Todd Rice found himself laying on something soft and enjoying the feel of it against his face. He probably should open his eyes, he knew. Instead, the former super-hero known as Obsidian continued to enjoy the sensation, trying not to wake up all the way from the disastrous flight his family had endured.
Something hard slammed into the side of his face. He tried to roll away from the sudden pain but found that he was locked in place.
“I don’t like guys trying to get to second base before we even have a date,” said the angry voice of Stephanie Harrigan. “Especially not guys who steal my motorcycle.”
Todd winced at the harsh tone. “Would it help if I said I was sorry?” he asked, blushing in the dark.
“Only if I can draw and quarter you,” replied Steph.
“I deserve that,” said Todd. “I’m sorry about everything. You can draw and quarter me later.”
“Don’t think I won’t hold you to that,” Steph said, smiling in the dark.
“Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Todd began examining their prison with his hands. He found he was trapped in a small box with Steph. His increased strength was unavailable without his shadow form, so he racked his brain for any trick he might have seen since he had joined Infinity Inc. This kind of thing was something Roy Harper was good at. Unfortunately, he was trapped with the model. He could have enjoyed the situation if he wasn’t worried about how much air he had left in their coffin.
A small flame erupted at the edge of the box. Steph held it up, watching the flame flicker before she let it die. “There’s a crack in the wall,” said Steph. “What do you think we can do about it?”
“At least we won’t suffocate before we starve,” said Todd, feeling for the crack and trying not to touch anything he shouldn’t; his eye ached from the last time. “There’s a hole,” he said, running his finger along the prison’s surface. “I don’t know how we can exploit it. I’m not as strong as I used to be.”
“Let’s see if we can get our feet against it and push,” said Steph. “Just watch your hands.”
“Right,” said Todd, rubbing his face.
Todd and Steph shifted in their cage until their feet were against the top of the wall. “Ready?” Todd asked. His hand had positioned itself around her waist in the dark.
“Let’s do it,” Steph said.
They pressed against the top with all their strength. Todd felt his muscles crackle unpleasantly under the strain. Perhaps he had been relying on his shadow powers more than he should have. The lid shifted slightly upward. It slid back a little bit, then stopped. His legs collapsed under the strain.
“I see a light,” Steph said. “One more time.”
They braced their feet again. Pain ran through Todd’s legs as he pushed. The weight eased away. Todd pushed against the rock with his arms as it slid back. If the weight shifted back, allowing the top to fall inside the cell, he knew he and Steph would be pinned like bugs. The top slipped off the top of the box, hitting the ground with a thump.
“We’re definitely not in Kansas,” Steph said, brushing dirt from her dress as she stood up. She shook her head to throw dust from her hair.
“I think we came in up there,” said Todd, pointing.
The two were in a cavern of joined sections of rock. High above them, a beam of sunlight shone into the cave, only lighting what was directly beneath it. A piece of green sky floated high above. The couple looked around the barrow quietly.
“I don’t see the others,” said Steph quietly. “I suppose that’s good.”
“No news is good news,” said Todd, turning his attention to the hole in the roof. “We need to take care of ourselves first before we can look for anyone else.”
“What are you going to do?” Steph asked. “Fly up there?”
Todd gritted his teeth. He wanted to spit out something in anger but held it in. The last thing he needed to do was to get into an argument with the one person who could help him with his current problem. “I’m open to suggestions,” he said.
“We can see if we can find an opening down here that leads to the outside,” suggested Steph. “I think we can make torches for light. All we would need is a tunnel and some luck. Otherwise, we would have to climb up there, and I don’t see any holds we can use to grip.”
“OK,” said Todd. “What do we need to make torches?”
“Let me have your jacket,” Steph said. She walked over to where the struts of her motorcycle stuck out from under a slab of stone while she waited. She grabbed one strut in both hands, bringing her foot against the metal. The hollow tube bent under the blow. She wrenched it back, snapping it off.
“See if you can get the other one off, please,” said Steph, taking the jacket from Todd. “That way we’ll have two torches, if we need a spare.” Steph took the jacket and ripped the heavy cloth sleeves into strips. She tied the strips around the top of the metal strut. She took the strap from her ruined purse and used that for the grip. Todd came over with the other strut in his hand.
“I really loved that bike,” Steph said sadly as she made the second torch.
Steph walked down the tunnel they had found on the perimeter of the main barrow. She held her torch above her head. She watched her surroundings as well the way the flame flickered at the end of her improvised light. She followed the direction away from the pointing fire, hoping that an exit would be at an end. Otherwise, they would have to return to the central barrow, the tomb of her motorcycle, and try to climb out of the cavern. She didn’t think that was a good idea, because she wasn’t a good climber. She didn’t think Todd was that great at rock climbing, either.
Stephanie found that the end of the tunnel dropped into a chasm. She waved the torch around, but could not see the other side of the gap. Steph held her torch on either side of the lip of rock. She didn’t see a ledge to allow them to get on the other side. The wind blew across the shadowed fissure. “It looks like we have to turn back,” Steph said, defeated.
“Not necessarily,” said Todd, pointing. “There’s a light down there.”
Steph looked to see where Todd was pointing. A small light leaked into the chasm. All they had to do was climb down to the tunnel entrance. It looked easy enough to do from the top of the chasm. Numerous platforms glinted slightly under the torchlight. “Let’s do it,” Steph said.
Todd led the way across the square ledges jutting haphazardly from the cavern’s walls. He held his lit torch high, jumping across the intervening spaces with care. He couldn’t see the bottom of the canyon over which the makeshift platforms overhung. He didn’t want to misstep and find there was no bottom.
He leaped to the lip of the opening the light was streaming through. He turned, placing the torch on the floor of the tunnel. Stephanie landed lightly on the last platform. She leaped across as he stepped back to make room. She landed, holding the torch in her hand away from Todd.
“Let’s see what kind of trouble we’re in,” Todd said, picking up his torch. He held it low as he walked toward the light.
“Right behind you,” said Steph, following behind him. She undid the cloth and extinguished it.
The tunnel led to a pastoral scene that made them pause in shock. The planet that Todd and Steph stood on was divided in sections, with the planet’s strata clearly visible to the naked eye. The fissures filed away, floating in space with a small rabbit with horns leaping away in the distance. A small moon hung in the green sky over a forest of curly trees. They stood in shock as an island of rock floated by gently.
“I would hate to be in an earthquake here,” Steph said.
“No kidding,” said Todd.
He stood, a pillar of green flame that shifted erratically, in a room of crystal. He looked out his window at his chaotic land thoughtfully. He had planned for the other to follow him here to his home, but others were now involved. He found himself at a loss.
He had hoped he could lure his counterpart to his planet in hopes that he could trick him, or blackmail him if necessary, into providing aid he needed to rid Thanagar of the invaders that had arrived via transport gates. He had not thought other Terrans would become involved. He had not counted on the unexpected threat that traveled with the other wielder of the Starheart.
The Phoenix walked on his world, and that could mean nothing but trouble for him, the Scotts, and any other resident that got in her way. He had set a dangerous scheme in motion, and now he had to see it through to the end.
He floated across the chamber to a pit he had carved when he realized the nature of his hostages. The infants slept on soft pillows. They had been fed and burped, and had played gently with each other before falling to sleep. He would keep Sarah, Adam, and Megan Scott safe. They were the key to his plan.
Todd Rice and Stephanie Harrigan made their way across the broken land carefully. The curled trees waved gently in the wind that seemed to permeate the strange world they found themselves on.
A rabbit with horns regarded them patiently as they leaped from floating mass to floating mass. Suddenly, its too-long ears swiveled in the same direction. It barked at other nearby jackalopes as it hopped away in sudden panic. The strangers followed it with their eyes for several long seconds.
“Do you think that was for us?” Steph asked quietly.
“Doubt it,” said Todd, watching the jackalope hop faster than he could run. “We might be having company soon.”
A high-pitched whine drifted to the adventurers as they looked for cover. Dots became green blotches that became armored humanoids carrying large rifles. Red visors gave the illusion of insect eyes. Scales on the thorax were numbered in yellow. They hovered in place when they spotted Todd and Steph trying to look for cover in the fissure they were climbing across.
The flying guardsmen paused for several long seconds. Todd heard several clicks, as if the armored individuals were talking things out. He leaped to a perch away from Steph. He tried to scramble over the top of the opening, hoping to draw the newcomers away from his companion. Stephanie climbed in the other direction with an easy grace.
The insectile flyers split up. Two vectored on Todd, while the third aimed himself at Steph. Their rifles whined, then roared at the lost humans. Clear spheres erupted from the weapons with a distortion of air.
Todd saw the orbs fired at him converge as he ran as fast as he could. Suddenly, a wave of dirt picked him up in its clutches. He thought he was screaming in pain, but he couldn’t tell for sure. The blast had deafened him even as it slammed him against the ground. Todd tried to pick himself up, but he could not move, could hardly think as a heavy rifle butt descended to a rough landing on his skull. Everything went black.
A heavy hand cracked Todd’s face, smearing away the black with a gray fog and shards of jagged pain. His hair was yanked up painfully, along with his head, causing pain in his shoulders and arms.
“Who are you, scum?” said a grating voice, irritating Todd’s already-damaged hearing. “Why aren’t you screaming for your mother like the rest of these pantywaists do?”
“Let go of my hair!” Todd demanded, feeling blood against the skin on his face and neck. “I’ll tell you what you want to know if you just give me a second.”
“No need for rough treatment, Sauvage,” said a pleasantly smooth voice outside Todd’s limited range of vision. “Tell us why you are here, my young friend.”
“I’m just looking for my family,” Todd said. “We were separated earlier during a storm.”
“I think he needs some more rough treatment, Sauvage,” said the smooth voice. “Obviously he intends to lie to us until we torture the truth out of him.”
“I am telling you the truth,” Todd said, trying to buy some time to clear his head. The returning feeling in his arms and legs told him he was trapped in some kind of torture rack. He didn’t want to be destroyed out of hand before he could free himself and escape. “Just help me find my family, and I’m sure they will confirm what I’m telling you.”
“How many members in your family?” asked Sauvage, massive gloved hands holding a glowing spark at the end of a silver wand.
“About six or seven,” said Todd.
“What about the woman that was with you?” said the inquisitor. “Is she part of your family as well?”
“She’s my wife,” said Todd. “Is she here, too?”
“Unfortunately, she was vaporized by my forces,” said the smooth voice again. “She fled and was fired on until they confirmed her death.”
“Tell me you’re lying,” said Todd. “Tell me you’re lying right now.”
“Why should I lie?”
Alan Scott waved his lantern in a green ribbon of fire. Stones hopped away from the pushing wave of light. His wife, Molly, took a shallow breath as he bent over to examine her. “Molly?” Alan asked, allowing the light to shine on her face. “Can you hear me, sweetheart?”
“Alan?” asked the battered Harlequin. “Where are we?”
“Not on Earth,” said the Green Lantern, wiping some blood from the corner of his lip. “We lost the others when we got here.”
“Let’s get ourselves together and look for the others,” said Molly, climbing shakily to her feet. “I don’t like leaving them alone without their powers in a strange place.”
“Hank still has his telepathy,” said Alan. “I’m sure he will be looking for us the same way we are looking for the kids. Hopefully Jennie-Lynn and Todd will be with him.”
“Let’s get started looking,” said Molly.
Todd Rice closed his eyes. Pain surged through most of his body. He was held in place in the rack. At least Sauvage had taken the shock wand away. They seemed to both have left the torture chamber. He wondered if they had told him the truth about Steph. Causing pain seemed to be their thing.
Pulling at the shackles, he shook the rack only slightly. He gave that up when his shoulders threatened to dislocate his arms. He needed another approach, his arms told him violently. Todd tried to turn his head. Something kept his head from moving more than a few inches in either direction. A crosspiece went under his chin and across his forehead. He should have paid more attention when Sylvester Pemberton tried to show him some escape artist moves he had picked up as the Star-Spangled Kid.
He wondered how the others were doing, if they were even alive. He decided to get out of his own problems first, though. Both Hank King and Frances Kane still had their own powers, and his father sure had some of his own juice again. He was the only one at the mercy of two madmen, as far as he knew, and he had to concentrate on that.
Todd closed his eyes again, some of the clouds slowly clearing from behind his face. He slowly turned his head left and right. He thought he had enough give but wasn’t sure. He turned his head back to the left. He began to exert pressure, pulling down, trying to squeeze his head through the narrow space. He pulled down for several minutes, skin scraping from his face on the metal.
He found himself jammed in that small space. He froze, scared to be confined in the awkward position he was in. He lifted himself up slightly. Then he yanked down as hard as he could. His cheek was flayed as he pulled his head free of the restraints. Blood dripped from his face to the spotlessly white floor. Todd watched the dark liquid skid across the floor to a drain without leaving a trail as he tried to catch his breath. The drops dripped through the small grate as if they had not hit the floor at all.
“I have been captured by the disciples of Mr. Clean,” Todd told himself, as he finally caught his breath from the pain he had put himself through. Now for his limbs.