indicated that a signal had been found.
Thank you, Nick thought, and then he hit the ‘home’ command.
“When shit got real, you weren’t ready,” War said. “Because for you, this was always just a chance to have some fun. This world died because you wouldn’t get serious. Well, now guess what? I’m dead serious.”
“Who are you?” Nick asked again, just to buy time.
War’s helmet split in two and opened. The face within was Nick’s own–but older. Older, and damaged–a spider-like sprawl of scar-tissue surrounded one blinded eye.
“I told you,” War said. “I was you. Then, two years ago, the world died.”
“What happened?” Nick asked.
“Does it matter? Bad guys happened. And because you wouldn’t stop playing with your fucking toys–because you weren’t ready to kill–they won. And now everyone’s dead. Everyone except me,” he said.
“What will this accomplish?” Nick’s armor strained as he pulled himself out of the hood of the car. Metal clanked and snapped around him. “Look–something really bad obviously happened here, but maybe we can work together and–”
“I’m not working with you,” War replied. “I’m replacing you.”
“I promised Legion a Power Impregnator in exchange for them searching for a world identical to my own, but three years younger,” War said. “When I’m through with you here, I’m going back to your world, in your armor,” he continued. “I’ll take your place. And then I’ll do things right. No more screwing around. Build what needs to be built. Kill who needs to be killed.”
“No,” Nick said. “You won’t.”
There was a soft sound in the distance–like a jet engine screaming.
“Yes,” War said, not hearing it. “I will. Whatever you’re thinking of pulling, it won’t work. This is my world now, and I’ve thought of everything.”
He turned just in time to catch the 50 year old remote Rocket suit’s fists directly in his chest.
War’s helmet snapped shut. The force of the blow carried him into the air; the remote suit flew up with him, arms locking around him in a bear-hug.
Nick keyed in the final command. The remote suit’s self-destruction mechanism activated with a beep.
War managed one final cry of rage before both he and the retro Rocket suit were swallowed in a swelling tide of fire and sonics.
As the last, smoldering remains of the suit tumbled to the ground, War came crashing after. War fell somewhere in the distance; Nick ran toward him, setting the sonics in his one remaining arm to their highest setting.
War’s suit had cracked down the chest; the circuitry for the left arm and chassis were exposed. The helmet had split open once again, exposing his blood-streaked face. It was clear from the way he’d fallen that the engines on his back had been damaged beyond immediate repair–it would probably take weeks to get the suit functional again. When he saw Nick approaching, he tried to fire one of the wrist-mounted energy cannons, but it only produced a loud fizzle.
“Shit,” War said.
Nick aimed his arm at War’s unprotected face. “At this setting and range,” he said, “I’m pretty sure that the best case scenario is a frontal lobotomy.”
“You won’t,” War said.
Nick grimaced, but didn’t lower his arm. “Look. I don’t know what happened to you–what made you like this–but I’m pretty sure killing you isn’t the right choice.”
War said nothing.
“So, uh, if you promise to not try and kill me, then why don’t we just go back to my world?” Nick said. “Maybe we can work together–figure out how to stop whatever the hell did this.”
War’s suit made a growling sound. The helmet snapped shut; War reached with his good arm for the latch near his buckle.
A nasty looking ray gun popped out and fitted neatly into his fist.
“Crap,” Nick muttered, stepping back.
Behind him, energy coalesced into a sphere–he felt the heat of an incoming teleportation field. As it dissolved, Daniel, Haley, and Anna appeared. Daniel was holding the omnisphere, his brows crumpled together–Anna was pointing the particle beam directly at War.
War grunted and aimed the beam at them.
“Uh,” Anna said. “Can that suit of his take a particle beam to the chest?”
“Don’t know,” Nick said.
“Don’t care,” Haley replied, snatching the gun out of Anna’s hands and firing.
War disappeared in a ball of flame. Haley grabbed Nick with her other arm and dragged him close. “Now!” she shouted.
Daniel activated the sphere. There was another flash of light, and then–
After the smoke cleared, Nick tried his best to explain what had happened on the other side. The League had used the jet to lock off part of the highway–several cars were left stuck in traffic, but considering the smoldering wreckage that sat at the center of the highway, a blockade was the safest choice.
“He wanted to replace you?” Vaughn asked.
“Yeah,” Nick said, leaning heavily on Haley. “Apparently, something bad’s going to happen. He’s from a universe where it already happened. Thinks I didn’t take this job seriously enough.”
“You seem to be doing a fine job from where I’m standing,” a woman said. She was dressed in a brown leather bomber’s jacket, and accompanied by a dozen agents clad in black suits and ties and armed with nasty looking guns. She was a wirey old woman with hair like wool–she had to be well into her 80s. They seemed to appear from nowhere–but when Nick looked up, he caught sight of a black helicopter that had landed on one of the offramps.
“Wha–who the hell are you?” Vaughn asked, turning to her.
“Amelia Earhart,” the woman said, completely deadpan.
“Ha ha, very funny,” Vaughn replied.
“Fine,” she said. “I’m the bitch who works for the government agency that’s here to clean up this mess.”
Nick turned as best as he could in his damaged armor. “What about Lim?”
“Busy. Handling, I don’t know. Aliens, some nonsense like that,” the woman said. “Important thing is that we’re here to clean up your little interdimensional invaders.”
“Oh,” Anna said. “Are you going to send them back home?”
“Maybe,” the woman said, and then she nodded toward Anna. “Think it’s time you headed back yourself, miss.”
“Right,” Anna said, and then she frowned. “But I don’t know the coordinates to–”
The woman pulled a slip of paper out of her pocket. One of the agents took it, stepped up to Anna, and placed it in her hand. Anna looked down at it, up to the agent, then back at the woman. “How–”
“We’ve worked in your sector before,” the old woman said. “Tell your Sumerset that I said ‘hi’.”
“You’re–you’re with the Agency, aren’t you?” Nick said.
The old woman lifted her fingers to her lips. “Be a good boy and stay quiet,” she said. Then she looked to Anna. “Once you go, we’ll destroy the omnisphere on this side. Recommend you do the same with yours.”
Anna frowned. “But–”
“Trust me, kid. Interdimensional travel is more hassle than it’s worth. You better head out now.”
Anna turned to the others. “So,” she said. “Um, I guess that means this is…”
“Goodbye. As in, forever. As in, hurry it the hell up, I’ve got a schedule to keep,” the old woman said.
Anna bit her lip, glanced back to Nick, then stepped forward and gave him a hug. He groaned at the contact–his bruises and burns were still fresh–but when Anna pulled back, he tried his best to smile beneath the helm. “Guess that’s that, then,” he said.
“Maybe we’ll keep in touch,” Anna said, stepping back.
“No, you won’t,” the old woman replied. “Alright, boys, let’s clean this mess up.”
Anna pressed down on the plates. The omnisphere hummed to life–she lifted one arm to wave.
The light expanded, then shrank down into a single point, taking Anna with it.
Two days later, Nick returned to working on the remote suit of armor.
Haley popped down. “Hey,” she said. “So, um–”
“Just putting on the finishing touches,” Nick said. “Wanted to see if I could use it to help in fights.”
Haley eyed the suit of armor. “This that thing that saved your life in the alternate world?”
“Yeah,” Nick said. “My clone finished it, apparently. Didn’t figure I’d use it against him, I guess.”
“Funny,” she said. “Guess he was kind of like you.”
Haley gave him a nudge. “I was kidding. You wouldn’t go all, you know. Evil or anything.”
“I don’t know,” Nick said. “According to the guy I talked to, the world he came from was probably identical to ours, just shifted three years into the future.”
“Well, things are different in this world,” Haley said. “For starters, I bet your clone never met an evil version of himself.”
“No,” Nick said. “And I doubt he had help from another dimension.”
“What, you mean Anna? I thought they destroyed the omnisphere. And even if they didn’t, we don’t know the coordinates,” Haley said.
Nick reached for a slip of paper on the table and held it up. “When she hugged me, she slipped this into my pocket,” he said. “Coordinates that the Agency gave her. I think she meant for me to try building my own omnisphere, or maybe use grandpa’s starplate. Get back in contact with her, and her dimension.”
“Are you going to?”
“Maybe,” Nick said. “If what my clone said is true, and if his world really is just like mine, something really bad is going to happen in a year. It might pay to be ready for it.”
Haley thought about this for a moment while Nick continued to work on the remote model. Suddenly, she reached forward and gave him a hug.
“Wh–hey!” Nick said. “What’s that for?”
“Just don’t spend too much time getting ready for it,” Haley said. “Whatever happens, you can’t stop it yourself. Make time for you, okay?”
“Okay,” Nick said.
Haley moved to leave. As she did, she stopped long enough to mention to Nick: “Me and the others are going to watch some movies. If you want to come, feel free to join us.”
“Okay,” Nick said.
Once Haley had left, Nick spent a moment looking between the suit of armor and the door that Haley had left through.
“So, they’re heroes like us,” Sue said.
“Mmhmm,” Anna replied.
“I’m glad everything worked out,” Sue said. “I was really worried.”
“I was worried about you, too,” Anna said.
Anna looked over her shoulder and grinned. “Not really,” she said.
The garage had taken a little damage during the battle, but nothing that Anna couldn’t handle. Now that she was back, she had already replaced most of the instruments that had been damaged–and in the meanwhile, she had started up another project. It was laid out on the worktable in front of her, with the majority of its wiring exposed. It had the shape of a miniature stealth-bomber, six feet from tip to wing-tip.
“Anyway,” Sue said, “we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. You want to get lunch?”
“Maybe in a bit,” Anna said. “Want to finish this up.” She was pouring over the contents of her project, armed with a soldering iron.
Sue leaned forward to eye it. “Something for me?”
“No,” Anna said. “Something for me.”
“What is it?”
Anna grinned. “Jetpack.”