Noah Kuttler groaned internally.
Come on, come on! Just a little more...
He was so close, really. Just a few more thousandths of a degree and they'd be within the accepted margin of error. Of course, you could always try to open an interspacial vortex between two buildings while outside of the safety parameters, but only if you were stupid and enjoyed being part of a wall.
On the desk beside him was a small, silver box that looked an awful lot like an old tape recorder. Funny how a super-advanced alien computer would look so... plain.
The box had a large segment removed from one side, with wires inserted to connect it to Kuttler's significantly more stylish but less powerful laptop, where he was attempting to make up for the damaged circuits Sportsmaster continued to insist Batman had somehow damaged.
Sighing, Kuttler ran the diagnostic program again. He was so close, he could almost...
The diagnostic came back green. The program was good to go.
This so surprised Kuttler that he blinked a couple of times to make sure it was true. He then proceeded to punch the air, which was his personal way of telling the universe who's boss.
Rolling his neck, Kuttler reached for the radio sitting next to him when his computer beeped. An alert flashed on the screen.
The Fatherbox was detecting something, but what...?
The screen told him and he suddenly wished it hadn't.
Snatching up the radio, Kuttler fumbled with the buttons briefly before he hit the right one.
"Uh, guys? This is Kuttler. The boom tube is ready and you're going to want to get back here. ASAP!"
Rocket's frustrating continued failure to come up with a brilliant escape plan was interrupted by a groan from Aqualad, who seemed to be waking up.
One of the guards raised his shotgun, and the other one went for the remote that controlled the shock collars. Evidently, Aquaman's protégé had them a little more concerned than little old Rocket.
She'd be jealous except that scaring men with guns was a category she felt okay coming in second in.
"Hey, fish boy" said Goon #2. "I don't want any more trouble, alright? Just sit there for a few more minutes until we can move you, got it?"
Aqualad glared at the man, but stayed silent. Obviously his first attempt at escape had not gone well.
"Rocket, are you alright?" he finally said, quietly.
"Hey! No talking!" said Goon #1.
"I'm fine" Rocket whispered quickly. A lie, but hardly the worst one she could tell. It's not like she could just say 'I poisoned your friend under mind control, electrocuted another one while still under, was murdered in a psychic hallucination and got electrocuted myself' and think that would improve the situation.
I am going to be in so much trouble once we get out of here.
IF we get out of here she corrected herself.
Suddenly, there was a metallic click and the door swung open. The two guards tried to swing around their weapons to confront the intruder, but lowered them once they saw who it was.
Black Manta strode into the room, urgency evident in his movements.
"We are leaving" he said to the guards. "Now."
Neither of them felt like arguing with the armored man with ray guns in his wrists who they couldn't make eye contact with and was telling them to get off guard duty.
Rocket noticed that Aqualad was glaring at Manta. She guessed that made sense, seeing as Manta was his biggest rogue, but there was something... weird about his eyes that she just couldn't place. Almost... sad?
Her thoughts on the matter were interrupted by Goon #1 putting his shotgun to her head as his partner unlocked the cuffs around her feet and hands, snapping the handcuffs back over her wrists as soon as they were clear of the chair. She tried to kick one of them, but it didn't do anything.
Manta put one of his wrist blasters to Kaldur's temple as they watched this unfold.
"This is not the only way, Kaldur'ahm" he said softly into Kaldur's ear, too quiet for either Rocket or the other men to hear. "You and I are not as different as it may seem." Kaldur turned to spit in Manta's face, but Manta cut him off with a slight zap from the inhibitor collar. "We'll talk more later," he continued, as the guards moved over to undo the Atlantean's restraints. "But for now it would be the best for us all if our relationship stayed a secret. After all, we wouldn't want your friend turning on you because of it, would we?"
Kaldur knew this was a bluff, a targeted attack designed to weaken his resolve.
He also knew that it was working. He hadn't known Rocket for more than a few days, but that just made it more likely she would reject him.
Another thought occurred to him. What will Orin say when he finds out? Combined with my failures tonight... will he still keep me as his protégé?
Kaldur cleared his mind. No, he knew King Orin. The identity of his father would not be a concern. That was merely Manta attempting to throw him off his game.
However, another possibility had entered his mind.
What will Batman say when he sees what has become of the Team under my leadership? Even if we all make it out alive and able, will the Team be able to stay together? Or will the League break it up, a failed experiment?
Manta tilted his head in what was probably a smirk and gave Kaldur a little shove.
"Move on, Atlantean" he said, his voice cold again.
The group exited the room, first Kaldur and Rocket, then the two guards and finally Black Manta. He turned around and removed a metallic sphere from his belt.
Flicking a button, he tossed it into the empty room, closing the door and locking it. A moment later, a light blue flash was briefly visible as it filled the room.
"UV grenade" he said, answering the unspoken question. "Degrades all DNA from hairs, dead skin, etc beyond analysis." He gestured to Kaldur and Rocket. "As far as forensics can tell, they were never here."
The two men shrugged and gestured for the prisoners to keep moving.
A muffled explosion echoed down the hall.
"Was that...?" asked Goon #2.
"Sounded like gunfire" said #1.
"Stay here" said Manta, tossing #1 the remote to the shock collars. "Shock them if you have any trouble. I'll be right back."
And then he disappeared down the hall.
The two men both immediately flinched and took a step back, keeping their guns leveled at the backs of their prisoners' heads, as if they had both expected to be suddenly attacked as soon as Manta was out of range.
Which, you know, they kind of had been. You didn't get this far in the evil minion business in a world full of superheroes unless you learned to take precautions.
However, these two were in luck, as the aforementioned guns to heads, combined with the inhibitor collars and shackles, were enough to discourage either Rocket or Aqualad from taking offensive action at the first opportunity offered to them.
The four stood awkwardly in the middle of a concrete hall for about thirty seconds before they heard footsteps the next hall over.
Both of the goons instinctively turned their guns to face the location of the sound, then just as quickly remembered who they were guarding and swung them back towards the prisoners. They looked at each other before Goon #1 motioned to #2 that he would keep an eye on the prisoners. #2 nodded and moved to the corner. Ready for an ambush, he turned the corner.
"Whoa" he said.
"What is it?" #1 asked, keeping his eyes and gun trained on Aqualad.
"There's a girl here, in the middle of the hall. She's tied up. Unconscious, too. You know anything about that?"
#1 shook his head. "Call for backup" he said, unconsciously turning his head to face his partner, taking his eyes off the prisoners.
His second and final mistake.
His first mistake had been prioritizing Aqualad over Rocket as the greater security threat. While this ordinarily would be true, the inhibitor collar had striped the Atlantean of his strength and much of his durability, and the repeated electric shocks he had received over the course of the day in addition to head wounds and lingering burns from the land mine had left Kaldur relatively harmless, his head still fuzzy and his reflexes dulled. Not to mention the effects of Manta's attempts at psychological warfare that his brain was still dealing with alongside his own, genuine doubts.
However, Rocket was still in her normal physical condition (minus her belt, of course), and she'd had more time to deal with her own mental issues, having successfully shoved them into the metaphorical 'Deal With Later' closet. While that was a significantly lower starting point, the fact was that she was still very determined and dangerous, as soon as they could no longer control her with fear.
Such as right now.
All Raquel needed was an opening, and she had promised herself she'd take the first one that wouldn't get her shot.
The end result of all of this was Rocket's leg lashing out and striking the side of Goon #1's shotgun, knocking it aside.
"Hiiiiyah!" she shouted for effect, figuring that if she got killed for this, at least she would have gone out looking awesome. However, luck was on her side and Goon #1 stumbled to the side, off balance. Before he could react, Kaldur slammed into him, sending both the shotgun and the remote to the inhibitor collars clattering to the ground. Aqualad grinned, like a shark. His strength might have been weakened, but it was still there.
This was officially an actual fight.
Roy, Wally and Artemis crouched, motionless inside one of the countless empty rooms that filled the hall. Sportsmaster's men were checking each and every one, and so they'd have to move on pretty soon.
Roy noticed absentmindedly that Wally and Artemis were holding hands, and he was wondering if he'd missed another romantic development in the Team.
"Sir!" came a new voice from down the hall. Roy would have looked at its source except for the possibility of getting his head blown off.
"What is it?" replied another voice, unmistakably Sportsmaster's.
"We've found Cheshire. She's unconscious."
Sportsmaster chuckled. "Figured as much. She always was useless when it came to stuff like this. Get her to the tube room. The rest of you, do one last sweep and then link up there."
"Huh?" asked one of the other men. "Shouldn't we keep looking?"
"Negative. We've got bigger problems headed our way than a couple of punk kids. We're pulling out of Aguila. Now."
A few seconds later, and the sound of boots on concrete faded into the distance. Roy snuck a peak out into the hall.
It was empty.
"Punk kids?" Wally complained. "Who does he think he's talking about?"
Roy and Artemis both groaned.
"Give it a rest, West" said Artemis. "If something's bad enough to spook my dad, then it's pretty bad."
"It's the League" Roy realized. "They must have tracked down our location somehow. That's the only thing I can think of that would make a merc like Sportsmaster turn tail and run that quickly."
"Sweet" said Wally, with his characteristic thoughtfulness. "So do we just hang here and wait for backup or what?"
Both archers gave him puzzled looks.
"Look, I enjoy knocking heads slightly more than both of you" the speedster said. "But I happen to know that without either of your bows or my powers, we're kind of outmatched."
"It doesn't matter" said Roy. "Sportsmaster's planning a getaway, and the League might not get here fast enough to stop him. "
"Are you seriously suggesting that we go chasing the guys who are trying to kill us?" Artemis asked, incredulous.
Roy turned and faced her with eyes narrowed and spoke in a cold, emotionless voice he normally reserved for enemies.
"Sportsmaster got away from me in Taipei and in New Orleans. Not this time. Now you can help, or you can stay here and hide."
The two glared at each other, malevolence rolling off them.
Wally broke the tie before anything serious could happen. The last thing he needed were his best friend and his sort-of-now-official-girlfriend coming to blows. Again.
"How about we just follow them and see what their escape plan is" he said. "If we have to act, we will. If not, we'll let the League handle it. That sound like a plan?"
Artemis sighed and shrugged before following the two boys down the hall.
"Fine. But if this gets us killed, I'm blaming both of you."