by Dan Swanson
John Garrick, alias Whiz Kid, had come up with a plan to save the teenage super-villainess Henrietta King, alias Savant. He would go back in time and change the crooked path of her life, effectively saving her from ever having become a super-villainess.
Now that he had a plan, it was time to get started. He knew that other speedsters could travel in time by moving really fast — faster than light. But he wanted a better understanding of the theory before he actually tore off into the past, so he took a few seconds to ponder time travel. One advantage of being the world’s fastest kid was that he could spend several hours of subjective time in pondering over only a few seconds. And being a genius on top of it, he could pretty much puzzle out anything when he set his mind to it.
Still, this was going to be a difficult mission. Just as the Pauli exclusion principle prevented two electrons from occupying the same orbital at the same time, there was a similar exclusion principle of time travel — the same being could not physically exist more than once in the same universe during the same time interval. When he emerged into his own past, he would manifest as a phantom, able to observe everything but affect nothing. It would be the same if he traveled into his own future.
He realized with interest that this presented a lot of potential paradoxes. Suppose he went back to a few weeks before he was born and hung around — when he was born, would the older John or would baby John suddenly become a phantom? What decided which version of him had precedence in a particular time period? He was deep into consideration of this issue, and he was starting to sense a pattern behind this phenomenon, when he realized he was straying from his self-imposed mission. He could always explore this aspect of time travel later — one thing that being Whiz Kid had given him was plenty of was time.
Since Henrietta wasn’t much older than he was, he wouldn’t be able to change her life much, since time traveling within his own lifetime would turn him into a phantom. So he would have to go back before he was born and change the lives of her parents, Zeta Harris and Henry King. He decided he’d be smart about this — he would have a plan before he went back in time, rather than just showing up and winging it. So he needed a time-scanner to pick the right time.
A flurry of activity followed that thought. The TV, his Atari 5200 video game console, VHS player, the mobile phone, and his fancy PC were all torn to shreds, and then most of the components were reassembled into a weird device. It looked like two TVs sitting on a pile of electronic junk, with several antennas and a makeshift control panel that had knobs, dials, and two keypads — a normal computer keypad and a smaller phone keypad — and a joystick. He felt bad; his Concurrent 7700 Professional Computer had been one of his favorite possessions. But he could probably put it back the way it had been — probably.
Whiz Kid raced around the world, moving from west to east, pushing himself to his limit, faster and faster — easily faster than he had ever moved before. He circled the Earth more than seven times in a single second, right at the very edge of the speed of light, vibrating furiously so he didn’t smash into anything. Still, he could tell he wasn’t quite traveling in time yet. He pushed even harder, and he knew he’d gained a little more speed, but only very little. As his speed approached the speed of light, every little increase in speed became exponentially more difficult.
Now he knew why his dad, and the Earth-One Flash as well, didn’t break the time barrier every time they ran this fast — raw speed wasn’t enough. With their virtually unlimited strength, Kryptonians had the power to break the time barrier on their own, but pure speedsters such as himself needed an extra boost. Well, he just happened to have the solution with him.
He was carrying version two of his perpetual motion device, smaller and more compact than the original, which was already heavily modified from Savant’s original, and to which he had also added a few extra features. (*) Shortly after Henrietta had used the original to send Superboy through time, he had realized that it wasn’t really perpetual — it would stop working when the average temperature of the universe reached a couple millionths of a degree above absolute zero. But that wouldn’t happen for trillions of years, so perpetual was as good a term as any, and a lot easier to say than that it would work until the eventual heat death of the universe. He touched the switch, and the jolt from the extra power felt like smashing through a solid granite wall. Suddenly, the universe around him changed drastically.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Junior JSA: The Junior Injustice Society, Chapter 5: Perpetual Motion.]
Whiz Kid had been moving at super-speed across a normal, if blurry landscape, but there wasn’t any landscape any longer. He seemed to be in an infinitely long tunnel, the walls of which were alternately banded black and white. There were no colors anywhere. He glanced down to see that he, too, was colored only black and white. It was a good thing there wasn’t anything else to see, because he would not have been able to make sense out of anything complicated. This time tunnel effect was not unexpected. He’d theorized that he would see something very similar to this and had planned for it.
He knew that each band indicated a single day, and that each band he passed, moving in this direction, indicated that he was one day farther back in the past. He pressed another button on his perpetual motion device, and a sensor-based counter was activated. He increased his pace until the black and white bands became a gray blur and then waited for the counter to vibrate, signaling that he should slow. As he reached the correct day, the sensor turned off the perpetual motion machine, and John fell back through the time barrier onto Earth in 1967, twenty-one years earlier.
Whiz Kid slowed as quickly as he could and ended up in New York City. Just in case he had to appear as a civilian, he whizzed through a Goodwill Thrift Store for some ’60s clothes, leaving a small gold nugget as payment. Carrying the bundle of clothes, he then headed for the address of a fancy modeling agency. He knew that the career of Henrietta King’s mother, the supermodel known as Zeta, had begun with that agency a few years ago, and his time scanner had showed him that another significant event in her life would occur there today.
Along the way he passed a mugging, which he stopped with a quick super-speed karate blow to the side of the mugger’s neck. A block farther on a building was burning, and the fire department was still on the way. He raced through the building at invisible super-speed, carrying people and pets out. It only took a second to clear the building, and then he began running around it at super-speed, creating a vortex that drew air away from the building, snuffing the fire from lack of oxygen. He wasn’t surprised to see Wonder Woman approaching, also at super-speed, but before she could notice him, he blurred away.
He had to run past the United Nations building, and he was stunned to see that there were large crowds around it being held back by police and several squads of soldiers. He saw teams wearing padded body armor carefully entering the building and overheard them talking about a bomb. He detoured through the building and quickly found that bomb. A quick examination, and he pulled a wire loose. There was no way this bomb could go off now, and he was back to his mission.
Finally, he reached the modeling agency. His time-scope had showed that some of the older models were just about to introduce Zeta to a drug that would, according to them, help her keep thin. They said that they used it all the time, and they swore they wouldn’t have been successful without it. John knew that Zeta was only instants away from what would become a long-term addiction to cocaine, an addiction that had turned her from a sweet, cheerful girl from the country into a domineering, abusive witch of a mother who would make life hell for her unwanted mutant daughter.
If John could prevent Zeta from becoming addicted, Henrietta’s childhood would be much happier, and she wouldn’t turn to crime. At least, that was his plan. For certain, even if he didn’t actually help Henrietta, saving her mother from the ravages of addiction was worth doing.
As he vibrated through the wall of the building, his universe changed again. He was no longer in the agency building in New York. After a very short instant of disorientation, he recognized where he was — in the main chamber of the Tower of Fate, Doctor Fate’s sanctum in Salem, Massachusetts. John Garrick had only been here once before. Shortly after his powers had first manifested, his dad the Flash had taken him on a get acquainted tour, and he had been introduced to many of his world’s heroes — his dad’s friends and allies.
He stood on a platform surrounded by a shimmering wall of force — magical force, he recognized from the vibrations. Facing him outside the barrier was Doctor Fate himself. But as soon as the figure spoke, he knew it wasn’t Doctor Fate as he knew him in the present, an amalgam of Kent and Inza Nelson. No, this Doctor Fate was the ancient Lord of Order known as Nabu.
“John Garrick, you are about to make a grievous mistake. Mortals should not attempt to change the past. Even an immortal such as I, a Lord of Order, shudders at the possible consequences!”
“How did you bring me back to the present like that?” John was confused; he respected the power of magic, but he was sure even magic couldn’t breach the time barrier that easily.
“This is not your present, though it is mine! I have not brought you through time, youth, but merely through space. However, while we converse, time as you know it in your universe is in abeyance. I will release you into the same instant — and at the same place — as you were when I gathered you for this conversation.”
“So how do you know me? I haven’t even been born yet!”
“I am Nabu. I am Doctor Fate. I know what I need to know.”
“Yeah, sure. I get it. Nigh-omnipotent, godlike being and all that, right? So I’m impressed. But how about letting me out of here so I can get back to what I was doing? Or am I gonna have to get out of here myself? I will, you know.”
“I will release you shortly. But first, I would like you to consider the consequences of your plan. Any change to the past, regardless of how small or trivial it seems, may have vast and wide-ranging effects on the future. For example, you are engaged on a mission of mercy — but what you do today may cause misery for many billions of beings!”
“OK, time to let me go. That is just so ridiculous! All I’m going to do is keep one girl from becoming a coke-head! Henrietta is important to me, and I am going to do this.”
“Once more I ask you to reconsider. I have seen the new future, and it is extremely… unpleasant. I suggest you take the word of Nabu that once you see the new future you will change your mind — but that you will also regret seeing that new future and wish you had listened to my advice sooner. What I show you may haunt you for longer than you think.”
John was somewhat daunted. Nabu was, indeed, a nigh-omnipotent, godlike being, after all, and he knew his dad had respected Doctor Fate even when they disagreed. Still, John was stubborn, and his first love was intimately bound up in this.
“Either show me or let me go!” he demanded. John would have sworn he heard the Lord of Order sigh. But Doctor Fate said nothing, merely waving his hand.