Age of Heroes
Part two of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, Young Justice or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs to DC, Warner Brothers, and associated parties.
"This is it, the apocalypse!
I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age!"
~Radioactive, Imagine Dragons
For a moment Wally could do nothing but stare.
There was a glass pod in the center of the surprisingly large room. It was dirty and dusty, but even so there was clearly a person in it, and something inside glowed just slightly. Shocked, Wally dropped his pack and crowbar next to one of the computer consoles and darted forward to take a closer look.
It was definitely a person, the first human he'd seen in a while that wasn't a walking corpse. For one horrifying moment Wally thought this guy, too, was dead, just like the dozens of whatever-they-weres trapped in their own jelly-pods, left down here to rot. But a moment later he realized the dirty glass was misting just barely in front of the figure's face, which meant he was breathing, which meant he was alive. Wally let out a sigh of relief for that.
Reassured, he examined the person more carefully. The figure was outfitted in a bright white jumpsuit-thing that glowed just barely—and, he realized with shock, there was a familiar diamond-with-an-S logo sketched out across his chest. Further examination of the pod revealed a large Kr engraved on the outside. Kr—the atomic symbol for Krypton.
"Superman," Wally breathed. World-famous Superman had...disappeared...years ago, when the outbreak first started. Wally had been sure he was dead, based on all the news and rumors he'd been able to piece together for the past few years, but maybe...?
But no. The more he studied the sleeping figure, the more he realized this wasn't quite right. He had never actually met Superman (Uncle Barry had promised he'd introduce Wally to him, during his summer vacation, before all hell broke loose) but he had seen enough pictures and news bytes to know this wasn't the same. For one thing, this figure was too young—he looked barely sixteen. He also wasn't quite as thickly built, and his face didn't look quite right. Not Superman, then. Son, maybe? Captured by the scientists that were clearly insane here?
"Doesn't matter," Wally decided after a moment. Whatever this guy's story was, the fact of the matter was that this was wrong. People had clearly not been here for years—how long had this poor guy been left down here, abandoned in a pod while the world died fifty-two levels above? It must have been terrible to be alone like this, for so long. Hell, not even Wally had been totally alone through the past four years—he'd still made friends, interacted with people at the settlements and colonies, and spoken to other travelers. This was complete isolation and restriction, and the thought alone set his stomach churning.
He wasn't going to leave this guy down here like this. It wasn't even a decision he had to consciously think about—nobody deserved this, and he wasn't going to abandon a fellow person (because in retrospect he probably wasn't actually human) down here in the dark in his own personal hell. Who knew if anybody would come back for him otherwise? Clearly nobody else even knew the facility was here. He could be overlooked for an eternity until he died in his sleep down here, like all those things in the jelly-pods, never known about.
Determined, Wally jogged over to the computer console, poked at the buttons to try and get some reaction. Unfortunately the facility seemed to be working on emergency power only, with only a few of the electric bug things left to generate power, which meant all the computers were offline. Well, there was more than one way to interface with high-end technology these days—snatching up his crowbar again, he strode over to the pod.
"I really hope you are part Superman," he told the unresponsive figure inside, "because otherwise this might hurt a bit. But I'll try to be careful!" And drawing back the crowbar, he smashed it into the glass.
It was actually stronger than he had anticipated. It took Wally four more whacks with all his strength before the glass cracked significantly, and at the sixth a few shards finally gave way. There was a soft hissing noise as the gas inside the pod began to escape, and Wally backpedaled in alarm. But it didn't appear to be dangerous, so after a moment he stepped forward again to continue his work—and blinked in surprise when he saw movement inside. It was hard to spot, the glass was so dingy, but he was sure he saw the figure's fingers twitch, the hand stretch and clench, and the chest heaved just slightly as a deep sigh escaped the body.
Then the eyes snapped open.
Wally blinked in surprise, and for a moment he met the other gaze to gaze. The figure's eyes were a brilliant blue, precisely the shade of Superman's. But they appeared clouded, disoriented, like somebody rising out of a hazy dream, when they hadn't quite grasped the difference between illusion and reality yet.
Wally had about a millisecond to register the other's confusion. Then the person's gaze seemed to grow more intense, and with an animalistic roar, his fist shot up, smashed through the glass, and slammed straight into Wally's chest.
Wally yelped as he was snapped backwards, crashing to the ground and missing the computer console by bare inches. The crowbar slipped from his fingers and clattered to the ground out of reach—not that it would have been any use at all against a Kryptonian. He groaned as pain shot through his back, but before he could react further there was another primal howl and the figure burst through the glass. Shards scattered all around the floored teenager as the person leapt straight for Wally.
Wally yelped again, and twisted his head aside as a powerful fist smashed down where his skull had been. Concrete cracked, and Wally gulped as he stared at the deep hole that had been made; had that really been his head, it would have burst open on impact. Great, he managed to think, I've survived the walking dead for four years now and the thing that's going to kill me is a Kid Superman. This is just not fair!
The super-figure snarled again and pinned Wally to the floor with one knee; Wally choked as the air was forced from his lungs. The figure's fist drew back, and Wally knew he wasn't slippery enough to escape this one. So he coughed, gasped, threw up his hands to protect his face, and desperately sucked in enough air to yell, "Woahwoahwoah, it's okay, I'm just trying to help! Help!"
He hadn't actually expected this to work—the figure's vocabulary had been, well, non-existent so far—but to his surprise the super-person's fist ground to a halt about six inches from his face. Wally tried very hard not to breathe an audible sigh of relief.
The figure was staring at him again. His gaze was still incredibly intense, and the frown on his face was almost scary, but he didn't attack or start roaring again. Instead, his brows drew together into a deeper frown of confusion, and he rasped slowly, "Help?"
His voice sounded warped, dry, and almost painful—like he'd never used it before. Wally winced in sympathy, and inwardly thought to himself, okay...so he can talk. Okay. Okay, better than nothing.
Outwardly, he was aware that it would be really good to not piss off the guy about a hairs breadth from turning his face into pudding, so he said as slowly and non-threateningly as he could, "Yes. Help. I just wanted to help you out, that's all. If you just let me up we can figure this out..."
He waited, heart hammering. The figure continued to stare at him, and then after a moment slowly recoiled back to his feet, hands at his sides. Wincing and rubbing his chest, Wally hauled himself slowly to his own feet with the assistance of the nearby computer console, trying to ignore the intense scrutiny of his new companion.
Okay, Wally, he coached himself. The guy is clearly out of it, so just start niiiice and slow. Sticking out his hand to shake, he said out loud, "So, hi. I'm Wally. Wally West."
The figure blinked, glanced down at his hand impassively, and then looked back to his face. After a few moments Wally let his hand drop. "Oookay then. Well. What's your name?"
"Okay, but what's your real name?" Wally prompted further. "Secret identities kind of don't matter anymore."
"Superboy," the figure repeated. "I don't have any other name." His voice still sounded hoarse and unused.
"Riiiight," Wally said, trying really hard not to be exasperated. "Supey it is then. We can figure out something else for you later, I guess. Look, are you thirsty? Your voice doesn't sound all that great."
Superboy just blinked at him slowly. He still looked disoriented, and Wally took pity on him. Poor guy—it couldn't be easy to wake up from who-only-knew what cocktail of gasses had been in that pod, after who only knew how long. And who knew what else had happened to him while he was here, before all the people left or died or...whatever had gone down?
Shaking his head, he moved over to his pack and dug around in it until he found his water bottle, freshly restocked from one of the bathrooms upstairs. Superboy just watched him, apparently unconcerned that Wally might pull out some sort of weapon—but then, he was one of the Supers, so Wally supposed he really had nothing to be afraid of anyway.
"Here," he said, holding out the bottle to Superboy. "Drink up, might help." Superboy gave him a blank look, and Wally added, "Don't worry, it's not poisoned or anything. I'm a good guy. Besides, poisoning is so last generation."
He grinned. Superboy didn't react to the joke. Great—he'd rescued a brick wall disguised as a person.
But after a moment Superboy hesitantly reached out and took the bottle. His first gulp was tentative, but once the water hit his tongue his eyes widened and he drank faster and faster, like a man dying of thirst. Wally winced a little at how fast he went through it all—instinct and experience told him his water needed to be conserved—but Superboy seemed marginally less agitated when he was done drinking, so Wally supposed it was a good thing after all.
"Okay," he said, once Superboy looked a little less disoriented, and less likely to try and pound his face in. He sat back against one of the consoles to rest, and continued. "So, Supey...how long have you been here?"
"I don't know."
"Um. Okay. Do you know what happened to everybody else here? You're the first living person I've found all day."
"No." Superboy's brows knitted together slightly in a frown of confusion.
Zero for two. They were doing great so far. "Alright, well, do you know why you're here?"
At this, Superboy straightened, shoulders pulling back and expression growing confident and controlled for the first time. "I am the Superboy. A genomorph. A clone made from the DNA of the Superman. Created to replace him should he perish...to destroy him should he turn from the Light."
Wally frowned at the words—they sounded almost like a recitation, like something programmed into his companion's head. And what he'd said...a clone? Well, that explained the logo and the Kr engraving, as well as the minute differences between Superman and Superboy—this was a younger version of the much beloved hero. And that last part...created to replace him should he perish...Wally winced internally. Superboy was a little late to that party; Superman had perished years ago and it sounded like the clone didn't even know it.
He'd find a way to bring that up later, when Superboy was a little less...volatile. It was a little too grim a topic for right now, anyway.
Instead, he said brightly, "Oh, so...you've got Superman's powers and stuff, then?"
Superboy frowned at him, as though he were particularly dense. "Yes. I am a—"
"Clone made from Superman's DNA, yeah yeah, I got that part," Wally cut in hastily. "It's just, the powers will probably come in handy for all the stuff going on up top."
Superboy seemed confused by this. "Stuff up top?"
"You know. Z-day. The walking dead. All that fun stuff."
"I do not know what you are talking about."
Wally frowned again, worried now. Originally he'd just planned to free this guy, but...he really didn't know anything about the past four years? Just how long had he been stuck in that pod?
Superboy seemed to sense his confusion, and his own confused expression deepened again. "What is going on, on the surface? Has someone attacked? Has something dangerous happened?"
Wally grimaced. This really wasn't how he'd wanted it to go. "Um. You could say that. Actually you could say that's a major understatement. The world's sort of gone to hell, in fact. Animated dead...super dangerous. It all happened four years ago to the day. It's sort of an apocalypse up there."
It was hard to tell in the dark, but Superboy seemed to pale a little, and his eyes widened. He looked shellshocked. "That...has to be wrong," he said after a moment. "That should not...I would have been activated...why was I not...was my purpose changed?"
He looked so lost and forlorn, the deep frown replaced by something almost disappointed or helpless, that Wally couldn't help but feel a wave of sympathy for the poor guy. He'd had his own confused questions about what the point of it all was, back when Z-day had first happened; he could relate to the guy's lack of understanding. Superboy had to be incredibly confused and upset by now, waking up to a different world than the one he was expecting, unsure of the point of his existence now. Wally disliked seeing the clone down, even though he'd only known him for a few minutes and half of those minutes had consisted of being nearly killed by him.
"Cheer up," he said, and slapped a hand on Superboy's back, giving him an encouraging half-hug around the shoulders like Uncle Barry would sometimes do for him back in the day. Superboy looked a little uncomfortable with and perplexed by the contact, but Wally rolled right along. "Okay, so, maybe things are a little confusing right now, but we'll figure it out! I've got some friends at a colony up the coast, they might be able to help us get to the bottom of this, and you'll be safe there. And in the meantime you can stick with me—I can catch you up on everything that's changed, show you the ropes, teach you some of my tricks. We'll figure all this out together, and then you can decide what you wanna do, once we've gotten some answers."
Superboy seemed puzzled by this. "I can...decide?" he asked slowly, as though the concept of making his own decisions was foreign to him.
Inwardly Wally cringed at the poor guy's confusion. Was it really so hard to accept the fact that he could make his own choices? Created to replace him should he perish, to destroy him should he turn from the Light. Created as a weapon, more like. Wally's disgust with Cadmus was gradually growing to hatred, the longer he interacted with what was clearly their pet project.
But outwardly he kept his blinding, cheerful grin plastered on his face, and said, "Well, sure! I mean, it's your life, right? You get to pick how you want to live it."
Superboy seemed to consider this very carefully for a moment, before asking a new question. "Why do you want to help me?"
Wally was openly shocked by that one. "Well, I said I would, for starters," he said, "And I'm not going to just leave you down here, that's just wrong. But I mean, we're friends now, right, Supey? I pulled you out of a pod and you decided to not punch my brains into mush, which is more than I can say for most of the zeds out there, so, y'know, that pretty much solidifies it."
"Friends," Superboy repeated slowly.
"Yeah. Friends. People who look out for each other and help each other out," Wally said, his exasperation only lightly laced with sarcasm.
"I know the definition," Superboy said. There was a slight growl to his tone, which was a little scary, but it was also the first sign of personality that Wally had seen in him (because he was pretty sure 'primal rage,' 'robotic monotone,' and 'blue screen of death' didn't count). His voice softened after a moment, and he added, "I just...I'm not sure why..." A pause. "Do you really think I could find answers at this...colony you mentioned?"
"Sure," Wally said. He hoped, anyway. Of course, he'd have to bring some sort of offering to increase their odds, because he was pretty sure there would be no remote-hacking this facility that had clearly been off the grid before Z-day even happened. He started searching the computer console in front of the now-shattered pod, adding, "If anybody can find it out, it's my buddy up at the Gotham refuge. He's got experience with this stuff. And you'll get out of this place too, to somewhere safe. You can meet more people, see how the world is...let it help you figure out what you want to do."
Aha, bingo—Wally grinned when he found a discarded, dusty flash-drive wedged in between two of the consoles. Hopefully this would have all the information they needed, because there was no way he could bring the whole console back with him. He pocketed the drive on his person—too valuable to put anywhere else—and turned to his companion, still grinning. "So? Whadya say?"
Superboy stared at him for a moment, but then nodded, and offered an almost tentative smile, like he wasn't actually sure how to form one yet because he'd never done it before. Based on everything he'd learned, Wally would not even be surprised to learn this was really the case. "Alright. I will travel with you...what do we need to do?"
"For starters, you need new clothes," Wally said, eyeing Superboy critically. "That whatever-it-is—"
"Solar suit," Superboy interrupted immediately. "For absorbing yellow sun rays consistently."
"Whatever," Wally said. "It stands out. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves. Most of the time it's just the zombies we need to look out for, but you do occasionally get these roving bands of, well, bandits, that like to just take advantage of the chaos, and you really don't want to catch their attention either—"
Superboy frowned. "Why don't you just fight them?" he asked, with a hint of distain and impatience.
"Because I'm not invulnerable and bullets will make me super dead," Wally answered instantly. "Look, just trust me on this—new clothes. You absolutely need them. I think there was a locker room on one of the upper levels, we can check that out. C'mon." He snatched up his bag, retrieved his crowbar from where it lay forgotten on the floor after Superboy first attacked him, and turned back to the odd round door, turning sideways to slip through it.
He made it half a dozen paces before he realized Superboy wasn't following. Puzzled, he turned back to find Superboy standing a few feet inside his pod-room, staring at the door. "It won't bite you," Wally said, smirking a little. When Superboy didn't move, he added more seriously, "Okay look, I know the faces-in-the-walls thing is like, straight out of a horror movie, but I'm pretty sure it's safe, and we're sort of living in a horror movie now anyway, so c'mon."
But Superboy shook his head after a moment, and said slowly, "I have...never been outside this room before."
Oh. Ouch. Wally felt his heart pang in sympathy. This guy might be a clone of one of the most powerful people alive, but man, whoever had grown him in that pod had stunted his growth in other ways. Superboy looked about Wally's age, maybe a little older, and he was clearly intelligent and capable, but in some ways he was already reminding Wally of a child. If he ever met who was in charge of this operation he was definitely going to punch the jerk in the face for messing with his new buddy. Or maybe he was a zombie...Wally almost hoped he was. Then he'd be fully justified with taking the guy's head off with his crowbar. Messy, but totally worth it.
All he said out loud was, "Oh. Well, it's...not really all that different, actually. Same weird walls. Gets less creepy higher up." And then a little softer, "You don't have to stay in there anymore, remember. You're allowed to come out, see the world. If you want to."
That seemed to harden Superboy's resolve. He strode forward, eyes narrowed, and ripped the massive several-hundred-pound round door from its hinges, turning and hurling it at the pod he'd slept in until so recently. The glass shattered further and the metal twisted and bent backwards, irreparable. "I want to leave," Superboy growled. "I don't want to stay here anymore. I want answers."
"I noticed," Wally said, eyebrows raised high. Crud, he'd tossed that door like it was made of matchsticks! Clearly this was going to take a little getting used to.
Superboy made a rather silent travel companion as they worked their way back up many, many sub-levels. Which was good, because after close to forty stories Wally was feeling a little out of breath, fit and healthy or no, and wouldn't have made for much conversation anyway. After a little backtracking Wally managed to find the locker-room he'd spotted earlier, and after a little digging he scrounged up a few things that might fit the clone. Superboy obediently changed into the slightly-too-baggy jeans, worn but serviceable belt, and army surplus boots that might've belonged to a security guard without complaint, but glowered at the dark gray Washington Redskins t-shirt with clear distaste.
"There's nothing else?" he asked. Wally raised an eyebrow, and was about to point out he was getting awful picky for a guy unable to make a decision an hour ago, until he saw the clone plucking unhappily at the S-shield on the solar-suit now in his hands. Oh. So this was an identity thing, not a personal taste thing.
"It's the only thing that fits you here," Wally said. "Sorry. Um...we can try checking other shops later, on the way. Or if we still haven't found anything we might be able to trade for it at the refuge. Or get somebody to make one for us."
Superboy looked disappointed, but grudgingly pulled the football shirt on over his head. It, too, was slightly too baggy, but Wally hadn't found anything else in here large enough for somebody of Superboy's size. He'd just have to deal with it for now. Wally did, however, manage to scrounge up a second bag—it looked like an old school backpack—and offered it to Superboy to put the solar suit in, just in case. Superboy seemed surprised by the offer at first, but nodded a quiet thanks to Wally a second later, and stowed his only possession away.
"Okay," Wally said, "Now that that's all taken care of, I think we'll probably have to stay down here tonight. It's definitely dark up top by now and we don't want to be traveling at night, not with the walking dead out there waiting for us, but it seems safe enough down here."
"Why don't we fight them?" Superboy repeated, crossing his arms. Definitely more personality there than before. Getting him away from that pod had already done him wonders.
"Rule number one of surviving a zombie apocalypse," Wally told him, raising one finger. "Don't ever fight zombies when you don't have to. You get the chance, you get away from them as fast as you can. They're dangerous, and it gets worse at night." Superboy still didn't look convinced—to be honest, Wally was starting to realize Superboy didn't entirely believe him about the surface at all—so he added, "Look, just trust me on this, okay. I promise I'm not gonna steer you wrong. Don't fight zombies, not unless you're desperate.
"Now I think I saw a couple of couches up in what looked like some sort of executive office—we can crash there for the night. Best sleep I'll get in a while, I think." He grinned. "I've got some vacuum-packed packages of nuts that I found a couple weeks ago, I think they're still good—and some smoked meat and dried fruit I traded for last week. And we've got all the water we could need here. Regular feast, right? You should count yourself lucky you got found by somebody as resourceful as me!"
Superboy's look was one of pure skepticism, but after a moment he smirked—this time the expression was a little more natural, like he was getting more used to it. "Alright. Are you going to share that feast?"
"Maybe," Wally said with a grin. "If you ask nicely. And I get first dibs on the more comfortable couch." He headed out of the locker room for the stairwell again with Superboy in tow, adding more seriously, "We'll try to get up early tomorrow so we can stock you up on some of your own supplies before we head out. I think I remember where the good stuff was in here. Your own water bottle, a first aid kit—well if you're invulnerable you might not need it but you never know, you could always trade it—same with meds, some more food if we can find it, tools..."
He ticked off the supplies on his hands idly as he walked, with Superboy following and listening quietly behind him. And despite how surreal the situation was, wandering around far below the earth in a hidden science lab with a superhero clone following him around like a quiet little alien puppy—despite all that, for the first time in a very long time, Wally felt almost...content. Because it felt good, not to be alone again. To have a traveling companion that wasn't there purely out of convenience or necessity, to have somebody willing to listen to him, have somebody that trusted him to look out for him. It was like...like having a little brother. Like having a family again.
It was a good feeling, and Wally resolved to do everything he could to help this guy, no matter what. Because that was what family did for each other, after all.
I always thought it was kind of interesting that Superboy had a markedly different speech pattern...right up until he rebelled against Cadmus.
Couple of lines in this were pulled from the show itself, in the interest of disclaimers.