Stately Wayne Manor, such as it is. The old girl has seen better days for sure. Everything has just been a constant struggle to keep up. It all started with Bruce’s death. A lot of talk has been about Batman’s death, but that’s the catch in all of this. Batman didn’t die. Bruce Wayne did. He was killed in what most people outside of our little family believe was a random act of violence no different than his Mother and Father. Gunned down on the street due to the symbol he’d represented in the City (and the world). While the Foundation was left to Tim, the Manor was left to me. We’d all wondered what exactly Damian was left, but Alfred had told me long, long before Dinah approached. That it was written that way to make sure each of the sons knew what they were inheriting. The Manor held the Cave and as such that went to the son who should inherit that legacy.
When I got here, I’d spent six months more or less holed up in the library. Most of the staff were let go. Alfred wasn’t able to keep up with the sheer volume of the investigation I’d begun to do in to Bruce’s passing. The Cave was Moth-Balled, because I simply told the lot of them that I wouldn’t do it. Then came the backfire of all the Cave’s technology, followed by the Ninja, then the physical attack on the Cave… we’ve scarcely had time breathe. Much less repair it all. Even still Alfred manages to work miracles around here and so despite there being a literal litany of people sitting in the Manor’s sitting room? It looks homey. There’s a fire lit. Everyone has food and drink.
The role call is a who’s who. Timothy Drake in a suit that I’ve seen only once before, has made himself at home in a seat near the fire. He’s got some sort of holographic display up, apparently still working on his task. Despite being in full costume, neither he, nor Stephanie Brown are wearing a mask. Spoiler seems to be also be distracted by that Gameboy contraption of her’s and I’m surely not the only one who has missed her nervous glances at the grandfather clock tick-tick-ticking away. Then there’s Cassandra Sandsmark and Conner Luthor. They’ve apparently put their ‘work clothes’ on since I saw them less than an hour ago and look completely ridiculous in this old ‘Gothic’ styled home. The pair of them are bright anyway, but you add the glow of a fire to them and it makes Wonder Woman light up the entire room. Last but not least is Dinah Lance who is just in front of me when we step in to the room fashionably late and Alfred Pennyworth who is serving food and drinks to everyone in attendance.
We took the liberty of actually getting ‘dressed’ for this occasion. Figuratively and literally. Though given the tone of this meeting, I’m not sporting the far more comfortable skin of Nightwing. I’ve come in the cape and cowl, the former of which is currently swathed around me like a cloak. I feel only slightly over-dressed sporting the Cowl, given that seemingly everyone else has dropped the pretense of not knowing one another. It just feels like a moment when there needs to be a reminder that this is literally my House. That we asked everyone to gather, but there is a pecking order here and is a burden that I wear. But I will wear it.
“Status report Robin?”
“Let’s cut the Robin and just go with ‘Drake’ for the moment. I’m working on a new moniker.” Tim barely looks up from the Holographic interface to correct me, but when he does there’s a small ‘gulp’ at the sight of my nonplussed gaze. “Right, okay then. This thing you’re calling the Vault, is something we’ve all known existed. None of us actually knew the form it took. Bee tee doubleya, by ‘all,’ I mean those of us who have lived in this house. For example during Dick’s time here there was a vault below the Cave where Batman would house his foe’s most dangerous tech that couldn’t be left to Police impound for fear it might end up in the wrong hands. During Damian’s time as Robin, the Vault expanded to have it’s own holding facility because during the No Man’s Land period there was no law, no jails or arkham. It was during my between his time and my tenure as Robin, that Bruce installed the current upgrades. From what I can ascertain they were put in place to deal with Parallax, should they be able to take Hal Jordan alive.”
That projection he’d been working on is literally cast out in to the middle of the room for all of us to see. It’s filled with dimensional images and video for us to see as he speaks. Data, blue-prints, schematics. The names of the engineers are all different. No one person built this, it was designed by hundreds of people. Bruce just took their engineering and put it together.
“During the assault on the Cave, the attacker intentionally botched an attempt to gain access to the cave through a systemic reboot of the security system. Whomever it was had 15 seconds of time during which the security was down. This sounds totally reckless now that we know there were actually captives down there, but the security isn’t what is holding those people. It’s the Kryptonian crystallis system. It bends every single form of energy that I can even postulate and confines it to the cubic cells. So the person who did the attack knew this and therefor needed 15 seconds to take whatever they took from the Vault.”
“This is where Dick needed Barbara. She was able to trick the Brother-Eye system in to believing that those cells were being violated. That also sounds miraculous, until I realized… she didn’t have to hack the system. Once she was able to physically locate the over-rides, she simply took Bruce’s form and unlocked the Vault. This is where it gets sketchy, because I’m still not sure what the hell she was doing in the cell with Dinah’s Brother. And I’m not sure why Dinah’s Brother… let’s just ignore that Dinah doesn’t have one… was actually down there, but he is and has been for at least a year, possibly more.”
Each time Tim stops speaking he shifts the Holographic projection to -show- us stilled images of various portions that he is describing.
“Here’s where we really get in to the weeds. You asked me to fact-check everything. I did what I could in the time allowed. Alfred is somewhat clean. Despite assisting in the build, Alfred was completely locked out of the system about a week before Bruce put your Brother down there. I’ve cross-referenced everything, Bruce went to Rapid City about three days after he locked Alfred out and he then sent Alfie on a vacation up to his cabin in New Hampshire to see his daughter… another relative I wasn’t aware of, might I add… this correlates directly to several other trips Bruce has made to Rapid City over the years. I believe he’s been planning this for a very long time.”
“Thank you for the briefing… eh.. Drake, but you left at least one thing unanswered. Is the Martian safe to let out of the cage?”
This clearly makes Timothy uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why. He shares a look with Cassie and Conner, but I’ve got no idea what it means or why he does it. The three of them know one another well from while Tim went to school with them, so perhaps the three of them all knew M’Gann in some form or another?
“There’s no definitive test that I can, which would give us a credible answer. The person in the other cell isn’t using a standard form of mind control that we’re used too. It’s possession. Which in a non-mystical sense, is a form of rapid mental domination on a genetic level. Since she’s a shape-shifter, there’s a chance that she simply re-wrote her DNA as fast as he was making changes. There’s an equal or even better chance that she didn’t or at least not all of what was done. From the files, there have been tests done on Dinah’s Brother over the years, as Bruce attempted to reverse the effects. There’s been a lot of success, but the key hurdle is that if one cell of this ‘Vertigo’ remains in the system, it eventually multiplies and re-takes the host.”
“So we can’t let her go.” It’s best, I think, if I say those words because then perhaps the Supers will understand the gravity of what is being said. Except then Tim makes that noise he does, when he’s the smartest person in the room.
“Well. One test was actually a success.” His throat clears again and he gestures to Dinah. “Well. During the original encounter Dinah’s team had with this Vertigo thing. They were able to free everyone else from it’s possession, when she … uh…”
“Killed him. She killed him, Red. Which brings us back to the question I asked before they got here. How the fuck is he alive, if she killed him?”
“According to Bruce’s notes. Nowhere re-animated Kurt Lance, in order to harvest the virus. Vertigo was seen a more humane method of putting a suicide in the field, then implanting bombs in to their brain. Don’t worry. They couldn’t control it. So they scrapped the idea and started cloning real heroes to be programmed…”
“Where does all of this information leave us?”
“You’re not killing Megan.”
“Suddenly a little blood on your hands is a problem?”
“There will be blood, but it won’t be Megan’s if you guys go down that route.”
“I didn’t suggest we kill her, you didn’t let me get that far. I was going to say… we might want to think about re-killing Kurt Lance. I’m not clear on the ethics involved in killing someone who’s technically already dead. But…”
“… if killing is wrong, then it’s just wrong. I’m sick of you people constantly changing the rules. Either Killing someone is okay or it isn’t. Black and white. Right Cassie?”
“Now Cassie’s opinion matters to you? You’re half the reason this entire problem exists.”
Ahem. “Master Drake, Mister Luthor. Would either of you like a cold drink perhaps?”
Dinah: I haven’t spent a whole lot of time here since Bruce died, and I came back to Gotham City. I was working with Tim, and we’d been operating out of the Nest instead. The only times I really actually came up to ‘the house’ was to yell at someone. Or for Halloween. I briefly considered turning up for this exactly as I’d already been: in even more disheveled workout gear than I’d had on the last time, but Dick’s pulled out the big Bat gun, and we probably need to set a tone. This had needed to happen regardless, I’d taken Conner seriously after that train, but it was already abundantly clear to me that ‘my’ problem wasn’t just going to be ‘my’ problem. There were targets for NOWHERE to take aim at beyond myself, and as it turns out ‘my’ problem is a whole lot bigger than I actually anticipated. One side of it. There’s different repercussions for the second. Admittedly, there’s three more attendees than I’d actually planned on…
Either way, even in my full gear, I’m the most underdressed person in the room, and I don’t even mean in sheer amount of skin showing. This of course doesn’t bother me, but Spoiler’s clearly gotten an upgrade over what I last trained with her in, and is still playing her stupid game while looking anxious about being here, and Wonder Girl’s costume is a great deal more spangly in person, or maybe that’s thanks to the firelight throwing a reflection on it. I couldn’t even actually guess what the fabric is, and I spend enough time trying to that she notices, and pointedly looks away.
“…well that’s a little obvious for a starter, but we’re all friends and fam here so…”
I’m mostly talking to myself, he’s giving his report and relaying information is Tim’s thing, particularly if he gets to reveal something he’s figured out before anyone else has. No mocking or judgement there. It’s what he does. He’s good at it. Sometimes he even makes sure everyone actually understands the magnitude of what he’s saying, but fortunately for even us plebians this is mostly English. And I have questions but they’re not actually immediately relevant to our issue and this problem. The logistics of how Kurt’s been eating down there for God knows how long, for one thing. Standing with my arms folded across my chest, I start to make the observation, circling back to what Dick and I, and Tim and I separately, had already concluded about the intruder, and the points that this proves.
“So the attacker had to know there was a Vault, they needed to know exactly what was in said Vault, know exactly how to get to it, and know exactly where to go in it to retrieve whatever it was that they were after, while also either covering their trail to get into the Cave, or preventing all the systems from detecting them in the first place. So either there’s a speedster involved or. Is. Your father alive?”
Holy shit, she speaks in whole non-stammering sentences that don’t only involve her speaking up in order to charm an audience, or trying to contain Conner from whatever his current moment of ridiculousness is? Maybe I’m a little harsh, since I had literally no experience with her up until today, and given that Tim’s a genius, albeit a teenage one, and Conner’s smart and observant and doesn’t strike me as the tie himself to one person unless they were actually pretty special type… I’ll admit I’d kind of figured maybe they both only thought she was so great because she’s yet another gorgeous, well built blonde and they were both in love with… her… While I was boggling over Wonder Girl’s observation, and the sincere concern that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the big problem, and more Bruce being not so dead, the conversation had carried on to what we’re really here to discuss.
And it has moved on to the two of them fighting. This isn’t banter, or bickering. There’s answers to questions I had myself, but those are about to get glossed over in rapid fashion. Conner had told me, before we got to Rapid City, that I’d blown Kurt’s head up. Off. Distinction that doesn’t really matter. It was clearly intact. And he is clearly in there, in some part, because I saw those memories. Steve Trevor had spoken to him since. Do I know for certain that it isn’t Vertigo aping my brother? No. But either way, I’d wondered if perhaps the reports filed, that Conner had access to in order to tell me the information, might maybe have not been entirely accurate in the details of how things fell out on that last mission.
It is very clear to me that they’re not fighting about M’gann, or what we’re going to do with her, that subject is just what they’re using to air some other bits of hostility. Cassandra’s expression has shifted from concern, to thinly veiled dismay as she watches her friend, and boyfriend, going back and forth like a ping pong match, until she interjects about the same time Alfred does.
“Stop it. Both of you.
Then there’s me, casually examining my fingernails, even though I don’t typically paint them and I’m wearing gloves that cover them up anyway, with a tone of voice that is so light and airy that it probably sends up red flag danger warnings in half the people in the room’s brains.
“I’m going to ignore the fact that we’re just casually throwing out murdering my brother as an acceptable option here, and circle back to the part where we don’t kill people. Even when they’re insufferable asshats that arguably deserve it. So what are our productive options on scanning the Martian for Vertigo? And what are we going to do about your other friend in the meantime?”
Dick: “We have a couple of theories with regard to the answer of that question, Wonder Woman,” applying a deep emphasis on the term, to in turn make clear what I think of the two kids bickering. “At the moment we haven’t been able to firmly determine if any of them are correct. I will say most of our current theories run in line with ‘Yes.’
Let’s just be very honest here, the best thing I’m doing right now is what Batman does best. Loom. Also I’m listening to the group in order to mentally take stock of them. Most everyone here I know, if only on different levels of varying degrees friendship. Unless you count Superboy, in which case I barely know him. He was Tim’s assignment and I’ve had no chance or cause to interact with him until recently. I’m particularly interested in the bickering and how it’s put down, but that’s for another time. We have problems that are for the right now variety and like clock work Canary cuts right to the heart of it.
“Here’s the thing, and I’m loathe to admit this but, our current systems aren’t advanced enough to do a full medical scan of Martian genetic codes due to their malleable state. In fact that’s actually the luck of the draw on how she was able to be in the Cave at all. Due to the Brother-Eye system being one of the ones taken out a couple months ago when the Cave systems got hacked.” Realizing almost immediately that some in the room don’t have that information, I can see Tim actually scramble suddenly. He doesn’t like having to correct himself and I can tell it bothers him even more to do so in front of Conner. “Back before Christmas, the systems that my Father originally created and that we’ve ran on for years, were all hacked. Legitimately hacked. To Di–Batman‘s point, that’s one of the problems with our theories too. If our Father was alive, he wouldn’t have needed to hack the system to disable it. And if he were going to simply invade to get something from the Vault, then he wouldn’t have needed to do something so obfuscating as hiring someone else to hack the system either.”
“Meaning, that we’ve been under attack from multiple angles for the last year. One of our theories, in fact, is that Bruce faked his death to go to War with a secret cult-like organization based out of Gotham, but with global reach. I’ve got reason to believe they’re actually behind the entire ordeal in Kahndaq, in order to get their hands on Nth Metal.”
“Which is ironic, because… wait for it…”
“… ugh … it’s like a game show. Tim’s going to cut to commercial and we’re going to have to listen to Freakshow talk.”
“. . . did they design you specifically to be an asshat? You smug piece of…”
“… cheese and wine … are available for those whom are old enough to partake. I’ve taken the liberty of setting a table in the children’s dining hall for those whom are not…”
“Bleh. Fine. The irony? M’Gann unlocked everything when she did what she did. I was able to compare Bruce’s most previous inventory to current inventory. Two items are missing. One piece of Kryptonite. One Nth Metal dohickie that was titled labled ‘Absorbascon.’ Seriously, I don’t have a good enough imagination to even make that up. I half thought Spoiler read the files before I did.”
“Absorbascon is an item that was stolen from Nowhere about three years ago.” My eyebrows lift right up, but before I can say a word, Conner’s putting his hand on Cassie’s leg. “Came from the same place I took this materia from. Nowhere has a vault like the one you’re talking about, in Metropolis. It’s full of items they’ve recovered, but either couldn’t make work or didn’t think actually did anything useful.”
“That’s comforting. Everyone has a vault of secret W.M.D.’s in their basement.” If I’d come as Nightwing, I’d be rubbing my nose at the moment. “So this item that is missing from our Vault, is the same metal that I believe the ‘Court of Owls’ is creating World War III over. Now the sample we actually did have, that we weren’t even aware of, is our stolen item. Lending yet more credence to the theory that Bruce is alive.”
“However, while this is all very well and good. We’re here to discuss impending doom by way of this ‘Raven’ individual. How are we going to avert that?”
“There is one thing.”
“See? Commercial break.”
Whatever it is, he doesn’t want to say it because… “… if Conner was to go in to her cell, there’s a chance he could use his enhanced visual accuity…”
“… to read her genetic code. Assuming he’s fast enough to do it, smart enough to read and understand it, there’s a chance that even if she’s infected he could utilize his extra-sensory ability…”
“… to remove the infection. If he’s not any of those things. We’ll have a Martian and Kryptonian infected and in our basement.”
Dinah: Cassie’s eyes widen over the confirmation of what she’d gathered herself from all of this, and you can almost read a momentary excitement there as she looks especially towards Tim as if to say, ‘but that’s amazing, right?’ only to half a second later realize that maybe it’s not in the current context and situation. Then it’s right back to paying rapt attention to the information being relayed to all of us, with a tiny perfect wrinkle on that forehead of hers, while leaning in towards Tim. Ah, Christ, is all I can think with a roll of my eyes, no wonder Dick said this girl’s a problem for our Boy Genius. If I were doing that move, right there? There’d probably be more tits hanging out, but otherwise it’d be to stroke an ego (so I could ultimately crush it) and make him want to impress me. Flirtation 101, maybe even remedial level. Except nothing else I’ve seen about her makes me think she has a fucking clue what she’s doing, so either she’s really, really good, and maybe also gaming Conner or…
There’s a momentary lapse in order to shoot a displeased look at Conner for his interruption, Stephanie who’s been silent for the longest time put together ever, actually looks up from her game long enough to spread her hands in a ‘what the actual fuck?’ gesture at being called out. That’s about the same time that our eyes meet, in the middle of her coming to an observation all her own as eyes flick back and forth between Tim and the ‘new girl.’ Then she’s pulling the hood of her costume up over white blonde hair, and sinking a little lower into her chair with that gameboy and… she just slipped an earbud into her ear.
“Unless your Father, or someone else, had already removed it after his last inventory. If it was someone else, they still had to know it was down there in the first place, though, and still know where to look so if it wasn’t Batman… the original Batman, then either they got that information from him voluntarily or…”
“Or he’s breadcruming us again, which my brain almost cannot take on right now,” one eyebrow is lifted, the other squinched down as I can’t not focus on the complete and utter lack of reaction from either Conner, our resident half-Kryptonian, or his girlfriend, to the revelation that Bruce had Kryptonite and it’s also missing, but that’s something I’m intentionally not calling their attention to. Tim and Conner’s bickering is making me want to box their ears literally, they might be kids, as Alfred has pointedly called out, but they’ve got to be better than this right now. Clearly I’m one of the old ones now, getting annoyed by all of the childish… “Spoiler. I know this is all a little above your pay grade, but if you’re going to be here pay attention. Conner, Tim, anyone at this point… what does this Absorwhatever do. Or not do usefully enough for NOWHERE to care much about it?”
“Uhhhm, so we were kiiiind of in the middle of something when the systems triggered before,” So help me, I’m going to uncork on the easy target in the room if she intimates in even the slightest that we interrupted Tim passing the time with… “And while I totes get Batman’s concern about things that go boom in people’s basements, because there probably was a bunch of them that we haven’t really figured out what they do yet in my Dad’s the last time we were there, and right now we kind of have someone we were interrogating tied up in the living room, and I thought he was waking up but… I mean. Probably fine. Yelling in the neighbor’s house is like, typical errrrryday in the Narrows…”
Twisting a purple gloved hand, she flashes the game machine’s screen at me long enough to sheepishly display what looks to be a Junior Detective Version of a Tim Drake project spread, rather than any actual video game. Huh. She looks at the momentary surprise on my expression, pauses for a moment like she’s waiting for an apology, realizes she already knows that sure ain’t coming and then with a snap of bubblegum I hadn’t even known she had until this second, goes back to work.
“…yeah sooo I’ll just let you real superheroes go back to your reality TV debate club and…
“Ahem. Conner’s regularly been able to spot the changes in M’gann’s cells before. It’s why he uses his x-ray vision on people, posing as someone else isn’t precisely a new thing for her, so it’s necessary to check sometimes if…”
“…haha yeah sure that’s why he does it…”
And now the girls are getting into it, too, judging by the way I just practically saw Wonder Woman’s hair start to puff up like an angry cat, whether it’s over being interrupted, or someone calling Conner on what we all sure wanted to say on at least a teensy tiny level, I actually get a flash of that something ‘else’ that Dick had talked about and that I hadn’t wanted to admit the girl might really have… no. Wait. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck starting to rise, and as I shift my weight the building static in the air becomes clear.
“Enough.” There’s force behind that word, not enough to damage the Wayne’s Home, but definitely enough to set the chandelier to tinkling, and everything to rock just a little bit, not to mention be felt. Stephanie’s mouth snaps shut, Cassie cringes in a way that answers the question mark in the file over whether or not her senses were improved with her physiology, and I move on after planting my hands on my hips and squaring my stance. “We’ve gotten all your input, so if you can’t fucking behave like the heroes you want to be, and that we need present and working together right now, then you can get the fuck out and Batman and I will make a unilateral decision that you’ll fall in line with or… get the fuck out.”
There’s a pause for response, or getting the fuck out, but mostly it’s to see if anyone wants to sass me so that I can demonstrate exactly how accurate I can be with a small angle scream.
“Is there anything, or anyone else of use in the basement, because I don’t actually want to risk having to lock up Superman down there, too, especially on the heels of what we just did yesterday, and what we know, but unless there’s a solution to deal with the Magical Psychopath that’s potentially going to be here any minute, I don’t really hear any other viable choices from the peanut gallery.”
Admittedly, he might fare okay after what Steve Trevor said about Vertigo and people with/without morals, but allowing anyone we can’t control under the sway of that entity is less than acceptable.
DIck: This is why I’d come here in the Cape and Cowl. As Nightwing, I’m one of them. As Batman, I’m above it. Someone whom can actually speak with authority, if only because the Cowl conveys it upon me. Even if I truly am just one of them, the act of just being Batman, being accepted -as- Batman, means that I hold some manner of sway. The trouble is knowing when to use it and when to listen. Right now the in-fighting is not exactly helping us with the immediate problem, but in the long term (assuming there is one) I am getting so much information about all of the people in this room that I won’t need to rely on second hand accounts anymore.
Dinah knows everyone in this room better than I do. She’s experienced, tough as nails and as far as I can tell every single person here respects her. Even the Demigod that barely knows her immediately went silent when Dinah began to explode. I’m impressed, quite honestly. Though she certainly aided her efforts to be heard by making her voice impossible to be denied, didn’t she? Every tool, in the toolbox.
Wait. Stephanie said they have someone tied up in her Father’s apartment? Well okay. That’s going on to the ‘list of things we need to discuss.’ Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with many things of late, it has to further down the list than ‘Hell-Child coming to Unleash Satan on Gotham.’ If such a threat is to be taken literally, of course, I’m admittedly not sure I entirely buy in to all of that. If that’s the case then why hasn’t this person been unleashed before now?
“Honestly, X-Ray vision does have other benefits, but the reason I scan everyone I meet? Is because I spent two years having no idea if I was talking to a real person or someone they cooked up to have M’Gann test me with me. Half the time? I still don’t know, if I don’t check.” The Superboy’s tone is very different, after Dinah’s explosion, than it was just a few moments ago. Did she bring him down off of the constant bickering or was it Cassie coming to his defense? “Canary’s experiencing it herself, right now. Nowhere replaced Mayor Queen, in Star City. It’s actually part of the protocols, which were created for a good reason. To stop public panic when someone like ‘Green Lantern’ gets corrupted, like with the Parallax situation that Tim brought up. It’s just been…perverted and abused.”
“Good people lose their way, Son. Thus the saying about the road to hell, being paved with good intentions.”
As much as I’ve been ill-impressed with the Superboy, I’m impressed that he has the ability to speak so clearly about this Nowhere group that he’s been working with his entire life. I’ve met the boy four times and each time has been slightly different, but they follow two different themes I’m starting to pick up on. Conner Luthor is Brash, Spoiled, Educated clearly, but sterotypical of today’s millennial culture of entitlement. So much so that his whims seem to change every couple minutes. Each meeting with him in costume has been a stark contrast. He seems dedicated, albeit it to the idea of being Cassie’s Hero, thoroughly trained, highly skilled and holding of convictions that aren’t entirely in line with my own. At least he has them. One of those two personas is fake, I’m just not sure which one.
Then there’s Cassandra. Her interactions have me the most curious. I’m told we’re banking on her to be the ‘control’ on Superboy, but she doesn’t seem to fully understand the power she holds over him. More especially the power she holds on every teenage boy that sees her. Properly harnessed she’d have them all eating out of her hand as surely as Vertigo’s mind control. So then what do we have with her?
“I think I can answer your question about the Absorbawhatsis. The reason that Nowhere was in possession of it, is because it was ‘rumored’ to hold mystical properties. The legend was that it allowed the holder to link with a people, not just one person but an entire culture for example, thereby absorbing their entire civilization. The wielder would then be able to think, act, speak… just like a member of the culture. A perfect tool for an Alien invasion, which is what Nowhere believed was in the works when the item was originally discovered. A race of avian-winged people were seeded in to the Earth Culture. They used the stone to learn the culture and blend in. Admittedly, once again, the original intention was good when your Grandma’s people took the rock. Over the years though, the thinking was that the item might be able to be of use when replacing people of interest. The rock didn’t quite work the way it was hoped for, so it was stored in the artifacts vault to be kept safe but not used.”
“Huh. That actually makes a lot of sense. My current theory, is that Bruce got his hands on the item for use in recovering your Brother’s mind, so that if cured of this Vertigo possession, he’d be able to reconstitute him. But if he could get it to work… he’d be able to infiltrate this cult of owls thing.” This is the first time so far that Tim has seemed less than totally hostile at his supposed best friend. Apparently it took Dinah screaming and Conner to say something intelligent to accomplish that goal. Alternatively… he’s responding to the way Cassie leaned in his direction to soothe him? “As to what you asked me, Dinah, there is two other people down in our vault. I don’t believe they’re going to be of much assistance with the Raven-issue, but they are something worth noted for our other situation(s).”
Up until this point I’ve been specifically ignoring Alfred, because he was doing the routine he always dives in to when we have guests. Serving those in attendance with food, drink, while attempting to only chime in when there were points of contention that needed to be cut off. He normally does not actively participate in the meetings. I’ve had hundreds of these meetings before and he rarely speaks up to offer real input, unless questioned directly. This should be… interesting.
“If I may…”
“You have something Alfred? Go ahead. You have the floor.”
“It occurs to me, that we are focused on a stop-gap for this Raven situation. Master Wayne. The original, Thomas. Doctor Wayne. Used to say frequently that we were constantly chasing symptoms for Gotham’s illness, but rarely treating the disease. To such a point, I might add, that perhaps instead of risking the contagion on young Kon-El for the purpose of simply checking on our melted friend. Perhaps if the risk is present anyway, we should instead deal with the disease.”
Cowled head tilts to the side, waiting for Alfred to continue. I knew this would be interesting, the old codger is making a show of it. Even now he’s acting as though he doesn’t know precisely how to use Tim’s holographic systems and it’s some sort of difficulty. Which in turn has Timothy treating the old man, as if he needs help and assistance. Coaching even. To find the exact image he’s looking for. The image we eventually get? Is the room Dinah and I charged in to, where we found Barbara and Vertigo locked in their battle of wills.
“Master Drake, what is this item here. On the floor of the cell. I believe I know it from somewhere. Could you jog my memory.”
“It’s a high school projector, Alfred. Precursor to television. Moving Pictures. You know?”
“Tch. Just so Master Drake, but … I’ve seen that specific one before. Clark gave it to Master Bruce, before he left.”
“Huh, that looks familiar to me too.”
“OOokay. Um…” Now Tim is actually working the controls on his wrist. “Phantom Zone Projector. According to the Manifest, it’s a gateway for a kryptonian prison dimension.”
“It’s position in the cell, suggests that Master Bruce positioned it as a failsafe, should the crystal cell begin to fail. When Marbara, our prisoner made sure to disable it immediately.”
“You’re suggesting that we open the cell again. To get that device. So that we deal with Vertigo directly instead of risking Conner on a Queen’s Gambit? Bold chess, Alfred.” In all of this back and forth, this is the first time I’ve actually turned entirely from the rest of them to look at Dinah. “You asked for other options, that one sounds viable.”
“Actually. There is one other option. Two actually. We could keep talking, but once Raven’s gets here all bets are off on which of you survive. We… could let Cassie smite him.” Okay. I think I’ve just ‘goggled’ for the first time in my whole life. Truthfully I can’t tell if Superboy is enamored with his girlfriend or believes what he said is an actually viable option. But thank god for the cowl, otherwise I might just have rolled my eyes hard enough to make my head lull. “Her Lasso. It’s strong enough, that I can’t break it. And I’ve seen it conduct electricty. She’s got Zeus’ bolt.”
“Negative. We don’t get to godmode this one, unfortunately. The last bit of information I’ve been waiting to pass on? Kurt Lance. His meta-human power is augmentation. He can bolster or remove meta-human powers completely. You touch him with the lasso, he turns it off. We don’t know how it works, the touch of the lasso might act as a conduit to turning off Cassie’s powers too.”
“Key-words, Tim. Meta-Human. She’s not Human. She’s divine.”
“Half-Human. So I’m half-worried we’d lose our Wonder Woman.”
“Alright, I think we’ve got a number of options on the table, but I think only two of them address the most immediate concerns. We need to choose between sending Superboy in to check on his friend. Or. We need to make a play for that projector device. Ultimately, we’re talking about Dinah’s Brother, so the decision to use the projector or not, is going to be up to her.” A hand raises out from beneath the cloaked cape. “I understand that everyone has a piece of the pie at risk here. Which is why you all were invited to give input, but we’re going to start with Dinah deciding if she wants to send her brother to this ‘Phantom Zone.’ If she doesn’t? It’s pretty obvious to me that Conner is willing to give option 2 a try.”
Dinah: It’s really only the fact that I just forcefully course corrected the group’s entire conversation that I don’t latch onto what Conner’s just said with all of my pent up hurt and vitriol. Clearly, it’s not pushed down as completely as I had thought, in the face of chasing my answers and what I’d actually learned in that hunt. I had thought I was going to find evidence of the things that NOWHERE has been doing, had been doing for years apparently, that there’d be something I could use to make them hurt in a very permanent fashion for what they’d done to Oliver. Only Rapid City had been opening a can of worms, and taking the wind out of my sails to use all the metaphors at my disposal. Coming home to find out Barbara had gotten a similar treatment? I don’t think any of us have really gotten to fully process that one yet. It’s only hours old, and there’s been a whole lot of ‘bigger problem’ in that very short time.
Conner is now, suddenly, very much more the Conner I know and actually like quite a lot, so I let him finish instead of launching into a hiding because he’s the best thing I’ve got available to lash out at when it comes to NOWHERE. Given he saved us in a very real and needed way on that train, and what he’s actually said, it’s clear he knows there’s some issues with the way things are being done in the organization. It’s also a reminder that even their own are subject to ongoing and submersive mind-fuckery. I suppose you don’t need to play nice to keep your loyal soldiers when you can just surgically psyche-rape them though. That combination makes me personally inclined to let the Martian rot down there…
“Unless Absorbascan only fully works for the people that created it. My lasso wouldn’t function in any meaningful way for them, neither would the Golden Fleece, which is how they both ended up in NOWHERE’s junk drawer, and Conner was able to ‘gift’ it to me…”
Did she just point at her leg, next to where Conner’s hand has been, when speaking about the Golden Fleece? First off, I’d laugh and say that’s a fairy tale but when you’ve got a supposed, actual, demi-God and child of Zeus sitting across the room from you, you have to start opening your mind to trying to accept a thing or two. I suppose that would explain how damn sparkly that suit is, but I just assumed spandex and sequins. I am fairly sure that Spoiler has rolled her eyes underneath the cover of her hood, but… that could also have just been the firelight bouncing off Wonder Woman’s getup.
“You know, if Bruce Wayne is ‘dead,’ and he is infiltrating the Court of Owls, then he can’t very well be doing it as himself. That’s a whole new round of branching potential paths, from supporting evidence to him having already taken the item, to not very well being able to just waltz into the Batcave and let himself in like he owned the place…”
Even I can’t help it. Christ. There’s just too much going on, and all of it is just connected enough that it’s easy to lose the thread we’re currently chasing, to diverting off on a tangle that’s surrounding it and intertwined. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I shake my head hard, back and forth once like I’m clearing it out. I’m actually grateful to Alfred for chiming in when he does, and I contain any remarks about him now asking permission to voice his opinion, and also leading Tim by the nose water. Who then drinks.
“Mmn. Makes sense. Also explains why Vertigo wanted me so bad.”
There’s my clarification on exactly what ‘tuning fork’ had meant, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of mental creativity to understand that maybe that means Waller had been right. That maybe she either wanted both parts of that world breaking equation under her thumb. Or that she realized recently Kurt was in the wind, and wanted to control at least one, prompting them to no longer be content to just let me be. This projector sounds like a solid option, honestly. Clearly Bruce, despite having a long time to find a ‘cure’ for the problem hadn’t managed it and we all know the man was like a starving dog with a bone when it came to things like that. For good or ill. The pragmatic core of me already had squared up to the fact that there might not actually be one. If I really had killed Kurt, and they brought him back and Vertigo was still there, maybe there really isn’t any Kurt left. Just what Vertigo wants people to think. Steve Trevor had gotten to tell me a little about its tactics, but I’m still coming up with too many ways this might not work.
“Huhwha? Okay, but I’m about maxed out on data for the month so just don’t… yeahnookayright. You’re right. More important. Probably…”
I don’t have mine with me still. I didn’t bother to hunt for it, or to look even a little, because literally anyone that would try to contact me that I could spend the attention on right now was already at Wayne Manor, and God knows she’s going to have hers right there. It’s also been upgraded from the cracked screen model that had looked rather like my phone that I’d seen the last time. Which actually doesn’t stop me to probably many people’s surprise from flicking in a search, pulling up a number and starting a call.
“Put the Sheriff on. He is. Side table. Look behind the mountain of empties. Just give him the damn phone.”
Cassie has gone from looking at me like I’m insane for choosing this moment to reach out to someone not in the Brain Trust currently discussing the fate of the world on a short, incoming hormonal timetable, to her gaze moving back and forth between Conner and Tim. It might be one of the first times I fully understand the debate going on in her eyes, while I wait for the bartender to do what I’d told him to. She can’t decide if she wants to rear up at someone daring to suggest she might fail at doing something, or over someone trying to boss her into doing something that wasn’t her idea first.
“I am not going to kill someone. Especially not with the Bolt, that’s not what it’s meant for, and not when there’s other options. Maybe we could talk to Raven. Explain and…”
The surety and conviction in her voice has melted when she begins to talk about Raven because clearly even she knows that’s not going to be much of an option.
“Well, hey handsome. Quick question. Say a feeler might have creeped its way out of Pandora’s Box. If we remove the Box from the equation, does it become a new box or just… poof?”
The truth is, I already know the answer to what Dick’s asking me to make the ultimate call on. There’s just a variable I can’t risk. I do actually believe I know the answer to my question, too, because if Vertigo was simply able to shift itself to a different infected person then I’d have to guess that its influence in World War I. And World War II. And among Team 7. Would simply have hot potatoed around without end. But there’s no point in throwing my brother through that portal to another dimension, which apparently Bruce just had lying around down there, if the Martian will still remain infected and festering just the same.
Dick: Of all the things I’ve been surprised with this evening? I think seeing Conner lean over to ‘nudge’ Stephanie ranks in the top three. To all appearances the two of them didn’t like one another. I’d have even said they were about to be at each other’s throats about a second ago.
“Don’t be so nervous. Dinah included you. Even if she was just taking your phone, she didn’t kick you out. You’re in now.” Okay. No, I was wrong. That is the most surprising thing that has happened all evening, because I think every single person in the room just stopped what they’re doing to look at the man in the S-shield. I think that’s the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen on Superboy’s face. “She’s hard on people, so the weak ones run away from this life. It gets kinda crazy sometimes. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. Until you explained the gameboy.. ‘you were the weakest link. Now … she likes you. You’re in.”
Huh. The pinch hurt significantly. So I’m not dreaming. There is still a very good chance that this is the one of the Circles of Hell and that I’m just working my way through them. Pretty sure I took the detour through the circles of Lust and Gluttony. What’s possibly the worst part about this though, is the look on Timothy Drake’s face. It’s a mish-mash of pure confusion, which is a foreign emotion on that boy’s face, and a sort of shock that he’s apparently choking on. Other than Dinah talking on the phone, Conner’s commentary is met with momentary silence until Alfred drops a spoon to the floor. The Butler meets my gaze and mouths the words, ‘Eegads, I didn’t know the lad had two braincells to rub together and start a fire?’ Much less the ability to tamp down his own ego to say something like that, even if he knew how or recognized that sort of depth in Dinah.
Steve Trevor is apparently not at the strip club. Surprisingly enough. As it so happens the girl with Harley Quinn’s voice is only to happy to give Dinah his personal number though. She knew enough about the Sheriff to lead the girl on the other end to think she’s one of Steve’s girls apparently. Though it takes her an extra call, she does get to ask that question.
“…evenin’ gorgeous. Seems like you folks made quite a stir up here in my quiet retirement community. Dealing with the aftermath of a blood bath instead of my usual Beer Night. Thanks for that. Uh… okay. So you got more involved after all huh? Kind of had a feeling you would. Short Answer then: When we first encountered Vertigo, he was in another body. Weak and withered. The entity was still strong enough to overcome all of us. We were all infected. All of us. When the entity moved in to your brother… killing him freed all of us. That’s why you did what you did. Does that help, sweetheart? Because I hate to throw complications at you, but Nowhere was just here. Deathstroke took out… well… someone’s going to need to do a lot of countin, because I’ve never seen people cut in to this many pieces. Nowhere sent in some big gun. Next thing I know fire and rescue, the National Guard and every cop in the state is being called. There ain’t no air force base anymore. The News is reporting it as some sort of munitions storage muckup, but… I’d call it Act of Deathstroke.”
Dinah: Even if I weren’t on the phone and somewhat distracted, I would be the person least surprised by what’s actually going on in the room right now. Up until a few days ago, or was that yesterday? Christ, I don’t even know at this point and I probably should because it would indicate the last time I actually got to take a shower or a fucking breath… up until that point I had only interacted with Conner one on one. Apart from anyone else, with the exception of him tossing Deathstroke off my roof first. The Conner I’d seen tonight was very much more what I think Tim’s probably gotten all of the time. At the train, it was to the other extreme. Also.. ouch, when did I become that transparent? Oh, wait. He’s just like me. He’s also right.
Saying I like her might be taking it a bit far, but I’ve clearly misjudged her for being nothing but a ditzy try-hard. I wasn’t aware she knew how to run any of the systems.
“Not on purpose, believe me. I was all set to let that one go for the good of mankind, but it managed to rear up and bite me in the ass as soon as I got back to Gotham. But yes. That does help. It’s what I thought, but old age… rusty-slash-erased memories… I wanted to be absolutely sure.” I blanch because that’s on me in small part. I don’t have the sort of complex that lets me assume all of the guilt for Slade, but his being there at all was on me. “They made him. I’m probably asking for more of my own if I say that’s kharma, and with this week I just don’t need that… thank you, Steve. I’d apologize for disrupting your superhero strippers, but… better go. Second Armageddon of the night to avert, sure you understand.”
I’m pacing a little while I talk, because the energy and anger I’d been trying to mostly contain for the rest of the discussion in this room needs somewhere to go. I’m in ramp up mode. The end of the pep talk, where you’re about to go out on the mat and show the world what you’re made of, and probably deliver some serious hurt to someone in the process. Maybe that’s just how it goes for me… Spoiler’s looking from the handheld computer, to Conner’s limb that touched her, up to his face, and back through the circuit again. An expression not unlike mine when I noticed the utter lack of comment about the missing Kryptonite by literally everyone in the whole room, of suspicion, while Wonder Girl looks more surprised by Conner’s little heart to heart than she probably should. Shouldn’t this girl know him the best?
“Who are you and what did you do with Superdouche? But uh… thanks? I think? Are we like…”
She doesn’t get to finish wherever she was going with that, because I hang up my call and launch immediately back into Team Bat Huddle, returning my attention to Dick.
“Do it. The projector. Tim, you said the Martian deactivated it, how do we turn it back on?”
I’m backing towards the door, clear body language of just wanting to get this done. Over. Now. Because despite knowing it’s the only and best option, I don’t want to have the time to put any amount of thought into it, or what I’ve just made the call to do.
Dick: “Duh, totally.” Superboy is offering Spoiler the fist-bump of doom. This can only mean bad things and I’m not sure I like any of the possibilities. At least they’re not fighting though, so that’s a plus. Added to the two of them, there’s the hush that has fallen over everyone else as we take in the spectacle. Dinah may have actually gotten with her antics, what she didn’t get with her lecture.
Me? I think I’m the one who needs a drink at this point in life. That’s just going to have to wait, because it’s clear that Dinah got her answer. We make eye contact, she nods, I understand. I just don’t think I like it, even if I truly meant what I said. It needs to be her choice, that doesn’t mean I want to see her deal with what she’s about to have to do. Furthermore I know exactly why she’s started barking orders, because if she takes the time to think this through she might allow emotion to override good sense.
Is it a shame that I’m the one in the room that is actually thinking it might be better that way? I can’t help it, but I feel like we keep coming to cross roads and the choices are just between which decision is the better of two terrible options. As I’m watching everyone, deep in though it would seem, it’s surprising to me that Tim hesitates over Dinah’s question. Was he not prepped with the answer or was he not expecting that decision? His face says the latter, but it’s the way his hands haven’t started moving that is the real tell.
“I-I.. u-uh, well…”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“… she did. I mean, Megan did. I just.. I haven’t had enough time to…”
A very slight, almost imperceptible incline to my head is given toward the Superboy. I hope Dinah sees it. Timothy doesn’t know how, because he didn’t have enough time. Any normal person in this room wouldn’t be able to either, but Tim is struggling to actually say the words out loud. What did he have? Two hours total time. We were gone to get food, a motel, and an attempted interlude that got interrupted. Had to rush back here to avert the ‘End of All Things’ and by that time Tim had gotten an exorbitant amount of information. Alfred had to lead him through even taking notice of the projector and that tells me all I need to know.
“Don’t worry, Red, I’ve got you.” For the second time in as many moments, Superboy does something I’m not expecting. There’s this gently pat on Cassie’s leg, then he’s rising to his feet and the look he’s got is something I’ve not yet seen. “M’Gann could work your vault, because she’s been in my head. I think I can turn that thing on for Canary.”
Dinah’s making her move and I’m not that far behind her. What I’m seeing behind me is something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a handful of minutes ago. The dynamic shifted when Black Canary stood up to the children in the room bickering. They listened to her. Stephanie did so out of fear. Conner seemed to do so out of respect. Tim’s change in tone seemed to come more out of insecurity than anything else. Over all the change was obvious and note-worthy.
One by one everyone is following Dinah down to the Cave, but I’ve stopped at the doorway to await Wonder Woman. “You were right about what you said. You’re not going to kill someone, it’s not what you’re meant for. You’re going to talk to this Raven person. We have to stop treating them as if they’re all evil. If the Martian is important to her and she thinks we are the bad guys in this? She has every right to the same plan of action that any one of us would take if our loved one was taken captive by the bad guys. It’s exactly what started this entire scenario, Canary charged in because they took one of her’s. Now this Raven is charging in for the same reason. The whole viscous cycle needs to stop.”
“That’s what you actually are meant for, Wonder Woman.”
I can see out of the corner of my peripheral vision that Conner -and- Timothy have stopped on their way down the hidden stairs, behind the fireplace, down to the Cave. Each of them, for much the same reason, wanting to know what I’m saying to the apple of their eye. I don’t care if they hear me. In fact I sort of hope all of them catch it, because I don’t stop at her.
“You’re not going to be alone, Spoiler has been learning the computer tracking systems. Using the Wayne satellites, she’ll guide you to Raven. Penny-One will be tactical control on all three operations. If anything goes wrong with any of the three points he will keep everyone apprised.” That leaves Tim, Dinah, Conner and I to deal with the remaining elements. The bat-cowl’s brows lift slightly for just a moment, as I see Cassandra’s face scrunching up. “Ah, you thought he’d always be by your side? That’s great in theory, but it isn’t how this works. If the two of you are going to be a team, there’s going to come a time when each of you needs to trust the other to do what needs to be done. If the two of you are meant for this, for each other, there’s going to be a moment when you know you can count on each other, even if you’re not side by side.”
“He’s Superman right, Wonder Woman? He can handle this. So can you. Stop fidgeting and get moving. Spoiler, stop blushing and peeking at the Dinosaur. All of you. Get to work or get out of the way.”
Dinah: Stephanie is halfway into returning the offered fist-bump by sheer reflex, when she realizes what she’s doing, pauses, shrugs, and then finishes it, pulling back her hand with a little finger waggle action and Jesus Fucking Christ save us, it has begun. Truly. This is how the world actually ends, provided it doesn’t manage to do it in the next hour or so.
“Tim. It’s okay. That was an ‘in case you know,’ not an ‘I expect you to already have this for me.”
I realize that I did, however. Expect him to already have this for me, because I expected him to know based on the sheer amount of intel he’s already had to offer, despite arriving after us. He always does, talk about a little bit of unfair pressure, coupled with the drive he’s got to prove himself that we’re all well aware of. That, and of course mind control, are what led me to badgering Dick into putting on the cowl in the first place. After all of this, I’m going to have to do some damage control and that’s not something I have ever been good at. No. That’s not the right words, because that implies using kid gloves on him, which won’t help either. A heart to heart.
Conner’s rising, and then volunteering, has me twisting my head slightly. In. Down. It defeats the purpose of this strategy entirely, in not exposing Superman to M’gann and potentially Vertigo. It’s exposing him directly, instead. There’s too much I still don’t know about this foe, and too many questions from my limited experience that I can remember with it tonight. We’re already on the move though, there’s that momentum and I can’t stop. If I stop I’m going to second guess this, even though I know in the end I’ll ultimately make the call of whatever has to be done, we’ll just waste time that we do not have on the way.
“How long do you think it will take to get it back on, Conner, and do you know what we need to do once it is?”
I say we because it’s not about to be just him going into that cell. Cassie looks surprised that Batman’s hung back in order to talk to her, and not just to herd everyone else where they actually need to go, and the fact that the two boys have hung back to watch her means that… the rest of us have to as well. Or maybe it’s just me… and so I keep on walking.
“Um, well. In this case…,” she doesn’t finish stating her opinion on Raven and whether or not she’s actually evil, but it’s visible in her posture when she goes from Cassie to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t get to have an opinion on whether someone’s completely horrible or not and have that dictate the right course of action. “I’ll find her, and try to reason with her. If reason doesn’t work, I’m probably the most magic resistant option anyway.”
Which is where it gets above my pay grade, so maybe I shouldn’t have mocked Stephanie before. Who’s still looking more than a little surprised about being called on for anything in the first place, but she’s already bee-lining for the Big Boy computers, and surreptitiously pulling up the face mask portion of her costume. She could probably claim it’s for comms, but I have a feeling it’s to hide any blushing. The dinosaur. Seriously? Cassie is shaking her head at Dick, lowering her voice even though she knows fully well Conner will hear her regardless.
“That’s not it at all, and I know he can, because he’s amazing and knows what he’s doing, even when I don’t think he does. So does Tim, who I know I can always count on for the right answers. Believe me, the only one I’m worried about in this equation is myself, but I do appreciate the pep talk. Really. Spoiler? Show me where to get a comm, and then point me where I need to go.”
The girls get working on their portion of the project, Cassie telling Stephanie what to look for, but not without turning for a moment of eye contact with Conner. I’m fairly sure I saw her lips shift but definitely couldn’t hear the ‘I love you, please be careful,’ or even make out enough of the movement for words.
Dick: Regardless to what anyone thinks? Tim doesn’t like that Conner has to save him in this. His face is a mask of displeasure even after Dinah excuses him too. I don’t need to be his brother to see that he’s taken this as some sort of hit to his ego. Which I’d already known was fragile but I didn’t think it was eggshell fragile. The guy did amazing work in a short amount of time, but not being able to answer Dinah on the one thing she’s actually requested? It seems to have definitely hit his confidence. I’m not seeing the boy who took pot-shots at Conner anymore. In fact he looks a lot like Damian, broody-kid phase.
“Not long at all, Tim’s picture had a lot of detail. I’ve been studying Krypton’s language since the V.R. and I’ve been working with the technology to try to fix my suit. It looked like he broke the stand, not the projector itself. Honestly, I think from the image I think it’s going to be a matter of point and shoot.”
From where I’m standing, I can only see as Conner puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder and nudges him down the stairs. I miss the look between the three of them, because I’m focused on Cassie for the moment. Once we make it down the stairs with the rest of them, I’m pointing her in the direction of the armory. Alfred seems like he’s headed that way to make sure everyone has what they need anyway.
Conner’s big ‘thumbs up’ at Cassie tells me that they two of them communicated even further, but once again I’ve missed one side of it so I’m without context to know what he’s responding too. Something about him is different right now than it was a mere five minutes earlier. He’s taller. His shoulders seem broader. The kid is always confidence, but this is different. I can feel him going the opposite direction mentally from Tim. While Tim’s confidence was shaken easily, Conner’s has been bolstered by Cassie’s confidence in him and Dinah’s acceptance of his help once more.
Once everyone else had their orders I’ve made a bee-line for Dinah. With my eyes drifting from Conner to her, then back again, I’m asking the unspoken question of why she’d be okay with the Kid going in there with her brother, but not in with the Martian. I mean, I get it. At this point both options equate to him going in, I’m just not understanding what made her pick one way over the other, if both choices risk the Kryptonian. But part of backing her play, is not questioning her in front of the others openly. I put the choice in her hands, she’s made it.
“If it’s point and shoot, then let I’ll take the shot.”
“No offense, Bats, but I could be in there and aiming before you blink.”
“Maybe that’s true, but I’m faster than you think and I won’t miss.”
“You don’t know Kryptonian.”
“I’m a fast learner.”
The way Conner is chewing on this, I can tell he wants to be helpful but he’s at War within himself. His expression says that there’s a sense of wondering if putting up a fight about this is just due to his own ego. The poor kid is wondering what’s the Heroic thing to do. All that intellect and a question of whether to be selfless or a good soldier that follows the chain of command has crippled him. No, he’s definitely not the Superman that I knew. Maybe he could be, but he isn’t yet.
“If Stephanie is on comms, Conner and Dinah are with you two. What am I doing?”
“Upstairs. When Dinah was asking about the options. You hedged. You said there was nothing in the Vault that would be helpful. You were overly specific, which means you knew something that you didn’t tell us. You also hedged when it was pointed out that the missing items could have been removed after the last inventory.” There’s a very hard edge to my voice right now, but I’m doing my best not to destroy my youngest brother. Not when I’ve been watching him self-destruct for the last hour. “You also didn’t jump to confirm when I suggested that Bruce stealing the Nth metal was confirmation. You’ve been trying to convince all of us that he’s alive this whole time, but you didn’t jump on that confirmation at all.”
“I’m fairly confident, that you’re holding the absorbascan and the kryptonite, Timothy. It occurs to me, therefor, that you believe one of those two things could potentially aide us. Once Dinah and I are both in mortal danger, I’m working on the assumption you’ll make the right choice.” And, I’ve just told Dinah that I also believe he was willing to not say a word, so long as Conner Luthor was the one in danger. I did tell her that something was wrong with him. “Shall we?”
Dinah: The truth is, I’m not okay with Superman going in with my brother, or more specifically Vertigo. The boys had voiced concern over Cassie getting depowered, and if that were even possible, but Conner has literally not once in his entire life that I know of been without those powers, that his girlfriend by all accounts only actually acquired a year ago. His answers regarding the projector only cement the fact that it has to be Conner in some form, however. None of the rest of us can read Kryptonian, I’m historically and categorically terrible when it comes to anything more advanced technologically than googling a phone number, or working my VCR.
With Cassandra gone to get her communicator, and Stephanie already working at the computer, I turn my attention from our two boys, and back to Dick. What had started with an almost imperceptible shake of my head in response to what expression, clear enough, I can see beneath the Batman cowl. My plan, at the very least, solidified even more by the back and forth going on. Conner’s the fastest of us by far, there’s just no comparison in scale, but he’s also the most easily lethal and we don’t truly have any idea of how quickly Vertigo can infect someone. I’m inclined to think ‘not that quickly,’ because we saw M’Gann fighting him and she may very well have been for some time. Ignoring that example because none of us are highly skilled telepaths with the mental defenses that likely go along with it, there’s my own experience yester… no, today, which might just have been him toying with me. That leaves me Trevor’s description of the influence on the whole team.
I’m still not taking chances, though. I’m also not adding my judgement on top of the weight of Dick’s, because his is more than sufficient for one, and ganging up on Tim won’t do him, or the rest of us, any favors. There’s United fronts, and then there’s also making sure to shore up all your sides.
“What kind of music do you like? I’ve been working on this thing to weave in a playlist and…”
Oookay, I’m going to ignore what looks like freshman attempts at Teen Girl Squad Bonding Time beginning as Cassie’s returned with her comms, and Spoiler actually bothered to stop her from taking off long enough to check and make sure that they’re working, despite us being in the Batcave where I don’t think I’ve seen anyone run that kind of test in… ever. It’s Battech. It just works, doesn’t it? I’m about in as much of a state of ‘I don’t even know what to make of you’ as I am at Tim’s behavior. So instead of coping with any of that, I tune back in to Channel Dick, and his ‘shall we.’ Moving once again towards the entrance to the sub-sub-basement.
“Not both of us. Me. It’d be bad tactics to expose both of us at the same time. Superman is the fastest, and most immediately able to operate the projector, especially if it’s not just point and shoot. If Vertigo gets hold of him, and with Wonder Woman gone, none of us would be able to put him down as long as we’d need to.” And before anyone tries to vocalize that they have Kryptonite in order to use in just such a horrible occasion, I say it again with as much emphasis and iron as I can manage. “None of us.”
Because it won’t work. Why it won’t work, I couldn’t say, other than it would make perfect sense for Lex Luthor to have made absolutely sure to breed any weakness he couldn’t be sure he had control of, out of his personal Superman. Conner’s ego might have prevented him from reacting outwardly to the mention of it before, but Cassie Sandsmark is far too earnest, far too heart on her sleeve, and far too concerned about her friends. And boyfriend. There would have been something to read off her.
“I’m going in first. Whether it’s Vertigo, or Kurt, or both of them, something in that host wants me.” How’s this for battle face that I don’t even crack wise or saucy about that too easy opening. “I’ll be the distraction, then you come in, Big Blue. Ten seconds should be enough. If it’s not just point and shoot, then you need to get out and seal us in until it’s working. Even amplified, my sonics shouldn’t be able to do anything sealed inside.”
I don’t really mean to relegate both Dick and Tim to thumb twiddling, or maybe door closing, but it really can’t be both of us, and there’s no reason for Vertigo/Kurt to toy with Batman, rather than just outright moving to take him over. We also clearly can’t just leave these kids alone, no matter what attitude improvements we’ve seen in the last few minutes. I finish up with a much lighter wink for Dick, than the no-nonsense, this is the play expression I’ve had up until then.
“Lets go. Maybe you should put on your old Robin mask just in case though…”
Dick: As soon as Dinah has finished speaking, both Tim and Conner are looking at me to see if I’m going to argue with her. In a way, I think they’re ach trying to see if the two of us are in lock step like we seem or if we’re going to bicker the same as everyone else. They picked the wrong day to look for cracks in this current partnership. Especially since Dinah has very sound logic to what she proposes. I’m not offended; Conner made much the same argument. I don’t know the language and if it’s anything more than a broken tri-pod I’ll be useless. Leaving us back to the double bad option of picking between which room to expose the Kryptonian too.
“Wait. Was the kryptonite for me?” Maybe the Superboy is smarter than I’d believed. His face is saying that he’d been considering arguing with me about going in, but after Dinah spoke about no one being able to put him down there’s an obvious shift of the gears. “Oh, that’s awesome. You guys had a plan to take me out.”
…w.t.f. is going on? …where &^%$ am I…? Is he.. he is… this mother &^%$ is hugging Batman and Robin.
“You’re stabbing me with the kryptonite right now. Aren’t you?”
“…is it working?”
“If you poke a little lower, we can talk about the first thing that pops up…”
“I hate you.”
A second later, I’m free of the grip. Not by Conner’s choice either. The cape is mostly for show, but it has filaments meant to be used in case of needing an escape. We’ve been in more death traps than you can count. I never thought I’d have to use them to escape a bear-hug from an adolescent Krypto-Clone, but here we are. This is the world we live in. ( Unless I really am dead in the next room. Which I may be starting to hope for. )
The Superboy releases Tim and squares up to Dinah. All of his antics aside, he seems to have a business face. I can see the cold-blue gleam in his eyes and a moment later he’s speaking carefully, “Four cells. Multiple armory caches. All shielded from view. With the cave itself also shielded, I would never have known these were here if I wasn’t inside the cave. Man, you guys are sick with all these overlapping securities.”
“I can see the surface technology. This vault of your’s is the same as the arctic base I’d been working with. Tech is the same. What you’re seeing is actually a form of Kryptonite, in a way. If you consider that kryptonite is just a meteorite cast off from Krypton’s explosion. This Vault of your’s is actually a kryptonite alloy, which Star labs calls krystallis, but is actually just a blending of two or more forms of kryptonite. You’ve got a virtual rainbow of it here. Synthetic though, this was all grown here. Probably in the base I was just talking about in the arctic, if what you said about how old skool bats got this.”
Everyone. Me included. Is standing there looking at the prattling teen, as he talks and talks right after Canary said they were ready to move. My look to her is yet another unspoken, ‘Are we sure about him?’ But before I’ve done more than glance the kid straightens up, rolls his shoulder… is he limbering up? I didn’t even know they did that.
At my side ‘Red Robin’ is tugging on the mask for his new suit and I’m a little surprised to see that it’s not a Domino Mask. In fact he’s wearing a full cowl, just like his original Red Robin costume. The colors are all wrong though. If everything else hadn’t cemented it for me? I think just seeing the radical colors on this costume, the gun, the knives… I’m pretty sure this is close enough to Red Hood right here, than I’m comfortable with Tim doing.
“We can talk about any mask you want, after this is over. I’ll open the door….”
Without anything really being handed to him for a duty, Tim’s moved behind the rest of us. There’s nothing for him to shelter behind, so he’s focused on making himself small. Crouching down and preparing himself to watch and help in any way he can. That is the Tim Drake that I know and I’m happy to see that, regardless of whatever else is changed about him, he’s still ready to do whatever needs to be done.
Dinah: I’m not surprised about anything that happens after I finish speaking. Not Dick’s lack of argument, because he promised to back my play so long as I wasn’t being a dumbass, and I know I’m not being a dumbass. There’s this gut feeling that you learn to recognize and go with. Calling it a feeling of peace is wrong, because there’s never any peace in the moment leading up to danger that you plan for and can see coming. Rightness; where you know that, barring something you had no knowledge of, your course of action is the correct one. It’s probably more difficult for most people, when they’re not 100% sold on their own skills and experience, because then you second guess. With everything that we’ve gathered about our problem, and our foe, and the tools at our disposal this is the best strategy I can come up with.
Short of asking them to find the scorched Earth failsafe backup #3, that I am equally sure exists in the maze of plans that was Bruce and his methodology. Me, I’m settling for two backup plans in Dick and Tim. I’m also not surprised that Conner put two and two together after my emphasis on their not being able to stop him, or that he thinks it’s great. The hug, though. The expressions on their faces. It’s so ridiculous in this moment that I can’t help it. I let out a short, singular laugh. It’s all I allow myself, with a shake of my blonde head, I’m turning back towards where I know the door is. I’m listening to what Conner’s saying but I’m also ready go. Right now. I want this over with before anything else manages to go wrong or complicate matters. I’ve shrugged my shoulders at Dick, carrying the motion over into lifting arms overhead, interlocking my knuckles and stretching.
I miss ‘Drake’ in his full glory since I’ve already turned my back on the group, stepping up to the wall.
“Stay out of view, as much as you can.”
Once the door’s open, I’m striding through, all ballsy and brash as ever with my arms folded across my chest to match the glower on my face. On the surface it’d probably seem like sheer idiocy to enter a room that I just had to flee a few hours ago, against a foe I hadn’t been able to dent. But then, I am the same person that at fourteen demanded to be taken with a Black Ops team, because fuck you. There’s nothing physically defensive in my posture, just emotional in those folded arms.
“Tell me. I want to know why.”
The honest truth is I do want to know. It will probably eat at me, when it shouldn’t, but I also know I’m a professional at pushing aside emotional ‘crap,’ even when it’d be better for everyone involved. Especially me. If I could square up and face it like I would a regular fight.
Dick: “Back so soon? Couldn’t stand to be apart any longer, eh?”
The one thing that our heroes didn’t do before enacting this plan of their’s? Check the monitors. Dinah steps in to Kurt Lance sitting upon the singular piece of furniture in his room. A cot. Which is more a slab, built not to move. It occupies the center of the room, without any padding or anything that can be removed. In fact the entire cell is much the same thing. With only the projector and tri-pod as the exception. It’s a strange setup in fact, one that Dick is just now taking notice of. Last time the door was open he was fixated on closing it, not looking inside.
“Tell you why? Why what? Why am I here? Why your brother? Why do I want you, specifically you? Why do the flowers bloom and the sky rain?” Kurt’s expression, his mannerisms, they’re all so very laid back. He’s not concerned. Not about Dinah, not about the open door. He’s simply not concerned. “There are so many things you might be asking about. Is it dealer’s choice then?”
Even as he’s speaking there’s a blur. Blue/Red flashing in from outside. Dick Grayson is one of the few heroes that worked with the original Superman. He isn’t surprised at what he sees, but that doesn’t make it less impressive. Dinah’s old enough to remember Superman, but did she ever work with him directly to see him in action? Even Tim, several feet back from the door and out of the immediate line of sight, takes a short breathe that signals his surprise. He’s seen Conner in action, but only in the form of sports where there was definitely some holding back.
“Let’s start with why him? Why you? Let’s be rather forward shall we? You and Your brother are one atom that has been split in two. Through him, your power could crack entire worlds or turn them in to a paradise. The two of you, when joined are Gods.”
It isn’t the blur that clues Kurt Lance in to what is happening. Conner is moving too fast. He’s viewable, but his actual actions are nothing more than a blurry after-image. Affording no one the view of what he’s actually doing. Dinah, Tim and Dick know only because they’re aware of the plan. Vertigo’s view is that of what Kurt Lance can perceive; a gust of wind, the blur of blue/red and then… the projector being moved.
“It won’t work.”
“But that isn’t what you’re asking is. You want to know why the tone was such as it was. You want to know if there’s anything left of your brother or if he’s been perverted to the point of no return.” Spreading his hands there’s a conciliatory open gesture that is what you might do if you wanted to show the authorities that you’re unarmed. “Symbiotic. That is the nature of my bond, to a Host. Kurt has always wanted you. His desire for your connection drives him to fight for control. He’s struggling right now, but it’s been too long now. He’s spent years accepting this fate.”
Click. Click. The blur of Superman has slowed completely. In his hand is the projector that they’d been discussing, but as he works the kryptonian technology it does little more than sound as if it is a car that turns over, but doesn’t ignite the fuel that would turn it on. “I did say it wouldn’t work.”
“What say we start over, shall we? What is your name, sweet boy and what can you do for me?” Vertigo barely glances in Conner’s direction and ‘Superman’ starts to feel the invasion of his mind. “Be civil, Dinah. There’s no need to scream. There will be plenty of that later. When we’re alone.”
“…nnh…” To his credit, Conner doesn’t drop the device or do some dramatic grab at his temples in a vain attempt to fight whatever it is that’s going on. His hands are moving so quickly that even in slow motion, later, when they try to review the footage they won’t be able to clearly see what sequences he’s even trying. “… bleh.. not cool at all man… stranger dangerin it’s worst form…”
“Have you realized that I have no intentions of leaving? The moment I saw your pretty little Martian’s mind, I knew her friends would come to reclaim me. You think if I wanted out, that I would just stand here and let you throw me around the room?” His gaze shifts back and forth to Dinah and Conner again, back and forth. Once again Dinah is going to be flooded with the memories of her Brother’s life. Not -her- memories, Kurt’s memories. His impressions. His feelings. His take of how each memory was to him. The loss of loved ones, the love and protectiveness of Dinah. “Oh, I know what you were asking now.”
“Why did the Dark Knight pull me out of that little hole in the middle of no where? Do you think he did it to save your Brother? To save you some great heart-ache? Perhaps that was his original intent, but it took only a handful of times in this room for your great detective to come around to my way of thinking. Just as your Kryptonian will and the Martian. Then their friends.”
It’s at that very moment that a tiny little red dot appears upon Kurt Lance’s forehead. The creature’s eyes lead Dinah and Conner in order to look down the little hall for the first time. Following the infrared light to it’s origin. He showed no interest at all in Dick Grayson the day before, whom was clearly visible just outside the door, but there’s clearly interest now.
“From what I gather this world is already on the brink of War, it won’t take my Pestilence long to give them the little push they need. I looked upon him and behold, a pale horse. His name that sat upon him was Death and Hell followed with him.”
Dinah: “You’d like to think that, I bet.”
I try to meet his laissez-faire attitude with one of disdain, which isn’t all that hard, even though there’s warning bells sounding loud and clear in the back of my skull already. The tone, and mannerisms, are all supreme confidence which you’d think shouldn’t be happening in the middle of a prison cell. This is an old being, probably ancient, who has been from host to host, inciting their wars and spreading their influence. I’d really meant why Kurt had wanted me, though all the other answers will work, too. I’m just trying to distract, and there’s a high probability regardless that anything I’m told either isn’t real, or is tainted.
Do I buy into the potential? We just sent out a half-God to run interference in the skies, but the word is so frequently used to designate power in relationship to the masses. Titans, as the name had started to slowly stick for Wonder Woman and her friends. My head cocks in confusion when he tells me it won’t work. Joining as Gods? Making a paradise which I fail to see an application for, and I’ve tried to be fairly creative with my powers a time or two. He’s moved on to what I had really meant though, before his assertion about ‘it not working’ makes sense. If it were point and shoot it should have gone off by now, and my eyes widen as Conner’s zipping around, which I’d felt more than seen as wind moved my hair, stops.
“Civil? Oh you really don’t know me at all…”
Conner is used to having his head screwed with, used to not trusting what senses tell him and resorting to the backups of others. He’s told us this already. I’ve only heard him make a noise that sounds even vaguely like discomfort once before, and that was after I’d point blank screamed in his ear. It’s starting, and he’s still trying to work the machine, splitting his focus between the mental assault and getting the machine to work. Which might never work. Then the memories are back, the images swimming in my head and behind my eyes, and I … am not used to this sort of mental intrusion. I don’t have memories of my own, they were taken from me, or in this case precisely and surgically altered. I’m seeing things I remember, things I know happened, but from a different side. Trying to be a brave little badass, and distract and bolster my family through my mother’s cancer, and her death. Loss after loss, and attention that focused more, and more narrowly on the remaining relatives, even as my power and confidence and body bloomed. Kurt’s reactions to all of it.
Fucking villains and their monologuing… the further we go in those thoughts, the more the emotions and impulses behind it makes my chest tighten, and stomach turn. I’m reliving a different angle of literally everything in my life I’ve ever buried, along with things that were exorcised and it’s overwhelming. Everything is swimming a little when I open my eyes though… I don’t actually know when I closed them in the first place. He’s just looking back and forth. Back and forth between myself, and Conner, talking about Bruce. Talking out his ass. Or. Is he? What if it was never going to work? Oh, Alfred. It was him that pointed out the machine in the first place. Led the horses to water. What if Bruce orchestrated his own death not to infiltrate the Court of Owls, but to try and escape this? Or even worse, what if he didn’t?
I’m already shifting before I see that little red dot, before everyone notices it and traces it visually back. I was moving forward, I’d been trying to not block the projector before, but now I move closer to that cot, trying to interfere with the view of Conner working away at lightspeed on our Hail Mary that may not ever work. I feel like I’m swimming in my own mind, except at the moment it isn’t. When we all look at that little laser spot, though, the no rises up in my mind. I focus on that clear, and hard. He’s already in here, I feel like I’m filling up, and instead of letting my thoughts go even a little to how to end this, I fixate on the ones that I usually wouldn’t. Instead of debating how to do this, because Conner’s predecessor and I had done this before, but screaming at Kurt earlier tonight had done basically nothing, so why had it worked then? I focus on the loss, and the hurt, and the trauma, and not on ways to get in close enough. Not on whether or not I can get Vertigo to let me wreak havoc. Kurt’s thoughts I’ll get lose in, I think, so i’m left with the things that are mine to claim, and hold onto tooth and nail, and they’re dark, and they hurt, but they’re mine.
My eyes are watering, nausea and the echo chamber of emotions that my skull is right now making it very easy to do, actually I probably couldn’t help it even if I was trying to avoid looking affected. Not thinking about how I refuse to put that little red dot, and what it means, on my friends. No longer putting myself just between Conner and Kurt, but now lurching closer, trying to block that shot with my own body.
“Kurt I’m so sorry. I should have protected you better then. I won’t let them…”
It’s the first time out of both encounters that I actually try to touch him, fingers reaching for his face, even as I turn my face towards the door, letting out a shriek that mostly strafes the wall, rather than making it through the doorway, absorbed by the material like it had been before.
“Hnnnf… these walls..”
Dinah: Half of a lifetime of memories, answering the question so many moody teenagers ask in literature and film: would anyone even notice if I was never there? The differences are at the same time slight and gargantuan, threatening to change everything I thought I knew about myself, and enforcing it as well. Was it a kindness to make me forget him, and everything about him? Yesterday, it was easy to offer the benefit of the doubt. Right now, even queasy as I feel, I think I’d answer in the opposite. I am not sure any of it was done with any of my well being a concern. Not all of it. Being alone, fighting through everything alone, and dealing with or ignoring my shit alone had been my always. How I’d always done it, as I lost person, after person, until I was the last one standing, and told myself I was okay with keeping it that way.
Those eyes. It’s jarring, and sedately beautiful all at once. And then I’m swallowed up, in what redefines a Eureka moment, showing me exactly how small minded, how this moment and not the big picture my thinking had been. Despite what I might have claimed about my massive ego, how grossly I’d been underselling my potential and the ways that I thought my power could actually work. So this is what it’s like. Having senses so lit up, and on fire, so much input from so many things all at once and it takes me a moment, or I suppose a fraction of a moment, to realize that this is all happening at once. Stacked one on top of the other in a cascade that I would have missed. Then it’s not so hard to imagine exactly how far I could go in order to disrupt it. All of it. How that could snowball, or how it could all be stilled and stopped.
The gun firing, despite me now being between it and the target. The accusation of one brother to the other. The single-minded effort of the hero beside me to complete the task he’s been asked to do. Music that should be out of place, but at the same time… then I realize I’m not actually seeing any of this with my eyes, but I may as well be. It’s all so clear.
My apology had been in that moment a ruse, words spoken to provoke a specific reaction, to let me get close.
I want you to know Kurt doesn’t blame you for the choice you made.
Did I really make a choice? He did. He chose to sacrifice himself, not seeing any other way, he had that feeling in his gut of rightness, in the face of everything that he knew, and what he could count on the reactions to be. That my choice then became to either let his choice accomplish nothing, or to do that one unthinkable thing. That thing that we don’t do, as has been said over and over tonight alone, and so many nights before it.
In that second, I’m springing from the floor, the touch of my hand to Kurt’s face becomes tackling him onto the cot, out of the trajectory of that incoming bullet. The decision that I’d already made two seconds ago suddenly seems so much more tragic in the wake of what I’ve seen, and know, the emotionless pragmatic tactic of last resort has become, in an instant, the same one that half of my life was shifted in order to save me from. And here we are all over again, because someone couldn’t leave it alone. Had to play God, and do things that were not meant to be done.
I don’t have to scream, though I desperately want to vent that rage and frustration and hopelessness on the world, instead I am for once in my life. Twice, I suppose. Doing as I’ve been asked to do. Pressing my lips to the side of Kurt’s head, with a whisper just for his ear.
“Never again. I love you.”
That’s all it should take, the sound, the vibration, the tiny delicate parts of any ear that amplify those inputs and send them to a brain, the simultaneously most incredible and resilient part of a human body, and the easiest to disrupt, to break, to damage and to still.
Dick: There is beauty in power. In fact scholars have said for eons that the beauty of it is at the core of the psychology behind why it corrupts. You’re taken in by what you see or perceive and each time it becomes easier to do so. As you take that power in to yourself, whether it be physical power like metahumans or political power or even emotional power, each time it becomes easier to look at. This in fact diminishes, you constantly chase it because to see that same beauty and feel it the same way you’ll always need more. The perpetual hunger that leaves you spinning in a never ending cycle of chase, attain, diminish, chase, attain, diminish… on and on until you’re sickened by the every lasting dizziness of trying to attain it. A sort of Vertigo.
This may be the first time that Dinah has experienced that sort of power to her own personal knowledge, but she now knows it’s happened before. She knows that the power came at a great cost. Her Brother’s life in sacrifice to the creature that threatened them. Not just them but the world. He died a Hero, even if that loss of life came at the hands of the person he cared most for in this world. History has a way of repeating itself. Whether by natural design or unnatural machination, it seems to come in cycles. So many things in our world are these vicious cycles that we indulge in, unable or unwilling to break them, so we endure them again and again.
It isn’t the sudden movement that obscures Kurt’s little spark from those eyes. If anything the creature revels in her choice to save it’s life. Somehow seeing it as a defining moment when Sister makes the same choice as Brother. Each accepting it as the Path they shall walk. Never suspecting that even as they land, flattened upon the simple cot, that her next words would be the undoing of everything it knows.
“..N-no.. you c-can’t..”
She can. She does. The words echo through the body of her brother in such a way that there is no time for salvation. The Kryptonian even still struggles with the intrusion. A cell adjacent from this one even now hears the screams of the Martian who objects to her Master’s demise. Blood trickles from the Kryptonian’s nose, as the Martian comes apart literally at the seams. With Kurt Lance remaining hole only for a moment. That half-purple hue that covers his unnatural form dissipating as the creature seeks salvation in Dinah herself. For one single heart-beat, Kurt Lance and Dinah Lance are linked by his hands clenching her forearms. Her lips pressed to his ear. Her words echoing through the entire cell, through the entire cave.
As attuned as she is to the sonic vibrations of everything (not just the cell, the cave, the mansion or even just Gotham City), she can hear almost hear her brother’s power shifting. Denying Vertigo access to the power he might need to escape this fate. Like a tuning form that is hit with the right harmonics becomes a magnet, so too does Kurt Lance pull in to himself all the power he had been enhancing. In doing so, it leaves Vertigo bereft of it’s chance to leap from one body to the other. Even in this moment of great heroism, there is only so much a Human can do with someone like this. He did not exaggerate his position in the cosmic balance of life and death. That clarity in Kurt’s eyes that shines with fresh wet tears for Dinah starts to fade…
As Kurt Lance’s last breathe sounds like a whirlwind in her ears, she can actually hear the emotion drain out in it. The Fight is over for her Brother. Vertigo was wrong. Kurt had never given up. He’d been waiting for this opportunity and his last breathe is a thank-you to the one who freed him. A final spark. Ignition. His death does not echo in Dinah’s ears, because she is consumed by the sound of life beyond the walls of the Cell or the Mansion. Out there. Everywhere. His sacrifice, her sacrifice, allows that the start of every life to begin with a single breathe. A baby is born.
Moments later the reconstituted form of Kurt Lance is torn asunder by the vibrations that ripped every atom of his body apart from the concussion force of five words. Molecule by molecule he breaks apart until there is not even dust left behind.
“Oh. Tweety.” Shockingly enough there’s no joke made about the projector not working. Nothing to be said about his big Hero Moment equating to a Richard Pryor joke. Even the name he uses, is not in jest but the same term of endearment he’s used repeatedly since they first met. “… you’re clear. He’s.. gone. There’s not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake.”
It’s as if Kurt Lance and Vertigo never existed.
Dinah: This life, that we debated if it even mattered since he had already been dead. That I’d tried to wall myself off from since the moment I even learned he existed. Tried to deny the reality of, and then once I had to accept he’d been real, tried to keep myself impartial to. That wall’s had cracks from the get go, little feelers creeping in, little inklings, and a collection of what ifs. Each and every scrap of the history that I learned, what we’d done, what Bruce had or hadn’t done, what they might have meant. Ordinarily I’m the first person to kick someone’s ass if they complain about fair, or what they deserve, but it’s not fucking fair. I know what I lost. Know what I’ve been missing. Feel it in every little bit of my being.
And in the world around me, because the other prisoner is shrieking. More sound that I can feel. Sense? It’s everything and nothing all at once, from Spoiler’s gasp as she wheels her chair around, to the water dripping further back in the cave, feet scraping pavement in Metropolis and beyond. That wail of confusion and intrusion of the baby. It’s everything and everywhere, and at the same time as I’m feeling it all, and then it’s gone. Leaving me clutching my brother for an eternity and an instant all at once, I want desperately to close my eyes and not watch, but I can’t do it. The relief and release is even more deafening than M’gann, or everything else, and I hold on until there’s nothing, and I’m trying to wrap myself around… nothing, which looks a lot like assuming a fetal position on top of the cot.
Not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake. I know he’s trying to comfort me, to tell me that I’ve done it, that it’s over. What my brain’s telling me is he’s gone, like he never existed in the first place. Like they never had. And now all I have is knowledge of what he experienced and felt, and lived, and what we did. Twice. Yes, there’s what we saved, too. But in the vacuum of what could have been, of all that power, the connection, left clinging to nothing, I’ve never felt more empty in my entire life. It’s like my throat’s caved in, and… oh. No. Wait. That’s just the sensation that comes right before the single sob that escapes before I realize what’s happening and choke it down.
Crush it down. Push myself upright with one hand, while the back of the other brushes harshly across my eyes, and cheek on the return trip. Swing my legs over the cot and get my ass moving towards the door.
“Good.” It’s not. It is but it’s also not, and I force my mind onto that ‘is,’ and tackling the next phase of this problem. “Check on your friend. What’s the situation with Raven?”
Dick: For whatever it’s worth, Conner makes no effort to console Dinah. Just those couple words which were not meant exactly to console, but to educate her that the sacrifice made was not in vain. Though he is often seen, due to intentionally giving the impression, that he is clueless? If anything shows that it is quite the opposite this is it. He knows what she just went through, because it’s coldly reminiscent of his own battle with Billy Batson not so long ago. The Boy doesn’t make any effort to impede Dinah, but he is also not leaping to obey her command. His attentions instead turn back to the projector that he spent the entire ‘Battle’ working on.
Outside the cell awaits a single person and it isn’t who Dinah’s likely expecting. Tim Drake’s new costume looks positively unforgiving, in comparison to normal, but the mask is once again out of place. “Things got a little … odd … out here too. As far as I can tell, Wonder Woman found over Gotham Harbor, near the Iceberg. She was trying to use magic to find M’Gann, but Wonder Woman interrupted her.”
“The two of them have a small bit of history, but things were tense for a moment. Whatever you just did? Right at the moment you did it? Raven’s Human Side took control. Cassie was able to talk to her. She went the Honest route and Raven’s human side believed her. She called off the search, on the condition that we present M’Gann and Conner to her for proof they’re okay and not prisoners.”
Ordinarily Timothy might not be so bold as to touch Dinah when it’s clear that her mood is foul like this, but there is a level of recent familiarity that he seems to believe gives him a little leeway. So it’s his uncovered, bare hand, that catches Dinah before she can pass him by. Through all of this he’s seemed very angry, but in this one singular moment there’s clearly concern written on those youthful features. “Dinah, don’t do the thing where you flick a switch and shut the lights off.”
“Dinah,” my voice calls from just up the stairs, outside of the infernal vault. “You’re going to want to see this.”
By ‘this,’ I mean the sight of Alfred Pennyworth. The Butler did it. Literally. When she finishes the last step, it’s pretty difficult to not see and know exactly what happened. When the whole plan was forming Alfred had gone to the armory, presumebly to pass out the various gear we’d need. Like the comm-links he passed to Cassie and Stephanie. None of them had even taken a second to think about him. He wasn’t given a specific task other than over-sight, the same task he performs every night as ‘Penny-One.’ Tonight he was apparently intending to take an active role and even now he looks quite guilty about the whole thing.
In one hand I’m holding the Butler’s shoulder. In the other I’m holding what looks like an old vietnam era long range rifle. It’s been retrofitted with a new age scope and laser sighting. Judging by the knot on Alfred’s jaw, there’s been some sort of violence that resulted in his disarming. The Bat-Cave is actually about as quiet as it’s ever been. Even Spoiler is silent right now, despite the hand she’s got to her ear piece, she seems to be listening to both sides of what is playing out.
“You shouldn’t have had t’ do it a second time, Miss Dinah. I wanted t’ spare you that pain, even if it meant losing another one of my kids to this bloody insanity.”
Dinah: I’m grateful that he leaves it where he does, and Lord help us all, doesn’t point out anything else that he might have noticed in the last few seconds. Maybe he was busy with the Kryptonian puzzle box project, or maybe he’s a friend that happens to be an awful lot like me. Striding out of Kurt’s … the… cell, I’d expected to see the looming Bat, and instead there’s Tim. Either that all took longer than I thought it did, or Dick had hustled somewhere else, which seems… strange. Like the rest of the last few days, that had felt like it both just happened, and was a lifetime ago. I suppose, as my perceptions and thoughts go, it actually was.
“All the boys love her, and the girls love to hate her. Sounds like a tune I know.”
It sounds a little harsher than I actually meant it, but still without bite, because my tone’s a little too flat for that as I make my offhand observation. It’s a little forced, in an effort to at least talk, and respond rather than letting myself think about anything else. There actually was a demon half? Maybe this really is all above my pay grade, too.
“Okay may be debatable for the Martian, but hopefully we can make her understand that wasn’t our fault… Mostly wasn’t our fault.”
Business as usual. We’re just all moving on, and going back to business as usual. Is that a mantra in my head, or internal disbelief? Are we going to pretend that I didn’t just kill someone? That they didn’t all just watch me do it, and that it’s not preserved ad nauseum in security systems, and backup security systems? Which would be worse. Getting a pass, because Kurt never was, and won’t be remembered, or having guilt not just coming at me from an internal angle? Maybe this is why we don’t do ‘it.’ I’d thought about it before now. Before I knew about my brother, or my past. About whether or not I’d be able to cross that line if it had to be done, and I’d always thought the answer would be yes.
Which it was. I just didn’t know to expect…this. Tim’s hand on my arm pulls me up short, and my eyes move from the passage ahead of me, and the stairs, over to his face. Shit, it’s like he knows me, or something.
“I have to. Just for right now, Tim.”
Except they’re not off, it’s more like the shades have been pulled and there’s a lightswitch rave going on inside that I can’t make quit even though I’d really like to. My voice sounds raw to me, like I had actually been screaming for hours instead of the single short one that wouldn’t have been enough to even fatigue me a little on most nights. One of those partyers is screaming ‘liar’ at me, even as I clear my throat and lay a hand on top of his. Anything else I was about to say diverted by the sound of Dick’s voice from up the stairs. Guess he didn’t get all that far after all. Following the sound of it, up and out of one hole into the much bigger hole above, until I stop with a foot on each stair and look at the tableau in front of me.
Eyes move from the gun, to Alfred and back, to the timing of the sounds I heard which gets a little hazy but his admission is plenty of confirmation for what might have happened if Dick hadn’t intervened. If my switch wasn’t flipped, I’d have demands, and accusations to screech right now, whether he deserved to have that pointed at him or not, but it’s done with, and I instead just speak an absolute truth.
“I had to. That wouldn’t have stopped him, Alfred.”
That first bit might selfishly be more for me than him, and if he hadn’t been interrupted I don’t want to think where that would have gone. I don’t have to. It’s over, but I’m trying to carry on as if it’s not. Like there’s one more problem. Something else to go on and face. That next task so that I don’t have to stop, which means I finish my trek up the stairs, sparing a hitch in that gait to lay a hand on Alfred’s other shoulder, before I’m headed for the computer terminals.
Dick: To say that there’s a lot going on would be an understatement. We have Alfred Pennyworth, trying to take the sin of murder off of Dinah’s shoulders. There’s Tim who seems to be floundering, under the accusations and distrust of the family around him. Not more than a handful of steps beyond him is Conner Luthor, who’s seemingly grown up ten years in two hours. Though to hear Dinah tell it, that was always there beneath the surface. Even now he’s trying to scoop his friend off the floor of yet another cell. If only to deliver himself and her to another ‘cosmic’ threat level female that calls herself the Raven. If you’re with me this far, then you get to take a look at Stephanie Brown, who’s currently having team girl-power with a Demigod. Oh and the Demigod? Just saved the day out there, with nothing more than honesty and heartfelt convictions.
I know better. Because I was here, in the Cave, playing at being the witness to everything I was able to ‘See.’ The entirety of what happened inside that Vault, played some role in what happened outside of it. Like the other cosmic shoe being dropped. Except this time. For once. That other shoe didn’t get to hit the ground. We managed to catch it before it caused yet another ripple in the pond.
Though Conner and Tim, each in their own way, seem to be allowing Dinah to deal with all of this in her own way? I move over to stand behind her. In much the same way that she’d done in passing Alfred, I put my hand upon her shoulder, but no sooner has it touched her than it’s squirming in to allow my fingers to touch her’s. The other hand is used to draw Dinah’s attention to what Spoiler is working on. Like I’d said before, the girl was taught how to work Timothy’s drones. Even now she’s got them at work tracking, analysing every move that Raven and Wonder Woman make in Gotham. The two otherworldly teenagers seem to be simply hovering out there, over the Harbor, idly talking about who the hell knows what.
Actually, I know exactly who knows what is being said. She’s sitting directly in front of Canary in the big chair, but she doesn’t seem to be offering any insights at all. In a time like this, the fact that Spoiler is not crowing about the sky falling or really talking at all? Tells me the only real bad news right now, is that there is no next thing on our plate just yet.
I’d heard what was said in that Cell right before I left to deal with Alfred. I also know exactly how it played out after that too, because the shot was taken before I’d even known for sure it wasn’t Tim doing it. Had she not moved Kurt Lance, it would have been Alfred that took the shot. It would also have not worked, just like she said. The Host couldn’t just simply die, it had to be destroyed without a trace left before. Nothing could remain or it’s simply possess something new. The plan had been to tuck the thing away in a true Kryptonian Prison, the Phantom Zone, but plans rarely last beyond first engagement. What transpired inside the cell, is not for anyone else to judge, I don’t think.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone else is avoiding it for that very reason. My free hand raises up and for the very first time in the presence of any of these ‘Outsiders,’ I draw the cowl off my head and let hand lose at my back. The other hand gives Dinah a gentle squeeze, maybe the hint of a tug. Everyone else is tip-toeing. That’s never been my calling card.
“I’d offer to taze you, but I left my escrima sticks in my hobo pants,” the tone of my voice is just about the softest I’ve ever allowed it to be with Dinah Lance, and I know she may not wish to let the others see her in a moment of weakness, but I still offer the slightest tug to tell her she can come closer to me if she wants. “We should….”
“…. and then Tactile Telekinesis!…” Swoosh! The Superboy interrupts us, and is gone before anyone can even acknowledge him or the Green Skinned girl that he’d been carrying. The next time we hear his voice it’s over the comm-signals on the main computer. The kid is fast, I’ll give him that, for all the good it did us. “… Spoiler picked out a theme song for us… that makes us legit. Next step is business cards, Megs and Titan Branded Blow-Up Dinosaur Sextoys. It’s going to be glorious.”
As quickly as that soft moment had been offered to Dinah, I’ve reached down with my free hand to pinch her side enough to get her to jump. “Hm. Apparently, I’m not in Hell. Or Dreaming. I was hoping it was you. But, no. We’ve really got a Super Man, that wants to franchise blow up dino sex toys. I’m too old for this.”
Dinah: “That explains so much…”
Bless him, he’s trying, and he’s doing it in the exact right way for me to be completely unable to not respond. It wasn’t that I don’t appreciate what each of the others had done for me. Conner with his no judgement, matter of fact assurance that it was really over. Tim asking me to not shut down, which comes along with shutting out. Alfred, who we were all so mad at a very short while ago, trying the only way he could to shoulder the burden for me. Then there’s Dick, with the cowl off, and the unspoken offer. Well. Maybe not so unspoken, even if it’s interrupted, about when I lay my hand on top of his on my shoulder.
“…see? What did I tell you? You can’t not hear about it.”
I do want. Some little part of me, deep, deep down wants exactly what is being offered. But inside I feel like this vast, open nothingness. My universe was literally expanded to the universe minutes ago. My senses filled with everything, literally everything, until all the sudden they weren’t, and in the vacuum of that, I gave up the brother I’d lost for the third time. No amount of ‘it had to be done’ that I may say out loud, or to myself in my head, makes that feel any better. Maybe if I was a fucking monster it would, but I’m not. I guess that’s one of the consequences of being one of the good guys.
“That one wasn’t even yours, it’s not all about you all the time, Superjerk. Settling on an anthem after one option? Blegh. You’re the worst. There’s so many other options…”
Spoiler’s eyeroll, which I don’t see so much as intuit rolls her head back, and then swivels her chair in a complete circle from the momentum of an arm thrown across her face in an entirely melodramatic fashion. Carrying on like nothing out of the usual is going on, in a tone that makes it sound like she’s having the time of her life, like nothing just happened, and I can’t decide if I want to just latch onto that and go along with it, or punch her for having the audacity to be okay. Still probably the easiest target in the cave, but at least she’s not just the convenient distraction for Tim that I’d mentally filed her as up until now.
The pinch actually does take me by surprise, and I shift my weight quickly, twisting enough to grab his wrist before I really realize what I’m doing. To my incredible credit, I pull up short before I try to snap an elbow or anything unpleasant like that. Which I probably couldn’t manage with him in the batsuit unless I really tried.
“I don’t know, you could have fooled me.” Alright. That was out before I could stop it, and is a little more on point for how I’m actually feeling than I ever intended to let past my lips, and I let out a soft cough, before pushing on. “I knew I should have gotten my lawyers working faster on trademarking all of their names. Admittedly, intimate accessories wasn’t the merch I was planning on peddling, but when in Rome…”
The words are very Dinah Lance on the surface, though the sarcasm hasn’t quite made it back into my tone, and I fix my attention on the monitors and try to make sense out of what Spoiler was actually doing, because it looks like too much information to be just monitoring the SuperTeens. The harbor, the Narrows, I’m pretty sure that is someone busking on a corner.
“Why on Earth would we need business cards… We’re not making blow-up dinosaur sex toys. We’re not making any form of sex toys. And I actually sort of liked the last track better. Can you play that one again?”
They really did, actually, have music playing over their comms the whole time, didn’t they? At the risk of sounding like the eggplant menace in the chair, I can’t even with these guys. Though, at the same time I can’t help feel a small hint of relief at how easily and suddenly that all seemed to come together. Spoiler’s clueless optimism and Wondergirl’s naive view on how the world should work. Except maybe Stephanie’s not actually as dumb as she acts, not unlike a boy in blue I know, and the jury’s still out for me on Cassie.
“You and me both, Dick. You and me both.” I blow out a breath of air so hard that it rustles the hair hanging near my face a bit, and I straighten my posture. There was nothing for me on the monitors to latch onto needing ‘doing,’ and I just have to keep going. “I need a drink. And probably to let Sheriff Trevor know that…”
No. I can’t. I can’t do this right now. I need to leave.
Dick: She’s right. You can’t actually not hear about this strange ability that our Superboy has. Tactile Telekinesis. For just a moment I’m lost in thought, memories back to a different time but the same place. I’d been the one sitting at the computer where Spoiler sits now, Bruce behind me dark and brooding. Alfred to the other side trying to foist fresh tuna sandwiches off on the two of us. We’d been talking about the news. A ‘Hero’ had made headlines that evening when he caught reporter Metropolis that had been ejected from an airplane. Topping that, he’d later caught the entire airplane itself. The three of us watched the footage multiple times. We’d zoomed in. There’d been software analysis. I’d settled on ‘Holy fucksticks, that’s cool.’ While Afred had told me to watch my language, Bruce had commented that it was strange how Superman’s had not caused the friction of motion to peel Lois Lane’s skin off. He’d hypothesized that Superman had some sort of field that must extend his invulnerability from himself to others…
Bruce. Always thinking. Always working out the problems, before anyone else even knows they are problems. He’s alive out there. Possibly never died, but at worst he’s been re-animated by the Lazarus Pit. We’ve spent the last couple weeks thinking the worst. Believing that the Man we loved may have set all fhis in motion as nothing more than a crucible of tests to force us to do what he needed. As if he’d treated us as nothing but pawns. Even now when we know it is likely that he was not under his own power, all of those worst fears are valid because all of them are things we each know to be true about him. He would absolutely do every single thing we believed he had done.
That makes the truth a harsh reality. While he is innocent of the crimes, he is not so innocent of being the architect of our believing him capable. His Methods would never have allowed us to deal with this situation. None of the trust or friendship that these kids are showing, the hope in spite of what we just faced, would be there because Bruce would never have fostered it. I’ve never been more certain than I am, as Dinah starts to talk about needing a drink and to make a phone call, that I’ll never be able to be Bruce’s Batman. It’s also made me just as certain that the world we live in may not need a Batman, but if it does that Batman has to be a different one that it’s known up until now.
““I didn’t say it was mine! Our’s.”
““Spoiler’s got a point, though. We did only hear one option…”
““How are we going to work the Brand, if we don’t have business cards? M’Gann likes the blow-up merch idea…”
““… I’ve already ordered cards, they should be at the Tower …”
“What was the last track? I was busy being mind fucked, without a reach around…”
Dinah’s movements are such that if I were anyone else, this were any other time, I’d be surprised at how she reacted. How fast or potentially lethal she reacted would be impressive. As it is, she’s barely secured my wrist, when I twist my hand inside of her’s and have her forearm. We’re still standing like that when I watch her eyes bolt across the screen. The need for a drink, the call to the sheriff, those come a second later when she starts to turn to leave, only to realize someone hasn’t released her. On my face is a look that says so many things. The deep blue eyes are filled with understanding. The set of my jaw speaks of determination. Even the way my head inclines, speaks to the fact that I’ve got a promise to keep.
“… whoah whoah whoaaaaah… who said you’re the Leader, Tiny Tim? You don’t even have a code name right now.”
“I picked the team. I’m building the base. I even bought the business cards…”
“Nope. Sorry. Wonder Woman’s the boss of me. Freakshow picked the theme song. Those are way more important than monetary interests. You’re not the only rich boy here.”
“… wait.. Spoilers on the team? Does she want to be…”
“See? You don’t even know who’s on the team. Wondy’s the leader. Spoiler’s the Deejay.”
A step is taken, by me toward her. Another step brings me close enough to Dinah that she’s the only one that is going to hear what I have to say. Even though what I say isn’t even something private. “You said it, Di. You and me.” My head turns just enough to bob and direct her back to the computer screen. “Spoiler, was that a Bank Robbery on the police scanner? Send the GPS to the Batmobile. Canary and I will handle it.”
“Oh and Stephanie. Tell the Titans to get out of my &^%$ city. Now.”
Dinah: “But what would we even use business cards for…”
“Here, I’ll start it again, but there’s more with way more epic beats deeper in… Really shouldn’t rush the entrance music picks though. Just sayin’.”
I think my eye’s actually starting to twitch. It could also be the corner of my mouth attempting to make an upward turn that the rest of my body is in complete and utter opposition to, however. It’s hard to deny that this feels… better, though. Listening to them yammer back and forth at one another, but the tone’s so utterly different this time in comparison to where they were at a very short time ago. Clear and present reminder of how very little it takes to spin your world on its head, how one moment, one choice can make all the difference. We don’t actually get to hear the track, or at least I don’t because I’m not wearing a communicator. I can see that she’s done it, queued back up Cassie’s re-request of Young Volcanoes, but it doesn’t impede the comm chatter or come across any of the inputs. For specific ears only, apparently.
“Shouldn’t we get Flash and Shazam’s…
“God bless you… er… well… clearlyalreadydonetalkaboutunfairmeasuringstick… gesundheit!”
“..what? No, I wasn’t sneezing. Shazam is his name.”
I don’t get very far when I turn to spin on the ball of one foot and head for the vehicles to commandeer, brought up short by the grip on my arm as Spoiler’s snort of laughter echoes across the cave and she mutters to herself about who comes up with these things. It was probably not meant to be said out loud. Putting my shoulder into it, I give another tug to try and keep on going, but when that doesn’t work either I turn to face him, and Dick’s face says so much, and so much of it is what I don’t want to see right now. The kids are all apparently bonding over terrible music, and I want desperately to do exactly what Tim asked me not to do. Shut myself off, so I don’t have anything to lose like I always claimed was the case. The set of my mouth is irritation, but my eyes are almost pleading to be let go.
“I’m going to remember you said that, Con-L.”
“I’m kinda dealing with my own thing, but I guess if you guys need… wait do you not want me on the team…?”
“Dick, I don’t want to be the Black Canary right now…”
I haven’t tried to retreat as Dick comes in close, and talks under the back and forth. He’s not going to let me run. Despite one of the most honest things I’ve said since coming out of that cell, I already know he’s not going to listen. Not because he’s not listening, or doesn’t respect my need to shove this all down and compartmentalize like a fucking champ, but because he’s going to make me get back up on that horse. I’m making an awful lot of horse metaphors for someone that’s never been on one, but… everyone knows the gist of them. So I can fight, and push away, and go get drunk… where exactly? I’m probably still wanted, and there’s a pack of superteenagers hovering over the harbor making a spectacle of themselves. I justify to myself that the problem with the law is what signals my surrender, and the tension going out of that arm before I reverse angles and move towards the Batmobile.
“Totes is! There’s another one they haven’t been told about yet, too. Hey! Batleader says, and I quote, get the #$*& off my lawn, losers! Don’t make him come up there! …maybe not those exact words but… you get the point. Amscray! …but I’ll keep sending the tunes…”
Christ. Maybe I do need to punch someone after all.
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?”
Batman: “Hold on. Let me see if I understand you correctly. Your friend, Mr. Freeman, went off to get himself involved in for what amounts to a purely geo-political war in Kahndaq. He sent word to you that he could use the help. He sent the same call out to several others. Including the Flash. A man who happens to be roughly six times faster than the actual jet he wishes you to pick him up in.”
It might ordinarily be hard to make out the features of someone beneath the Bat Cowl, but it’s fairly easy to read them right now. This is Batman’s incredulous face. I have long accepted that the motley crew Tim was putting together are eclectic, but this borders on outright insanity and I’m not giving her the benefit of being attracted to her enough to buy in to it. She may be a Goddess, demi as it were, but I’m not nearly as impressed to let go of my good senses to buy in to that.
In fact there’s a very demonstrative cross of the arms over my chest that isn’t hidden by the cape to say it for me. “If you’re actually going, tell Wally to power walk, he’ll still be there faster than the invisible jet.”
“As to your offer to me, I’m afraid there’s a lot in play that we must consider before I can give you an answer. Despite all of our most fond wishes, there are times when it isn’t as simple as ‘Do the Right Thing.’ In this particular case, I’m looking at the facts. Just the facts. None of it makes sense.”
That’s the good news at least, I’m here. Now. Meeting with the Wonder Woman before she leaves. Even as we’ve been talking, I’ve taking to working at the console of one gauntlet. Behind me the Invisible Jet’s large wall-mounted television is starting to display the news feeds from Brother Eye.
“Bialya’s attack was unannounced. Furthermore since it was orchestrated multiple intelligence agencies have confirmed that there was not so much as a whisper about it before hand. That’s telling. Because in any military unit there is a chain of command and orders to be processed. For a military that was nothing more than a loose knit group of mercenaries not long ago? That’s a level of secret keeping among the rank and file that is basically super-human in itself. So the reality is more likely that someone. Someone highly placed. Planned this and executed it. Either the moment he got permission or… is someone in position to give such an order without needing permission.”
“That’s just the beginning. We know that Bialya bought arms from the Russian Black Market, but they’ve essentially fielded a Army -and- Navy. The regime in Bialya doesn’t have the money to afford this size of an army. Much less a Navy at all, given that there’s no ship yard on satellite imagery. Where did the bulk of their equipment come from then? How was that also kept secret.”
“Then there’s the one thing every crime has, that this attack lacks. Motive. There is always a motive. So most likely in this situation we simply don’t know what it is. Again, given the sheer proportions of this undertaking, how is it that we haven’t so much as heard a word from anyone. About why this happened. None of the Ambassadors are talking. The leader of Bialya isn’t speaking. There’s just an attack. Then a retreat. Immense casualties on the Kahndaq side and now mounting casualties on the Bialya side thanks to this Adam individual. But we still don’t know why this is happening.”
“Or. Rather the world doesn’t know. I find that to be extremely informative. Because it means that the reason for their entire siege wasn’t accomplished yet. So they’re keeping it a secret, in order to stop Adam from knowing what to defend. Also it stops the rest of the world from stopping them from getting it.” Before Cassie has spoken I’m already shaking my head. “No. It isn’t some random act of violence of a despot wanting to take more territory. There are other countries with far more to -take- that neighbor Bialya. Countries that lack a resource like Black Adam to rush to their aide.”
“This was calculated risk. Superior planning. With a pathological bent towards secrecy. Nothing about that suggests Random anything. Bialya wants something.” Turning my head to look at her over one shoulder. “Which brings me to the real question. What if they want you. All of you. There in Kahndaq.”
Wonder Woman: There’s not a single member of the ‘Bat Family’ that doesn’t know what my real face looks like, at least not those that I’ve met. They probably knew ahead of time, but if not they certainly do after my recent surge in powers had led me into placing an SOS call to Tim. We’re not even going to get into whatever it is that’s going on between my Mother and Alfred Pennyworth because I just really can’t right now. Even if Conner was joking about the whole thing in the first place, there’s just enough to make me want to wonder, and my mind needs to stay bent towards other things right now. I’m still wearing the Wonder Woman face though, and not just because I already had it on after my sadly unproductive seeming meeting with Terra. Or. Not Terra.
I can hope that something I said sunk in though. Or that at least she’ll take the offer of help if it’s needed. But I’m expecting Wally to turn up, and he also doesn’t know who Cassie Sandsmark is. So here we are. My call to the Flash, which had been after trying to return Freddy’s call hadn’t worked out, was then followed by ringing up the Batman. Doesn’t that sound moderately fancy? I’d briefly considered calling Tim directly, also not calling at all, but we’d worked together before and that united ‘front’ is something that seems worth continuing to show the world, if nothing else. Especially for something I’m hoping will be mostly humanitarian in effort.
There’s a shrug of my shoulders, no longer covered in the hoodie that I’d worn to the bar, and my expression and tone of voice is a whole lot more amused than his is.
“I told him that he could meet me here if he wanted a ride. Running that far uses up a lot of energy, apparently, and he’s kind of a diva when he’s hungry. But, yes. You seem to have all the lead-up points covered. And I am going.”
If we’re being 100% honest, I hadn’t really expected this man to come along, or whomever was actually wearing the Batman cowl if it’d changed in the last week. Gotham City has more than its share of problems in the best of times, and lately hasn’t exactly qualified for one of those ‘peaceful’ periods. As was made abundantly clear when I was in Wayne Manor. They have other things to do, but I’d wanted to extend the offer regardless. This isn’t a ‘thanks for the jet, the gear, and the hookups, Tim, now make way for the superkids to try and do their thing’ situation. It shouldn’t ever be, if for no other reason than Gotham’s resident heroes make it pretty clear that heroism doesn’t require powers. I’ve also more than enough examples of the other side of that coin, too. Powers often don’t make for virtuous motivations either.
Blue eyes move from the mostly hidden, but still clearly judgmental face in front of me to look at the monitors. I’d caught brief footage when I’d stopped home before the bar, but I hadn’t really intended to cross the Atlantic at first. Not until I’d gotten the call from Freddy. I know Conner’s already over there, and likely the rest of his team and that’s not something I want to push if I can help it. On the same note, however, I think there’s very, very little that can be told to me in the way of ‘facts’ that’s going to keep me from taking my jet over there, or just flying myself. Because no amount of extenuating circumstances can actually change the fact that there are people in Khandaq that need help. Their protector can’t be everywhere at once.
“And without having worry about any kind of repercussions for giving that order. Black Adam has been enough by himself to keep most threats away. It wasn’t worth the push back. So either they’ve found something to make it worth it, or they’ve been pushed by someone scarier than Khandaq’s leader. Or both. And someone’s paying on the back end to make them the pawns.”
It’s my turn to fold my arms now, though I don’t have a black looming cape to hide the action as I walk closer to the displays and look up at them. Even with the added couple inches of height I gained last week, I’m still not tall. He has found something, though, that at least has made me think.
“We were all together on American soil not that long ago. I’d think that a person, or group, with the resources to magic up two military branches for Bialya basically overnight could have moved on us then, while we were fighting someone else if we are really the goal. You’re thinking NOWHERE. Aren’t you?”
Where stepping a foot wrong would be an international incident, not just a localized one, and the timing as we’re starting to gain public support for our presence…
Batman: “I’m thinking Luthor,” comes the immediate response.
She’s known Tim long enough to know that we have a tendency to play things close to the vest. We don’t give out information that we don’t deem necessary to the vital parameters of whatever mission we’re on at a given moment. Bruce was the King of that, Tim isn’t that far behind, but I’ve never been one to keep people in the dark about every little detail. Not people I’m supposed to be able to trust. I understand why Bruce did it, I think I know why Tim does it even now. Not only was it a measure of control, but it also let them see the honest reactions of the people around them. Bruce always wanted to see if I would reach the same conclusion, unassisted by his own. Check and Balance. Cassie takes the points I’m making and follows them to the source, but she stops a step away from what I’m getting at.
I take a second, just a second, to let the information sink in before I put my hands upon the screens and begin to move them. “You’ve heard of the ‘Justice Society.’ A group of so-called ‘Mystery Men,’ who came together when the world needed them most to help win the second World War. After that time the President commissioned what would eventually become Nowhere. What most people don’t know is the identities of those ‘Mystery Men.’ The Batman knew.”
“This is that Society,” upon the screen I’ve brought forth a grainy black and white picture of the Justice Society and more specifically, I’ve zero’d in on one in particular. “I’m sure even you recognize a couple of them at this point. The Society existed in secret for a long time, empowered by a mandate of President Eisenhower. Then the tide began to turn against them, until they were given a choice. Enlist in the Project or retire. This is all history that Tim has shared, I’m sure. If not, you knew it from other sources. Such as your boyfriend.”
“What you don’t know, because neither of them knew, is that the Society saw the changes coming. They took steps to insure that their ‘Society’ of Heroes would persist. That is why some of them joined, hoping to guide the future of Cadmus and Nowhere towards more noble goals than they feared would happen without their involvement. Others took deals for retirement that guaranteed the survival of their progeny.”
“Others.” Another motion of my hand brings the image down to the very edge of the Society’s phone, where you can barely make out the man’s bare chest until my computer’s augment the image to reveal a Hawk crest. “Were lost. Perhaps killed. Maybe taken. Regardless of how, they all disappeared.”
“Most of them stayed that way.” Another shift of my hands and the screens begin to show a series of articles. Written articles, not big enough news to have made it to television. “Until recently. A series of thefts across the globe. Each one more or less unrelated. A museum in England. A private art collector in Bolivia. The Chateau Rennard in Spain. Seemingly random items. A harness. A mace. A helmet. Pieces of armor. International police have not connected the dots, because each piece that has been stolen was from a completely unrelated point in history. So their only commonality is that they were A) stolen and B) historical relics.”
Again the image is shifted, from the articles back to the obscure man at the back of the Society’s picture. A man who’s wearing a harness, sporting a helmet and holding a spiced mace. “Hawkman. According to the files we have from the original Society, his super power is being an asshole and re-incarnation. He is otherwise armed with a series of weapons crafted from a substance that according to Wesley Dodds is called Nth Metal.”
“All of which brings you to the question of what significance this has upon Kahndaq? Perhaps none. Perhaps everything. Given that these thefts are recent and that one of the known incarnations of this ‘Hawkman’ were from Ancient Kahndaq. It’s my suspicion that these thefts are more significant than we know. Someone is reacquiring Hawkman’s arsenal. I suspect that his doing so has motivated what is going on in Kahndaq. If I’m right, then their motivation for attack may be another piece of Hawkman’s armor. But that only creates additional questions.”
“Which is why I’m going. Whomever is stealing these artifacts is a thief. You need a detective to find him. I will track this thief down. You will take Wallace and help the civilians. While also assisting Freeman find his way through this whole affair. You’ll need to do it with one eye towards the fact that we know Luthor helped Bialya somehow. So we know there’s something in all of this for him. I suspect it’s the Nth Metal. So our goals run at cross purposes, Wonder Woman.”
Wonder Woman: There’s this brief, brief moment where the expression that crosses ‘my’ face could almost be considered rolling my eyes, while lips purse slightly to the one side. Most people probably don’t roll their eyes at Batman, and I generally don’t roll my eyes at anyone except my boyfriend, but I don’t seem to be able to stop myself right now. It’s only because Luthor was, more or less, exactly what I meant. In my mind they’re one and the same, and you really don’t have one without the other. He might not be publicly acting with them, because they’re secret for one thing, but without him they don’t have the power they currently possess.
He certainly has the money. He definitely has the means. NOWHERE has a veritable array of metahumans at their disposal the likes of say. Kelsey who could communicate messages without there ever being any sort of paper trail, and she could look like anyone. I don’t know the range or breadth of either of her skill sets there, just what Conner’s told of me and that’s not factoring in Rachel and what she does, or any other number of people on their ‘payroll.’ Though. Conner’s made it pretty clear to me that they, some of them like Kelsey… M’gann…, and even he believes that they’re doing something good to an extent. How would it be justified to them, to start an unprovoked war between two countries, in order to get them to participate?
So maybe he’s got a means outside of ‘just’ NOWHERE’s scope, too.
“I have. My Mother was always really interested in them. At the time I just assumed it was the same level of interest she had in telling me stories about the old myths and pantheons but…”
Hindsight’s 20/20 right? With what I’ve been told at this point, and what dots I’ve connected with her clearly knowing Alfred before I had, I assume the interest and knowledge was much more personal than Hercules and his Labors. Or maybe it’s exactly the same thing. Arms still folded in place, I am listening to what he’s telling me, and showing me, despite some of it being things I was already aware of. Being a know-it-all never really gets you the best results. Even if you are, but I learned very, very quickly that Tim and Company know a whole lot about things that you wouldn’t think they have any business to know in the first place.
“What if the thief is this Hawkman? You said his powers… erm. Power is reincarnating..” I’m not going to call being an ass a superpower, otherwise my darling other half gets another to add to his already too impressive roster. “.. so maybe he has, and he’s the one rounding them back up again. Is it really theft if you’re reacquiring things that were yours in the… sorry. That’s more stray curious thought than actual moral question that doesn’t really matter.”
He’s correct about it making more questions though. That delve into multiple lives (which, seems weird even if you’re a demi-goddess), questions of whether heroic motivations persist or if the person may have changed. If there’d be motive to trigger this war, when they’ve clearly had no problem acquiring the other pieces in a much more sly matter… my twirling thoughts and considerations are interrupted by something he’s said fully clicking in my head and my eyes regain focus as I blink in surprise.
“You are? Well. Great. Welcome aboard, Batman. If you pull that vanishing ‘trick’ again with him on board he’s probably going to disassemble my jet though. Fair warning.”
There’s finger quotes made, as I unfold my arms finally, because I know fully well that Batman was never actually on this jet the last time. I’d seen Red Robin pull the stunt before so it was an easy conclusion. I just hadn’t mentioned it to the rather frantic Flash at the time. My expression sobers again rather quickly though, because I haven’t ignored his warning. It’s just emphasizing thoughts I’d already been having as far as the NOWHERE team already being in Khandaq.
“I’ll be careful. And make sure that he is, too.”
Batman: “That’s my hope, in fact. That the thief actually is the reincarnated version of the man in that picture. If he’s the one that has been collecting his arsenal, then there’s a chance he remembers. Which leads me to hope that there’s a chance I can recruit him to your side in the coming conflict. You need all the help you can get.”
There’s a very purposeful choice of my wording here. Not my side. Not our side. Her side. She’s the one that needs help. Despite believing, as Tim did, that this is very much an effort of a team? I’m not convinced that my place is among them. My family has a lot on their plates. Even more blood on their hands. Being part of this little thing they’re doing may be good for the immediate purpose of removing Nowhere’s influence, but in the long term?
Once more though my expression isn’t all that hard to read, despite the mask. Clearly I can buy that magic exists, but there’s just a look about me that says the entire ‘Reincarnation’ thing is malarkey. “Assuming it is, in fact, the original Hawkman reincarnated and reclaiming his lost arsenal or not? If his arsenal originated in Kahndaq, then it is likely that there is more of this Nth metal there. It is our most likely motive for the entire ordeal. In the absence of ‘alternative facts’ we must base a theory upon the ones we have in evidence.”
“However, in the unlikely instance that this actually is the original Hawkman? Then whether he is stealing or re-appropriating, he’s still in possession of what may have just become the most valuable resource in the world. If Bialya went to War with Black Adam for it, then what do you think the people behind all of this will do to procure the artifacts that have been stolen. Assuming they’re not the ones stealing them in the first place. Either way, I’ll need to find them in order to get us answers. Leave that part to me.”
“Mm. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, Wonder Woman. I’ll be taking my own ride.” Thumbing over my shoulder toward exit of her plane. Almost on cue the Razor Wing jet descends from the Heavens to display itself. “There are two other things you need to know. First, Timothy was injured. Out of costume. He’s not.. like you. He needs surgery, but he won’t stop because he wants to be like you. So unless you’ve got a magical cure for a torn rotator cuff, the next time you see him, could you bat those baby blues and get him to go the doctor?”
“And second. Your Mother. The big dig she went on that you were upset about not getting to go on with her? Its in Kahndaq. Like I said. Someone is orchestrating this. Bringing everyone together.”
Wonder Woman: “I usually seem to.”
Delivered with all the irony due for a statement like that. I’m fast, strong, incredibly durable. A literal demigod, and yet I don’t seem to be able to pull anything on my own. That’s how it feels anyway. As droll as I might sound with my remark, however, I don’t actually think that it’s a bad thing. I was all in for Tim’s plan of recruiting more people, because I think going at any of this alone has more drawbacks than benefits. A prime example being the last iteration of public heroes, who had only really come together when the situation on the Earth absolutely required it. I can’t speak for how well they worked together, but maybe if they’d been a real team, someone could have seen Coast City coming and acted to prevent it. There’s strength in friends, but there’s also accountability and different points of view and approaches.
On a smaller scale, I can look at the way life has gone for me with Superman. He pushed me into being a hero, and I suppose in a manner of speaking I had as well. Despite my thoughts, I haven’t missed the emphasis in Batman’s word selections. It’s why I hadn’t thought he’d be coming. I wasn’t going to not offer, but I just expected he’d stay separate. Gotham manages to be it’s own little corner of the world, despite its lack of sovereignty. Official sovereignty, anyway.
“Even if there isn’t, it’s a logical sounding conclusion for them to have drawn as well. I still just don’t understand why this was the best method unless, like you clearly think, it’s shaping up to be a two birds, one stone situation. Or. Three, if they think they might manage to draw Hawkman in as well. With what Nth metal he has, if he even has any at all or if it’s him but… the off chance might be reason enough.”
The first real look of displeasure on my face comes with the two additional things, on top of all the others, that he wants me to know. No longer the expression of commitment to this plan that I think is right, even if it’s maybe a trap, which is enough to make me resolute on it, but an almost sour one of concern as I rub fingertips against the side of my nose. It’s a much more ‘Cassie’ gesture than ‘Wonder Woman’s.’
“I knew he was hurt. I didn’t know it was that bad, and if I do that’s a power I haven’t figured out how to tap into just yet. I’m not really sure why you think he’d li…”
I’m not going to discount the potential for more powers, because frankly I have as many as I can handle right now, and I’m still learning how to capably use what I’ve got. But with the way things have gone for me lately, who knows. Two weeks ago I was half as strong, half as fast, and two inches shorter. Zeus made it very clear that I’m essentially still an infant. Why would Tim listen to me that would involve me flirting with him? Dumb question, Cassie. It’s also not an angle I’m actually wiling to exploit because despite knowing it’s there? I think it’s cruel. And Tim’s my best friend. I’m more upset about not realizing how hurt he apparently was, despite being actually face to face with him, than a lot of other things going on right now.
Like him apparently airing my dirty laundry of the fight with my Mom about her not letting me go on the dig. Which. I’m now going to after all.
“I’ll try. And maybe my Mom had some sort of inkling ahead of time I just… had started to assume it was related to a separate problem. Or maybe it’s not separate at all and then… as you said. All the help I can get.”
Moving away from the panels, I go to find a seat and set up to wait for Wally to turn up. Clearing room for Batman to get to his own jet because. Of course he has one. For someone who runs as fast as Flash does, he seems to turn up a bit… late a lot of the time.
“I’d say I’ll see you in Khandaq, but I imagine I probably won’t. So I’ll leave it at stay safe.”
I don’t think any of them are the ‘good luck’ sort of guys, so I don’t say it.
Red Robin: “Stanford? And you’re saying that it was his idea,” the way in which a gloved hand strokes squared jaw tells a story. “Hrm. So many questions, but this wasn’t a social call this time.”
At this point in Cassandra’s life she should be getting used to a great deal many things. However I’m fairly sure that I just managed to scare the bejesus out of her. If it wasn’t when her phone came alive on the hotel dresser and grew wings with which to flitter across the room to where it could cast a hologram of the Red Robin next to Cassie’s bed? Then it was probably rousing to find Red Robin next to her bed.
“He’s not here,” the reassurance is as much about how we know he would react to my presence, as it about cutting her off in the immediate search for her boyfriend in the bed next to her. “His handlers summoned him earlier this morning to be Honor Guard for what’s going on in Khandaq.”
“Fortuitous, actually, because you won’t need to worry about misleading him this time. I’ve sent a file on your next assignment to your phone. It’ll also be a good chance for you to make an impression at the Tower, since she’s there. Unlike Freeman, this isn’t a cake walk. She doesn’t know it, but your next assignment is in trouble. You might not have to deal with Conner, but if she’s within the Tower’s incomplete sensors then you know Nowhere is aware of her too. If she’s not already been made, she will be any time now.”
“No training wheels this time, I’m still recovering and Batman says he doesn’t think you need a babysitter. If you need Backup, your phone has the Flash’s emergency card number. But for now… he is your only backup.”
It’s then that Cassie will realize that this isn’t a call. It’s a voice mail. The digital hologram variety. Because it repeats. Over and over. Until she actually touches the phone to turn off the message. Properly marked as ‘Urgent’ in her inbox. It will take slightly more time getting Razerbeak to pull in it’s wings and resume being her cellphone.
Cassie: Wonder Woman’s not a morning person.
Actually, a better assessment would be that while I’m not really a morning person, I can manage the rise and shine part just fine. It’s being woken unceremoniously that I happen to be struggling with, in the form of my brain not being able to process what project it should get to work on first, getting tousled blonde hair out of my face so that I can fully see, or the moral question of what’s more important: making sure I’m between Tim and any eye lasers that are about to get shot at him, or getting anything that’s uncovered that I don’t want him to see covered. If my brain moved at the pace that Conner’s does, then I probably could have come to a couple clear conclusions a lot more quickly. If I was actually awake I probably could have managed in a more respectable fashion.
What it actually looks like is some semi-undignified thrashing under the sheets of the bed. I haven’t been asleep nearly long enough, which explains why my boyfriend leaving didn’t wake me up at all, and neither did the phone doing what it apparently does now. It’s only the familiar voice that had jerked me awake and sent me into a befuddled, panicked whirl of motion.
“What the Hell, Tim!”
Hearing that ‘he’s not here’ soothes me a little, so we’re back to just being a touch grumpy about being woken up, and the intrusion. I want to ask how he knows where we are but, that’s a stupid question. That and he carries right on past my objections in a very Tim Drake sort of way, because the mission. Leaving me to snug the sheet up under my armpits and fold my arms across my chest for good measure, mentally attempting to suppress the blush. There’s not really a good reason for it because it’s not like our best friend, of all people, doesn’t know exactly what we get up to. Mostly because Conner Luthor has less than zero shame, and he’s a perceptive guy anyway.
“You actually think I’m going to need backup? Giant crocodiles was fine but…”
I already have realized at this point that Tim’s not really there. Why would he be? Other than a very brief emergency trip to Gotham, and a mission to Central, it’s the only way that I’ve ‘seen’ him since he left Metropolis after his father’s death. It might be a family thing for all I know, holograms, not the death portion. Ugh. What a morbid thought. It hadn’t occurred to me, however, that it was pre-recorded, so there’s a moment of confusion when he begins to repeat himself. Though, I suppose it explains the talking over top of me. Leaving me grumbling, and poking and prodding the very fancy phone, while still keeping the bed sheets up because, well. The media likes to pretend that our cell phones are spying on us but… they have no idea.
“…I’m putting you in the drawer next time…”
Terra: Standing in front of the jukebox in the back of the bar she had wandered into only moments ago, Tara ran a recently manicured fingernail along the upper selections of songs and paused almost immediately. Tapping her finger a few times as if carefully considering her options she reaches into her pocket and finding a quarter removes it. Sliding it into the slot and then another and still another Tara begins to move to the beat as T.N.T by AC/DC begins to thump through the bar much to the chagrin of the late night patrons who when she had entered the place seemed more interested in sleep then anything else. The mood had been rather somber and that just wouldn’t suit Tara at all.
Each one was a little louder then the first as she began to sing along to the words and make her way back toward the large and well neared man manning the bar, without even asking he slid an overflowing beer toward her. Perhaps he hoped drinking it would at least put an end to the singing. Snatching up the beer and drinking most of it in a few deep gulps Tara spit out a little of the beer as the chorus kicked in again.
“T…N…T…come on Metropolis….live a little..”
Shrugging as not a soul moved to join in her antics Tara begins her dance again and moves back toward the jukebox, she had had a good night and was determined to make her mood infectious. It had been a month or more since she had stopped those muggers with her abilities and her eyes had been awaken to just how much fun she could have with them. She had been warned against just this sort of thinking, but Slade had been absent for months, years even.
Really what’s the worse a little shaking and sliding to her benefit could bring down on her?
Cassie: Whether or not Superman’s on the other side of the planet, I know how very little time that takes to change. Logically, I also know that Red Robin thinks I’ve got enoughtime, otherwise I would probably have been roused as soon as Conner was out of earshot. Getting dressed doesn’t take much time, and other than a brief glance in the mirror over the state of my mop of blonde hair I don’t need to do much else to prepare outside of reading up on what information I’ve been given. The latter of which I do while deciding that bedhead for me doesn’t look a whole lot different than post-flight, wind ruffled hair and just leaving it be.
Where I actually lose a little bit of time is in my brief trip to Coast City. He hadn’t been wrong about the appearance where the Tower is being erected, even if there’s only so much buzz I’m going to generate in the middle of the night. It’s a very short trip by air from Stanford, where Conner and I had actually been visiting for the weekend to do a little research. Not on Coast City, or the Tower or any of what Wayne Enterprises is doing out there. Very mundane scoping of housing, actually, in the normal teenage rite of passage that is preparing to apply for and hopefully attend the college of your choice. Very little doubt of getting in, full of myself as that sounds, because of my grades and test scores and zero for him because he’s a Luthor who pretends to be just good enough at basketball to be incredible but not superhuman. I guess normally we’d have a parental escort and not be shacked up in a hotel together but… my Mom’s apparently an Amazonian badass, and his Dad’s President for Life. Not factoring in my God Dad, and his Kryptonian one. There’s nothing normal about that situation at all. I spend a little bit of time zooming about as I finish reading the dossier.
She used to be here, but not anymore. For more current whereabouts I have to go back to Metropolis. Clear on the other side of the country. Thanks a lot, Tim, you couldn’t have given me this on Monday morning? But I believe him about the time press. He wouldn’t have said it otherwise. It takes me a shade over fifteen minutes to get from California to the East Coast, rocketing through the dark sky, and finding myself wishing I had more time to enjoy the night flight than what I’ve got. Mostly because this? Is the best part about my new life.
A little more time wasted in a brief trip to my house in order to grab clothes. Not to change more to… cover up. Because I’m not trying to out this girl, but I also don’t want to out myself. Hopefully the spangly red of my suit passes for leggings under the skirt I pull on, and the hoodie that gets settled over my upper half, and hair as I’m pushing my way into the bar.
Believe it or not, this is a first for me. A bar. Unlike the girl I’m here to see? I actually look old enough to be in here, but that’s only because the Wonder Woman suit comes custom made with facial alteration hologram technology. Adding at least eight years to my face, and subtly altering the structure so as to make me unrecognizable. I bypass the bar proper, instead letting blue eyes wander over the patrons. There’s only one option here to fit the description.
Terra: Tara had made her way back to leaning on the jukebox at this point and her concentration had fully been given to it. Her hands sat with a loose grip atop the box as she slowly moved her hips to what by now had changed to Judas Priest. Her eyes closed Tara moved her head now to the song as one of her favorites choruses kicked in prompting more singing.
“Breaking the law….breaking the law…YES.
The volume of the song combined with her own off key additions to the harmonies nearly muffled the sound of her name, or at least one of her names being said by Cassie. Nearly, but not entirely and having heard it her grip on the jukebox tightened considerably.
Her head turned slowly to face Cassie, confusion quickly overtaking her features, and maybe just a little fear. Had that girl Sublime told someone about her?
“My name is Mackenzie…you must have me confused with someone else.”
With that says her eyes move back to looking through the songs on the jukebox.
Cassie: I may not be the ace detective of our little… conglomerate… but I’m still observant enough, especially when I’m already wary about how this may, or may not go. Beyond that, my vision’s sharp enough to notice the flexing, if not whitening, of her knuckles on the top of the juke box. I don’t close between us, so much as sidestep closer to the wall, if not closer to Terra herself. Letting the overly loud English rock band compete with my words to reach anyone else’s ears past the two of us, as well as trying to not make her feel cornered. This is so very different than my last solo attempt. Because it’s more personal, a one on one instead of a battle-forged connection. Then there’s also the danger of exactly what I want to try to prevent and… why this needs to be done while Conner’s busy with whatever is going on in Khandaq.
“Okay. Mackenzie, then, if that’s what you prefer.”
It doesn’t matter to me what I call her, it’s more about her comfort. Besides. I’m currently wearing a disguise, over top of a costume, and wearing a face that’s not actually mine. Who am I to judge on this particular front? Pushing my hands casually into the pockets of my sweatshirt is a non-threatening posture as I lean my shoulder into the wall, but it also exposes more of the glittering gold of my gauntlets.
“But I don’t have you confused with someone else.”
So, Cassie. What would you have wanted someone to say to you, after that first time you ripped the gym door off the hinges like they were paper? Or when you tripped and powdered the concrete into fine dust and you were confused, and scared, and felt so very, very alone? I still had the anchor of my Mom though, and while I can’t know for sure, her moving around the country and being in a bar in the middle of the night tells me this girls’ probably way more alone than I ever thought I might have been.
“It feels good, doesn’t it? Using something that’s scary about yourself to stop something real and scary out in the world?”
Terra: Dropping her head down her eyes shutting tight for a moment before she pushes off the jukebox and turns to fully face Cassie. Her eyes move quickly over the girl in front of her as she takes a step closer looking down to the small hint of gold on Cassie’s arm.
A quizzical expression moves across her face as she sees the strange object. Leaning in for a closer look she turns her face a bit closer to Cassie’s and begins speaking in a low tone.
“Well aren’t you a regular After school special…I don’t know who you think I am…
Stopping a moment as she gestures to the door.
“But you have the wrong person…I’m just a normal girl next door type. Mundane in every way. Now you skip away to a Pep rally or something I’m busy.”
Cassie: There’s a brief moment, very brief, where I want very badly to look down and double check which skirt I actually put on when I left my house. I don’t exactly have a lot of them, I’ve always been much more of a tee-shirt and jeans kind of girl but I still own a couple. A solid chunk of them, however, are cheerleading skirts, or the plaid of Saint Mary’s blue and grey prep school uniforms. No. I wasn’t so tired after my flight as to have made either that tactical error, or fashion fashion faux pas. I’m a little taken aback by her defensiveness but I recognize pretty quickly that I shouldn’t be. I more or less tried a similar denial when I was first approached by my abilities.
I’m being a lot nicer than Conner was to me, though. Or at least, I was trying.
Pursing my lips, I change tacks, pushing my hoodie back off my forehead enough to expose the golden tiara that’s the newest addition to my Wonder Woman attire, thanks to my Mother.
“We both know that’s not true. I’m not going to push you. But if I know? Then so do people who are not going to try to be your friend and will skip straight to detain and neutralize. Especially here in Metropolis. You were safer in Coast City.”
Terra: If Terra were to be perfectly honest her first impulse when Coast City is mentioned is to drop the entire bar into the sewers underneath them all. This decidedly stupid course of action is tempered by the fact doing so would likely kill everyone else in the place and while she was a lot of things Terra was no murderer. So rather then make herself a headline she instead burst into laughter her arms crossing her chest as she nearly hits the floor from the giggles now coming over her.
“OMG…what is that?!
Taking a deep breath and visibly forcing her bellyaches away she composes herself and holds up her hands in apology. The immense grin on her face however seems unable or unwilling to leave.
“Okay..okay…what the hell let’s talk Princess…my god a tiara…”
Cassie: The burst of laughter takes me a little by surprise, easy enough to tell by the widening of blue eyes, though that expression doesn’t turn to annoyance so much as an arched eyebrow of amusement at what Terra’s found so darn funny that it has interrupted her denials and attempts at getting me to leave her alone. Does it really look that ridiculous or is she just…stressed? Defense mechanism? If that’s going to set her off into hysterical giggles than it’s doubly good that I chose to put the skirt and hoodie on over the rest of my outfit. Which I thought was pretty ridiculous when it was first presented to me, too.
“It’s an heirloom. Probably an antique. I didn’t ask, didn’t want to offend the person that gave it to me by implying…”
That my Mother is an antique herself. Which she may very well be, no matter how she happens to look. One of the many facets of who I am, that I know now, that I haven’t fully wrapped my brain around yet. Going from your biggest concern being prep school bullies, to hiding superpowers, and then straight on to Gods are actually real and your father is one was a lot to take in. And clearly, the info dump hadn’t been about to just stop there.
But. Clearly it hadn’t been the identifying mark I had hoped that it might have been. I suppose it hasn’t exactly been part of my ‘uniform’ for a long time. Or maybe I was reaching with the assumption that this girl would even care, or pay attention to, who Wonder Woman is. Moving away from the wall, and the jukebox, I sweep a hand towards one of the back booths.
“Unless you’d rather go outside…?”
Terra: Tara took a moment to compose herself taking care not to glance back up to the tiara. Cassie wouldn’t know this but seeing it had actually put Tara at ease as she knew the men who likely still pursued her would never have sent someone like this. No those men favorited all black everything and did not announce their presence in such a well mannered way. So it would be out of curiosity that Tara would entertain the woman standing before her.
“Riiiiight….the only heirloom I was given was a battered postcard from a place I barely remember.”
Giving Cassie a shrug of her shoulders that said she really didn’t have any fucks to give she turns and begins walking toward one of the unoccupied booths closest to the back and right up against the wall. The man who had taken her from Markovia had insisted often and loudly that she always maintain proper site lines in case she had to run. While it could not be said she listened to everything he said this she had retained.
Sliding in on the side closest to the wall she holds up a hand with two fingers up for the bartender to see, once he nods she aims them at the table.
“I appreciate the beer by the way…you do have money in that thing right?”
Tara says with a devilish smile across her lips as Cassie moves to sit across from her.
Cassie: I feel a little silly, I suppose rightfully so given my attire, but I’d been left with two not so great options. Show up to speak to this girl in my normal clothes, using my real face, and I’m not anymore old enough to be in this bar than she is. Or turn up in full Wonder Woman regalia, drawing attention to myself and therefor her. So I’d gone with this hybrid of the two. I’ve been spending more and more time in the red, clingy spangles of Wonder Woman but usually it’s when I’m fighting, or doing something that doesn’t give me time to second guess my attire. This is a little… different. I let her have the seat she wants, because which one I sit in doesn’t matter to me. Not only because I haven’t had it drilled into my head tactically as the lesser of the two options to have my back to the room.
But because I don’t really think anything or anyone in this room is really going to be a threat to me that I can’t deal with. Maybe that’s cocky of me. Maybe Conner’s rubbing off on me… sliding into the side of the booth that’s left, I pull my hood back up over my hair, and the tiara as I look at Terra with interest.
“Oh? Where’s that?”
I used to love collecting postcards, from all the places I went with my mother on her digs. But that’s Cassie Sandsmark’s childhood past time. Not Wonder Woman’s. The first real look of concern that crosses my face is when she signals for drinks, and my lips purse. She’s not old enough to be drinking I don’t think. I’m definitely not old enough to be buying, even if I might look like I am at the moment. And this outfit doesn’t exactly have pockets, except for the sweatshirt that I’ve brought nothing in except my phone. Well. Hopefully Tim made the thing with all the usual capabilities of a phone.
“As long as they take Apple Pay. Is this a normal… thing for you here? Because he doesn’t seem to mind bringing them for you. But none for me, thank you.”
Why am I thanking her? She wants me to pay for both of them. And I probably should just refuse but… I don’t know. I want to do this ‘job’ that I’m still not sure I’m fully equipped for, or capable of. So. I just go on winging it, like so much else.
Folding my arms on the edge of the table, I turn my attention away from Bartender With No Problem Serving Minors, and back to Terra.
“Do you have somewhere safe you can go? I don’t want to assume, after the way you’ve moved around the country but..”
Terra: The expression on Terra’s face only widens at Cassie’s reaction to her ordering drinks. She holds up a hand while the other reaches into the purse she had previously had dangling by her side but now sat on the table. Sliding out a card rectangular object that as she slides it across the table reveals itself to be a drivers license.
“Why would he mind? I’m twenty one as of…”
Taking a moment to glance back down at the card on the table she then continues.
“A month ago. Apple Pay.”
Tilting her head to look to the bartender who only shakes his head at the unspoken question about if they accept that particular form of currency. This causes Terra’s amused veneer to fade for a fraction of a section while she fumbles around in her purse for the cash to pay. Finding it she quickly hands it over and takes both beers.
“It was…nowhere important I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Sliding one of the beers closer Terra let’s her eyes fall down a moment as if something sad had just hit her memory and she could not easily shake it. With the beer close enough to sip she does so once then again.
“I have lots of places to go, if any of them are safe is anyone’s guess. No ones found me yet.”
Cassie: Tilting my head to the side, my eyes drop to the driver’s license that she’s slid out onto the table thinking that perhaps I had misjudged exactly how old she appears to be, but after a partial squint at the identification in question, mixed with her having to look at the thing to know when her own birthday is? It’s surely fake. Which takes me back to the bartender probably doesn’t really care. As for me, I’m left shrugging my shoulders in the apology that I won’t actually say on the matter.
“Uh huh. I didn’t expect to find you here. Or to be making any… purchases. But I can…”
Give you money like a charity case? Already she doesn’t exactly read like someone who would go in for that, and I don’t want to push her away now that we’re sitting here and talking, so I quickly course correct that thought.
“…go get money to repay you.”
I don’t miss her reaction, especially with the backtracking on the subject and that makes me not want to press the matter. At least not right now. I don’t really want to make her uncomfortable, or to shut me out any more. So I let the conversation be steered along with the original purpose of my visit.
“I did. And someone I work with found you before I did. There’s another group out there. NOWHERE. That could have, too, already. I’m trying to help people like you. And me. To have options that aren’t just government detention and conscription.”
Terra: Terra reaches out for the I.D with the the one hand not yet clutching a beer. Catching it just at the edge of the table between two of her fingers she brings it up closer to her face and quickly looks it over. Barely restraining the urge to roll her eyes as more then one typo reveals itself in the inspection. Still it had done the job up to this point, so it would be placed back into her purse.
“Well you got me there I guess…”
Bringing the beer up for another series of sips as she listens to Cassie try to convince her of just how much trouble she was in. The only problem being that Terra had been in trouble since the day she had left Markovia. As if she had been given a choice in the matter. Terra hated being told what she had to do because for as long as she could remember someone had been telling her what to do.
It had started with her mother a scientist, and then it was Slade the hired killer and now it was some girl wearing a tiara.
“You want to help me? Well aren’t you just a regular saint….what’s in it for you and your friend huh? I don’t know you or Nowhere and I don’t much trust you.”
Cassie: The corner of my mouth tugs upwards as I fight a smile at her admission. I have no way of knowing if NOWHERE is onto her or not, but I have to just assume they are. As Tim had said, if the half-finished sensors on his ‘little’ building project in Coast City had detected this girl, then chances are being so much closer to the center of things here in Metropolis had definitely caught some notice. Especially with her heroics. Which aren’t a bad thing in my mind, just an activity that draws attention.
“No, I’m not. And I don’t pretend to be, either. I’m someone who thinks that people like us can do a lot of good. Do do a lot of good, and could do more if we were allowed. In it for me…?”
I seem startled by the question, and I think I might actually be about to let myself be a little offended. But I remember that conversation with Tim Drake, or rather, Red Robin in my Mother’s office and his correction about my agenda, or lack thereof. Yes. I have one. Maybe my head doesn’t like to think of it in those terms, and the connotations that might come with it, but it’d be a lie to pretend there’s nothing that could be ‘in it’ for us. Blowing out a soft breath, I lean back into the booth and push my hands into my sweatshirt’s pockets.
“You don’t have a reason to. Which I understand and I’d like to be able to change that. I’m looking for more people like you, who might want to do that good in the world, to maybe join my friends and I. But if you don’t want to choose that, then at the very least? I want to keep NOWHERE from snatching you up off the street and taking away what choices you do have. I won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do.”
Terra: Turning the beer up for another sip only to find it empty Terra sits it back and on the table and then moves it to the side. Her eyes move to the second bottle I’m front of her but for the moment she does not reach for it. Despite what her body language might suggest Terra listened intently to each word Cassie had to say. Her expression would paint a picture of disinterest and outright dismissal out of habit more then anything. Terra simply couldn’t help but project the sort of vibe that kept people off balance.
“Look..it’s not like that’s unappealing.”
Throwing up her hands in a small show of frustration Terra now reaches out for the second bottle, but only slides it closer and does not open it.
“But I’ve spent most of my life hiding and for good reason…and what you want to go out and play hero?”
Cassie: Well. This is really going nothing like any of the other pitches had, is it? In my head, I’m jokingly telling myself that maybe Conner’s recruitment/pep talks might not be the totally wrong way to go, except that I meant what I said. I’m not out to force something on anyone. In my eyes, that wouldn’t make me any different, or better, than NOWHERE. Maybe this all just goes better when there’s some sort of conflict in progress, in order to really show where you stand, and who you are… or maybe she’s just not someone who’s going to be impressed. Or let herself be. I don’t exactly need a map drawn for me. She’s talking now about spending all her time hiding, she spoke earlier very, very briefly about somewhere she barely remembers but was important enough to hang onto a postcard for, and the also brief sad look she’d had before it had gotten quashed back under the indifference and attitude.
And that’s okay. No, it’s not how I might have wanted this to play out but that? Not up to me. All I get to do is try my best to make her want to trust me. And I don’t get the feeling that’s going to happen tonight.
“That used to be me, too. I thought I had to hide what I could do, who I am, from almost everyone. Maybe it works out better for you, but I didn’t want to live like that anymore.”
And maybe I also wouldn’t have chosen this life either but once I got pushed out there? I know there’s no going back for me. I couldn’t do it. And I don’t want to either. I also know that I’m lucky. That Conner affords me a level of protection that other people don’t get, and that’s a leeway I’m taking advantage of right now. Eventually it’s not going to hold up anymore, and then I need to be… we all need to be prepared. There’s a faint shrug of my shoulders, as I purse my lips for a moment but otherwise refuse to rise to the bait of ‘playing’ at being a hero.
“How did it make you feel when you stopped those men? Were you just experimenting and decided eh, not for me? Or did it make you feel something else? You don’t have to answer that. Just… think about it. Here. I’m going to give you an address, and…”
Dropping my eyes for the first time, I’m digging out the sleek red phone from my pocket. I’d placed it on silent mode before coming back to Metropolis, though I wasn’t sure that would actually do anything since Tim’s intrusive holo-messages had made it through just the same. I suppose he’s probably got some super-access since he made the thing. Or it’s just part of the whole Bat-thing of being where you’re not expected to be. My nose actually wrinkles as I cringe in my seat at the litany of missed alerts that seem to have come in, in the last fifteen minutes, and who they’re from but for the moment I disregard them to pull up the information from Red Robin’s database that I’m looking for.
“…ahem. If you want to keep hiding, or need to, that’s your call to make. Not mine. This is a place here in Metropolis that is safe if you feel like someone is trying to push you into something you don’t want. You’re free to use it. No catch. No expectations.”
I’m sliding myself out of the booth’s seat even as I talk, thumb still whirling through screens and information until I find what I need.
“I apologize. Apparently I need to go play hero…”
Okay so maybe I didn’t totally let that one go.
“… but if you want to, or need to, get a hold of me there’ll be a way to do that there.”
Cassie: “Ahem. Now. Where were we…?”
Spoken like I’m not perfectly aware of what was supposed to be going on, or at least in possession of a reasonable guess as to the motivations that had brought us here. Here being pulled off the highway to one of the scenic parks that line the distance between Gotham and Metropolis. Like little buffers of nature, to form a lovely moat of trees against the dark and corruption and to keep it from reaching the bright, clean, energy efficient structures of the place I call home now. It’s so quiet here, barely even the sounds of the cars zipping back and forth on that highway reaching into the trees, and that is definitely strange. Maybe less so than it would be if the sun were up. There’d probably be people then, but for now it’s just Conner, me and the red sports car that had whisked us at what I assume was approximately one hundred and forty miles per hour from the outskirts of Gotham. A place I’ve been more times in the last three days than I had in my entire lifetime before then. A place I wasn’t supposed to have come even once, to be fair, so I don’t have much in the way of hurt feelings over Tim’s brother less than politely kicking us out. All of us. Even my Mom.
I’d been left with a lot to process, and I haven’t really been doing any of it. In the whole thirty minutes it’s been at least. Hm. Maybe more like an hour. It’s hard to judge. Leaning over the passenger door, I’m using the visor to fiddle with the golden adornment on my head that I’d been given by my Mother before we’d all be ‘excused.’ I’m not entirely sure how I’m meant to wear the thing, because it doesn’t seem to fit properly on top of my hair. Nor does it really seem constructed to be worn like a headband. Eventually I settle for nestling it across my forehead which.. seems to work. Mostly I’m trying to focus on the fact that it actually looks like maybe it was meant to go with my suit, and not the remaining bright pink color in my cheeks.
We’d stopped here, ostensibly, so that I could change into my Wonder Woman attire and out of the St. Mary’s uniform that I’d been wearing for the last two days straight while unconscious and being monitored by Tim and his family. Our detour had just gotten slightly … detoured. Because. Superman and Wonder Woman? Are more like Superboy and Wonder Girl underneath the holographs that protect our identities and. Well. Teenagers. But there had been a purpose in coming here before we’d been distracted. Conner’d dropped hints, but he hadn’t really needed to. He’d packed the Wonder suit for a reason, stopped here for a reason. At this point, I know when he’s angling towards something. Just in this case, he’d hinted that it could wait while we. Ahem.
“So. What are you scheming, Luthor?”
Giving the upper edge of my red attire a tug, that it doesn’t really need despite the shift in my physiology in the last few days, I turn to face him as I try to master the blush on my face. I’m teasing him though. There’s a big difference between a Luthor Scheme, and Conner trying to make a point. Even if you need a practiced eye sometimes to pick out the subtle cues. This, despite the willingness to delay, I think might be important. Most especially because of how the last couple days have actually gone.
Conner: There had been a point to the detour and for once in my life I’m not the one who called us in for a pit stop. That had been all about the blushing blonde and the fact that she’d been out of commission for almost an entire weekend while dealing with the strange malady that had been afflicting her. No one has really, reasonably, explained what was going on to me. They really hadn’t needed too. It was sufficient to know that Cassie was in peril and that the help was at hand. I was good knowing just that, even if I was less good knowing that for all my power? This was something that was beyond the scope of my abilities to assist with.
Knowing that and accepting it are two different things, by the way. Knowing, goes a long way to understanding. It does. The problem is mystical. I get it. Accepting that I can’t, ultimately, incinerate whatever or whoever is at the root of the problem? I’ve got a long way to go in to accepting that. I’m starting to think a lot of Cassie’s problems resolve down to no one ever trying to just obliterate the root of it. ‘Ancient, Unholy Power of the Gods blah blah.’ Fwooosh. Problem solved. Instead of turning it in to some Mysterious Quest of the Ages that all these magic types do… yuck.
Cassie suiting up? Pretty much the opposite of everything I’ve ever wanted when we’re alone. Ever. I’m more of a peel her out of that costume, guy. Maybe that’s why she let me at her, before getting in to it in the first place? Hah. Would not be the first time she’s gamed me, would it? All I’m really waiting for right now, is that moment when she raises up and identifies herself visually as ‘put together.’ That’s all the clue I really need that touching her isn’t going to devolve us back in to testing the durability of special reinforced shock system in the Ferrari my Father gave me for my ‘Sixteenth Birthday.’
“Less scheming, more of an ‘Up, up and Away,’ sort of thing,” the good nature of that comment makes it all the way to my eyes that are truly vibrant now and not even because of my looking through that costume as I might normally. “Can’t risk being followed or monitored though. So… it’s a very Up, Up, before Away, kind of moment really.”
Stepping in to Cassie is never a problem, but this is actually something a little different. She likes flying so much I normally never invade that space, but the mumbled words ‘Hold Tight,’ are the only real warning Cassie gets. All it really takes is for me to be in contact with her and she’s not going anywhere. Except where I go. Which is straight up. Higher and Faster than she could ever hope to achieve on her own. Beyond the skies, in to that sweet little spot where you can actually begin to see the curve of the world. To the point where it’s easy to tell that the only air to breathe? Is what remains in the little bubble of red telekinetic energy that surrounds us.
That’s the up, up… but the ‘away’ is almost as fast. Science says that the straightest line between two points is the fastest. Aerodynamics redefined that and Cassie gets to experience it first hand with the sight of the heavens that she’s never seen. Along with the actual speed with which the world beneath us passes. Green forests become blue ocean, which in turn transitions in to white ice… and before she’s really had time to ponder the sight of the universe to be beheld beyond Earth’s Atmosphere? We’re descending as quickly as we got there. To what makes for the strangest date I’ve ever taken Cassie on. Which is saying something all on it’s own. Because the only thing to see? For miles. Is the largest key she’s ever seen. Settled right in the middle of a whole lot of glacial ice. Though from the ground there’s a certain latticework to the ice. Making it take a sort of crystalline appearance.
Cassie: I know he doesn’t like it. Any of it. That’s not really even some sort of deep insight on my part, he’d more or less said as much a year ago when I’d been having issues with my half-brother invading my dreams. Conner’s got a lot of tools in his ‘kit,’ so to speak and it’s pretty rare that one or all of them can’t resolve a situation to his satisfaction. Note. Hissatisfaction, not necessarily mine or anyone else’s. In that instance, when he couldn’t fix it for me, he’d found someone that could. Which had been my official introduction to the rest of his team. Now? It’s easy to imagine that it may actually be worse, and that is partially my doing. Because I’ve been leaving him out of so much of what’s been going on. Which we’ve argued about, and discussed and… we’re working on. Figuring out who you are? Is hard. Figuring out who you are, with someone else, with superpowers and the fate of the ‘world’ on the line? Yeesh.
“Oooh, my favorite. Well. Almost favorite.”
I love flying. It’s my worst kept secret, and not exactly kept at all from him. It was the power that I got to use least up until recently, too. These suits? They’re like a green flag waving to say that suddenly it’s okay to be seen doing this sort of thing. Cassie Sandsmark can’t fly, but Wonder Woman? She’s supposed to. Blue eyes round just a little at the conditions he lays out there, though. I don’t need to ask what that means. It means going even faster than I can manage on my own, and that means it won’t be me doing the flying. Maybe a little disappointing normally, but I’m curious and never really mind being close to him. And holding tight? That I can do. Literally. Without any worry of crushing anything important like a rib. Or spine. So when Conner steps in, I wrap my arms around him, looking upwards towards the stars in preparation for the takeoff.
Not that there’s really any time for that. It’s more of a one moment you’re there, and the next instant you’re not. Were it not for the field he’s projecting, I’d be feeling it. I do when I take off on my own. Higher, faster than I’ve ever taken myself and everything changes. I tip my head back even further still, exhaling loudly at the view, for the moment it’s there at least. We’re moving much too quickly for any real sightseeing. I’d ask on the return trip for him to take it slower, but I’d have to assume the not wanting to be tracked will go both ways. Wherever we’re going? Is a real secret. Not just from any ordinary folks that might be watching us. He doesn’t really need to lay out the ‘who’ for me.
I’m exhaling again once we’ve slowed, in surprise, amazement. Whatever. What on Earth… or… maybe not Earth actually..
“…what is that?”
Conner: The trip isn’t for sight seeing. Otherwise I’d be more than happy to let her take it all in. We’ve flown together more times than I can count. I’ve encouraged her to explore this aspect of her powers as much as I’ve encouraged everything else, maybe even more so. I like to see Cassie happy. She is, by any reckoning, the only thing in my life that I’ve got at least one unselfish feeling for. I genuinely want her to be happy, for the sake of nothing more than seeing her that way. Taking her flying lessons was one of the first things we did as a ‘Couple.’ I mean, outside of those tutoring sessions, that she still denies as being our first dates.
“That? Is a key,” oh yeah I’m maybe milking this, but really. She got Olympus, right? I’m entitled to a little moment or three or indulging. “But, it didn’t take me to tell you that. That’s the key to what we’re here to see.”
That look on my face? Cassie has seen it before. I like things. Mostly I like things of value, truth be told. Material Wealth suits me well, because I’m an indulgent personality. What she’s looking at though just doesn’t fit in this place. It’s gaudy, gold and out of sorts with the tapestry of the Arctic Iceland around us. That is all part of the allure though, because it’s distinctly out of place and massive. Easily as large as a 747 jet, which we both know she can lift with ease. Yet that key isn’t going to move much even under her enhanced strength. There’s no trick, no test of worthiness. It’s simply too heavy.
“You’re a history buff right? Isn’t there a story about a God’s weapons that were forged in the heart of a dying star?” Making a little gesture to encompass the key. “This is made from the substance found in the heart of a dying star. Krypton’s Star to be exact. The original Superman made this. Because he believed that only another Kryptonian could lift it.”
“The problem is. He was wrong. So he did what most Americans have done since the 1960s. He bought an alarm system to go with his fancy Key. You gotta be able to pick up the key, to unlock the door… but you also need to know the code to get turn off the alarm system. It’s a whole thing.” Gently tapping a fingertip upon the big S at the middle of my suit. “The battle-suit I’m wearing? Came from in there. I think, if we can get Nowhere out of this suit. I can get in there.”
Cassie: “Well. Yeah. Okay. Sure. I can see that. Maybe you should consider putting up some kind of giant, Magritte-esque sign in front if that’s meant to be a secret, though.”
It looks like a key, after all, but maybe the massive size of it had made my brain just assume it wasn’t literally that in function as well as form. Keys, generally, are of a certain size in relation to the locks that they open. Mechanically speaking that’s just sort of how it has to be. So in order for this to the the ‘key’ to what he actually wants to show me? Means that it has to be massive. But. Why not, right? What else is there out here other than space, and ice. And us. He looks very pleased. Maybe even more pleased than when I was given my car, which I still have never driven because I’ve also never bothered to get my license. It’s probably a good thing he didn’t make the Olympus comparison out loud, though. It’s not exactly fair. I had to sneak in, and promptly got told to leave. They let me stay in Gotham longer, with more welcome.
But. Back to the key. How no one has noticed it by now… well, I guess that’s a testament to exactly where we are right now.
“There’s more than I know I’m sure. People like that kind of symbolism, and the power that comes from it.”
Pushing my hair back from my face is more an absent gesture than necessary, and my fingers settle into drumming almost restlessly against my circlet as I study the thing. Taking in what he’s telling me, as the thoughts and what those things could mean spin through my head. Had the original Superman, then, meant for only himself to be able to enter? Had he held out some sort of hope that there were other survivors? Does that mean that he knew of the female Kryptonian that’s here even now, or did she come after he’d left?
“…do you know what happens if you can’t turn off the alarm system? I assume something…huge and dramatic and messy, given what our friendly household guard-dog is capable of by himself.”
Turning away from the key finally, to face Conner once more I purse my lips. It’s only a precursor to the resolute expression that sets my jawline, though.
“So what do we need to do to do that?”
Conner: “Honestly, I’m not actually sure this was meant to be a secret, so much as secluded. I mean, I’m pretty sure he never meant for it to be a tourist site, but I think he actually went this route because he hoped that there were more of his people.” My people. Our people. Those like the girl on the News that I’ve yet to manage to track down, because my girlfriend was sick and the Alien Princess needed to watch Gilmore Girls to know how the world works. “Which kind of plays with the idea, that I think he wanted someone else to be able to get inside. Just the right people. People who were meant to have access.”
“While keeping out the people who probably don’t belong,” another long look at something, other than Cassie, as I take in the sight of the key and lattice of Crystalline structure in the distance. “From everything I’ve been taught -and- researched on my own? I actually doubt the big and messy bit. Honestly, old-Supes seemed like a little bit of a pussy when it came to big and/or messy. I’m thinking something a little more like ‘Eternal Damnation in a completely harmless stasis field of Doom’ sort of punitive measure. He didn’t really do Lethal.”
“More importantly though, every fiber of my being says he wouldn’t make this something dangerous. So much as make it something that put you in time out until he came to deal with you. In any case, the only reason I know about the alarm system? Is because when I tried to use the key? It stared sending out this ultra-high frequency signal… and the next thing I knew… Krypto wouldn’t stop growling at me until I put the key back and played fetch.”
“… what?” Opening my hands plaintiffly. “You never asked where he came from. I’m not the origin story kind of guy. I’m more of a ‘My Story’ type, y’know?”
What do we need to do? That I’m not entirely sure. Which is about as honest as I’ve been about anything. I really don’t know. So I start with what I do know and maybe we’ll go from there. “My new friend Kyle, from a couple weeks ago when you sent me to France so you could sneak off and go fight bad guys? He’s a Green Lantern and I think he can help me, get this suit ‘unlocked.'”
“Cass, this place isn’t exactly secret from Nowhere. They know about it already. My Dad knew about it a long time ago. I think one of the myriad of reasons I’m alive? Is because he wants in there. Coming here the way we did wasn’t about hiding it from Nowhere, it was about hiding the fact I’m showing it to -you-. I thought, with everything you’ve got going on, that we should start putting all of our cards on the table. I thought, with everything y’know, that I should go first…”
Cassie: “He definitely picked somewhere not easily accessible.”
Unless you can fly, of course. It’d be a serious expedition to even get equipment of any sort out here, let alone attempts at erecting any sort of amenities. Which explains why it isn’t also swarming with NOWHERE and their ilk right…well. Other than Conner. But he does have a point about the original Superman and the levels of permanent harm which he was willing to inflict, or not inflict. So his assumptions make sense to me. Something to delay, or hold an intruder.
“And since he’s not around anymore to un-spring whatever the trap might be… it’s a very bad idea to spring it in the first place.”
Waving a dismissive hand at Conner, for once this time I’m not actually even grouchy at him over the belated revelation of something I should probably have heard before now, especially since Krypto has been watching over my Mom since he joined the ‘family,’ too. Maybe a little unnecessarily but still.
“Given the eye-lasers and the fact that his name is Krypto I actually didn’t think I needed to ask. Believe it or not, that actually makes me feel better about him or would if he hadn’t already proved himself as A-Ok.”
The options were pretty slim really. Either NOWHERE had made the dog, like they had made Conner, or he had come from somewhere else. Not that hard to guess which option I liked better. I can’t help smirking a little about ‘his new friend Kyle.’ The designation is a little humorous anyway, more so coming from my boyfriend. Folding my arms across my chest, I should be doing it to ward off the cold but I’m simply not. Cold that is. It’s a pose that is a heartbeat away from a full on ‘thinker,’ with a fist nestled under my chin.
“So we have to make sure that they either don’t know you unlocked it, or that they can’t get into it once you have. I mean. I assume it’s not a one time, disposable lock so… maybe that last part isn’t a problem…”
So much as making sure they don’t do anything to Conner because he got into it and didn’t promptly hand over whatever tech and goodies may be hidden inside. If there even is anything. But. One would assume. You don’t lock up a place like that if there’s nothing of any perceived value, even if it’s just to you. When my eyebrow hitches upwards this time at his phrasing, it’s because my brain even now is starting to try to read ‘bait’ into that, that I don’t actually think was there. So I make my face a little pouty and apologetic for a moment.
“If you’re wanting me to take you to Olympus, no can do I’m afraid. The only door I knew of got obliterated when I came out. They’re actually even less inviting than Oh-Gee-Supes was. Very join the team, or get off of my cloud. I’m kidding.”
Which. Boy. I hope he knows. Not that everything I just said wasn’t truthful, but more that I didn’t really think this was what he was angling for. I get it. Or at least, I think I do. Because anytime he’s worried? It puts Conner Luthor into a little bit different gear than his normal, and our status quo which had been working so well for us for the last year has definitely been upset lately. Revealing that I couldn’t trust him, even if only in a very specific situation, maybe had hurt him a lot more than I’d intended it to. I don’t know. He wants to help me with my problems, so he’s showing me ‘his.’
“We kind of… touched on this back in Gotham but. The hamburglar problem.” My mouth curves a little at that private joke, but only a little because the entire situation makes me uneasy. And unsure. “If what I was told can be completely believed. We’re… connected somehow. Because of what Ares did. Tied together somehow, and that means that as he’s going around stealing power for himself it’s bleeding over to me. I. Don’t know if he knows that, but if he succeeds in going all Highlander on the Gods? That isn’t going to mean anything good for anyone on Earth.”
Conner: Telling her of my first meeting with Krypto had never really been the plan anyway, but having her actually be comforted by the knowledge of his origin? I don’t know, it sort of makes me a little more pleased that I’ve taken this step with her. She and I never did secrets before. Not the sort of secrets that were harmful to one another. In fact the only secrets I’ve ever managed to keep were the sort that kept her safe, the opposite of harmful. My problem has been, and probably will always be, that I share a bit too much if anything.
Her thoughts are running in tune with mine on all of this. Keeping it a secret isn’t an option at all. So we have to focus on the things we can control. Namely the Battle-Suit. My being outside of their control when we do get inside? That’s paramount to me. It has been for a long time. Where Cassie and I differ? Is that I’m still not convinced that Nowhere is the problem. People like that Terrorist Kid in Gotham? They’re why the world of normal people need a group like Nowhere to exist to keep them safe. Is that necessarily a good thing? Hell no. But this brings us back to why the Oh-Gee-Supes left, isn’t it? What do you do, really, when you’ve because the root-cause of the very evil you want to put a stop to?
“Heh. I’m still not convinced you didn’t dream your trip to Olympus, I mean that’s how you visited Hell too isn’t it? I’d need to sleep to visit and I’m all about maximizing my time…”
Right away I can tell that something has changed here. Between the two of us. It was barely a week ago that I was enraged by someone hugging her while she wore her cheerleading uniform. Today I’m actually listening to her to talk about being connected, bound even, to someone else. Maybe it’s different because the person we’re talking about is a murderer and therefor I’m reasonable sure she won’t spare a second look at him. But aren’t I a murderer in some sense too? No, I think it’s different because Cass went out of her way to convince me that jealousy isn’t my biggest fear with her.
“So. If this person is out there. Connected to you. Killing other Gods. Which is causing this bleed over. Then why don’t you trace the link? That’s what Raven did to help us find you in the first place. When your powers first started to manifest. She traced your very first outburst, right back to you.”
Cassie: “The ridiculously large amount of jewelry piled in my bedroom right now begs to differ. Unless I’ve got a new round of powers that involve manifesting my unconscious thoughts…in which case we have an even bigger problem. But. No. I was there. I went to the place that Raven stopped Black Adam and just sort of… followed my proverbial nose from there. I could feel it. But it was gone again when I came back out, and while I’m sure there’s other doors I’m not supposed to find them.”
I wasn’t supposed to find that one either, or go there, and each time I get more answers I’m not really sure I wasn’t better off before I had them. It’s hard to continue to go with ‘just doing what feels right’ when there’s so much at stake. I guess I don’t fully trust myself either, which is going to be an issue. If I can’t, why would anyone else?
“But. I did. Which means they can, too. I don’t know how many potential targets they have here, but once those are exhausted… I’m not sure how my ‘teacher’ knew the plan, but I don’t know the benefit in lying to me about it. Or telling me if it’s really him and…augh…”
Throwing my hands up in the arctic air, I pace in a little circle, the crunch of my footsteps sounding so very loud in the otherwise quiet solitude of the area around us.
“My kingdom for the days when the most complicated part of my day was avoiding Kelsey’s baleful glare.”
Though, honestly, that’s really not a trade I would make at this point. For all the frustration and doubt, I’ve gotten a lot of good things out of it, too. Knowledge. Love. Purpose. And those are, I have to keep reminding myself, are what’s important. Finishing my little bit of pacing, I round back to face him again.
“…two good ideas in one day? Who are you, and what happened to my boyfriend? Maybe that would work. We know he was in Fawcett. Or. I think that was him. So there’s a chance that…”
Wait. How long was it between Fawcett, and the surge in my powers? It was hard for me to pinpoint, really because at first… the changes had been gradual. It was only the other day when the surge had been so strong.
Conner: “Hey, I’m full of good ideas,” comes the response of one very uppity looking Superman, who’s put his hands upon his hips in awkward judgement of her statement. “They’re just very obscured by ideas of assorted eye-lasering and sex. And for the record, you tend to like the latter of those too.”
I’m going to kindly avoid any discussion of her problems with Kelsey, because I’ve never really been sure if those problems existed in reality. Or part of the role that was being played. Or even if they manifested out of my ex, disliking my current. I’ve never really felt that I needed to look in to such things any deeper than the surface issues. Kelsey was there to test Cassie. It was the Job that Megan was tasked with by our handlers and she did it, just as she did everything, to the very best she could. Whether or not it actually came with a sense of gratification in the end was happenstance in this situation.
Though with M’Gann, there’s very likely a lot more gratification than most people are aware of. “Look, this magic stuff is not my wheelhouse, but if I’m understanding things? Then you found this road home through some sort of connection to it. That more or less confirms the theory right there. Whatever connects you to this Killer, should be traceable too. Maybe it’s a matter of proximity?”
“Also. Speaking as a Luthor, have you considered that while there’s no benefit to lying to you, there may be a benefit to saving you? How does this teacher benefit from playing the role he’s cast himself in? I mean. This whole idea of being Superman, you came up with it because you wanted the world to accept me. So even if this teacher of your’s is doing it for good reason, you’ve shown that there is always a motivating factor. What’s his Game?”
Cassie: I shouldn’t laugh at him, but I can’t help it. He looks so affronted, and to have it followed up with honesty about why it might seem like he’s not as smart as I actually know he is at times, only makes for a second snort on the heels of the first. Which turns into another before I’m almost helplessly laughing, hands braced against my knees as I try to work my words out around the giggles. God, it feels really good to laugh, even if it feels a touch on the hysterical side right now.
“I do… I do… sorry. Sorry, Con…ahem.”
It’s not the only thing that feels good, though. Laughing. But letting go in general. I’ve been letting myself get so wound up and pent up, and no. Not in the way that he would surely seize on with eyebrows waggling suggestion if I was saying this part out loud. Words. Feelings. Not anything else. What I thought I had to keep to myself, or even keep from him, for whatever the reason might have been. Like all the rest of our … arguments… lately, though this hadn’t been one of them, once I let it go and started talking despite the misgivings and reasons? I’d felt better. Secrets had just never been a thing for me before the powers and the strangeness entered my life. I don’t like them. I’d liked them even less when I’d started having to keep new ones from the one person I hadn’t had to before. So whether or not this is his wheelhouse (and I don’t think it’s mine either, but it needs to start to be), the sounding board is wonderful.
“Maybe. Because unless he’s only just started his Godly Serial Killer thing, I would thing I’d have been getting… extra in noticeable amounts before now.”
And I don’t think it’s new, because otherwise why would my teacher be braced to warn me, or help me. That’s a whole different hitch in my ability to just take what I’d been told at face value though. A question of motivation, and timing, and knowledge. Suspicion that it’s just all some twisted game, while wanting to believe that it really isn’t. Finally straightening fully, and a little sobered again from my laughing, my hands take up place on my hips. A little less judgy looking than his own had been, though.
“Outside of hoping I’m going to keep him from being on the chopping block? I imagine Olympus is a pretty limited dating pool, without a lot of fresh meat. Maybe he’s trying to make a good first impression on a very long, long game.”
Conner: “Now you’re laughing at me? Who laughs at Superman when he’s having a good idea? This is highly undignified, I’ll say.”
That’s about where I leave the act of teasing her over the wording she’s chosen. I know I’m not the planner of this particular little circle of trust. More of a doer. If anything, I’m the eye-laser first and come up with a plan after sort of guy. In our little group of friends, I’m what you might call a tank. Jump in to the fray, get it’s attention. Take the lumps. So that someone else can figure things out. I do a good job at the role I’ve been cast in to.
Which happens not to be ‘Come up with a Plan,’ or ‘Work out the Mystery’ guy. I punch things, while leaving the detective work to the Detectives. But that has never meant I’m less intelligent than a man born of the genes of Kryptonian and Luthor DNA. “Hold on. You’re right. It’s possible he only just started, but it seems unlikely. Wouldn’t it be more likely that he’s done this before… and what is new… is the connection to you?”
“What changed? What’s new? What did you do that could have opened such a connection?” My eyes go to that little lightening bracelet for a second, before darting back to her eyes. “Was it when you came out of the proverbial closet as Wonder Woman? After that? Fawcett City? Before or after your trip to Olympus?”
“…nice. You just totally took me from trying to be helpful to back to ‘Eye-Laser’, Grunt and Scratch my balls.” Scowling at her. “Long-game. Ugh. Now I have to beat your teacher up. I’m sorry. It’s in the manly handbook.”
Cassie: “Wonder Woman does. Apparently.”
Wiping at the corner of my eye with a fingertip, the sigh I let out is mostly just a remnant of my giggles, and me trying to keep control of myself and my mood. I don’t remember that being such a difficult thing to do before, nor was I really prone to such swings and while these have all been shifts in emotions on the positive end, they’re still shifts. The power, and what it’s doing to me? Maybe linked to those as Conner had suggested to me before now, or maybe I’m just getting to that point of my godly-terrible twos. Ugh. I better not have to do puberty again because I’m still not entirely over feeling coltish and awkward.
“That seems a lot more likely. Because killing someone once, awful as it sounds, is something you maybe get away with. Especially when that person … God… is separated from the rest of them, and laying low or outright hiding on Earth. Or. Wherever. So if it’s started to get noticed, it’s probably not the first. Maybe not even the second. I didn’t notice it until … after all those things, actually.”
Absently rubbing the bracelet, and the power that is mine for safe-keeping and, hopefully, ultimately bestowing, when Conner’s look draws my attention to it. The timeline something I’d thought of in regards to what I was feeling, and how I was behaving but not necessarily in these terms. Of a connection formed somehow. If it was really because of Ares’ meddling in my head shoudln’t I have felt it sooner? So maybe it was proximity then. And maybe the proximity came because of the temptation of the power I’m carting around.
“The dreams started before Fawcett. We know, or assume anyway, that our Godkiller was in Fawcett before that from the camera footage. I didn’t know something was wrong until a few days ago but… I mean. Looking back I can see a lot of not normal me behavior cropping up in between those two points.”
Blue eyes roll slightly like I don’t have the time, or patience, for the ego right now but my tone’s light. At least, light as it can be with the things I’m ruminating over at the moment and the seriousness of them. Teasing.
“Or you just have to live forever. Possibly get yourself ascended on up to Godhood along with me. I’d think you’d probably enjoy that…”
Conner: “Living for ever starts with getting this suit fixed,” comes the all too honest reply, because she’s hit upon part of why we’re here at this location in the first place. “Or at least, living in to your mid-life crisis years.”
The way she’s rubbing at the bracelet now tells me something even more. I’m not a detective, sure, but I know my girlfriend. She’s nervous that she’s overlooked something. Now she’s starting to question things that she hadn’t questioned before too. That’s good. Questioning everything is something that I learned while trapped in that Virtual Reality training simulator. Only by questioning everything about that World did I ever find my way out of it and in to this one. Even now I question almost everything and everyone. People mark that up to my being a Luthor, but it isn’t genetic, that’s a learned behavior. I actually quite like the fact that normally Cassie doesn’t.
Which is why I’m also quick to intercede there too; “Start with the things we know. We know that the Dreams began before Fawcett City. We also know that the Amulet from Raven would have stopped such an intrusion, if the intent behind it was dangerous. We were also told that Magic isn’t as precise as Science, so there is a much broader sense to how spells work. Because the Amulet would innately work based upon what -you- considered Harmful. Tying those things together, we know that your teacher’s intentions are not something you’d think of as harmful.”
“So I think that eliminates him as a suspect, in the mystery of the Godkiller. Even if it doesn’t eliminate my new found desire to break him in half.” I’m counting these things off on my hand, as I walk nearer to the giant Key. “We also know that someone was manipulating Freddy’s Trials. We know that before you got the Amulet from Raven, someone came to you in a Dream in the visage of Black Adam. Who you now believe wasn’t the actual person. So someone wanted you to be oppose Adam. All of those things complicated the situation with the Witch, the Trials and would resulted in you taking part in the killing of a God. If not for interceding factors. I’m not Batman, but I think someone wanted you to have blood on your hands, God-Blood to be precise.”
“Getting your hands dirty could serve a lot of purposes, but what if it’s meant to make you Unworthy?” The hand I’ve been counting on is gently laid upon the Key, which I’d just spoken about Superman wanting someone Worthy to be able to open the door with. “When you came back from Olympus, you said your Dad had said something about leaving you the tools to overcome anything. These Gods of your’s, they’re big about stuff like Trials, Quests, and crap like that. What if the killer is part of one of them. What if this is some game you’re playing, without knowing it and the edge you have is because you’re ‘More Worthy’ to win than he or she is?”
“That’s what I’d do, Cassie. If I couldn’t beat someone fair and square? I’d either cheat or level the playing field.”
Cassie: “During which I’m sure there’ll be no living with me, if the last few weeks are any way to judge what’s that far down the road, so probably a great time to bail anyway…”
Welp. If I wasn’t already generally motivated to help Conner with anything (nearly anything) that he could even potentially use my help on, that right there was a way to get me there. I hadn’t known that it was an issue to worry over for long enough to really get myself worked up and anxious. He’d only just told me, on the drive from Gotham and up the coast, and then I’d gotten distracted on top of Conner’s trying to reassure me. If he’s got any reason to believe, any at all, that a means to make sure I don’t have to worry about losing him is inside whatever this key actually opens then I’m in.
“Especially when I didn’t even think they were,” Here comes the finger quotes. “Real in the first place. I didn’t really find anything odd or out of place about them until after I came back from Olympus. So. Like you said. The intentions weren’t outward, or immediately, harmful even if they may not be harmless.”
I don’t trust him. My magnanimous, timely teacher. It’s all too convenient, honestly. A year ago I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but then a year ago I probably wasn’t ‘worth’ the attention. But I’ve been pointed towards a problem that is a problem, regardless of who has told me about it. I could make a pretty good argument that Olympus’ problems aren’t myproblems, but I’m also not some butthurt juvenile who holds the radio silence from that half of my ‘family’ over them. Because I get it, I’m even glad for the time I had to be left alone. Olympus’ problem would very likely turn into Earth’s problem whether or not I was here, but I am and… so here we are.
Nodding my head in agreement with his summary and assessment, I watch Conner approach the enormous key, once again folding my arms across my chest though I stay in my place.
“I think if Black Adam had been the one messing around in my head, he would been sneery and honest about it. Just. Kind of the vibe I got, along with believing he really didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. It hadn’t made any sense for him to plant that Amulet on the woman in Fawcett in the first place. So this Godkiller was aware of me, and starting to set me up to distrust others long before even Fawcett.”
Unworthy of what, though? Zeus not saying anything about that doesn’t really matter, because he was cryptic and why would he? There’s some things that were just… understood. Especially if you knew anything at all about mythology of any stripe. Conditions that had to be met, or could not be met for those heroes to keep what made them special. And were I to no longer be ‘worthy,’ what would that mean? That Zeus’ chosen champion was corrupted for one thing, at which point do the broken trials become downright unsalvageable? And without knowing what’s at stake, either. We already know Ares is an asshole, and not happy with the current arrangement. And now his ‘son’ is going to to be up against the daughter of the one that made those rules.
“Bottom line, really then… is figuring it out and taking care of the problem before he does much more killing. Because I couldn’t hang onto the extra power. If he can, and gets too much stronger…”
Isis basically pimp slapped me. Someone with even more powers? But then, I’m not allowed to interfere with Freddy. Who says I can’t ask for help?
Conner: “Oh, Cassie. It’s adorable really. Almost as if you never realized how hard you were to deal with when we first met, but I loved you anyway.”
That time? It’s impossible to miss the look of pure pleasure that comes with turning our entire life on it’s head to make that joke. I’ve been insufferable one since day one and I’m aware of it. Though, there is some truth to what I’ve said. She made everything as difficult as possible. If she’d have just given in from Day One just think of where we’d be? ( Probably not where we are, to be honest. Part of what makes Cassie special to me, is that she is the first person to ever be genuine with me. )
Another little pat of the Key, for sake of symbolic gestures and then I’m moving forward, putting myself right in front of her again. How many times have we stood like this? Yet this is so very different than all those times, because maybe for the first time it is not Conner Luthor and Cassie Sandsmark, but actually Superman and Wonder Woman. Even if it’s really Superboy and Wonder Girl still at heart.
“Who told you that you couldn’t hang on to the extra power?” There’s this tone to my question, that imparts a dislike for someone telling Cassie that she can’t do something. “Just because you weren’t ready for it, doesn’t equate to ‘can’t.’ A year ago you would have told me you couldn’t save the world without me. Two years ago you would have said you couldn’t throw down with a bunch of Crocodile Men. Three years ago you didn’t think you could fly. Stop thinking in terms of can or can’t. You’re Cassandra Sandsmark. Daughter of Zeus.”
“You’ve never let that define you, Cass, but now I think you need to remember that more than ever. It doesn’t define you, but if Zeus doesn’t define you then why does anyone -or- anything else? Stop telling me what you can or can’t do. Stop telling yourself what you can or can’t do. Just fuckin do it, let the Historians sort it out later.”
Cassie: “Okay, pot, I’m kettle. Nice to meet you..”
I know he’s teasing me. Partly. Doesn’t for a moment slow the tart reply, though. It wouldn’t be me and him if it did. I made things ‘difficult’ because he’d swooped into my life, literally and figuratively, and wormed his way into my life while I was trying very hard at first to not let him. The big jerk had my mother on his side from the get go, too. From having to tutor him through playing dumb at history, to ‘suffering’ through his version of the best method of revenge against my private school ‘rivals.’ I just wanted them to leave me alone, and somehow ended up the ringleader. Wallflower, to poster girl, with a side of fighting with him for months over whether or not I was his girlfriend. Were they obnoxious? At times, yeah, definitely. Would I change them? No, not really. Especially not now that I know everything I do about him. It was really where I learned how to manage Conner Luthor and his ego and his ideas. Best as I could anyawy.
And here he is. Telling me off. Riot acting. Okay not really, but it’s a well meant equivalent. Despite our nearly incessant bickering and jibing and teasing? There’s a distinct difference when one of us gets to where we need the other to listen, and listen good. Like the very few times I’ve put my foot down on some scheme of his. I know he can be a SuperJerk, but honestly he’s encouraging of me. Even when I don’t want to be encouraged. Or pushed. Or to step out of my comfort zone and onto a stage in a bright red, spangly outfit and declare myself to the world.
“Okay, okay. No one told me I couldn’t. I didn’t like who I was with it though, and that’s different. I know.”
Crouching in the snow, I balance on my heels with my arms resting across my knees. Watching my breath mist the air in front of me. Just because I don’t feel the cold doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Kind of an appropriate symbolism for so much going on in my head, and around me actually. It turns into dragging my fingers through the snow which would probably be more hard packed glacier than powder but it’s not solid enough to resist my fingers. When I rise again, it’s with a resolute set to my jaw and mouth, and a snowball in hand. Which promptly gets zinged at his head with far more speed and force than I had dared use the last time we had a chance to have a snowball fight, in my front yard.
“The historians won’t get to sort out crap. I’ll be there to write it myself.”
Conner: “Oh hoo. I was easy to get along with. In the grand scheme of life, I’m pretty easy to manage. I don’t sleep. Barely eat. Give me a little sex and I’m basically a big puppy. You’re high maintenance, Kettle. All this bolstering your ego and building you up, when you tear yourself down or letting insignificant people do it. There’s dating, hand-holding, dancing and movie watching. Not to even mention this whole Superman thing. You’re a lot of work, Pal. So I hope you know you’re worth it.”
Watching Cassie is easy, I do it all the time. But there’s watching and then there’s observing. I’m better at one than the other. Because she’s way too easy to look at. Shorter than your average long-legged cheerleader type, she makes up for the lack of height, by packing the entire Amazon package in to five feet nothing. That leaves most people, including me, looking without watching what she’s doing. Ordinarily that’d be quite enough to be caught flat footed. Being splattered in the face with a snowball? Acceptable payment for the enhanced view of her breasts in that top as she kneels to scoop up the snow.
Except. That Cassie isn’t quite fast enough to have a real concept of how fast my perception of the world really is. In the time it takes her to lift the snow, cock her hand back and let it go? I’ve already looked from her hand to her breast sixteen times. I might not be as smart as Freddy or Tim, but being as fast as I am I’m able to apply my intellect to a solution faster than they can their own. She’s barely let the snow out of her hand, when I’ve taken aim for the purpose of eye-lasering.
The fact that I -don’t- hit it with Heat Vision. That the snowball isn’t turned to heated water that splashes all over and turns her already nice looking costume in to a wet swim-suit version? Is really telling of how much I’m invested in to what I was teasing about. Bolstering her. Letting the snowball crash in to my chiseled features? Is a good segue in to getting her back in to good spirits and distracting her from the problems we’ve been discussing. While I’m happy to ‘take one for the team,’ I’m pretty sure that Cassie knows where this was leading and expects me to ‘fight back.’
“Gah, cheap shot, Kettle, I was distracted by bewbs.” I’m moving now though; in to the air and over the edge of the key to use it for cover that is needed to build a supply chain of snowballs, which will be used to splaterize her with.
Cassie: “A big, aggressive, eye-lasering puppy. But you’re right.”
No, this is no trap. Those two words in conjunction aren’t things that usually come out of my mouth, in regards to Conner Luthor. Don’t get me wrong, all my feelings for him aside he just doesn’t need to be told that. He already thinks it’s true, and boy has ego for days that needs no polishing. Sometimes, I do it anyway though. Especially when he’s being sweet, or is extra deserving of a Cassie Cookie for a job well done. Positive reinforcement is basically my job. Sometimes negative ones are, too. What he’s right about though, judging by the smirk I’m not quite controlling isn’t that he’s the low maintenance one.
“I am worth it. So are you, though.”
I’d argue he’s complicated my life a lot, but he simplifies it for me in so many ways, too. Like just now. Squashing down all the many, many concerns and worries and complications in my head and bringing it to one important point. Not just that I can do this, but that he believes in me. The person that knows all my flaws, and the ins and outs of Cassie Sandsmark and still is counting on me to do all of this. Plus he gets brownie points for letting me hit him in the face with an ice ball. Which I am very aware, despite roughly doubling in speed lately, is not nearly quick enough to have gotten the drop on him. I’m not sure anyone could, except maybe Wally.
“No excuse, Pot! Eyes on the prize! No, not those…”
It’s like the laughter. It feels good. That impulsive throw, and what it leads into. Not thinking about what I should be doing instead right now, but just instigating, and throwing myself into, a fight that I know I can’t win but that’s not the point. It’s the game. And the fact that it’s just me and Conner at the literal top of the world, and how free that makes me feel.