With a quiet whoosh, a glowing portal appeared in the sky above a vast, featureless desert and unceremoniously spat out a dark-haired teenage boy in pair of red and blue swim-trunks.
"Whoah, hey!" Kon grabbed for the edge of the portal, trying and failing to catch hold of it as it disappeared into thin air. He hovered in mid-air, looking around. What the hell? He'd been surfing near Kailua Beach just a moment ago, and now he appeared to be in the middle of a freaking desert.
A wave of moving sand with a blurry form racing along at the front appeared in the distance. He remembered seeing something like that once before, when he'd helped Flash fight an army of giant talking gorillas (don't ask). Kon floated down and landed on the sand, waiting a few seconds for the speedster to arrive. Instead of slowing to a halt as he'd expected, the speedster started running circles around him, saying something too quickly for him to catch.
"Dude! You gotta slow down, I can't do that super-speed stuff like the Big S, you know?" He'd gotten the heat-vision a couple months ago (really freaking embarrassing until he got it under control, since it seemed to pick the worst possible times to pop up), but tragically, no x-ray vision so far. Kon had plans for the x-ray vision.
The speedster abruptly stopped, vibrating in place. Now that he'd stopped moving, Kon could see that he was wearing a yellow and red suit with the Flash symbol on his chest. He knew there were, like, three Flashes at any given time, but he didn't recognize this one.
"Kon!" the speedster yelled, and suddenly Kon found himself with an armful of speedster, hugging him tightly and babbling something too quickly for him to make out.
"Um." Kon patted the speedster's back uncomfortably, attempting to ease out of the hug. "Ooookay. Yeah, I'm Kon, nice to meet you, but uh, I generally save the hugging for after I've known someone for longer than ten seconds."
The speedster pulled back, staring at him. "Kon, it's Bart. Don't you know me?" he demanded, pulling his cowl and goggles back to reveal big golden eyes and unruly brown hair. He was kind of hot, actually;almost as tall as Kon, and the skin-tight costume showed off a lean, muscular runner's body. (Kon had long ago accepted the fact that, yes, he was an equal-opportunity pig. He didn't have any problem with that, though occasionally other people did.)
"I've never met you before in my life. Sorry," Kon said, honestly feeling bad at how disappointed the guy seemed.
"Maybe you've been mind-wiped. Do you remember anything at all?" Bart looked hopeful.
"Uh, yeah, I think so. Last thing I remember, I was surfing--"Kon broke off, distracted by a strange whooshing noise.
Two glowing portals materialized nearby at pretty much the same time, dumping their occupants and then disappearing as quickly as they'd arrived. A guy in an old-fashioned military uniform and a guy in what looked like a short green kilt landed on the sand, coughing and cursing. The dude in the kilt immediately flew up into the air and hovered, arms crossed. Kon gave him a once-over, noting shoulder-length dark hair and a very nice body. He did a double-take at the little wings on the dude's ankles, which were flapping rapidly as he hovered.
"What is the meaning of this?" the flying dude demanded. "I will have you know that Atlantis considers the abduction of a member of the royal family to be an act of war!"
Atlantis? Maybe he was Aquaman's kid or something. Kon had met Aquaman a couple of times, but it wasn't like the guy was the chatty type or anything.
"Relax, Namor," the military guy said, holding out a hand calmingly but keeping his other hand on the butt of the gun holstered at his side. "I'm sure there's some reasonable explanation for this."
"How dare you speak to the prince of Atlantis in such a way, human!" Namor bristled like an angry puffer fish and dived at the military guy, who dodged to the side, rolling and landing in a crouch.
"Come on Namor, it's me, Bucky! We're teammates, remember?" he asked, dodging again. "The Invaders? Fighting the Krauts? Any of this sounding familiar to you?"
Namor stopped diving, hovering with a suspicious look on his face. "I have never heard of these Krauts you speak of. Are they an invention of the accursed Victor Von Doom?"
Bucky blinked at him, looking stunned. "What do you-- how can you not know that? And who the heck are you guys?" he asked, gesturing at Kon and Bart.
Bart said something too fast to catch and then repeated himself more slowly, "I think we're all from different worlds, or maybe just different timelines."
"Took you boys long enough to figure that one out," a female voice said. Kon pivoted to face her, actually losing his balance on the sand and flailing a little at her sheer hotness. Holy crap. She was gorgeous, stacked, and dressed in head to toe black leather, from the pointy ears on top of her cowl down to a pair of totally ass-kicking boots. Kon was in love.
"Catwoman?" Bart demanded.
"The one and only. You have me at a disadvantage, though," Catwoman said, sauntering into their midst. "I don't recognize any of you, or your little shadow over there," she said, jerking her head toward a nearby sand dune.
"Little what?" Kon asked, but Bart was already gone, zipping over the sand dune.
There was a startled tenor squawk from that direction and then a girl with long dark hair, wearing a form-fitting purple outfit that totally showed her midriff, appeared from behind the dune. (Apparently, this was Kon's day to be surrounded by a bunch of totally hot chicks and dudes. Sweet.) The girl started walking in their direction, trailed by Bart, who was limping and complaining loudly about his leg being numb.
"You will regain full sensation in that limb in approximately thirty seconds," the girl said. Her voice was completely calm and level, almost creepily so. "There is no danger of permanent nerve damage."
"Nerve damage? Whatthehelldidyoudotome?" Bart demanded. He was vibrating so fast that his edges were a little blurred.
"Nerve strike." The girl stopped about ten feet away from the rest of them and settled into a crouch without saying anything further.
"Well, as interesting as all this is," Bucky said, "that still doesn't answer the question of how we all got here. Or why."
"Funny you should ask that!" a little balding man said cheerfully, appearing out of nowhere. "Hey, now, there's no call for that," he chided as Namor dived straight through him. "And besides, as you can see, there is no possible way for you to harm me. I'm not really here."
"He has no scent," the weird girl said, sniffing as if she could totally smell someone from ten feet away.
Kon tried reaching out with his tactile telekinesis, but it went straight through where the guy appeared to be. "He's telling the truth, dudes. He's not really there."
"Well, then, now that we have that all cleared up!" the guy said, beaming at them. "I suppose a few introductions are in order. Just quick ones, I got sick of doing the full introductions a few, oh, let's say years ago. I am the Timebroker."
"Is that supposed to mean something to us? Because you may think that you're a big-time super-villain, but I've never heard of you," Catwoman said.
"My dear, you wound me! I am the very opposite of a super-villain, in fact. I send my agents out to fix cracks in the space-time continuum, so that the multiverse as we know it does not implode upon itself and cease to exist." The Timebroker bounced on his heels, looking insufferably pleased with himself.
"You are dangerously delusional, little man," Namor snarled. "I demand that you return us to our proper places immediately."
"Afraid I can't do that, Subby." The Timebroker paused to chuckle as Namor dived through him again. "Sorry, there aren't a lot of opportunities for amusement in my position. You have to take them where you can."
"But I suppose it's time to get down to brass tacks," he said, sobering quickly. Kon noticed for the first time that the Timebroker's eyes were completely black, like liquid ink. Alien eyes. "Here's the deal. There is exponentially spreading damage to the multiverse that is changing both the past and present of countless alternate universes. All of you have quite literally fallen through the cracks in the space-time continuum. Your home universes have been damaged in ways that have drastically altered your personal histories. The life that you remember living? After a certain point, it never happened."
"What about our families and friends? What about Steve?" Bucky demanded.
"Ah, Captain America," the Timebroker said. "Sad story, really. Just weeks before the war ends, you get blown to pieces by a German bomb. Steve Rogers survives the explosion but loses an arm. He's captured by the Nazis and turned into a mind-wiped assassin. I gotta tell you, it was not supposed to happen that way."
"No," Bucky said grimly. "No, I'm not going to let that happen. How do we fix it?"
"I thought you'd never ask! You, my friends, have the unique opportunity -- well, fairly unique, anyway -- to repair the damage to the multiverse as my agents. And that is where this comes in," the Timebroker said, holding up a golden wristband with a big red gem set in it. "This little beauty is called the Tallus, and it will bring you to various damaged universes and give you instructions on how to mend them."
"Not to be cynical," Catwoman said, "but since I am... What's in it for the rest of us? His buddy got mind-wiped, sure, that's fine for him, but why should any of the rest of us put our necks on the line for you?"
"Selina Kyle," the Timebroker said, beaming. "Catwoman, the Guardian of Gotham. Would--"
"Guardian of Gotham?" Kon and Bart blurted, almost simultaneously.
The Timebroker cleared his throat. "No commentary from the peanut gallery, if you please. As I was saying, Catwoman, would you like to hear how your timeline changes? The Joker captures your little sidekick, Mouse, and tortures and brainwashes him just for the fun of it. You manage to rescue Mouse eventually, but you're far too late to save his sanity." Catwoman closed her mouth and said nothing, gripping her crossed arms as if she were cold.
"Laura Kinney. X-23, Wolverine's female clone. Your creators track you down to Xavier's school and dose you with the trigger scent. Mindlessly enraged, you mercilessly slaughter all of your classmates, including that scrumptious Julian Keller." The dark-haired girl snarled soundlessly, something that looked like a couple of freaking knives sliding out of both of her hands with a soft snicking noise.
"Namor, the Sub-Mariner, prince of Atlantis. Your underwater kingdom is destroyed and your subjects enslaved by Doom. In your timeline, you haven't yet met the Fantastic Four, so you'll just have to trust me when I say that the news that Doctor Doom kills Sue Storm would make many of your other selves extremely unhappy." Namor glowered at him, looking suspicious.
"Bart Allen. Impulse, Kid Flash, but not yet the Flash. Not in your timeline, anyway. One of your best friends died saving the universe. Your other best friend closes himself off from you completely and appears to be in danger of turning into a mad scientist. Oh, and then you get killed by the Rogues."
"What?" Bart demanded. "What are you talkingaboutTim'snotamadscientist! And the Rogues don't kill Flashes. They just don't."
"Sorry, kiddo. Them's the breaks," the Timebroker said, failing to look actually sympathetic. "Kon-El. Superboy, the clone of Superman and Lex Luthor."
"What?" Kon yelped.
"Oops, sorry, forgot that you hadn't found that little fact out in your timeline yet. Well, your evil clone-daddy, Lex Luthor, imprinted you with a few mind-control triggers while you were in the test tube. You go on a rampage, kill everyone in Hawaii that you care about, and then fly across the ocean and start on San Francisco. You kill or cripple most of the Teen Titans before Superman takes you down."
"What?" Kon repeated. He was totally not Lex Luthor's evil clone! Was he?
"So!" the Timebroker said, clapping his hands together. "Now that you all know what's at stake, anyone who doesn't want to fix the multiverse can speak up now. No one? Good. Here, catch," he said, tossing the bracelet at Bucky.
"Have fun, kids!" With a last, cheery wave, the Timebroker disappeared.
"What the hell?" Bucky said, tugging at the bracelet, which had somehow slid itself onto his wrist. "I am not wearing this girly piece of junk-- aw, criminy," he said, as a familiar-looking glowing portal swallowed them up again.
They landed with a jolt in a dimly lit alley that reeked of piss and garbage. Selina and Bucky immediately lost their lunch on the dirty concrete.
Feeling a little queasy himself, Kon backed away from them. Namor hovered pointedly about ten feet up, looking disdainful. Laura silently padded to the mouth of the alleyway and lurked in the shadows.
Bart jittered nervously. "Should I go figure out where we are?"
Bucky held up one hand. "Hang on a sec," he said hoarsely. Wiping off his mouth, he straightened up. "It says we're in Gotham, wherever that is."
"What says we're in Gotham?" Selina asked. "This doesn't feel like Gotham to me."
"Well, that's what the bracelet says." Bucky paused for a second. "Let me guess, none of the rest of you can hear it? Fantastic," he sighed. "Well, the damn thing is telling me that we're here to stop a mob hit."
"Dude. We got sent across the multiverse to stop a mob hit?" Kon asked. "That's kinda lame. I thought we'd be fighting alien invaders or something."
"That's what it says," Bucky shrugged. "Martha and Thomas Wayne are going to be ambushed on their way home from the movies tonight, and we have to keep them from being killed."
"Martha and Thomas Wayne?" Selina echoed him. "Wait a second, I know those names. They and their son were killed by a mugger, probably ten years ago. They were famous socialites and philanthropists -- it was the biggest news in the city for months."
"I take it you're from Gotham?" Bucky asked.
Selina nodded. "Born and bred."
"I've been to Gotham a couple times," Bart said, "but Batman really doesn't like meta-human visitors in his city."
"Yeah, that's what Superman told me," Kon agreed. "Batman is way territorial about Gotham."
Selina looked blank. "Who's Batman?"
"And what kind of a hero would call himself Superman?" Bucky asked.
"You've never heard of Superman? Dude!" Kon was totally boggled.
"Yes, yes, we've already established that we are all from different universes. Now, stop wasting my time with your inane chatter so that we can complete this ridiculous task," Namor snapped.
"Hold your horses, Namor. The Tallus says that the mob hit doesn't happen until almost eleven o'clock tonight. First things first," Bucky said. "Bart, go scout the area and figure out where we are, but make sure not to be seen."
"No problem, boss," Bart said, saluting with a grin and then speeding away.
"That kid." Bucky laughed and shook his head. "Now we just need to know how to find the Waynes -- whoah!" he said, blinking rapidly.
"What is it?" Selina asked, putting her hand on his arm.
"The minute I thought about needing to know what the Waynes look like, the Tallus put a picture of them right inside my head." Bucky rubbed his forehead, frowning. "Damn. That's going to take some getting used to."
Laura walked back from the mouth of the alley holding a folded newspaper. "The date," she said, handing it to Bucky.
"June 26, 1940," he read. Cocking his head to the side and frowning, he said, "The ink is still fresh. This can't possibly be five years old."
"Uh, what year do you think it is?" Kon asked.
"1945," Bucky said. Suddenly, the fact that Bucky was dressed like something off the History Channel started to make a lot more sense to Kon.
"I object to using your calendar system as a general principle, but to my knowledge, it is 1936." Namor raised a superior eyebrow, adding, "Of course, as your dull human minds have once again failed to grasp, we are clearly from different timelines as well as different worlds."
"Really," Selina drawled. "Particularly considering that it was 1986 when I woke up this morning."
Kon shrugged. "Don't look at me, man, I thought it was '06."
Bucky looked at him, opened his mouth and closed it again without saying anything, shaking his head.
Bart sped back into the alley. "Guys! It's totally like Masterpiece Theatre out there. I found a newspaper stand and you'll never believe what year it is!"
"1940?" Selina suggested.
Bart deflated. "Uh, yeah."
As the others argued about what to do next, Kon nudged Bart in the side gently, saying, "Don't get bummed out, dude. We only knew that 'cause Laura found a newspaper."
Bart smiled at him. "Thanks, Kon." His smile froze in place and his eyes grew distant for a few moments. "It's weird, you know -- I keep on forgetting that you're not my Kon."
Something about the way he said that gave Kon a bad feeling. "So, um. What happened to your world's version of me?"
"He died saving the universe," Bart said.
"Well, I guess that's a good thing?" Kon said, shrugging uncomfortably. "I mean, it's a good way to go, if you gotta go, I guess."
"Yeah. It just really sucks for everyone who lov-- I mean, cared about you," Bart said, his eyes going huge and tragic, even shadowed as they were by the goggles.
Kon was rescued from that stunningly awkward moment by the sound of Bucky and Namor getting into a loud argument about how exactly to keep the Waynes out of danger. Namor was in favor of abducting the Waynes as they left the theater.
"If we remove them from the situation entirely, then there is no possibility that we will fail in our mission." Namor floated a few feet above the ground, his arms crossed obstinately.
"That's completely insane, Namor," Bucky said, looking like he wanted to pound his head against the wall.
"I agree with Bucky," Selina said. Namor looked like he'd swallowed a lemon. "However, I also think that Namor is partially right -- we need to shadow the Waynes closely, not just wait for them where the Tallus tells us they're going to be attacked. For one thing, what if that information isn't totally accurate? Even if it's off by just a few blocks, that could be a serious problem."
"Okay, you have a good point," Bucky said. "So what do you suggest?"
"I think," Selina said, smiling deviously, "that we should go to the movies tonight. We can insinuate ourselves into the crowd, so that when we follow the Waynes out of the theater, they won't be suspicious of us. That way, we'll be in a position to protect them when the mob hit goes down."
Laura spoke up suddenly, startling Kon, who'd forgotten she was even there. "If we know the approximate location of the hit, I can get myself into position beforehand, which will put the element of surprise on our side." She slid the knives out of her hands again, making a quick slashing motion. They appeared to actually slide out from in between her fingers, which in Kon's opinion was both cool and horrifying.
Bucky nodded, rubbing his chin. "All right, we're going to go with Selina and Laura's plan. Everyone but Laura will need to blend in with an upper-crust theater crowd in 1940, which means being dressed properly. Namor, buddy, I've got bad news for you -- you're going to need to wear trousers."
Bart bounced. "Awesome! Who else wants caramel corn?"
Kon had been expecting a movie theater from his time -- big, featureless, and impersonal -- so the ornate style of the Gotham movie theater, all gold leaf and red velvet, took him by surprise. "Dude, is this place for real?" he hissed at Bart as they followed Selina and Bucky into the enormous lobby.
Namor had decided to wait outside to ambush the mob guys along with Laura. Personally, Kon thought that Namor had volunteered to do that just in order to avoid having to wear pants. He couldn't entirely blame him. Kon grimaced, tugging at the high, uncomfortable collar of his dress shirt.
"It's a Beaux Arts-style movie palace, probably constructed in the late 1920's," Bart said, looking around with huge eyes. "French baroque plaster moldings, somewhat uninspired faux-Classical artwork on the walls, and -- ooh! -- look, that's an Ampico grand player piano above the lobby."
Kon stared at him. "How the heck do you know all that?"
"I remember everything I read," Bart said off-handedly. "Oh, man, I bet they have a Wurlitzer in the auditorium."
"Cut the chatter, guys. The Tallus says the Waynes are over there. Try to act natural," Bucky said.
They drifted across the lobby, dodging clumps of people in formal evening wear. Apparently, going to the movies was a lot fancier back in the Dark Ages. Personally, Kon could have gone for a Hong Kong action flick, but he was pretty sure they didn't have those back then.
Near the shallow marble stairs leading up to the auditorium, Martha and Thomas Wayne were holding court at the center of a group of wealthy-looking people. He was tall, quiet, and self-assured; she was gorgeous, talkative, and charming. They looked like a couple of old-school movie stars, Kon thought.
They stopped at a little distance from the Waynes, partially sheltered by a wall alcove which held a gigantic arrangement of fake flowers in a vase on a short pedestal. Bart tried to smell one of the roses and dislodged a cloud of dust, which sent him into a super-speed sneezing fit.
"Where's the kid?" Selina said in an undertone, ignoring Bart.
Bucky frowned, listening to something that no one else could hear. "He's over there," he said, jerking his head toward a teenage boy standing alone against the wall near the Waynes. "I thought you said he was a little kid. He looks like he's our age."
Selina shrugged. "Well, he was in my timeline." To Kon's surprise, once out of the dominatrix gear, she had turned out to be a girl in her late teens with short dark hair. He'd thought that Catwoman was way older than that, but maybe that was just in his timeline.
"We should make contact with him," Bucky said. "Kon, Bart, you guys stay here. Selina and I will create an excuse to talk to him."
"Dude. Who elected that guy leader?" Kon muttered, watching Bucky and Selina slide through the crowd toward the Wayne kid. As they were passing by, Selina seemed to stumble on her high heels, falling toward Bruce Wayne, who caught her easily. If he hadn't known better, Kon would have been totally taken in by her embarrassed and apologetic act.
"Well, Bucky does seem to know what he's doing," Bart said, shrugging.
"I guess," Kon said doubtfully, trying to watch them without obviously staring. For some reason, he'd thought that "make contact" would meant introducing themselves and then moving on, but Bucky and Selina seemed to be getting into an actual conversation with Bruce Wayne. After a few minutes, Kon nudged Bart with his elbow. "Hey. Is it just me, or are both of them hitting on the Wayne kid?"
Bart frowned at him. "Do you have a problem with that? Human sexuality is a spectrum--"
"Whoah, whoah," Kon said, holding his hands up. "Dude, I'm bi, I don't need the lecture on sexuality. I already got that talk from the big S, and let me tell you, there is nothing more awkward than having Superman try to talk to you about sex. Seriously, his face turned so red that I was afraid he'd actually catch on fire or something."
Bart blinked at him, his face going through expressions so rapidly that Kon couldn't catch all of them. "You're bisexual?"
Kon shrugged. "Yeah, dude. I don't know, it just never seemed that big a deal to me. I mean, there's a lot of sexy people in the universe, why should I limit myself to just one gender, you know?"
"I thought-- I thought maybe the Kon in my universe was, and it seemed like maybe there was something between him and Tim, but I never knew for sure, andthenhedied," Bart said, vibrating so hard that the vase of fake flowers started shaking.
"Hey, chill out," Kon said. Putting a hand on Bart's shoulder felt like touching the side of a dryer while it was running. "I mean, it totally sucks that your universe's me died, and honestly it freaks me out to think about it, but, uh--" Kon had no idea how to finish that sentence. Desperately casting about for something to change the subject, he asked, "So, who's Tim?"
"Robin." Bart's eyes widened, and he added quickly, "I probably wasn't supposed to tell you that, so, if we run into Robin while we're here, just pretend you don't know, okay?"
"Seriously? Dude. Do you know who Batman is?" Kon asked.
"No, and even if I did, I wouldn't tell you," Bart said, crossing his arms.
"Awwww, man," Kon said, mock-disappointed.
They grinned at each other for a few moments, and then Kon felt something warm pressed up against his lips for just a split second. Bart didn't appear to have moved at all, but the vase of flowers was once again in danger of shaking right off its pedestal.
Kon touched his lips. "Did you just kiss me?"
"Are you going to be pissed off at me if I did?" Bart asked, eyes narrowed apprehensively.
"No! Dude, I'm never gonna complain just because somebody cute digs me," Kon grinned. Raking his hand through his hair uncomfortably, he added, "But... you know that I'm not the same Kon you knew, right? I mean, I can tell you were really good friends with him, and I'm kinda getting the feeling you had a crush on him, but I'm not -- I can't be a replacement for him, you know?"
"I know that. I never kissed Kon in my universe. I wanted to, but--" Bart started talking too fast for Kon to understand, then took a deep breath and said more slowly, "I know you're not him. But the same things that made me want to kiss the Kon in my universe make me want to kiss you. And I'd like to do it again. Like, on a regular basis."
Kon felt his eyes widen. "Uh, wow. I'm flattered, but dude, I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Why not? I mean, I can think of several possible reasons, but." Bart chewed on his lower lip for a second and blurted, "If I know what your objections are then maybe I can work on convincing you it's not a bad idea."
Kon took a few minutes to think about it. A little hesitantly, he said, "I just -- I'm kind of worried that this isn't really about me so much as it is about the fact that your Kon died. I mean, when you look at me, you're remembering a whole bunch of stuff that happened to some other dude with my name and my face."
"You're still you, though," Bart said stubbornly. "Even if you don't remember hanging out in Happy Harbor with me and Tim, or skateboarding on the roof of Titans Tower, or being thrown across the Bay by Wonder Woman."
"Whoah, whoah," Kon interrupted. "What'd I do to deserve that?"
"You kissed Wonder Girl." Bart's eyes narrowed. "Did you have a thing for her in your world, too?"
"Wonder Girl? Nice," Kon said appreciatively. "She was smokin'. I never met her in person, though."
Bart seemed to blink out of existence momentarily and then reappear with wildly disheveled hair. "I think I might be a bad person," he said thoughtfully.
"I'm really happy that you never met Cassie. Even though I liked her a lot too and you guys seemed happy together. That's pretty selfish, isn't it?" Bart asked.
"I don't... know? I mean, maybe a little selfish, but. Actually," Kon said, starting to grin, "it's pretty freaking flattering."
"So..." Bart trailed off suggestively. "What do you--"
"We have a problem, guys," Bucky said.
Kon jumped guiltily. Bucky, Selina, and the Wayne kid had walked right up to them without Kon even noticing. "Problem?"
"Snafu," Bucky sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Kon noticed that Bruce Wayne and Selina were holding hands, and, more importantly, that Bruce was wearing the Tallus.
"This artifact," Bruce said, holding up his wrist and showing them the Tallus. "It's shown me terrible things. Visions of many possible futures for my family and Gotham, each one worse than the last."
Kon tried to discreetly mime WTF, dude? at Bucky, who'd been wearing the Tallus the last Kon had seen.
"I guess the Tallus decided it liked him better," Bucky shrugged. "Slid right off my wrist and onto Bruce's when I shook his hand."
"That's really fascinating," Bart said, his eyes lighting up. "It suggests that the Tallus is at least partially self-aware, either through magic or an extremely advanced AI."
"We can worry about that later," Selina said. "As Bruce was saying, the Tallus has shown him visions of futures in which either he, or his parents, or both, are killed. Apparently, there's no way that all three of them can survive. It would cause a catastrophic paradox and collapse this universe."
Kon frowned. "No offense, but why is this guy so important? I mean, he's just one guy."
"I guess I'm going to be... Batman?" Bruce said, looking dubious. "At least, I will be in the futures where my parents are killed. The Tallus says that my father will become Batman, in the futures where I'm killed."
"Dude," Kon said, drawing out the sound to indicate exactly how crazy that was.
"You're Batman, seriously?" Bart asked, darting forward and poking Bruce in the chest. "I always thought he was an alien."
"I'm not an alien. I'm just a normal human," Bruce said, frowning. "I don't entirely understand how the Tallus knows that I'll become this 'Batman' creature, but I've been testing its knowledge and everything it's shown me about the past is accurate. It knows secrets that I've never told anyone. And everything it shows me about the future feels -- tastes, smells, sounds -- real. If what the Tallus tells me is true, if my staying here dooms my universe to destruction, dooms my parents, then the only ethical course of action is to fake my own death and leave this universe."
"Dude," Kon said to Bruce sympathetically. "This all kind of sucks for you."
Bruce shrugged awkwardly, looking totally bummed out. Selina put her other hand over their entwined fingers, murmuring quietly into Bruce's ear. Kon happened to look in Bucky's direction and caught a look of severe jealousy on his face as Bucky watched Bruce and Selina together. "Hoo, boy," Kon muttered under his breath.
"What?" Bart asked, jittering next to him.
"Tell you later," Kon said. "Hey, you know that thing we were talking about?"
"Yeah?" Bart asked, trying to sound cool and casual about it, but his worried golden eyes were giving him away.
Kon shrugged, feeling unaccountably nervous. "So, I was thinking -- maybe."
"Maybe?" Bart asked, starting to smile.
Kon grinned back at him. "Yeah. Definitely maybe."
"Listen up, guys," Bucky said, "Here's what we're going to do..."
With a quiet whoosh, a glowing portal appeared in the sky above a vast, rocky wasteland and unceremoniously spat out seven teenagers.
"--unilateral decision to add another member to an already overcrowded team," Namor continued the argument as if they hadn't just traveled across the multiverse.
"Namor," Bucky sighed, brushing sand and grit out of his hair, "give it a rest, would you? We completed the mission successfully. We saved Martha and Thomas Wayne. So could you please just drop it?"
Bruce was staring around them at the rock-strewn plain, looking a little stunned. "The Tallus informs me that we are standing in the ruins of Newark, New Jersey."
"You know, generally when people describe New Jersey as a wasteland, they don't mean that literally," Selina said, managing to sound snide even while coughing.
"There is an eighty-six percent probability that some variety of apocalyptic event has occurred in this world," Laura said, raising her head to sniff the wind.
Bart shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted into the distance, frowning thoughtfully. "You know, I don't think we're really dressed for the apocalypse."
"Hey, Bruce," Kon said. "Welcome to the team."
Still shading his eyes with one hand, Bart turned and winked at Kon, smiling. Kon grinned back at him. Okay, so, falling through the cracks in the space-time continuum? It definitely was not all bad.
In fact, some parts of it were pretty damn awesome.