Southhampton, England, April 11, 1912
Chamber braced himself for impact. Well, it wasn't really an impact, but the way Bril's timejumps worked, it sure felt like it.
They materialized; Chamber groaned softly and blinked in surprise.
The impact wasn't that bad; at least not as bad as the landing in Greece twenty-four hours earlier. Bril nodded approvingly at his precision.
"Perfect," he declared, grinning. "You guys okay?"
They all nodded. NRG scratched at her Power Band nervously, glancing around and preparing for trouble.
Ayala had good reason to, though. She and Superboy had tangled with a Scrath in an ultra-powerful form by themselves yesterday. The alien was at the point of killing Superboy when Ayala sucked all the energy out of the Scrath's energy aura when she attempted to defend the Kid. Needless to say, it killed the Scrath. Not to mention Bril, Chamber and Rainmaker had arrived there seconds too late after fighting the Greek Gods, Ares and Apollo.
"You guys ever seen Titanic?" Matt questioned jokingly, for the first time on the mission.
"Yeah, good movie," Ayala remarked. "Tragic, but good."
"Ever wanted to live it?" Matt said, already morphing into period clothes. "Without the nude scene, of course."
"I don't know," Superboy mused teasingly. He held his hands up in a rectangle, peeking at NRG through it. "I think Ayala would be a great Kate Winslet."
"Uh huh. Sure. Your girlfriend must think you're a riot," Ayala muttered sourly. "Winslet played a wimp."
<You mean we're on the Titanic for this part of the mission?>
Chamber asked in shock.
"The lap of luxury at the turn of the century," Bril answered cheerily, and laughed.
"Matt," Sarah prodded, "what's with the sudden attitude change?"
"Well," Matt responded reluctantly, "I've been on Titanic before."
"Hold it!" Ayala cried. "That means we could run into another version of you, right? Isn't that dangerous?"
"Yeah," Superboy said. "That same matter, same space thing. I'm no rocket scientist, but I know it'd kill you."
"Yeah, so?" Bril retorted. "That hasn't been proven and this ship is an absolute rush!"
"Sus estan muy malo, hombre!" Ayala exclaimed, her eyes flashing.
"Thank you," Bril said gallantly, bowing.
"Wha'd she say?" Superboy asked of no one in particular.
<"You are extremely insane, man!"> Jonothon translated.
"Oh, really? No kidding," Sarah grouched.
Bril ignored them, as always, and started handing out period clothes.
Superboy leaned against the railing later that night and thought about him- self and Ayala. He felt chemistry between them, but it seemed 'Yala didn't even notice it. Now that he got a chance to think about it, Ayala had saved his life at the cost of her energy. It had nearly killed her instead of the 'Scrath. Now that was the mark of a hero. And luckily, Final Horizon had a restorative nutrient bath that worked impeccably well. Ayala had been placed in it and was brought back to full strength in a matter of minutes.
The strangest thing about those few minutes was that Ayala had wanted Supes there. Not Sarah, not Jonothon, not Matt, but HIM.
A slight buzzing at the edge of his senses gave Superboy the urge to turn around. He did so and saw Ayala in an absolutely gorgeous dress of cobalt blue. Her black hair fell in manicured ripples to the middle of her ribs.
She came over to the railing, tossing him a friendly wave.
Superboy shook off the weirdness of the fact he had sensed NRG before knowing she was there. He was certain he hadn't heard her.
NRG's voice interrupted his thoughts. "They're beautiful, aren't they? Hard to believe those Dios-damned bugs came from them," she said softly.
"What?" Superboy replied with a question.
Ayala motioned to the sky. "Las- no, I mean the stars. Lo seinto."
Superboy smiled at the flawless use of Spanish that Ayala peppered her speech with. He wondered why she did it, though.
NRG glanced at him and frowned. "What?" she prodded, thinking he was ridiculing her and feeling offended.
Superboy guessed this and nervously tugged at the button-up shirt he wore. "Nothing," he said, "it's just the way you talk. It's..." He paused, searching for the right word. "It's the way you are."
Ayala raised an eyebrow. "And what's that?" she asked.
"Gorgeous," Superboy stated.
The compliment didn't sit too well with 'Yala. "Is that all you see of me?" she demanded, nailing him with a piercing glare. "My face, the shape of my body? I thought you were more perceptive than that, chico."
Superboy winced. That hurt. "No!" he protested. "That was just the first word that came to mind, all right?"
Ayala snorted. "You can do better than that," she said bluntly. "Go on, butter me up," she added as a challenge.
Supes thought fast. "Um.... You're brave and smart," he started. "You're strong, and you fight really well. You try to keep the peace, and you're helpful." He couldn't help but finish the speech with: "But I still think you're pretty."
"I thought you thought I was gorgeous," Ayala teased, but she smiled and forgave him anyway.
Superboy let out a silent sigh of relief. He had to have set a new world record for getting out of the doghouse in but a few seconds' worth of time.
Suddenly he noticed Ayala had shifted position and was innocently standing very close to him. He wondered if it was a bad time to try to get that kiss-
<Guys?> Jono's voice interrupted them. Superboy and NRG jumped away from each other like two teenagers caught making out on the couch by the girl's parents. <Oops. Sorry,> Jono projected, grinning in his own way.
That was one thing about Chamber that bugged Superboy; how the mutant could smile without a mouth. Talk about creepy! Kon-El quickly shook off the insignificant quirk, however.
<Matt wants us inside,> Jono reported. <He has something to tell us. I think it could be important.>
"Okay," the Kid said.
"Yeah, all right," Ayala added.
Jono smiled again and went back into the first-class dining room.
"Vamanos," NRG muttered hurriedly.
"Yeah, okay," Superboy said, leaving the railing behind.
Matt started with the mission specifics. "We're unsure of what the Scraths are going to attempt, but Teion and I thought maybe they would try to get the ship to sail the entire distance across. We'll have to search out the Scraths here. My telepathic powers have died out, probably because of the past version of myself." Before anyone could interrupt him to ask why, Matt held his hand up to halt the inquiries. "My powers just canceled themselves out. It happened the last time I was here. None of my other powers have shorted out, so I can only guess it's some failsafe to keep me from telling the other me what's going to happen."
"You don't know how kooky that sounds," Ayala quipped.
Rainmaker held her hand up for attention. Matt nodded at her and she glanced around quickly. No one seemed remotely interested in the conversation, thankfully. "What if the Scrath is someone high in rank?" she asked. "Like the first officer or even the captain?"
"We'll have to take that chance," Matt said. "On a lighter note, enjoy the meal. It's one of the best of the voyage."
Everyone grinned at Matt's good humor, which hadn't been seen once while in Greece. (Chamber didn't think it was so funny, however. He couldn't eat.) Those who could, dug in.
Matt was right: it was good.
Sarah surveyed her room early the next morning. She wondered how the QSA had been able to get these rooms without putting anyone out or disrupting time. She decided to ask Bril about it later, and looked quickly at her choices of clothing. They were very nice, as well as a perfect fit. She wondered how Matt had been able to get her sizes. Then she remembered he was a telepath. He could have plucked the info from her mind at any time.
That was irritating, but useful.
Later, when Rainmaker left to find the others, she saw Matt leaning against the railing just ahead of her. For an instant she thought it was the past version, but he looked at her and beamed in recognition.
"Hello Sarah," he said politely.
She mirrored the smile and queried, "How are you this morning?"
"Fine. Just thinkin'." Matt looked back out at the open sea.
Sarah knew she might regret asking, but she did anyway. "About what?"
"Julie," Matt said cryptically.
Sarah raised her eyebrow, silently pushing him to continue.
"Julie was --well, is-- my girlfriend," Matt continued. "Titanic was her favorite movie. Until the Scraths came." Matt stopped, overcome by emotion.
Sarah put her arm around his shoulders, trying to offer some comfort. "What happened to her, Matt?" she questioned quietly.
Matt looked up to face her. "She was one of the first fatalities. And I never found out about it. The Scrath queen, the highest leader of the invasion fleet, decided Julie would be perfect to 'acquire.' When she absorbed Julie's memories, a skill that apparently only queens have, she found out about me. She already knew I was a meta, and so the queen decided to take advantage of it. Get it, Sarah? I helped destroy my world. I'll never be able to forgive myself for that."
"Be reasonable," Sarah argued. "That's ridiculous. A memory doesn't make you a destroyer."
"But your actions do." Matt gulped and plunged on. "I-I found out about the masquerade and left the queen's headquarters. Within hours, I had joined up with the Resistance and some time after that, my powers manifested. I understood right then what the aliens wanted with me, so I dealt with it accordingly: The Scraths were taken down, and I faced off against the queen. The battle left her exhausted and she reverted into her natural form, a little scorpion-like creature. I had the chance to kill her right then.... but I didn't take it. The queen is currently imprisoned at Final Horizon. I haven't looked at her in a year.
"Since then, I moved to an alternate universe, one nearly identical to my original universe. Julie and I have had the greatest times together, but I still can't get over the thought that she died in my reality." Matt paused to wipe the tears from his eyes. "It's unnerving, to say the least."
Sarah stared at Matt in shock. She hadn't expected him to pour his heart out to her like he did. On an impulse, she hugged him. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I shouldn't have asked."
"Yes, you should have," Matt replied.
"Because I needed to tell someone." Matt shrugged and gave his temporary teammate a watery smirk. "Might as well have been you."
Sarah wasn't sure whether to be insulted or pleased, so she settled for returning the smirk and patting Matt on the back. Matt pushed away from the rail. "C'mon," he said. "Let's get some breakfast."
When Bril and Sarah entered the fancy Mess Hall, they noticed Jonothon was sneaking bits of breakfast off his plate to make it seem as if the food was being eaten, and Ayala appeared to be telling Superboy a complicated joke. SB burst out laughing just as the other two arrived at the table. "Good morning," Bril greeted, ignoring Kon-El and pulling a chair out for Sarah before seating himself. He pitched his voice lower and added, "Any Scrath sightings yet?"
Ayala shook her head. "Not one odd energy flicker," she reported.
<I haven't noticed any weird thoughts, either,> Jono chipped in.
<Every-thing must be out of our range.>
Superboy finally calmed down and spoke up. "We were hoping you could tell us something useful, Matt," he said. "Like when your past self started noticing weird happenings."
Bril mulled that over, trying to remember. "I think it was three nights before the ship sank," he murmured thoughtfully. "I can't be too sure, though. A lot of things were on my mind at the time."
The others knew better than to ask any questions. No answers would be forthcoming.
"Guys," Bril started, "I think we may have a problem though. Teion has iscovered a Scrath ship in the area that the icebergs were in. We believe they are eliminating the bergs, therefore eliminating whatever sank the ship. Teion and a few of our fighter jockeys chased away that one ship with a squadron of Hydras, but an entire battle fleet could show up next time, and that's exactly what we don't want." A sudden, quiet beeping came from Matt's jacket. He pulled the hand-held computer from his pocket. His eyes widened in disbelief as he read the display. "What we didn't want to happen," he said grimly, "just happened. I can't believe they did it so qiuckly. Teion didn't dare engage the Scraths in a dogfight, so they did what they wanted. The field of icebergs no longer exists. Okay team, brainstorm time: What are we going to do now? We no longer have the Hydras; they've been ordered back to base. In my opinion, we have two options: Jono blows the ship from the inside, and I teleport icebergs here to make it look like a berg hit the ship, or Superboy spends the next few days making a new field of icebergs using bergs from somewhere else."
"Wait," Rainmaker said, "what about the passengers? We can't just leave them."
<We have to,> Jono said, <saving anybody could alter history, and that's exactly what we're trying <B>not</B> to do.>
"And you call yourself a hero," Sarah muttered.
<What was that, Rainmaker?> Chamber asked angrily, his telepathic voice barely above a whisper.
"You call yourself a hero, mutant?" Chamber was stung, but couldn't think of a comeback. "Our job as heroes is to save lives, not to leave people to die! Is your world so grim that you do this?"
<You don't know my world Rainmaker!> Jono said, finally able to think of something. <You've never faced a Sentinel out to exterminate mutants. You've never stood face to face with Emplate, knowing he could very well kill you. You've never experienced half the things I have!>
"Guys, keep it down!" Superboy said urgently, trying to stop the argument before it got violent.
<Shut up, CLONE!>
The bickering abruptly ended and everyone focused their attention on Ayala. "Listen amigos, as much as I hate to say it," she stated, "if all these people were meant to live, they would have the first time around." Her black eyes nailed theirs. "I vote we sink the ship using Matt's second idea.... but save as many as we can. Maybe they'll be the ones who lived in the first place."
The Quantum Enforcers were silent as they thought that over. "She's right," Sarah said dully, breaking the quiet.
Bril nodded. "Agreed. Superboy.... see if you can find icebergs to place in our course," he ordered. "The rest of you, be prepared to help evacuate the ship. But I approve everyone you rescue. My telepathy should be back soon; I left just before the iceberg hit last time."
Chamber looked as though he could debate the decision, but he was outvoted, and so, he slunk away to prepare. Superboy snuck out to his room, changed into his uniform, and flew off, seeking out a field of icebergs that would be big enough to sink the Titanic, but small enough for him to push or carry quickly and with ease.
The days following the argument between Rainmaker and Chamber were uneventful, except for NRG's close call with the past version of Bril. She had accidentally addressed him by his true name, and when he professed not to know her, she blurted, "Dude! It's me, NRG." When she realized which Matt it really was, she made up an "I thought you were someone I knew" excuse and got the heck outta there.
Superboy had the majority of the icebergs in place on the morning of the fourteenth, the day the Titanic would go down. Breakfast was eaten in a tense silence among the Quantum Enforcers. They were the only ones aboard who knew what was going to happen within the next twenty-four hours, except maybe a group of alien impostors.
Superboy was nearly exhausted from moving all the icebergs, and opted to spend the day in his cabin, in order to be ready for the night's events. Chamber spent the day leaning against the railings and thinking about Generation X, Paige Guthrie in particular. He missed her greatly, and knew that if she had come along, she'd be having the time of her life. Chamber nearly started crying at the thought of what he could lose with Husk.
Rainmaker spent the day in the ship's gym, priming herself for a fight.
Bril chose to walk around the ship with NRG though. They conversed, talking about what Matt had told Rainmaker and more. Ayala found out about his powers and his history. Ayala was surprised to discover Matt had a really good sense of humor, and that he had used it more before Julie's murder.
Ayala was in the middle of her story when a buzzing at the edge of her consciousness caught her attention.
It was an alien energy. The same alien energy that she had drained from a Scrath less than a week earlier and had rechaneled into Superboy's body.
"Matt," 'Yala said, her voice suddenly a murmur, "stop. I just sensed Scrath energy inside that dining hall. Should we alert the others?"
"No," Matt said, "we need to figure out what's happening first."
NRG nodded and the two snuck into the dining hall secretively. The voices of several people could be heard coming from a smoking room adjacent to the dining hall.
"I have recieved word that two versions of the traitor are on board," said the first voice.
Matt mouthed to 'Yala, "I'm the traitor."
"I say we eliminate them both," the second suggested. "That would erase Carthal's failure in Greece at the hands of the Hispanic."
NRG frowned at the mention of her. "I'm not just Hispanic. I'm half Chinese," she muttered.
"I say that we wait until we put our plan in action tonight to kill Bril," a third voice said, "that way we could eliminate the entire mettling group, allowing our assasination of Lee Harvey Oswald."
"Agreed," said the first voice. "Are you in favor, 'Captain?'"
NRG and Bril looked at each other in shock. A Scrath was impersonating the captain. Before they heard a reply, however an incredibly ugly creature appeared out of the kitchen, as if it had been patrolling the dining hall. Its eyes locked onto Bril and NRG. Its slender body tensed and it lept across the room in a single leap, landing directly in front of Bril and NRG. Before either of them could move, what seemed to be the creature's tail was at NRG's throat, a spike held directly to her jugular. "Yeep!" she squeaked, freezing.
"Neither of you move, unless you want her dead, traitor," the creature hissed. It grabbed a small device from its belt and keyed it. "Sirs, I have captured the traitor and the Hispanic. The mutant, the clone and the Gen-Active are not with them."
NRG wondered how it knew so much about the others, but Matt
started whispering to her, halting that train of thought. "It's a Car'noc," Matt said, describing the creature. "They're to the Scraths what Stormtroopers are to the Empire. That isn't its tail. As gross as it sounds, that's one of its reproductive organs."
NRG almost threw up at that.
"The secretions are poisonous to anything but other members of their race," Matt added.
"Shut up, traitor!"
"Fine," Bril said, "coward." At Ayala's startled yelp, Bril gave her a look that meant, I'll explain later.
The Car'noc was infuriated. It was about to strike Bril with the spike when the three Scraths came out of the smoking room and fired on the Car'noc with what seemed to be some sort of weapon.
"That's a Car'noc teleporter," Matt whispered in explanation. "They only teleport Car'nocs. They kill everything else."
"Good to see you again, Bril," the Scrath impersonating the
Captain stated insincerely, and walked over to them, the teleporter trained on Bril. "It seems that we can kill you now, as soon as we discover one piece of information. Where are the clone, mutant, and Gen-Active?"
"I'll never tell you," Bril declared defiantly. "Who are you? Carntae? Killar? Oh, it's Ernac, isn't it?"
NRG guessed that Matt was trying to decide who it was, maybe even provoke the Scrath to irrational action.
"You'll never know, traitor." With that the Scrath trained the teleporter on NRG and prepared to fire.
Superboy awoke with a start. He had just had a dream of NRG and Bril being captured by Scraths. He realized it was more than a dream when he heard the same conversation that was in his dream being continued over his comm. Superboy flew out of bed and threw on a white shirt and khakis. He sprinted towards the dining hall he had seen in his dream, not daring to fly and scare other passengers, but wishing he could.
The words "You'll never know traitor," came from the hall just as he arrived there. He burst in and saw the ships captain with a weapon trained at NRG's heart.
"NOOOOOOO!!!!!!" A blast of heat tore from his eyes as Kon-El vaporized the three Scraths in the room with Bril and NRG. Superboy gasped. Had that blast come from him? Was it an aftereffect of the alien energy that 'Yala had channeled into him earlier?
At that moment, the Titantic hit an iceberg.
The next hours were nothing but a hazy nightmare as the Enforcers raced around the ship, rescuing whomever they could and getting Bril to approve of them.
Just before the ship sank totally, Superboy hid behind some wreckage and hovered, glancing wildly about. Where the heck was NRG? She should have been on a life-raft with everyone else. He spied Rainmaker hanging over the side of some wreckage and flew over, splashing down and grabbing her shoulder. "Sarah!" he hissed. "Wake up!" Sarah slowly lifted her head and coughed, sea water flooding from her nostrils and lips. "Wha.... What?" she choked.
"Where's Ayala? I can't find her anywhere!" Kon-El said urgently.
Sarah tried to remember. "I.... I think...." she coughed again and went on. "I think she's still on the ship."
Superboy swore and lifted into the air again, dragging Rainmaker with him and dumping her on a raft before racing back to the sinking Titanic.
"Ayala!" he yelled, gliding above the rising water level. "Ayala! Where are you? Answer me, dammit!"
An abnormal buzz suddenly snapped through his brain; the same buzz he had felt just before he had encountered NRG on the deck. "Wha-?" SB gasped. He whirled to the right; the buzz grew weaker. "No!" SB flew farther down the hall and into the living quarters, feeling the buzz grow stronger as he did so. At last, it was so potent it nearly knocked him out. It seemed as though the word "Help!" was being screamed into his head. But at least he was in the right place, even if it was underwater. Superboy took the deepest breath he could and plunged into the icy fluid. *#^(&)@$%*! This is freezing! he thought in horror. He swam hard, ramming a door with his shoulder and busting it open. Ayala drifted out, her eyes frantic with the
need for air. Superboy grabbed her around the waist and surfaced.
Ayala inhaled sharply, sucking in as much air as she could while tears streamed down her face. "Oh, Supes," she sobbed, clinging to him. "There was a little boy. I tried to save him, but we were trapped and he couldn't hold on.... And the water flowed in and I got so scared."
"It's okay," Superboy tried to tell her as he soared out of the halls. "You're going to be fine-"
"I'm won't!" Ayala screamed. "I couldn't save the boy.... Dios, he was only ten or something...." She pressed her wet head against Superboy's equally wet shoulder. "I-I was hoping.... he would be one of the survivors."
<Kid! Over here!> Jonothon suddenly called. <Behind the 'berg. We're ready to jump again.>
Superboy made sure to fly in a way the survivors wouldn't see him and landed, setting NRG on her feet. "We're here," he said flatly. "Let's go.
Matt rubbed his hands together, warming them, and initiated the time-jump.
The dubious heroes vanished in a twist of electric blue lights.
Next: "Democracy's a government/ As old as it can be/ But it killed Mr. J.F.K./ And now it's killing me...."