Warnings: Eh, none.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
It was enormous, a doorway seemingly crafted of raw bronze and lined with silver. Intricate carvings of familiar figures graced the sides, women in alien headdresses wearing chainmail and brandishing shields and lances and barrel-chested men, massive in comparison, with their heads protected by rounded helms, raising clenched fists to the sky. My eyes tracked up the carvings to the top, training on a definitely recognizable being, a humanoid male in the same rounded helm and smooth armor, standing with his hands clasped behind his back. I narrowed my eyes. “Darkseid,” I hissed.
It’d be an understatement to say I hated him. It wasn’t enough that he’d been tormenting the heroes of Earth for years, that he’d built this place to degrade humanity even further. He had to control everyone, manipulate them…myself included. The Anti-Life Equation had been an interesting ride, but the Unternet? That was almost addictive. Corruption that could creep in without you even realizing it, and how many people would dive into a no-consequences world without considering that?
I found my gaze focusing itself on the word engraved into the doorway just beneath Darkseid’s likeness, an all-capitalized print stating: “FOUNDATION”. My hand came up to touch a symbol on the doors, a flourished Greek letter I knew all too well. “Omega,” I murmured. Then I looked at Tam. “I think this is a gate.”
She was silent for a minute. “Like…a doorway kind of gate, like, out of here?” she asked.
“Or to other levels, perhaps, but essentially, yes.” I bent down a little more to examine the omega, running my fingers over it repeatedly. It was a groove dug into the door, an impression of sorts. “Good news: this might take us closer to getting out of the Unternet. Bad news: we need a key.”
Tam threw her hands up into the air. “Which is pretty much impossible with a city the size of Gotham down here, but, hey, what the hell?”
I nodded in agreement, straightening. “Well…we need to try and figure out possible locations of a key.” I sat back down on the sand, rubbing at my lips as I contemplated. Tam sat in front of me slowly, watching me. “Okay, so, Darkseid had the Omega Sanction, but that’s more of a destructive force, right? It sent Batman back in time, is rumored to be able to disintegrate matter, so there’s no way it’d be the power source of a place like the Unternet. But Darkseid was also a user of the Anti-Life Equation, his method of mind-control in the last Crisis, which could be keeping this place in existence. After all, it was never destroyed.”
“Hence the omega-shaped key and the ‘Anti-Life Lives’ banners we saw when we first got here,” Tam added, somewhat uncertainly.
“Exactly; now, the Unternet we knew was influenced heavily by thought and desire, right? And that presumably runs through all ends of it. So, in theory, we’ve been influencing this entire world. It’s quite possible that we could be the only ones inhabiting this level, so—”
“We created this entire world.”
“Yeah, see, you’re getting it.”
“So, we hid the key.”
I bit my lip. “That’s where it gets tricky. I think, if we knew the location of the key to get out of the Foundation, we’d probably already have it and be out of here. There must be some kind of way to lord over the programming here, to take control of small aspects of each level, if there are more than two, which there probably are. In which case, Mikalek was most likely the one that hid the key.”
Tam sighed. “Shit.”
“But he’s also at the mercy of our world. This was built on our minds; we have a say in what goes on here, apparently. Working off our own experiences, it’s probably impossible to come down to the Foundation without losing at least a fraction of your memory, because it seems to be the most like reality; otherwise, we wouldn’t have gotten lost in this place for however long it’s been. Mikalek wouldn’t take a risk like that, so he wouldn’t have come here to create another part of the world to place the key’s location in. He would’ve had no choice but to leave it someplace we’d come up with.”
Tam blinked. “So, basically, what you’re saying is that we know where the key is, but we don’t know where the key is, and now all we have to do to escape is find it. That makes sense.”
I spread my hands in a calming gesture. “All we really have to do is think of someplace it’d be easy to hide an omega symbol in.”
“Sure, sounds real easy,” Tam drawled.
“I thought it was my job to be negative.”
She shook her head in that way that said she was frustrated with me, that she was exasperated, but that she still trusted me for some strange reason unknown to man. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to drag you down. It’s just…this place is supposed to be huge, right? If it’s built off our minds, our memories…you’ve been all over the world, I’ve been all over most of it. How do we know this key we’re looking for is in Gotham?”
I shrugged. “I don’t. But we’ve gotta have someplace to start, right? Besides, it’s not like it’s impossible to find. Lonnie told me that we’re both in danger now that we know the truth. It’s safest to assume that Mikalek’s security will be heaviest the closer we get to the key.”
Tam stared at me for a moment. “Somehow, chugging around the world until we find a ton of people that want to kill us doesn’t seem like a very good idea.”
“Okay, okay, it was just a thought. What do you propose?”
She thought about it. “I guess…” She trailed off. “I don’t know.”
There was silence except for the crashing of the waves on the shore for the longest time. I glanced up to see Tam staring off at the city skyline. “It’s so much like home,” she murmured, lost in thought. “It looks so real, so big.” Then she snapped her eyes back to mine. “We’re really gonna search every bit of it, aren’t we?”
I gave her a little half-smile. “Unless Lonnie hits us with another brilliant revelation, yeah, we will.”
And you have no idea how much I hoped Lonnie would send another message. I never realized how long it took to traverse all of Gotham City until I was stuck doing it digitally for what felt like it must’ve been hours. Both of us were scanning out the windows, looking for anything even vaguely omega-shaped. It was only the seventh time we were diverted around the Marx Bridge downtown that I realized it.
The thought hit me so suddenly that I slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road. “Marx Bridge isn’t under construction,” I said, more to the general atmosphere than to Tam in particular. “It hasn’t been for twenty years.”
“Go back, go back!” Tam squealed.
I stamped on the gas pedal and jerked the wheel hard, cutting a tight U-turn into the opposite lane and speeding back toward the bridge. We pulled up alongside the roadblocks, and I practically shoved my head out the window to gaze up at the statues adorning the bridge. And there, in the cupped hands of one of the women in the flowing dresses, I could see the slightest green gleam showing through to the other side, a shimmer shaped like an omega symbol.
“I think I found it,” I told Tam, ducking my head back into the car. “It’s up in the hands of the statue.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but I didn’t make it out. Mainly, it was because there were two strong, meaty hands balled up in my shirt, pulling me out onto the street through the window of the car.
Yeah. We’d definitely found the key.
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