by wts7a and Starsky Hutch 76
Tom Wright slowly regained consciousness as he felt the rush of air around him. Opening his eyes, he gasped in horror to see the ground swiftly approaching as he fell thousands of feet from the air.
“What the h–?” His exclamation was cut short by the sight of another figure falling even more rapidly toward certain death below him — a familiar figure. “Darrel!” he shouted before regaining his composure. Acting quickly, the man known to many as the Black Condor swooped down in an attempt to reach his unconscious friend. He could feel the air friction rubbing his skin raw as he pushed himself to speeds that only desperation could force him to brave. Just as he thought he could exert himself no more, he was suddenly only an arm’s length away from his friend.
Reaching out to catch Darrel Dane’s limp form, he was unprepared for the sudden impact and nearly ended up hurling them both toward the ground again. Thankfully, the sudden collision woke the unconcious Doll Man.
“Not now, Darrel. You’ve got to shrink, and fast. I can’t support your full weight and stay aloft.” As if to emphasize his words, the ground seemed ready to swallow the two falling heroes.
With a supreme effort of will, Darrel Dane shrunk down to his six-inch form of Doll Man, and not a moment too soon. The Condor managed to slow their fall enough that neither man was seriously injured when they landed rather ungracefully in the middle of a small lake.
“Thanks for the save, Tom,” Darrel said, rubbing the back of his head as he gathered his thoughts. “What the heck happened, though? Where are we?”
Tom Wright frowned as he glanced around at their surroundings. They had landed in a forest. No — a park. He recognized this place. “He did it, Darrel!”
Darrel Dane continued to stare at their surroundings, obviously not catching on. “Who… did what?”
The Black Condor used a broad sweeping motion to indicate the park around them. “We’re back, Darrel. Don’t you recognize this place? It’s Echo Park in downtown Los Angeles! We’re back on Earth-X, just like Sam said.” Without another word, Tom scooped his tiny companion up, and once more they were airborne.
From this vantage point, Darrel could easily see that they’d returned to their home, but the devastated war-zone he now spied from atop the Condor’s shoulder should have been an image of the past, not of the world they had returned to.
“This… this can’t be right, Tom. Los Angeles was rebuilt after the war. We helped rebuild it! And what happened to Sam and the others? They were with us when we entered that vortex.”
Tom Wright had no easy answers to his friend’s questions. The absence of their teammates Phantom Lady and the Human Bomb as well as Uncle Sam himself did not bode well for the duo. “Darrel, do you think it might be possible that–”
“What? That Sam’s vortex somehow took us back to Earth-X’s past? Doubtful. Look — those are some of the newer monuments that the City of Los Angeles erected after the war. This is definitely Earth-X.”
“Then what about Sam and the others?” Tom Wright was almost afraid to hear what Darrel had deduced about their fate, but only Darrel had the scientific knowledge to even theorize what had transpired during their journey from one Earth to another.
“They may very well be dead, Tom. Or maybe something went wrong with Sam’s vortex. You remember how the Spectre warned Sam just after the Crisis that we might very well be journeying into the void.”
Tom Wright nodded silently.
“I know you’re worried, Tom,” Doll Man said quietly as he held tightly to the Condor from his perch atop his shoulder. “But we have to find out what happened here first. Maybe… Martha.”
Tom frowned as he realized what was running through Darrel Dane’s mind. His wife, Martha Dane, had stayed behind on Earth-X when Tom and the others had gone to fight a battle for the fate of the universe. Darrel had been one of the most enthusiastic to return to Earth-X after Sam had mentioned his plan.
“I’m sure she’s fine, chum,” Tom said slowly. “In fact, I’m sure she’ll be real glad to see us when we show up on your front doorstep.”
Darrel nodded reluctantly. “Take us there, Tom. I have to know… if she’s all right.”
The Black Condor needed no further urging as he set out toward Darrel Dane’s apartment on the East Coast. If war really had returned to Earth-X, it was best that they should make peace with their loved ones before going off to fight for freedom once more.
And then, Tom Wright thought, we find Uncle Sam and the others.
Back on Earth-Two, Happy Terrill hung up his telephone with a mixture of anger, frustration, and annoyance. Who the hell did Commander Steel think he was talking to? He’d do what was best for his son, and right now that meant having him in Infinity, Inc. and not as cannon fodder for Steel’s new secret team, or whatever shady operation he might have had planned for him.
Come to think of it, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to be a part of it, either. He didn’t trust Steel as far as he could throw him. And considering his steel-lined skeleton, that probably wasn’t very far. Steel was a manipulator of the highest order, and men like that got you killed. If the Ray was to get back to Earth-X, he’d have to do it on his own.
He’d given a lot of thought to his situation. Getting back to Earth-X might be a simple matter of finding the right energy signature of Earth-X. Transporters could no longer do it. And from what he had heard, even mystics were having trouble doing it. But a being of energy such as he might be able to succeed where others had failed.
He focused with all his might, turning his energy powers in on himself. The room seemed to go black and then became a kaleidoscope of colors replacing his apartment. He realized what he was seeing was himself as he transformed from one vibrational frequency to another as his energy form shifted. He felt as if he was being torn apart.
Finally, he concentrated and tried to return himself to normal. He hoped he had returned to Earth-X as he intended. He opened his eyes and gasped.
He was no longer in his apartment on Earth-Two but was instead in a room that was half blown away, as if a shell had struck the building at some time in the recent past. He could hear the sound of gunfire outside.
When he went to look out of the space where a wall should have been, he saw that the rest of the street looked just as bad. Skeletal buildings stood like jagged stalagmites across the horizon. Streets were potmarked from bombings, and burned out wrecks of cars littered the sides of roads like so much rubbish. He was familiar with this type of setting after his many years in the Freedom Fighters. War had returned to Earth-X.