The Legends failed. The world was ending and there was nothing they could do to save it. They’d gone back in time, conducted hundreds of missions, trying everything Gideon thought might work, but nothing could stop the volcanic eruption that would black out the sun and kill everyone on the surface of the Earth. It wasn’t their fault for once, Gideon had offered as a sort of concession, just a random variation in the timeline, but that didn’t make them feel any better.
As soon as Gideon alerted the team to the anomaly, Nate rushed off to the Jumpship and went to Earth to keep his mom company as the world ended. He left before any of them could say their goodbyes. With the Waverider in bad shape from all the missions, the comm links were down and they couldn’t get a message to him or the ship. Sara knew they’d never see or hear from Nate again and if she were less preoccupied, she would have already broken down.
Ray suggested a suicide mission: take the Waverider to the surface to save as many people as possible.
“Thor Ragnarok style,” he said in a tone much too cheery for the situation. “Come on guys, we have to do something.”
“No we don’t,” Mick shouted. He had already given up on saving the world. While everyone else was gathered around the central console, he sat in the parlor reading a heist novel and snacking on a smorgasbord of junk food he prepared. “Not our fault, not our problem.”
“That won’t work, Ray,” Zari said. “The battery still needs a few hours to recharge before we can jump through time or space. If we just fly there, our shield will burn up when we try to leave the atmosphere and…”
“And everyone on board will get roasted alive?” Charlie asked.
Ray asked Gideon to check on the shields and she reported the same outcome. Their missions had nearly destroyed the ship and without extra parts, repairs would take too long. If they entered Earth’s atmosphere, they wouldn’t be able to leave.
Sara picked her head up from where it hung against the screen and rubbed her eyes. “Any other ideas, people?”
Zari looked back at her hastily assembled information packet and let out a long “um” as if the idea was on the tip of her tongue, somehow having hid itself from the best existential threat experts for the last few hours but now ready – eager -- to be found. The others did the same, except for Charlie.
Charlie placed her packet on the console and joined Mick and his junk food. He handed her a plate and she filled it with pretzels, potato chips, popcorn, and a few handfuls of M&Ms. She left the veggie tray untouched.
“Gideon, pull up a list of the nearest habitable planets in this universe,” Charlie said. She placed the full plate on the table beside her. “Might as well stay in this universe for a few more millennia.”
She plopped down on the couch, stretching out to take up the two cushions, as Gideon showed her a list of fifty-or-so planets on the screen in front of her. She sat up to read the names and casually toss M&Ms in her mouth. None of the planets looked appealing, either too abandoned to be entertaining or too violent to be a long-term option. Getting killed was a cool party trick, but the excitement wore off quicker than most people thought.
“How about in other universes, G? Any of the other Earths any good?”
Mick laughed. “This one hasn’t even died and you’re already looking for a new one.” He looked up from his book and stared at her for a second more than necessary, before clearing his throat and lowering his voice. “Give it some time, kid. Just enjoy the moment while it lasts.”
Charlie wanted to push back against him, but she couldn’t think of any arguments that made sense. Instead she asked him for one of the books that was piled on the desk and started reading the newest copy of his novel Body of Proof.
“What about the time couriers,” Mona said. “We wouldn’t be able to save a lot of people, but we could save some of them. Ray could save Nora. Zari could save her family. Sara could save Ava. Constantine could save… someone.”
John rolled his eyes and shot a pleading glance at Sara. They weren’t getting anywhere and she had to know that. They’d already shot down using time couriers two hours ago when preventing the eruption was still an option and it would get shot down again.
“I’m sorry Mona, but the couriers aren’t working either. All the time tech is down,” Sara said. She took a sip from the cold cup of coffee and leaned more of her weight against the console, so much so that standing was no longer an appropriate description. Her coffee smelled like home and she wondered if this was the last time she’d ever smell real coffee, not just the fabricated stuff the Waverider made. “And even if the couriers worked, the missions would take too long. We only have half an hour before the first eruption and only one working time courier on board. It wouldn’t work.”
“What’s left for us anyway?” John muttered.
Sara was surprised he hadn’t left with Mick or Charlie and even more surprised he hadn’t pitched a plan to use his magic to somehow fix everything. If anything could save the world now, it was magic.
“Well,” Ray started, “we could try-”
“That’s not what I meant, Ray. What’s left for us once the world blows up? What are we supposed to do? Travel to another universe and pretend we belong there? Planet shop, like Charlie over there? Or, I know! We can become bloody time pirates!”
“We’ll all travel through space until we find another planet to muck up just like we did this one. That’ll be fucking terrific. Surviving on our recycled waste and fabricated slop until some aliens blow us the fuck up like we fucking deserve.”
“Don’t be an idiot John,” Zari said.
“Have you got a better idea, Z?”
“No! No, because there isn’t one.” He took out a cigarette and lit it, without complaints. The smoke hung in the air and Zari and Ray got back to looking for solutions. When he spoke again his voice was calm and scratchy, whether from the cigarette or the yelling, he wasn’t sure. “We’re fucked if we stay up here. At least if we head down there, we’ll be able to say our goodbyes. Like Nate did.”
Sara could tell John thought he was being rational. He’d convinced himself that dying on the surface was the moral thing to do, his last chance to prove that everyone’s sacrifices to him weren’t wasted. But she knew that was bullshit. Dying wouldn’t do anything for John but send him to Hell more fragile than he should be for a place like that.
She dismissed his idea with a shake of her head and he held her eyes. If she were younger, the faint hint of tears in his eyes would have made her reconsider, but after years of death and countless end of the world’s, his protests only made her more sure of her decision. The Waverider had to survive. The Legends had to be there to deal with the aftermath, whether that meant a rescue mission or a recovery mission. They had to survive.
John didn’t know what else to do. Sara wasn’t going to budge and neither was he. He left the console and joined Mick and Charlie in the parlor. When he sank down in his chair, Mick handed him a paper plate and another one of his books. Heatwaves: An Erotic Space Odyssey. He laughed but accepted it. What else was he going to do. After piling his plate high with chips and lighting another cigarette, he leaned back in his chair and opened the book. The colorful descriptions of alien bodies and increasingly bizarre metaphors for orgasms calmed him down and before he knew it, he forgot about everyone he had failed on Earth and the fates that were waiting for them.
What felt like hours passed as Sara, Ray, Mona, and Zari tried to come up with a plan. The options were getting worse and worse. Ray pitched waiting until the Waverider recharged and then going back centuries before the event, not just years. Maybe that would give them enough time to stop it.
But they’d already gone back ten, twenty, fifty, seventy-five, a hundred years and none of it had mattered. They’d investigated every possible cause, even one time moving an entire village away from the mountain to prevent the mining that would occur thirty years later, but nothing had worked.
“We fly planes with fans attached to the front that blow away the volcanic ash so the sunlight can get through,” Mona said.
“That’s not how any of this works,” Zari said.
“Ray, no. That’s not going to work.”
Mona and Ray were starting to get tired of pitching ideas that immediately got shot down by the other two who were so close to giving up. Mona mumbled scenarios to herself, discussing the details of half-baked plans in an attempt to prolong the inevitable. Ray’s mind buzzed with the high of someone desperately trying to finish a 10-page paper in half an hour, full of useless ideas that only served to stall their progress.
“What’ll happen to Zari? She’ll never have grown up. She’ll never have found the totem. And- What happens to her?” Ray didn’t seem to asking anyone in particular, but Sara responded.
She wasn’t sure why but started talking about time demons and time remnants, who would track the aberration down until it was eliminated. Zari wasn’t prepared to think about her impending doom at 9:30 on a Thursday morning. Maybe Nate had the right idea about heading back to the surface. Maybe John had the right idea, too.
Either way, Zari left the conversation and joined the group in the parlor. She’d expected drinking but all she found was piles of snacks and the three rowdiest people she knew sitting quietly reading books.
Mick wordlessly handed her a plate and a copy of Uncaged Desires, barely even looking up from the page.
“What the fuck is this?” She whispered.
Mick looked up at her and smiled, “The world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” He shoved a handful of pretzels in his mouth and looked back down at the page. “Now read your fucking book.”
Hard to argue with that.
She loaded up her plate with snacks, grabbing a few carrots just for show, and turned towards Charlie, motioning for her to move from her lounging position. She huffed but sat up. Zari took her seat and Charlie slumped against her, resting her head against her shoulder.
“Captain Lance. Our comm links are back online,” Gideon announced. “You have a call from Ava Sharpe.”
“I’ll take it in my room.” She instructed Ray and Mona to stand still and not touch anything and then rushed her quarters.
Ray and Mona continued bouncing ideas off each other, each one more nonsensical than the next. Zari could create a wind tunnel that stretched from Earth to Outer Space to transport all the ash off planet. John could magic the volcano into basic mountain. Ray could put on his ATOM suit and get really big and smash the top of the volcano to keep all the lava inside. They could summon the God of Lava and beg them to stop the eruption. Or maybe…
They went silent when Sara returned looking like she was seconds from collapsing to the ground and sleeping for weeks. She stared blankly at the two Legends, waved them into the parlor, and ambled into the room. With a groan, she took a seat on the floor near her unusually quiet crew and waited for Ray and Mona to join them.
“We’re not going to the surface. We’re staying here, in space.” Sara spoke with a finality that kept everyone silent and still for longer than usual.
Mona was the first to break the silence.
“What? That’s it? The entire world is dying and were just-”
The other crew members shot her warning glances but it was too late.
“Mona! I just had to hear the woman I love tell me to let her die. Don’t- don’t make this harder than it already is.”
Sara had known they wouldn’t be able to stop this disaster and that people she knew would die. She’d known since Gideon called her back to the Waverider at 4 am today, which felt like a lifetime ago.
The obnoxious ringing of her phone rung through Ava’s quiet apartment, waking them both up far too early, even for them. Sara pressed closer in to Ava’s chest to muffle the sound and refused to answer it. One of the children probably just started a fire or something, she muttered in her barely awake state. Gideon would handle it. Or Zari. Or Ray. Someone else would be able to handle it. Ava kissed her forehead and answered the phone call with a poor impression of Sara’s voice. She stopped after she heard the reason Gideon called and shook Sara until she was awake and then wordlessly handed her the phone. Not five minutes later, Sara was back on the ship and her girlfriend was off to the Time Bureau.
During her phone call, Ava’s voice hadn’t betrayed any of the panic Sara knew she was feeling. Ava, Director Sharpe, as she’d responded when Sara picked up the line, was in full professional mode and had talked to world leaders and experts non-stop since she arrived at the Bureau that morning. There’d be survivors, she said. People with enough connections and resources to have bunkers with extensive air filtration systems. They would survive the eruption and its aftermath. But everyone else…
The clear implication hung in the air. Ava would probably die, as would everyone else they knew, except maybe Batman. Experts from USGS, NASA, the DOD, the UN, and every other remotely related organization had tried and failed to come up with a viable solution. All that was left to be done was to wait for the eruption and hope enough people survived to save humanity.
Sara looked around at her crew. She wouldn’t tell them everything Ava had said, just enough for them to understand and accept her decision. That the best, the most heroic, the moral, the sensible thing to do, was to do nothing.
The Legends accepted that easier than she’d expected. A few tears fell from Ray’s eyes at the thought of never seeing Nora or Nate again and John patted him on the back, which Ray turned into a hug.
Mick handed Sara a plate and a book. After she loaded up on broccoli and carrots, and a few cookies, she looked at the book. It wasn’t a Rebecca Silver novel like the others but instead a book written by Rip Hunter. Masters of Time.
Sara looked up at Mick in confusion and he shook his head and gestured for her to open the book.
The inside flap made it clear the book was written by Mick, in the voice of Rip. It followed his journey from the Time Master’s golden boy to the rebel captain of a crew of lovable idiots.
If Mick had been the hugging kind, Sara would’ve hugged him tight enough to take his breath away but instead she nodded and open the book to the first chapter.
The best three years of my life began when I kidnapped eight losers and ended when I blew myself up to save all of time. You’re welcome. This is the story of how those idiots helped me save the world, time and time again, and how we became Legends. But before we can begin that story, I need to tell you the tale of my old bosses, who I also blew up, the Time Masters. …
Ray and Mona settled in, taking plates and books. Broccoli and another copy of Heatwave for Ray. BBQ chips and an annotated copy of the first Twilight book for Mona, with notes on the accuracy of vampires and werewolves and how to the story slightly less creepy.
They sat in silence until a minute before the first volcanic eruption was set to start. Gideon withdrew the covers on all the windows and pointed the front end of the ship towards the Earth, giving the Legends a view of the end of the world. She sped up time on the ship so they could see the months long process of the ash blocking out the sun in a few hours. At Mick’s request, Gideon recorded the process.
Sara retrieved the bottle of scotch she kept hidden for special occasions and poured thirteen drinks. One for everyone present and six for the ones they’d lost. Nate. Jax. Martin. Rip. Kendra. Carter.
“I want to thank all of you for giving me the privilege of being your Captain and friend and being my family. Charlie, Mona, you guys are new, so this might come as a bit of a surprise, but when I first came on the Waverider I was a mess.” Mick raised his glass in agreement and John chuckled at the memory of the possessed woman he met all those years ago. “I didn’t want to be an assassin anymore and I couldn’t go back to being the old me. This ship gave me a place to belong and helped me become a Legend, not just a hero.” She took a sip to collect her thoughts and fought through the haze of the alcohol. “We’ve lost a lot of good people over the years and… and I think about them every day. They’d want us to do whatever we could to help the people down on Earth and right now we can remember them and help those who are left. I can’t be sure what will be down there, but I hope you’ll stick around to find out.”
Conversations about their friends and family kept the Legends company as they watched the greens and blues of the Earth turn into blacks and grays. Bad 90s pop songs filled the lulls and long pauses, replacing dark thoughts with off-pitch falsetto and corny love stories. A bottle of scotch turned into three and the snacks were replaced with more pizza boxes than they bothered to keep track off. One of them found Nate’s stash of weed and hallucinogens and soon the smell of cigarettes and marijuana replaced the stale air of the parlor.
Eventually, the day caught up with them and one by one they started to fall asleep. No one wanted to be alone, so they slept in the parlor, using each other as pillows when real ones ran out. In the stillness of the night, Mick crept out of the room and moved to his own. He got a beer out of his fridge and sat in front of his typewriter, finally ready to begin writing another novel.
They had done all they could, but there were limits to what could be done. The next morning, they would wake up, tired and sore but alive, and keep on going. After all, that’s what Legends do. They carry on.