"You're going to have to be a whole lot faster than that, if you are going to be able to use the cosmic treadmill," stated Powergirl in The Flash's direction.
He had just arrived, a good three tenths of a second after me. He was breathing hard as he glanced in my direction. I tried to look nonchalant. I had easily beaten him and I hadn't even pushed myself to one hundred percent.
"Cosmic . . . tread . . . mill?" He gasped out.
Karen frowned. "You know, you're special treadmill that allows you to travel through time and to alternate dimensions."
"What are you talking about? I can't travel through time and to alternate dimensions. And the only special treadmill I know of is that one," stated Barry, his words more clear now that his breathing was under control. He was pointing to a very high-tech looking treadmill in a glass-fronted alcove off the main control room.
Cisco was kneeling by the treadmill and had removed its side panel. Obviously, Oliver had told him enough about what we had learned from Karen for him to start digging into the treadmill's guts.
"Barry, remember how I mentioned Karen is from a parallel dimension?" I interjected. "She knew The Flash of that world . . . ah . . . what was his name again?"
"Jay Garrick," stated Karen.
"Right, Jay Garrick," I continued. "Anyway, The Flash of that world had, and was able to use, a cosmic treadmill, so you should be able to use one, too."
"And why do I need a cosmic treadmill?"
"Superman has been taken prisoner by his counterpart from another universe," I replied.
"I thought you said Karen's universe has been destroyed and she is its sole survivor," said Barry with a frown as he slid the hood of his special suit back revealing the rest of his face.
"There are more than just your universe and my universe," replied Karen. "There are probably an infinite number of universes. Ultraman, Superman's counterpart, is from yet a third parallel universe."
"So you want me to go to this third universe," deduced Barry. "Again, why?"
Karen shook her head. "Not just you. Kryptonians are also fast enough to use the cosmic treadmill. You, Felicity, and I will all be going.
"This third universe, the home of Ultraman, could be considered almost a dark mirror version of yours and mine," continued Karen. "Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the rest of the Justice League, and even Supergirl and you have counterparts there. And they are all evil bastards. They even call themselves the Crime Syndicate of America. The one person who has been principally responsible for thwarting the worst of their schemes is Alexander Luthor. I think we are going to need his advice and help, if we are to defeat Ultraman and rescue Superman."
"Justice League?" whispered Barry, suddenly looking more than a little overwhelmed.
I stepped forward and held out my hand. "Consider this your official invitation to join the Justice League. You've just made it to the big leagues, Barry."
He took my hand and shook it, but he still looked in a daze. Like everyone else on the planet, he had to be familiar with the Justice League. I was a long time member, but he probably still thought of me as Felicity first and Supergirl a distant second. And we had been so busy dealing with the escaped metahumans ever since he had learned my secret; he probably hadn't had time to consider the full ramifications of my Supergirl persona.
I'm not sure what Barry was going to say next and his eyes were suddenly hard to read, but he didn't get a chance as Cisco walked back into the control room shaking his head with a dejected expression on his face.
"I'm afraid I'm going to need some more details and probably some help, if you want this treadmill upgraded anytime soon. The Green Arrow told me the cosmic treadmill is powered by cosmic rays, but I haven't a clue how to do that. And all the bearings are going to need to be upgraded, too, if it is going to get anywhere near light speed and I have no idea at the moment how to do that either."
All of our gazes turned expectantly in Karen's direction.
She shook her head. "I was never the techie type. I was the one who came in and provided the brute force, when it was needed. I don't know any more details of how a cosmic treadmill is constructed than I already told you."
All of the eyes turned to me next.
"Hey, don't look at me, I never heard of the cosmic treadmill until a couple of hours ago either. Plus, I'm okay on the software side, but crap with hardware," I stated. And even on the software side, I mostly depended on my A.I. Actually, when it came right down to it, I was more like Powergirl than I cared to admit. I had always depended more on my Kryptonian abilities than on any mental gifts.
"In my universe," mused Karen. "Batman was always the best in the Justice Society with hardware."
Batman did have the coolest toys. Of course, much of the work was farmed out to Wayne Enterprises' various science divisions. Queen Consolidated had science divisions of its own, but in the months since Oliver's return to Starling, I don't think he had developed too many meaningful contacts in those divisions. And I knew I didn't have many useful contacts there either. No, if we needed extremely quick-turnaround high tech support, starting with Batman was probably our best bet.
I was just about to reply to Karen's remark when I was cut off by Doctor Wells.
"Cisco, I don't have any immediate ideas for the high speed bearings, but perhaps for the cosmic ray power source we could try to cobble something together using bits and pieces from the particle accelerator. I'm thinking the CG-27 RF cavity resonators and the Wideröe-Cockcroft quadrupole magnets would make a good starting point. I am not quite sure how to handle the beam cooling requirements though."
As he spoke, I took in the sudden gleam in Doctor Wells' eyes. For some reason he looked more enthused to get the cosmic treadmill up and running than anyone else in the room. From the moment I had first met the wheel-chair bound man, something had seemed a little off about him. And the slight queasiness I felt about him wasn't eased by the fact a casual check of his body using my x-ray vision hadn't revealed any reason why he needed to be in the wheel-chair. Certainly, I didn't spot any of the telltale damage to his spine I typically saw in situations like his. And, unfortunately, I had seen way too many broken backs since arriving on Earth.
But despite my slight misgivings at dealing with the Doctor, his background in particle physics might be critical to modify the treadmill. However, if we wanted it done and working in the next couple of hours, some additional technical expertise couldn't hurt.
Turning my attention back towards Karen, I said. "I'm not sure if our Batman is in the same league as yours, but he is definitely one of the top hardware people in the Justice League. If he can't directly help, he probably will know who can. I think I'll make a quick jaunt to Gotham. It's not like I haven't already been there once tonight."
"You've already been to Gotham and talked to Batman tonight? That's so unbelievably cool," exclaimed Cisco. This was the first topic other than Powergirl that I had seen animate Cisco since she had made her first appearance in the control room in her extremely low-cut costume. "Can I come, too? Please? Batman has been my idol since I was a little kid and first saw his cool cars and aircraft and boats. He is the whole reason I ended up focusing on engineering and science. And, well, I've always dreamed of seeing the Batcave."
I flicked my eyes towards Doctor Wells.
He shrugged, and with a sigh said, "You might as well take him. I've seen him like this before and he is going to be worthless for the next few hours anyway as he daydreams about a meeting with Batman. If Karen can do some of the heavy lifting and Green Arrow can act as an extra set of hands, I'm sure Caitlin, Barry, and I can muddle along without Cisco for an hour or two."
"Yippee!" exclaimed Cisco before jumping up and doing an impromptu little dance.
I sighed. Bruce never interacted well with hyper individuals like Cisco. This trip might turn out to be more trying than it needed to be.
"Fine, Cisco, you can go, but there are a few rules you need to follow while we are in Gotham," I said, but it was obvious he wasn't listening as he continued to dance around the room. It was hard to believe he was only a year or two younger than me, when he was behaving like a twelve-year-old. "And I haven't seen or talked to Batman tonight. When I was in Gotham earlier, it was to see Batgirl."
"Oh my god, you know Batgirl, too?" Cisco said. "Oh, of course you do. Felicity, it's still hard to believe you are really Supergirl and know everyone in the Justice League."
I thought he was actually going to swoon like a damsel in some romance novel. Karen just rolled her eyes. She had probably been Powergirl almost twice as long as I had been Supergirl and had probably experienced a reaction like Cisco's countless times before. I rolled my eyes back at Karen and she grinned.
"Come on, Cisco. The sooner we go, the sooner we will be back," I stated.
With one forlorn look in Oliver's direction, I gestured Cisco towards the elevator. When would Oliver and I ever get to spend a little quality time together?
I lowered Cisco to the pavement right next to an innocuous phone booth. I had traveled the whole way in superspeed. From Cisco's perspective, one second we had been standing outside the concealed entrance to the particle accelerator facility and the next we were standing along the side of a desolate section of a two-lane blacktop road in the middle of nowhere without a single signpost in sight.
"Where are we?" asked Cisco as his eyes swept wildly around.
It was still a good thirty minutes before dawn here. The eastern horizon was a light blue with just a hint of pink, but the sky overhead was still filled with stars. I had no trouble seeing with my enhanced vision, but other than the light from the phone booth, the surrounding area must have appeared pitch black to Cisco.
"I need to call Batman and make sure he is okay with our coming and so that he will temporarily shut down his defenses along the entrance route."
"Defenses?" Cisco echoed.
"I tried to explain before we left. Batman likes his privacy. And he is very paranoid about unannounced visitors, even other members of the Justice League. His defenses are capable of stopping even me or at least they will slow me down for a long time."
"What if he isn't home? Couldn't we have just called from Central City?"
I shook my head. "Batman generally blocks all incoming calls except from this specific phone and a few similar ones scattered around. Besides, if he isn't available, we can be back in Central City in a second, so using this phone versus calling from back there, isn't a huge inconvenience."
I moved over to the phone booth, stepped inside, and closed the door behind me. Then after lifting the receiver, I angled my body to block Cisco's view of the keypad before punching in the secret code. If Batman had even the slightest suspicion the code number or the phone booth's location had been compromised, he would relocate it and that was always a pain.
The phone was picked up after a single ring.
"Yes?" I could hear the faint hint of the English accent in that single word.
"Alfred, it's Kara. I need HIS help with a problem. Is HE available?"
"He is not here at the moment, Miss Kara. I do however expect him back within the half hour."
"Would it be okay, if I came over and waited? Oh, and I have someone with me who is not a member of the League. I will, of course, observe all the usual strictures. It's sort of urgent."
"When isn't it urgent, Miss Kara?" Alfred replied with a small perfunctory laugh. "I don't see any problem with you coming here. I have just deactivated the defenses along the K-route."
"Thanks, Alfred. I'll see you in a few. Bye."
I lowered the receiver back to its hook and stepped back outside.
"Well?" asked Cisco in an eager tone.
"He is expected back shortly. We've been allowed to proceed."
I led the way down through the ditch on the north side of the road and then into a stand of trees. We walked about fifty feet until the road and the phone booth were no longer visible. I quickly spotted the giant granite boulder half-buried into the hillside where it blocked the cave entrance. It was fifteen feet tall, twenty feet wide, a dozen feet thick and weighed just over a million pounds. It was more than adequate to keep out casual hikers and anyone else who stumbled on it.
I hoisted it up over my head and then gestured Cisco through. For a moment he just stood there with an expression of awe on his face.
"Come on, Cisco, we don't have all night."
He slowly nodded and then walked passed me, his shoulders hunched over in a protective manner the whole time – like that was going to do any good if I dropped the massive stone.
A large cave opened up behind the boulder, but its true dimensions were invisible when lit only by the twilight from outside. And even that dim light was lost once I lowered the stone back into place. Now, the cave was a perfect pitch black.
"Ah, I'm like totally blind here, Felicity," remarked Cisco with only a small quaver in his voice.
"There's not much to see until we get to the actual Batcave," I replied.
"You mean this isn't part of the Batcave?"
"No, as I said, Batman likes his privacy. The Batcave is surrounded by a Kryptonite shield. The only way through for Superman or me is via the passageway at the back of this cave. And the passageway runs for over eighty miles following a twisting, turning course with numerous chokepoints which Batman has outfitted with more Kryptonite devices."
"Yeah, Superman created it using his heat vision shortly after he and Batman first teamed up. It is long enough to give sufficient time to get more defenses activated at the far end before anyone can reach there, even Superman or me."
With my enhanced vision, I could see Cisco gulp nervously. I think he was just starting to realize the Justice League played at a whole different level than what they had been doing back in Central City.
"Ready?" I asked.
When he nodded, I stepped close and embraced him. Normally, I would have just touched his hand and then extended my field around him. But the passageway narrowed to barely four feet in diameter at a number of points along the way; I would have to hold him tight, particularly to run the course at speed.
I lifted us into the air and then plunged forward. This route into the Batcave was actually sort of fun, as long as you thought of it as a cross between a roller-coaster and a waterslide at some giant amusement park. The path twisted and turned and included several corkscrews and loop-the-loops – all intended to deter anyone who couldn't fly.
Hindered by having to carry Cisco, it took me over six seconds to cover the eighty miles, whereas my personal best was four-tenths of a second. Unfortunately, Clark could still beat me by over a tenth of a second, but then he did visit the Batcave a lot more often than me.
The passageway let out in what could generously be called a small alcove although a broom closet might better describe its actual size. At least it was lit by a small bulb hanging from a wire to allow Cisco to get his bearings after I released him from my grasp.
It was a moment before he stepped clear. His face was flushed and that's when it sank in that I had been holding him tight against my chest and bare midriff. I might not be endowed like Powergirl, but he had obviously enjoyed being pressed up against me. Touching first Powergirl and now me, he surely would remember this night forever.
"Are you ready?" I whispered.
He ran his fingers through his long, dark hair for a moment and then nodded with a grin. His eyes were glowing at the thought of seeing the infamous Batcave. Of course, Batman being Batman, he never gave tours or released photos to the world-at-large, so exactly what the Batcave looked like was a topic always rife with speculation. Somehow I doubted Batman would allow Cisco to explore anywhere beyond the next room, and that room probably wouldn't meet Cisco's doubtlessly wild expectations.
I turned to the door in the wall opposite the subterranean passageway and slowly pulled it open.
The room beyond looked like some sprawling gothic library. The room's roof towered close to fifty feet and the walls were lined with four levels of bookshelves behind ornately curved wrought iron railings. The room stretched several hundred feet in both directions from our position on its lowest level. The end walls of the long room were filled with giant stained glass windows. They were lit from behind as though the noon day sun shown in from both ends. Since it was still night outside, the windows should have been a dead giveaway that the lighting wasn't natural. But the awe filling Cisco's face probably meant such details were beyond him at the moment. So the fact this library was buried over three hundred feet below ground probably wouldn't have registered either, even if he had any way of guessing that detail. Of course, with Bruce's overwhelming need for secrecy, I have always wondered how this library had been created in the first place.
"Come on," I said gesturing to our left. Bruce's private study was halfway down that side.
Our footsteps echoed from the rich mahogany flooring as we walked. Cisco's head swiveled around endlessly trying to take it all in.
"There has to be a million books in here," he whispered in the tone everyone reserved for visiting a library.
"Yeah," I responded. "I think Batman has a copy of every non-fiction book ever written, on the off-chance the information might be useful someday."
We had walked maybe seventy-five feet when the wall to our left opened up into Batman's study. The study somehow managed to feel large and yet intimate at the same time. A massive fireplace, which looked capable of using full-sized trees as kindling, filled the back wall and a fire was roaring. Several large reference tables stood in the center of the room and a large desk stood near the left wall. A half-dozen bulky leather armchairs formed a loose semi-circle in front of the fire.
A woman was sitting in one of the armchairs. She must have heard our approach as she rose to her feet before we were halfway into the study. As she turned, I recognize the flash of short blonde hair.
"Kara, it is so good to see you. It has been way, way too long."
I found myself bounding forward almost like a little girl and pulling the woman into a tight hug. She was Superman's oldest friend and my first human friend, too. "I know, Chloe. I should have done a better job of staying in touch after I left the JLA. I've missed you, too."
Chloe Sullivan had been a classmate of Clark's back at Smallville High. She had then blazed a trail for Clark via a job at the Daily Planet. She had met Batman shortly after his first encounter with Clark and that had been the end of her career in Metropolis; she had been living in Gotham ever since. Oh, and she was the closest thing I had to a big sister here on Earth and she had been the one responsible for getting me into Midvale after my arrival.
I released her and took a half step back. Chloe was thirty-six, the same as Clark, and a dozen years my senior. But the years had been kind to her and with her infectious smile she could still easily pass for upper twenties.
"So what brings you here after all this time? And I see you've donned the Supergirl costume again."
"You know how it is; no matter how much we just want to live a normal life, things come up and we get sucked back in."
Chloe laughed. "Yeah, been there, done that." Then her eyes flicked questioningly towards Cisco.
"Sorry, this is Cisco. Cisco, this is my old friend Chloe," I said by way of an introduction.
Cisco offered his hand. "Hi. I'm Cisco Ra . . ."
Chloe cut him off with a gesture. "Ah. It is best if we just stick to first names. Last names can lead to all kinds of unnecessary risks and complications."
"You'll have to forgive Cisco," I interjected. "He is still pretty new to the whole superhero business."
She nodded and then gestured towards the chairs. "Have a seat and tell me everything you've been up to in the past year."
I wanted nothing more than to tell her about my life, about Oliver. But I forced myself to stick to business for the moment. "Is Batman here? Do you know when he'll be back? I, ah, we really need his help."
"He's just arrived," said a voice from behind me. I glanced up and found Alfred pushing an antique looking cart with a silver tea service sitting on top. "He will be here shortly."
Alfred handed me a cup, which I accepted gratefully. Then I settled back in the chair allowing myself to relax for the first time in what felt like days. Chloe and I chatted about inconsequential things while we waited for Batman to make an appearance.
After Batman arrived, I spent the next twenty minutes bringing him and Chloe up to speed on everything that had occurred this evening from the attack on Carol Ferris by Lena Luthor to the incident with the giant warsuit in the skies over Gotham to our trip to Kandor and then on to Central City. And I also brought up the potential new members for the Justice League – Green Lantern, Powergirl, The Flash, Black Canary, and Green Arrow.
Batman had some ideas to help with the creation of the cosmic treadmill. And they required equipment in Watchtower, the Justice League satellite up in geosynchronous orbit, which is why the four of us were now standing in front of the twenty foot tall, forty foot wide matter-transmitter arch buried deep in the bowels of the Batcave. The arch, originally created using technology provided by the Martian Manhunter, was up and running. Looking through its shimmering surface, I could see the main deck of Watchtower. I thought Cisco was going to pee in his pants. The portion of Batman's face visible around the edges of his mask seemed to have developed a permanent scowl whenever he looked in the younger man's direction.
"Oh man, I can't believe I'm going up to Watchtower. This is even cooler than visiting the Batcave," enthused Cisco. Then he turned towards Batman with a chagrin expression. "Ah, no offense, sir."
I thought Batman was actually going to let out a growl, but he merely marched stiffly forward through the arch and onto the deck of the high-flying satellite. As we followed along, Chloe was grinning and appeared to be working hard not to start laughing at Batman's nearly belligerent behavior. I found myself grinning, too.
Once we were through the barrier separating the Batcave from Watchtower, Cisco skipped ahead until he reached the wide, panoramic window at the far side of the space that permanently overlooked the Earth. A row of command consoles lined that wall. I remembered spending many hours sitting there when I was on observation duty. Rarely were all the consoles manned at one time and that wasn't the case now. The only console in use was Aquaman's. But then with Superman missing, Nightwing in Kandor, Wonder Woman keeping an eye on Superman's Fortress, Batman with us, and Martian Manhunter who knows where, it didn't leave too many to handle things up here. If Karen, Hal, Barry, Laurel, and Oliver eventually joined the Justice League, it would certainly help spread the load.
Batman didn't spare the view a single glance, but immediately headed for the ramp leading down to the lower levels. Chloe was walking at his side. I had to almost shout Cisco's name a couple of times to get his attention and then we followed.
We passed first through the living quarters level and I was almost tempted to take a quick side trip to my suite to grab a shower. Even though my hair was long dry after the dowsing it had taken when I was removing the section of lead pipe from the water tower in Keystone, I could still smell the lingering traces of the brackish water. But I forced myself to stay focused on the mission. A shower would have to wait. And for just a moment I allowed myself to fantasize about Oliver joining me in that shower – washing my hair, scrubbing my back, and perhaps even more.
It was with an effort that I got my thoughts back under control by the time we reached the next level that held the large airlock and docking stations for spacecraft of various team members as well as ships confiscated from a variety of villains over the years. A half dozen ships were currently in dock, but none belonged to anyone I was particularly interested in seeing.
But all the docked ships certainly caught Cisco's attention. I had to literally grab his arm and drag him along as Batman and Chloe continued down to the next level, which held the science labs and the infamous trophy room. I was certain that that level had to be Batman's destination.
Batman headed into his suite of labs with the rest of us trailing behind. He immediately proceeded over to a long row of cabinets lining one wall, but Cisco's attention was drawn to what was standing on the other side of the lab. He let out a hiss of excitement, which drew my attention. I might have let out a small gasp myself. Batman had barely started work on it the last time I had been up to Watchtower, but now it looked nearly complete. It looked like his batsuit, except it towered a full twenty feet. I remember that he had explained how it could operate as a spacesuit, a spacecraft, and an airplane when in atmosphere. And on the ground it functioned as an augmented strength set of body armor giving him the strength to match many of the metahumans. Now, seeing the finished product, it reminded me of the Kryptonian warsuits I had seen back in Kandor, except this suit somehow managed to feel even more menacing. And knowing Batman, it doubtlessly included weapons that could stop Kryptonians, should the need arise. The longer I looked at it, the more I shivered inside. I was glad Batman was on our side, although he still sometimes scares me.
"This is so friggin' cool," exclaimed Cisco. Clearly, he didn't get the same sense of menace that I got from that oversized suit of armor. "I wonder what kinds of weapons it contains." He reached forward and almost touched it before thinking better of that potentially dangerous movement. And knowing Batman, I wouldn't have been surprised if the suit was booby-trapped in some way – probably nothing lethal at first but doubtlessly very painful to a mere human.
"Cisco, don't start thinking about weapons again," I said in a reproachful tone as I forced him to take a couple steps back from the scary battlesuit. "Remember what happened with your cold gun."
Several people had been killed, almost including The Flash, when the gun Cisco had built had fallen into the wrong hands. At the time I hadn't yet revealed my secret identity, but it had almost been necessary to save Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco. I had hoped Cisco had learned his lesson about the dangers of designing weapons, but I didn't want any backsliding on his part after a single encounter with Batman.
Batman had been busy pulling equipment from the cabinets. By the time I dragged Cisco over, one of the large work tables was almost completely covered.
"You should be able to use these force-field generators in place of physical bearings in the treadmill. They are frictionless and inertia-less. Theoretically, they should function all the way up to light speed," Batman said without preamble. His words seemed to be addressed more towards me than Cisco, although he had to know I had never been a tech-head.
Then he moved over to another cabinet and pulled out even more equipment. "You said you've started work on a cosmic ray power supply using RF cavity resonators and Wideröe-Cockcroft quadrupole magnets? These devices should help with the beam heating issues and Dysonberg diffusion problems."
I stared at the array of equipment. I didn't have a clue how any of it worked or how to modify it to use with the cosmic treadmill. A glance in Cisco's direction showed he was almost equally clueless.
I was just about to ask Batman for further help and if, perhaps, he could return to Central City with us when Batman's suit began beeping in a manner that somehow managed to sound urgent. He quickly pulled a device off his utility belt that looked like a modified smartphone and studied its screen.
"I've got to run. A situation I've been monitoring back in Gotham has just turned hot," stated Batman.
"Wait, I have no idea how to incorporate these devices into the treadmill," I nearly shouted as Batman headed towards the room's exit at almost a run.
He glanced back over his shoulder. "Chloe, access files BAT-COS-01 and BAT-FF-07. They should contain all the information you will need."
And with those words, he was gone.
I turned to my old friend.
"I guess I'll be coming to Central City with you." She must have seen the questioning expression on my face, as she continued. "Superman and I have been working to modify the tele-learning machine we found in his original spaceship to be compatible with a human mind in hopes of making it available to all of humanity. Unfortunately, so far it is only compatible with me."
I had used tele-learning machines when I had been a girl growing up in Argo City. They crammed a lot of knowledge into your mind really fast, but it wasn't an entirely pain-free process. And that was with a Kryptonian mind, I couldn't imagine the effect on a human brain.
She must have recognized my expression, as she soberly nodded. "Yeah, it is pretty much as painful as you imagine."
"I could be the one to use it," I stated after a moment's hesitation. I really hated the thought of going back under a tele-learning machine.
Chloe shook her head. "The modifications we made means it is no longer compatible with a Kryptonian mind. But thanks for the offer."
Cisco's eyes were darting between us. Finally, Chloe turned her gaze from me to him.
"Imagine having a whole Ph.D.'s worth of knowledge slammed into your brain in forty-seven seconds. The first time, I ended up with blurred vision, a killer migraine, and vomited for almost an hour. It's gotten a little easier with experience, but only a little."
Her skin had taken on a decidedly grey cast, but her expression was determined. She might be with Batman now, but she had been Clark's good friend for over twenty years. If Superman was in trouble and she had to do this as her part in saving him, she would do it without hesitation, no matter how much pain she might have to endure.
End of Chapter 14
Daniel6 said it might be fun to have an appearance by Chloe in this story and suggested pairing her with Batman. Hopefully, you liked this small taste of what is to come.