Stately Wayne Manor, such as it is. The old girl has seen better days for sure. Everything has just been a constant struggle to keep up. It all started with Bruce’s death. A lot of talk has been about Batman’s death, but that’s the catch in all of this. Batman didn’t die. Bruce Wayne did. He was killed in what most people outside of our little family believe was a random act of violence no different than his Mother and Father. Gunned down on the street due to the symbol he’d represented in the City (and the world). While the Foundation was left to Tim, the Manor was left to me. We’d all wondered what exactly Damian was left, but Alfred had told me long, long before Dinah approached. That it was written that way to make sure each of the sons knew what they were inheriting. The Manor held the Cave and as such that went to the son who should inherit that legacy.
When I got here, I’d spent six months more or less holed up in the library. Most of the staff were let go. Alfred wasn’t able to keep up with the sheer volume of the investigation I’d begun to do in to Bruce’s passing. The Cave was Moth-Balled, because I simply told the lot of them that I wouldn’t do it. Then came the backfire of all the Cave’s technology, followed by the Ninja, then the physical attack on the Cave… we’ve scarcely had time breathe. Much less repair it all. Even still Alfred manages to work miracles around here and so despite there being a literal litany of people sitting in the Manor’s sitting room? It looks homey. There’s a fire lit. Everyone has food and drink.
The role call is a who’s who. Timothy Drake in a suit that I’ve seen only once before, has made himself at home in a seat near the fire. He’s got some sort of holographic display up, apparently still working on his task. Despite being in full costume, neither he, nor Stephanie Brown are wearing a mask. Spoiler seems to be also be distracted by that Gameboy contraption of her’s and I’m surely not the only one who has missed her nervous glances at the grandfather clock tick-tick-ticking away. Then there’s Cassandra Sandsmark and Conner Luthor. They’ve apparently put their ‘work clothes’ on since I saw them less than an hour ago and look completely ridiculous in this old ‘Gothic’ styled home. The pair of them are bright anyway, but you add the glow of a fire to them and it makes Wonder Woman light up the entire room. Last but not least is Dinah Lance who is just in front of me when we step in to the room fashionably late and Alfred Pennyworth who is serving food and drinks to everyone in attendance.
We took the liberty of actually getting ‘dressed’ for this occasion. Figuratively and literally. Though given the tone of this meeting, I’m not sporting the far more comfortable skin of Nightwing. I’ve come in the cape and cowl, the former of which is currently swathed around me like a cloak. I feel only slightly over-dressed sporting the Cowl, given that seemingly everyone else has dropped the pretense of not knowing one another. It just feels like a moment when there needs to be a reminder that this is literally my House. That we asked everyone to gather, but there is a pecking order here and is a burden that I wear. But I will wear it.
“Status report Robin?”
“Let’s cut the Robin and just go with ‘Drake’ for the moment. I’m working on a new moniker.” Tim barely looks up from the Holographic interface to correct me, but when he does there’s a small ‘gulp’ at the sight of my nonplussed gaze. “Right, okay then. This thing you’re calling the Vault, is something we’ve all known existed. None of us actually knew the form it took. Bee tee doubleya, by ‘all,’ I mean those of us who have lived in this house. For example during Dick’s time here there was a vault below the Cave where Batman would house his foe’s most dangerous tech that couldn’t be left to Police impound for fear it might end up in the wrong hands. During Damian’s time as Robin, the Vault expanded to have it’s own holding facility because during the No Man’s Land period there was no law, no jails or arkham. It was during my between his time and my tenure as Robin, that Bruce installed the current upgrades. From what I can ascertain they were put in place to deal with Parallax, should they be able to take Hal Jordan alive.”
That projection he’d been working on is literally cast out in to the middle of the room for all of us to see. It’s filled with dimensional images and video for us to see as he speaks. Data, blue-prints, schematics. The names of the engineers are all different. No one person built this, it was designed by hundreds of people. Bruce just took their engineering and put it together.
“During the assault on the Cave, the attacker intentionally botched an attempt to gain access to the cave through a systemic reboot of the security system. Whomever it was had 15 seconds of time during which the security was down. This sounds totally reckless now that we know there were actually captives down there, but the security isn’t what is holding those people. It’s the Kryptonian crystallis system. It bends every single form of energy that I can even postulate and confines it to the cubic cells. So the person who did the attack knew this and therefor needed 15 seconds to take whatever they took from the Vault.”
“This is where Dick needed Barbara. She was able to trick the Brother-Eye system in to believing that those cells were being violated. That also sounds miraculous, until I realized… she didn’t have to hack the system. Once she was able to physically locate the over-rides, she simply took Bruce’s form and unlocked the Vault. This is where it gets sketchy, because I’m still not sure what the hell she was doing in the cell with Dinah’s Brother. And I’m not sure why Dinah’s Brother… let’s just ignore that Dinah doesn’t have one… was actually down there, but he is and has been for at least a year, possibly more.”
Each time Tim stops speaking he shifts the Holographic projection to -show- us stilled images of various portions that he is describing.
“Here’s where we really get in to the weeds. You asked me to fact-check everything. I did what I could in the time allowed. Alfred is somewhat clean. Despite assisting in the build, Alfred was completely locked out of the system about a week before Bruce put your Brother down there. I’ve cross-referenced everything, Bruce went to Rapid City about three days after he locked Alfred out and he then sent Alfie on a vacation up to his cabin in New Hampshire to see his daughter… another relative I wasn’t aware of, might I add… this correlates directly to several other trips Bruce has made to Rapid City over the years. I believe he’s been planning this for a very long time.”
“Thank you for the briefing… eh.. Drake, but you left at least one thing unanswered. Is the Martian safe to let out of the cage?”
This clearly makes Timothy uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why. He shares a look with Cassie and Conner, but I’ve got no idea what it means or why he does it. The three of them know one another well from while Tim went to school with them, so perhaps the three of them all knew M’Gann in some form or another?
“There’s no definitive test that I can, which would give us a credible answer. The person in the other cell isn’t using a standard form of mind control that we’re used too. It’s possession. Which in a non-mystical sense, is a form of rapid mental domination on a genetic level. Since she’s a shape-shifter, there’s a chance that she simply re-wrote her DNA as fast as he was making changes. There’s an equal or even better chance that she didn’t or at least not all of what was done. From the files, there have been tests done on Dinah’s Brother over the years, as Bruce attempted to reverse the effects. There’s been a lot of success, but the key hurdle is that if one cell of this ‘Vertigo’ remains in the system, it eventually multiplies and re-takes the host.”
“So we can’t let her go.” It’s best, I think, if I say those words because then perhaps the Supers will understand the gravity of what is being said. Except then Tim makes that noise he does, when he’s the smartest person in the room.
“Well. One test was actually a success.” His throat clears again and he gestures to Dinah. “Well. During the original encounter Dinah’s team had with this Vertigo thing. They were able to free everyone else from it’s possession, when she … uh…”
“Killed him. She killed him, Red. Which brings us back to the question I asked before they got here. How the fuck is he alive, if she killed him?”
“According to Bruce’s notes. Nowhere re-animated Kurt Lance, in order to harvest the virus. Vertigo was seen a more humane method of putting a suicide in the field, then implanting bombs in to their brain. Don’t worry. They couldn’t control it. So they scrapped the idea and started cloning real heroes to be programmed…”
“Where does all of this information leave us?”
“You’re not killing Megan.”
“Suddenly a little blood on your hands is a problem?”
“There will be blood, but it won’t be Megan’s if you guys go down that route.”
“I didn’t suggest we kill her, you didn’t let me get that far. I was going to say… we might want to think about re-killing Kurt Lance. I’m not clear on the ethics involved in killing someone who’s technically already dead. But…”
“… if killing is wrong, then it’s just wrong. I’m sick of you people constantly changing the rules. Either Killing someone is okay or it isn’t. Black and white. Right Cassie?”
“Now Cassie’s opinion matters to you? You’re half the reason this entire problem exists.”
Ahem. “Master Drake, Mister Luthor. Would either of you like a cold drink perhaps?”
Dinah: I haven’t spent a whole lot of time here since Bruce died, and I came back to Gotham City. I was working with Tim, and we’d been operating out of the Nest instead. The only times I really actually came up to ‘the house’ was to yell at someone. Or for Halloween. I briefly considered turning up for this exactly as I’d already been: in even more disheveled workout gear than I’d had on the last time, but Dick’s pulled out the big Bat gun, and we probably need to set a tone. This had needed to happen regardless, I’d taken Conner seriously after that train, but it was already abundantly clear to me that ‘my’ problem wasn’t just going to be ‘my’ problem. There were targets for NOWHERE to take aim at beyond myself, and as it turns out ‘my’ problem is a whole lot bigger than I actually anticipated. One side of it. There’s different repercussions for the second. Admittedly, there’s three more attendees than I’d actually planned on…
Either way, even in my full gear, I’m the most underdressed person in the room, and I don’t even mean in sheer amount of skin showing. This of course doesn’t bother me, but Spoiler’s clearly gotten an upgrade over what I last trained with her in, and is still playing her stupid game while looking anxious about being here, and Wonder Girl’s costume is a great deal more spangly in person, or maybe that’s thanks to the firelight throwing a reflection on it. I couldn’t even actually guess what the fabric is, and I spend enough time trying to that she notices, and pointedly looks away.
“…well that’s a little obvious for a starter, but we’re all friends and fam here so…”
I’m mostly talking to myself, he’s giving his report and relaying information is Tim’s thing, particularly if he gets to reveal something he’s figured out before anyone else has. No mocking or judgement there. It’s what he does. He’s good at it. Sometimes he even makes sure everyone actually understands the magnitude of what he’s saying, but fortunately for even us plebians this is mostly English. And I have questions but they’re not actually immediately relevant to our issue and this problem. The logistics of how Kurt’s been eating down there for God knows how long, for one thing. Standing with my arms folded across my chest, I start to make the observation, circling back to what Dick and I, and Tim and I separately, had already concluded about the intruder, and the points that this proves.
“So the attacker had to know there was a Vault, they needed to know exactly what was in said Vault, know exactly how to get to it, and know exactly where to go in it to retrieve whatever it was that they were after, while also either covering their trail to get into the Cave, or preventing all the systems from detecting them in the first place. So either there’s a speedster involved or. Is. Your father alive?”
Holy shit, she speaks in whole non-stammering sentences that don’t only involve her speaking up in order to charm an audience, or trying to contain Conner from whatever his current moment of ridiculousness is? Maybe I’m a little harsh, since I had literally no experience with her up until today, and given that Tim’s a genius, albeit a teenage one, and Conner’s smart and observant and doesn’t strike me as the tie himself to one person unless they were actually pretty special type… I’ll admit I’d kind of figured maybe they both only thought she was so great because she’s yet another gorgeous, well built blonde and they were both in love with… her… While I was boggling over Wonder Girl’s observation, and the sincere concern that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the big problem, and more Bruce being not so dead, the conversation had carried on to what we’re really here to discuss.
And it has moved on to the two of them fighting. This isn’t banter, or bickering. There’s answers to questions I had myself, but those are about to get glossed over in rapid fashion. Conner had told me, before we got to Rapid City, that I’d blown Kurt’s head up. Off. Distinction that doesn’t really matter. It was clearly intact. And he is clearly in there, in some part, because I saw those memories. Steve Trevor had spoken to him since. Do I know for certain that it isn’t Vertigo aping my brother? No. But either way, I’d wondered if perhaps the reports filed, that Conner had access to in order to tell me the information, might maybe have not been entirely accurate in the details of how things fell out on that last mission.
It is very clear to me that they’re not fighting about M’gann, or what we’re going to do with her, that subject is just what they’re using to air some other bits of hostility. Cassandra’s expression has shifted from concern, to thinly veiled dismay as she watches her friend, and boyfriend, going back and forth like a ping pong match, until she interjects about the same time Alfred does.
“Stop it. Both of you.
Then there’s me, casually examining my fingernails, even though I don’t typically paint them and I’m wearing gloves that cover them up anyway, with a tone of voice that is so light and airy that it probably sends up red flag danger warnings in half the people in the room’s brains.
“I’m going to ignore the fact that we’re just casually throwing out murdering my brother as an acceptable option here, and circle back to the part where we don’t kill people. Even when they’re insufferable asshats that arguably deserve it. So what are our productive options on scanning the Martian for Vertigo? And what are we going to do about your other friend in the meantime?”
Dick: “We have a couple of theories with regard to the answer of that question, Wonder Woman,” applying a deep emphasis on the term, to in turn make clear what I think of the two kids bickering. “At the moment we haven’t been able to firmly determine if any of them are correct. I will say most of our current theories run in line with ‘Yes.’
Let’s just be very honest here, the best thing I’m doing right now is what Batman does best. Loom. Also I’m listening to the group in order to mentally take stock of them. Most everyone here I know, if only on different levels of varying degrees friendship. Unless you count Superboy, in which case I barely know him. He was Tim’s assignment and I’ve had no chance or cause to interact with him until recently. I’m particularly interested in the bickering and how it’s put down, but that’s for another time. We have problems that are for the right now variety and like clock work Canary cuts right to the heart of it.
“Here’s the thing, and I’m loathe to admit this but, our current systems aren’t advanced enough to do a full medical scan of Martian genetic codes due to their malleable state. In fact that’s actually the luck of the draw on how she was able to be in the Cave at all. Due to the Brother-Eye system being one of the ones taken out a couple months ago when the Cave systems got hacked.” Realizing almost immediately that some in the room don’t have that information, I can see Tim actually scramble suddenly. He doesn’t like having to correct himself and I can tell it bothers him even more to do so in front of Conner. “Back before Christmas, the systems that my Father originally created and that we’ve ran on for years, were all hacked. Legitimately hacked. To Di–Batman‘s point, that’s one of the problems with our theories too. If our Father was alive, he wouldn’t have needed to hack the system to disable it. And if he were going to simply invade to get something from the Vault, then he wouldn’t have needed to do something so obfuscating as hiring someone else to hack the system either.”
“Meaning, that we’ve been under attack from multiple angles for the last year. One of our theories, in fact, is that Bruce faked his death to go to War with a secret cult-like organization based out of Gotham, but with global reach. I’ve got reason to believe they’re actually behind the entire ordeal in Kahndaq, in order to get their hands on Nth Metal.”
“Which is ironic, because… wait for it…”
“… ugh … it’s like a game show. Tim’s going to cut to commercial and we’re going to have to listen to Freakshow talk.”
“. . . did they design you specifically to be an asshat? You smug piece of…”
“… cheese and wine … are available for those whom are old enough to partake. I’ve taken the liberty of setting a table in the children’s dining hall for those whom are not…”
“Bleh. Fine. The irony? M’Gann unlocked everything when she did what she did. I was able to compare Bruce’s most previous inventory to current inventory. Two items are missing. One piece of Kryptonite. One Nth Metal dohickie that was titled labled ‘Absorbascon.’ Seriously, I don’t have a good enough imagination to even make that up. I half thought Spoiler read the files before I did.”
“Absorbascon is an item that was stolen from Nowhere about three years ago.” My eyebrows lift right up, but before I can say a word, Conner’s putting his hand on Cassie’s leg. “Came from the same place I took this materia from. Nowhere has a vault like the one you’re talking about, in Metropolis. It’s full of items they’ve recovered, but either couldn’t make work or didn’t think actually did anything useful.”
“That’s comforting. Everyone has a vault of secret W.M.D.’s in their basement.” If I’d come as Nightwing, I’d be rubbing my nose at the moment. “So this item that is missing from our Vault, is the same metal that I believe the ‘Court of Owls’ is creating World War III over. Now the sample we actually did have, that we weren’t even aware of, is our stolen item. Lending yet more credence to the theory that Bruce is alive.”
“However, while this is all very well and good. We’re here to discuss impending doom by way of this ‘Raven’ individual. How are we going to avert that?”
“There is one thing.”
“See? Commercial break.”
Whatever it is, he doesn’t want to say it because… “… if Conner was to go in to her cell, there’s a chance he could use his enhanced visual accuity…”
“… to read her genetic code. Assuming he’s fast enough to do it, smart enough to read and understand it, there’s a chance that even if she’s infected he could utilize his extra-sensory ability…”
“… to remove the infection. If he’s not any of those things. We’ll have a Martian and Kryptonian infected and in our basement.”
Dinah: Cassie’s eyes widen over the confirmation of what she’d gathered herself from all of this, and you can almost read a momentary excitement there as she looks especially towards Tim as if to say, ‘but that’s amazing, right?’ only to half a second later realize that maybe it’s not in the current context and situation. Then it’s right back to paying rapt attention to the information being relayed to all of us, with a tiny perfect wrinkle on that forehead of hers, while leaning in towards Tim. Ah, Christ, is all I can think with a roll of my eyes, no wonder Dick said this girl’s a problem for our Boy Genius. If I were doing that move, right there? There’d probably be more tits hanging out, but otherwise it’d be to stroke an ego (so I could ultimately crush it) and make him want to impress me. Flirtation 101, maybe even remedial level. Except nothing else I’ve seen about her makes me think she has a fucking clue what she’s doing, so either she’s really, really good, and maybe also gaming Conner or…
There’s a momentary lapse in order to shoot a displeased look at Conner for his interruption, Stephanie who’s been silent for the longest time put together ever, actually looks up from her game long enough to spread her hands in a ‘what the actual fuck?’ gesture at being called out. That’s about the same time that our eyes meet, in the middle of her coming to an observation all her own as eyes flick back and forth between Tim and the ‘new girl.’ Then she’s pulling the hood of her costume up over white blonde hair, and sinking a little lower into her chair with that gameboy and… she just slipped an earbud into her ear.
“Unless your Father, or someone else, had already removed it after his last inventory. If it was someone else, they still had to know it was down there in the first place, though, and still know where to look so if it wasn’t Batman… the original Batman, then either they got that information from him voluntarily or…”
“Or he’s breadcruming us again, which my brain almost cannot take on right now,” one eyebrow is lifted, the other squinched down as I can’t not focus on the complete and utter lack of reaction from either Conner, our resident half-Kryptonian, or his girlfriend, to the revelation that Bruce had Kryptonite and it’s also missing, but that’s something I’m intentionally not calling their attention to. Tim and Conner’s bickering is making me want to box their ears literally, they might be kids, as Alfred has pointedly called out, but they’ve got to be better than this right now. Clearly I’m one of the old ones now, getting annoyed by all of the childish… “Spoiler. I know this is all a little above your pay grade, but if you’re going to be here pay attention. Conner, Tim, anyone at this point… what does this Absorwhatever do. Or not do usefully enough for NOWHERE to care much about it?”
“Uhhhm, so we were kiiiind of in the middle of something when the systems triggered before,” So help me, I’m going to uncork on the easy target in the room if she intimates in even the slightest that we interrupted Tim passing the time with… “And while I totes get Batman’s concern about things that go boom in people’s basements, because there probably was a bunch of them that we haven’t really figured out what they do yet in my Dad’s the last time we were there, and right now we kind of have someone we were interrogating tied up in the living room, and I thought he was waking up but… I mean. Probably fine. Yelling in the neighbor’s house is like, typical errrrryday in the Narrows…”
Twisting a purple gloved hand, she flashes the game machine’s screen at me long enough to sheepishly display what looks to be a Junior Detective Version of a Tim Drake project spread, rather than any actual video game. Huh. She looks at the momentary surprise on my expression, pauses for a moment like she’s waiting for an apology, realizes she already knows that sure ain’t coming and then with a snap of bubblegum I hadn’t even known she had until this second, goes back to work.
“…yeah sooo I’ll just let you real superheroes go back to your reality TV debate club and…
“Ahem. Conner’s regularly been able to spot the changes in M’gann’s cells before. It’s why he uses his x-ray vision on people, posing as someone else isn’t precisely a new thing for her, so it’s necessary to check sometimes if…”
“…haha yeah sure that’s why he does it…”
And now the girls are getting into it, too, judging by the way I just practically saw Wonder Woman’s hair start to puff up like an angry cat, whether it’s over being interrupted, or someone calling Conner on what we all sure wanted to say on at least a teensy tiny level, I actually get a flash of that something ‘else’ that Dick had talked about and that I hadn’t wanted to admit the girl might really have… no. Wait. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck starting to rise, and as I shift my weight the building static in the air becomes clear.
“Enough.” There’s force behind that word, not enough to damage the Wayne’s Home, but definitely enough to set the chandelier to tinkling, and everything to rock just a little bit, not to mention be felt. Stephanie’s mouth snaps shut, Cassie cringes in a way that answers the question mark in the file over whether or not her senses were improved with her physiology, and I move on after planting my hands on my hips and squaring my stance. “We’ve gotten all your input, so if you can’t fucking behave like the heroes you want to be, and that we need present and working together right now, then you can get the fuck out and Batman and I will make a unilateral decision that you’ll fall in line with or… get the fuck out.”
There’s a pause for response, or getting the fuck out, but mostly it’s to see if anyone wants to sass me so that I can demonstrate exactly how accurate I can be with a small angle scream.
“Is there anything, or anyone else of use in the basement, because I don’t actually want to risk having to lock up Superman down there, too, especially on the heels of what we just did yesterday, and what we know, but unless there’s a solution to deal with the Magical Psychopath that’s potentially going to be here any minute, I don’t really hear any other viable choices from the peanut gallery.”
Admittedly, he might fare okay after what Steve Trevor said about Vertigo and people with/without morals, but allowing anyone we can’t control under the sway of that entity is less than acceptable.
DIck: This is why I’d come here in the Cape and Cowl. As Nightwing, I’m one of them. As Batman, I’m above it. Someone whom can actually speak with authority, if only because the Cowl conveys it upon me. Even if I truly am just one of them, the act of just being Batman, being accepted -as- Batman, means that I hold some manner of sway. The trouble is knowing when to use it and when to listen. Right now the in-fighting is not exactly helping us with the immediate problem, but in the long term (assuming there is one) I am getting so much information about all of the people in this room that I won’t need to rely on second hand accounts anymore.
Dinah knows everyone in this room better than I do. She’s experienced, tough as nails and as far as I can tell every single person here respects her. Even the Demigod that barely knows her immediately went silent when Dinah began to explode. I’m impressed, quite honestly. Though she certainly aided her efforts to be heard by making her voice impossible to be denied, didn’t she? Every tool, in the toolbox.
Wait. Stephanie said they have someone tied up in her Father’s apartment? Well okay. That’s going on to the ‘list of things we need to discuss.’ Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with many things of late, it has to further down the list than ‘Hell-Child coming to Unleash Satan on Gotham.’ If such a threat is to be taken literally, of course, I’m admittedly not sure I entirely buy in to all of that. If that’s the case then why hasn’t this person been unleashed before now?
“Honestly, X-Ray vision does have other benefits, but the reason I scan everyone I meet? Is because I spent two years having no idea if I was talking to a real person or someone they cooked up to have M’Gann test me with me. Half the time? I still don’t know, if I don’t check.” The Superboy’s tone is very different, after Dinah’s explosion, than it was just a few moments ago. Did she bring him down off of the constant bickering or was it Cassie coming to his defense? “Canary’s experiencing it herself, right now. Nowhere replaced Mayor Queen, in Star City. It’s actually part of the protocols, which were created for a good reason. To stop public panic when someone like ‘Green Lantern’ gets corrupted, like with the Parallax situation that Tim brought up. It’s just been…perverted and abused.”
“Good people lose their way, Son. Thus the saying about the road to hell, being paved with good intentions.”
As much as I’ve been ill-impressed with the Superboy, I’m impressed that he has the ability to speak so clearly about this Nowhere group that he’s been working with his entire life. I’ve met the boy four times and each time has been slightly different, but they follow two different themes I’m starting to pick up on. Conner Luthor is Brash, Spoiled, Educated clearly, but sterotypical of today’s millennial culture of entitlement. So much so that his whims seem to change every couple minutes. Each meeting with him in costume has been a stark contrast. He seems dedicated, albeit it to the idea of being Cassie’s Hero, thoroughly trained, highly skilled and holding of convictions that aren’t entirely in line with my own. At least he has them. One of those two personas is fake, I’m just not sure which one.
Then there’s Cassandra. Her interactions have me the most curious. I’m told we’re banking on her to be the ‘control’ on Superboy, but she doesn’t seem to fully understand the power she holds over him. More especially the power she holds on every teenage boy that sees her. Properly harnessed she’d have them all eating out of her hand as surely as Vertigo’s mind control. So then what do we have with her?
“I think I can answer your question about the Absorbawhatsis. The reason that Nowhere was in possession of it, is because it was ‘rumored’ to hold mystical properties. The legend was that it allowed the holder to link with a people, not just one person but an entire culture for example, thereby absorbing their entire civilization. The wielder would then be able to think, act, speak… just like a member of the culture. A perfect tool for an Alien invasion, which is what Nowhere believed was in the works when the item was originally discovered. A race of avian-winged people were seeded in to the Earth Culture. They used the stone to learn the culture and blend in. Admittedly, once again, the original intention was good when your Grandma’s people took the rock. Over the years though, the thinking was that the item might be able to be of use when replacing people of interest. The rock didn’t quite work the way it was hoped for, so it was stored in the artifacts vault to be kept safe but not used.”
“Huh. That actually makes a lot of sense. My current theory, is that Bruce got his hands on the item for use in recovering your Brother’s mind, so that if cured of this Vertigo possession, he’d be able to reconstitute him. But if he could get it to work… he’d be able to infiltrate this cult of owls thing.” This is the first time so far that Tim has seemed less than totally hostile at his supposed best friend. Apparently it took Dinah screaming and Conner to say something intelligent to accomplish that goal. Alternatively… he’s responding to the way Cassie leaned in his direction to soothe him? “As to what you asked me, Dinah, there is two other people down in our vault. I don’t believe they’re going to be of much assistance with the Raven-issue, but they are something worth noted for our other situation(s).”
Up until this point I’ve been specifically ignoring Alfred, because he was doing the routine he always dives in to when we have guests. Serving those in attendance with food, drink, while attempting to only chime in when there were points of contention that needed to be cut off. He normally does not actively participate in the meetings. I’ve had hundreds of these meetings before and he rarely speaks up to offer real input, unless questioned directly. This should be… interesting.
“If I may…”
“You have something Alfred? Go ahead. You have the floor.”
“It occurs to me, that we are focused on a stop-gap for this Raven situation. Master Wayne. The original, Thomas. Doctor Wayne. Used to say frequently that we were constantly chasing symptoms for Gotham’s illness, but rarely treating the disease. To such a point, I might add, that perhaps instead of risking the contagion on young Kon-El for the purpose of simply checking on our melted friend. Perhaps if the risk is present anyway, we should instead deal with the disease.”
Cowled head tilts to the side, waiting for Alfred to continue. I knew this would be interesting, the old codger is making a show of it. Even now he’s acting as though he doesn’t know precisely how to use Tim’s holographic systems and it’s some sort of difficulty. Which in turn has Timothy treating the old man, as if he needs help and assistance. Coaching even. To find the exact image he’s looking for. The image we eventually get? Is the room Dinah and I charged in to, where we found Barbara and Vertigo locked in their battle of wills.
“Master Drake, what is this item here. On the floor of the cell. I believe I know it from somewhere. Could you jog my memory.”
“It’s a high school projector, Alfred. Precursor to television. Moving Pictures. You know?”
“Tch. Just so Master Drake, but … I’ve seen that specific one before. Clark gave it to Master Bruce, before he left.”
“Huh, that looks familiar to me too.”
“OOokay. Um…” Now Tim is actually working the controls on his wrist. “Phantom Zone Projector. According to the Manifest, it’s a gateway for a kryptonian prison dimension.”
“It’s position in the cell, suggests that Master Bruce positioned it as a failsafe, should the crystal cell begin to fail. When Marbara, our prisoner made sure to disable it immediately.”
“You’re suggesting that we open the cell again. To get that device. So that we deal with Vertigo directly instead of risking Conner on a Queen’s Gambit? Bold chess, Alfred.” In all of this back and forth, this is the first time I’ve actually turned entirely from the rest of them to look at Dinah. “You asked for other options, that one sounds viable.”
“Actually. There is one other option. Two actually. We could keep talking, but once Raven’s gets here all bets are off on which of you survive. We… could let Cassie smite him.” Okay. I think I’ve just ‘goggled’ for the first time in my whole life. Truthfully I can’t tell if Superboy is enamored with his girlfriend or believes what he said is an actually viable option. But thank god for the cowl, otherwise I might just have rolled my eyes hard enough to make my head lull. “Her Lasso. It’s strong enough, that I can’t break it. And I’ve seen it conduct electricty. She’s got Zeus’ bolt.”
“Negative. We don’t get to godmode this one, unfortunately. The last bit of information I’ve been waiting to pass on? Kurt Lance. His meta-human power is augmentation. He can bolster or remove meta-human powers completely. You touch him with the lasso, he turns it off. We don’t know how it works, the touch of the lasso might act as a conduit to turning off Cassie’s powers too.”
“Key-words, Tim. Meta-Human. She’s not Human. She’s divine.”
“Half-Human. So I’m half-worried we’d lose our Wonder Woman.”
“Alright, I think we’ve got a number of options on the table, but I think only two of them address the most immediate concerns. We need to choose between sending Superboy in to check on his friend. Or. We need to make a play for that projector device. Ultimately, we’re talking about Dinah’s Brother, so the decision to use the projector or not, is going to be up to her.” A hand raises out from beneath the cloaked cape. “I understand that everyone has a piece of the pie at risk here. Which is why you all were invited to give input, but we’re going to start with Dinah deciding if she wants to send her brother to this ‘Phantom Zone.’ If she doesn’t? It’s pretty obvious to me that Conner is willing to give option 2 a try.”
Dinah: It’s really only the fact that I just forcefully course corrected the group’s entire conversation that I don’t latch onto what Conner’s just said with all of my pent up hurt and vitriol. Clearly, it’s not pushed down as completely as I had thought, in the face of chasing my answers and what I’d actually learned in that hunt. I had thought I was going to find evidence of the things that NOWHERE has been doing, had been doing for years apparently, that there’d be something I could use to make them hurt in a very permanent fashion for what they’d done to Oliver. Only Rapid City had been opening a can of worms, and taking the wind out of my sails to use all the metaphors at my disposal. Coming home to find out Barbara had gotten a similar treatment? I don’t think any of us have really gotten to fully process that one yet. It’s only hours old, and there’s been a whole lot of ‘bigger problem’ in that very short time.
Conner is now, suddenly, very much more the Conner I know and actually like quite a lot, so I let him finish instead of launching into a hiding because he’s the best thing I’ve got available to lash out at when it comes to NOWHERE. Given he saved us in a very real and needed way on that train, and what he’s actually said, it’s clear he knows there’s some issues with the way things are being done in the organization. It’s also a reminder that even their own are subject to ongoing and submersive mind-fuckery. I suppose you don’t need to play nice to keep your loyal soldiers when you can just surgically psyche-rape them though. That combination makes me personally inclined to let the Martian rot down there…
“Unless Absorbascan only fully works for the people that created it. My lasso wouldn’t function in any meaningful way for them, neither would the Golden Fleece, which is how they both ended up in NOWHERE’s junk drawer, and Conner was able to ‘gift’ it to me…”
Did she just point at her leg, next to where Conner’s hand has been, when speaking about the Golden Fleece? First off, I’d laugh and say that’s a fairy tale but when you’ve got a supposed, actual, demi-God and child of Zeus sitting across the room from you, you have to start opening your mind to trying to accept a thing or two. I suppose that would explain how damn sparkly that suit is, but I just assumed spandex and sequins. I am fairly sure that Spoiler has rolled her eyes underneath the cover of her hood, but… that could also have just been the firelight bouncing off Wonder Woman’s getup.
“You know, if Bruce Wayne is ‘dead,’ and he is infiltrating the Court of Owls, then he can’t very well be doing it as himself. That’s a whole new round of branching potential paths, from supporting evidence to him having already taken the item, to not very well being able to just waltz into the Batcave and let himself in like he owned the place…”
Even I can’t help it. Christ. There’s just too much going on, and all of it is just connected enough that it’s easy to lose the thread we’re currently chasing, to diverting off on a tangle that’s surrounding it and intertwined. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I shake my head hard, back and forth once like I’m clearing it out. I’m actually grateful to Alfred for chiming in when he does, and I contain any remarks about him now asking permission to voice his opinion, and also leading Tim by the nose water. Who then drinks.
“Mmn. Makes sense. Also explains why Vertigo wanted me so bad.”
There’s my clarification on exactly what ‘tuning fork’ had meant, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of mental creativity to understand that maybe that means Waller had been right. That maybe she either wanted both parts of that world breaking equation under her thumb. Or that she realized recently Kurt was in the wind, and wanted to control at least one, prompting them to no longer be content to just let me be. This projector sounds like a solid option, honestly. Clearly Bruce, despite having a long time to find a ‘cure’ for the problem hadn’t managed it and we all know the man was like a starving dog with a bone when it came to things like that. For good or ill. The pragmatic core of me already had squared up to the fact that there might not actually be one. If I really had killed Kurt, and they brought him back and Vertigo was still there, maybe there really isn’t any Kurt left. Just what Vertigo wants people to think. Steve Trevor had gotten to tell me a little about its tactics, but I’m still coming up with too many ways this might not work.
“Huhwha? Okay, but I’m about maxed out on data for the month so just don’t… yeahnookayright. You’re right. More important. Probably…”
I don’t have mine with me still. I didn’t bother to hunt for it, or to look even a little, because literally anyone that would try to contact me that I could spend the attention on right now was already at Wayne Manor, and God knows she’s going to have hers right there. It’s also been upgraded from the cracked screen model that had looked rather like my phone that I’d seen the last time. Which actually doesn’t stop me to probably many people’s surprise from flicking in a search, pulling up a number and starting a call.
“Put the Sheriff on. He is. Side table. Look behind the mountain of empties. Just give him the damn phone.”
Cassie has gone from looking at me like I’m insane for choosing this moment to reach out to someone not in the Brain Trust currently discussing the fate of the world on a short, incoming hormonal timetable, to her gaze moving back and forth between Conner and Tim. It might be one of the first times I fully understand the debate going on in her eyes, while I wait for the bartender to do what I’d told him to. She can’t decide if she wants to rear up at someone daring to suggest she might fail at doing something, or over someone trying to boss her into doing something that wasn’t her idea first.
“I am not going to kill someone. Especially not with the Bolt, that’s not what it’s meant for, and not when there’s other options. Maybe we could talk to Raven. Explain and…”
The surety and conviction in her voice has melted when she begins to talk about Raven because clearly even she knows that’s not going to be much of an option.
“Well, hey handsome. Quick question. Say a feeler might have creeped its way out of Pandora’s Box. If we remove the Box from the equation, does it become a new box or just… poof?”
The truth is, I already know the answer to what Dick’s asking me to make the ultimate call on. There’s just a variable I can’t risk. I do actually believe I know the answer to my question, too, because if Vertigo was simply able to shift itself to a different infected person then I’d have to guess that its influence in World War I. And World War II. And among Team 7. Would simply have hot potatoed around without end. But there’s no point in throwing my brother through that portal to another dimension, which apparently Bruce just had lying around down there, if the Martian will still remain infected and festering just the same.
Dick: Of all the things I’ve been surprised with this evening? I think seeing Conner lean over to ‘nudge’ Stephanie ranks in the top three. To all appearances the two of them didn’t like one another. I’d have even said they were about to be at each other’s throats about a second ago.
“Don’t be so nervous. Dinah included you. Even if she was just taking your phone, she didn’t kick you out. You’re in now.” Okay. No, I was wrong. That is the most surprising thing that has happened all evening, because I think every single person in the room just stopped what they’re doing to look at the man in the S-shield. I think that’s the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen on Superboy’s face. “She’s hard on people, so the weak ones run away from this life. It gets kinda crazy sometimes. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. Until you explained the gameboy.. ‘you were the weakest link. Now … she likes you. You’re in.”
Huh. The pinch hurt significantly. So I’m not dreaming. There is still a very good chance that this is the one of the Circles of Hell and that I’m just working my way through them. Pretty sure I took the detour through the circles of Lust and Gluttony. What’s possibly the worst part about this though, is the look on Timothy Drake’s face. It’s a mish-mash of pure confusion, which is a foreign emotion on that boy’s face, and a sort of shock that he’s apparently choking on. Other than Dinah talking on the phone, Conner’s commentary is met with momentary silence until Alfred drops a spoon to the floor. The Butler meets my gaze and mouths the words, ‘Eegads, I didn’t know the lad had two braincells to rub together and start a fire?’ Much less the ability to tamp down his own ego to say something like that, even if he knew how or recognized that sort of depth in Dinah.
Steve Trevor is apparently not at the strip club. Surprisingly enough. As it so happens the girl with Harley Quinn’s voice is only to happy to give Dinah his personal number though. She knew enough about the Sheriff to lead the girl on the other end to think she’s one of Steve’s girls apparently. Though it takes her an extra call, she does get to ask that question.
“…evenin’ gorgeous. Seems like you folks made quite a stir up here in my quiet retirement community. Dealing with the aftermath of a blood bath instead of my usual Beer Night. Thanks for that. Uh… okay. So you got more involved after all huh? Kind of had a feeling you would. Short Answer then: When we first encountered Vertigo, he was in another body. Weak and withered. The entity was still strong enough to overcome all of us. We were all infected. All of us. When the entity moved in to your brother… killing him freed all of us. That’s why you did what you did. Does that help, sweetheart? Because I hate to throw complications at you, but Nowhere was just here. Deathstroke took out… well… someone’s going to need to do a lot of countin, because I’ve never seen people cut in to this many pieces. Nowhere sent in some big gun. Next thing I know fire and rescue, the National Guard and every cop in the state is being called. There ain’t no air force base anymore. The News is reporting it as some sort of munitions storage muckup, but… I’d call it Act of Deathstroke.”
Dinah: Even if I weren’t on the phone and somewhat distracted, I would be the person least surprised by what’s actually going on in the room right now. Up until a few days ago, or was that yesterday? Christ, I don’t even know at this point and I probably should because it would indicate the last time I actually got to take a shower or a fucking breath… up until that point I had only interacted with Conner one on one. Apart from anyone else, with the exception of him tossing Deathstroke off my roof first. The Conner I’d seen tonight was very much more what I think Tim’s probably gotten all of the time. At the train, it was to the other extreme. Also.. ouch, when did I become that transparent? Oh, wait. He’s just like me. He’s also right.
Saying I like her might be taking it a bit far, but I’ve clearly misjudged her for being nothing but a ditzy try-hard. I wasn’t aware she knew how to run any of the systems.
“Not on purpose, believe me. I was all set to let that one go for the good of mankind, but it managed to rear up and bite me in the ass as soon as I got back to Gotham. But yes. That does help. It’s what I thought, but old age… rusty-slash-erased memories… I wanted to be absolutely sure.” I blanch because that’s on me in small part. I don’t have the sort of complex that lets me assume all of the guilt for Slade, but his being there at all was on me. “They made him. I’m probably asking for more of my own if I say that’s kharma, and with this week I just don’t need that… thank you, Steve. I’d apologize for disrupting your superhero strippers, but… better go. Second Armageddon of the night to avert, sure you understand.”
I’m pacing a little while I talk, because the energy and anger I’d been trying to mostly contain for the rest of the discussion in this room needs somewhere to go. I’m in ramp up mode. The end of the pep talk, where you’re about to go out on the mat and show the world what you’re made of, and probably deliver some serious hurt to someone in the process. Maybe that’s just how it goes for me… Spoiler’s looking from the handheld computer, to Conner’s limb that touched her, up to his face, and back through the circuit again. An expression not unlike mine when I noticed the utter lack of comment about the missing Kryptonite by literally everyone in the whole room, of suspicion, while Wonder Girl looks more surprised by Conner’s little heart to heart than she probably should. Shouldn’t this girl know him the best?
“Who are you and what did you do with Superdouche? But uh… thanks? I think? Are we like…”
She doesn’t get to finish wherever she was going with that, because I hang up my call and launch immediately back into Team Bat Huddle, returning my attention to Dick.
“Do it. The projector. Tim, you said the Martian deactivated it, how do we turn it back on?”
I’m backing towards the door, clear body language of just wanting to get this done. Over. Now. Because despite knowing it’s the only and best option, I don’t want to have the time to put any amount of thought into it, or what I’ve just made the call to do.
Dick: “Duh, totally.” Superboy is offering Spoiler the fist-bump of doom. This can only mean bad things and I’m not sure I like any of the possibilities. At least they’re not fighting though, so that’s a plus. Added to the two of them, there’s the hush that has fallen over everyone else as we take in the spectacle. Dinah may have actually gotten with her antics, what she didn’t get with her lecture.
Me? I think I’m the one who needs a drink at this point in life. That’s just going to have to wait, because it’s clear that Dinah got her answer. We make eye contact, she nods, I understand. I just don’t think I like it, even if I truly meant what I said. It needs to be her choice, that doesn’t mean I want to see her deal with what she’s about to have to do. Furthermore I know exactly why she’s started barking orders, because if she takes the time to think this through she might allow emotion to override good sense.
Is it a shame that I’m the one in the room that is actually thinking it might be better that way? I can’t help it, but I feel like we keep coming to cross roads and the choices are just between which decision is the better of two terrible options. As I’m watching everyone, deep in though it would seem, it’s surprising to me that Tim hesitates over Dinah’s question. Was he not prepped with the answer or was he not expecting that decision? His face says the latter, but it’s the way his hands haven’t started moving that is the real tell.
“I-I.. u-uh, well…”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“… she did. I mean, Megan did. I just.. I haven’t had enough time to…”
A very slight, almost imperceptible incline to my head is given toward the Superboy. I hope Dinah sees it. Timothy doesn’t know how, because he didn’t have enough time. Any normal person in this room wouldn’t be able to either, but Tim is struggling to actually say the words out loud. What did he have? Two hours total time. We were gone to get food, a motel, and an attempted interlude that got interrupted. Had to rush back here to avert the ‘End of All Things’ and by that time Tim had gotten an exorbitant amount of information. Alfred had to lead him through even taking notice of the projector and that tells me all I need to know.
“Don’t worry, Red, I’ve got you.” For the second time in as many moments, Superboy does something I’m not expecting. There’s this gently pat on Cassie’s leg, then he’s rising to his feet and the look he’s got is something I’ve not yet seen. “M’Gann could work your vault, because she’s been in my head. I think I can turn that thing on for Canary.”
Dinah’s making her move and I’m not that far behind her. What I’m seeing behind me is something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a handful of minutes ago. The dynamic shifted when Black Canary stood up to the children in the room bickering. They listened to her. Stephanie did so out of fear. Conner seemed to do so out of respect. Tim’s change in tone seemed to come more out of insecurity than anything else. Over all the change was obvious and note-worthy.
One by one everyone is following Dinah down to the Cave, but I’ve stopped at the doorway to await Wonder Woman. “You were right about what you said. You’re not going to kill someone, it’s not what you’re meant for. You’re going to talk to this Raven person. We have to stop treating them as if they’re all evil. If the Martian is important to her and she thinks we are the bad guys in this? She has every right to the same plan of action that any one of us would take if our loved one was taken captive by the bad guys. It’s exactly what started this entire scenario, Canary charged in because they took one of her’s. Now this Raven is charging in for the same reason. The whole viscous cycle needs to stop.”
“That’s what you actually are meant for, Wonder Woman.”
I can see out of the corner of my peripheral vision that Conner -and- Timothy have stopped on their way down the hidden stairs, behind the fireplace, down to the Cave. Each of them, for much the same reason, wanting to know what I’m saying to the apple of their eye. I don’t care if they hear me. In fact I sort of hope all of them catch it, because I don’t stop at her.
“You’re not going to be alone, Spoiler has been learning the computer tracking systems. Using the Wayne satellites, she’ll guide you to Raven. Penny-One will be tactical control on all three operations. If anything goes wrong with any of the three points he will keep everyone apprised.” That leaves Tim, Dinah, Conner and I to deal with the remaining elements. The bat-cowl’s brows lift slightly for just a moment, as I see Cassandra’s face scrunching up. “Ah, you thought he’d always be by your side? That’s great in theory, but it isn’t how this works. If the two of you are going to be a team, there’s going to come a time when each of you needs to trust the other to do what needs to be done. If the two of you are meant for this, for each other, there’s going to be a moment when you know you can count on each other, even if you’re not side by side.”
“He’s Superman right, Wonder Woman? He can handle this. So can you. Stop fidgeting and get moving. Spoiler, stop blushing and peeking at the Dinosaur. All of you. Get to work or get out of the way.”
Dinah: Stephanie is halfway into returning the offered fist-bump by sheer reflex, when she realizes what she’s doing, pauses, shrugs, and then finishes it, pulling back her hand with a little finger waggle action and Jesus Fucking Christ save us, it has begun. Truly. This is how the world actually ends, provided it doesn’t manage to do it in the next hour or so.
“Tim. It’s okay. That was an ‘in case you know,’ not an ‘I expect you to already have this for me.”
I realize that I did, however. Expect him to already have this for me, because I expected him to know based on the sheer amount of intel he’s already had to offer, despite arriving after us. He always does, talk about a little bit of unfair pressure, coupled with the drive he’s got to prove himself that we’re all well aware of. That, and of course mind control, are what led me to badgering Dick into putting on the cowl in the first place. After all of this, I’m going to have to do some damage control and that’s not something I have ever been good at. No. That’s not the right words, because that implies using kid gloves on him, which won’t help either. A heart to heart.
Conner’s rising, and then volunteering, has me twisting my head slightly. In. Down. It defeats the purpose of this strategy entirely, in not exposing Superman to M’gann and potentially Vertigo. It’s exposing him directly, instead. There’s too much I still don’t know about this foe, and too many questions from my limited experience that I can remember with it tonight. We’re already on the move though, there’s that momentum and I can’t stop. If I stop I’m going to second guess this, even though I know in the end I’ll ultimately make the call of whatever has to be done, we’ll just waste time that we do not have on the way.
“How long do you think it will take to get it back on, Conner, and do you know what we need to do once it is?”
I say we because it’s not about to be just him going into that cell. Cassie looks surprised that Batman’s hung back in order to talk to her, and not just to herd everyone else where they actually need to go, and the fact that the two boys have hung back to watch her means that… the rest of us have to as well. Or maybe it’s just me… and so I keep on walking.
“Um, well. In this case…,” she doesn’t finish stating her opinion on Raven and whether or not she’s actually evil, but it’s visible in her posture when she goes from Cassie to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t get to have an opinion on whether someone’s completely horrible or not and have that dictate the right course of action. “I’ll find her, and try to reason with her. If reason doesn’t work, I’m probably the most magic resistant option anyway.”
Which is where it gets above my pay grade, so maybe I shouldn’t have mocked Stephanie before. Who’s still looking more than a little surprised about being called on for anything in the first place, but she’s already bee-lining for the Big Boy computers, and surreptitiously pulling up the face mask portion of her costume. She could probably claim it’s for comms, but I have a feeling it’s to hide any blushing. The dinosaur. Seriously? Cassie is shaking her head at Dick, lowering her voice even though she knows fully well Conner will hear her regardless.
“That’s not it at all, and I know he can, because he’s amazing and knows what he’s doing, even when I don’t think he does. So does Tim, who I know I can always count on for the right answers. Believe me, the only one I’m worried about in this equation is myself, but I do appreciate the pep talk. Really. Spoiler? Show me where to get a comm, and then point me where I need to go.”
The girls get working on their portion of the project, Cassie telling Stephanie what to look for, but not without turning for a moment of eye contact with Conner. I’m fairly sure I saw her lips shift but definitely couldn’t hear the ‘I love you, please be careful,’ or even make out enough of the movement for words.
Dick: Regardless to what anyone thinks? Tim doesn’t like that Conner has to save him in this. His face is a mask of displeasure even after Dinah excuses him too. I don’t need to be his brother to see that he’s taken this as some sort of hit to his ego. Which I’d already known was fragile but I didn’t think it was eggshell fragile. The guy did amazing work in a short amount of time, but not being able to answer Dinah on the one thing she’s actually requested? It seems to have definitely hit his confidence. I’m not seeing the boy who took pot-shots at Conner anymore. In fact he looks a lot like Damian, broody-kid phase.
“Not long at all, Tim’s picture had a lot of detail. I’ve been studying Krypton’s language since the V.R. and I’ve been working with the technology to try to fix my suit. It looked like he broke the stand, not the projector itself. Honestly, I think from the image I think it’s going to be a matter of point and shoot.”
From where I’m standing, I can only see as Conner puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder and nudges him down the stairs. I miss the look between the three of them, because I’m focused on Cassie for the moment. Once we make it down the stairs with the rest of them, I’m pointing her in the direction of the armory. Alfred seems like he’s headed that way to make sure everyone has what they need anyway.
Conner’s big ‘thumbs up’ at Cassie tells me that they two of them communicated even further, but once again I’ve missed one side of it so I’m without context to know what he’s responding too. Something about him is different right now than it was a mere five minutes earlier. He’s taller. His shoulders seem broader. The kid is always confidence, but this is different. I can feel him going the opposite direction mentally from Tim. While Tim’s confidence was shaken easily, Conner’s has been bolstered by Cassie’s confidence in him and Dinah’s acceptance of his help once more.
Once everyone else had their orders I’ve made a bee-line for Dinah. With my eyes drifting from Conner to her, then back again, I’m asking the unspoken question of why she’d be okay with the Kid going in there with her brother, but not in with the Martian. I mean, I get it. At this point both options equate to him going in, I’m just not understanding what made her pick one way over the other, if both choices risk the Kryptonian. But part of backing her play, is not questioning her in front of the others openly. I put the choice in her hands, she’s made it.
“If it’s point and shoot, then let I’ll take the shot.”
“No offense, Bats, but I could be in there and aiming before you blink.”
“Maybe that’s true, but I’m faster than you think and I won’t miss.”
“You don’t know Kryptonian.”
“I’m a fast learner.”
The way Conner is chewing on this, I can tell he wants to be helpful but he’s at War within himself. His expression says that there’s a sense of wondering if putting up a fight about this is just due to his own ego. The poor kid is wondering what’s the Heroic thing to do. All that intellect and a question of whether to be selfless or a good soldier that follows the chain of command has crippled him. No, he’s definitely not the Superman that I knew. Maybe he could be, but he isn’t yet.
“If Stephanie is on comms, Conner and Dinah are with you two. What am I doing?”
“Upstairs. When Dinah was asking about the options. You hedged. You said there was nothing in the Vault that would be helpful. You were overly specific, which means you knew something that you didn’t tell us. You also hedged when it was pointed out that the missing items could have been removed after the last inventory.” There’s a very hard edge to my voice right now, but I’m doing my best not to destroy my youngest brother. Not when I’ve been watching him self-destruct for the last hour. “You also didn’t jump to confirm when I suggested that Bruce stealing the Nth metal was confirmation. You’ve been trying to convince all of us that he’s alive this whole time, but you didn’t jump on that confirmation at all.”
“I’m fairly confident, that you’re holding the absorbascan and the kryptonite, Timothy. It occurs to me, therefor, that you believe one of those two things could potentially aide us. Once Dinah and I are both in mortal danger, I’m working on the assumption you’ll make the right choice.” And, I’ve just told Dinah that I also believe he was willing to not say a word, so long as Conner Luthor was the one in danger. I did tell her that something was wrong with him. “Shall we?”
Dinah: The truth is, I’m not okay with Superman going in with my brother, or more specifically Vertigo. The boys had voiced concern over Cassie getting depowered, and if that were even possible, but Conner has literally not once in his entire life that I know of been without those powers, that his girlfriend by all accounts only actually acquired a year ago. His answers regarding the projector only cement the fact that it has to be Conner in some form, however. None of the rest of us can read Kryptonian, I’m historically and categorically terrible when it comes to anything more advanced technologically than googling a phone number, or working my VCR.
With Cassandra gone to get her communicator, and Stephanie already working at the computer, I turn my attention from our two boys, and back to Dick. What had started with an almost imperceptible shake of my head in response to what expression, clear enough, I can see beneath the Batman cowl. My plan, at the very least, solidified even more by the back and forth going on. Conner’s the fastest of us by far, there’s just no comparison in scale, but he’s also the most easily lethal and we don’t truly have any idea of how quickly Vertigo can infect someone. I’m inclined to think ‘not that quickly,’ because we saw M’Gann fighting him and she may very well have been for some time. Ignoring that example because none of us are highly skilled telepaths with the mental defenses that likely go along with it, there’s my own experience yester… no, today, which might just have been him toying with me. That leaves me Trevor’s description of the influence on the whole team.
I’m still not taking chances, though. I’m also not adding my judgement on top of the weight of Dick’s, because his is more than sufficient for one, and ganging up on Tim won’t do him, or the rest of us, any favors. There’s United fronts, and then there’s also making sure to shore up all your sides.
“What kind of music do you like? I’ve been working on this thing to weave in a playlist and…”
Oookay, I’m going to ignore what looks like freshman attempts at Teen Girl Squad Bonding Time beginning as Cassie’s returned with her comms, and Spoiler actually bothered to stop her from taking off long enough to check and make sure that they’re working, despite us being in the Batcave where I don’t think I’ve seen anyone run that kind of test in… ever. It’s Battech. It just works, doesn’t it? I’m about in as much of a state of ‘I don’t even know what to make of you’ as I am at Tim’s behavior. So instead of coping with any of that, I tune back in to Channel Dick, and his ‘shall we.’ Moving once again towards the entrance to the sub-sub-basement.
“Not both of us. Me. It’d be bad tactics to expose both of us at the same time. Superman is the fastest, and most immediately able to operate the projector, especially if it’s not just point and shoot. If Vertigo gets hold of him, and with Wonder Woman gone, none of us would be able to put him down as long as we’d need to.” And before anyone tries to vocalize that they have Kryptonite in order to use in just such a horrible occasion, I say it again with as much emphasis and iron as I can manage. “None of us.”
Because it won’t work. Why it won’t work, I couldn’t say, other than it would make perfect sense for Lex Luthor to have made absolutely sure to breed any weakness he couldn’t be sure he had control of, out of his personal Superman. Conner’s ego might have prevented him from reacting outwardly to the mention of it before, but Cassie Sandsmark is far too earnest, far too heart on her sleeve, and far too concerned about her friends. And boyfriend. There would have been something to read off her.
“I’m going in first. Whether it’s Vertigo, or Kurt, or both of them, something in that host wants me.” How’s this for battle face that I don’t even crack wise or saucy about that too easy opening. “I’ll be the distraction, then you come in, Big Blue. Ten seconds should be enough. If it’s not just point and shoot, then you need to get out and seal us in until it’s working. Even amplified, my sonics shouldn’t be able to do anything sealed inside.”
I don’t really mean to relegate both Dick and Tim to thumb twiddling, or maybe door closing, but it really can’t be both of us, and there’s no reason for Vertigo/Kurt to toy with Batman, rather than just outright moving to take him over. We also clearly can’t just leave these kids alone, no matter what attitude improvements we’ve seen in the last few minutes. I finish up with a much lighter wink for Dick, than the no-nonsense, this is the play expression I’ve had up until then.
“Lets go. Maybe you should put on your old Robin mask just in case though…”
Dick: As soon as Dinah has finished speaking, both Tim and Conner are looking at me to see if I’m going to argue with her. In a way, I think they’re ach trying to see if the two of us are in lock step like we seem or if we’re going to bicker the same as everyone else. They picked the wrong day to look for cracks in this current partnership. Especially since Dinah has very sound logic to what she proposes. I’m not offended; Conner made much the same argument. I don’t know the language and if it’s anything more than a broken tri-pod I’ll be useless. Leaving us back to the double bad option of picking between which room to expose the Kryptonian too.
“Wait. Was the kryptonite for me?” Maybe the Superboy is smarter than I’d believed. His face is saying that he’d been considering arguing with me about going in, but after Dinah spoke about no one being able to put him down there’s an obvious shift of the gears. “Oh, that’s awesome. You guys had a plan to take me out.”
…w.t.f. is going on? …where &^%$ am I…? Is he.. he is… this mother &^%$ is hugging Batman and Robin.
“You’re stabbing me with the kryptonite right now. Aren’t you?”
“…is it working?”
“If you poke a little lower, we can talk about the first thing that pops up…”
“I hate you.”
A second later, I’m free of the grip. Not by Conner’s choice either. The cape is mostly for show, but it has filaments meant to be used in case of needing an escape. We’ve been in more death traps than you can count. I never thought I’d have to use them to escape a bear-hug from an adolescent Krypto-Clone, but here we are. This is the world we live in. ( Unless I really am dead in the next room. Which I may be starting to hope for. )
The Superboy releases Tim and squares up to Dinah. All of his antics aside, he seems to have a business face. I can see the cold-blue gleam in his eyes and a moment later he’s speaking carefully, “Four cells. Multiple armory caches. All shielded from view. With the cave itself also shielded, I would never have known these were here if I wasn’t inside the cave. Man, you guys are sick with all these overlapping securities.”
“I can see the surface technology. This vault of your’s is the same as the arctic base I’d been working with. Tech is the same. What you’re seeing is actually a form of Kryptonite, in a way. If you consider that kryptonite is just a meteorite cast off from Krypton’s explosion. This Vault of your’s is actually a kryptonite alloy, which Star labs calls krystallis, but is actually just a blending of two or more forms of kryptonite. You’ve got a virtual rainbow of it here. Synthetic though, this was all grown here. Probably in the base I was just talking about in the arctic, if what you said about how old skool bats got this.”
Everyone. Me included. Is standing there looking at the prattling teen, as he talks and talks right after Canary said they were ready to move. My look to her is yet another unspoken, ‘Are we sure about him?’ But before I’ve done more than glance the kid straightens up, rolls his shoulder… is he limbering up? I didn’t even know they did that.
At my side ‘Red Robin’ is tugging on the mask for his new suit and I’m a little surprised to see that it’s not a Domino Mask. In fact he’s wearing a full cowl, just like his original Red Robin costume. The colors are all wrong though. If everything else hadn’t cemented it for me? I think just seeing the radical colors on this costume, the gun, the knives… I’m pretty sure this is close enough to Red Hood right here, than I’m comfortable with Tim doing.
“We can talk about any mask you want, after this is over. I’ll open the door….”
Without anything really being handed to him for a duty, Tim’s moved behind the rest of us. There’s nothing for him to shelter behind, so he’s focused on making himself small. Crouching down and preparing himself to watch and help in any way he can. That is the Tim Drake that I know and I’m happy to see that, regardless of whatever else is changed about him, he’s still ready to do whatever needs to be done.
Dinah: I’m not surprised about anything that happens after I finish speaking. Not Dick’s lack of argument, because he promised to back my play so long as I wasn’t being a dumbass, and I know I’m not being a dumbass. There’s this gut feeling that you learn to recognize and go with. Calling it a feeling of peace is wrong, because there’s never any peace in the moment leading up to danger that you plan for and can see coming. Rightness; where you know that, barring something you had no knowledge of, your course of action is the correct one. It’s probably more difficult for most people, when they’re not 100% sold on their own skills and experience, because then you second guess. With everything that we’ve gathered about our problem, and our foe, and the tools at our disposal this is the best strategy I can come up with.
Short of asking them to find the scorched Earth failsafe backup #3, that I am equally sure exists in the maze of plans that was Bruce and his methodology. Me, I’m settling for two backup plans in Dick and Tim. I’m also not surprised that Conner put two and two together after my emphasis on their not being able to stop him, or that he thinks it’s great. The hug, though. The expressions on their faces. It’s so ridiculous in this moment that I can’t help it. I let out a short, singular laugh. It’s all I allow myself, with a shake of my blonde head, I’m turning back towards where I know the door is. I’m listening to what Conner’s saying but I’m also ready go. Right now. I want this over with before anything else manages to go wrong or complicate matters. I’ve shrugged my shoulders at Dick, carrying the motion over into lifting arms overhead, interlocking my knuckles and stretching.
I miss ‘Drake’ in his full glory since I’ve already turned my back on the group, stepping up to the wall.
“Stay out of view, as much as you can.”
Once the door’s open, I’m striding through, all ballsy and brash as ever with my arms folded across my chest to match the glower on my face. On the surface it’d probably seem like sheer idiocy to enter a room that I just had to flee a few hours ago, against a foe I hadn’t been able to dent. But then, I am the same person that at fourteen demanded to be taken with a Black Ops team, because fuck you. There’s nothing physically defensive in my posture, just emotional in those folded arms.
“Tell me. I want to know why.”
The honest truth is I do want to know. It will probably eat at me, when it shouldn’t, but I also know I’m a professional at pushing aside emotional ‘crap,’ even when it’d be better for everyone involved. Especially me. If I could square up and face it like I would a regular fight.
Dick: “Back so soon? Couldn’t stand to be apart any longer, eh?”
The one thing that our heroes didn’t do before enacting this plan of their’s? Check the monitors. Dinah steps in to Kurt Lance sitting upon the singular piece of furniture in his room. A cot. Which is more a slab, built not to move. It occupies the center of the room, without any padding or anything that can be removed. In fact the entire cell is much the same thing. With only the projector and tri-pod as the exception. It’s a strange setup in fact, one that Dick is just now taking notice of. Last time the door was open he was fixated on closing it, not looking inside.
“Tell you why? Why what? Why am I here? Why your brother? Why do I want you, specifically you? Why do the flowers bloom and the sky rain?” Kurt’s expression, his mannerisms, they’re all so very laid back. He’s not concerned. Not about Dinah, not about the open door. He’s simply not concerned. “There are so many things you might be asking about. Is it dealer’s choice then?”
Even as he’s speaking there’s a blur. Blue/Red flashing in from outside. Dick Grayson is one of the few heroes that worked with the original Superman. He isn’t surprised at what he sees, but that doesn’t make it less impressive. Dinah’s old enough to remember Superman, but did she ever work with him directly to see him in action? Even Tim, several feet back from the door and out of the immediate line of sight, takes a short breathe that signals his surprise. He’s seen Conner in action, but only in the form of sports where there was definitely some holding back.
“Let’s start with why him? Why you? Let’s be rather forward shall we? You and Your brother are one atom that has been split in two. Through him, your power could crack entire worlds or turn them in to a paradise. The two of you, when joined are Gods.”
It isn’t the blur that clues Kurt Lance in to what is happening. Conner is moving too fast. He’s viewable, but his actual actions are nothing more than a blurry after-image. Affording no one the view of what he’s actually doing. Dinah, Tim and Dick know only because they’re aware of the plan. Vertigo’s view is that of what Kurt Lance can perceive; a gust of wind, the blur of blue/red and then… the projector being moved.
“It won’t work.”
“But that isn’t what you’re asking is. You want to know why the tone was such as it was. You want to know if there’s anything left of your brother or if he’s been perverted to the point of no return.” Spreading his hands there’s a conciliatory open gesture that is what you might do if you wanted to show the authorities that you’re unarmed. “Symbiotic. That is the nature of my bond, to a Host. Kurt has always wanted you. His desire for your connection drives him to fight for control. He’s struggling right now, but it’s been too long now. He’s spent years accepting this fate.”
Click. Click. The blur of Superman has slowed completely. In his hand is the projector that they’d been discussing, but as he works the kryptonian technology it does little more than sound as if it is a car that turns over, but doesn’t ignite the fuel that would turn it on. “I did say it wouldn’t work.”
“What say we start over, shall we? What is your name, sweet boy and what can you do for me?” Vertigo barely glances in Conner’s direction and ‘Superman’ starts to feel the invasion of his mind. “Be civil, Dinah. There’s no need to scream. There will be plenty of that later. When we’re alone.”
“…nnh…” To his credit, Conner doesn’t drop the device or do some dramatic grab at his temples in a vain attempt to fight whatever it is that’s going on. His hands are moving so quickly that even in slow motion, later, when they try to review the footage they won’t be able to clearly see what sequences he’s even trying. “… bleh.. not cool at all man… stranger dangerin it’s worst form…”
“Have you realized that I have no intentions of leaving? The moment I saw your pretty little Martian’s mind, I knew her friends would come to reclaim me. You think if I wanted out, that I would just stand here and let you throw me around the room?” His gaze shifts back and forth to Dinah and Conner again, back and forth. Once again Dinah is going to be flooded with the memories of her Brother’s life. Not -her- memories, Kurt’s memories. His impressions. His feelings. His take of how each memory was to him. The loss of loved ones, the love and protectiveness of Dinah. “Oh, I know what you were asking now.”
“Why did the Dark Knight pull me out of that little hole in the middle of no where? Do you think he did it to save your Brother? To save you some great heart-ache? Perhaps that was his original intent, but it took only a handful of times in this room for your great detective to come around to my way of thinking. Just as your Kryptonian will and the Martian. Then their friends.”
It’s at that very moment that a tiny little red dot appears upon Kurt Lance’s forehead. The creature’s eyes lead Dinah and Conner in order to look down the little hall for the first time. Following the infrared light to it’s origin. He showed no interest at all in Dick Grayson the day before, whom was clearly visible just outside the door, but there’s clearly interest now.
“From what I gather this world is already on the brink of War, it won’t take my Pestilence long to give them the little push they need. I looked upon him and behold, a pale horse. His name that sat upon him was Death and Hell followed with him.”
Dinah: “You’d like to think that, I bet.”
I try to meet his laissez-faire attitude with one of disdain, which isn’t all that hard, even though there’s warning bells sounding loud and clear in the back of my skull already. The tone, and mannerisms, are all supreme confidence which you’d think shouldn’t be happening in the middle of a prison cell. This is an old being, probably ancient, who has been from host to host, inciting their wars and spreading their influence. I’d really meant why Kurt had wanted me, though all the other answers will work, too. I’m just trying to distract, and there’s a high probability regardless that anything I’m told either isn’t real, or is tainted.
Do I buy into the potential? We just sent out a half-God to run interference in the skies, but the word is so frequently used to designate power in relationship to the masses. Titans, as the name had started to slowly stick for Wonder Woman and her friends. My head cocks in confusion when he tells me it won’t work. Joining as Gods? Making a paradise which I fail to see an application for, and I’ve tried to be fairly creative with my powers a time or two. He’s moved on to what I had really meant though, before his assertion about ‘it not working’ makes sense. If it were point and shoot it should have gone off by now, and my eyes widen as Conner’s zipping around, which I’d felt more than seen as wind moved my hair, stops.
“Civil? Oh you really don’t know me at all…”
Conner is used to having his head screwed with, used to not trusting what senses tell him and resorting to the backups of others. He’s told us this already. I’ve only heard him make a noise that sounds even vaguely like discomfort once before, and that was after I’d point blank screamed in his ear. It’s starting, and he’s still trying to work the machine, splitting his focus between the mental assault and getting the machine to work. Which might never work. Then the memories are back, the images swimming in my head and behind my eyes, and I … am not used to this sort of mental intrusion. I don’t have memories of my own, they were taken from me, or in this case precisely and surgically altered. I’m seeing things I remember, things I know happened, but from a different side. Trying to be a brave little badass, and distract and bolster my family through my mother’s cancer, and her death. Loss after loss, and attention that focused more, and more narrowly on the remaining relatives, even as my power and confidence and body bloomed. Kurt’s reactions to all of it.
Fucking villains and their monologuing… the further we go in those thoughts, the more the emotions and impulses behind it makes my chest tighten, and stomach turn. I’m reliving a different angle of literally everything in my life I’ve ever buried, along with things that were exorcised and it’s overwhelming. Everything is swimming a little when I open my eyes though… I don’t actually know when I closed them in the first place. He’s just looking back and forth. Back and forth between myself, and Conner, talking about Bruce. Talking out his ass. Or. Is he? What if it was never going to work? Oh, Alfred. It was him that pointed out the machine in the first place. Led the horses to water. What if Bruce orchestrated his own death not to infiltrate the Court of Owls, but to try and escape this? Or even worse, what if he didn’t?
I’m already shifting before I see that little red dot, before everyone notices it and traces it visually back. I was moving forward, I’d been trying to not block the projector before, but now I move closer to that cot, trying to interfere with the view of Conner working away at lightspeed on our Hail Mary that may not ever work. I feel like I’m swimming in my own mind, except at the moment it isn’t. When we all look at that little laser spot, though, the no rises up in my mind. I focus on that clear, and hard. He’s already in here, I feel like I’m filling up, and instead of letting my thoughts go even a little to how to end this, I fixate on the ones that I usually wouldn’t. Instead of debating how to do this, because Conner’s predecessor and I had done this before, but screaming at Kurt earlier tonight had done basically nothing, so why had it worked then? I focus on the loss, and the hurt, and the trauma, and not on ways to get in close enough. Not on whether or not I can get Vertigo to let me wreak havoc. Kurt’s thoughts I’ll get lose in, I think, so i’m left with the things that are mine to claim, and hold onto tooth and nail, and they’re dark, and they hurt, but they’re mine.
My eyes are watering, nausea and the echo chamber of emotions that my skull is right now making it very easy to do, actually I probably couldn’t help it even if I was trying to avoid looking affected. Not thinking about how I refuse to put that little red dot, and what it means, on my friends. No longer putting myself just between Conner and Kurt, but now lurching closer, trying to block that shot with my own body.
“Kurt I’m so sorry. I should have protected you better then. I won’t let them…”
It’s the first time out of both encounters that I actually try to touch him, fingers reaching for his face, even as I turn my face towards the door, letting out a shriek that mostly strafes the wall, rather than making it through the doorway, absorbed by the material like it had been before.
“Hnnnf… these walls..”
Dinah: Half of a lifetime of memories, answering the question so many moody teenagers ask in literature and film: would anyone even notice if I was never there? The differences are at the same time slight and gargantuan, threatening to change everything I thought I knew about myself, and enforcing it as well. Was it a kindness to make me forget him, and everything about him? Yesterday, it was easy to offer the benefit of the doubt. Right now, even queasy as I feel, I think I’d answer in the opposite. I am not sure any of it was done with any of my well being a concern. Not all of it. Being alone, fighting through everything alone, and dealing with or ignoring my shit alone had been my always. How I’d always done it, as I lost person, after person, until I was the last one standing, and told myself I was okay with keeping it that way.
Those eyes. It’s jarring, and sedately beautiful all at once. And then I’m swallowed up, in what redefines a Eureka moment, showing me exactly how small minded, how this moment and not the big picture my thinking had been. Despite what I might have claimed about my massive ego, how grossly I’d been underselling my potential and the ways that I thought my power could actually work. So this is what it’s like. Having senses so lit up, and on fire, so much input from so many things all at once and it takes me a moment, or I suppose a fraction of a moment, to realize that this is all happening at once. Stacked one on top of the other in a cascade that I would have missed. Then it’s not so hard to imagine exactly how far I could go in order to disrupt it. All of it. How that could snowball, or how it could all be stilled and stopped.
The gun firing, despite me now being between it and the target. The accusation of one brother to the other. The single-minded effort of the hero beside me to complete the task he’s been asked to do. Music that should be out of place, but at the same time… then I realize I’m not actually seeing any of this with my eyes, but I may as well be. It’s all so clear.
My apology had been in that moment a ruse, words spoken to provoke a specific reaction, to let me get close.
I want you to know Kurt doesn’t blame you for the choice you made.
Did I really make a choice? He did. He chose to sacrifice himself, not seeing any other way, he had that feeling in his gut of rightness, in the face of everything that he knew, and what he could count on the reactions to be. That my choice then became to either let his choice accomplish nothing, or to do that one unthinkable thing. That thing that we don’t do, as has been said over and over tonight alone, and so many nights before it.
In that second, I’m springing from the floor, the touch of my hand to Kurt’s face becomes tackling him onto the cot, out of the trajectory of that incoming bullet. The decision that I’d already made two seconds ago suddenly seems so much more tragic in the wake of what I’ve seen, and know, the emotionless pragmatic tactic of last resort has become, in an instant, the same one that half of my life was shifted in order to save me from. And here we are all over again, because someone couldn’t leave it alone. Had to play God, and do things that were not meant to be done.
I don’t have to scream, though I desperately want to vent that rage and frustration and hopelessness on the world, instead I am for once in my life. Twice, I suppose. Doing as I’ve been asked to do. Pressing my lips to the side of Kurt’s head, with a whisper just for his ear.
“Never again. I love you.”
That’s all it should take, the sound, the vibration, the tiny delicate parts of any ear that amplify those inputs and send them to a brain, the simultaneously most incredible and resilient part of a human body, and the easiest to disrupt, to break, to damage and to still.
Dick: There is beauty in power. In fact scholars have said for eons that the beauty of it is at the core of the psychology behind why it corrupts. You’re taken in by what you see or perceive and each time it becomes easier to do so. As you take that power in to yourself, whether it be physical power like metahumans or political power or even emotional power, each time it becomes easier to look at. This in fact diminishes, you constantly chase it because to see that same beauty and feel it the same way you’ll always need more. The perpetual hunger that leaves you spinning in a never ending cycle of chase, attain, diminish, chase, attain, diminish… on and on until you’re sickened by the every lasting dizziness of trying to attain it. A sort of Vertigo.
This may be the first time that Dinah has experienced that sort of power to her own personal knowledge, but she now knows it’s happened before. She knows that the power came at a great cost. Her Brother’s life in sacrifice to the creature that threatened them. Not just them but the world. He died a Hero, even if that loss of life came at the hands of the person he cared most for in this world. History has a way of repeating itself. Whether by natural design or unnatural machination, it seems to come in cycles. So many things in our world are these vicious cycles that we indulge in, unable or unwilling to break them, so we endure them again and again.
It isn’t the sudden movement that obscures Kurt’s little spark from those eyes. If anything the creature revels in her choice to save it’s life. Somehow seeing it as a defining moment when Sister makes the same choice as Brother. Each accepting it as the Path they shall walk. Never suspecting that even as they land, flattened upon the simple cot, that her next words would be the undoing of everything it knows.
“..N-no.. you c-can’t..”
She can. She does. The words echo through the body of her brother in such a way that there is no time for salvation. The Kryptonian even still struggles with the intrusion. A cell adjacent from this one even now hears the screams of the Martian who objects to her Master’s demise. Blood trickles from the Kryptonian’s nose, as the Martian comes apart literally at the seams. With Kurt Lance remaining hole only for a moment. That half-purple hue that covers his unnatural form dissipating as the creature seeks salvation in Dinah herself. For one single heart-beat, Kurt Lance and Dinah Lance are linked by his hands clenching her forearms. Her lips pressed to his ear. Her words echoing through the entire cell, through the entire cave.
As attuned as she is to the sonic vibrations of everything (not just the cell, the cave, the mansion or even just Gotham City), she can hear almost hear her brother’s power shifting. Denying Vertigo access to the power he might need to escape this fate. Like a tuning form that is hit with the right harmonics becomes a magnet, so too does Kurt Lance pull in to himself all the power he had been enhancing. In doing so, it leaves Vertigo bereft of it’s chance to leap from one body to the other. Even in this moment of great heroism, there is only so much a Human can do with someone like this. He did not exaggerate his position in the cosmic balance of life and death. That clarity in Kurt’s eyes that shines with fresh wet tears for Dinah starts to fade…
As Kurt Lance’s last breathe sounds like a whirlwind in her ears, she can actually hear the emotion drain out in it. The Fight is over for her Brother. Vertigo was wrong. Kurt had never given up. He’d been waiting for this opportunity and his last breathe is a thank-you to the one who freed him. A final spark. Ignition. His death does not echo in Dinah’s ears, because she is consumed by the sound of life beyond the walls of the Cell or the Mansion. Out there. Everywhere. His sacrifice, her sacrifice, allows that the start of every life to begin with a single breathe. A baby is born.
Moments later the reconstituted form of Kurt Lance is torn asunder by the vibrations that ripped every atom of his body apart from the concussion force of five words. Molecule by molecule he breaks apart until there is not even dust left behind.
“Oh. Tweety.” Shockingly enough there’s no joke made about the projector not working. Nothing to be said about his big Hero Moment equating to a Richard Pryor joke. Even the name he uses, is not in jest but the same term of endearment he’s used repeatedly since they first met. “… you’re clear. He’s.. gone. There’s not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake.”
It’s as if Kurt Lance and Vertigo never existed.
Dinah: This life, that we debated if it even mattered since he had already been dead. That I’d tried to wall myself off from since the moment I even learned he existed. Tried to deny the reality of, and then once I had to accept he’d been real, tried to keep myself impartial to. That wall’s had cracks from the get go, little feelers creeping in, little inklings, and a collection of what ifs. Each and every scrap of the history that I learned, what we’d done, what Bruce had or hadn’t done, what they might have meant. Ordinarily I’m the first person to kick someone’s ass if they complain about fair, or what they deserve, but it’s not fucking fair. I know what I lost. Know what I’ve been missing. Feel it in every little bit of my being.
And in the world around me, because the other prisoner is shrieking. More sound that I can feel. Sense? It’s everything and nothing all at once, from Spoiler’s gasp as she wheels her chair around, to the water dripping further back in the cave, feet scraping pavement in Metropolis and beyond. That wail of confusion and intrusion of the baby. It’s everything and everywhere, and at the same time as I’m feeling it all, and then it’s gone. Leaving me clutching my brother for an eternity and an instant all at once, I want desperately to close my eyes and not watch, but I can’t do it. The relief and release is even more deafening than M’gann, or everything else, and I hold on until there’s nothing, and I’m trying to wrap myself around… nothing, which looks a lot like assuming a fetal position on top of the cot.
Not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake. I know he’s trying to comfort me, to tell me that I’ve done it, that it’s over. What my brain’s telling me is he’s gone, like he never existed in the first place. Like they never had. And now all I have is knowledge of what he experienced and felt, and lived, and what we did. Twice. Yes, there’s what we saved, too. But in the vacuum of what could have been, of all that power, the connection, left clinging to nothing, I’ve never felt more empty in my entire life. It’s like my throat’s caved in, and… oh. No. Wait. That’s just the sensation that comes right before the single sob that escapes before I realize what’s happening and choke it down.
Crush it down. Push myself upright with one hand, while the back of the other brushes harshly across my eyes, and cheek on the return trip. Swing my legs over the cot and get my ass moving towards the door.
“Good.” It’s not. It is but it’s also not, and I force my mind onto that ‘is,’ and tackling the next phase of this problem. “Check on your friend. What’s the situation with Raven?”
Dick: For whatever it’s worth, Conner makes no effort to console Dinah. Just those couple words which were not meant exactly to console, but to educate her that the sacrifice made was not in vain. Though he is often seen, due to intentionally giving the impression, that he is clueless? If anything shows that it is quite the opposite this is it. He knows what she just went through, because it’s coldly reminiscent of his own battle with Billy Batson not so long ago. The Boy doesn’t make any effort to impede Dinah, but he is also not leaping to obey her command. His attentions instead turn back to the projector that he spent the entire ‘Battle’ working on.
Outside the cell awaits a single person and it isn’t who Dinah’s likely expecting. Tim Drake’s new costume looks positively unforgiving, in comparison to normal, but the mask is once again out of place. “Things got a little … odd … out here too. As far as I can tell, Wonder Woman found over Gotham Harbor, near the Iceberg. She was trying to use magic to find M’Gann, but Wonder Woman interrupted her.”
“The two of them have a small bit of history, but things were tense for a moment. Whatever you just did? Right at the moment you did it? Raven’s Human Side took control. Cassie was able to talk to her. She went the Honest route and Raven’s human side believed her. She called off the search, on the condition that we present M’Gann and Conner to her for proof they’re okay and not prisoners.”
Ordinarily Timothy might not be so bold as to touch Dinah when it’s clear that her mood is foul like this, but there is a level of recent familiarity that he seems to believe gives him a little leeway. So it’s his uncovered, bare hand, that catches Dinah before she can pass him by. Through all of this he’s seemed very angry, but in this one singular moment there’s clearly concern written on those youthful features. “Dinah, don’t do the thing where you flick a switch and shut the lights off.”
“Dinah,” my voice calls from just up the stairs, outside of the infernal vault. “You’re going to want to see this.”
By ‘this,’ I mean the sight of Alfred Pennyworth. The Butler did it. Literally. When she finishes the last step, it’s pretty difficult to not see and know exactly what happened. When the whole plan was forming Alfred had gone to the armory, presumebly to pass out the various gear we’d need. Like the comm-links he passed to Cassie and Stephanie. None of them had even taken a second to think about him. He wasn’t given a specific task other than over-sight, the same task he performs every night as ‘Penny-One.’ Tonight he was apparently intending to take an active role and even now he looks quite guilty about the whole thing.
In one hand I’m holding the Butler’s shoulder. In the other I’m holding what looks like an old vietnam era long range rifle. It’s been retrofitted with a new age scope and laser sighting. Judging by the knot on Alfred’s jaw, there’s been some sort of violence that resulted in his disarming. The Bat-Cave is actually about as quiet as it’s ever been. Even Spoiler is silent right now, despite the hand she’s got to her ear piece, she seems to be listening to both sides of what is playing out.
“You shouldn’t have had t’ do it a second time, Miss Dinah. I wanted t’ spare you that pain, even if it meant losing another one of my kids to this bloody insanity.”
Dinah: I’m grateful that he leaves it where he does, and Lord help us all, doesn’t point out anything else that he might have noticed in the last few seconds. Maybe he was busy with the Kryptonian puzzle box project, or maybe he’s a friend that happens to be an awful lot like me. Striding out of Kurt’s … the… cell, I’d expected to see the looming Bat, and instead there’s Tim. Either that all took longer than I thought it did, or Dick had hustled somewhere else, which seems… strange. Like the rest of the last few days, that had felt like it both just happened, and was a lifetime ago. I suppose, as my perceptions and thoughts go, it actually was.
“All the boys love her, and the girls love to hate her. Sounds like a tune I know.”
It sounds a little harsher than I actually meant it, but still without bite, because my tone’s a little too flat for that as I make my offhand observation. It’s a little forced, in an effort to at least talk, and respond rather than letting myself think about anything else. There actually was a demon half? Maybe this really is all above my pay grade, too.
“Okay may be debatable for the Martian, but hopefully we can make her understand that wasn’t our fault… Mostly wasn’t our fault.”
Business as usual. We’re just all moving on, and going back to business as usual. Is that a mantra in my head, or internal disbelief? Are we going to pretend that I didn’t just kill someone? That they didn’t all just watch me do it, and that it’s not preserved ad nauseum in security systems, and backup security systems? Which would be worse. Getting a pass, because Kurt never was, and won’t be remembered, or having guilt not just coming at me from an internal angle? Maybe this is why we don’t do ‘it.’ I’d thought about it before now. Before I knew about my brother, or my past. About whether or not I’d be able to cross that line if it had to be done, and I’d always thought the answer would be yes.
Which it was. I just didn’t know to expect…this. Tim’s hand on my arm pulls me up short, and my eyes move from the passage ahead of me, and the stairs, over to his face. Shit, it’s like he knows me, or something.
“I have to. Just for right now, Tim.”
Except they’re not off, it’s more like the shades have been pulled and there’s a lightswitch rave going on inside that I can’t make quit even though I’d really like to. My voice sounds raw to me, like I had actually been screaming for hours instead of the single short one that wouldn’t have been enough to even fatigue me a little on most nights. One of those partyers is screaming ‘liar’ at me, even as I clear my throat and lay a hand on top of his. Anything else I was about to say diverted by the sound of Dick’s voice from up the stairs. Guess he didn’t get all that far after all. Following the sound of it, up and out of one hole into the much bigger hole above, until I stop with a foot on each stair and look at the tableau in front of me.
Eyes move from the gun, to Alfred and back, to the timing of the sounds I heard which gets a little hazy but his admission is plenty of confirmation for what might have happened if Dick hadn’t intervened. If my switch wasn’t flipped, I’d have demands, and accusations to screech right now, whether he deserved to have that pointed at him or not, but it’s done with, and I instead just speak an absolute truth.
“I had to. That wouldn’t have stopped him, Alfred.”
That first bit might selfishly be more for me than him, and if he hadn’t been interrupted I don’t want to think where that would have gone. I don’t have to. It’s over, but I’m trying to carry on as if it’s not. Like there’s one more problem. Something else to go on and face. That next task so that I don’t have to stop, which means I finish my trek up the stairs, sparing a hitch in that gait to lay a hand on Alfred’s other shoulder, before I’m headed for the computer terminals.
Dick: To say that there’s a lot going on would be an understatement. We have Alfred Pennyworth, trying to take the sin of murder off of Dinah’s shoulders. There’s Tim who seems to be floundering, under the accusations and distrust of the family around him. Not more than a handful of steps beyond him is Conner Luthor, who’s seemingly grown up ten years in two hours. Though to hear Dinah tell it, that was always there beneath the surface. Even now he’s trying to scoop his friend off the floor of yet another cell. If only to deliver himself and her to another ‘cosmic’ threat level female that calls herself the Raven. If you’re with me this far, then you get to take a look at Stephanie Brown, who’s currently having team girl-power with a Demigod. Oh and the Demigod? Just saved the day out there, with nothing more than honesty and heartfelt convictions.
I know better. Because I was here, in the Cave, playing at being the witness to everything I was able to ‘See.’ The entirety of what happened inside that Vault, played some role in what happened outside of it. Like the other cosmic shoe being dropped. Except this time. For once. That other shoe didn’t get to hit the ground. We managed to catch it before it caused yet another ripple in the pond.
Though Conner and Tim, each in their own way, seem to be allowing Dinah to deal with all of this in her own way? I move over to stand behind her. In much the same way that she’d done in passing Alfred, I put my hand upon her shoulder, but no sooner has it touched her than it’s squirming in to allow my fingers to touch her’s. The other hand is used to draw Dinah’s attention to what Spoiler is working on. Like I’d said before, the girl was taught how to work Timothy’s drones. Even now she’s got them at work tracking, analysing every move that Raven and Wonder Woman make in Gotham. The two otherworldly teenagers seem to be simply hovering out there, over the Harbor, idly talking about who the hell knows what.
Actually, I know exactly who knows what is being said. She’s sitting directly in front of Canary in the big chair, but she doesn’t seem to be offering any insights at all. In a time like this, the fact that Spoiler is not crowing about the sky falling or really talking at all? Tells me the only real bad news right now, is that there is no next thing on our plate just yet.
I’d heard what was said in that Cell right before I left to deal with Alfred. I also know exactly how it played out after that too, because the shot was taken before I’d even known for sure it wasn’t Tim doing it. Had she not moved Kurt Lance, it would have been Alfred that took the shot. It would also have not worked, just like she said. The Host couldn’t just simply die, it had to be destroyed without a trace left before. Nothing could remain or it’s simply possess something new. The plan had been to tuck the thing away in a true Kryptonian Prison, the Phantom Zone, but plans rarely last beyond first engagement. What transpired inside the cell, is not for anyone else to judge, I don’t think.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone else is avoiding it for that very reason. My free hand raises up and for the very first time in the presence of any of these ‘Outsiders,’ I draw the cowl off my head and let hand lose at my back. The other hand gives Dinah a gentle squeeze, maybe the hint of a tug. Everyone else is tip-toeing. That’s never been my calling card.
“I’d offer to taze you, but I left my escrima sticks in my hobo pants,” the tone of my voice is just about the softest I’ve ever allowed it to be with Dinah Lance, and I know she may not wish to let the others see her in a moment of weakness, but I still offer the slightest tug to tell her she can come closer to me if she wants. “We should….”
“…. and then Tactile Telekinesis!…” Swoosh! The Superboy interrupts us, and is gone before anyone can even acknowledge him or the Green Skinned girl that he’d been carrying. The next time we hear his voice it’s over the comm-signals on the main computer. The kid is fast, I’ll give him that, for all the good it did us. “… Spoiler picked out a theme song for us… that makes us legit. Next step is business cards, Megs and Titan Branded Blow-Up Dinosaur Sextoys. It’s going to be glorious.”
As quickly as that soft moment had been offered to Dinah, I’ve reached down with my free hand to pinch her side enough to get her to jump. “Hm. Apparently, I’m not in Hell. Or Dreaming. I was hoping it was you. But, no. We’ve really got a Super Man, that wants to franchise blow up dino sex toys. I’m too old for this.”
Dinah: “That explains so much…”
Bless him, he’s trying, and he’s doing it in the exact right way for me to be completely unable to not respond. It wasn’t that I don’t appreciate what each of the others had done for me. Conner with his no judgement, matter of fact assurance that it was really over. Tim asking me to not shut down, which comes along with shutting out. Alfred, who we were all so mad at a very short while ago, trying the only way he could to shoulder the burden for me. Then there’s Dick, with the cowl off, and the unspoken offer. Well. Maybe not so unspoken, even if it’s interrupted, about when I lay my hand on top of his on my shoulder.
“…see? What did I tell you? You can’t not hear about it.”
I do want. Some little part of me, deep, deep down wants exactly what is being offered. But inside I feel like this vast, open nothingness. My universe was literally expanded to the universe minutes ago. My senses filled with everything, literally everything, until all the sudden they weren’t, and in the vacuum of that, I gave up the brother I’d lost for the third time. No amount of ‘it had to be done’ that I may say out loud, or to myself in my head, makes that feel any better. Maybe if I was a fucking monster it would, but I’m not. I guess that’s one of the consequences of being one of the good guys.
“That one wasn’t even yours, it’s not all about you all the time, Superjerk. Settling on an anthem after one option? Blegh. You’re the worst. There’s so many other options…”
Spoiler’s eyeroll, which I don’t see so much as intuit rolls her head back, and then swivels her chair in a complete circle from the momentum of an arm thrown across her face in an entirely melodramatic fashion. Carrying on like nothing out of the usual is going on, in a tone that makes it sound like she’s having the time of her life, like nothing just happened, and I can’t decide if I want to just latch onto that and go along with it, or punch her for having the audacity to be okay. Still probably the easiest target in the cave, but at least she’s not just the convenient distraction for Tim that I’d mentally filed her as up until now.
The pinch actually does take me by surprise, and I shift my weight quickly, twisting enough to grab his wrist before I really realize what I’m doing. To my incredible credit, I pull up short before I try to snap an elbow or anything unpleasant like that. Which I probably couldn’t manage with him in the batsuit unless I really tried.
“I don’t know, you could have fooled me.” Alright. That was out before I could stop it, and is a little more on point for how I’m actually feeling than I ever intended to let past my lips, and I let out a soft cough, before pushing on. “I knew I should have gotten my lawyers working faster on trademarking all of their names. Admittedly, intimate accessories wasn’t the merch I was planning on peddling, but when in Rome…”
The words are very Dinah Lance on the surface, though the sarcasm hasn’t quite made it back into my tone, and I fix my attention on the monitors and try to make sense out of what Spoiler was actually doing, because it looks like too much information to be just monitoring the SuperTeens. The harbor, the Narrows, I’m pretty sure that is someone busking on a corner.
“Why on Earth would we need business cards… We’re not making blow-up dinosaur sex toys. We’re not making any form of sex toys. And I actually sort of liked the last track better. Can you play that one again?”
They really did, actually, have music playing over their comms the whole time, didn’t they? At the risk of sounding like the eggplant menace in the chair, I can’t even with these guys. Though, at the same time I can’t help feel a small hint of relief at how easily and suddenly that all seemed to come together. Spoiler’s clueless optimism and Wondergirl’s naive view on how the world should work. Except maybe Stephanie’s not actually as dumb as she acts, not unlike a boy in blue I know, and the jury’s still out for me on Cassie.
“You and me both, Dick. You and me both.” I blow out a breath of air so hard that it rustles the hair hanging near my face a bit, and I straighten my posture. There was nothing for me on the monitors to latch onto needing ‘doing,’ and I just have to keep going. “I need a drink. And probably to let Sheriff Trevor know that…”
No. I can’t. I can’t do this right now. I need to leave.
Dick: She’s right. You can’t actually not hear about this strange ability that our Superboy has. Tactile Telekinesis. For just a moment I’m lost in thought, memories back to a different time but the same place. I’d been the one sitting at the computer where Spoiler sits now, Bruce behind me dark and brooding. Alfred to the other side trying to foist fresh tuna sandwiches off on the two of us. We’d been talking about the news. A ‘Hero’ had made headlines that evening when he caught reporter Metropolis that had been ejected from an airplane. Topping that, he’d later caught the entire airplane itself. The three of us watched the footage multiple times. We’d zoomed in. There’d been software analysis. I’d settled on ‘Holy fucksticks, that’s cool.’ While Afred had told me to watch my language, Bruce had commented that it was strange how Superman’s had not caused the friction of motion to peel Lois Lane’s skin off. He’d hypothesized that Superman had some sort of field that must extend his invulnerability from himself to others…
Bruce. Always thinking. Always working out the problems, before anyone else even knows they are problems. He’s alive out there. Possibly never died, but at worst he’s been re-animated by the Lazarus Pit. We’ve spent the last couple weeks thinking the worst. Believing that the Man we loved may have set all fhis in motion as nothing more than a crucible of tests to force us to do what he needed. As if he’d treated us as nothing but pawns. Even now when we know it is likely that he was not under his own power, all of those worst fears are valid because all of them are things we each know to be true about him. He would absolutely do every single thing we believed he had done.
That makes the truth a harsh reality. While he is innocent of the crimes, he is not so innocent of being the architect of our believing him capable. His Methods would never have allowed us to deal with this situation. None of the trust or friendship that these kids are showing, the hope in spite of what we just faced, would be there because Bruce would never have fostered it. I’ve never been more certain than I am, as Dinah starts to talk about needing a drink and to make a phone call, that I’ll never be able to be Bruce’s Batman. It’s also made me just as certain that the world we live in may not need a Batman, but if it does that Batman has to be a different one that it’s known up until now.
““I didn’t say it was mine! Our’s.”
““Spoiler’s got a point, though. We did only hear one option…”
““How are we going to work the Brand, if we don’t have business cards? M’Gann likes the blow-up merch idea…”
““… I’ve already ordered cards, they should be at the Tower …”
“What was the last track? I was busy being mind fucked, without a reach around…”
Dinah’s movements are such that if I were anyone else, this were any other time, I’d be surprised at how she reacted. How fast or potentially lethal she reacted would be impressive. As it is, she’s barely secured my wrist, when I twist my hand inside of her’s and have her forearm. We’re still standing like that when I watch her eyes bolt across the screen. The need for a drink, the call to the sheriff, those come a second later when she starts to turn to leave, only to realize someone hasn’t released her. On my face is a look that says so many things. The deep blue eyes are filled with understanding. The set of my jaw speaks of determination. Even the way my head inclines, speaks to the fact that I’ve got a promise to keep.
“… whoah whoah whoaaaaah… who said you’re the Leader, Tiny Tim? You don’t even have a code name right now.”
“I picked the team. I’m building the base. I even bought the business cards…”
“Nope. Sorry. Wonder Woman’s the boss of me. Freakshow picked the theme song. Those are way more important than monetary interests. You’re not the only rich boy here.”
“… wait.. Spoilers on the team? Does she want to be…”
“See? You don’t even know who’s on the team. Wondy’s the leader. Spoiler’s the Deejay.”
A step is taken, by me toward her. Another step brings me close enough to Dinah that she’s the only one that is going to hear what I have to say. Even though what I say isn’t even something private. “You said it, Di. You and me.” My head turns just enough to bob and direct her back to the computer screen. “Spoiler, was that a Bank Robbery on the police scanner? Send the GPS to the Batmobile. Canary and I will handle it.”
“Oh and Stephanie. Tell the Titans to get out of my &^%$ city. Now.”
Dinah: “But what would we even use business cards for…”
“Here, I’ll start it again, but there’s more with way more epic beats deeper in… Really shouldn’t rush the entrance music picks though. Just sayin’.”
I think my eye’s actually starting to twitch. It could also be the corner of my mouth attempting to make an upward turn that the rest of my body is in complete and utter opposition to, however. It’s hard to deny that this feels… better, though. Listening to them yammer back and forth at one another, but the tone’s so utterly different this time in comparison to where they were at a very short time ago. Clear and present reminder of how very little it takes to spin your world on its head, how one moment, one choice can make all the difference. We don’t actually get to hear the track, or at least I don’t because I’m not wearing a communicator. I can see that she’s done it, queued back up Cassie’s re-request of Young Volcanoes, but it doesn’t impede the comm chatter or come across any of the inputs. For specific ears only, apparently.
“Shouldn’t we get Flash and Shazam’s…
“God bless you… er… well… clearlyalreadydonetalkaboutunfairmeasuringstick… gesundheit!”
“..what? No, I wasn’t sneezing. Shazam is his name.”
I don’t get very far when I turn to spin on the ball of one foot and head for the vehicles to commandeer, brought up short by the grip on my arm as Spoiler’s snort of laughter echoes across the cave and she mutters to herself about who comes up with these things. It was probably not meant to be said out loud. Putting my shoulder into it, I give another tug to try and keep on going, but when that doesn’t work either I turn to face him, and Dick’s face says so much, and so much of it is what I don’t want to see right now. The kids are all apparently bonding over terrible music, and I want desperately to do exactly what Tim asked me not to do. Shut myself off, so I don’t have anything to lose like I always claimed was the case. The set of my mouth is irritation, but my eyes are almost pleading to be let go.
“I’m going to remember you said that, Con-L.”
“I’m kinda dealing with my own thing, but I guess if you guys need… wait do you not want me on the team…?”
“Dick, I don’t want to be the Black Canary right now…”
I haven’t tried to retreat as Dick comes in close, and talks under the back and forth. He’s not going to let me run. Despite one of the most honest things I’ve said since coming out of that cell, I already know he’s not going to listen. Not because he’s not listening, or doesn’t respect my need to shove this all down and compartmentalize like a fucking champ, but because he’s going to make me get back up on that horse. I’m making an awful lot of horse metaphors for someone that’s never been on one, but… everyone knows the gist of them. So I can fight, and push away, and go get drunk… where exactly? I’m probably still wanted, and there’s a pack of superteenagers hovering over the harbor making a spectacle of themselves. I justify to myself that the problem with the law is what signals my surrender, and the tension going out of that arm before I reverse angles and move towards the Batmobile.
“Totes is! There’s another one they haven’t been told about yet, too. Hey! Batleader says, and I quote, get the #$*& off my lawn, losers! Don’t make him come up there! …maybe not those exact words but… you get the point. Amscray! …but I’ll keep sending the tunes…”
Christ. Maybe I do need to punch someone after all.