by Dan Swanson
The time monitor displayed the 2039 World’s Fair. Mekanique zoomed in to show a tall, beautiful, dark-haired woman exiting from the Utopian States Pavilion. Her expression was difficult to read — it was a mixture of disgust and something else, perhaps relief that a difficult decision had just been made, though the decision itself had been odious.
Mekanique spoke again. “Wonder Woman, one of my oldest enemies. We first met in 1942, and to her, during the period we are watching, we have been foes for a century. To me, she became insignificant many centuries ago. And yet, to the Mekanique we are watching, this is their first meeting.” Her voice turned condescending again. “I can see you are confused. Human minds are not designed to comprehend the mysteries of time travel. Unfortunately, you will probably be even more confused by what you see.”
The year 2039, some moments before the above scene:
In the audience, Diana Prince Trevor was sickened. The Utopian States pavilion, which featured a wide variety of virtual reality exhibits, was the most popular attraction at the 2039 New York World’s Fair, and the interactive super-hero games in which the super-heroes were always humiliated were the most popular games.
This particular game allowed audience members to play as heroes from the All-Star Squadron in 1942 (although she noted the historical inaccuracies in placing Plastic Man and the Human Bomb — who had actually departed to Earth-X shortly before Mekanique’s arrival — in a scenario taking place around the summer of 1942). This team had won their first challenge, disappointing the crowd, but as far as Diana could tell, the second challenge was deliberately unwinnable; the crowd wanted to see the heroes lose.
Diana recognized the Mekanique scenario. Some unknown magic had showed her this battle in her dreams back in 1942, and she had vowed to prepare herself for the attack. But she had prepared for the wrong foe. For the real enemy was not Mekanique but the horrible perversion into which Stan Gunderson had twisted the United States government since his election to President in 1988.
Gunderson’s real agenda had been deftly concealed behind social programs that no one could object to. Each program, on its own, was a shining example of humanitarianism. Yet when viewed as an integrated whole, which Gunderson did his best to hide, their aim was clear — to produce a large class of citizens who were absolutely dependent on the government for food, clothing, housing, and other essentials, for their education and health, and even for their entertainment. He made it easy to join this class, and almost impossible to escape.
And then he made sure that this large bloc of citizens knew that every other party, were it to gain power, would take away their necessities and leave them to die. This group always voted as a bloc, and always for Gunderson’s party and programs. And eventually his Humanist Party came to be the largest, most powerful voting bloc in the country. And since Gunderson controlled their vote, he was soon entrenched as the virtual dictator for life of the United States. Soon to be the Utopian States, she thought in disgust of the Constitutional Amendment that was now easily being ratified by three-quarters of the states.
Another item on Gunderson’s agenda had been the elimination of super-heroes. Heroes were constantly marginalized by the government and belittled by the press, and to the general population, they had become little better than clowns. Even in the interactive games she was watching, the heroes always lost, eventually, and were always humiliated in their losses. And the crowd always cheered for the villains.
She had prepared, as she had promised herself, but she had prepared for the wrong foe. How could she have known what Gunderson would do to her adopted country? Most of her comrades had long since retired or passed away, and with the recent death of her beloved husband Steve Trevor, Diana no longer felt constrained to remain here. She would return to Paradise Island tomorrow. Man’s World had rejected her kind; Man’s World could live without her from now on.
Diana Prince Trevor was in a funk. The changes in her adopted country — the government-driven marginalization of super-heroes, which had eventually driven super-heroes almost totally out of the public eye, the growth of Amgov and the entitled class, the current furor to pass an amendment changing the name of the country from the United States of America to the Utopian States of America, and even the Amgov-sponsored virtual reality game she had just witnessed — all combined to leave her as depressed as she had ever been. Nothing in her background had ever given her the emotional tools to deal with depression; during her active life, she had rarely even had the leisure to be depressed, much less experience such an overwhelming combination of factors at once. She wandered through the World’s Fair, not looking at the exhibits. There were wonders in these pavilions, at least for normal humans. Compared to what she had seen in her life, however, the most fantastic exhibit at a World’s Fair was hardly other than mundane.
Suddenly, the circumstances of her life changed yet again. Mekanique appeared out of nowhere on the road ahead — a normal-sized Mekanique this time. The crowd assumed she was a hologram — until one wise guy tried to walk through her, and she knocked his head off with a casual sweep of her arm. People started screaming and running away in panic.
Mekanique gestured, and she disappeared inside an opaque half-sphere that looked like it had been carved from living fire. The dome was some forty feet in diameter, and probably a hundred people were captured inside. And more unfortunates had been injured or killed as well, since parts of their body had been severed as the dome of doom materialized.
Back in Limbo, Mekanique kept up a running commentary. “She is angry and confused. She expected to find another timeline, to materialize inside an Illuminati pyramid where she had been sent by a future Vandal Savage to stop an assassination plot against his younger self. But the target timeline has vanished. This is her first trip through time, and she doesn’t know what to do next.”
“Are you trying to impress me by reading her mind? That’s you, and of course you remember what you thought at the time. Your brain is a computer!” Canary sneered.
“It’s as I’ve said. Your limited human mind cannot begin to comprehend the vagaries of time travel. The Mekanique we watch — Futura, for want of a better name — is not me, not in the way you are descended from the Canary of yesterday or the Canary of ten years ago. While I share some of her memories, we do not share a continuity of existence. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is that Futura is a time shadow of me, a version of me that once existed and now exists no longer, erased in one of the timeline changes we have experienced recently. It may be as accurate to state that she never existed — except that Wonder Woman and those around her certainly would dispute that!”
Inside the flickering dome, the being thought to be Mekanique, who was actually Futura, grabbed a terrified woman and shook her. In her confused state, she shook too hard, and the woman died violently but quickly. Moving faster than humans could run, she grabbed the woman’s husband and held him off the ground in front of her.
“Where is the headquarters of Vandal Savage?”
The man was already in shock at what this monster had just done to his wife, and he was unable to speak. In anger, Futura threw him at the wall of the dome, and his splattered remains slid down to the pavement. She spun and pointed a finger at another man, and he stopped moving. She took a stride forward and stood facing him.
“You will answer my questions or die.”
She released him from stasis, and he nodded his head violently.
“Where is the headquarters of Vandal Savage?”
Though it would have seemed impossible, the expression of horror and terror on his face increased, and he was shaking violently. He knew he was going to die, since he had never heard of Vandal Savage.
At that instant, outside the dome, Wonder Woman slammed both of her indestructible bracelets into the flickering orange, red, yellow surface with all her might, the might bequeathed to her by Hercules, son of Zeus, and augmented by her own horror and anger at what she was witnessing. And the dome shattered, and then simply vanished.
“Mekanique, no more people will die today!” she shouted, and then blurred into motion.
Using the speed granted to her by Mercury, messenger of the gods, Wonder Woman slammed into Futura before the android could react, and in less than a half-second, they were miles away on one of the vast parking lots that surrounded the crowded fairground. Diana stopped abruptly, and using Futura’s momentum and her literally Herculean strength, she slammed the golden being into the ground.
“I have prepared for this day for many years, most foul of machines!” Futura was half-embedded, face down, into the ground, and Wonder Woman stomped on the back of the android’s head.
Not far above the street, the air began rippling and shimmering. The shimmer faded into a glow, which spread and then coalesced into three human figures. Hourboy, Teleteen, and Chemique of Legion Squad C appeared, floating on a silvery disk. As Futura struggled to rise, Hourboy disappeared, then reappeared instantly on the ground, where Diana could see him.
At that same time, the pavement around Futura flared with heat and melted into a tarry liquid, and the android sank into the boiling pitch. Chemique gestured, and the chemical reaction that had melted the rocks was reversed, and almost instantly the tarry mess solidified, entombing Futura in a solid block of twenty-first-century paving material.
“And from that moment until today, Legionnaire, we have been deadly enemies.”
“Wait! I thought you said that the Mekanique we are watching — this Futura, as you call her — isn’t you. Why should you and I be enemies because of something that happened to someone else?”
“I grow wearied by your continuous stupidity.” Mekanique moved faster than Canary could see, touching her chin, and Canary fell unconscious. Two of the Legion of Doom androids returned her to her cell, while Mekanique continued to observe her shadow.
“Thanks for your help, youngsters! Who are you? Where did you come from?” Wonder Woman asked her new allies. She was more than a little suspicious of any heroes during the current era, and the appearance of these three at this exact moment concerned her.
“The Legion of Justice from the twenty-third century at your service, ma’am!” Teleteen responded. “We’re time travelers, come to help you fight Mekanique.”
“Aren’t you Wonder Woman?” Chemique asked in awe. Amgov had written the amazing Amazon right out of history, but she had figured prominently in the records Cathy had recovered from Sentinel Gate. “You’re probably the greatest heroine of all time!”
“Power Girl might dispute that. Besides, no hero is anything more than a laughing stock these days!” the red-and-blue-clad beauty responded bitterly. “I’ll probably be arrested for using super-powers in a public place!”
Teleteen interrupted. “She’s breaking free!” he yelled.
Almost before he finished shouting, the block of material imprisoning Futura lifted into the air and then exploded. Teleteen managed to encase the heroes in a telekinetic spherical shield, but they were blasted backward like a bowling ball. The four tumbling together broke Teleteen’s concentration, causing the bubble to be dissolved, and they rolled to a painful halt on the pavement.
Hourboy disappeared again, and there were explosions in the air and on the ground near Futura, then a large steel net appeared in the air and fell on her — and a super-battery discharged. Futura stood still until the battery discharged, and then she easily ripped through the steel strands. Hourboy had twice used his time-diving powers to attack Futura with his most powerful antipersonnel weapons, and she had shrugged off both attacks. Or maybe not — she seemed to be moving slightly more slowly now than she had been.
Teleteen used his telekinesis to form a giant invisible hammer and slammed it down on Futura’s head. It didn’t hurt her, but it did drive her feet into the pavement. She pointed at Teleteen, and an energy blast flared from her arm, striking his protective telekinetic energy field and knocking him spinning. She floated upward a foot and then floated forward majestically, several inches off the pavement. Hourboy threw some devices that stuck to her skin and began to burn like super-hot flares, hoping to melt holes in her armor. Annoyed, she aimed her other arm at him, and he was hit with a kinetic blast, which knocked him down and out.
“Looks like it’s just us girls,” she said mockingly to Wonder Woman and Chemique. “You are both artificial beings as I am; an alliance among us would be much more natural than this battle.”
“I’ve told you before — I’m nothing like you!” Chemique concentrated, and the chemical composition of Futura’s artificial eyes was altered, and they lost their sensitivity to light — making the android blind.
Her anger aroused, Futura spun to face Chemique. “We have never met before. And because of your insolence in attacking me, you won’t live long enough for us to meet again. I have other senses every bit as acute as my vision, witch!” As she spoke, a panel slid aside in her chest, and several machine guns blasted away.
Wonder Woman sped to intercept the bullets, proving that she had lost none of her speed and skill in her enforced vacation from super-heroics, and deflected every bullet. “I told you, robot — no one else dies today!”