Vertigo’s End

Vertigo’s End

Wayne Manor.

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…
Microscopic Vision.
… 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…
Tactile. Tele-mother-fucking-kinesis.
… 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.

“Spoiler. Phone.”

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.

Kill me.

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.

“…n-never.. a-gainn…”

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 mineOur’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.

The Final Trials:  From Fawcett City to Shiruta

The Final Trials: From Fawcett City to Shiruta

Synopsis: War breaks out in the Kahndaq.  Freddy is roused from slumber to be told the Final Trials have begun.  Getting caught up on what’s happened Freddy calls Cassie to let her know he’s headed to Kahndaq.  Sometime later he arrives in Kahndaq and is brought up to speed by Conner.  Afterwards Freddy makes the decision to catch up to Black Adam after getting a sense of what’s happening in the city.

STORYTELLER:  Kahndaq: It begins with the roll of thunder over a land that rarely sees a storm.

^Sire! Come quickly.^

People do not summon a King, they are summoned. Such is the first thought to enter the mind of Adam. Who’s sleeping form roused long before the servant broke through the curtains surrounding his sea of pillows. The women who litter his chambers also rouse, but none speak. Their place is known and the silence is assured, except at times when they’re encouraged to break it. That fight or flight instinct was in play in the man before his servant’s voice rang out, but it is squarely in the corner of ‘fight’ once he’s heard the man’s tone.

^What madness drives you to…

^Quickly, Sire! They’re …^

That is when the first explosion rocks the palace. Debris crashes in from all angles. Instantly the serenity that was Adam’s chambers is thrown in to complete chaos. A second explosion sends his chamber maidens scrambling as the danger overtakes their senses. That second explosion is followed by a third, a fourth, then the number is endless. Completely lost in the brutality of the assault.

In the ensuing madness of of napalm bathed flames, keen eyes might find the sight of Adam. Swathed only in silken robe, crouched over the fallen form of the man who had come only moments before to summon him. The body lays crumbled amidst the rubble of the bedroom’s entry way. Blood stains Adam’s hand for only a moment, before a single word slips from his lips.


^^ – Translated from an ancient dialect of Egyptian.

Today, while standing on the White House Lawn, President Lex Luthor announced a joint task force of several major powers within the United Nation’s Security council would be answering the urgent call from war torn Kahndaq. This comes nearly 24 hours after the initial, unannounced, surge of attack made by Bialya on their neighbors. Hailing the attack on Kahndaq as heinous and uncalled for, President Luthor clarified that this would be a joint task force of Peace Keepers. His clarification was made when pressed for what his authority was to send troops, without an official Declaration of War approved by Congressional vote.

“We are not sending soldiers. We’re not deploying the armed forces. We are taking part in a special task force, sanctioned by the United Nations, aimed solely at restoring peace to the area and putting a stop the senseless loss of life.”

Less than four hours after the announcement news crews were finally able to report in real time. Videos began to make the local, national and world news. Images depicting the Canadian hero known to his people as ‘Freight Train,’ and the French born Firehawk and a woman of Italian descent, mostly known outside of Italy for her amazing operatic talents Alessandra Fermi, the Diva, are shown to the world arriving. Unsurprisingly it is the arrival of the blue and red sigil of Superman that is most touted though. Reporters would suggest that many others can be counted among this vaunted task force, each with their own special ability to render assistance.

Soon after that the ‘Humanitarian Aid’ begins with the Red Cross being covered by the task force. Medical assistance and recovery crews are the first to be brought in and kept safe by those heroes. It isn’t long before the task force is tested in it’s resolve to assist, by new attacks from the Mediterranean Sea based naval vessels of Bialya. Camera crews are able to get amazingly clear shots of the team taking to the field, but only to employ non-lethal force in disarming both troops and entire vessels themselves.

On the third day of the attack on Kahndaq, the Capital City of Shiruta experiences the first full hour without the sound of exploding bombs tolling the new noon-time hour. By this point the City is in ruins. The Red Cross tent-hospitals are overflowing with injured. At least three time that number lay dead in the street or beneath tons of rubble. With only seeming handful of people avoiding both injury or death. The sheer numbers rolling in to the major media sources are staggering.

One news clip begins to make it’s rounds on the news outlet, a small but poignant exchange between the Superman and Kahndaq’s failed champion.

“They run, it is time for us to press back,” in spite of the terrible losses he’s face, Black Adam sounds confident and almost shockingly superior.

“We will, but first we need to make sure the people here are safe from reprisals.”

“They will safe when every man with a gun, is driven from our land…” it is almost as if Adam realizes in the middle of his own words, that he is taking the wrong tact and adjusts.”.. if we allow them time to dig in it will take twice the effort to dig them out later…”

“I agree, but we’re here to restore peace my friend. Listen. You hear that? That silence is the sound of peace.”

“Peace?! All that I hear is fear. They run now. Afraid of fighting against those who might fight back. Now is the time to pursue them. To remove them from Kahndaq.” His impassioned plea ends with a very pointed message, as he spreads his hands wide to the toppled city before him. “…to avenge the dead”

“Adam,” the Canadian born Freight Train, with his larger than life personality matched only by his sheer size, finally speaks. “Before you avenge the dead, let’s help the living stay that way, man…”

It is clear, even before Adam’s hand swiftly takes hold of the camera he’s only just noticed, that he is bridling from the ‘Task Force’s’ response. But whatever the response he makes, is hidden beneath the crumbling of the camera’s lense. Shortly there after, the sound of silence is once more broken.

This time it is Kahndaq that attacks. The fury of Black Adam unleashed upon soldiers that were seemingly retreating. This time there are cameras to capture the destruction in living color.


“…Freddy wake up…”

The voice in Freeman’s head is as real as anything he’s ever head. The voice is the same as one he’s heard a hundred times before. It was last heard when he stood in the presence of the Wizard. Though it sounds the same as ever, it is also different. Softer. Less strained. Yet there’s is that foreboding sense of danger that lingers upon whether Freddy does as he is told.

When his open finally, the television that was not on when he went to bed is on. The local news is playing footage labeled as ‘Breaking World News.’ A man at some news desk, somewhere, is talking about footage that is playing over his shoulder. It could be a scene out of any old War movie you might have seen as a kid. Tanks rolling through the desert. Bullets and rockets that look more like lasers on the low quality cameras they’re being filmed on.

“… and in a stunning move Bialya that has shaken the United Nations and most of the world. The Sovereign Country of Bialya declared a state of War on their neighbor Kahndaq. What’s most shocking, is that this declaration was made after a suprising air raid on the Kahndaqian governments Palace….”

anchor’s telecast is interrupted then by the scene over his shoulder changing once more. Whomever was the cameraman, he was trying in vein to keep up with the action happening right in front of him. Even the shaky hand of a novice is able to see the Lightning bolt that crashes down upon a tank division. The explosion kicks up sand in all all directions. Abruptly ending the footage.

“…Kahndaq’s self-appointed ruler, Theo Adam, was quick to respond to the attack. Reports are slim, but we’ve been able to show you only brief footage. President Luthor is expected to make an official statement, but in the name of World Peace, the United Nations has implored the President to act swiftly in the face of the likely super-human war-fare that …”

“…the final trials have started Freddy…”

“…is expected. Given the nature of Kahndaq’s ruler, analysts are calling this failed assassination of Black Adam a grave miscalculation on behalf of Bialya. Those same analysts expect that the attack itself may have been aimed specifically at drawing that very response…”


FREDDY:  Since the events, that had Freddy crisscrossing the nation had passed to put an end to an out of control goddess who nearly unleashed a power hungry god Freddy spent time getting acquainted with his new colleagues, but he could not spend as much time as he would have liked learning more about them, because there was work to do.  No, there was no threat to steel himself against and fight, no there was healing to be done and none of it could be expedited with wishes or words of power.  The healing that Freddy participated in was much like what he did in Metropolis when he, Cassie and Wally went about cleaning up the disaster that the museum had become.

However, for Freddy it went further than clearing debris and rubble and planting flowers.  There were people to console, people to meet and speeches to give about the fallen, the dead.  People whose lives had been lost in what had been horrible tragedies.  Tragedies that could have been avoided, should have been.  Life was far from back to normal.  While some had to deal with the horrors of humanity the people of Fawcett City had to deal with so much more.

He knew that NOWHERE had come through to deal with the events of the bank and he knew what had been reported about what happened at the school with the explosion of the boiler that killed so many, he knew the truth. He also knew the truth of how many fine offices of the FCPD lost their lives.

There were memorials and funerals, periods of mourning that were going on to this day.  There were people coming together and those that withdrew from the world.  To be frank Fawcett City had lost some of its pep.   A dark cloud hung over the city one that was draped in lies, but lies that were necessary if such a thing existed.

Despite everything that was to come home is where Freddy needed to be, not only to help protect Fawcett City, but to help it move past one of the darkest days.   How many more dark days would it have to endure. It lost its favorite son already and now they had lost so many more.  It lost the future with the population of children being decimated.  They had their lives torn from them.   All Freddy could think was it was better for their families to think that it was an accident than for them to know the truth that they had been turned into living horrors to do the biding of biding of a goddess that had gone mad.

One step a time.  It’s how they did it, one state a time.  The people of Fawcett City got knocked down a lot, but they always got up and they did it together. This was not something they could get through alone, so Freddy did what he could, which wasn’t easy, because even if he appeared as Shazam, there was the difficult question of, “Where were you?” followed by.  “Why weren’t you here?”

Freddy was pushed into a room, protected by Chief Callaghan.  A move the deposited him into the Metropolis Library.  He had to face them and accept their anger, pain and resentment at failing to protect that which was most precious. He could not divulge what happened without creating additional pain.  Complicating matters was not what he wanted to do

They did not want his platitudes or excuses.  Some did not want to hear he would do better or that he was merely one person. That didn’t want to hear it, they couldn’t hear it.  No one wants to hear that.  Still he stood there and took it as Shazam, because it was the right thing to do.  They were due their pain, their anger, their outrage.  They were entitled to it.  They needed someone to be the target then he would be that too, because only then could the path to healing begin.

They were difficult days, with difficult weeks ahead, but they could only move forward, not back. Memorials would be erected for the fallen.  Including a statue for the mystery hero that  allowed for their to be survivors.  It was that opening that allowed Shazam to let people know that there will always be people who rise to help.

He considered divulging the identy of the individual, but rather than create an international incident he simply called him a ‘friend’.  Someone who was here when he couldn’t be.   Someone who acted when he couldn’t.  Friend of Fawcett, that is how he referred to him.   It was the best he could offer, because to saying they had a complicated relationship was an understatement.  He was an arrogant ass, but an honorable one.  His alter ego was more amenable.  Either way Freddy found him to be like anyone else that walked the earth a complicated, complex individual that he admired on some level, but also knew he had to be watched.

Where Adam challenged and pushed Freddy.  Freddy sought to retrain him.  To encourage his more noble traits.  He was certain Adriana was better suited at that, but there’s was a shared history.  Literally given all that Freddy had experienced.   It was these thoughts that sent considered along all that he learned upon passing the Trials of Courage and Strength.

Every night it was the same dream the one where he saw the little boy that told him to call forth his name.   To take it for himself.  Every night he replayed the conversation, remembering the warning, but this night it was different.  This night there was a whisper, one that grew louder until Freddy’s eye shot open.

Throwing off his covers his hand moved to his forehead which throbbed a bit.  The whisper he heard in his mind was not that of Solomon but another, one that had been missed.  “Wizard?”

Padding over towards the glow and sound of the television which he distinctly remembered turning off he cleared the sleep from his eyes until what the newscaster said and the crawl of words along the bottom of the screen register.

Bialya.  Kahndaq.  Attack.  Palace.  Explosion.

Theo.  “Theo.”  He said softly as the whisper returned.  As the newscast continued he knew exactly what happened.  He didn’t need to see he didn’t need speculation.   If they were attacking Kahndaq then it’s defender would respond.

The final trials had begun.  There was only one trial left and it in the balance were lives too numerous to count, but even as that sunk in another fact sunk in.   The United Nations wanted Luthor to act.  Not that Freddy knew the inner workings of administration completely, but it involved a superhuman.  One that could easily subdue all others.  He was on par with the Wizard’s previous champion.

“Conner.”   Conner equals Cassie.   Either way it could quickly involved the two of them one way or another.  “Cassie.”   Modern Day Adam and Isis.  He couldn’t let his mind go there, not yet.

He needed to intervene. He had to.   Did he know what he was getting into.  No. What if it was similar to with what happened with Hercules.  Why would Bialya attack Kahndaq?  It should matter, but did he have time?  That was the question.  However, there was only one way he could star to answer that question and more.  It begin with a word.


Freddy had to tell Wally several times that he was not going to use the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers jingle as my ring tone for the group.  No matter how cool he thought it would sounded and was, it was not happening.  Regardless of what his ringtone for the others was going to be he did agree that it should be something different from everyone else, but they should avoid matching ringtones if they could help it.

He was preparing to depart.  Destination? Kahndaq.

Freddy stepped out on the back porch ready to leave, but there were a few things he needed to do before he could leave.  With the phone in his hand he began dialing. He didn’t know what he would say actually. Oddly enough all he could remember was the conversation about ringtones that was held. Wally said they should use the Power Ranger jingle.  Freddy was decidedly against that.  It made sense that they would want a ring that was specifically for them, but it wasn’t going to be the Power Ranger theme.   At least not for Freddy, but right now he hoped Cassie and Wally were listening.

Either way he dialed them both and left a message, because he needed to let them know what was going on. He didn’t know what it would happen, really.

“Cassie, I’m pretty sure you’re aware of what’s going on.  Long story short.  I know what I’ve seen on TV.  Kahndaq’s under attack.  Don’t know why.  Reports aren’t saying why.  I do know it’s going to put Adam in a bad spot if people think he’s being unreasonable.  This can go pear shape fast.   There’s another bit of business.  The Wizard spoke to me.   He told me it’s the Final Trial.  I don’t know everything I’m walking into, but if it’s anything like Isis someone’s still trying to manipulate everything including Adam.”

Possibly even Freddy.

“I can’t really say what will happen, and I now it’s my trial, but I’m also worried about Adam.  I don’t know if you can get involved, but if there is something you can do I ask that you try and help the people of Kahndaq.  Get them out of harms way.” The message beeped.  He knew that was going to happen.

Redialed. “It’s me again.   See if Wally is willing to help.  I’m not asking either of you to engage.  Fighting wars totally creates the wrong message, but helping people that’s what we want to do right?  I just didn’t want either if you to think that I was cutting you or thinking I can do it alone.”  They all had to do what they could right?   “I’m going to call Wally and leave a message for him to reach out to you.”  Did he even mention Conner?

“I’ll try to call you soon.   If I get service.”  He ended the second call and put in call to Wally.

“Hey, it’s Freddy.  I’m heading to Kahndaq.  Contact Cassie.  She’ll get you up to speed, but if you can the people there can use your help to get them out of the combat zone.  Talk to you soon.”  Brief and to the point.

With that out of the way Freddy tapped off from the ground in to the air so he could get to Kahndaq as quickly as the speed of Mercury would carry him through the air.   He wanted to tug on Solomon, but right now he needed to keep his head as clear as he could.


–Sometime later after arriving in Kahndaq–


FREDDY:  Freddy wasn’t part of the sanctioned group gathered together to combat the army and navies of Bialya, but he could help get Kahndaqians out of the combat area.  He could do that, but he also needed to find Theo. Theo he felt could be reasoned with.  Black Adam, well he was pretty sure that his self-confidence could take the hits.

Upon reaching the Kahndaq’s airspace the empowered champion began scanning the area to take in what was happening.  It was now that he pushed back the emotions choosing to lean on Solomon so he didn’t let himself be overwhelmed by the horrors below.   He need to see where he was needed.  He couldn’t ignore what was happening in front of him. The people couldn’t be forgotten but he also needed to make sure that Black Adam didn’t take it to the extreme.


CONNER:   It wasn’t all that long ago, less than a week in fact, that Shiruta was a beautiful place. No, it is not one of the modern marvels of the world. You wouldn’t have found a sprawling skyscraper with some corporate logo, but you could have seen some of the most beautifully hand-sculpted statues. The people here paid homage to the past, while living in the present, with only a mindful thought towards tomorrow.

While Shiruta was not some idyllic paradise in the desert, it was a thing of wonder. In the years since it’s last Dictator was overthrown the small country had begun a sort of renaissance of the arts. Discovering the beauty in simple things, it’s people went about their days in relative obscurity from the rest of the world but they did it in peace and relative prosperity. While you wouldn’t get a good cell phone signal in most of the country, you wouldn’t have a whole lot of trouble finding one in Shiruta. In the last couple of years it begun to move towards modernization as it’s King slowly embraced the new world he was within. Though this slow creep towards ‘modern’ came under the ever watchful eye towards corruption.

That has all changed now though. A full night of bombs being dropped from sky, launched cruise missiles from the sea, while being cut off from the rest of its populace by a cordon of tanks had seen to the once beautiful city being little more than a shell of that former beauty. The market which is normally the life blood of the populace is empty. No children play in the streets. Nor do they attend the mandated schools.

Point in fact the only true signs of life in Shiruta come from those searching the rubble for survivors or those survivors that were able making their ways to the Red Cross tents. Just beyond the city there is a new sign of life. Tent City. Born from the mobilized hospital that the peace keepers brought with them.

There is little serenity here now, but there is a semblance of peace. Unless you turn an eye towards the East. In the distance, just at the best limits of the naked eye, one could make out the tell-tale signs of explosions. They seem to be growing ever further from what remains of the capital city.

Such a sight is enough to even quiet the every prattling whispers of Solomon. It doesn’t take a God’s wisdom to see all that you need from the air, of what has happened here. There is far more to this than what meets the eye though. With the proper vantage there’s a certain line that one’s mind might draw between the peace-keeper’s camp and the battle-front off in the distance. The Wisdom of Solomon is not merely what can be seen, but also what can be heard, what can be felt… and that is where the God’s aide is most effective. Whispers among the troops speak of the madness of it all. Rescue worker speak amongst themselves of the points they’re most hopeful of finding survivors. Then there’s the wounded, that if only they had just enough insight, they might be able to save one additional life.

For someone like Freddy Freeman he was right to keep Solomon out. To filter his thoughts so as not be overwhelmed. Honing them in to what is important. None seem to understand what is happening, nor why. And even now, as the new Champion arrives can he make out the argument among those dispatched by the United Nations.

“We cannot do that Superman,” the Canadian power house is imposing himself in such a way that he seems to think himself the ‘Man of Steel’s’ equal. “We’re only here to keep the Peace, not to wage his war…”

“He’s right. We’re ‘ere to stop this madness, not take ‘art in it.”

“I know why we’re here. I know what we’re supposed to be doing. It just doesn’t seem right. They’re the bad guys, they caused all of this. Are we supposed to just let them get away with this?”

Among the group is one who actually holds even shorter stature than the Diva. Her red hair, freckled face and glasses, paint her as an abstract in this world of chaos and explosions, but of them all she seems the one most at east. As well as being the only one that ‘Superman’ seems to pay any difference too.

“You were right, when you told Adam we should focus on saving people first. Avenging them second. We’re not here to fight a War for Adam, we’re here to keep rescue these people, Kon-L.”

“I know, Doc, but..” Conner’s voice stops as soon as Fairchild’s eyebrows lift above her glasses.

“No buts. Get your team out there. Find survivors, bring them here. Only engage if there are civilians at risk. Go. Up, up and away and all that.”

FREDDY: “Be the beacon of hope that they need you to be, Superman.”   He had no cape, all he had was a red suit with a gold light bolt emblazoned upon it along with a pair of gold boots.  It was quite the look, but Freddy did not make his presence known to discuss fashion sense.  He was here to stop a bad situation from getting worse.

“The beacon of hope that I know you can be. You’re here to help the victims of this attack not avenge them.  They need your compassion not your vengeance.  Listen with your ears.  Look with your eyes. What do they tell you?” It’s not the first time that Freddy understood Conner’s impulse, but right now it was about managing the situation.

“You’re here to keep the peace.  Pulling you away might be exactly what Bialya wants.”   That was for the entire audience, but for Superman there was more which is why he lowered his voice to nothing more than a whisper.  He had no idea what powers the others possessed, but he knew that Conner ears would pick up what he needed them to.

“I don’t like it any more than you do and it’s obvious that there’s more going on here, but the world is watching, Superman.  Watching what you say and do.  You can either chose to make billions of fans or billions of enemies, people who fear you. The trials for people like me and you never end.  All eyes are on you right here and out there.  Be the hero, not the weapon.  You’re here to show the best that America has to offer.  Uplift them.   Adam has their rage and anger.  Let that be enough for now. If there is a moment where you need to act you know it. You’ll feel it.”   The explosions in the distance were a concern, but right now he needed to make sure this didn’t escalate.

“The people of Kahndaq will grateful for your actions today,” Freddy said his voice louder as he pulled away. “Keep them safe.  I assure Adam will be thankful for your aid and assistance.”  If they could make sure that his people were cared for, that they were kept out of danger then he could focus on their enemies.  If he could slow their approach, then he could start to push them back.

“I will do what I can, but must find Black Adam.”  Pushing them back is one thing.  Destroying them is another. They needed to answer for their actions, but they needed for them to survive and Black Adam was not one to show such restraint.  He was very Old Testament, before there was an Old Testament.

CONNER:   How Freddy got there is not really a thing of much concern for anyone at the little gathering. This not some top secret mission, which only has members of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. involved. This is something else entirely, with people assembled from across the globe in order to help bring about a peaceful resolution. Which is in fact where the trouble stems from in the first place.

‘Peaceful Resolution,’ is not what Black Adam is going to agree to at this point. I’m not entirely sure he should either, frankly. Which is probably why this whole ‘Beacon of Hope’ thing annoys me on some level. If I were being honest with Fred, much less the rest of the company here? I’m more of a fire and brimstone sort of Superman, than hugs and handshakes kind. Every where I turn there is another hurting face, an unspoken question of why we let this happen and why we’re not putting a more permanent stop to it.

The question I find myself unable to answer is, ‘If I have the power to prevent these issues, wouldn’t it be better for me to stop them from happening? Rather than trying to render help after the problem has come home to roost.’ I suppose that’s really at the heart of what Wars between Black Adam’s mindset and that of the rest of the world. They certainly do not respond well to Adam, but they sure idolized the first Superman.

“You may not know this, Shazzy, but I didn’t put this uniform on to be a role-model. This wasn’t ever a choice for me. It isn’t always so easy to be a beacon of Hope, when all I want to do is reign down a terrible fury.” Lifting a hand, meant more to call Shazam to a halt before he tries to give his retort. “But. I’m learning. Sometimes the best thing to do is not always the easiest thing for people like us to do. In fact, the hard choice seems to almost always be the right one.”

“Being a Hero. Like Wonder Woman. Means learning to live with making that choice.”

The rest is something I understand all too well. Freddy was putting on a bit of a show. That is something I’m a class act at. I might not be the best Boyscout, but the Luthor side of me sure knows how to make a good show of it. What comes after those few words, is something else entirely.

Clearly I don’t have a lot of time here, but as Freddy is giving me his own personal take on things? I can see it pretty clearly, that this other guy’s role to play is right here. Right now. It’s no coincidence that he is here, this too is some Gods anointed Fate of his.

That’s why I put my hand upon Freddy and take him with me in to the air. Extending the force field that keeps the wind sheer at bay to him, allows me to levitate him along with me as I start to follow the Doc’s orders. It also means we have a couple moments of true privacy, because one of the few things my Hearing can’t penetrate is this very force field.

“Listen, Chum. I’m kinda glad you’re here, because you’re right about one thing more than the rest. I’m here as an appointed envoy. Something screwy around here and … there’s only so much poking around I can do without raising some diplomatic red flags.”

“First thing. The attack. Something is off about the attack. Everything from the timing, to the precision. It’s not my field of expertise, but I took tactical planning 1-oh-1 in the Virtual Simulator. Bialya isn’t this organized. They’re ruled by a jerk that was fighting a guerilla War six months ago. Now he’s leading a surgical strike against a nation with a protector like Adam?”

“Secondly. My Father made Theo sign on to letting Nowhere in. Full scale. My Father does nothing, at all, without a reason. Even if it’s a noble reason, there has to be one. If he made Theo open the gates to Nowhere, then he is interested in why Bialya attacked. Or…” this is where the old Conner shrug comes in to play. “… maybe the reason the attack is so precise is because my Father played a hand in organizing, to get the door opened.”

“Either way. I can’t be the one poking around, but… I’m the one that is going to have to write about it. Because if I’m not. It isn’t going to get printed.”

FREDDY:  They all had their parts to play. They all had things they had to do, but there were ways to go about it and having Superman ripping through tanks and jets was not going to help anyone but Adam. It would give him the sense that he had an ally in his tactics and that the United States would become complicit about everything he was doing when everyone knew that wasn’t the case.  Luthor from what Freddy could tell, POTUS not Superman was slipperier than that girl who generated frictionless forcefield in the comic books he used to read.

Whatever play he put into motion Freddy felt that he was playing both sides of the conflict. There were too many unknowns.  Whoever was at the heart of this knew exactly where to strike Adam, one to charge him up and two put him in to a total Kobayashi Maru.

The moment Conner projected the forcefield around them Freddy focused on what he was saying. He chose to listen rather than interject.

“I agree.”  He said honestly.

“And no, I know you’re not into the entire beacon of hope business. I know where you stand, but I also know that you’re important to Cassie, and you said you wanted to try and be friends so friend to friend don’t be the weapon.  Not because of the beacon hope business that’s something you have to figure out, but I don’t want a target on your back.”  That was what he was more worried about.  Right or wrong didn’t always factor in the way people wanted it to.

“I will probably hate myself in the morning for saying it, because I hate this about as much as saying let’s unpack this, but here it goes.  Optics.”  He sounded like a politician or worse PR.

“The world’s watching.  It’s one thing to take care of business on your turf, and I’m sure N.O.W.H.E.R.E. has been deployed elsewhere in the world, but this is different.  There are no clean ups.  There are no this is what NOWHERE wants you to believe. It’s been seen everywhere.  By people on the ground and all over and if you follow Adam’s lead then the world will believe it has one more problem that it needs to solve and trust me, Conner, believe me when I say the world finds a way then it finds a way and I don’t want that to happen. “

They all knew that NOWHERE probably had multiple contingencies in place, but what did the world have in place?  This response was unlike anything else Freddy had seen before so the calculus that everyone had put together was now being sorted and reorganized.  If the United States would assemble this type of a response to aid, what happens when it feels threatened.  Freddy pushed that response through his mind, so he had to make sure that he considered that in every action along with the fact that NOWHERE is also watching to see will Conner “behave” or will they have to consider a better way to keep him inline when he wanted to follow his heart and it went counter to their mandate.

“I don’t want to lose a friend.”   Whether it be in death or because it pushes Conner into a fight response, because flight did not factor in.  Once that path begins in earnest where did it end.

“Tell me if I’m looking at that through rose colored glasses?  Is it possible or am I way off base with those possibilities? Am I overthinking it?”

He could be. Freddy had to consider it and he knew that sometimes you just had to pull the trigger and let it go, but didn’t there come a point when they had start thinking ahead.  Consider the consequences?  Albeit it was probably the worst timing ever, but considering the stakes Freddy thought they could use this breath before moving forward one way or another.

“If I can be selfish for a moment.  I need you,” he said honestly.  “I need you to be the mirror.  The one that is my counterpoint.  The one that prevents me from being in the echo chamber.”

“We do need to know what’s going in Bialya. I won’t say I’ve played chess, but I’ve seen enough matches to know when pieces have been arranged on the board to play into someone’s hand. I’m with you on that.”  To what end?  Freddy didn’t know.

“Your hands are being tied so what you need, what we need is a third option if there one.”

CONNER:  What may be the most surprising aspect of this relatively private discussion? Is how quickly the answer comes to Freddy. “To be honest, I actually know you’re right. I’m just having a problem with the fact that I’m being forced to play a role. It’s frustrating. Because this is my life, Shazzy. I’m never allowed to be myself, I always have to be what someone else wants me to be or tells me to be.”

“But. At least for the moment, I completely agree with you. I’ve got to play the role that I’ve been type-cast in to. Because, for now, that’s the path which also helps the most.” Which as I’m all too sure Freddy is aware, means that I’m doing what I know Cassie would want me to be doing. Motivation, thy name is a teenager’s sex-drive. Mine is a blonde cheerleader demi-goddess. “So don’t you go worrying about me. I’m not going to be breaking my standing orders, unless I think there’s no real choice.”

There’s been a couple times when talking to this guy that it’s been… creepy. Like he can see through you. Past all the bullshit. Right through the carefully crafted secret identity that is Conner Luthor and in to the soul of who lays beneath. I brought that up to Cassie the first time I met this guy, but I’ve experienced twice more since then. This being the second time. He cuts to the heart of it. Slicing away what doesn’t need to be there and just tells you the reality of what is going on. Whether it’s what you’re ready to hear or not.

I hate it.

Yeah, I’m more of a ‘cover it in honey and swallow it before you taste the turd’ kind of guy. I like my truth coated in sugar, so it’s sweet going down and honey coming up. That’s why I’m always rather out of sorts with Freddy Freeman. We are a mirror though, I’m just the other side of it. Which is why the response he gets isn’t always so crystal clear.

“See? I told Cassie you were in to guys. Look, I know you need me dude. Most people do. I’m kind of… y’know… well, hot. I mean. I know. I get it. I’m flattered. But I’m really in to Cassie and all. So we’re going to have to just be friends. I mean… you can still need me if you want. But. Um. We’re going to have to keep this whole need me thing under wraps, okay? Last time Wonder Woman got jealous,… dude… she almost hit me with the God Bolt. Lightning from her Daddy’s ass. Right up mine.”

“So. Just. Need me. Privately. Okay? Cool.”


FREDDY: There are moments when Freddy needs things to crystalize. Some people may think it is from an intense desire to be right.  Like he was on the Fawcett High Debate team with dreams of a trophy in a glass case and a scholarship in hand, but it was pretty far from it.  He needed things to crystalize, because these were people’s lives.  He had to except that not every action would be the right action, not even the best action in the best case scenario.  Life just didn’t work that way.

Was Freddy Freeman a shining light of hope, it depended upon who you asked, because sometimes what came out of his mouth was the last thing people wanted to hear just as Conner said.  He could be a cold bucket of water that no body wanted, but sometimes you needed to remind them and him of what the score was.

Sometimes it happened at the right time, sometimes it happened when it was the worst time and he was traveling down the spiral into the reads, but every so often planets converge, and there’s a grand conjunction of three suns some where and everything comes together when he needs it.

This was one of those moments.  Where Conner laid bare for him what his frustration was.  No matter what he was someone’s puppet to a degree, just enough for him to get tangled in things he didn’t want.  His response had to be muted if not replaced with another, because of circumstance.  It was a good moment it was a hamburger moment that lasted about five seconds.

“You can’t help yourself, can you.  You really can’t.” It was either that or he just didn’t grasp that bit right there.  Either way?  “From what I hear I couldn’t hold that spot if I wanted because it’s what? You, Cassie then your new friend Kyle.”

Yes, he did.  “I’m pretty sure he’d scratch my eyes out.”   However, now that Conner was going to play ball with his commrades which meant that Freddy had to deal with…everything else.


CONNER:  What makes this all the more curious is when that trademark dimpled smirk comes out. No one would ever be able to mistake Conner and Superman as different people if they could see this momentary look shared with someone that I actually trust. Moderately. It’s very telling, because I’m never going to actually tell the truth. Can I help myself? Or did I totally meat-head that moment of heart-to-heart awareness that Mr. Shazam was putting out there? It doesn’t seem like I’m ever going to tell someone the truth in answer to those questions. Even Solomon is going to have a problem reading this expression.

“Honestly, I’m not even sure anymore, Shazzy. It’s mostly just me and Cassie. Then there’s my new friend Kyle, who’s kinda gay in a really not-sure-if-he’s-gay but wow is he hot sort of way? And then there’s Tim, who I’m pretty sure is Gay, but Cassie says he’s not. Oh and then. There’s Flash. Listen. I’m not saying he’s Gay, I’m just saying you’re not going to see Flash and Heterosexual situations in the same room, at the same time, if you know what I’m saying. Solomon that, my friend. Soloman, that. Meanwhile, I’m like surrounded by all these amazingly hot female supporting cast members and no one to set them up on blind dates with. If you ever met the Huntress. I mean. She’s like one of those girls you actually ask to put your testicles in a choke hold. Know what I mean? Flash is just a little to effeminate for her. Then there’s Dinah. Whoah, let me tell you about Dinah. Get a pencil and paper, buddy.”

“Okay. Seriously. I’m going to get to saving poor innocent people. Being all Supermanly. You do that thing you do. The talk a lot, make a point. Things work out in the end thing. When you’re ready, give me a call.” Pausing for just a second, as if the man gifted with Soloman’s Wisdom might actually -not- know what I’m meaning… “Not with a cell phone. I mean, just say my name. I’ll hear you. From like anywhere, pretty much.”

“Superman. Does. Not. Have. A. Cellphone.”

By the time Freddy is ready to actually wade through everything I’ve just verbally regurgitated at him? I’m long gone. Up, up and away, indeed.


FREDDY:  Freddy couldn’t quite point out where and when all of this happened, but happened and there was no going back, because it was already coming out of Conner’s mouth. It was best to hold the expression that spread across his features, one that said many things but most of all, ‘What just happened?’ He avoided pinching the bridge of his nose, because he was pretty sure Conner got that from Cassie from time to time (read a lot).

Solomon was uncharacteristically quiet. Freddy was shock and he didn’t lean on him to decipher any of that. That was 100 percent Conner. A hundred percent of what Freddy couldn’t quite say, but he did know that he would do his thing. Whether it was talking or not remained to be seen, because there was a mystery here to unravel and he knew they both knew that Freddy was at the center of it as it related to his trials, but the consequences. No one knew how far that would go.

Conner was off to provide the support that was needed. Freddy he was headed in the direction of Adam. Everything was a strike upon Kahndaq, but what was there anything else out of place. There was the strike. There was response, but what happened in between. A lot of things were happening all at once. Perhaps there was something that was missed.

Would Adam know? Another thing about a well set board is that you can direct where you want people to look to prevent them from seeing what’s coming. Was there somewhere else that everyone should have been looking while all of this took place? Something about what Conner said. A well precision attack. Whether than noddle Solomon’s noggin about what Conner said Freddy decided to pose that question. What was valuable in Kahndaq?

Isis was after the amulet. This was the Final Trial. Was there something here that you couldn’t get anywhere else. Another thing that Freddy couldn’t help but notice was that since things went of the rails with the Trials everything seemed to come back to Adam or something or someone connected to Adam.

Freddy did his best not to rush himself.  He knew that he had to get to Adam’s position, but he needed to get a read on the situation. Like Conner said if he was here then there was more to everything that was happening on an entirely different level.  While the agents of NOWHERE did what they did with the other members of the UN Peacekeeping force, Freddy was on his own he helped where he could, but when it came to actually engaging the citizens of Kahndaq they weren’t exactly forthcoming.  Actually, they were suspicious of a fair skinned, dark haired man who not only spoke their language, but spoke it quite well as if he was native to the area.

Blessings of Solomon one would say.  Omnilinguistics was a god send literally in this sense.  However, no matter how well he spoke the language Freddy was still an outsider, one that appeared to be dressed in the same garb as their champion.  If Freddy was hoping that this would demonstrate some kind of connection Freddy got less than a receptive reaction.  If anything, it made them distrust him a bit more.  They probably had their reasons.  If Freddy had to hedge a guess he was probably being seen as trying to usurp Black Adam’s role as Champion of Kahndaq.  Or even worse…they were Americanizing his legacy!

Which as not something that Freddy was intending to do at all.  Perhaps he should have visited earlier and taken Theo up on his offer if only to show that he was a fri…acquaintance.  He could go that far, because he really didn’t know how Black Adam viewed him.  Annoyance.  Pretender.  The Mistake.

Freddy could go over several more disparaging things that Black Adam probably thought when he saw Freddy coming, and let’s face it holding his tongue was not something Black Adam considered in the least.   Either way he Freddy set it aside, because he could be there for hours instead he resumed his survey of the city.  He looked over the buildings that had been damaged by the attacks and those that had not.   It was a lot to take in, but as he had done before in the past Freddy set aside his emotions and focused on what his eyes were showing him in hopes that they would tell him what he needed to know.

Freddy considered the photographs and videos that he had of war zones before, missile strikes specifically.  How many times had the United States done precision drone strikes?  How often did they strike only the target that they wanted and not have any significant collateral damage? There were always reports of that occurring.  Usually when strikes occurred they were at major installations.  Things that helped support the adversary. Supply lines had to be disrupted so sometimes roads, but air fields, supply depots, munition depots, and other types of installations.

There was a strike upon the palace which was for a lack of a better word ballsy, but what would it gain them outside of Adam’s wrath?  They struck into the city hitting at residences, hospitals and schools, it was a major attack that seemed to be striking at any and everything.  At least that’s what it would appeared to look like from first glance.   If you took the thousand-foot view then everything seemed to be under fire, but the closer you got the clear it became.  It started to come into focus.

Freddy wanted was information and he couldn’t acquire it from the citizens, so he had to look at the data.  There was no terminal for him to pull to besides the one that sat on top of his neck. The strikes.  They were clean and precise compared to the strikes of other nation.  There didn’t seem to be anything was done by accident.  There had been reports of kamikaze type tactics, but that is what made Freddy’s closer look at what had been hit even more critical, because again it was not what was hit that stood out, it was what wasn’t hit that did.

That he could point and pick out.  In some cases there was some damage, but more minor damage. Strategic, tactical strikes.  That made it stick out again, but this time what Conner had said about the command chain, more specifically, the leader.  Outside of the jerk comment the fact that recently he had previously been fighting a guerilla war, which can be effective, but it had a very different set of tactics.

Tactics that apparently utilized missile strikes from sea faring vessels. Freddy couldn’t recall any time in the past when such tactics had been used. Did Bialya even have a navy? How does someone go from fighting a guerilla war to executing strike such as this?

Freddy chewed on that while he went over what he saw when he got closer to the buildings that had not been hit.  At first blush one might think they were spared, because of sheer luck, given the fact that other areas had been struck, but the closer Freddy got the more a pattern began to emerge.   Antique and curio shops.  Ordinarily no one would think anything of it.   Nothing at all if not for the fact that Freddy while not trained in the science of archaeology often found himself caught in the intersection of antiquities, myths and legends. It was the reason why he touched down upon one of the roofs of the shops that had not been hit.  It was also why he had to set his emotions aside less he would find himself overwhelmed.

“Lets talk it through Freddy. At some point, Theo presented Adrianna with the amulet of Isis.  It allowed her to access the power of Isis even ore the spirt of Isis possessed Adriana.  It was like a seed that was planted within her that grew and grew until it had complete control of the woman that Theo loved.  Black Adam intended to restore his wife in the process, but Isis had other plans.”  She meant to restore Osiris by acquiring the amulet that his spirit had been placed into.

Freddy avoided twisting himself around that spiral too many times, but artifacts.  Even Adam’s resurgence was the result of an artifact.  He searched his shared memories for the information while considering what had been attacked and what had not.  Among the curio and antique shops book stores were not attacked and it didn’t appear to be businesses that came about from Kahndaq’s resurgence hey seemed to be in place for quite some time.

The entire region was a wealth of treasures and not every treasure made it into the museum.  Think Antique Road show or Storage Wars.  How many times had hidden treasures been found within someone’s home or a storage unit.  Perhaps they weren’t meant to be found or perhaps…perhaps they were meant to stay out of the obvious hands.

Freddy clenched his fist in slight frustration at not being able to converse with the citizens. Sure, he could speak with them, but what would they tell him? What would they answer?  Right now he could only make a hypotheisis based on what he had seen and what he had seen told him that those building sand the ones near them were intact. The buildings around them were incongruous to the ones that seemed to be almost untouched. They were simply in the right place, but it was the shops where someone could acquire information about the past, objects from the past that were not targeted.

Yet the army was pushed back they would never be able to get in.


He paused in his words and his thoughts. He considered what Aunt Minvera was doing in at the bank when he met Cassie for the first time.  She was looking for something, but she wasn’t Minvera she was Isis.  However, she knew exactly what it was she was looking for at least she knew it was in the bank.  What if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Once the clean up begins people will be allowed back in to check the damage.  You can’t impersonate all of them, but.  A sinking feeling began, but Freddy continued to play the thoughts through.  Someone had to be responsible for all of this and there seemed to be a change in tactics.  There were questions in his mind.  Who or what?  There had been a level up.  He needed to know what he could about Bialya, but even more he needed to know what happened there recently.  Someone has gotten an upgrade of some kind and Freddy had three scenarios none of them good as he touched off the ground.

He needed to be where Adam was if only to see what was happening in that area of the country was it anything like this or was it different?  Someone was seeking something out, they were looking for something or somethings.  Whether it was an item, or a record of the item Freddy didn’t know, but something pushed Bialya into action.

What was the scenarios?  If Adam returned, Teth Adam why couldn’t someone else.  Someone who coveted something Kahndaq possessed.  Similar to the Osiris’s amulet, but something different, something more.  He didn’t know. There was missing information.

Scenario B.  The way that the tactics changed indicated that someone had taken the reigns someone or someones had.  They changed the way they waged war to become effective which made Freddy’s stomach twist just a bit.  What if it was another god, a war god.  Considering the Trial who was left what if it was Ares?  Right now, Freddy had to consider the possibility even if for a moment which made scenario C even more frightening.  What if it was Athena? Those were the worst-case scenarios, but given that everything that happened to this point, Freddy was going to go with the first scenario.

First more information and the only way he could get that was by heading to where the fighting was still occurring in the direction of Adam. Hopefully, it would begin to lean towards scenario A, not that was desired at all, but it’s all Freddy along with the general notion that this was a attack over resources just resources of a different kind.

Meeting of the Minds

Meeting of the Minds

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?”

Meeting of the Minds

The Key

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.

We Come in Peace

LIGHT:  Not much time had passed between Koriand’r’s arrival when the D.E.O and N.O.W.H.E.R.E protocols being initiated.  Of course, there were ways to handle things, official ways, but whatever the reason Superman decided that he would bring the alien to his apartment.  Definitely against protocols, but given the satellite footage that had been reviewed it was there were more questions than answers that emerged.  There were several individuals that wanted to know why such restraint was used.

The woman should have been brought to one of their secure facilities, after action reports filed and debriefing began while she was interviewed.  Instead she was doing anything but that.  That did not sit well with several individuals that knew of her arrival.  Already the internet was being scrubbed to remove any images that popped.  Discussions of the matter was shut down.   The official story that was a weather satellite’s orbit unexpectedly began to decay.

Superman sighting in Gotham was normal. Saving the day is what he does. Why wouldn’t he intercept the satellite to prevent it from doing any damage?  Besides, that was for the public relations department to deal with.  That wasn’t the job that Arthur Light was dispatched to complete.  His job was to ascertain what the presence of the newest visitor to earth meant for the country and the rest of the planet, among other things.

When the black SUV pulled in front of the apartment building Light stepped out holding his hand up.  He didn’t want the entire team to head inside.  That would-be overkill, besides he needed their eyes out here.  The local office had already been notified, and their agents had already been put in to position.  Why, because there was more than Superman and Wonder Woman on site to welcome the alien to Earth there was another individual.

Red Hood. He was on the radar for a number of reasons.  There was little that the Company didn’t know about it especially with events in Gotham.  Still, that wasn’t his concern as long as this Red Hood decided to follow the code of his colleagues.  However, that was doubtful, because most of the time they rarely did so themselves when it came to traveling in and out of the city of others.

Better to plan for the worst.  Hoping for the best got you killed.

Not that Dr. Light would be accompanied alone.  Far from it.  There was only so much that people liked to share.  It was better M’gann was involved more so than Raven. Things usually took a turn for the worse when she was involved usually because of patience wore thin.  There were always ‘better’ ways to make someone talk.   That was the mentality and that’s how she operated.

M’gann could be reasoned with, and besides what did he have to fear?  They were all allies here.  They knew which side they were on?  Of course, they did.   He looked back towards the others offering offered the barest of smiles before waiting for his companion for the evening to join him.

“We have work to do.  Items to collect.  I’m sure Conner’s aware of our arrival, but be a dear and let him know that we’re on our way up and to make the woman presentable.   If you wouldn’t mind.”  He could call up, but there was no guarantee that the phone would be answered.

There was another reason why Light requested M’gann’s presence beyond her obvious talents.  She was unique and best suited to aid with the interview. Opening the door, he motioned for M’gann to step through.


M’GANN: “Presentable to whose standards?”

I could call, too. I’ve got Conner Luthor on speed-dial, much to the chagrin of basically everyone at the Earth School I’ve been attending. I’m not sure how necessary it actually is anymore, with the cover blown but that’s not a point I’ve actually brought up. I happen to like going to school. It lets me practice. And show off. But mostly practice. Despite the fact that my cell phone is a pretty permanent fixture in hand, and my not actually looking up from it at nearly any point on the ride over here, or even now as I’m climbing out of the car, and then into the building that houses Conner’s pent-house apartment (which he never actually uses, ordinarily).

Celebrity gossip sites. Fashion. News. My thumb’s slowed down considerably on the scroll speed now that I’m in view of anyone beyond Dr. Light. Phoning? Very mundane. Especially when you’re used to working on a field team and operating with a link between the members. There’s probably only one mind I can find faster than ‘Superman’s.’

Dr. Light’s coming. He said to make ‘the woman’ ‘presentable.’ Have you been being a bad boy? I thought you weren’t into aliens anymore.

CONNER:  The Penthouse.

That kind of undersells what it actually is. The entire uppermost floor of LexCorp is the reality. The entire floor, which wasn’t built originally to be some sort of luxury suite. This building was put together originally as an office building, a science laboratory and was meant to be the monument to my father’s legacy. A palace in the center of Metropolis. It’s shining beacon. At some point Lex himself had the upper floor retrofit in to living quarters, so that he would never have to venture away from his labs. At least until he made the requisite move to the White House. President for Life is a bit of a downgrade for the record.

When I was created, I lived in a laboratory. Ensconced in a tube where I was virtually raised over the course of two years. The virtual training was a simulator. One that gave me fifteen years of virtual life. Simulated memories from my genetic donors. The backwater town, I suppose came from the original Superman. While the ‘do whatever I want’ attitude was from Lex. Until finally, I could handle being toyed with no further and staged a break out. One that cost Nowhere an entire Lab and decades of research. A costly learning experience for both sides. As I was also forced to realize that the real world doesn’t just reset every time I do something wrong. Nowhere learned that I’m a bit more than just a sockpuppet soldier. Which made me valuable enough to become my Father’s son. A publicity stunt -and- a soldier at the same time.

Enter the Penthouse. Which has once more been remodeled. Because my trust fund spent the first year of my freedom being spent on every single thing a boy might want to indulge in for fun. It’s spent the last year mostly unused, as I’ve been staying a little closer to Cassandra. Now it’s a place of learning and safety for Koriand’r. Who, contrary to Damien Wayne’s warning, has had nothing to fear about this destination. Except for perhaps growing fat from all the Cheesecake, Icecream, Binge Watching and Video Games we’ve done the last twenty four hours. Most of which was spent with her in need of Human Clothing. Which only got remedied when I was able to super-speed out and get her some of Cassie’s things.

How was I supposed to know one-size doesn’t fit all? Pfft.

We’re in the middle of Stranger Things season two when the ‘Call Comes In.’ That’s no ice cream headache that has me grasping my forehead and wincing. It’s telepathy. [ I’m still working on learning how to be a good boy, bad is really my basic setting. She’s extremely presentable, if you ask me, but if you insist…” ]

“Hey, Princess. We’re about to have company. Would you like to put some of those clothes on that I brought or…?” Despite anything I may or may not have just communicated to M’Gann, I’m all too happy to let Starfire do what she wants. If for no other reason than because it’ll annoy someone else. “My friend M’Gann is coming up to meet you and she’s bringing pet, Arthur.”

KORIAND’R:   The clothing was very uncomfortable. She had a great deal of difficulty understanding why it was more ‘acceptable’ to wear so many garments. It certainly wasn’t tailored to her form, the pants were tight and slid down her hips when she walked. The top was tight around her breasts and it rubbed against her skin uncomfortably. The only appealing thing she saw about human clothing was in a magazine she had found in the apartment. The pieces the women wore were much smaller and far more decorative. Imagine her disgust when she learned they were undergarments and they were typically covered by more layers of clothing. Were humans that squishy? Were they incapable of protecting themselves against the elements? It was almost sad.

It had been a nice time though. She was able to heal and charge up in the sun, she even had a proper bath and felt more like herself again…whatever it was she could scrape together after the ordeal she had been through. Things would never be the same, she was no longer a child or a teenager and she grew up during those years under very harsh conditions. A weaker mind may have broken within months, she always fought against it, she always had hope. It was probably the best that Superman behaved himself. An unwelcome touch may have sent a wall crumbling. Her rage was a terrifying thing capable of a lot of destruction. She had identified with the young girl in the television program they had watched, the girl’s rage was similarly destructive.

“I don’t like them…they itch. These ‘jeans’ are rubbing me in places that is very uncomfortable and it’s making it difficult for me to focus.”

She’d rather keep watching the program even though she had been watching most of it curled up and eyes wide and in a near constant mode of suspense wondering what was going to happen to the children.

“A pet? Like Dart? Does she bring him everywhere? What does he eat?”

LIGHT: “We shall find out won’t we?” He wanted to know exactly who and what he was dealing with.  It didn’t matter what the woman wear.  It was more of an inquiry than anything as they stepped into the elevator.  He glanced towards the phone that the M’gann was focused on.  Not that it mattered. It’s what people did these days get lost in their phones, their possessions.  It’s the way of the world isn’t it?

“Curious.  Was Cassandra in school today?”   He was genuinely curious.  Reviewing the images, she was there and then she was gone.   He was certain that something took place, what he doubted anyone give him an accurate account of what happened, but this was the job. This is what he was paid to do.

Pressing the button for the penthouse he took a step back waiting for the doors to close.  Protocols.   Yes.  They must be followed they had to be followed, because those were the rules.  A decision would need to be made about to handle the matter.  If he followed the protocol, then that would mean removing her from the building to take her to one of the facilities that she may or may not return from.

He had been here before in a sense.  Before the incident.  It wasn’t something anyone could have anticipated.  Light knew that a certain point the woman would want to leave the apartment.  That she would want to see the world that lie beyond the walls. They always did. He also knew that the Director would want her brought in to be processed.  She was new, she was different.

It wasn’t that he felt conflicted, but Light knew things were changing.  The world wasn’t the same as it was before.  It was much different.  “I would make a bet, but it would be a sucker’s bet.  I’m sure he’s called me your pet or lap dog.”  Same difference.  He knew how this went.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  It didn’t matter the doors were opening and there was someone new to meet.

For a moment it almost seemed like he would have said something else, that there was a question on the tip of the tongue, but he switched it at the last moment.  Company many through and through?  Perhaps.  One never knew when Light was involved. He did his job well.  Asked his questions, made his assessments and shuffled off to his lab.

He could be cold.  He could be distant.  He also could be quite jovial when given the chance.  Right now, he decided to smile, why not?  It was a pleasant evening wasn’t it.

“Showtime I suppose.”

M’GANN:  [ Excuses, excuses. I -don’t- insist, just passing along the message. Like. What am I? A glorified, unignorable , intercom? ]

The sarcasm and exasperation doesn’t entirely play out convincing though. It doesn’t actually offend me to be asked. It means I’ve got an excuse to use the power I get to practice with the least. Not to say I get to use any of them, except for rearranging my appearance on a daily basis. I’m wearing the face of Kelsey, former Queen Bee of St. Mary’s, who now has to share the title with some competition. It’s the easiest one to stick to for public outings, and is usually the way I look when I’m inside of NOWHERE’s facilities. It makes people a lot more uncomfortable if I look like myself, for one thing. I don’t actually like doing that. Making people uncomfortable. Sometimes I have to, though.

“Uh huh. History test today. She never misses history tests. Definitely less excited than usual about practice after school.”

Definitely looking like someone had done something to make her not super happy, too. But that’s actually not a total rarity lately. Talk about #FirstWorldProblems, right? As to his question about what Conner’s called him or not? I just shrug my shoulders. I either don’t know, or don’t care to know, or possibly don’t care to share, but it’s more likely the first two. Of the three of us, I’m actually the most prone to actually be helpful on our team.

I don’t knock, once we’ve ridden the elevator up. He knows we’re coming. I told him we’re coming. There’s also a million levels of security that would have kept Dr. Light at least out, if he didn’t want him in. That implies permission, to me. Showtime indeed.

“Knock, knock! Ooh, Conner you made a new friend. You can call me Kelsey. So nice to meet you.”

With the Kelsey face? Often comes the Kelsey manners. I’m looking Starfire up, and then down, and then up again, with a look on my face that says I don’t mean any part of this is actually nice.

[ Did you seriously put her in Cassie’s clothes? I’m pretty sure those are her favorite jeans, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to castrate you. Can I have your apartment when you’re gone? ]

CONNER:  “Yeah. It was a pain to get used to real clothing at first. In the V.R. I didn’t have to worry about something fitting, it just did. Never had to worry about it chafing because it simply didn’t. I mean, I’m more or less invulnerable. So it sounds silly to me that I’m agreeing with you about clothing, but it’s more about comfort with me than anything. I think it’s the same with all Humans. Comfort. It’s comfortable to wear them, for most people. It’s also comfortable not to have to see each other. I don’t mean me, Princess, I mean that, that’s what I think it comes down to for the other Humans. One of the good things about my creation, was the gene-splicing. I’m as close as to genetically perfect as a Human or Kryptnonian can be.”

“Plus, I see through almost everything. So, my reality is a lot closer to what you’d consider normal. I see people are they really are,” a little smile says I’m being nice, but the truth is that normally it allows me to confirm people’s inferiority. Starfire is not inferior. Neither is M’Gann, who happens to be one of the only people on the planet who’s clothing I can’t see through. Since she’s not actually wearing any. At least, not normally. “A little like Dart, yes. Mostly? He eats Hopes and Dreams. He won’t bite unless you ask him too though.”

Inside of the ‘Penthouse,’ is much like you’d expect it to be. A bachelor pad. Except this bachelor happens to have a bottomless bank account. Yes, that’s a Pink Maserati parked in a corner of the penthouse, with no viable method of getting outside. Somewhere around here is six foot tall transformer model of Optimus Prime. There’s one of those ‘Almost Real Sex Dolls’ somewhere around here with a remote control in every orifice. The entire floor is mostly open floor plan, with only a handful of actual ‘rooms’ that afford any sort of privacy.

There’s a second story, but that’s mostly a bedroom. That I’ve been tempted to sue that movie Shades of Grey for ripping off and calling it a ‘Play Room.’ Throw a couple parties. Invite hack-writers over to worship you. Get your intellectual property stolen. Such is the life of a Luthor.

“Oh. They’re here,” I’m up off the couch at the speed of light, there’s probably still a fritos bag fluttering in the air as Kelsey makes her entrance. The living room area is conspicuously clean. All of a sudden. “Koriand’r allow me to introduce you to Kelsey Stevens and Doc Light.”

[ “Shhhh. She walked around naked for the first few hours. This was the only thing I could find! It was either than or I took the naked alien girl shopping… and then you’d have had to mind wipe half the city. No you can’t have my apartment. If she castrates me, you’re going to have to teach me how to be Supergirl.” ]

KORIAND’R: “I’ve been modified as well…but I was not created like you. My conditioning was…different.”

Kori avoided getting into the details as much as she could but she had dropped a few hints here and there. If this is what she thinks it is, she may have to reveal more than she might be comfortable with. They want to make sure she is not a threat to their humans, she understands that. She’s just worried that this may lead to a less than comfortable situation, trading one prison for another.

“Hello friend Kelsey, hello Pet Doc Light. As Superman has said, I am Koriand’r of Tamaran.”

She stood a little straighter and tried not to pick at the clothing. She was guarded, whereas maybe five minutes before she had been perfectly relaxed settling into the plans that Superman had made to help her acclimate to the culture.

“I apologize for any inconvenience my arrival may have caused. I had not expected a hostile greeting. I didn’t know what to expect when I set course here, I was under duress when I made the decision. As I told Superman and Wonder Woman, I come seeking sanctuary.”

LIGHT:   Most would marvel at the apartment that they were walking into.  An entire in one of the most well-known towers in the city.  This was more than money this was what wealth could provide, but for Light the only thing he focused upon was the woman that was standing before him.  He studied her carefully, with a smile that was both warm and pleasant.

Her response receives a nod and slight sound of acknowledgement.  Light hadn’t actually met the young woman.  He was informed that his involvement would not be necessary, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t keep tabs.  Difficult not to, given the televised statement she gave.


He kept his distance for Koriand’r.  Given the way things were going the fact that she didn’t seemed to want to escape while change that?  His intentions weren’t to create an environment where she would feel unwelcomed.   Far from it.  Conner offered her a place to stay somewhere where she wouldn’t have to be afraid or feel as if she couldn’t trust anyone.  To come and shattered that, to force the protocol would create far more problems than they needed at the moment.

There was another cancer that they had to focus their attention upon.  One that was growing and threatened to spread.  Of course, that was something that he shouldn’t trouble himself with.  He should focus on activities that he was more suited for.  At least that is what he was told when brought his concerns to the assistant director.

However, this was neither the time of place for such things.  While ‘Kelsey’ sized Koriand’r up Light took a step forward offering her his hand.  “It is a pleasure to meet you, Koriand’r of Tamaran.  Superman has shared with us your plight.  That’s why we’ve come to determine how we can help you.”  Light’s features remained the same as they were when the door open, warm and open.  There was no ogling.  No looking her up and down like a mean girl.  If, anything, Light was concerned about her comfort level given that everything she was wearing was probably a size or two too small.

“I see.  Perhaps we should get you some clothing that’s a tad more comfortable. I’m sure that Conner and Kelsey will be more than happy to take care of that for you while we talk.”   There’s some boutiques in her somewhere that they can get a few things from isn’t there?  The building was big enough to hold more than one and the good doctor was sure they would open up for Luthor’s son.  It would be stupid of them not to.

“Unless, you object, Koriand’r.  I just want to ask you a few questions.  If that is okay?”  Despite what most would think it was completely genuine.  “And prefer to be called Doc Light.”  Not really, but it’s probably the best that he would get from Conner.

“I’m very interested in how you came to be here.  The organization that I represent is very interested as well.   They’ve dispatched me to determine how you came to seek refuge on our planet.  It will go a long way in determining how we might be able to help you.”

M’GANN:  [ “Because you couldn’t just go to the store solo in the amount of time it just took you to clean your place. So you put the sexy alien in your girlfriend’s clothes. Sometimes you are Superdumb.” ]

Kelsey’s bitchy tones would probably have gone right along with those words, like peanut butter and bananas, but my mental voice is a lot more cheerful and amused, rather than judgmental. Conner’s my friend. Usually. The Supergirl comment still gets a very clear moment of surprise translated across the link though.

[ “What, you don’t know? I guess you’ve been busy with Naked Alien Netflix and Chill. -That- position’s already filled. And probably the only reason you’re getting away with adding to your harem right now.” ]

Because last night? This one may have crash landed in spectacular fashion but it was the take-off of another ‘S’ that had a whole lot more attention. I’m a lot more interested in Koriand’r of Tamaran than I might actually let on. Mentally, and certainly physically where I’ve got on a face of semi-disdainful disinterest. The truth is we don’t get terribly many aliens here on Earth. Not that aren’t invading, hostile, and therefor put down in an appropriate fashion. It’s almost an aside that I form a secondary link, this time between the Doctor, Conner, and myself. Running in tandem with the one between myself and Superman, and not to be confused with the casual listening I’m doing to Kori’s mind which I keep separate from the others. While checking my twitter feed. Or. Kelsey’s, I should say.

[ “Sincere. On all counts. No deception registered.” ]

“Ugh. I mean. I can. I guess.”

KORIAND’R:  Conner had filled her in on their organization, on their purpose. This was their protocol, measures that must be taken and she was understanding of the need to keep their people safe. Her people might have done the same thing if they had been able to avoid invasion. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.

She did reach out to touch Doc Light’s hand, being gentle with her grip but she was curious as to what she may pick up from him. Her hands were always warm, like skin touched with the warm sun. What she felt coming from him was not hostile, nothing she needed to be terribly concerned about. She finally returned his introduction with a warm smile. He had passed her test and perhaps she may be comfortable enough now to share her story.

“I don’t really need more clothing. I prefer to go without,” they were words of a soft protest, she may not have a choice in this particular matter. Humans were just so….reserved.

“We may talk, Doc Light. Are you a good Doc? I don’t want to end up like the girl, though it would be highly improbable.”

She just assumed everyone knew what she was talking about, she had just seen the show with Conner and for all she knew, all Doctors were bad people that liked to experiment on others.

CONNER:  [ “I don’t even buy my own clothes! How the hell would I even begin to know what to buy a … a… would you -look- at her? Cassie’d probably castrate me twice for anything -I- picked out for her to wear!” ]

Believe it or not, I’m not actually being rude to Arthur, when I put my hand up and give him a very stern shush signal. The look upon my face probably gives the intelligent man a signal of it’s own. The Martian before us, has just said something in to my head that brings everything about me to a complete and total halt. Was Kelsey teasing me? Was that her doing to me, what she used to do to Cassie at school? I’ve never had a tough time reading the Martian because her internal voice is one that always speaks more clearly of her moods.

I’ve got to actually lick my lips, because they’re dry, for the first time in my existence. A lot of things in this world I fail to understand, to grasp the nuance of. Emotions. Manners. Those are things I’ve been taught, but was also taught that ignoring them meant what? Someone was going to scowly face at me? Woe is me. But, M’Gann just said something I’ve caught on too quick. Now there’s only one important question and frankly it is far more important to me than Starfire -or- Doctor Light, in any way shape or form.

[ “Pretender, Kryptonian or New Clone?” ]

Three options. One means that I’ve got to have stern words with someone about the gimic I’ve infringed upon, being infringed upon. The other two? Those are far bigger, far more immediate issues. A true Kryptonian could mean that Nowhere, my Father and maybe even the world itself, is in great peril. If Nowhere has finally been able to replicate me? Then Cassie could be in trouble.

It’s almost an after-thought, that I answer one other thing even if I wasn’t asked. “She’s here because a vigilante in Gotham, wearing a red helmet. Tried to convince her that we were going to put her in a cage. Maybe even experiment on her. I saw his face, if you need to run facial recognition software.”

“I’ve assured the Princess that she will not be harmed, so long as she is here under the banner of peace. I even called my Father to make him aware of the diplomatic potential, that might be gained from such a scenario.” Head canting to the side, because I want to be very clear about what I’m explaining. Doctor Light, I’m certain, understands the principle of ‘Royal Hostage.’ “I was thinking of taking her and introducing her, personally. Publicly.”

KORIAND’R:  “You said if I stayed with him I would bring harm to his family, that I would be hunted and his family may be hurt in the process. I do not wish to bring harm to him or his family. Why would you reveal his identity? That would most certainly bring harm to him. He was not hostile, he was trying to help,” her eyes narrowed at Conner. He wasn’t playing very fair. She knew that the masked man was a vigilante, she knew he may even be a criminal but he did seem to have his heart in the right place.

“He gave me his clothing so I would not be cold because he knew I was weakened…and damp.”

Kori was touched by the gesture and honored the kindness in her actions now, if she could even protect him. She didn’t have much ground to stand on at the moment.

LIGHT:   Kelsey was wonderfully bitchy, but Arthur knew better.  However, rather than push the matter he kept silent.  The time wasn’t right, there were questions to be asked and hopefully answered.  He needed to know what would happen as he discussed the situation.  There were some things that couldn’t be avoided no matter how one may want him to.

Arthur had not uttered a word as the information flew between the two.  There were several conversations taking place.  He knew that M’gann and Conner were having a separate conversation while she included Light on a few pieces of information that she felt was relevant for him.   The Supergirl that was something that he was not involved in, because he had been directed to Metropolis to speak with the second alien.  Which came first didn’t matter, there was potentially a second alien, more than that a potential Kryptonian.

It was probably one of the reasons why the assistant director sent him here.  Rather than discuss the matter he wanted Light out of his hair.  No need to raise the alarm, it would be handled.  In the only way N.O.W.H.E.R.E knew how to handle it.

He wasn’t at the point where he wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose, but he was getting there.  There were some things that didn’t need to be shared openly.   “I’m am the doctor that I need to be.  Good.  Bad. That depends on someone’s perspective.  What I an offer you is truth, Koriand’r of Tamaran.  I think that may better than Good or Bad.”  Arthur could be many things, but right now he was being as diplomatic as his position would allow him.  He did not have the luxury that others did.  There was more to consider than himself.

“Your protector that attempted to aid you in Gotham also murdered someone earlier the same day.  Took command of a cadre of warriors that have been terrorizing that city.  He breaks our laws. Laws that have been established to protect the general population.  He does not trust law enforcement to do the job it has been trained to do.  He thinks himself above the law as judge, jury, and now executioner.”

That is her protector.  “He is a threat to the people around.  Does not concern himself with the overwhelming danger he places others or entire city in.  His careless actions have consequences.  Bystander, friend and family alike.”  That is the way it is seen by the authorities.

“So, while you see him as a kind soul, I see someone that is quite selective who he shows his kindness to.”

“As for your well-being? Superman, Conner, is this world’s protector.  He handles threats that most cannot.  If he does not see you as a threat, then I do not see you as a threat.  However, I am concerned.”   Quite concerned.

“I believe you mean this world no harm, but it is your request for sanctuary that concerns me.  It suggests that you need sanctuary from something or someone.  That is why I wish to speak with you.  I want to know how you came to be here and why you seek sanctuary.”   He paused for a moment and decided to go a step further.

“Are you need of a place to stay or are you seeking safety from someone, Koriand’r?  Should I be concerned for my world’s safety?”  He needed to know what they were dealing with.

It was his turn to hold his hand up for a moment signaling Conner to let this play out. He heard what he said. He understood what Conner wanted to do.  Would the others be pleased probably not, but at the same time he had to consider how this would be received by the public at large. That could place Koriand’r in danger.   The world, this nation was still a bit gun shy when it came to aliens.  If their new Tamaran friend was running from danger and that danger came here the public would quickly turn upon her.

Though there was a chance a possibility to remind people of their potential.  Of how great they could be when given the chance.

[Let us here her story first.]  He said to them both and for a moment there was almost a hint of a smile directed at Conner.  Not malicious.  Not threatening.  Genuine pride.

He’s learning.  He’s trying.

M’GANN: [ Oh, I’m looking. And she looks like six feet and more of ‘no win situation.’ Unless you dump Wondy, I guess. Then you could maybe -salvage- one with this one. ]

He isn’t really wrong. If he dressed Koriand’r in new things that fit her, that’d say he was looking close enough to know what would fit her. Putting her in his girlfriend’s clothes, which don’t fit at all, and probably without asking may still have been the slightly better option. It probably becomes more and more clear that we’re having a conversation no one else can hear, when my head cocks to the side about the same time Conner puts up the shushing finger. It’s one of the reasons the ever-present cell phone makes a good distraction. I might be finding that terribly interesting and not the boy in front of me.

[ “Not a clone. Or not one they knew about. Which means not one of -ours- or not one at all. No Kryptonian energy signature. But no meta signature either, despite clear possession of abilities.” ]

‘Business’ M’gann sounds a lot more formal, even in the mind’s voice, than anything else that comes from me. He’s not supposed to know about this, I think, or they probably would have pulled him out of his Alien Princess rescue. When clearly no one even made him aware of what went on last night while he was in Gotham. I probably shouldn’t be telling him. But I would want to know if another Martian appeared.

As for the rest? I really don’t have anything else to say. Aloof on the outside, or maybe just incredibly self-absorbed once I go back to my phone but I’m waiting. Doing the job that I’m actually here for. Doctor Light can ask all the questions he wants, the answers could always just be lies. I’m here to discover whether or not they are. They didn’t say that. But there’s really only two reasons that I’m sent out for something like this. Listening to thoughts? Or erasing them.

CONNER:  “Kori, on your planet, do they let criminals run around freely doing as they please? Or are you intentionally being obtuse to the fact that he admitted to being a criminal.” The sigh I make is almost dramatic, because I feel that’s how she’s behaving and let me tell you… that’s a surefire sense of Irony. “He gave you his coat, because he was hoping to track some sort of bug that he planted on it. Out of some sort of misdirected sense of seeking intelligence for further terrorist-ish behavior.”

“To be both fair? I told you that if you went with him those things would happen, for sure. I did not say, at any time, that the Authorities would not pursue a Criminal. I neither stated, nor even implied, protection from prosecution of a criminal from this planet. You’re who I offered to protect.”

Ugh. I’m getting angry and it’s bleeding in to the discussion with Koriad’r. It isn’t even M’Gann’s fault, but she’s sure the messenger I want to punch in the face right now. Especially when she keeps right on going. Dump Wondy? Doctor Light might not be at the point of pinching the bridge of his nose, but I am. Because I can feel my eyes itching with that solar radiation that wants to be expelled. Except, I am learning. That won’t solve anything. Having a ‘temper tantrum’ as Doc Fairchild calls it, will serve no purpose at all. None. In fact it’ll just create more problems. Like having to replace ‘Original-Alien-Friend,’ who by very definition cannot be replaced as she was the original. That only happens once.

[ “You’re not wrong. Koriand’r is definitely a no win scenario for me. Apparently the Tamaranian people have some sort of tactile empathy. When she kissed me, in front of Cassie, she was able to empathically absorb our language.” ]

I’d been wanting to test a theory, but there hadn’t been any way of doing it. Could Kori pick up every language I knew from a single Kiss? If she could, then it’s safe to say she knows most Human Languages. Because that was part of my cultural training. If not, then it means I would need to kiss her repeatedly in order to teach them to her. If ever there was a job for Superman, let me tell you. That’s one I wouldn’t have turned down even six months ago.

Now? Now I’m finding myself a little jaded about the situation. Especially since there’s a whole different topic that has me more than a little worked up. [ “No signature. Yet she had powers. That’s starting to become a frequent occurrence. Tech that could do that would be expensive. -I- couldn’t afford it for Cassie. Any sort of Magic that could manage it would be Raven’s territory. Can you have her look in to it?

And, if there’s any connection to Gotham City. I need to know before the rest of them.” ]

With that? I find myself falling silent. Giving the ‘good Doctor’ what he’s asked for. For once in my life I’m happy to comply with shutting up. Casually motioning to the Doctor and Starfire for the two of them to make themselves at home on the sofa. “We’ll be right back. Proper clothing shall be attained…”

The words have barely even settled in their ears, before the wind kicks up in the pure speed with which I’ve grabbed M’Gann and darted away. Kelsey can pick out clothing. I’ll pay.

 KORIAND’R:  She had no words about the man in the red mask. She simply didn’t know the circumstances from before that event, didn’t know his past actions or deeds. That ignorance came back to bite her pride. She had been hoping for the best and her judgement was sorely wrong. The wind was blown out of her sails but there were more important matters to speak about. Adding to that, Conner made her feel quite horrible about it. It was enough to make her cheeks redden in embarrassment.

“I was not aware of the scope of his crimes. I am sorry, Conner. I should not have defended him.”

Kori took a deep breath and ran her fingers through her hair before she began. It was a long story, it wasn’t a pleasant one and she may be able to spare the details of some of the trials she went through.

“I am a Princess in my planet, second in line as heir to the throne….or was. Our planet was invaded by great warriors, my parents were killed. My sister was forced into the throne. She was able to negotiate some terms that allowed her to remain the figurehead of our people while the new masters were able to benefit from the resources of the planet. The terms were only achieved by exchanging me as a royal hostage…to ensure compliance. I was young, a…teenager at the time.”

Kori nodded firmly but her heart felt like it was sinking when she started getting to the next part.

“They collected aliens from many different worlds, putting them to test in various ways. They tortured me, to test my endurance. They put me to fight, to test my skills as a warrior. Those that could not fight or endure the experiments were simply allowed to perish. They only kept the strongest. Surviving all those tests, they moved on to genetic modifications. Not many survived those trials. So….simply put, it was awful. Ten years of this with my captors. I was finally able to formulate a plan to take one of their ships, I set the course as far away as I could get. The Daem are cruel masters, strong warriors and masterful scientists. I can not return home or they will surely destroy my people. I have endured their trials and may be considered valuable, much of what I can do is shaped by their skill. If they capture me, I would be put back to the labs, to the pits and maybe worse as punishment for my disobedience.”

She didn’t know all of the answers, she didn’t know if they could have tracked her or if they would consider her valuable enough to retrieve her from this planet. It wasn’t likely but she was not aware of what future plans they may have had for their Starfire. She crossed her arms across her body. She hated feeling vulnerable, weak and ignorant of the information that they may need to protect this planet.

“I am sorry. I wish I knew more to help you. I don’t know where else to go. I have no home and no place.”

LIGHT:  The entire exchange has probably been a bit much for Koriand’r.  Light’s eyes flicker between the Conner and M’gann.  Something’s shifted and Light could guess what that was about.  He could give three good guesses, but probably only needed one.  He said nothing.  He didn’t even intrude to project his thoughts.

‘He’ll know if you don’t trust him.  He’ll know if you begin withholding information. You’re still trying to control him instead of helping to guide him.  There are some things he has to figure out for himself.  He needs support not a manager.’

Those were things that got Light sent back to his lab to work.  To continue working for the betterment of humankind.

However, as whisks M’gann away Arthur turned his attention back to Koriand’r.   “It’s alright, Koriand’r. You’re new to our world and our ways.  It will take time to understand, to navigate our customs.  Conner, just wants to do right by you. He in his own way is concerned. If you allowed you remain in Gotham you would have been in danger and he’s right.  He’s sworn to uphold the laws of his nation to protect people.  Now one of those people includes you.”   It’s a simple as that.

Walking over towards one of the chairs in the room Arthur took a seat as Koriand’r began to explain how she came to be on Earth.  Upon hearing her tale, he considered it for a moment.  Though M’gann was out of the room she was probably near enough to let him know whether or not she was telling the truth.  Yet, there was something about the sincerity in her voice.  Either way he would have it confirmed.  He could not and would not let logic slip away.  It helped inform him of the choices that he should make.

He remained silent while she continued to recount what happened to her family and her people.

“No, you’ve said enough.  You have nothing to be sorry for.  I’m sorry for all that you’ve endured.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like.”  Except Light knew all too well what it sounded like.  It was like looking into a bit of a mirror.  He could understand why she would not want to be subjected to any tests or examinations. There would be concerns over potential contamination, but that would be handled.

“There is a potential that your enslavers may come looking for you.”  That possibility is what concerned, Light.  How could he square this?  They were going to want his assessment and he knew all too well what could happen.  This was more than your typical asylum case.

“Alright.  This is what we’re going to do.  You are going to remain here for the time being.   However, no matter what Conner says wear clothing. Conner and Kelsey will return with clothing that is less ill-fitting that then the clothing you have on now.  Clothing is very much a custom on our planet.”  They could start there.

“Two, we will need to talk about these slavers.  Any information you can provide would be beneficial.  It will help you and it will help us.”
“Three, Conner, wants to introduce you to the world, but he will need to do so as Superman.  Which means that he will probably introduce you as friend, who is an alien.  A refugee who has found refuge on Earth.  There is someone else I would like you to meet, but it is not for me to initiate that contact on their behalf.  Someone who can probably help you acclimate to life on earth.  I will contact them and hopefully they will be available. They are quite busy, but I think it would be mutually beneficial for you to meet one another.” Officially.

“Let’s start with one and two.  Work towards three and see if I can get that introduction made.”

[That is if you’re up for it M’gann?]

M’GANN:  Sympathy actually manages to crack the uberbitch exterior of the face I’m wearing, as we’re related this alien woman’s story of how she came to be here.

[ “Her story is truth. She did not mean any harm to this planet. She did not have anywhere else to go. She went as far away from her captors as she could possibly get.” ]

Relayed to both Conner and Doctor Light, though I would assume Conner’s already formed his own opinions. Probably judged Koriand’r’s truth for himself with his own abilities. Heart rate. Things like that. Though the stress of a crash landing on a strange planet could have tampered with those sort of reactions. He also might not have really cared. I don’t know that I entirely understand Conner lately, or the things he’s doing. And that’s not something I get to say very often.

[ “In -front- of Cassie? And then you spent the whole day with her after? Hmm… perhaps you’re very lucky that your girlfriend seemed very pre-occupied today. Yes. I will ask Raven what she thinks. The only sighting so far was in Metropolis, though.” ]

“Wait. What? We are?”

Speaking out loud again, though I’ve already been carted out the doorway before the other two likely get a chance to hear them. It’s not exactly as jarring an experience as it would be for most other people. But my senses and reaction times are so far advanced beyond ‘normal’ human ones. I’m also letting him do it at all, rather than simply shifting my form into intangibility.

[ “Would it help her to understand why we have to do this, and the good that we’re doing, if I showed her she’s not the only refugee? She is so….sad…” ]

An earnest question, fed again into Conner’s mind, though the link that I maintain between the rest of us brings me Doc Light’s words as well, even with distance.

[ “If you think that’s best, Doc. I do not mind.’ ]

KORIAND’R: She was internally panicking a little. Murder was bad here, they didn’t like murder. How many did she kill with her own hand? By her own power? She had lost count, it was such a necessity for survival, so many that were like her, ended by her own hands. She had even thought for a time that maybe, maybe she was doing them a favor. They wouldn’t have to endure the torture if she ended them. She wasn’t speaking about it but the tears were welling in her eyes.

“Th-they’re reptilian in nature. They’re genetic sciences are very advanced, they’ve been using aliens to improve their own species for a very long time. They used that skill to enhance my own natural abilities. They have almost a…hive mind state. A tiny portion of that was passed to me, I am able to absorb some information from touch, language mostly…that is a Tamaranian gift, however I can also feel what that person is feeling. I am able to harness the ultra-violet radiation from the stars, that was further improved by turning that energy into a weapon. My Starbolts. Uhm….they’ve adapted to take host bodies. Highest ranking taking the most powerful specimens. They enjoy war, they enjoy destruction, better resources help them be stronger. I do not know what they had intended for me. I’ve heard things but I do not care to share that unpleasantness.”

Clothing may be a small price to pay, she did not object to that. Perhaps they would allow her to enjoy her freedom from their cloth while in a private area away from the public.

“I am attempting to assimilate what I can from the culture here, Doc Light. Conner has been most helpful.”

LIGHT:  [I think it would help.  I think it would be good for both of you.] He shares.  [All of you.]

M’gann’s telepathic confirmation absolves Light of any doubts that he had, but there were few and far between, but it’s almost troubling how it relates to the darker aspects of the organization that he’s involved with.  In steels himself focused on the matter at hand.   Light had to wonder how many times Conner will be allowed to play this card.

As she spoke he considered the species wondering if anyone had come across them before.  He couldn’t say that he was familiar with them, but it wasn’t like Arthur was privy to everything.   There were archives to consult, but at the same time given their warlike nature he knew that would not set well with the Director.  Light would have to determine how best to address the matter with the assistant director. Perhaps it will get him a meeting with the Director.  This may not be the last time that this happens.  They all knew it happened before.  It would continue to happen. They couldn’t let fear be the deciding factor nor could they slide everyone into a lab to take what they want.

That wasn’t the mandate.  They needed to ensure that they were prepared.

“I understand. It doesn’t happen in a day, Koriand’r.  You will need to give it time, but you’ve already made one friend.”  Two if you counted the Gothamite.  He did want facial recognition and the jacket.

“Let us help you and I assure you that you will make more and I believe we will be able to work out an agreement that will be mutually beneficial to everyone.”

CONNER:  We’re not gone long. Apple Pay and an iPhone make shopping one of the few things that I can do at full speed. More precisely, I can do it at whatever speed that M’gann can process the sight of the whatever it is she’s picking out. Then we’re through the register before anyone even notices us. Other than seeing the transaction pulling through on the tiller tapes a few heart-beats after their hair rustles. Most of our time isn’t spent shopping for Yoga Pants and half-tees. It’s spent pausing in the elevator that carries us up and down the LexCorp building. During which time we’ve got a few moments to converse without my worrying over someone catching even a facial expression.

[ “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any at all, Meggy. The thing is? You know better than anyone that I mask a lot of insecurity by imposing confidence, even when it’s not there. Because shit, I’m Superman or I’m a Luthor. It’s different with Cass, I -know- she’ll understand.That I was saving this girl, giving her a chance, that she probably wouldn’t have gotten a year ago. Especially, when she finds out that the girl was naked most of the time she’s been here and I haven’t touched her. Not like that, at least.” ]

Once the elevator dings? This is once again someone else’s show. Because M’Gann has agreed to Doctor Light’s plan. While I actually don’t like this particular plan, I can’t really say I see any fault in it. Giving Koriand’r a potential friend, a real friend, could be beneficial. Especially if it frees me to get out of here and make deal with the newly presented problem. A literal Supergirl? Ugh. On top of my super girl being pissy. M’Gann’s description of Cassie being distracted makes me think, not for the first time, that I should ask a serious question that’s fraught with danger. I’ve held off before but now…

[ “Uhm. So. I’ve heard, that girls have girl-problems sometimes. And so. Well. If Cassie’s a demigod… does that make her girl problems worse? Less frequent? Could I be dealing with a case of Godly Girl-Problems? Is that even a thing? Hey, Doc.You’re a Doctor right? Is this something you’ve studied? A friend of mine said the Gods couldn’t allow Demigods to exist, because… of bad things. Was it Demigoddess Girl-Problems? Is that what broke the Olympians?” ]

KORIAND’R:  “I don’t want to be a freeloader. If I can help, I wish to. I am strong and gifted and I do not wish for my abilities to go to waste. It would be a shameful thing for a warrior to do.”

Her attention shifted when Kelsey and Conner came back, she greeted them with a warm smile.

“Doc Light, you are an honorable man. I have faith we can reach an agreement that will suit our needs.”

Starfire just hoped it allowed her to retain the liberties she had been enjoying since arriving. She did want to get out and explore but it may take time and small steps to get to that point. There was a plan formulated though and she was satisfied with that plan. There was only so much she could hope for as a guest on this planet.

M’GANN:  I suppose that surprises me a little bit. It’s not as if the world knows there’s another alien on the planet. One that’s been here longer, unknown, than the one they think they know that patrols the skies. And Conner isn’t even completely foreign. He was born here. He’s half Kryptonian by nature, not nurture or culture. Much like Koriand’r, I was born on another planet. Raised there. Learned a different set of customs and traits and setbacks. That empathy alone has me picking out things that should be comfortable for the other girl. If we were shopping for say…Cassie… I would have gone the other route. I make my own ‘clothes,’ almost all of the time, so I know very well how uncomfortable wearing manufactured ones can be. Yoga pants are basically the best invention humans have had. Soft leggings… so stretchy. So comfy. So good at showing off a nice figure…

[ “She probably will. Though. Maybe leave out the naked part. At least until you’re sure she’s over the -kissing- part.” ]

I wasn’t exactly happy about Conner and his girlfriend. At first. But I spend a lot of time in this boy’s head, and it’s impossible not to notice that he’s as close to happy as he’d ever been the whole time I’ve known him. And I’ve known him his entire conscious, cognizant lifetime. That doesn’t mean I’m nice to her though. That’s not the part I’m supposed to be playing. Shifting my ‘clothes’ and appearance? Takes less time than it does for the elevator door to open. Reverting to my ‘natural’ form doesn’t take thought. It’s a subconscious default. Green skin, red hair and a different face entirely than the one I’d been wearing when we left. I just happen to wait to do it until Koriand’r can see me do it. A secret identity isn’t exactly the same thing to me, as it is to everyone else. I can make a new face anytime I want. Take over someone else’s. Know their minds so well that imitation is nearly perfect.

The demeanor is so altered that the rest might almost be secondary. Most people notice the skin before anything else though. Maybe she’ll kiss me, too, and then I can have a conversation in my native tongue for the first time in…a very long time.

[ “Maybe you should just ask her. But please. Show me the memory of her face after you do. It is possible your girlfriend is just having a bad week too, though. No…hormones or reproductive cycle issues to blame.” ]

“I am a refugee, too, Koriand’r. I would be lost if it weren’t for these people. I felt like you do. I wanted to help when I first came to Earth. And prevent the same mistakes here that befell my own world.”

ARTHUR:  When the elevator opens and M’gann and Conner return Light is about to speak, but he finds himself presented with an interesting question.

[Not my area of expertise.  Dr. Sandsmark would probably know better than I would.  However, I suspect this is more of a girlfriend problem.  Your girlfriend just happens to be a demigoddess.  When, you have these situations that occur with Cassie reverse your roles. Whatever you did, ask yourself, ‘If Cassie did X how would I feel?’ and go from there.”]

That was as far as Light was willing to venture into Conner’s Creek.

“Alright then. It’s agreed. I think for the moment you should see what Conner and Kelsey have got for you and I will start to put in a few calls.”  Which meant that he would make use of the den that probably never sees any use.

Nodding as M’Gann reveals her true nature to Koriand’r, Light takes this moment to excuse himself. He would be near if needed.  “Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.”

There was work to be done on multiple fronts.  Either way Light knew that he had to work quickly to avoid things getting escalated internally. The fact that Koriand’r was already willing to use her skills was promising.

— During Koriand’r and M’gann’s get to know you session —

While Light had adjurned to the den to make his initial and Conner had taken the moment to consider the possibility of another clone, Kryptonian or false Kryptonian, M’gaan and Koriand’r were given a chance to bond over being aliens in a strange world.  Both could bond over their differences, similarities and provide M’gann and Koriand’r something that they desperately needed at this time, a friend that could relate to them.

Despite being aliens from different words, that was not the only thing that set them apart.  M’gann was a far more familiar with the inner workings of N.O.W.H.E.R.E whereas Korand’r was not.  That said there were some individuals that were more familiar with those experiences than most.  One such individual was about to walk back into M’gann’s life…all their lives.

Light considered them to be one big happy something.  That was always the thing, they never knew what quite to classify themselves ass.   There was always a question mark as to what they were to one another.  Colleagues?  Teammates.  An unfortunate group of people that circumstance and current legislation bound together in an unholy union? There was at least one person that would consider that to be the most accurate description.

 [Ring. Ring.  Can anyone join in, operator?  Don’t worry this is a secure line just for me and you.  Hello, M’gann.  Shh.   That’s right I’m shushing you, because I know your first instinct.]  The voice was familiar.  Too familiar.

[I’m somewhere. Doesn’t really matter wear.  Perhaps passing through. Perhaps using a relay of some kind. Wouldn’t that be quite fascinating.  Either way, I thought it would be nice if we caught up sometime.  I’m working a project.  You know how I love my projects.  You know how ‘they’ loved my projects.]

There was the sound of clapping in her mind for a moment, like a happy child that found their favorite toy.

[Yes help that’s what I need and you’re just…oh what was he said.  You’re the right Ma’aleca’andran, to help me.   However, I need to be going before you start to be a bad Ma’aleca’andran and try and find me.  We’ll be in touch.  Promise also because I know how much you love your phone I’ll leave you with another clue.  Professor Yana.  Google it.]