Superman: There’s no word of the arrival of Wonder Woman and the Flash. Not for the rest of the ‘Team’ that was sent from the United Nations. In fact the entire camp would have surely been caught unaware, if not for the simple fact that I rarely go anywhere without keeping a vigilant watch upon my girlfriend. How did the real Superman always show up just in time to save Lois Lane? The answer isn’t really as nice to think about as some people would gloss over in their pursuit of super-fandom. He could zero in and listen to her from just about anywhere on the planet. If the Earth wasn’t round and filled with pockets of Lead here and there, I could see her from just about anywhere too.
Her so-called Invisible Jet? Honestly it’s a little impressive. I’ve inspected it up close. The technology that went in to it renders it almost literally invisible. You could walk in to the thing and not know it until you smashed your face. On top of that it’s covered stem to stern in sonic dampeners and psionic baffles. Who ever built it thought it through too. Because I couldn’t even get a look at the inner workings, because it’s got a carbonized lead allow lacing the entire design. When she’s inside that plane, I can’t see her or hear her. Normally that might trip me out, but I’ve had a lot of things to worry about here in Kahndaq. Not to mention our talk about ‘trust,’ which suggested that I need to be willing to do -my- job and trust that she’s safe in doing her’s too. Still drives me crazy when I can’t see or hear her for extended times, but that’s also why I’m listening even harder and notice the moment she’s out of that Jet. Not to mention much closer than I think she should be.
She isn’t coming in to some nifty college town, like we’d planned for this weekend. Nope. Shiruta was once upon a time something lovely. With ancient architecture that would have made for a very appealing visit for someone like Cassie, but I’d bet her driving lessons that she’s going to react poorly. That’s why I’ve flown out to meet her. Well. Her and I suppose Wally, though I’ve basically taken to ignoring him the moment Wonder Woman and I are in the air.
“It’s not pretty, but it’s better than it was Monday. We’ve managed to clear most of the wreckage by this point. The Capital City is clear of fighting. In fact from Egypt, to Shiruta is mostly peaceful at this point. Other than the uprising of militants that are rushing to Adam’s side for vengeance.”
“Your Mom isn’t here. She and her assistant took two camels and went out in to the desert. Heading for the Mountains to the East. For whatever reason, I lost sight of them once they cleared the desert and made it to the treeline.” As we make our way from the coast, towards the Capital city, I give her this ‘briefing’ but as I’m being all informative I’m also not treating this like I would a briefing for my team. They don’t need to know about Cassie’s Mother, but Cassie would be wondering. Just as she’s likely also here because of… “Freddy here too. He went to meet with Adam. He came to talk to me about not getting involved, then he went right out there and tried to talk Adam out of fighting. Seriously, that guy’s a little creepy.”
“Both. Of them. Are creepy. They know too much. They talk too much. Freddy’s always giving you these pep talks ‘Ra-ra-ra-Go-Superman’ and Adam’s always like, ‘Go fetch my slippers Peasant.’ The two of them had a very nice little talk though. Adam made sure Freddy was aware that all of this is his fault.”
Wonder Woman: There’s a very good reason for that. Other than the Invisi-jet, though that’s the technical reason why I could pull it off. I could have flown here in a relatively short amount of time, considering the distance crossed. Not nearly as fast as Flash could have run, but I’d been willing to give him a ride most of the way to Khandaq because I was already taking the jet, whether he took the ride or not. I hadn’t wanted anyone to know that I was coming, because that gave time for interception or preparation and… honestly all that sounds a little more devious and calculating than I was really being about the whole thing. There’s a lot of reasons why coming here isn’t a good idea. But what’s more important is the reasons that I think it’s the right one to make regardless.
I’d made it very clear, to the best of my ability at least, to my travel companion on our brief (very brief because…boy does this jet jet) flight over that we’re not going to Khandaq to fight. We’re here to help people, defenseless people, in crisis. It may still happen, the fighting, but it wasn’t the purpose of my trip. Like so many other things, we’ll get to that when it comes, if we have to, but there’s many reasons why it’s a bad idea to seek out. NOWHERE for one, who already has a team here. I don’t doubt for a moment that any slight excuse to spin our unsanctioned activity as provoking some kind of international incident would be jumped upon with glee.
We’d disembarked before actually hitting Khandaqian airspace, the jet set to autopilot itself into hiding, with Wally continuing on foot and me in the air. This side of the nation wasn’t likely to be in as much of a hot zone since it’s the opposite direction from Bialya. We’d decided upon a rendezvous location to begin our humanitarian efforts, and then I’d been left feeling…well. Even slower. Which is probably a strange thing for someone who moves as fast as I do to feel, but I have a whole lot of faster things to compare myself to. And lately, stronger as well. Speaking of…
The red and blue turns up even faster than I expected it to, and I was expecting it wouldn’t take terribly long. No, this isn’t exactly the beach weekend we were expecting to have, and that we’d started in California under the auspice of touring Stanford’s campus and checking out housing options for the next school year once I’ve graduated, and once no one’s asked too many questions about why Conner and his can’t be bothered level of grades got him there as a Junior. Because… he’s a Luthor who also happens to be just enough into ‘really really good’ territory at basketball. This is the way of the dual life we’re trying to have though, isn’t it? And now that I’ve taken the time to catch up on what’s going on here… I’m proud of him for being here, and what he’s doing. Even if I don’t care for the people that have aimed him.
“You lost sight of them? That’s foreboding…”
My Mother isn’t why I’m here. No matter how much sulking I may have done about being excluded from the dig she is on right this moment. If it’s just her and an assistant, that means it’s been downgraded in size considerably over what I thought she’d be taking. Or maybe she just let me think that. The initial discussion/arguments had all been before I had a lot of information that I do now. She can very clearly handle herself, and knows what she’s doing far better than I do apparently. Still. It makes me curious. Had they gone through some sort of doorway, perhaps? Or was there just something interfering with his vision like the ‘secret room’ in the Metropolis Museum had.
And as for Freddy?
“I know. He called me. Well, Flash and me. I think I would have wanted to come anyway, but he asked us to come help.”
I just hadn’t known about the entire situation long enough to make that decision on my own, without the request to influence me. I’d gone from asleep California, to freaking out over Red Robin ‘in’ my hotel room, straight on to trying to unsuccessfully help another meta, and then there’d been all the phone messages.
“…Adam? Yeah, tell me abou… Oh. Both of them? I would call Freddy insightful more than creepy but. I suppose when you have knowing things as what boils down to a superpower it… could come off that way.”
He has a way of looking at you under what feels like a magnifying glass, and picking out the good things and bringing them to light. That’s one of his best qualities, and I’d been more than a little stunned at how the guy had cut to the heart of the brewing fight between Conner and I on the steps of that library not all that long ago. He’s got all the tools to nitpick out the bad, and exploit it, but that just doesn’t seem like him. And maybe I haven’t know him all that long, to make a real sticking judgement but… I also like to think I’m pretty good at reading people and their intentions. Most of the time. Truthfully the only thing out of all of this that makes me skid to a halt, kind of literally if you can really ‘skid’ in the air, is the last part.
“Wait, what? How is this Freddy’s fault?”
Superman: “I don’t like the phrase ‘lost sight of them,’ because that tends to give the impression that they just walked out of range or that stepped around the side of a wall. They weren’t even close to the event horizon where the world curves, they’re a few hundred miles away and poof. It’s like they disappeared. That’s crazy, but your family does things a little differently than most.”
Magic. Not my cup of tea in the best of times. So far it is one of the very few things I’ve encountered that I don’t have a healthy immunity too. I’ve read and see videos of how Magic was able to effect the original Superman, I count myself lucky that I’m at least a little more resilient to it than he was by virtue of being engineered that way. But my encounter with the out of control Billy Batson left me all to aware that there are limits to even my invulnerability.
I don’t like things that I can’t reasonably explain, either. Just having two normal people walk out of a desert and just vanish? Ugh. “Your mother was pretty specific about not wanting me to follow her, too. So I’ve been checking in, but where ever she went too? I can’t see it.”
“I’m not even going to do that thing I do where I take something you’ve said and then repeat it back to you with all the things wrong about what you’ve just said. I’m just going to say, simply, that having someone behave as if they know you? Thirty seconds after having met you. Is creepy. Raven does it all the time and it creeps people out. It just does. Not even just me. It even creeps out the telepath. So I know, for once, I’m actually right about something.”
At the height we’re at, it’s fairly easy to see Kahndaq in a very real way. Hard to miss the smoke from fires that haven’t been put out. The battles that still rage far out to the distance west of our position. The tent village that the United Nations ‘Peace Keepers’ set up is also something that I never thought I’d see. It’s haunting. It’s not difficult for someone who knows me as well as Cassie does to see the way my face screws up at the sight of it coming closer. I do not like seeing it, for whatever reason. In spite of talking about literally everything else? The topic of the tents, and what is going on there, is immediately avoided.
“Adam has been storming the Bialya forces. Honestly, I wanted to go but Doc Fairchild and Freddy both talked me out of it. Since Freddy is important to you, I kept watch on him as best that I could. I’ve been a little busy. He found Adam over near the Coast and the two of them had a talk. Actually, it was more like two different lectures. Freddy was batting lead off. He went in heavy with stuff about Hope and how he was there to try to stop Adam from repeating ancient History. A lot of the details weren’t really stuff that I’m keen on understanding, but there was a lot about things that happened thousands of years ago.”
“Then Adam went in to bat clean-up, boy did he. It was strange. The guy wasn’t screaming or ranting. He was eerily calm as he made sure that Freddy understood that all of this was his fault. Something about the Gods demand their Champion be tested and that they chose all of this to be the stage for his Final Trial. Something about Freddy had a choice. He could have abandoned the Trials, but someone else would have been picked and maybe all this happens anyway. But that these trials, specifically, are tailored for him. Something about them being broken, so the Trials are broken.”
The shrug isn’t because I don’t care about what I’m relaying, so much as I am really just repeating what I head. Not so much understanding it all. “He was pretty clear about this, this attack on Kahndaq, being the setting the Gods have chosen for his final Trial. So that makes him responsible for it. All the death. All the hurt and pain. How he handles that guilt is going to determine whether he passes the final trial.”
“If that’s all true. And what you said about your Dad being the one staging all these tests. Then, seriously. Cass, babe. You actually win the ‘My Dad’s a Dick’ contest. I’m not even sure how that’s possible.”
Cassie: “And we definitely don’t want to make it sound like your powers aren’t as great as… I’m kidding. Maybe they took a door to somewhere else, like I did to go and meet my Father. Or maybe there’s some sort of construct out there meant to hide people like a super low tech version of the jet. Or. There’s the different. Like you said.”
I happen to know magic exists, and is real. I’ve seen it, and while I may not know everything about my specific heritage and the weirdness surrounding that particular ‘area,’ it’s still there. But I also happen to fall pretty solidly into the camp so far where much of it can also be explained by science. Or both. What’s that saying? Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.
“She was pretty clear in not wanting me around, either. Even before the rest of this was going on, so I’d assume it’s all only upped her time table, or maybe just made her more cautious about anyone else getting involved.”
All I can really do for his argument about the general creepiness factor of what Freddy picks up is shrug. I suppose much of it has to do with what the person is telling you, whether it’s something good about yourself, or bad, or how open you are to someone gleaning information from you. I am, in my natural state, pretty transparent and open. Heart on sleeve maybe, even. It was only the powers, the hiding, that had brought on any real attempts at covering anything up about me. Conner’s a different story altogether for basically anyone but me. Maybe he’s not wrong about this from his point of view, but I don’t think I’m wrong, either. And any further discussion on that is waylaid by the look on his face, and that draws my blue eyes to what caused it. Part of me wants to ask because that’s not a look you’ll see on his face much, if ever. But my conversation with Batman before I’d left makes me fill in the blanks all on my own.
It’s a place I’ll be avoiding.
“Are you really sportscasting the meeting of the totally opposite minds, for me? I think I love you…”
But I am listening to what he’s saying, despite trying to interject some humor in the moment for… I’m not even sure why. Maybe to ease some of my own mounting discomfort over exactly what’s sprawling out in front of us. Physically, and in terms of events and possibilities. There’s so many ways for all of this to go even more poorly than it already has, for a lot of people. Or for it to spiral into something that can’t be coped with. It isn’t really until he approaches the end of all of it that I let out a snort, that is more or less Cassie-speak for ‘bullshit’ when I’m usually a little too polite to actually say the word.
“Or maybe that’s how Adam wants to see it. Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, floats like a duck, the only sensible conclusion is that it is a duck. Or maybe it’s a decoy, and there’s a hunter with a whistle in the reeds, and it’s really just mortal man doing what mortal man has been doing forever apparently, and nothing ‘natural’ at all.”
Lifting my palms up, and spreading my fingers like I’m trying to ward something off, it isn’t as if I need them to fly. Something I quickly discovered after the ability to fly itself, was that there’s some… poses that just feel natural. Either because it’s how you’ve seen the act pictured, or it’s just what works for you, but the act itself is… I can’t even actually explain it.
“I’m normally completely in the my Dad’s a Dick camp. You know that. But they all… my Father. Adam. Freddy. They’ve all gone on about these trials being ‘broken.’ Adam just used it as a verbal weapon to try to break down Freddy, but at the same time… they all seem to think they’re still going to function as they did before. Why would rules apply, or the old mold still be used as an example, of something that’s broken it?”
It can’t be the final trial. I’m supposed to be the final trial, if it’s ‘business as usual.’ I’m in that moment very aware of the bangle on my wrist, the power in it and what it represents. What it’s meant for. I would never have orchestrated something so horrible and encompassing just to test Freddy. There’s easier, less traumatic ways.
“I do think there’s someone behind this. So does Batman. But he wasn’t thinking Gods and Mythological Monsters. And it’s not fair to put that on Freddy anymore than it would be even if this were some great Pantheonic chess game. It was someone else’s choice to set the board the way they did. Everyone else just has to try to deal with it.”
It still makes me feel awful for Freddy, and his good, kind heart though. Maybe Adam really does believe as he said, because that’s how it is from his perception. Just like Conner sees my friend as creepy, and I do not. And I know, were I in his position, I would probably feel guilty, too.
Superman: “So do I,” comes the all-to quick injection of my agreement. “None of this is atypical of how things should be going.”
However I’ve been a little wary of looking too deeply in to it. For a number of reasons. For the last two years I’ve been on a very short lead, when it comes to what my handlers will allow for. I know that I’m too powerful, personally, to do a lot of things directly to me. But it’s the indirect path to pain that I’ve been worried about. At the same time I’ve been feeling more and more drawn to the idea that I need to be more conscious of what and how I’m doing the assignments I’m being given. Some of that could have lasting repercussions too.
I’m also more than a little aware that I could be thinking this way for no other reason than because Cassie wants me to. So far, I haven’t really found a lot in the way of physical proof that Nowhere is the problem, so much as the answer, but… “My Father was very quick to step in, put me in the field with the Peace Keepers, publicly. Peace Keepers aren’t the only supers here. There’s more than a few of my team from Nowhere here as well.”
“Honestly, my Father made a point of telling me that he suspected something else going on here too. I can’t tell if he’s being equally sincere and paranoid himself or he knows something is up because he’s involved. It may not even matter as to why,” we’re not quite there at the tent city, when I get her to loop around for a bird’s eye view of the city in ruins. “While I’ve been working with the peace keepers to help the civilians, Kelsey’s had my normal team searching the wreckage. At first, I think she was looking for a clue as to what the hell would have prompted such a weird pearl harbor-like attack, but then they found something. Looked like the head of a spear, made from sort of metal.”
“I wouldn’t normally want to tell you so much of the ‘Top Secret’ stuff, because I think that only makes things weird for us but… look. Sometimes M’Gann buys in to the hype and thinks I’m oblivious like everyone else. Whatever that spear was? It’s not metal from Earth. And I don’t think M’Gann is intending to tell our Handlers about it. That more or less confirmed it for me. If she doesn’t want our bosses to have it either, then it’s probably bad stuff.”
“Which.. brings me back full circle. To the point that Adam made and that you kind of refuted. I think there’s too much going on here. Too many angles and they’re all going in different directions. Maybe my Father has one of the angles to play, but I can’t fathom how he actually benefits from Bialya’s attack. If anyone proves his connection, it would turn the whole world against him. So I’d wager he’s taking advantage of it, but not the one at the bottom of this. The trouble is? Someone gave Bialya funding for arms, tanks and boats far beyond their normal means. They advanced from terrorists to actual army in like three years.”
“Then there’s your Mother. Suddenly having a Dig in Kahndaq. Now this weird metal shows up.”
“Cass, I think you might want to consider that -this- is the work of … um… your people.” Opening those hands up toward the Heavens. “Maybe it’s not the actual Trial, but it sure feels like someone is working in mysterious ways to pull a lot of mythical elements together in a single place.”
“…and did you just say… Batman?” Did my eye just twitch, ugh. “Why in the hell would you bring a Batman to the Desert?! There’s no buildings to swing from. No shadows to pose in. Just tell me it’s the little Batman. Please.”
Wonder Woman: In a way? That actually makes me feel better about the whole paranoid idea. Or it seemed paranoid at first, when I was alone in my belief that this was all too convenient, and too well timed. I know Conner doesn’t exactly share my opinions and beliefs of what NOWHERE is and what it isn’t. It’s possible that the second opinion from the Wayne corner might have offset that except from what I can tell, their father was paranoid about many things, even if he was also right about most. Maybe it’s what drove him to gather so much information. So maybe that was two like minded people, with an echo chamber of ideals together. But you add Conner’s mostly opposing view to the mix? Now it feels more like a real thing.
“Which, I might add, is a really sexy look on you but… this is hardly the first conflict. And with everything and everyone coming here through different angles and means I… can’t really argue feels arranged. To a degree that I’m not even sure I can blame entirely on your Father.”
I don’t have Conner’s supervision, but my eyesight’s sharp enough to understand what I’m looking at below us. The level of the destruction, mixed with his emphasis on who was searching, and with whom. I know that M’Gann, or as I knew her originally Kelsey, is a telepath. He’s told me as much, and while I don’t know how powerful of one she is, just based off what I know of the rest of his team, I have to assume ‘very.’ She could then, I assume, have pinpointed any survivors on her own, if that’s what they were after. So, it’s like he said. It wasn’t people. It was things.
“Or maybe she was just so excited, or nervous, about what she found that she just forgot to worry about whether you were looking or not. Which. Also just makes it sound even more like something big.”
Nth metal. Which I’d never really heard of, until today, when Batman brought it up. And… Conner’s right. Talking the ‘top secret’ stuff, with us sort of on opposing sides in a way makes things… hard. Strained for me especially because I don’t like doing this whole secrets thing. I understand the necessity of course, but he’s given me something. And so I reciprocate.
“He thought that was a linchpin. A sort of metal. And… Batman, I mean. I don’t know if it’s the same but if that’s it, I still don’t understand why such an overt attack to go after it. Why not something more sneaky and less likely to get you Black Adam decimating your… an army…?”
Since it doesn’t seem like it’s really all Bialya’s at all.
“Unless. Lots of birds. Lots of stones that get to just look like one big one in the fallout. Mom’s dig isn’t sudden, but her coming out here now with everything else going on? Kind of is. I know she was pretending to not be as big of a badass as she is before, but we always stayed well clear of any kind of conflict when we’d go to sites before. It was never worth the risk to the history, she said. Or our lives. So that means something is so important that it is.”
This has become like so many other times, a moment when I wish that I knew more about my new world and the players in it. That I’d somehow magically made the transition from a good knowledge of stories and myths, to fitting them as functional pieces into a reality based world view. That I knew all the stories like a history textbook at school.
“And… I don’t know. Maybe it is, but it just all feels… blunt, when there’s quieter channels I’d assume they could work through. They’re not supposed to be meddling directly. That’s what the trials were for. What champions were for or… children. But… maybe that’s all broken too and all bets are off. If that were the case though, I have a feeling it’d be even more.. messy. Dramatic.”
My next snort is one of stifled laughter, because even in this serious discussion there’s something a little absurd about the expression he’s making. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Normally he’s so… sure, maybe even cocky and/or pleased with himself. Definitely in control and I’m one hundred percent sure I saw that eye-twitch.
“I didn’t bring him, I just spoke with him before I left to come here.” Absolutely true. I mean. He brought himself. In his own plane, and I don’t know if he’s even here yet or not, or where he’ll be once he gets here. My expression gets a little bit sheepish, and if we weren’t flying? I’d very likely be toeing the ground we were standing on. “Erm. No. Big Batman.”
Superman: “I’m not the world’s greatest detective, but I know how to think like a Luthor. If this metal is all that important, then maybe Batman’s right. It was definitely Alien. So much so that, like I said, M’Gann was really tetchy about it. Batman thinks it is important. M’Gann obviously did too. I’d say that is all the confirmation we need as to what’s the stakes for Bialya and my Father.”
“Except that, they’re not the only players in all of this. Like you said, it’s all too messy. To blunt force trauma,” this time I’m shrugging because of the simple fact that none of this is my area of expertise. I’ve always been the guy you send to solve the problem, not answer the riddle. I just can’t help but think this through like I was born, raised and trained to do. “Thinking about this from a purely political stance. If it really is about this alien metal. Then Bialya’s attack, the United answer… all of that could be a smoke screen. Something to put the world’s media off base, while they harvest this metal without the world knowing it. Or if they did know about it, maybe they wouldn’t figure out it’s origin.”
“… we’re talking in circles though, because the truth is? None of this matters. Figuring out the ‘Who, When and Why’ can come later. Right now there are people all across this country that are being rooted out of their Homes. Many of them aren’t going to make it through the week. Telling me it’s all happening for some rocks? Only makes me angrier and more inclined to put a stop to it regardless.”
No. That isn’t a speech about ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’ but it’s just about the closest thing to have ever come out of my mouth. I know it too, the moment I’ve said it. That’s why I’m shrugging a little helplessly to my girlfriend, who’s watchful eye isn’t going to have missed anything about the way I keep avoiding the direction of those tents. So, I just cut to the chase on that topic too.
“The worst part? Is that I can’t stop hearing them. I can look away, but I can’t turn my ears off. Maybe the other Superman could, but I sure don’t know how to do that. It’s kind of …” Another shrug, this one as non-committal as the first. “.. driving me crazy.”
“Maybe that’s why I can’t shake the feeling that Black Adam is right. That all of this is connected to the Trials for Freddy or at least…. sorry.. but your people. You said if it was them, that it would be even more messy and dramatic, right? Okay, but what if it’s not like… your Dad. Not talking about full blown God here. I mean. Isn’t there someone out there? Pretending to be Adam. Trying to run the Trials off the rails? Killing Gods. Juicing up.”
“I mean. Freddy’s here now. Adam’s here. You’re here. That’s like how many ‘Gods’ all in one place? With a big old Human War, cover-up conspiracy about Alien minerals. Sounds fairly dramatic.”
And then. “Ugh.”
“Why him? Why that one? Can’t we just recruit the little Bat? It’s the same know-it-all attitude. Same bat-tech. Same everything in a smaller package.” It may as well be a verbal foot-stomp. “If I had to stay out of Gotham, why can’t there be a rule that they have to stay in Gotham?”