DCNext Proudly Presents…!

Written by /u/Fortanono

Edited by /u/VoidKiller826, /u/deadislandman1

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This is a part of a crossover with Action Stories! Read the jam-packed first part here!

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Ray and Anissa walked into a surprisingly empty Room 103, all eyes turned to them. Curtis had his eyes glued onto his computer monitor, while Marc Silvera, Commander Steel, stood off to the side. No one else seemed to be present in the room.

“Finally,” Curtis murmured. “I was getting a little anxious. You guys were gone for the better part of the day.”

Ray sighed. “I know, I know,” he said. “I take it you didn’t have any issues while I was gone?”

“Surprisingly, no, but that could’ve easily not been true.” Curtis sighed, exasperated. “You guys can’t just flit off to Metropolis whenever you want, not when we already have two team members doing exactly that. Courtney’s in Opal City with her other team, Dan’s probably punching muggers in Blüdhaven, Helga’s off doing who-knows-what, and if Alec were to resurface, I’m not sure if Marc and I could go it alone.”

Anissa stepped closer to Curtis, clearing her throat. “Mannheim was threatening the people in Suicide Slum, the people I grew up with, the people I protected. I couldn’t let that happen, and you wouldn’t have been able to stop me.”

Curtis pursed his lips. “A lot of team pride coming from over here.” He slammed his hand on the wood of his desk, turning to the two still-costumed heroes. “Do you know the pressure I’ve been under trying to run a superhero team that’s collapsing in on itself at every given minute? Honestly not sure how Josiah could handle it. I’m sure Superman would’ve been enough to take on some crime lord, anyway.”

“He actually wasn’t,” Ray chimed in. “Dude had a weird chick with Kryptonite guns and freaky magic. She was basically programmed to kill Superman.”

Curtis rolled his eyes. “And you didn’t tell me this when you left?”

“We didn’t know,” Ray said.

“Alright; well, in that case, I see no reason why you should’ve been there. I know Josiah’s not around anymore and any power I may have over your actions is incredibly small, but with Phosphorus still on the loose, I implore you not to just bail on me again. It’s not like this arrangement hadn’t happened before; there’s precedent.”

“For a funeral,” Anissa snarled. “That’s a bit different, don’t you think?”

“Whatever,” Curtis said. He threw his hands in the air. “Maybe I’m making a big deal over something little, I don’t know. But right now, it feels like the only one who’s actually stopping this ship from sinking.” Curtis stood up and turned to the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, the front desk’s computer won’t start, and because the world is cruel and no one cares, I do that too. See you all later.”

As Curtis left the room, Marc walked towards the returning heroes and patted Ray on the back. “Don’t worry about him,” he said. “He’s just having a bad day.”

“Yeah,” Ray said, “I figured.” He sighed. “I still abandoned the team, though. He’s not wrong.”

“But you did what you thought was right,” Marc said. “And you definitely helped out, if what I’m hearing is true. Glad there was someone else there besides Superman, considering who he was up against.”

“Maxima was there too,” Anissa added.

“Even still,” Marc said, “you followed your instincts, and you helped people.” He paused for a second. “So…” he finally said. “Superman, huh? How was he?”

“New guy was pretty cool,” Ray shrugged. “I will say, though, he has big shoes to fill. I met the original guy once, and it’s fair to say he changed my life.”

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January 18th, 2010

Ray Terrill kept his head down as he walked into Ludger’s Bavarian Cakery, one of his favorite places in Tulsa to get a snack. He looked around at the glass cases of cakes and cupcakes, croissants and danishes, at the counter in front of him. The sweet smell that came from the front counter brought him back to his childhood, in that dark house; he remembered that Sgt. Frank Rock would bring a handful of these delicious morsels to Ray’s family every time he visited him in Tulsa. He adjusted his baseball cap and sunglasses, hoping no one would notice him.

“Hi,” he said to the young woman at the counter. “I’ll have one cherry turnover in a to-go bag, thank you.”

The lady looked at him, examining the subtle lines on his face, perplexed. “I swear,” she said, “I recognize you from somewhere. Are you famous or something?”

“No,” Ray said dryly. He looked around, anxious, hoping to get out the door as soon as possible. “I just have one of those faces.”

The lady reached down into the counter with a sheet of waxed paper over her hand, pulling out a small cherry pastry from one of the cases. “No, I totally know you. Wait, give me a second to think.” She put the turnover in a paper bag and placed the bag in front of him, continuing to look him up and down before she came to a realization. “Wait, I know who you are! You’re Ray Terrill! Thank you for your service to our great city.” She reached out and shook his hand. “Turnover’s on the house.”

Ray left a $10 bill on the counter and left, grumbling to himself. He pulled out his phone from his pocket; on the screen was a text message from Andy. Picked up a whole beef tenderloin today, it read. If you want to come over tonight you can watch me absolutely fail to make something passable out of it for dinner.

Ray smiled and put his phone in his pocket, not bothering to respond immediately. He took the turnover out of its bag and threw the bag and wax paper away in a nearby trash can. He wondered to himself what it would have been like to have had a chance to keep his identity secret, to not have anyone know who he was. His father’s exploits had made that all but impossible, and he knew going in from the start. But it was still a question he had when he went out in public; what would be different? He knew that he and Andy would be on better terms, for one. And he’d probably be much happier.

Ray’s life was always missing something that everyone else took for granted. Growing up, it was sunlight, the great outdoors. Ray always made plans for when he turned 18 and would be able to see more of the outside world than just what was allowed–the few hours where he would go on walks or stay in their front yard. He spent several years just traveling, making up for lost time, before finally deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps. Now, that crucial element he was missing wasn’t light, but quiet. There seemed to be nowhere that Ray could find any. And for someone who was gay like him, that caused a problem. Things were getting better, he knew, at an incredible pace, but with as many people watching as there were, it was impossible to know what would happen if people found out. It wasn’t fair to Andy, and he knew it, but he was scared.

His phone vibrated again. It wasn’t Andy this time. It was Captain Sheppard of one of the police precincts. Okay, that level of publicity about his identity was his choice, but everyone still knew, and he wanted to be able to help whenever. Giving his number to the police department seemed like the best option.

Parasite attacking AEP power station, the text read. We’d like to have you on the scene as soon as possible.

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Ray flew around the power plant three times before finally making his way to the ground. There wasn’t anyone else working with Parasite; that was a good thing. Ray had seen a few news articles about Parasite; he was one of Metropolis’ meta-criminals that Superman fought often. Even still, these types of villains tended to go unnoticed by those who didn’t need to worry about them, even in the hero community. Ray didn’t know what he was going into, but he felt somewhat confident that he could figure it out.

Ray flew into the power plant, flying between the giant electrical generators slowly and carefully. In the back of the room was a figure, his skin wrinkled and purple, his hands clasping onto the side of one of the generators as he siphoned its energy. “Lunch time’s over,” Ray chuckled as he flew down to confront the villain.

Parasite took his hands off of the generator and started charging at Ray, who flew backward, just barely avoiding contact with the criminal. He fired a series of light blasts at him, which Parasite tanked with relative ease, accelerating towards Ray. In an instant, Ray came to a grim realization: Parasite was absorbing Ray’s energy bolts, and there wasn’t anything he could do to hurt the criminal. Before Ray could react, Parasite leaped up into the air and tackled him, knocking him to the ground. Ray felt himself growing weaker, tired…

A cool breeze swept into the generator room. The strong wind that just started pulsing through the power plant knocked the Parasite off of Ray and into the back wall. Ray feebly climbed back to his feet and turned around. There, in front of him, was Superman himself in all his glory, his cape sweeping beneath his feet as he flew in.

“Seems like you need a hand,” Superman said, smiling.

Superman darted towards the Parasite, who quickly dodged out of the way. Quickly, Parasite flew out of the power plant and into Tulsa’s skyline in one swift move. Ray and Superman both immediately that Parasite had immediately stolen Ray’s power. Without hesitation, Superman began chasing after Parasite, Ray following closely behind.

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Room 103 went quiet for a while, but it did not stay that way for long; Curtis popped his head only a few minutes after Ray and Marc had stopped talking.

“Okay, things are getting really weird,” he said. “I’m not making this up, but Superman just followed you here. He wants to see you guys.”

Ray snorted. “Wow, that is a surprise. We’ll be right out.”

Ray hovered through the hallways of the New Coast Polynesia Hotel, closely followed by Anissa, who was haphazardly putting her mask back on after she had taken it off briefly. Curtis tagged along, still visibly annoyed with his situation. Sure enough, in the center of the hotel’s lobby, the new Superman was standing, Maxima closely behind him.

“Good to see you again,” Anissa chuckled. “What brings you all the way over here?”

Maxima cleared her throat. “I wish that we had time to socialize the way we did in Metropolis, but there’s a problem. I’ll let Jona–Superman explain.”

Superman stared daggers at Maxima, but no one had seemed to notice her mistake. “So, once Encantadora vanished, I used my telescopic vision to do a search through the city. She was in her apartment for a bit, but then she quickly started using her powers to fly towards the West Coast. From what we could tell, she was following you two. We got here first, but she’s probably gonna show up any second.”

Curtis piped up from behind the two members of Coastguard. “Who’s Encantadora? Mind explaining for the rest of the class?”

Anissa sighed. “Some secret government project; apparently they created a sleeper agent to stop Superman or something like that. Bruno Mannheim got his hands on her, and now apparently she’s gone rogue.”

“Well then,” Curtis said. “In that case, I’m going to get Commander Steel and put on my other suit. Let’s hope for the best.”

As Curtis turned back towards Room 103, Anissa quickly followed behind him. “Wait,” she called out. “There’s something else.”

Curtis sighed. “There always is, isn’t there?”

“Encantadora is an alternate personality,” she said. “The woman that the government programmed to do what she’s doing–Lourdes–she’s innocent. We have to limit the amount of force we use on her.”

“Makes sense,” Curtis nodded. “So what’s our plan then? How do we get Encantadora out and Lourdes in?”

Anissa sighed “We don’t know, but I’m sure the DEO does. You could hack into their databases, pull out a few files, right?”

Curtis snarled. “Another impossible task for me to do today. You do realize that the only reason I know who the DEO are is because my brother figured it out? I can’t be asked to just hack a government organization that most people don’t know shit about.”

“Well,” Anissa smiled, “what if you had Anissa Pierce’s security clearance?”

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January 18th, 2010

“So… you’ve fought this guy before,” Ray said. “Where would he end up going? Like, where would we find him?”

Superman cleared his throat. “Well, usually, he’d find some sort of crowded gathering and start feeding off people. But we can easily make that search a bit simpler.” He turned away from Ray, his eyes carefully scanning through the city of Tulsa. Ray watched for a few seconds as Superman pinpointed exactly where their foe would be.

“He’s at Martin Library,” Superman finally said. “We have to get there before he hurts anyone.”

Ray and Superman immediately swooped down into the street in front of Martin Library, quickly entering the building. Immediately, they saw Parasite in the center of the room, headed towards a crowd of children who were gathered to read a book. Superman grabbed Parasite and knocked him out of the way of the children, pinning him in the corner of the room. Parasite let off several warning blasts of Ray’s light. Ray quickly darted towards the scene and started carrying children away from the commotion, making sure they weren’t in the Parasite’s way.

Faster than Ray could have imagined, Superman had Parasite in handcuffs and was leading him out of the building. He turned to Ray and snarled. “I honestly believed I had seen the end of Parasite’s depravity, but I never expected that he would target children.”

Ray shrugged. “Seems par for the course, don’t you think?”

Superman disappeared before he could answer. Seconds later, he reappeared, Parasite no longer in his custody. Ray could only assume that Superman had dropped him off as a local police station. Then, he finally spoke.

“When you’ve been doing this for as long as I have,” Superman said, “it doesn’t feel that way. There are monsters, and then there are villains: criminals who got a taste of power and want to use it for themselves. Most of them aren’t as evil as they seem in the moment. That’s what I thought Parasite was like when I tracked him here. Unfortunately, I was wrong.” He paused for a second. “My team’s probably got it handled in Metropolis, and this seems like a pretty quiet city. Would you like to grab a coffee?”

“Okay,” Ray said. “I… I guess.”

“To celebrate our victory,” Superman said. “I’m sure you know where they have the best coffees around here.”

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Ray entered Ludger’s Bavarian Cakery for the second time that day, but this time it was different. He was in full costume, caring very little about whether or not people noticed him. And of course, behind him, there stood Superman himself, in all his glory. Several people did double-takes as the two heroes entered the building, one woman coming up to him and smiling.

“Holy shit,” she said. “I didn’t know you two were friends. You… you are the real Ray and Superman, right?”

Superman chuckled. “I suppose we are.”

The two of them walked up to the counter and ordered; the woman from before was still there. “Wow,” she laughed. “You’re back so soon! And you brought a friend with you. It’s an honor to meet you, Superman.” She held out her hand for Superman to shake.

“It’s my pleasure,” Superman said. The two of them ordered coffees, with Superman also purchasing a slice of cake. They sat down at a table in the corner and talked.

“You know,” Superman said, “I like to get to know all the people who are fighting the same battles as I am. I remember reading about your father in the local news growing up. I think that was the first time it really registered that there were other people like me.”

Ray nodded. “Never got to meet him,” he finally said. “But I always kept him with me. It’s funny; when I finally took on his name, I realized pretty quickly the baggage that came along with it. My father died in combat, and for a while, I felt like being the Ray made that inevitable. Like I was throwing my life away.”

Superman nodded, taking another bite of cake. “Do you still feel that way?”

“Not really,” Ray said. “Parasite’s one of the first metahumans I’d fought in a long time. No, my problem now is different. A few months before my first outing as the Ray, a ton of documents related to his work with the government were declassified. Everyone immediately knew who I was because they knew who my father was.” He paused, taking a sip of his coffee. “What’s it like, having another world to retreat to? Where no one knows how important you are and what you do?”

Superman thought about it for a few seconds, before finally answering. “I have to be really careful about what I say here,” he laughed. “I’m sure paparazzi might come in here at any time. Thing is, I never really thought at first that other heroes didn’t have those opportunities. I just thought that that was how things were done. But over time, I realized how much I was taking that for granted. The quiet lull of everyday life, the people that were closest to me that my enemies didn’t know about. For you, of course, that ship has already sailed, but that’s not the end of the world. It just means that your life’s a bit different from other people.”

Ray nodded. “I do have people no one else knows about,” he finally said. “I have someone I love more than anything in this world, and the tabloids haven’t seemed to notice yet. But…” Ray trailed off, not sure what to say. When he resumed speaking, he didn’t know why he felt strong enough to talk about it, when he hadn’t felt that strong before. “But I can’t be out in public with him, I can’t go on a date in the park or go to dinner at a restaurant. At least… at least, right now I’m not sure how people would react. To find out that fact about me, a public figure, Tulsa’s guiding light. We still can’t get married here; things are changing fast, but not fast enough.”

Superman smiled. “Well, how does he feel about this whole situation?”

“He doesn’t like it either,” Ray replied. “And I don’t want to lose him, or anything we’ve worked together to build, but… but I’m scared. This isn’t just some random person coming out. This is a hero. So much could go wrong, and there’s so much that I can’t even begin to predict, and… and it’s not fair to him. It really isn’t. But what can I do?”

“I think you’ll find that people are more willing to accept things like this than you think.” Superman finished his piece of cake and coffee, swiftly turning to the rack nearby where he bussed his plate and mug. “Now,” he said, “I have to get going, but I want you to know that things won’t always be simple. Not even when everything’s changed and it seems like everyone accepts you. There will always be those who doubt. But don’t look too hard at them. Instead, look at yourself, and look at the people who realize how great a person you truly are. And then, it’s up to you to decide who you want to impress more. There are no wrong answers; if you’re not ready, that’s fine. But to me, it seems like you already know what you really want.”

Before Ray could respond, Superman was gone, having vanished before Ray could tell what had happened. Flustered, he finished his coffee cup and bussed his mug. Then, he turned to his phone and called Andy.

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Encantadora made her presence known touched down in front of the New Coast Polynesia Hotel immediately, as mists began to disperse around her, covering the area in a blanket of fog.

“Current mission: take down those who oppose me,” she said in a monotone voice, looking around. Immediately, a golden bolt of light cut through the sorceress’ mists, as the Ray darted up into the sky.

“You found me,” he chuckled. “Commander Steel, now!

Quickly, Marc jumped out of a nearby bush and tackled Encantadora; as the two fought, Ray provided support from above with blasts of light. Encantadora quickly reached for a green glowing knife in one of the pouches of her outfit, forcing Marc off of her. She closed her eyes and began chanting, attempting to summon a series of illusions. Nothing happened; Maxima’s psychic powers were protecting Marc and Ray’s minds. Encantadora stopped chanting, mildly annoyed and switched instead to firing blasts of offensive magic. As the fight continued, the mists got stronger and stronger, and Marc and Ray seemed to struggle more and more against the sorceress. Ray’s blasts were getting more and more aimless, while Marc couldn’t see where his opponent was in the fog. Encantadora managed to hit Marc squarely in the chest, making him stagger back. Quickly, Marc started firing his own energy-cannons, countering the sorceress’s spells. In the heat of the battle, Encantadora reached for another Kryptonite knife from her pocket, but could not find anything.. The knife was no longer where it should have been.

A voice came from above her. “Looking for these?”

Encantadora looked up and noticed Maxima’s hovering figure, surrounded by each knife, sword and and blade that had once been on her outfit, along with the other weaponry that she had been carrying. She started flinging these at Encantadora, narrowly missing every time. Encantadora dodged and weaved through the Almeracian’s attacks as each one missed.

Eventually, Maxima had only three weapons in her orbit: the three red sun grenades that she had carried. She flung each of these away from Encantadora, forming a cluster in the center of the battlefield. The three bombs detonated, releasing a field of red glowing energy that lit up the misty parking lot, but after a few seconds, the explosions seemed to stop in place. The ball of red solar radiation instead moved towards Encantadora as Ray resurfaced, controlling the light. Encantadora vanished just in time, reappearing a short distance away as Ray shifted his targets. The ball of light made no hesitation before charging towards Encantadora’s current location.

”Alright,” Curtis said from the microphone. ”That’ll be enough distractions for now. We’re ready.”

Suddenly, the red light dissipated, and every piece of Kryptonite on the battlefield flew back up towards Maxima, who darted away. The mists cleared as the new Superman made his appearance, using his super-breath to clear the air as he went. Behind him was the heroine Thunder, who tackled Encantadora to the ground and held her down; and the armored Technocrat, clad in white-and-green armor and surrounded by a cloud of drones. Each drone flashed a series of blue lights around Encantadora, who stared at them blankly. Ray turned to them and amplified the blue light; Encantadora’s eyes glazed over and she took a deep breath. Thunder let go of Lourdes’ arms as she got to her feet.

“Thank you,” Lourdes said. “I don’t know how you did it, but you saved me again.”

“No problem,” Superman said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

“I’ve gotten you a free ticket on the first plane back home to Metropolis,” Technocrat cut in, a vocal modulator disguising Curtis’ voice and making it sound alien even to the members of Coastguard. “You should be free of Encantadora’s influence now for good.”

“Wait,” Lourdes said, taking note of her surroundings. “So… where am I?” She looked up at the sign of the New Coast Polynesia Resort above her.

“Wow, okay then,” she said. She paused for a second. “Not sure I can say my alter ego had good tastes in vacation destinations.”

“Hey,” Ray said, feigning offense. “We like it just fine here. Maybe you just can’t take the heat.”

“Well,” Superman finally said, “I think Maxima and I are headed off to Metropolis for now. Glad we could help out.”

As Maxima and the new Superman took off into the distance, Ray smiled and knew that Metropolis was still in good hands.

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January 18th, 2010

Ray knocked on Andy’s apartment door, his heart pounding frantically. Andy answered, wearing an old T-shirt and jeans. “Hey,” he said. “Glad you could make it!”

Ray nodded. “Of course,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss you fail to cook something for the world.” He walked in the door and put his jacket on the rack nearby. “I do… I do have something to say though.”

“Me too,” Andy said, sighing. “Look, I get that you’re a big hero and all, and I know how important your service is to you. But I just… I was in the closet for years and years of my life, and it was a painful, grueling gauntlet. And right now, I feel like I’ve been shoved back into the closet, even though I did what I thought I was supposed to do, even though I got it over with. I know that there are so many eyes that’d be watching us, I know that not everyone might be accepting, but I don’t care. I need to–”

“No problem,” Ray said. “Actually, I’ve booked an interview with Tulsa World already. I’m finally gonna come out because I know how much it means to you.”

Andy stared at him. “Really? You’re really gonna do that?”

Ray nodded. “I realized what was truly important in my life right now, and that’s you. Full stop. I don’t care if the city council passes a law that stops me from flying, you’re the one I care about.”

Andy ran up to Ray and planted a kiss on his lips. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.”

“Of course,” Ray smiled. His skin started to glow slightly, a faint yellow light emanating from him. “This is who I am, and people need to know that.”

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The wooden village that Samuel Burr’s men had constructed was hastily built, just like those that Kobra had lived in for decades as they went into hiding. It was not in Qurac, but it was still situated among the mountains, a good few miles from New Coast City. Samuel had ensured that it would look like the villages he spent his youth in; he wanted desperately to keep their culture alive, even so far away from home.

Samuel walked between the makeshift buildings as a red station wagon pulled up. The door opened and out walked Helga Jace, Coastguard’s resident physician whom he had been enlisting the services of. “Glad you could make it,” he smiled. “We’re almost ready to start heading down to the city.”

“That’s great,” Helga grimaced. “Let’s stick to our business here and not pretend like we both want the same things. I’m only here because of what you have on me. Show me to him.”

“Of course,” Samuel said. “Right this way.” He directed her through a series of cabins, before finally coming to a small one at the far end of the settlement. They walked in.

“You’re free to do whatever experiments you want on him,” Samuel said. “You said you wanted to load him up with more powers?”

Helga nodded. In the center of the cabin, sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor, was an unresponsive Cisco Ramon, mesmerized by the glasses that Helga had created to enslave him. “I believe that I can up the number of potential powersets to 15 if you would just give me a few days.”

“That would be most helpful,” Samuel said. “If it is not too much work, I think it might be useful for you to also teach my associate how to use the neural-link interface you designed for him. He tends to understand most magical devices, but somehow this technology has proven too complicated for him to grasp on his own.”

“I’ll get to that right after I’m finished with this project,” Helga said. “I don’t have infinite time. This is Michael Clarion you’re talking about, right?”

“It is,” Samuel said. “He has proven one of my most trusted allies so far. I have also recruited Mark Richards into our mission, who you may remember from the fights your team had with him.”

Helga nodded. “He seems like a loose cannon, but I’m sure you’ve found a way to rein him in.” Helga pulled out a headband from her pocket, a charcoal-grey device with a glowing blue rim around it. She affixed it around her head; immediately, Cisco started following her out of the building.

“He’ll be back in no time,” Helga called out as she and Cisco drove away. “Then you can start having your real fun. I look forward to seeing you in the city.”

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