An hour after our hotel-room meeting, Cisco walks Gwen and me down to Shasta Shore Park on the southern side of town. It's only half a mile from the hotel, but the park itself covers a rough total of fifteen miles of shoreline. Actually, it's more like six miles as the crow flies, but Shasta Lake is so irregularly shaped, with narrow inlets aplenty, that the jogging paths through the park run a much greater distance.
Holding my cell phone out and taking a selfie (for real, the better to fool the small number of passersby), I look out over the lake, seeing the lights of Shasta Dam to the distant south. Beyond that are the cities of Shasta Lake and Redding, the largest suburbs of the Central City-Keystone metropolis.
I shiver under my hoodie as a brief but chilly wind blows onto the lake. Central City's relatively high altitude - a little over 1500 feet - means that even in spring, nighttime temperatures tend to approach freezing. The fact that the wind tends to always come down from the mountains doesn't help.
"Do we got anything?" I ask.
"Nope," Grayson says - he's got an open line on Cisco's phone. "Nothing but pretty nighttime views of the lake. And of you and Gwen. You two should be out under the stars more often." He chuckles to himself, clearly enjoying the looks of consternation on not only my face, but Gwen's as well. "Heck, now you've got me thinking - you two would make really good-looking kids. A boy with messy blond hair and brown eyes, or a brunette with Gwen's wonderful jade orbs-"
"I'm all for the compliments on our looks," Gwen interrupts, holding up her hand (I make sure my phone's mike is turned her way so Grayson can see her gesture), "but I gotta draw the line at using the word 'orbs.' You're not a stupid fanfic character. You're not being written by a lovestruck teenage girl. Trust me, I'm still haunted by my own use of 'orbs' in my Twilight fanfic-writing days."
"Oh, I know I'm not written by a lovestruck girl," Grayson says brightly. "If anything, whoever's writing me is probably more like me - a guy in his early twenties with something to prove."
"What do you have to prove?" Barry asks. He's in another part of town - somewhere closer to the black hole exclusion zone, I think - with Caitlin and Wells, and he's linked to us via a conference call with Grayson and Olivia. "You're a superhero, dude. That makes you awesome already, and you can take that to the bank."
"I'm gonna quote a book I recommend to all the kids in Gotham," says Olivia. "The Akhenaten Adventure. Any of you know it?" Barry, Caitlin, and I all chime in that we do. "Then you'll probably remember some of the first lines out of Rakshasas' mouth," Olivia says. "'May you get all your wishes except one, so you'll still have something to strive for.'"
"And for me," Grayson says, "the one thing I still strive for is to prove that I am, in fact, capable of eradicating crime completely."
"That sounds a bit depressing, though," Cisco says. "Having your one unattainable wish be one that would make the world a better place."
"Don't try and kill my joy, killjoy," Grayson laughs. "Okay, Peter, keep going."
"Where do I - ouch!" Even my Spider-sense doesn't help me when I accidentally bump into a girl. We fall backwards, away from each other, obeying Newton's Third Law. "I'm so sorry!" I say, holding out my hand so I can help her get up again.
"It's all right," she says, grasping my hand and rising to her feet. I notice that she's Asian, and bears a faint resemblance to Gwen's friend (and current hotel roommate) Sally Avril. I actually asked her (that is, Sally) on a date once, before I got to know Gwen, but she turned me down. Next thing I knew, she was in an on-again, off-again relationship with Flash Thompson. Currently on, according to Gwen.
"What are you guys doing?" asks this Asian girl. "Some kind of school project?"
"Something like that," Gwen says.
"We're hunting for wormholes," Cisco says with a grin. I hear Grayson and Olivia barely managing to stifle their laughter on the other end of the line. "Wanna come with?"
She turns to see two other girls waving her over. "Maybe next time," she says, smiling softly. "Wait up!" she calls, running to catch up to her girlfriends.
After she departs, Barry says, "Unless I miss my guess, you guys just met my ex."
"That's Linda Park?" Cisco cranes his neck and looks in her direction. "No way. And she's an 042na fan too?"
"Who or what is 'O Fortuna?'" I ask, looking in the same direction. There's a concert of some kind in progress underneath a nearby band shell. The band in question is a trio of musicians, each one playing a wildly different instrument - trombone for one, flute for the second, and in the middle, an electric violinist.
"You gotta say it with the numbers in the name," Cisco says. "'042na.' They're Central City's premier electro-classical band! Look, listen, see if you can recognize the song they're playing!"
Taking a listen, I spend a moment trying to identify the song before it finally kicks into my brain. Without the lyrics, it's hard to figure out, but then I finally superimpose the words in my head, as sung in the 80s by Curt Smith. "'Mad World,'" I whisper.
"Which kinda makes sense," Gwen says. "Look at the sign."
I do exactly that, and see a hastily-written message on a dry-erase sandwich board a few feet away. Under an arrow pointing in the direction of the band shell is the message "Downtown CC Benefit, Feat. 042na."
"This was planned before the whole black hole thing," Cisco informs us. "I was actually hoping to come here tonight, and I totally forgot about it after all that happened today."
"At least you get to see a little bit of the fun, huh?" Gwen says. "And it looks like a cool show, too."
"Yeah, but as lovely as the music is," Grayson says with a sigh, "it's interfering with the view. Remember, it works by sound, so..."
"Right, right," I say, making my way past the concert. This is harder than it sounds, though, because the vast majority of the foot traffic in this part of the park is funneling its way in precisely that direction. Which means that as soon as we get past the entrance to the band shell, we end up having to battle our way through the crowd, almost literally.
"Hang on..." Olivia's voice rings out from Cisco's phone this time, prompting a few weirded-out looks from the crush of hopeful concert-goers. "Peter, turn your phone a couple degrees south again."
Mystified by this request, I look around. I'm new in town, so my internal compass is still in serious need of recalibration. But I'm pretty reasonably certain that, since I'm now following the side of one of the inlets, facing away from the lake, that looking south would mean looking where I've already been. "Are you sure you're having me look in the right place?" I ask. "'Cause I don't see anything that looks even remotely like a wormhole."
"They're actually not as big and conspicuous as you might think," Barry says.
"He's right," says Wells. "The wormholes only appear as tiny pinpricks of light - at first, anyway."
"If they're really that small," Gwen asks, knitting her eyebrows, "then how come you didn't tell us that before?"
"Because Grayson's phone-surveillance parlor trick works by sonar," Wells says. "And the wormholes create some powerful infrasound when they open."
"So we can't hear it, but the technology can," says Grayson. "I dunno if you guys noticed, but when that Lisa chick went into her own wormhole, there was a huge pulse of splash across the screen for a split second."
"That means infrasound?" Cisco asks.
"Yeah, it does. 'Course, since it's nighttime, it'll be harder to spot any - wait a minute." Grayson pauses, then says, "Peter, by the lake! I just saw something!"
"You sure?" I look around wildly. "I don't - wait, you're right. I see it too!"
Light blooms above the strip of grass separating the path from the water, about twenty feet from my current position.
Under the light, a human figure materializes. Female, brunette, wielding a cell phone.
"No," Cisco breathes. "It's her. It's Lisa Snart!"
"Again?" Barry grumbles. "Great."
At the sound of her name, the girl perks up. A sweetly psychotic smile stretches across her face, and she draws a gun from underneath her jacket. Strangely, the gun looks like it's gold-plated.
"Isn't that a little heavy for you?" I ask. I'm not kidding - she looks like she's struggling to lift the thing.
"Oh, that's okay, honey," Lisa says. "I'm just here to wait for my brother and his crime buddy. And, of course, that hot piece of speedy ass, the Flash."
As if on cue, Barry zips up to us in a flash (haha, I didn't mean to make that pun) of yellow lightning. "Someone say my code name?" he asks.
Lisa cocks her golden gun. "Of course you're here first," she says. "Now I'm just waiting for the others to get here."
"Guys, we got company! It's Captain Cold!" That's all Caitlin is able to yell over the line before the sounds of sci-fi-style weapons filter through the speakers on Cisco's phone.
"Go help them!" I order Barry. "We got this!"
"Just be careful with that gun of hers!" Barry calls back. "Unless you wanna know what it's like to shake hands with King Midas!" He disappears, running back to wherever Caitlin and Wells are at the moment.
"What does he mean..." Gwen muses. Then it dawns on her, as it does for me, and her face falls slightly. "Oh. Oh, that's gonna suck."
"You're telling me," I say, staring warily at the golden gun. I'm not sure who Aunt May would want to kill more if I got hit by that thing and turned into gold - Lisa, for shooting me; or me, for allowing myself to get shot and her to worry herself half to death.
"Shit," Lisa mutters. "I was really counting on joining my brother here."
"What's the matter?" I ask, matching her own sweet tones. "Your quantum GPS on the blink?" In a robotic, feminine voice, I say, "'Recalculating-'"
Lisa raises her gun and fires a warning shot, creating a large, glowing globule of molten gold. She steps aside, allowing it to land on the grass, where it starts to sizzle, cool, and solidify. "I'll just have to try again later," she says. The silver light appears over her head again, and she raises her hand up to it. "If I don't see Barry again for a while," she says, her hand slowly fading into the light, "say hi to him for me, would you?" With her free hand, she pockets her gun, blows us all a kiss, then disappears completely.
"Yeah," Cisco drawls, "that's definitely not the same Lisa Snart I remember. If anything, the one we dealt with was more obsessed with me than with Barry. And she hated my guts." He clears his throat, then looks down at his phone. Barry, Caitlin, and Wells are still fighting this Captain Cold character, judging from the sounds issuing from the speakers. I'd been told about him and Heat Wave, the two rogues who were some of the Flash's most annoying recurring nemeses. Other than Eobard Thawne, about whom Barry's expressed the fervent hope that they never meet again.
"We need to go help them out," I say, gesturing to the phone.
"I was about to suggest the same thing," Grayson says.
The sound of computer keys clacks through the speakers, then Olivia says, "They're about a block east of CC Jitters."
"Follow me," Cisco says. "I know the way."
I nod as Gwen and I follow him past the concert once again, this time at a more brisk pace. "I just hope we don't run into any more wormholes!"