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The Spoiler's Diary:
Nightmare World
Chapter Three

by Sean Taylor

Footsteps pittered around outside and jerked me from sleep. I almost cried out, then remembered that I was safely hidden inside the husk of a building I'd found. I could only assume that morning had come; the sky was still dark and quiet, like night. Robin's words had been right, after all.

The thought brought a tear. Robin. I might never see him again and I didn't even know his real name. No, I reminded myself, don't think like that. You'll just have to find out what those green parademon things, Prince Uncharming, and the shriveled-up monk-guy had done to him. And Damage too, of course.

How could I have let myself get dragged into all this? Why couldn't I have listened to myself earlier and decided against putting the blue and purple spandex on again? Just one last time, I remembered lying to myself, then darting out into the night to search for Robin.

"You're a fool, Stephanie Brown. Stupid enough to go out chasing around some guy in green tights just for kicks. It's not like you ever really stood a chance in the first place." I said it aloud without thinking, but luckily not loud enough for any outside to hear me.

I grabbed a fruit bar from my belt and unwrapped the foil package. Munching the inadequate breakfast, I tried to put the night's events all together in a way that made sense. One, we'd been in Gotham trying to keep Damage out of trouble. Two, we fought parademons from someplace called Apokolips. Three, a giant straw sucked us all from Gotham to Apokolips. Four, I was hiding alone, a gazillion miles from home, being hunted down by more of the parademons. Gee, and all I'd ever wanted in the beginning was to get my dad caught for lousing up my whole existence. And now trying to be one of the good guys had turned my life again into a huge, cosmic joke.

More sounds outside. I peered through the slight cracks in the wall. Armored legs, at least a dozen or so, scouring the area outside my ramshackled sanctuary. True to my Spoiler luck, a beam on the far wall picked then as the right time to fall with a loud crash.

Just as suddenly, all those armored legs turned their attention to me and my building. Scanning the rest of the room, I quickly realized that there was nowhere else to hide. A glance at what was left of the ceiling revealed two remaining beams, neither of which I could be sure would hold my weight. But, I thought, it's not like I have a lot of choices. One toss of my line, and I was scurrying up to seek safety on the beam.

Eight parademons entered and searched the room. My heart pounded as they checked every inch of the floor, never once thinking to look up. Maybe, I thought, just maybe I will manage to get out of this alive somehow.

Then I saw the foil wrapper lying in the floor. One of the parademons saw it too. He picked it up and showed it to another, who garbled something I couldn't understand as he took it and sniffed it. Probably the Apokolipsian version of "Gee, I don't think I've seen one of these before."

Again, the old Spoiler luck kicked in full force, and the beam I was on cracked and dropped me into the floor. Right at the feet of two parademons, of course. Reacting more than thinking, I swung out with a low kick, intending to knock at least one of them down and clear a path to the open doorway. No luck. The thing's legs were planted like the trunk of an oak tree in Gotham City Park, and I all got for my effort was a sore foot.

"I don't suppose you guys could show me the way to the nearest mall, could you?" I said quickly, not really sure if they understood English.

Apparently, parademons weren't blessed with a great sense of humor.

"That's okay," I said, pushing up to stand, "I'll just find it myself."

The one closest to me reached for me, and I ducked away. Hoping that at least parademons were anatomically correct, I kicked him in his groin. No reaction at all execpt another bruise on my foot. Apparently these guys kept all the important stuff covered with armor.

My options were limited so I turned and ran. If I couldn't fight back, maybe I could outrun them. Diving under the legs of the one guarding the door, I managed to slide outside. Without looking back, I took off for the nearest open stretch of what passed for a road. I ran as fast as I could, ignoring the soreness in my legs and the heaviness of my chest. Ducking through buildings and jumping a few lifeless hulks of machines and carts, I heard the footsteps behind me begin to fade away. I fought the urge to stop and catch my breath, reminding myself that I was supposed to be in near-perfect shape. The Apokolipsian air must have been a little more polluted than even Gotham air, I figured.

Finally, the sounds of running behind me disappeared. I knew better than to think I'd lost them, but couldn't resist taking a look around to see if they were still on my heels.

What I saw made me stop dead in my tracks.

There was no one -- not a single parademon -- behind me. It was as if they had given up completely and decided to let me escape. And the silence. It was obnoxious. Like the life had been sucked out of everything. No wind, no talking, no birds. Nothing. Then I heard something above me.

I had forgotten that they could fly.

Before I could find cover, they saw me. The whole battalion swooped down and surrounded me like fox on a hunt. I jumped at the first one to land, and was swatted aside. With guys like my dad and the Shadow Dragons, at least youd stood a chance. I mean, they were human. Kind of human, anyway. Still, my life depended on getting away and finding Robin and Damage. At least they might know a way back home to good old colorful Earth.

I kicked the stomach of the closest one, and actually found a weak spot. He stumbled back, but didn't fall, and I used the two feet of space to make another break for it. It was more than enough space to slide through, and I thought my mad dash would gain me at least a few more minutes of freedom before the flying green guys caught up with me again, but they moved faster than I expected and I discovered quickly just how big a hindrance a long cape can be.

One punch later, everything went black.

*****

As my eyes focused again, the wrinkled, skeletal face of the monk guy nearly creeped me out of my skin.

"Ah, the young lady awakens. How nice of you to join us." I felt his breath on my face as he spoke, and I realized that my mask was off.

A glance to both sides reveal that I was in a laboratory of some sort. I didn't even want to try to guess what some of the devises were used for.

"Where am I?" It was a stupid, weak question, but I couldn't think of anything else.

The monk guy helped lift me to my feet, then waved his free arm in a sweeping motion. "This is my lab, my dear, and you are a guest of DeSaad, Apokolips' master scientist."

I steadied myself. "Mad scientist is more like it."

"Quite so, I'm afraid. Quite so."

He led me to a row of screens and it dawned on me that he didn't deem me a big enough threat to even have me bound.

"Escape is quite impossible, young lady," he said, and motioned for me to sit in front of the screens. "You'll find that we have little need for chains on Apokolips. The will of Darkseid is chain enough here."

He pressed a button beneath the screens and they blinked to life. Each one showed a different scene of torture. The first showed a man having his tongue burned with a white-hot rod. "This man here uttered Darkseid's name in jest, and is learning the proper use of his tongue. This one," he said, pointing to the next screen, which showed a man screaming for apparently no reason, "was just unlucky enough to be seen while I was bored. I'm probing his reaction to certain mental stimulis. It's amazing how fragile the mind can be when a little terror is applied directly to it's unused portion."

"You monster! What have you done with Robin and Damage?" I wanted to rush him and choke the life out of him, but the two parademons at the door convinced me otherwise.

"Ah, the young partner to Batman," DeSaad said with a smile. "He's quite fearless in many ways, I've discovered." The smile twisted into a smirk. "But still such a child in many other ways, I'm afraid. I'd hoped he'd be stronger."

"If you've killed him, I'll kill you with my bare hands."

"You're more than welcome to try, young lady, but I don't see what good it could do. Besides, you're little hero is still very much alive. Not very happy about it, I'm afraid, but very much alive."

"What do want with Damage?"

He pointed at the third screen and I saw Damage howling in agony. DeSaad had attached him to some sort of turbine and was feeding energy directly into him.

"The one you call Damage is quite an enigma, my dear. He holds the key to great power. In many ways, he's like the Kryptonian you humans call Superman. His body can store vast amounts of energy like a battery, but unlike your Superman, he can channel it outward with pure destructive force. A force that's quite beyond anything he's ever imagined, I'm guessing."

"You're risking his life for a guess?! And what if you're wrong?"

He sighed. "Such is the nature of science, I'm afraid." There was a long silence. "But, I'm sure he'll be quite able to withstand anything I channel into him. It was him who restarted the universe, you know. Actually, I don't suppose you know that at all. It all happened quite outside of time so you wouldn't know, would you."

I didn't have one clue what he was talking about, but I got the feeling it didn't matter. Like he loved to hear the sound of his own gloating.

"Regardless, you'll have to trust me. It was this one's power that recreated our worlds."

"And what about me? I can't restart worlds or help you conquer galaxies or anything. Why not just kill me and be done with it?"

He reached with a gross hand to grab my shoulder, and leaned in to whisper, "But where's the sport in that?"

"This is some kind of game to you? You're even sicker than I thought." In the back of my mind, I heard the words 'There's no place like home' over and over again.

"Yes," he whispered. "Yes, I am."

He turned and walked to the other side of the room. He grabbed something I couldn't see from the corner, then returned. In his hand was my hood and the communicator Robin had given me. DeSaad told me to take them. I did.

"This game has been boring so far, little one." He paused to let his words sink in. If I'd been concerned about continuing the hero gig before, my time on Apokolips had assured me it was a bad career move.

DeSaad stood still as a loud boom filled the room and another giant straw thing appeared out of thin air. "So I'm sending you home to find more players. This tube will return you to Earth. After that, you have one of your hours to gather help to come rescue your friends. The tube will reappear to return you to Apokolips. Not here, of course. That would be far too easy."

"What about Robin? You don't need him."

"But I think you do. And I do so want to see you again, little one." I really didn't like the way he grinned at me. Like a cat toying with a plump, juicy mouse. "Now go."

I stepped into the tube, and an instant later, I tumbled through the Gotham air into one of Gotham City's beautiful, dirty alleys. Right into a dumpster. And I didn't even care.

I was home.

But Robin wasn't. And neither was Damage. And if I didn't find some heavy hitters to lead the rescue team, they were both going to die billions of miles away from their own home planet.

Read Chapter Two

Read Chapter Four