by Starsky Hutch 76 and JSAGL
Jason Todd tumbled across the pine needle-strewn terrain of the woods. He quickly jumped to his feet and took off running. Harley Quinn and Franko Morelli screeched to a stop. The car they had been pursuing disappeared in the distance.
The teenager looked over his shoulder, watching them as they ran after him in pursuit. He ran into the cover of the trees, hoping it would help him to lose them.
“I think he went this way,” he heard Harley say.
Suddenly, the duffel bag was yanked from his hand. He turned and looked behind him, still running, and half-expected to see Franko. When he saw that it was simply a tree branch, a wave of relief passed soared through him. He was just about to turn back and get it when the ground dropped out from under him.
“I think he went this way,” Harley said. They ran in the direction she had pointed out and were stunned to see the duffel bag simply hanging from a tree branch. The thief they had been pursuing for over an hour was nowhere to be seen.
“It’s all here!” Harley exclaimed. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What?” Franko exclaimed. “What about the kid?”
“Ta heck with him,” Harley said. “You wanna tell my pop that some wet-behind-the-ears kid just strolled into the hideout and stole his loot? We need to get back before he knows somethin’s up.”
Franko let out a groan, knowing she was right. He silently made a promise to himself that it wasn’t over between him and that kid.
Jason Todd yelled out as he slid for what seemed forever down a pitch-black tunnel. He finally landed on a stone floor with a thud that made him see stars. When his vision cleared, he let out another scream, terrified by what was in front of him — a tyrannosaurus rex. He immediately felt stupid for having screamed, since it obviously wasn’t alive. The next sights were equally odd — a giant penny, a huge playing card, a joker. Where the heck was he?
When he turned around, it was instantly obvious. The Batmobile. “Cool!” he gasped.
Jason Todd stood up and began to investigate the contents of the cave. Suddenly, the cavern was filled with the loud blaring of an alarm. He froze in place, afraid to move.
“Ah, Master Dick!” he heard a voice say. “I see you have accidentally set off the alarm again.”
Jason turned to see a withered old man in a nightshirt. He used his free hand to shut off the alarm. In the other, he had been dragging a baseball bat. Jason doubted his ability to wield it as a weapon.
“Don’t worry,” the old man said mischievously. “This will be our little secret. No need to tell Master Bruce.”
“Uh, where is Master Bruce?” Jason asked.
“Oh, I assumed you knew. He’s on his nightly rounds. If you finish your studying, you might still accompany him.”
“I — I’ll do that,” Jason said. It suddenly occurred to him that the Master Bruce he was referring to had to be Batman, whom everyone knew had been dead for some time. That meant the old man thought he was Robin.
“Will you be needing anything, Master Dick?”
“Well, I’m kinda hungry,” Jason said. That part was true.
“Very good, sir. If you would follow me to the kitchen, I’ll make you a sandwich and a glass of milk.”
Jason did as instructed, following the old man up through the secret entrance and into the mansion, taking every detail in along the way. He nodded agreeably as the old man talked about times past as he prepared dinner for Jason and then sat down with him as he ate. Eventually, the old man grew tired, and Jason helped him to his living quarters and then went back down to explore the mansion and the cave some more.
This wasn’t a bad trade-off for the money that was in the bag, Jason realized. There was probably only a few thousand in there anyway, so it wouldn’t have lasted forever. Instead, he had a nice place to stay, and the old man was a nice old guy who seemed to like having him there — even if he did think he was someone else. He was gonna like living here.
Clark Kent, now known to the world as Clark Junior, sat in the soda shop with the grand-niece and grand-nephew of Jimmy Olsen. In the few days he’d been living in Smallville, he’d become good friends with them. They lived in nearby Midvale and made their bike ride into Smallville to work for his adopted mom Lois at the Smallville Gazette — and to hang out with him.
It was really pretty funny. Their grand-uncle, despite years of working with Lois, had assumed it was his namesake who’d wanted to be a reporter, not the boy’s twin, Jemi. So after the brother was given the job, she threw a fit, and the elder Jimmy immediately called and begged to get her on too so there’d be peace in the family again.
Sitting across from them, Clark Junior couldn’t get over it. The same features that made Jimmy look like Opie Taylor — the freckles and red hair — actually made her kind of hot. He’d never realized he might have a thing for redheads. Her personality was too cute and perky, though, for him to think of any sort of boy/girl involvement with her. Not to mention that she was a tomboy in the biggest sense of the word. He’d heard about how she used to wail the tar out of the smaller twin Jimmy while growing up. He was also becoming pretty good friends with Jimmy. His friendship with him and his new parents’ friendship with their great-uncle would make any involvement with her very sticky.
He was snapped out of his thoughts by a strangely familiar sight outside the window of the shop. “Could you guys excuse me for a second?”
“Yeah, sure, Clark,” Jimmy said.
Clark dashed out of the shop and called out to a young blond girl walking along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. “Laurie?”
“Do I know you?” she said.
He suddenly felt very stupid. Of course she wouldn’t know him. He and this Laurie — the Earth-Two version of Laurie Lemmon of Earth-Prime — had never even met. “Uh, no. Sorry,” he said. “I thought you were someone else.”
“But you called me by name.”
“Her name was Laurie, too. Amazing coincidence,” he said with an embarassed laugh.
“Did you just move here?” she asked.
“Yeah. Sure did. My folks and I. From Metropolis.”
“Great,” she said. “Then I’ll probably see you around. I’ve got to get going, but it’s been nice meeting you.” She turned to walk away and smiled back at him over her shoulder. “Bye.”
“Bye,” he said, returning the smile and wave.
“In town less than a week and you’re already picking up girls,” Jimmy said, walking up to him and slapping a friendly arm on his shoulder.
“Maybe,” Clark Junior said, “with any luck.” They turned and walked back into the shop.
Al Pratt hung the phone up and stared out of his hotel room window. His wife Mary emerged from the bathroom, towels wrapped around her body and hair.
“How’s Ted doing?”
Al turned to his wife and smiled. He walked toward her and put his arms around her. “Doc says he’s almost back to one-hundred percent.”
“Are you sorry you came here?” Mary asked as she moved to her suitcase and began dressing.
“No. I mean, this lecture at Emory University has been planned for over a year now, and the JSA really isn’t involved with anything right now, so…”
Mary turned back to Al with a look of mock hurt on her face. “Oh, I see. So being in a hotel room with your wife doesn’t even factor in here?”
“C’mere, you.” Al grabbed Mary and wrestled her to the bed.
“Oooh! Is the big, bad super-hero going to have his way with the damsel in distress?”
Al looked at Mary and brushed the hair from her eyes. “Nope. I think I’ll let you take it from here. My God, you are so beautiful.”
The two began a passionate kiss just as the room exploded and the building shook with the force of an atom bomb. The glass from the sliding doors flew inward, and the power flickered off. When the mayhem stopped, Al looked at Mary, both of them now on the floor underneath the bed that had flipped on top of them.
“Are you all right?”
Mary checked herself quickly. No blood, no broken bones. “I’m… I’m fine. You must have shielded me from the brunt of the blast.”
With that, Al casually lifted the bed and propped it up against the wall. He helped Mary get to her feet.
Mary pointed outside. “Al, look!”
Al could see what appeared to be a mushroom cloud, colored brown and orange and yellow and white, off in the distance.
“Dear God,” Mary said as she too stared at the cloud. “What kind of madman would set off an explosion in the heart of a city like Atlanta?”
“I don’t know, Mary, but I think the Atom is about to find out,” Al said as he grabbed his costume out of his suitcase.
One thing you had to give the Batcave — it had great accoustics. The sounds of Suicidal Tendencies‘ “Institutionalized” filled the Batcave as Jason Todd worked up a sweat in the Batcave’s gym, doing flips off the balance beam.
He’d always loved gymnastics and had made full use of the facilities whenever he’d get himself thrown into reform school to escape the fierce Gotham winters. It had been a wonderful surprise to find a fully equipped gym in his new home that was even better stocked.
He moved from the beam to the rings and was just about to do a somersault onto the mat when he was snapped out of his reverie by the sudden shutting off of his tape deck.
“You’re pretty good,” a deep voice said from behind him, “for a common burglar.” He jumped down from the rings and turned to see a large, dark figure watching him. “In fact, I bet this is the first place you’ve ever broken into where you were about to have someone kick… your… ass.” It was Robin — a Robin looking a hell of a lot like Batman. He had no idea he was back in Gotham.
“I… I… I–”
“What could you possibly have to say?” Robin growled.
They were both startled by the jingling of China on a tray, and they turned to see the frail form of Alfred Beagle walking toward them. “Ah, Master Bruce. I saw from the monitor that you’ve returned from your nightly foray. I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite. Master Dick, I took the liberty of having a delivery boy bring the soda you told me you liked during our chat last night.”
“Master Dick?” Robin said between gritted teeth, turning back toward him. “Kid, I think you have some explaining to do.”
“And while authorities are reluctant to reveal just what exactly has happened, we do know several things for sure:
“Some sort of bomb exploded at the North DeKalb Mall sometime around 4:25 PM. The Atlanta P.D. and Georgia Highway Patrol have closed I-85 from the I-75 split all the way to Spaghetti Junction. I-285 has been closed from Memorial Drive to Spaghetti Junction. Highway 78 is closed from Stone Mountain to Monroe Drive, and the entire Druid Hills area has been cordoned off. There is no good way to get home today. I’m Keith Callan with Timesaver Traffic.”
“Thanks, Keith. To recap what we know, some sort of explosive device detonated at North DeKalb Mall today at approximately 4:25 PM. It is not known who may be responsible or why. We tried earlier to talk with Atlanta Police Chief Beverly Howard, but were told no comment. A command post has been set up at I-85 and North Druid Hills Road, and we are told that the Atom, a longtime member of the legendary JSA, is there now with the police.”
“The answer is no!”
The Atom was clearly frustrated with the police chief. He slammed his fist down on the table, which promptly cracked in half. “You’re hiding something — I know it. Why else wouldn’t you let me go in?”
The chief looked at the SWAT commander. “This could happen again, you know. If we send your people in, it could be a suicide run. He can withstand a lot more than an ordinary man.”
The commander looked back at the chief, clearly angry. “Well, it’s your damn fault this got out of control. If we had run things my way…”
While the two argued, the Atom slipped out of the mobile command post and approached the cordoned-off area. Five guards drew near, their weapons ready. “Sir! This is a restricted area! You must fall back!”
The Atom grinned at the five soldiers and rubbed his hands together. “And what if I don’t?”
Minutes later, the chief exited the command post and noticed that the guards on the overpass were all lying on the ground. “Damn it all! He went in there!” But to herself, Beverly Howard was quietly relieved. Those government bastards had insisted on doing it this way, and look what happened — a big hole was in her city. She prayed that the Atom could succeed where she had not.
As Al Pratt made his way quickly down North Druid Hills Road, what he saw chilled him to the bone. Cars were twisted around light poles that had fallen to the ground. The only thing left of the Piccadilly Restaurant was the sign, which somehow escaped damage. Dead bodies were everywhere. Al heard a few moans and groans of survivors, but he could not stop, not with whatever — or whoever — was responsible for this still at large.
Finally, Al approached the Mall, or what was left of it. To his left, the 78 overpass was collapsed, cars crushed and on fire. And all that was left of the mall was rubble. Al was surprised not to feel the familiar tingle of radiation. The police had told him they suspected a nuclear device, but there was no radiation. And if there was one thing Al knew, it was radiation. As he approached ground zero, the Atom heard a strange sound — sobbing.
Dear God, Al thought, someone survived all this? How can that be possible?!
The dust settled, and Al saw something that stopped him in his tracks. Right at ground zero was a boy — a young, brown-haired boy. The boy heard Al approach and turned to face him. He was still sobbing.
“Please… please don’t hurt me…”