Authors: Alan Grant
Gotham County, September 23
"This is Anneka Marram, for GCTV, reporting live from the Gotham County Dam, where a disaster of unparalleled proportions is fast becoming reality!"
The television station's news helicopter circled in the evening air, as Chuck Gaines, the pilot, brought it another fifty feet closer to the top of the massive dam that lay below them.
Inside, the ride was remarkably smooth. Gaines was an Air Force veteran and had been piloting choppers for twenty-five years. He liked to keep his passengers happy.
Flicking a twist of her curly, honey-colored hair from her face, Anneka Marram craned to get a better view from the chopper's open observation window.
From their vantage point a hundred yards up, she could see the large crack that zigzagged down the concrete wall of the dam. Jets of water spurted through in a half dozen places, each one blasting a spray of fine debris out into the air with it. Surely it couldn't hold much longer. Two billion cubic yards of water were putting that crack under intolerable stress.
Anneka shook her head slightly, as if unwilling to entertain the thought of what might happen next. She leaned across the chopper's cramped cabin and touched Les Dowd, her cameraman, on the shoulder. He nodded without looking and started to pan his lens across the top of the dam.
Countless police cars and fire engines were parked at each end, looking like little more than toys from this height. Human figures stood in clusters close to the vehicles, monitoring the water that poured more forcibly from the dam's damaged area with every passing minute.
The mayor was at the scene, taking personal charge of the emergency. Commissioner James Gordon of the GCPD was on hand as well. There was little they could do but wait. All staff had already been evacuated. The relief sluices had been opened, carrying roaring torrents of water away from the eight-mile long lake that had been formed when the dam first closed off this stretch of the Gotham River.
But everyone who stood there–police officers, public officials, dam and hydroelectric personnel–all knew that it was futile. It might take an hour, it might be only a minute–but the dam
going to burst.
Dowd slowly raked his lens down the face of the massive concrete structure. On her monitor, Anneka saw the picture shift to follow the course of what had once been the mighty Gotham River. Its raging waters had flowed here for millennia, carving out a steep-sided gorge that was fifty feet deep and double that across. Now the river was little more than a stream meandering away from the dam, dwarfed by the bluffs on either side.
A quarter-mile downstream Anneka could see the hydroelectric station. A dozen figures straggled away from it, making for the high ground above the steep banks, abandoning the installation completely.
Anneka lifted her microphone closer to her lips to blot out the steady thrum of the rotors and began to speak: "The generating station is in the process of being evacuated now, and I'm informed by dam management that all personnel have been accounted for."
She paused as her monitor showed Dowd's camera panning down the valley toward distant Gotham City. "An estimated twenty thousand people live between the dam and the city. And although the authorities are doing their best to evacuate those at risk, there are serious fears that there are just too many people, and not enough time."
Pausing again, Anneka twisted her head to look back at the dam through the opposite window. The sun was starting to sink, casting a purple autumn glow over the wooded hills. But there was light enough for Anneka to see that the main crack had doubled in size, and several new, smaller ones in a spiderweb network were already gushing water.
A never-ending flood would wash away dozens of farms and thousands of acres of fertile soil as it swept down to the ocean. Anneka shuddered to think what would happen when that wall of water and mud roared into Gotham City itself.
It's only a question of time,
she thought, and, perversely, a surge of excitement coursed through her. She'd been junior reporter on the GCTV chopper for almost six years now, spending her life describing traffic jams and highway accidents. They'd been on their way to a three-vehicle pileup on the interstate this afternoon when the emergency call came in about the dam. Now she was reporting
news. And the station would be relaying her report not just across the state, but to the whole country. She'd be seen by a hundred million viewers. A billion, if it went global.
It might be a black day for Gotham City, but Anneka's career was going to skyrocket.
Anneka switched her mike off. "How does this sound, Les?" she asked the lensman. "We go down, hover in front of the dam for some close-up shots of those water jets. Then back up to five hundred feet, wait for the final collapse . . . and follow the wall of water all the way down the valley till it hits the city."
"Good thinking." The lanky cameraman nodded. Straight out of journalism school, he'd been with the station only a few months. But if they caught
on film, it would be Hollywood calling. "We better move it, though. Be dark in another half hour."
"Can we do it, Chuck?" Anneka called to the gruff, middle-aged pilot.
He shrugged his shoulders without turning to look at her. "Strap in tight," he rasped, his voice hoarse from a lifetime of cigarette smoking. "We're goin' for the money shot!"
Chuck hit the controls and the chopper banked steeply, turning back toward the dam, dropping as it approached. Fifty feet from the valley floor, just level with the top of the banks, Chuck leveled out, hovering directly in front of the massive, cracking wall.
Les's camera raked up the face of the dam, visible only through the thick curtain of water cascading from above.
Anneka felt another frisson of fear. Gazing up at the rends in the dam, she could almost feel the relentless pressure of countless tons of water that was fighting to escape its confinement.
She switched her mike back on. "From above," she began, "the debris that the torrents are tearing free looked small and insignificant. From this vantage point, however, we can see chunks of concrete the size of cars! I'm no engineer, but I really don't see any way the dam can hold much longer."
Somewhere above them the water tore a new hole in the dam face, sending out a gusher that reached almost to the hovering chopper before it fell away. Lumps of concrete and infill clattered off the fuselage.
"Goin' up," Chuck Gaines mouthed, pointing upward with one forefinger. Twenty-five years as a pilot had thrown him into a whole host of dangerous situations, from blizzards to ice storms to rescues at sea. A bursting dam was a new one for him–and not one he chose to stay close to for too long. The helicopter started to rise.
Fifty feet above, a section of dam the size of an SUV erupted under the force of the water behind. A fountain of broiling, muddy water shot out with all the power of a huge geyser. Almost instantly, the chopper was assailed by cascading water and concrete blocks. It pitched wildly from side to side as Chuck Gaines struggled for control, throwing Anneka and Les violently around the interior.
The cameraman's head hit an area of unpadded air-frame, and he blanked out immediately. Anneka screamed, clinging onto her safety strap so tightly her knuckles were white.
"I can't hold her!" Chuck cried out, his voice barely audible over the chaos of the water. "Hang on! I'll try–"
He never finished the sentence. A rain of concrete chunks thudded into them from above. The windshield shattered, and there was a loud metallic shriek as one of the rotors snapped under the bombardment. The chopper pitched forward and started to plunge toward the growing maelstrom below.
Buffeted by the water pouring in, hardly able to breathe, Anneka Marram struggled in vain to undo the catch on the chopper door. The acrid smell of shorting electrical wiring stung her nostrils. Silently, she kissed her big break farewell. A hundred million people might well see her on the evening news that night, but it would be as a statistic on a long list of fatalities.
Abruptly, her panic ebbed away, and a strange sense of calm suffused her. Almost matter-of-factly, she contemplated her impending death.
But what, she wondered, was that red and blue blur streaking through the air?
Powering through the skies at more than a hundred miles an hour, Superman saw a flash as the setting sun reflected off the helicopter's fuselage. Instantly, his telescopic vision zoomed in on the plunging craft, revealing the three people inside.
Shifting the direction of his flight, he increased his speed until he was bulleting down toward the foot of the dam face. A two-hundred-pound concrete block struck him on the back, the debris splintering as it ricocheted off his near-invulnerable body.
At the last second Superman checked his forward motion, angling his body upward so he was directly under the tumbling helicopter. Ignoring the water and rubble that poured down around him, he reached up with both hands and braced himself to take the doomed chopper's weight.
Superman has the helicopter.
J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, watched from the riverbank as he relayed the telepathic message directly to the minds of the other Justice League members who were present. Telepathy was part of his Martian birthright, and now Manhunter used his amazing mental ability to coordinate and keep the team in touch while in action.
He's carrying it to safety now.
The Justice League–the elite team of the Earth's mightiest super heroes–had been formed with the protection of the planet in mind. They sprang into action like a well-oiled machine whenever any disaster or superhuman villain was too much for one hero to handle alone.
Six of them had been in the Watchtower, their lunar headquarters, when the crisis broke. A message from the mysterious Oracle, who ran their vast computer network from her HQ in Gotham City, had filled their monitor screens. They hadn't needed Batman, Gotham's grim guardian, to urge them to teleport to the scene at once.
Now, perched atop a rocky crag overlooking the entire dam front, silhouetted against the September sky like some twilight demon, Batman took control.
He didn't particularly like using the telepathic link Manhunter established between the team members. A lifelong loner, Batman preferred to act with only one voice in his head: his own. But even he had to admit that the facility often came in useful.
Complete collapse could come at any second. Green Lantern, use your power ring to keep the dam standing.
The thoughts blasted from Batman's mind with the speed and accuracy of bullets.
Manhunter, get those people on the dam edge to safety. Flash, go down the valley. Use your superspeed and warn everyone you can.
Flash and Manhunter didn't pause to speak. One took to the air, the other started running, and both veered away to accomplish their tasks.
Protected by the force field generated by his power ring, Green Lantern hovered before the dam. With every second that passed, more of the concrete was disintegrating, allowing a deluge of water to escape. Lantern's right arm extended, the ring on his middle finger suddenly flaring bright green as he focused his willpower through it.
Instantaneously, a thin green beam emanated from the center of the ring, widening dramatically as it traveled toward the collapsing dam. It grew until it covered the entire dam face, shutting off the water spouts, holding back the collapsing concrete like a wall of shimmering, impenetrable green energy.
Green Lantern smiled wryly to himself. The ring had been the gift of an alien, the very last Guardian of the Universe. Kyle Rayner had never wanted to be a hero, never expected to be one–and would have run a mile if anyone had told him otherwise. But now he
a hero–and not just any hero, either. He was the Emerald Warrior, one of the most powerful super heroes of them all. The ring acted directly to achieve anything he willed. Kyle was sure it must have limitations, but he hadn't discovered them yet
Lantern thought, taking care to keep the sentiment to himself,
it's a kick I wouldn't change for the world.
Superman deposited the chopper up on the lakeside, well away from the dam, staying only long enough to check that the occupants were safe before flying back to join his companions.
Wonder Woman and I will go in behind the energy wall.
His thoughts came through loud and clear to all of them.
We'll use high-speed friction and my heat vision to fuse the dam face.
Batman's thought stabbed almost painfully into their minds.
We can't save the dam. Use your speed and strength to gouge out a channel deep enough to take the water all the way to Gotham harbor.