“Hank? Hello?” Jade called, her voice echoing through the entrance hall of Infinity Inc. Headquarters. She had arrived to relieve Hank King, Jr., AKA Brainwave, from monitor duty. But he was nowhere to be found.
Jade passed the communications room. It was empty, but a light was blinking on the console. It meant a news story was waiting for an Infinitor to retrieve it. Al Rothstein, the mighty Nuklon, had programmed their news-monitoring system to digitally record news items containing certain keywords such as invasion, terrorist, and Sportsmaster. Jade pressed the button to play back the broadcast.
The passive face of a pretty blonde newscaster appeared on a monitor screen. She showed no emotion whatsoever as she read from the teleprompter.
“Tonight, a daring criminal met justice in a higher court. Karla DeVoe, daughter of longtime super-villain Clifford DeVoe, alias the Thinker, died in Los Angeles County Prison while awaiting trial. Ms. DeVoe was a longtime sufferer of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and passed away from pneumonia accelerated by her condition. Just last month, Ms. DeVoe, in her guise as millionaire software baron ReNee Keith, nearly turned public opinion against the Justice Society of America. (*) Ms. DeVoe was also responsible for the death of Jonathan Crane, known to Gotham City residents as the Scare–“
[(*) Editor’s note: See Infinity Inc: A Question of Trust.]
Jade clicked off the broadcast. This was nothing that required immediate attention. Where the Dickens was Hank?
“Hank!” Jade called at the top of her lungs. She had searched Infinity Inc. Headquarters completely, and he was nowhere to be found. She began to worry. If some crisis had come up that required his attention, he would at least have left notice. Had the headquarters suffered an attack? Had Hank been…?
“Hello, Jen,” Hank’s voice came from behind. Jade screamed involuntarily, startled, and whirled on her heel.
“Hank!” she cried. “There you are! Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you, and I couldn’t find you!”
Hank smiled. “I was right here in the headquarters — last year,” he said slyly.
Jade shook her head. “You — what?”
“I was here in the headquarters, but a year ago,” Brainwave explained. “I’ve been practicing something in secret, Jen, a new talent I’ve been trying to develop with my mental powers. You know, my powers increased exponentially when my father transferred his powers to my mind upon his death. I’ve never really had the chance to explore them, but lately I’ve been trying to see just what I can do.”
“So what’s this about last year?” Jade asked, not comprehending.
“I’ve been trying to pierce the time barrier with the force of my mind,” Brainwave explained. “And I did it!”
“What?!” Jade exclaimed. “Hank, you mean you can travel through time, just with your brain-power?”
“Exactly,” Brainwave said. “I’ve only tried short distances, so far. I’d hate to go back too far and get stranded! I just went back one year, and that’s the farthest I’ve gone so far.”
“Wow,” Jade said, awed. “So… how far back do you think you can go?” she asked.
Brainwave shrugged. “No telling. Perhaps as far back as I can imagine. But, as I said before, I’d hate to think my way back a long time and then find myself unable to return!”
“Yeah, that’d be a bummer,” Jade agreed. “Hey, I’ve got an idea! Can you take passengers along?”
Brainwave thought about that. “I don’t see why not. After all, my clothes go with me, so why not anything else — or anyone else — I happen to be in contact with? If I will it hard enough.”
“Then take me,” Jade said. “We’ll go together, and really test your new skill to the limit. If we find you can’t think our way back, I can always bring us back with my power-pulse!”
“That’s an excellent idea!” Brainwave enthused. “It’d be a great chance to see what I can really do! All right, how far back shall we go?”
Jade thought for a second. “You know, I’ve always wanted to witness the first official meeting of the Justice Society! That would be so cool!”
Brainwave grinned. “That was November 22, 1940, right?”
“Right!” Jade said, taking her lover’s hand. “No time like the present — or the past, hey?”
Brainwave took Jade’s hand in his. “OK, I want you to close your eyes and remain absolutely silent,” he instructed. “I’m going to try to move us back in time with the force of my mind alone. Just relax and go with the flow.”
Jade giggled at the pun, then composed herself. Brainwave unleashed his mental power, letting it build, letting it flow. He concentrated on 1940, fixating on it. Jade slowly felt the world dissolve around her, feeling herself losing all sense of solidity, of dimension. She felt herself moving; it was like flying in a dream. Faster and faster she felt herself go; it was exhilarating. Suddenly, she felt a lurch, as if they were being yanked to one side. This quickly passed, however, and the floating feeling returned. Jade felt herself slow down, then gradually stop.
“You can open your eyes now,” Brainwave said. Jade did so, and gasped.
“Um, Hank… I think you overshot the mark a little.”
Everywhere they looked were crude wooden buildings. Horse-drawn carts rambled down wide dirt roads. People in rustic peasant dress meandered along, carrying dirty vegetables or live chickens.
“Just a little, huh?” Brainwave remarked. “Let’s find out when we are,” he said, walking toward the center of the village square.
“Wait!” Jade called. “Don’t you think our appearance would cause a commotion? They might even think we’re witches, or something!”
“Don’t worry,” Brainwave said. “I’m using my mental power to make everyone see us as normal citizens of the period.”
“Oh. So, what do we do?” Jade asked. “Can’t exactly look for a newspaper.”
“No, and most of these people wouldn’t be educated enough to even know what year it is; it wouldn’t matter to them,” Brainwave said. “The local church would be the most likely place.”
“Or we could ask her,” Jade said, pointing to a figure in black — a nun, a young one, most likely sent to buy provisions for the others in the abbey.
“Excuse me, sister,” Brainwave said, approaching the young nun. “My friend and I were wondering how long it had been since Christ walked the Earth. Would you be kind enough to tell us what year this is, please?”
The nun smiled at the young man’s devotion. “Certainly, my son. This is the Year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and forty.” The nun made a quick sign with her fingers. “May God bless and keep you.” She went about her business, selecting turnips from the market stall. Jade and Brainwave stared at her, then at each other, then at her, gape-mouthed.
Jade exclaimed, “1940?! But — but — this looks like the set of The Three Musketeers or something! What’s going on?”
Brainwave was grim as he considered. “Jen, did you feel something pull us to one side as we traveled?”
“Like a sharp left turn or something?” Jade asked. “Yeah! I didn’t say anything at the time, but — what was it?”
“It seems to have been our entrance into an alternate timeline,” Brainwave said, “a timeline where the Dark Ages never ended. We went back to 1940, but not the 1940 we knew!”
“Oh, man!” Jade said, her head spinning. “And now what do we do?”
Brainwave shrugged. “You power-pulse us back, I hope.”
“Nice try, Hank,” Jade said, “but I don’t know how to get us back to our own timeline! I could do a straight line between years, but now I don’t know where we are, dimensionally, or how to get back! I could try, but we could end up even farther away from our own timeline!”
“I was afraid of that,” Brainwave said. “Let’s keep our cool; there has to be a way out of this. We just have to–”
“Hank!” Jade cried, pointing up at the sky. “Look!”
Brainwave looked up and gasped at what he saw — a shape, black as it was silhouetted against the sun, but definitely a man — a man with huge, feathered wings.
The flying man began to descend, and Jade and Brainwave could see that he carried another man under his right arm.
“I guess this alternate timeline has its own Hawkman,” Jade whispered to Brainwave. But when the flying shapes landed, the time-lost heroes saw that, while there were similarities, there were vast differences as well. This winged man wore a golden chain-mail bodysuit, similar to what they had seen the Shining Knight wear. Over this he wore a scarlet tunic emblazoned with the familiar black hawk’s-head symbol. Over his head he wore a cylindrical helmet of polished black metal, topped with a shining metal hawk.
The man the winged man carried was commonly dressed and visibly shaking with fear. He was obviously petrified with terror.
A man of about thirty, dressed somewhat more elegantly than the rest of the citizenry, rushed to meet the winged man.
“Caught another one, Sir Falconer?” he asked.
“Aye, Sheriff,” the winged man said, tossing the terrified man at the newcomer. “Will these varlets ne’er learn that the highways leading to Middlesex are under my protection?”
“‘Twould seem not,” the sheriff said, taking custody of the terrified highwayman. “Well, I’ll find lodging for our new guest, fear not!”
“See that you do,” Sir Falconer said shortly, then took to the skies again.
Jade and Brainwave looked at each other briefly, then watched the winged lawman fly away.
“Did you see that?” Jade asked, bewildered. “That — that was Hawkman — but it wasn’t!”
“I imagine nothing is exactly like we know it in this world,” Brainwave said calmly. “Sir Falconer, didn’t the sheriff call him? Interesting.”
“How can you be so calm?” Jade demanded. “We’re stuck here in this backward timeline, with no way of getting home! Maybe you’re ready to do a road company of A Connecticut Infinitor in King Arthur’s Court, but I’m–”
“Relax, Jen,” Brainwave said. “I’ve figured out how we’re going to get home.”
“You have?” Jade stared at her lover. “Well, how about letting me in on the secret, because I’m about one step away from panicking over here!”
“If this world has a Hawkman,” Brainwave said, “it probably has a Doctor Fate, too. If we can find him, he can probably use his magic to help us find the right way home.”
“Probably,” Jade repeated, simply.
“I never said it was a perfect plan,” Brainwave said. “But unless you have a better idea…”
“No, I don’t,” Jade said. “So how do we find Sir Fate, or whoever?”
“We begin looking,” Brainwave said. “I tried a brief mental scan of the townsfolk, but they’ve never heard of anything like our Doctor Fate. But I suppose news doesn’t travel much from town to town, here, what with no newspapers or mass communication. We should just strike out on our own, start looking.”
“Better than nothing,” Jade sighed. “So where do we begin looking?” she asked. “I don’t guess we can call Directory Assistance…”
“We could try an aerial search,” Brainwave suggested. “Maybe get our bearings, figure out where on the continent we are. That could help us find Salem, Massachusetts, and presumably his tower, if the Fate of this world has a similar headquarters.”
“Works for me,” Jade said, using her power pulse to lift herself and her lover into the air.
“Careful!” Brainwave cautioned. “We don’t want to be seen flying! Even if they are used to that Sir Falconer character–”
“Relax; I’m also making us invisible,” Jade said. And so they flew. They headed east for about an hour, trying to determine where they were. Then Jade pointed down.
“Look!” she exclaimed. “Down there!”
“What?” Brainwave asked, looking.
“It’s some kind of town fair or something! See that musician? And the people dancing around him?”
“Oh — yes,” Brainwave said, looking closer. “It’s very interesting, but it doesn’t get us closer to home, does it?”
“Let’s have a closer look!” Jade insisted. “I’ve always enjoyed the Renaissance fairs in California; it’d be fun to compare them to the real thing!”
Brainwave didn’t protest. What good would it do, since Jade was driving? They began arcing down to the town square.
As they landed, however, they noticed something strange about the townsfolk. Though they danced around the minstrel, they had blank expressions on their faces, and their eyes had a glassy, hypnotized look to them. They had seen this sort of thing before.
The minstrel wore the motley outfit of the traveling musicians of the period, all in green. His hair was long, stringy, and white as snow. A maniacal look was on his face as he strummed his lute and sang.
“Come gather around me,
Townspeople surround me,
Hark now to the song of the Balladeer!
My word’s your command,
You’ll be my merry band,
Now gather me riches from far and from near!”
Jade looked at Brainwave. “Some things are pretty constant from one Earth to the next, I suppose.”