Spoiler's Diary: Nightmare World
When I was really young, about six or seven, I used to have nightmares about Gotham City. Who wouldn't, of course, growing up in a city with a bogey man in a giant bat costume and the exploits of ghastly clowns and two-faced demons all over the news?
In my dreams I was trapped in Arkham -- though I'd only "seen" the place through the few letter I got from Dad in between breakouts -- chased down the curving labyrinth of hallways and doors by exaggerated caricatures of the psychotics I'd heard were there. Inevitably they always caught up with me -- after what felt like hours of running -- and found me cornered, cowering in a dead-end hallway as they closed in, their skeletal fingers inching closer to my face, the sweaty smell of craziness dripping from them like hot wax from a candle, the eerie silence of hundreds of misshapen feet creeping across teh stone floors.
Then I'd scream and wake up, sweating and my heart racing wildly. Mom would come in and tell me everything was okay, bet me a cup of water, then tuck me back in. Only when I closed my eyes, they were still there, in all their skeletal, sweaty, misshapen glory...
Apokolips was nothing like that.
It was worse.
On Apokolips I knew that no matter how much I screamed, there was no Mom to give me even a few moments of rest from the nightmare. On Apokolips the nightmare ran 24-7 in the blinding fury of a monotone gray sky.
And if we didn't find Robin and Damage soon, and pull off the Cinderella save of the century, we might never get a chance to turn the nightmare off.
Finding a tunnel entrance was as easy as Catwoman had suggested it would be. I'd swear that she was psychic or something about stuff like that. The way Robin talked about her, it was like she had some sort of hidden super power that helped her sneak into places. She'd even got the drop on old pointy ears himself once or twice. And she wasn't ALL bad. She couldn't be and still have come with us to Apokolips, could she?
Regardless, without her skills, we'd have still been scurrying around on what passed for the streets of Apokolips -- dirty, barren things they were -- trying to find a way in.
Superboy got us through the welded-shut tunnel entrance easily enough with his self-touted tactile telekinesis and we were on our way.
"I'm impressed," Superboy said to Catwoman as he dropped down from the street level to join the rest of us under the streets. "Of course, I was pretty impressed when I saw --"
"Get your mind of the gutter, kid," she said, her smile hidden from everyone but me and Arrowette. "Hey, speed boy, why not take a quick look --"
There was a strong wind followed by a blur and another gust. When the dust cleared, Impulse stood next to Catwoman, his foot tapping up and down on the cold metal floor. "Done. Four tunnels ahead. The one on the far right goes to some kind of furnace. The two in the middle don't go anywhere important, and the one of the left goes into some kind of castle thing."
"Thanks," she said.
"No problem. Could I ask you a question? Is that costume bulletproof?"
She grinned. "It's keeps out a lot of things, kid. You'd be surprised."
We headed quietly toward the tunnel Impulse had mentioned. I sidled up next to Arrowette. "I wonder if she gets tired of guys looking at her like that all the time," I said.
"She probably enjoys it, I think," Arrowette said, "I mean, why else wear a costume like that?"
"Have you looked in a mirror lately? That's skirt's not designed for keeping your legs warm, right?" Catty's face broke in between ours, still smiling. "But I'm sure you've got more important things to do than discuss our fashion sense."
Arrowette blushed. "Uh .. hmm ... sorry."
Catwoman marched a few steps ahead of us, leading the way through the catacombs. Keeping sight of her was difficult. She kept drifting in an out of the shadows, blending in with the darkness as if she were a shadow herself.
Arrowette shivered. "She gives me the creeps."
I sort of smirked. "She's okay. I kinda like her."
"I'll never understand you Gotham types." She turned to Superboy. "You're being awfully quiet."
"I'm a fast learner. I don't have to be shut down more than twice in five minutes to learn my lesson. Besides, we probably should all be quiet if we're going to try to sneak up on this DeSaad slimeball."
Arrowette clammed up after that and we all walked on in silence for a long while. Impulse had made it sound like the tunnels were close, and I guess they were to him. But the mile and a half trek was a bit more uncomfortable for the rest of us.
Still, it was worth it just to see him have keep the same slow pace we did. I could tell by the way he fidgeted that it was killing him to have to move that slowly.
I wondered how the others were doing on the outside. Sure, Nightwing and the Centurion guy could hold their own, but I wasn't so certain about the rest of the team. They were pretty much just a bunch of untrained and untried wannabes -- just like me.
We wandered on in silence, and I tried not to let my doubts get to me too much. Not only had I been unable to help Robin or Damage, but thanks to me, a bunch of people I didn't even know stood a good chance of getting stuck here too. Was it my day or what?
And I still had no idea how we were going to get home IF we did rescue Robin and Damage.
After a few more minutes of the annoying silence, Catwoman stopped and raised her hand, signaling us to stop too. "Be very still," she said in a loud whisper. "Impulse, there's someone in the corridor about a hundred feet up. Can you --"
Always ready to go, Impulse took off with a gust of wind.
"-- find out ... Oh well ..."
"Do you think it's one of those parademons?" I asked.
"If it is, I'll take care of him," Superboy boasted. "A little tactile telekinesis and he'll --"
"Be bored to death hearing about it, I'm sure. Do you ever stop talking about that?" I said.
His smile dropped, and he looked hurt.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I guess it's this place."
He started to answer, but Impulse returned, dragging a guy in a red cape and a funky hat. "I found him in the tunnel. He says he's on our side." The guy zapped Impulse with an electrical shock and Impulse let go. "Ouch!"
"And I mean it." He stood up. "If you'd listen for a minute, I'd be happy to tell you what I'm doing here. I was waiting for you to catch up with me. I've determined where DeSaad's keeping Damage."
"You're Anarky!" I said, recognizing the costume. "Robin's told me about you. Why should we trust you? You're not exactly operating on the good side of the force, if you know what I mean."
"Hello, Catwoman," he said. "I don't suppose you're wearing a badge now either, are you?"
"That's different," Superboy practically yelled. "She's in our ... hmm .. protective custody."
We all turned and stared at Superboy.
"Right," Anarky said with a laugh. "Anyway, as I was saying, I missed the boom tube that brought you here, but luckily I have one of my one. I've been here before so I've got a pretty good idea of the layout of this dirt-hole planet. If we can get to Damage, we can let him cut loose on DeSaad and be our cannon fodder in case we run into a few more platoons of parademons."
"We can't listen to this guy, Spoil-babe," Superboy said. "He's one of the bad guys, remember."
Anarky pushed his finger into Superboy's face. "I tell you what. When I finished taking down the oppressors and the politicians, I'll turn my attention to sexist pigs with brains the size of a walnut."
Catwoman cracked her whip. "Enough. The way I see it, if Anarky's got recon info, then we'd be stupid to turn him away. Besides, if he's one the Apokolips black list, we could always use him as a bargaining chip."
"Thanks ... I think." He gave Superboy a know-it-all smirk.
I rested my hand on his shoulder. "If you double-cross us and Robin gets hurt anymore than he already is, so help me, I'll take you down myself."
"You guys always this trusting?"
"Just around people who single-handedly turn loose dinosaurs in Gotham park," I said. "We can use all the help we can get, but trust me, I'm dead serious about taking you down if I find out you had anything to do with this."
He pushed my hand away and turned to face me. "It's okay, all right. The kid's been there for me. I owe him. Besides, I've had a sort of change of heart lately."
I nodded. "Okay, for now."
Impulse sped over and vibrated in front of Anarky. "Welcome aboard, A-man," he said, offering his hand. "Sorry about the cape."
Anarky shook his hand. "I'll send you the bill."
I listened as Anarky told us what he knew about the layout of Apokolips what he'd discovered on his last visit. Apparently, he'd been stupid enough to confront Darkseid -- whom I still hadn't met, and was pretty sure I didn't want to -- all by himself and somehow manage to escape in one piece. But still, he was one of the bad guys, right? Robin had told me lots of stuff about him. He was some kind of marxist or communist nutcase who got his politics mixed up with his cape and had been on the wrong side of a fight with the law more times than not. So why was he helping out?
I took another look over our team. Superboy. Okay, he and Robin were "friends." That one made sense. Impulse. He just craved the fun off it all. Arrowette. I don't think she even knew what she was doing here. Catwoman. Okay, she was a thief and she readily admitted it, but still, here she was, willing to risk her life to safe a teenager who stood against her more than with her. And last, Anarky. What was it about Robin that could draw so many people to help him? Would they have done it for me?
"Whenever you're ready." Anarky pressed a button on his sleeve and a boom tube opened. "Why walk when you can drive ..."
We entered the tube, and in moments we stood in the main hall of DeSaad's primary lab facility. Of course, thanks to the loud "boom" announcing our arrival, the hallway start to fill up with parademons really fast.
I turned to Anarky. "Thanks for announcing us to the world."
He shrugged. "Well, they don't call them boom tubes for nothing."
We didn't have too much time to talk when the demons attacked. I poised, ready to do my best, even if it got me killed, but never got the chance. Anarky opened another tube and pushed me an Arrowette inside.
"Why the heck did --" I started, but it was too late. The tube closed, dropping me and bow girl off inside a small room that looked like a cross between a bad b-movie torture chamber and a bad b-movies sci-fi laboratory.
On the far wall, Damage was locked inside a semi-transparent globe, out like a light, as the cliche goes.
"I knew we couldn't trust him," Arrowette said.
"He got us here, didn't he?"
"Sure, but now what? We don't have any ideas about how to get Damage out of that blob thing. And if we do, then what? Do you have any idea where we are?"
I shook my head.
"I rest my case," she said.
Wow, I thought. People like Arrowette and Superboy had it so easy. In their world the good guys wore bright colors and stayed in the light, and the bad guys were the ones who stuck to the shadows and dressed in black. But Gotham had taught me a different story entirely. In Gotham, the only way to get rid of the filth was to role around it yourself and get a few smudges on the bright colors of your own spandex dream world.
They'd never last a week in Gotham.
Of course, I'd never last a week outside of it.
Instead of wasting time talking, I ran to Damage and studied the globe that held him. It was cold to the touch and wet, like it was made of hard water.
I got an idea. I held my breath instinctively and reached inside the globe. It worked. My hand and arm passed through easily. I pulled them out just as easily. But would it work if I held Damage? Would I be able to pull him out or would it somehow know not to let me do that?
There was only one way to find out.
I reached in again and made it all the way to Damage's face. Grabbing his shoulders, I pulled him toward me, only to find him hit the inside of the globe. My hands pulled out just fine, but Damage felt back inside.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. "It was worth a try." Arrowette's voice was softer, more like a little girl than before.
"What do you think our chances are here? I mean, our real chances?"
"We'll do fine," I lied. Another coping mechanism I'd learned from Gotham. "We're practically done already. As soon as we get Damage loose, we're home free. I've seen this kid go. He could put half of this planet down if he really cut loose. You heard what he did to Atlanta, didn't you?"
She nodded. "You mean IF we get him loose."
I didn't answer. It was weird how one minute she was going off on Anarky like she could take on the world, then the next she was practically pigtails and white satin, scared of her own shadow.
"We're going to be fine," I lied again. "Trust me."
She squeezed my shoulder. "Thanks." She smiled. "Then let's spring Mr. Handsome here and let him cut loose on the horrible place."
"Deal," I said, wondering how in the world we'd actually accomplish it.