|Doctor Who Crossover Internet Adventure #05 - "Fear Itself"
"Surrection (In and Re)"
by John Seavey
Bound by several large, intricate chains, the Doctor and Bibbo found themselves escorted down a rather long hallway by two parademons. As they walked down the hallway, flames shot up from both sides.
"One of these days," the Doctor muttered. "I think I shall ask Dante if he ever visited here."
Just then, both men found themselves face-to-face with Darkseid. Seeing Darkseid's countenance, the Doctor wondered just exactly *what* kind of life forms lived here... and how they came into existence.
"Are you the Doctor?" Darkseid asked.
"I am," the Doctor answered. "May I, in return, ask who you are?"
"No," Darkseid responded, his eyes glowing red.
Suddenly, two omega bursts emerged from his eyes....
There was a blinding flare of energy, and when everyone had rubbed the spots from their eyes, they saw the Doctor standing there, entirely unharmed. Darkseid's face narrowed in anger, while the Doctor was smiling politely. "Darkseid, I presume," he said. "We haven't met. At least not yet, but the omega beams are as unmistakable as a signature. Your son is well, then?"
Darkseid's scowl grew fiercer. "How did you survive?"
The Doctor smiled. "Oh, a gadget I happened to have, a technique I learned from Tibetan monks, an old Time Lord trick, something like that. A mere trifle. You wouldn't be interested. I was hoping we could discuss more important things; perhaps why you needed the body of the Mara, or what you were doing with kryptonite?" His smile vanished abruptly, leaving only a cold stare.
Darkseid replied, "The Mara's venom is a potent, concentrated fear- inducing toxin. My allies distilled it from the Mara's corpse, and mixed it with certain chemicals. It would have made Superman my slave-"
"And the kryptonite was used as a local agent to weaken his system long enough for it to take effect," the Doctor said, nodding absently. "How very clever. And what would you have done, once Superman was under your control? Taken over the world, I suppose? It seems very popular among you people."
"No," Darkseid said. "I would have forced him to bring you, Doctor, to me. To Apokolips." Behind him, the air shimmered and shifted, as a figure formed from the air: a figure with a cruel, ancient face, robes of shadow. "To the one I serve." He dropped down to one knee as the figure laid a withered, bony hand upon his shoulder.
The Doctor went ashen. "The Black Guardian..."
* * *
Superboy woke up feeling like the entire Dallas Cowboys cheerleader squad had used him as their personal trampoline, and he didn't mean that in a good way. He rolled over, groaning softly, to look up into the faces of the two women (the two extremely good-looking women, his libido pointed out) that had been dragged here with him.
"Where's Robin?" he asked, his voice slightly slurred by lingering pain.
"Over by the door," one of them -- Tegan, he recalled -- responded in an Australian accent. "He's trying to pry it open or something. I don't know why he's bothering, it's a foot of solid rock."
"It's a superhero thing," Superboy said as his sat up, shaking his head to clear it. "Put us in a cage, we try to escape. It's just reflex."
"Indeed," a smooth, wheedling voice said from the doorway as it opened. Robin leapt back just in time as the stone slab slammed into the wall where he was standing. "We are used to accommodating you relentless do-gooders. That is why this cell is completely, totally, and in all ways escape- proof."
The other girl, Nyssa, asked, "Who are you?"
The man stepped into the entryway of the cell. His eyes were hidden by the hood he wore, but his face was set in a smug, arrogant grin. "I am Desaad, major-domo to the almighty Darkseid. It is my task to interrogate you, and ascertain the full measure of your knowledge of our current plans." "You mean to torture us," Tegan said sourly. Desaad's smug grin widened. "Oh, I sincerely hope so. But I expect that you will undoubtedly prove truthful, our of some wish to avoid pain and suffering." He gestured, and two armed parademons stepped in to stand behind him, a reminder of what awaited. "First, I wish to know everything you know about Doctor Fate."
"Who?" asked Tegan.
"Who?" asked Nyssa.
"Huh?" asked Superboy.
"Why do you want to know about Doctor Fate?" Robin asked.
Desaad snorted. "Surely you don't believe me to be this naive, do you? You expect me to believe that you know nothing of Fate's visit here, at my Master's command? That you did not know that Fate worked a powerful magic on Darkseid, altering him completely? That since that time, he has been consumed with the need for revenge against this 'Doctor'? That he has even resorted to working with Ra's Al-Ghul, a mere human, in an effort to get to him?"
"Nope," said Robin, speaking for all of them. "Haven't heard of any of that."
Desaad shrugged. "Oh, well. I suppose I shall just have to torture you for a while, just to make sure. Then I can leave you in here to rot."
In a blur of motion, Superboy was flying through the air, slamming into the parademon on Desaad's left in a move that left it embedded in the wall. "Don't count on it!" he shouted as Robin swept the other one off its feet with a kick, then hammered an elbow into its skull to put it down. The two girls, in turn, shoved roughly past Desaad and out of the cell.
Desaad reached down and grabbed the semi-conscious parademon. "Stop them, you fools," he shouted. "They're heading for the communications tower!"
Superboy and Robin exchanged a look, shrugged, and turned to face Desaad. "And where exactly is this communications tower?"
Desaad glared at them. "Nothing could induce me to tell."
Superboy glared back, cracking his knuckles. "Not even if I ripped off your head, arms, and legs, and used the rest of you as a doorstop?"
Desaad cringed. "Very well," he said, a whimper entering his voice, "I shall tell you."
Robin shook his head. "Better yet, you're going to show us."
* * *
As Batman and Superman looked at each other, trying to make sense of the puzzle set before them, Oracle said, "Here's the kicker: in several League databases on other planets -- Thanagar, Rann, Colu, several others -- there's mention of a time traveller who has intervened in their affairs. A gentleman called..."
"The Doctor," Superman interrupted. "Listen, Oracle, can you cross- reference the Doctor with the words 'Time Lord'."
Barbara Gordon was surprised to hear Superman; after all, he and Batman were as different as night and day. Literally. However, after a few moments, she said, "Several worlds *do* mention a race called the Time Lords. Depending on who you ask, these Time Lords are either a race of omnipotent superbeings, a politically corrupt race of powermongers, or a bunch of aliens with *way* too much time on their hands."
"You know what this means, Batman?" Superman asked.
"I think I do," Batman answered. "The Doctor knew about the Mara, has been in the right place at the right time... he's behind this."
Superman and Oracle both said, "No," at the same time.
Superman said, "I was watching him when he made his explanations to us. His body is alien -- there's two hearts, some interesting structures in his lungs, and a very high gilial cell count -- but I'd still know if he was lying. He wasn't. And neither were his two companions."
Oracle said, "Also, he's received testimonials from some of the most qualified and reliable sources I've ever seen. Wesley Scott considered him 'one of the finest gentlemen I've had the honour to work with'. The people of Rann created an entire new award just to give to him, although it looks like Adam Strange got it later on. According to this, just about the only people that didn't like him were the Durlans, and I'd consider that an endorsement."
Batman sighed. "Alright. Then what did you mean when you said, 'Do you know what this means?'"
Superman said, "I meant that if Oracle has information this widespread -- and I'd never imagined that she could have -- she might be able to find something on this Mara."
"Mara, huh?" Oracle said. "Well, let's see." Both Batman and Superman heard the sound of hands over a keyboard. "Hmm, there's a few preliminary references. The Thanagarians fought a war with the Sumaran Empire, according to this. Something about Hong Kong here -- no, wait, that hasn't happened yet."
"Hasn't happened yet?" Batman asked.
"I've gotten ahold of a few accounts from time travellers -- messes up causality something wicked if anyone tries to use the info, though. It's mostly there as a curiosity. Oh, hey, Gotham!"
Both Batman and Superman said, "What?"
"According to this -- it's a reference in a police report. Paramilitary guy got busted, officers overheard him say something about 'the Mara'. He's in lockup right now. And... uh-oh."
"He's an agent of Ra's Al-Ghul. It's not in the report, of course, but I recognize the clues. Which means that in addition to Darkseid, Apokolips, and all that, we've got one of the world's deadliest immortals out there."
Just then, the computer lines beeped. "Incoming communication," the system display said.
Batman pressed a button, and heard Robin's voice. "Batman?" he said. "This is Superboy and myself. We're on Apokolips -- it wasn't our idea, believe me -- and we're with the Doctor's companions. We believe the Doctor to be elsewhere on Apokolips, but we don't know where as yet. However, apparently the whole thing has been a trap for the Doctor. The Mara was meant as bait, and it appears to have worked perfectly. We don't know why Darkseid has it in for the Doctor, but there's some connection to Doctor Fate -- not Kent Nelson, the other one. The one that wasn't around for very long."
Superman watched, thinking that it was lucky for Robin that he couldn't see Batman's expression, as Batman said, "Alright. Can you get to the boom tubes from where you are?"
After a long moment, Robin responded with, "I think so."
"Then do so. Set co-ordinates for Gotham Plaza. We'll have Superman come through to you, and you come back to Earth." Where it's safe, he added mentally. "Batman out." He turned to Superman. "You'd better contact Kent and Inza Nelson. Neither you nor I have any experience with magic, and it sounds like that's what's going to be needed on Apokolips."
Superman frowned slightly. "And what are you planning to do while I'm on Apokolips?"
"You don't want me to tell you. That way you can be honest when you say you had no idea."
* * *
The darkness of the cell didn't bother Group Leader Nathan El-Fadil. After all, he was a soldier in the armies of Ra's Al-Ghul, dedicated to saving the world from itself; he'd faced down men whose only desire was to kill him, he 'd strode through battlefields that even the toughest of men would have considered slaughterhouses, and he'd done it all without collecting a scratch. His lord was immortal, beyond judgment and punishment, and soon, the people who had put him within these walls would be begging to set him free.
Then he heard the sound behind him, in the darkness of the cell. A scraping noise, a sound made by someone who merely wished to indicate their presence so that they could get him to turn around.
He made his first mistake. He turned around.
Batman's eyes glowed white in the darkness. They shone with an arrogant, alien, unreadable expression as he stared at the prisoner. After a long moment, he finally spoke. "Ra's Al-Ghul," he said, in a voice that sounded like the wrath of God. "The Mara. I need to know where he is. What he's doing. All of it. Now."
El-Fadil smirked. That was probably his second mistake. "You think me soft and weak? I am a servant of the immortal one, the Head of the Demon. You are flesh and blood. You will weaken and quiver in fear, like the rest of them, when my master is finished, and I will tell you nothing."
Batman sighed. "I don't want to hurt you," he said.
"Of course not; our master has spoken of you. He called you 'weak'. He said-"
There was a rush of air, and before he could begin to react, Nathan found himself lifted into the air by his throat. He struggled against the hand that held him, but it was as immovable as stone.
"I don't want to hurt you," Batman repeated. "I want to kill you. I want to do it slowly, painfully, over the course of several hours. I want to leave your body parts strewn around the city in interesting places. I want to make it so that they'll have to put your jaw back together to reconstruct you from dental records." He slammed the Group Leader into a sitting position on his bunk. "Nobody will interfere. This is Gotham. People have been conditioned not to respond to the sound of screams. The guards don't care about you. Ra's Al-Ghul has left you in here. With me. In the darkness. And I want to kill you.
"But if you tell me everything I want to know, I'll settle for just hurting you."
Nathan El-Fadil looked up, and saw no trace of an expression on the face, in those empty white eyes. He licked his lips, cleared his throat, and began to speak.
* * *
Batman walked out of the cell. After a moment, Commissioner Gordon walked alongside him.
"A little more bloodthirsty than usual," he commented, tapping his pipe.
Batman frowned. "Ra's tends to condition his soldiers pretty strongly. I had to put the fear of God into him if I wanted to get any information."
"Fear of yourself, more like." He chuckled at Batman's sour expression. "Don't worry, old friend, I know you well enough to know that you'd never carry out those threats."
Batman nodded, the gratitude evident in his face, even if it was nothing he could say. "I'll need you to keep him locked up for at least 24 hours, Jim. If what he said is true, I can't afford to let Ra's Al-Ghul know I'm onto him."
James Gordon nodded, and took off his glasses. He looked down, pretending to clean them, and said, "Don't worry. He'll be in here for as long as we can possibly." He finished his mental count and looked up to find Batman gone. "Lot harder to find ways to let him do that with no paperwork to stare at," he muttered to himself as he walked off towards his office.
* * *
"You'll excuse me," the Doctor said, "if I ask a few questions about how all this came to pass? I mean, I'll admit I don't drop into this neck of the woods too often, but I'm sure I'd remember this particular friendship."
The Black Guardian sneered. "It has been a long time, Doctor, since you thwarted my efforts to gain control of the Key to Time. I have worked hard to recover the strength that you took from me when you destroyed the key. And all through that process of recovery, I planned my eventual revenge."
"Oh, don't sell yourself short. That trick you tried with my fourth self, that was quite clever. Shame it didn't work." Bit of a drastic way to solve it, he admitted mentally, but best not to let him know how I got rid of the Swarm. He might try that trick again.
Darkseid frowned. "I warn you, Doctor, my master is perhaps accustomed to being interrupted by ones such as you, but I will not tolerate it. Apokolips is home to the finest torturers in the known universe; there are Time Lords here who have been in agony for millennia, kept on the threshold of regeneration until their very cells shriek with torment."
"And how did you get him on your side?" the Doctor asked, fixing the Black Guardian with a penetrating gaze. "From what I understood, he's not the type to kneel."
"I will tell you, Doctor, only because there is nothing you can do to stop it. I know your tiny little mind well; all this is merely a ruse to gain time while you seek a solution. I can tell you that there is none. Darkseid is mine, and the answer lies in an irony that I must savour.
"Some time ago, Darkseid had cause to destroy a hero of this world, a costumed protector of the forces of Order known as Doctor Fate. Fate had been imbued with the power to alter reality by his masters, the Lords of Order, but Darkseid believed himself above such things. He was unworried.
"As it transpired, he should have been. Fate managed to strike past his defences, and touched him with a force meant to humanize him, to make him a good person. Fate touched him with love, Doctor. It made him understand what it was to love.
"But Darkseid was not meant to love."
A light of understanding dawned in the Doctor's eyes. "You did something to that, didn't you? Corrupted it, made yourself the object of his devotion? No wonder he serves you."
"Oh, he was grateful, Doctor, make no mistake about that." The Black Guardian's words were cruel, designed to be a lash at the Doctor's heart. "A being like Darkseid, on a world like Apokolips, trying to love? One might as well take a blind man, give him sight, and bid him to stare at the heart of a supernova. This is not a place for love, Doctor. This is a place for hatred, and pain, and suffering. This is Hell, and love must die stillborn here." He smirked. "And this is also your new home, Doctor."
* * *
And on Earth, a wound was being ripped into the world.
The hidden channels of power through which all life flow were being laid bare, stripped of their coverings and filled with caustic, toxic acids. The life forces pooled together with these forbidden chemical nightmares to form a sizzling demon's broth, a formula that was every alchemist's wet dream, a bath that would restore life time and time again, for a price that no man could bear.
A Lazarus Pit was being born.
Ra's Al-Ghul and his daughter Talia watched the operation, and the shimmering, sickly glow of the Lazarus Pit reflected differently off of their eyes. In Ra's eyes was the gleam of the fanatic, perhaps of the mad, while Talia's eyes reflected worry, devotion, and perhaps a little fear. The fear would be important, later on.
"Is this why we allied with Darkseid, Father?" she asked hesitantly as the final chemicals were added to the Pit. "To get the corpse of the Mara?"
Ra's nodded, watching as the vast, serpentine corpse was hauled in by his servants. "Exactly. Darkseid can have Superman; I don't want him. I want this creature. Imagine it, Talia, a being composed of pure fear, crystallized into living form! Imagine what I can do with it if I control it! It controlled whole star systems; it can easily control a single world. And with it under my control, I can finally make the world the place it should always have been: a paradise."
"Somehow," a deep voice said from behind him, "I think that the Mara would have other plans."
Ra's did not turn. "The detective," he said. "I'd ask how you found me, but I'm sure I already know. You deduced my plan, and traced me to the nearest spot where I could create a Lazarus Pit. Very nice. Very clever. Also, I think, too late."
Batman lunged, but the Mara's body was already sliding into the Lazarus Pit.
* * *
Darkseid smiled, his eyes already beginning to glow again with the fury of the Omega Beams, and then he stopped, his eyes fading in shock as two more people entered the room.
One was Superman, clad in his familiar red and blue, while the other. The other was wearing a costume of blue and yellow that smelled of age. Not of must and dank, but of antiquity, of the essence of time itself, well-preserved, bringing to mind the march of history that leads back beyond the capacity to imagine, that was what it smelled of. The figure wore a helmet that looked Egyptian or Roman or Greek or perhaps Atlantean now, and it wore an ankh, symbol of eternal life. It hovered in the air just as Superman did, but it looked as unnatural as Superman did natural. It was Doctor Fate.
The Doctor smiled. "Hullo," he said. "Fancy meeting you here, and with such excellent company, too! This must be Fate, I presume?"
Fate spoke, the helmet booming and magnifying his voice with echoes of wearers long dead, strange accents rendering his speech exotic and learned. "I am," he said. "I am here to undo that which was done by my predecessor. To halt a wrong done in the name of right."
The Doctor shuddered slightly. "You can't be thinking... there has to be another way. Darkseid is a great evil; you cannot unleash him upon the universe again with no capacity for compassion!"
"I must, Doctor. Darkseid was created to be the shadow of existence, the flaw in creation. He may someday be overcome, but not in this fashion. Love is not in his nature, and to force it upon him is a wrong that will breed other wrongs." Fate's hands flared with strange energies, and beams of multi-coloured light streaked out at Darkseid, knocking him to the ground. The Black Guardian stood and watched all this with a snarl of fury upon his face, but did not act. He spoke, though. "You have not escaped me, Doctor," he said. "This was but the first of my plans, the beginning of the gauntlet you must run for me. I promise you this, Doctor. You will die. And you will die screaming my name."
The Doctor smiled innocently. "Still not enough power to affect the physical universe, then? I suggest you skedaddle. Before this Darkseid chap recovers enough to want to talk to you about what you did. He doesn't seem the grateful type."
The Black Guardian's eyes were almost black with hatred, but he faded away with ill grace.
Then Darkseid stood up.
"Everybody run," Superman said. "I'll hold him as long as I-"
Darkseid held up a hand. "I have no intention of doing battle. This was a plan I conceived, true; but it was not a goal of my choice, nor a design I wish to adhere to. I do not desire your deaths today. That was the Black Guardian's wish, and now that I am free of him, I wish to spite him as best I can, by letting you free. Be grateful, for you are one of the few that will leave Apokolips unscathed."
He said no more as they left his throne room.
* * *
Meanwhile, back at Gotham Plaza, Robin and Superboy were looking at each other with apprehension.
"So what do you think'll happen to you?" Superboy asked.
"Probably a lecture on irresponsible team-ups or something," Robin commented. "He doesn't like other super-people. Thinks I shouldn't either. Yourself?"
Superboy waved a hand. "Supes should be cool with it. I mean, I'm supposed to be in training for this cosmic stuff, right? Should be no problem at-" A shudder passed through him. "Anyone else feel that?"
Tegan and Nyssa looked up from their own conversation. "Yes," Nyssa said. "What was it?"
"Not sure," Superboy said. "Like..." It hit him again, a wave of icy chill, like falling into a freezing lake, falling. What if his powers gave out? He'd never thought about it before, but what held him up? His own mind? Then it could go away at any time! He imagined his body pulped against concrete, impaled on a tree as he plummeted from the sky, heroic no more. Fear wracked his body.
He was already too lost to understand that the others in the square were already undergoing the same thing.
* * *
And all over the world, as the Mara rose, terror reigned.
In Bangladesh, a group of missionaries suddenly began exhorting the crowd to believe that Christ was dead, and that there was no God.
In the swamps of Louisiana, alligators began devouring each other in frenzy while a man of moss and weeds tried to console his wife and child.
In Coast City, the entire populace was transfixed with visions of an alien craft annihilating their whole town while their protector was off on an alien world.
High above the earth, the Justice League pictured their satellite losing its air; they found themselves morbidly imagining, over and over, the horrors of explosive decompression.
And in Gotham, the small fragment of the Mara within the Kryptonite Kid reignited, and he formed together again, a matrix of pure radiation, synaptic gaps of energy and a heartbeat of high-frequency light.
And outside Gotham, the Mara rose, its mind subsumed by the frenzy that was resurrection, striking out blindly at everything within range, and its range was a world of people.
* * *
Batman fought down the waves of fear. Lifetimes of mental discipline kept at bay the images of himself as a child, watching helplessly as his parents were gunned down again and again, as he moved towards Ra's Al-Ghul.
It wasn't like he wasn't used to seeing them all the time in his mind anyway.
Ra's was on his knees, his eyes clenched shut as he muttered beneath his breath. As Batman neared, he heard them, a litany of names, gasped out, over and over, each one different, never repeating.
Batman smirked. He had one advantage over Ra's right now. He didn't have as much past to be haunted by.
A single well-placed blow took out Ra's Al-Ghul, and another let Talia slide into unconsciousness, probably a blessing in both cases, at the moment. That only left...
Batman looked directly at the snake. Twenty feet long, from tip to tail, with venom that was undoubtedly lethal -- probably inducing death through stimulation of the adrenal glands until the heart burst. Death by fright. Oh, and the fear effect was even more intense when you looked directly at it. It was all he could do to remain standing, let alone fight. And this was without any conscious will; once it snapped out of the frenzy that was induced by the Lazarus Effect, it would undoubtedly become even more dangerous.
Batman unclipped a pepper gas bomb from his belt, and hurled it up at the thing. It might be, as the Doctor said, some sort of "living fear", but it had a physical body, and that meant physical weaknesses. His aim was off, and it only struck near the face instead of directly into its snout, but the bomb still had its effect. The Mara recoiled, its hiss now one of pain instead of rage, and Batman felt the fear lessen slightly.
Good. Now, for an encore. He unclipped two Batarangs, preparing to throw.
* * *
The Mara felt the gas permeate its membranes, choking and burning it, and with the pain came the return of consciousness. It remembered the mind, forcing its fear back upon itself, choking it with its own toxins, and then death, and now it was here. Alive. Saved. And it looked down on the little thing that stood before it, and saw that it was unafraid, and felt across the world, where others were fighting its fear.
Enough. This was not a good world for it to be incarnate. As much as it hated the bodylessness of the Dark Places of the In-Between, it hated death all the more. It would abandon physical form, sneak away into the minds of these humans, and return upon its own terms.
And besides. Lots of bloody mirrors around here, too.
* * *
Even as Batman threw his Batarangs, the Mara faded from sight, becoming nothing but a phantom, then nothing at all. The fear faded, leaving nothing behind it.
He looked down at Ra's Al-Ghul, and Talia, and he walked away.
* * *
Epilogue — Exit: The Kryptonite Kid!
On the streets of Gotham, a glowing man stood up from where he had become incarnate once more. He looked up at the night sky, and said, "It wasn't enough, Superman. Whatever it was you did to me, it wasn't enough! I'm more than human now! I'm free from the prison of the flesh! I'm pure Kryptonite energy, now, and I will find you! And one day, I will destroy you!"
Then three bullets -- three lead bullets -- ripped through the energy matrix that formed his head, their dense metallic structure fatally disrupting his 'brain'. He toppled to the ground, again dissolving into thin air.
Natt the Hat looked over at his friend. "Why'd you do that, fool? Gotham ain't exactly Mayberry, but poppin' a cap into some superdude's probably gonna piss off the Justice Squad or somethin'."
Tommy Monaghan put away his gun. "He was talking smack about Superman. You don't come into the Cauldron and mess with my boy Supes, not if you want to walk back out again."
"Say no more."
And two friends walked off, into the Gotham night.
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