Disclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical parallel world within the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but is not limited by that story or any other.
Disclaimer #2: Some characters appearing in this story are based on copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics and others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.
Disclaimer #3: This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the easily offended.
Outwardly, the minibus in the left northbound lane of the Pacific Coast Highway could have been any one of millions of Volkswagens driven by young people all over the world. Better-kept than most, with no rust or dents, and perhaps its motor sounded deeper and quieter than the sewing-machine rattle of the usual VW, but at a glance it was just another Type 2, with four well-groomed kids inside.
In fact, only the hood ornament and some of the exterior panels had been made at Wolfsburg. From its tires (which would not go flat even if punctured by bullets) to its windows (which bullets would not penetrate at all), it had been custom-built from exotic materials by brilliant craftsmen at the Dugan Motor Works. Its young owners called it the Type 2000. It had absorbed almost half of the two million dollars Roberta Wayne and Jolene Dodds had allotted to the group.
Dick Gordon was driving. Dick always drove. He rarely let them forget that he was Batwoman's partner, or how much of the Teen Titans' budget came from his patroness. In jeans and a red turtleneck, he still looked like a boy wonder.
Jenny West was riding shotgun, in purple bellbottoms and a white peasant blouse. A red and gold medallion that dangled between her small breasts concealed the tightly-compressed costume of Impulse, the Flash's young protegee.
Behind them sat Danny Dunbar and Paula Manning (known to the Atom and Green Lantern, respectively, as Dyna-Mite and Lamplighter). They sat well apart, to avoid Jenny's teasing, waiting impatiently for a stop so they could make out.
The Teen Titans were on their way to Coast City.
Barely a year before, Robin had gotten together with Impulse and Sandy the Golden Boy, just for a lark. They'd brought a minor criminal to justice. More importantly to their way of thinking, they'd hit it off as friends and decided to get together on a regular basis. Their respective guardians had loved the idea and bankrolled it quite generously; Dodds had persuaded the other adults not to try to run the group themselves, letting the kids find their own way.
Their way hadn't been easy to find. By the time they moved into their New Jersey headquarters (an old artillery emplacement they called "the cave"), they had been joined by Aqualass and Dyna-Mite, who had quickly become an item. A rude remark by Sandy about "interracial" romances had led to a fight between the two boys, Sandy had been expelled from the group and Aqualass had resigned. Since then, Lamplighter had joined, Ant Boy had come and gone, and the team had been on the verge of disbanding at least twice.
It hadn't been easy keeping up interest in the team during the school year, but they'd spent an exciting summer together, travelling around the country helping teenagers in one bad scene after another. Now they hoped to get in one more good session in Coast City before heading back East.
In the city people called "The City", trouble was brewing between the adult authorities and the local non-conformist kids. Dick talked easily about "calming things down", as though the four of them could make peace between generations in a single busy weekend. Danny wasn't talking about the mission at all, a sign that he expected trouble . Jenny was mainly interested in finding out what these "hippies" were really like. She suspected that Paula would fit right in.
The highway was an endless series of curves and loops, hugging the coast. Now the van was following a long curve to the right, and a dense fogbank loomed ahead of them.
"Look at that," Dick said happily, "good old Pelican Bay fog. We must be almost there. Whoa!"
Dick exclaimed aloud as the fog enveloped them, and proved so thick he could see almost nothing, not even the road under them. He flicked on the headlights, then threw the switch that boosted them to floodlight level, but still the gray fog swallowed them.
"Slow down, Dick," Paula urged, holding up her chinese-lantern pendant to send a beam of green light out into the fog.
Dick braked, then braked more sharply as a human figure suddenly appeared before them. He brought the van to a stop and noticed that the shape remained some ten feet in front of them, and that its feet did not appear to touch the ground.
"It's some super-type," Jenny observed, and the figure did appear to be a woman in a white skintight bodysuit, accented with a small green skirt, green slippers, gloves and a hooded cloak.
Then Jenny noticed that the woman had a white face, and white nipples with white areoles. The white was not skintight fabric but deathly pale skin.
"Spectre," Paula whispered.
"Huh?" said Danny, still goggling at the woman's pale but shapely knockers.
"There was a policewoman named Bridget Corrigan --"
"There may well have been," said a deep female voice that seemed to come as much from within the van as from the figure floating in the fog before it. "Or an acrobat named Phoenix Brand, or a florist named Alicia Simmons. Speak whatever mortal name you please, it matters not to the Spectre."
A chill that had nothing to do with fog settled over the Titans as the voice reached them.
"What matters is the task that awaits you in the great city on the bay. The future of Earth Three Hundred and Forty-Eight depends upon what the Teen Titans do in the next twenty-four hours."
The Spectre lifted her cloak and it billowed out enormously beside her. The van rolled forward unbidden, driving into the darkness of the cloak as though it were a tunnel entrance. Dick seized the wheel as they rolled into darkness and then suddenly into daylight again as they left the fogbank, rounded another curve and saw the city, the bay and the bridge laid out before them.
But instead of the graceful white curves of the world-famous Sunset Bridge, they saw the tall square towers of a span that was painted, of all colors, a brilliant bright orange.
The shaken young heroes sat around a table at the first coffee shop they had seen beside the road. Danny had paid for four sodas with his lucky silver dollar (Dick had advised against trying to spend any of their more modern money), and Paula was holding her lantern over a handful of change, discreetly trying to turn their own coins into the Woodrow Wilson dimes and Ulysses Grant quarters Danny had been given. Dick joined them with a tabloid-sized books with a cardboard cover that read "Inventorum for 1944". Apparently it was something like an almanac.
"Okay, Dick," Danny said, sipping an odd cola drink, "you seem to have some idea what's happened to Coast City, so let's rap."
Dick opened up the "Inventorum" to what appeared to be a map of the United States and put his finger on the West Coast.
"Nothing's happened to Coast City. It's just that this isn't Coast City, Califia. It's Golden Gate City, in the state of Eldorado, on a parallel world called Earth-348. Also, the date on the calendar over there is June 5th, 1944."
"The day before D-Day?"
"Dummy up, Dan-o! I'll explain about that in a minute."
"Earth-348. The Spectre used that term," Paula said. "So, you've been to this other world before?"
"Not me personally, no. But two years ago, the Flash was chasing three of her enemies when they tried to escape through a sort of portal into another dimension. She followed them here, to a world similar but not identical to our own."
"She met up with a super-speedster of this world, called Quicksilver," Jenny put in.
Dick glared at her but she went on. "Together they defeated them, and three of Quicksilver's foes they'd teamed up with. Flash took hers back to our world and back to prison. Quicksilver, um, killed hers."
Dick took over. "Last year, Batwoman and the Flash and some other heroes visited their world again. I guess it's something that can happen every year around this time."
"Is this, like, an alternate history kind of thing?" Danny asked. "Like it's the world the way it would have been if the South had won Civil War II?"
"More like a parallel history," Dick said. "Things happen differently, but tend to come out the same in the long run."
He pointed to the map, with its unfamiliar state boundaries.
"Like, they have 48 stars on their flag, the same as we did in '44, but they're not the same 48 states. And they never had a Civil War I, but there was something like a second War of Independence a few years later, and Jackson was the Army leader and wound up as President, and they had what they call the War Between the States in the 1860s, almost the same as on our Earth."
"So they're still gonna beat Hitler on this world, right?" asked Paula, a bit anxiously.
"Probably. But it might take another two years here, or there might be a coup in Germany and the war be over tomorrow. No way of knowing exactly how the parallel history will work out. So don't go around making any predictions to people, or talking about some secret military operation before it's even begun."
Paula leaned over and punched Danny's shoulder.
"Or making any bets at the racetrack."
A gray-haired man walked past their table, looking them up and down, lingering on Paula's minidress. Their clothes were fairly conservative, but obviously not for Earth-348 in 1944.
"Crazy kids. Dressed like circus clowns. The Justice Battallion is in town, they'll straighten you out."
The young heroes exchanged glances.
"I guess we're about to meet the home team."
They were driving down yet another of Golden Gate City's impossibly steep, absurdly straight boulevards (had they laid out the streets without even looking at the hills?) when Danny spotted the odd-looking aircraft with a fireball flying rings around it. It was hovering over a large plaza just ahead of them, preparing to land.
Green energy flooded the Type 2000 and all four Titans were instantly in costume. Dick parked hastily and they got out. Paula, in the green Asian dress and purple domino mask of Lamplighter, formed a green platform to carry them onto the plaza, over the heads of the quickly-gathering crowd.
"Susan?" Lamplighter called to the flaming figure that still flew overhead. "Susan Storm, is that you?"
The flaming figure landed and the flames vanished from around her, revealing a tall blonde woman in a red bodysuit.
"Oh, sorry. I thought you were the Human Torch, a hero from our world."
"I am called the Human Torch," the woman replied in a well-modulated voice, "but my real name is Galatea Horton, and I'm afraid I've never met you."
"There are a lot of people, heroes especially it seems, who are near-matches between our world and this one," Robin explained to his comrades. "If we're here long enough, you'll run into a lot of familiar names: Hercules, Black Widow, the Falcon, the Vision. . . ."
The aircraft's hatch opened. A broad silhouette filled the darkened opening.
"And who might you be?"
If the contralto voice had been any deeper, it would have been considered freakishly low for a woman's. The tone was that of an officer who could get a dozen princes to march in step. The owner of the voice was tall and broad-shouldered, with muscles that again were almost too much for a woman, though subtantial breasts distorted the white star at the center of her blue scale-mailed shirt.
"Uh, I'm called Robin, and these are Impulse, Lamplighter and Dyna-Mite. We're from the same world as Batwoman and Aquawoman and those guys."
Impulse stared at Robin. She'd never seen his air of calm, assured authority crack so badly, except when Batwoman had been present.
The flag-draped woman smiled.
"Oh, yes, visitors from the future or something. Wasn't in on that caper, but I heard about it."
She shot out a red-gloved hand.
"Captain America. You've already met the Human Torch, and here's --"
A tall, lean man, dressed only in a pair of scaly green swimming trunks, stepped from the aircraft. He raised one long eyebrow, regarding the young heroes skeptically.
"Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner."
Robin stared at the strange, prick-eared apparition (his near-nudity reminiscent of the Spectre) for a moment before hastily grasping Captain America's hand.
"Wow, Captain America, for real? There was a Captain America on our world in the '40s, sort of. But she was a symbolic figure like Uncle Sam, not a real person. Just something they used to sell bonds."
Cap laughed ruefully.
"Sometimes it seems like that's all I ever do."
A few minutes later, the seven costumed heroes were gathered in a meeting room in City Hall. The Justice Battallion had been expected, and the unfamiliar young heroes were accepted by the authorities as merely some new recruits. While they waited for the police captain who would brief them, the heroes of two worlds made further introductions and explained their respective missions, which turned out to be strangely parallel.
On Earth-348, there was a subculture named for the weirdly-cut "zoot suits" worn by the young men. A few days before, in another El Dorado city, there had been a riot for which the zoot suiters had been blamed, though apparently it was common knowledge that it had really been an unprovoked attack by sailors on liberty.
"The situation is complicated because the zoot suiters are Mexicans, who aren't the most popular people in El Dorado," Captain America explained. "And those sailors in Todos Santos, well, with a war on, folks are very reluctant to criticize servicemen."
Dick saw how uncomfortable his teammates were looking, especially Lamplighter. He began talking rapidly, trying to keep the Titans from saying anything to alienate the Justice Battallion heroes. He explained how they faced a similar situation on their own world, and how they had hoped to mingle with the young people and learn more about them, before taking action.
"An excellent plan," Cap said crisply, "and workable of we can only move fast enough. We're operating under a deadline, you see. John Hoover, the National Ombudsman, wants to shut down the dance clubs, ban jazz music, round up all the zoot suiters and stick them in the camps."
Paula gaped, appalled.
"Camps? Like, concentration camps?"
"The same camps where they're keeping the Japs."
"So like, Japanese nationals have been interned for the duration," Dick said uncertainly.
"Them," Cap admitted, "and native-born Americans of Japanese descent, and anybody else whose loyalty has been questioned. The camps were built before the war to house the refugees from the midwestern drought."
Paula opened her mouth. Jenny squeezed her hand to silence her. Dick took a deep breath and said, "We never had . . . such camps in our America."
The three heroes of Earth-348 exchanged glances, suggesting that they envied the Titans their youth, and their world, which seemed happier than their own.
"So, how about if we, the Titans, go out tonight, try to gather some impressions," Dick pressed. "Maybe the police have some young-looking rookies they could lend us."
"I can pass for 17 when I have to."
Her smile broadened at Dick's dubious look. She removed a glove and raised her hand to her throat, as though reading her own pulse. For a moment she just stared, eyes glazed, into the distance. Then she shrank within her costume, until it hung on her like a tent. The young woman Dick now saw was shorter than himself, with no noticable muscle and not much of a figure. She smiled at him shyly, showing slightly irregular teeth.
"That is, if you don't mind being seen with the real me."
It was still before seven when they got there, so the club was pretty quiet. Dick looked acceptable in a jacket from a police evidence locker and the one pair of slacks in his suitcase that wasn't flared. Gloria Rogers, the unenhanced version of Captain America, was perfect in a fuzzy blue sweater, a calf-length pleated skirt, white socks and saddle shoes. Dick paid at the door and they drifted towards the bar.
Dick looked over the unfamiliar list of soft drinks.
"What looks good to you, Glory?"
The kid behind the counter smirked, and Gloria said softly, "I'm dying for a Hi-Ho, if that's all right with you, Dick."
Dick bought two bottles of a frighteningly red liquid. The bartender opened them both and dropped in paper straws without being asked, handing Gloria hers first, then giving the other to Dick with a raised eyebrow.
As they moved away, Gloria whispered, "You should have ordered for both of us without consulting me. When he handed me my own bottle instead of giving them both to you and you didn't snatch it from his hand to give to me, you confirmed that you're a rube who doesn't know enough to treat a girl like dirt. I'm afraid you've just lost some credibility."
"Shut up, girl, you're boring me."
"That's the idea."
There was no amplification to the music, and Dick knew that Rock&Roll was a good decade away, but the band beat their instruments with energy and style, and the place was alive with what he could only call good vibrations. He saw Danny and Paula dancing off to one side with more energy than grace. Jenny and a tall rookie cop were doing a better job, since the cop knew the steps and Jenny was a fast learner. Applying the skills of observation Batwoman had taught him, Dick had figured out the most common steps and set about applying them with Gloria. After the first number, it was less of an effort, and he began to enjoy the activity for its own sake. And Gloria's.
The entrance doors burst open, and a dozen cops waving nightsticks burst in. The exits to either side of the stage opened, and more uniforms appeared there.
The music stopped. The kids drew back, crowding together, backing away from the cops but still defiant. Jenny had vanished, probably vibrating into invisibility to try to intervene unseen. Her dance partner was looking around for her, fumbling in his pocket for his badge. Dick couldn't see what Danny or Paula were doing.
One boy stepped forward, almost nose to nose with a particularly large officer. His face was pale under dark coloring, but he stood up to the big man.
"We ain't doin' nothin', man! We don't got to take this from you!"
The cop raised his stick and snarled, "You'll take whatever we --"
On the stage, Lamplighter had materialized a microphone and loudspeaker from green energy. The crowd goggled at the apparition, and at her amplified voice. Everyone paused, and Dick prayed that she would find the right words to say.
Then she began to sing, and Dick's heart sank.
She doesn't understand, Dick thought, she thinks these kids are squares because their clothes and their music seem old-fashioned to her. But they're not squares, they're not old farts -- they won't buy it!
Then he looked around the room, and saw that they were buying it. They were listening. And then he understood.
It was new to them. They'd never heard it before. The song had never been written on Earth-348.
They listened, while she sang about a wonderful country, a country with land as beautiful and resources as rich as the souls of its people, a country where a new civilization was rising that would outshine anything that had ever existed before. And gradually they understood that Lamplighter wasn't singing about the flawed and fearful country they lived in, but the country they could have one day, if they -- all of them -- were worthy of it.
They listened, and they listened, through all four verses, and everyone -- kids, cops, the band, and Dick, too -- were in tears by the time Paula reached the last refrain:
"And crown thy good with brotherhood
"From sea to shining sea."
In the silence that followed, Paula said softly, but clearly thanks to her amplifier, "This is our city, our country. It belongs to all of us. In war or in peace, we're all in this together. We don't have to fight with each other."
The sticks were holstered. Cops and kids were talking now, some of them smiling. In the back, Dick saw the manager talking with a plainclothesman. Photographers were preserving the moment of amity between cultures and generations, creating images that would be in papers all over the country the next day. So, he suspected, would the words to that memorable new song.
Dick turned towards Gloria, who was still watching Lamplighter as she dissolved the amplifier and tried to make her escape.
"I think, Dick, that we just saw what you kids came here for."
He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed.
"No. What she came here for. Paula's the hero this time; we were just along for the ride."
The music started up again.
"Dick, do you like this kind of music?"
"Not much, to tell the truth."
"Me neither. Let's go some place quieter."
They stopped at the police station. The department had rented rooms for the Justice Battallion group, and Gloria picked up a room key from the desk sergeant. They walked the few blocks to the hotel.
Dick looked up at the building.
"What do you know? The Dominion Hotel. They have this same place in Coast City."
"Were you going to stay there?"
"Nah. We're almost out of money. A Motel Five, most likely."
The room was expensively furnished, but lacked the amenities of a first-class hotel room on Earth-349 in 1964: no refrigerator, a simple AM radio instead of a stereo system, and of course there was no TV. But Dick didn't mind a bit, once they were settled on the couch, soft music playing, room service drinks in front of them.
Gloria tugged at the sleeve of his jacket.
"You look good in those clothes."
"Thanks. It's never been the style back home, but I can see how it could catch on."
"Your Robin costume, it, well . . . ."
"Makes me look stupid?"
"I was going to say, it doesn't flatter your build."
"That's a very polite way of putting it. Yeah, well, when I first became Robin, three years ago, I was just a skinny kid, built kind of like a dancer."
Gloria reached up and squeezed his left biceps.
"Now you're built like a football player."
Dick stared, then burst out laughing.
"I hope that means on this Earth boys play football!"
Gloria's hand was still on Dick's arm. He put his hand over hers and returned her smile. They moved closer, and in a moment were kissing.
Dick was surprised to feel Gloria's tongue in his mouth, but he adapted quickly. He held her for a long time, enjoying the feel of her body against his, through their clothes. When they broke, she stepped back and placed a hand at her throat.
"Just a minute, and I'll change back to Cap."
Startled, Gloria dropped her hand.
"Well, don't you want me at my best?"
Dick took her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist.
"Am I complaining?"
Gloria blushed and ducked her head.
"Do you really want me . . . the way I am?"
He raised her chin and kissed her lightly on the lips.
"I've only ever done it as Cap, never as Gloria."
Dick stroked her cheek.
"Want to know a secret? I've never done it at all."
Like two virgins, they made love slowly, cautiously, but with only a little clumsiness. Gloria surprised him by whipping out a condom and opening it with her teeth.
"On my world there's a pill women can take for birth control."
"Does it keep the clap away, too?"
Dick had to admit that it didn't.
"Then this way is better, isn't it?" she smiled, expertly rolling it onto him.
"Sure feels nicer."
Later, she did change to Captain America, and rode him hard to climax. His hands gripped her steely thighs, his neck craning so he could reach her nipples with his lips and try to suck an entire breast into his mouth.
"You'd have better luck trying that with Glory!"
Dick had intended to go out to look for more signs of trouble afterwards, but it felt so good to just lie there, his muscular limbs tangled with Cap's, and he was so tired, besides . . . .
It was broad daylight when they were awakened by a pounding on the door. Dick dove for the bathroom with his pants while Gloria calmly answered the knock, pulling a sheet around herself.
From the bathroom, Dick heard Namor's voice at the door, excitedly telling Cap that they needed to get to back to England immediately. When he emerged, dressed, Namor gave him a thumbs-up, ignoring Cap as she pulled on her chain mail.
"There's something big going on over in Europe, they've invaded France or something."
Dick nodded grimly.
The early reports would be confused, of course, but soon enough they would know the truth: on Earth-348, as on Earth-349, this was D-Day: Dust Day, the day Allied planes dropped a load of radioactive powder on Berlin. As on Earth-349, over a hundred thousand Berliners would die (though Hitler would escape), and all of the city's millions would become homeless.
After the war, the Allies would enclose the poisoned city in a high concrete barrier. The Berlin Wall would stand for decades, until the deadly dust had finally decayed to a safe level, and the grandchildren of present-day Germans could reclaim their ancient capital.
D-Day would ensure an eventual Allied victory, but a victory that was tainted, as surely as Berlin was tainted, a victory that would burden the whole human race with horror.
Well, it was their problem, their history, to deal with as best they could, just as Earth-349 had.
Robin shook himself and smiled at Cap.
"I think that's our cue for an exit."
The others had also spent the night at the Dominion, and Dick had them gathered quickly at the Type 2000.
Impulse was reluctant to go.
"We haven't really solved anything, you know."
"But we helped. They'll all see things from a new perspective: the authorities, the kids, maybe even the great and terrible National Ombudsman."
"But will that be enough?"
"It'll have to be. 24 hours is all the Spectre gave us."
Jenny nodded, knowing that would have to do.
With their seat belts fastened, Robin started the engine.
"Back to the highway, I guess."
But before he had driven out of the plaza, the black fog suddenly enveloped them again. Dick wondered for a moment what their departure looked like to the people left behind on Earth-348, then his attention was drawn to the oncoming headlights of a huge bus with a rounded rear end. He caught a glimpse of people in the vehicle, people who seemed to be dressed for winter, and then it was gone.
"Do you think something's wrong," Jenny asked as another pair of headlights loomed. "There wasn't any, um, traffic the other time. Maybe I should get out and scout at super-speed."
"No! That sounds like a great way to get lost but good."
Dick drove on through the fog, which seemed to go on forever, passing a stream of traffic that included a mammoth old truck hauling a passenger trailer, something that looked like a 1920s touring charabanc, and a flying saucer with Minnesota plates.
"Hey!" cried Danny. "Did you see that lady in the red T-shirt driving that old car? She looked just like Tom Smart, except instead of that Egyptian thingie, she had a Greek letter on her shirt!"
"Duesenberg," Dick muttered.
"Eye of Horus," Paula said softly.
"Psi," Jenny finished.
"Maybe the next Human Torch we run into will be a guy!"
Just then the fog parted, and Dick was driving along a lonely stretch of highway that he guessed was part of the agricultural region south of Coast City. Then a highway sign informed the travellers that they were actually just outside Piscataway, about 40 miles from the "Cave".
"Well," Jenny observed, "I guess the Spectre gave us a lift. Better than no reward at all."
They spent a few hours relaxing in their headquarters, showering and snacking, but then it was getting late, time for the young heroes to call in to their respective guardians, parents and mentors.
Danny, in an Aztec Gold suit, was combing his hair before hopping into his Mustang for the long drive to Ivy Town.
"Hey, guys, what are your plans for the month? Anything big in mind?"
"Not me," Jenny declared. "Just decompressing before school starts."
"Green Lantern wants me to go along on a trip to Alpha Centauri," Paula said. "I probably won't have time for any big projects after that."
Jenny turned to Dick.
"How about you, Dick?"
"I was thinking of dumping the Robin schtick and developing something more grown-up."
"I suppose you';re going to start dressing all in black and gray, like all the other Bat-types in Gotham."
"No, I like wearing bright colors, staying upbeat.
"What'll you call yourself, then, the Rainbow Batman?"
"No. I was thinking of a name more like, I don't know . . . Captain America."