Sentinels of Justice: Atomic Nightmare, Chapter 4: In Crisis

by Libbylawrence

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July, 1985:

Booster Gold didn’t have time to do more than gasp in shock as the massive creature known on Earth-One as Chemo loomed overhead and turned the waters off Ellis Island into a toxic waste. The action-hero was caught by surprise, but he was more than willing to throw himself into combat. While some would jeer at him and claim that he could only find his courage if a camera crew was nearby, the truth was that Michael Carter was a brave and noble man who cared about doing the right thing, but who also enjoyed the perks of fame. Still, this was not to be Booster’s moment to shine, since a female form of crackling black energy blazed across the red skies.

“Fiend!” the female energy being cried with a Russian accent. “How many lives have you destroyed? Do you even care what you have done?” At that, she encircled the titan with several tightening energy bands that were in truth the negative being’s expanding body. “You cannot be allowed to survive.” The Negative Woman’s real name was Colonel Valentina Vostok, and the proud beauty had defected from the Soviet Union to become a heroine with the Doom Patrol of an alternate Earth designated Earth-One. Booster didn’t know any of this, but his heart raced as the crackling energy shattered Chemo into countless glowing shards.

The black energy being then also broke apart, and Booster Gold activated his force-field to shield a prone woman whose white-bandaged face and figure marked her as more than another victim of Chemo’s rampage. “Don’t worry, honey. The idol of millions is here, and I’ll keep you safe from additional harm,” he said as he stood over her.

Booster didn’t realize the energy being was properly housed within the still body below him, nor did he notice when it flashed through his field into the body at blindingly swift speed. No one noticed that one tiny fragment of the black energy form failed to penetrate the futuristic force-field and raced back across the sky in the other direction. This errant shard of energy would find a new home in a woman on Earth-Four, but that would be another story.

As Negative Woman sat up, Booster tried to comfort her, but she was abrupt in insisting that she was capable of taking care of herself. “I am needed elsewhere! I do not know you, or if you are hero or villain, but I can’t waste time in idle chatter,” she said before she raced away as he dropped his field.

“Maybe it’s my breath?” he joked as he tried to find Thunderbolt or Broderick. The trio had been separated upon arrival, and he was certain that every moment counted in their perilous quest. He flew into the sky and spotted other heroes and villains locked in combat.

That’s one wicked-looking creep, he thought as he saw Black Adam, a tall man dressed in black and gold, slamming his fists into a metal man called Robotman and a youth in a light blue and white costume with a bird motif on the chest called Dove. A pretty red-haired girl named Kole Weathers, wearing a multifaceted dress with crystalline decorations and an ornate wing-like material beneath each arm, hovered above the one-sided battle. She gestured with one slender hand, and the man in black stiffened as his mighty arm turned into crystal.

“What? Who dares attack Black Adam?” he cried. “M-my arm… it’s turning to crystal?

“Now he’s all crystal,” said the slim youth as he helped the machine man to his feet. “How did Kole do that?”

“Who cares, Dove?” said Robotman. “She’s given us the chance to get rid of this bozo once and for all!”

“N-no! You can’t!” cried Dove as he held Robotman’s arms away from the now-fragile crystal form of Black Adam. “It’s not right to hurt someone else, no matter what he did to us.”

“Kid, are you for real?” Robotman asked. He put down his arm after realizing Dove would not stop holding him back. “Well, OK. If you feel so strongly about it.”

Dove nodded. “I do. We must remember that we cannot stoop to their level, or else we’re no better than they.”

Booster Gold dropped down between the men to address them. “The kid’s right!” he said. “Killing doesn’t make you a hero! Don’t you get the Booster Gold Power Hour on radio? Each episode has a swell moral!”

“Look, jerk, this isn’t time for a commercial,” said Robotman. “Help us or get outta the way!”

“Gold! Over here!” yelled Thunderbolt as he appeared nearby, waving Booster Gold over to where two black men and a beautiful heroine from India were battling four costumed criminals.

“Celsius — behind you!” yelled the black man who appeared to have cybernetic implants.

Booster swooped down and witnessed as the woman named Celsius blasted away with twin bolts of heat and cold. “No problem, Cyborg. I can handle both of them,” she said. “Press me and I can also chew gum at the same time,” she added sarcastically.

Cyborg, a young man who was half-metal and half-flesh, grinned and said, “Not bad, kid. Not bad at all! Sure you don’t want to join the Titans?”

“No thanks,” the woman replied. “I can only stand so much of Dayton’s adopted son as it is. I’ll stick to my own team, thank you.”

The time cop Broderick ran up to Booster just then. “Carter, I’ve located Liberty Belle, along with the other captive heroes of this Earth!” he said.

“Good work, Broderick!” said Booster.

“Who are you guys?” asked Cyborg, noticing them. “We can always use another helping hand!”

“Sure!” said Booster Gold. “We’ll check out the next scene of battle.” They hurried away from the others.

After several minutes of swift travel, Broderick pointed to a scene of several bound heroes surrounded by menacing villains. “There they are!”

Thunderbolt peered at the bound forms of several of his fellow heroes, including the members of the Sentinels of Justice. Amongst the heroes he saw Captain Atom, Nightshade, Blue Beetle, and more. He gasped and said, “This is madness — I’m one of the prisoners! I guess I never pondered it before, but by going back into my own past, I’m about to meet myself. Yet I have no memory of seeing a future self when this originally happened, nor do I recall seeing you two here.”

Booster Gold nodded. “I can’t explain how you can be in the same place at once or twice, but look! You and the others are out cold. No wonder you never saw yourself. Even Cap is unconscious in those electromagnetic bonds he’s in!”

“It’s one of the riddles of time travel,” said Broderick. “Usually it could not tolerate such a paradox. A traveler would become a mere phantom if he entered an era within his own life under most forms of time travel. That’s not the case for the method we used, and all the better for us. There’s Liberty Belle!”

He pointed to a terrible scene in which two men with swords stood before the bound form of the original Liberty Belle. He did not know them, but one was called the Cavalier, and the other pirate-like one was known as Captain Stingaree, the man who would be the first Liberty Belle’s murderer in a matter of moments.

“She dies by a sword!” cried Peter Cannon. “This is the moment in question!”

Booster Gold adjusted his own goggles and detected an infrared heat pattern in the shadows. He hurled himself forward and grabbed the second Liberty Belle, Candy Dean, just as the weeping heroine was about to switch places with her helpless sister.

“Booster, let me go!” she cried. “That’s my sister! She’s going to die — don’t you understand? I have to take her place! I can save her if you’ll let go!”

“Honey, I can’t do that!” said Booster. “Trust me — this is destiny. It’s all for the greater good. She wouldn’t want to live if it meant you would die instead!”

“Ms. Dean, history requires your survival,” said Broderick. “You may hold the key to the defeat of a true tyrant.”

The second Liberty Belle kicked free of Booster’s grasp and rolled nimbly between the two slower men. “I can’t watch her die!” she shrieked.

Thunderbolt raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Candy, I loved Caroline, but this has to be,” he said.

As Booster tackled her once more, Broderick ripped the time belt off her body. “I have secured the belt,” he said. “She cannot take her sister’s place. Now we must return to our era.”

Candy looked up at Thunderbolt with red eyes and a tear-streaked face. “Peter, you loved her! You said it just now! Can you watch her die?” she said.

Thunderbolt opened his mouth and then closed it wordlessly. He glanced left and right, and then with the superb agility that was his alone, he raced forward to grab the time belt from a startled Broderick and throw himself into the scene below.

The villains were arguing about what to do with the bound heroes. Finally Captain Stingaree, a bald man dressed as a pirate, yelled at another man dressed like a musketeer, “Back off, you pantywaist poof! If ye can’t kill the wench, allow me!” The villain brought out his large cutlass.

The super-swift friction of Cannon’s body activated the belt prematurely, and as he reached out to try to deflect the sword thrust that Captain Stingaree had aimed at the first Liberty Belle’s chest, Thunderbolt vanished. Caroline Dean, alias Liberty Belle, received the fatal sword thrust and perished. She cried out in anguish before collapsing. The villain withdrew his bloody blade and said, “See? Easy as can be. Who’s next?”

Before Booster and Candy could see the New Teen Titans and the Doom Patrol arrive to rescue the Sentinels of Justice, Broderick activated his remaining belt and pulled them back to their proper time.

Now back in the present, several moments passed before the group recovered from the sudden time-trip. Finally, Booster said, “What happened? I know Peter vanished before he could stop the murder. No one there even saw him since he was moving at such a speed, and that time belt whisked him away like a blur, but what happened to him?”

The new Liberty Belle said, “Don’t tell me he died! Please don’t tell me I’m the cause of his death. If he hadn’t come after me, he might still be alive!”

“Your sister met her tragic death as history dictated she would,” said Broderick. “I can’t imagine what happened to Thunderbolt. His actions were criminal in nature, according to my code of conduct.”

“Ease up, pal,” said Booster. “He was trying to be a hero. He blamed himself for so much that happened. It was all I could do to stop myself from jumping in as well.”

“If that belt broke open, then he might be anywhere in time,” cautioned Broderick. “For that matter, he might even be…” He stopped speaking as the new Liberty Belle cleared her throat and held their attention.

“You know, it never occurred to me before,” she began, “but now that I’ve seen it all play out and stood helplessly by while history took place, I wonder if I ever had a chance of stopping Caroline’s death.”

“I saved you by a true cosmic trick of fate,” said Broderick. “I can’t see fate allowing two such chance gambits paying off in one lifetime. Be comforted in the memory that your sister died as a heroine, and you may continue her good work and honor her memory in all you do. As I said, you may be the very result of the Atomic Knights Project that spells Monarch’s defeat.”

The new Liberty Belle nodded and said, “You are a cold man, but I feel you’re speaking the truth as you know it.”

The trio emerged from the blinding light and soundless sphere to find themselves in the satellite. They were greeted by Captain Atom, Adam Thompson, and Nightshade.

“Belle! Thank goodness!” cried Nightshade as she embraced the other girl.

“The Beetle told me what you were doing,” said Captain Atom. “I’m glad to see you succeeded.”

Booster Gold grinned and said, “How could two strapping heroes like us do any less?”

Liberty Belle smiled thinly and followed them toward the table. She was an amazing woman and had already accepted that her actions were doomed to be futile. She would carry on for her sister and perhaps, in time, learn to take more comfort out of that fact.

Oddly enough, none of them made any reference to the missing Peter Cannon, alias Thunderbolt, nor did any of them recall he had ever existed. It was as if the hero’s tragic actions had wiped him out of the pages of Earth-Four’s history.

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