December 29, 10:38 UTC
One by one, the screens flickered on. Six members of the Light, faces still shrouded in flickering white.
"Well that failed" said L-4.
"Yes," L-1 admitted. "The results were indeed sub-par."
"SUB-PAR!?" L-3 shouted, an unusual occurrence for him. "Sub-par is achieving some but not all of your objectives. What sub-par is NOT is initiating a plan to neutralize a team of sidekicks and proceeding to lose three bases, control of Belle Reve Penitentiary, two Lords of Chaos and A TWO BILLION DOLLAR INTER-DIMENSIONAL PORTAL, the first of its kind in history, and the end result? Not a single enemy dead, captured or severely injured, one of them boosted exponentially in power and a considerable amount of our secretive organization exposed. That is not 'sub-par,' 1. That is the very definition of 'catastrophic failure.'"
"Forgive him" said L-4. "He is extremely upset about the Q.E.D. You understand, of course, given all of the resources and effort that went into creating it."
"Do you think you are the only one?" L-6 shouted. "I put more work into it than you, and you do not see me complaining!"
"Perhaps if I had some part to play in losing the device, I would feel more accommodating" spat L-3. He had regained his composure, but the venom was still clearly present in his tone. "But for now, as I see it, you, 1 and 7 have done a considerable amount of damage to our organization and achieved very little in return. Our... associate is none-to-pleased either. He wishes to inform us of his deepest dissatisfaction with these results."
"I will speak with him once this meeting is over" said L-2. "He is still of use to us, and only we can provide him with what he needs. I will reassure him that failures happen from time to time, and the key achieving what we all want is to continue to move forwards."
"Still, I agree with 3, 4 and our partner" said L-5. "This operation was far too ambitious and complex to have possibly succeeded. Faking a defection? Exposing the Martian's true form? Only exploiting Aqualad's relationship with Black Manta was of any particular worth. Had we just engaged them directly as I suggested-"
"Once again, 5," L-1 interrupted "you presume too much. Once you have delivered Atlantis into our hands, then you will have the right to complain with our progress."
"You know as well as I do that Aquaman must be eliminated before that can happen, and yet you refuse to target him."
"Patience" said L-4. "We don't want to tip our hand. Once the Justice League has crumbled, Aquaman will be an easy target. Until then, I suggest we move onto more pressing matters."
"Agreed" said L-2. "Bickering among ourselves does nothing except strengthen our enemies."
"Very well" said L-3. "What is the status of 7?"
"It would appear" said L-1 "that Zatara has successfully removed the connection between 7 and his familiar. He is currently trapped on the Astral Plane, unable to observe or interact with us. Re-establishing the connection would be extremely difficult... under normal circumstances."
"What do you have in mind?" L-6 asked.
"The cat was not 7's only connection to this plane" said L-1. "I have in my possession a ring that contains a small portion of his essence. For the moment the connection is very weak, but over time, as 7 recovers from tonight's battle, he will be able to contact us. Once he is strong enough, it will be possible to summon him and re-establish the bond between him and his familiar. It will take a considerable amount of magical power, but that can be arranged when the time comes."
"Are we sure bringing 7 back is a good idea?" asked L-3. "As powerful as he is, he has a tendency to be rather... unpredictable. Surely you are all aware that his goals are fundamentally different than ours, and that he will eventually turn on us once our paths diverge?"
"That has been taken into consideration" said L-1. "Until that time, however, it is best if we possess access to his incredible capabilities in the realm of magic."
"What about Tala?" L-4 asked. "Is there a possibility that she is still in play?"
"From what I can tell, if she is, she is trapped within Zatanna's body" said L-2. "It might be possible to release her, but we would need to capture Zatanna, which would be very difficult under these circumstances."
"Perhaps an opportunity will present itself" said L-1, gears clearly turning in his head. "In the meanwhile, we should continue our preparations for our next operation. As... unfortunate as the results of this battle have been, the damage done is only to our long-term plans. In some ways, there is even a benefit. The Justice League believes that we have suffered a considerable loss."
"Haven't we?" asked L-5.
"We have," said L-4, "but every cloud has a silver lining. After all, despite all of the confusion and apparent betrayal, they still don't know who our mole is, do they?"
"True, true" acknowledged L-3. "Furthermore, in all of the confusion, we were able to slip Project Bezalel's new toy onto the board without anyone noticing."
"Indeed" agreed L-2. "We have set ourselves up for considerable leverage in the future."
"And dear little Megan is still holding out on her teammates" said L-4. "It seems that most of them remain unaware of her secret. I may be able to work with her yet, especially given what she's done for us so far. Her type is always the easiest to exploit."
"Her... type?" asked L-5.
"Freaks" L-4 replied.
"In short," said L-1 "we still possess a considerable advantage over the Justice League. Furthermore, Operation Pedestal is still on track. We require only the finishing touches to Project Parasite. L-6?"
"I have been working on it," said L-6, "but it has proven difficult, even for me. I believe that the expert assistance we were considering may indeed be required."
"So, you wish to initiate Operation Alcatraz, then?" asked L-4. "Is it wise to strike again so soon after such a significant defeat?"
"Actually, I would argue that this is the perfect time to make our move" said L-2. "The Justice League is weary, their 'team' exhausted. They will not expect it, and, as a covert operation, they will not even realize it has happened until it is too late. After that, Operation Pedestal shall be a simple matter. The men are ready to deploy within a day."
"Then it is settled" said L-1. "Operation Alcatraz shall begin as planned. All in all, this defeat has been nothing more than a side battle."
"There is still one loose end" said L-3. "The Justice League captured the Riddler, Mr. Freeze and Black Adam. They are already suspicious of Warden Strange. Even if they cannot prove his connection, they will be able to put him under intense scrutiny from his superiors, and remove his ability to... loan us prisoners for a significant amount of time."
"Then it is time for Lifeboat Protocol?" L-4 asked.
"Yes, I agree" said L-2. "We can reestablish control of the prison at a later date. For now, we need to secure the prisoners with future use."
"Very well" said L-1. "I will contact Strange at once. Is there anything else to discuss?"
"In that case, we are adjourned."
December 29, 06:38 ECT
"Enter" said Ra's al Ghul as his screen flickered off. A ninja opened the door and Sportsmaster, Chesire, Tigress and Black Manta walked in.
"The mission tonight was a considerable failure" said Ra's, turning to the mercenaries.
"My apologies, Great One" said Cheshire, bowing. Tigress looked at her, confused for a second before bowing as well. Black Manta gave a little nod of respect.
"Yeah, I'm not too happy with it either" said Sportsmaster, conspicuously not bowing in any way, shape or form. "But hey, we took on the entire Justice League and lost what, a couple of grunts and Riddler?"
"Tala, Klarion, Mr. Freeze and Black Adam as well" said Ra's. "Hardly inconsequential operatives. Not to mention the extraordinarily expensive Q.E.D. The exfiltration bands are also quite difficult to manufacture and we have used almost the entire supply. I suggest you remember that the next time you engage the League or their sidekicks."
"Do we anticipate that the teenagers will continue to be problematic?" Black Manta asked. "We have inflicted quite a lot of psychological damage."
"They will be back" said Ra's. "It will take some time, but they will attempt to reform and retaliate. However, they should be out of the way until after Operation Pedestal."
"I believe that Kaldur'ahm is still recruitable" said Manta. "It will take some time, but I have planted the seeds of doubt in his blind loyalty to Aquaman. With the proper handling, he may come around. As he is my son, I would prefer if he were not killed before he has the opportunity."
"We will try to avoid it" said Ra's, "but I cannot make any promises as long as he is engaged in hostile action against us."
"Well, I can say for sure that my kid's not going to be coming around any time soon" said Sportsmaster. "To be honest, I'd say we just keep the new one." He gestured at Tigress. "Clearly she appreciates my style of parenting." Tigress and Cheshire shot him dirty looks.
"We can't send her back back with the Q.E.D. destroyed" Manta pointed out. "She could be of use."
"Well, child?" asked Ra's. "Would you like to remain here for the time being as a member of the League of Shadows, alongside Cheshire?"
"Y-yes, Great One" stammered Tigress, bowing again. "It would be quite an honor."
"Very well" said Ra's. "You may stay here. The other Artemis will be dealt with alongside the rest of her team."
"Are you sure, Great One?" blurted Cheshire. "Apologizes, Master" she backpedaled, bowing. "But must she really be killed?"
"I understand your love for your sister" said Ra's. "But Artemis has made it abundantly clear that she will not cease to oppose us unless forced. She is the enemy, and an assassin must have no mercy in dealing with their enemies. It is nothing personal. It is simply the way of the world. When you put on that mask and took the name Cheshire, you sacrificed all attachments that might interfere with your mission. The mission is all. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Great One" Cheshire said, staring at the floor.
"Then you all are dismissed."
As the four turned towards the door, Tigress stopped, as if she was trying to decide whether to say something or not.
"Yes, child?" asked Ra's. "What is it?"
"I-is the portal going to be rebuilt?" Tigress asked. "I ask merely out of curiosity and not-"
"Yes," said Ra's, cutting off whatever her false excuse was. Obviously there was only one reason why a trained assassin from another world would be interested in a portal back home. "I suppose it will be, at some time in the future. At this point it will be easiest to do so once the Justice League is neutralized. However, I assure you that when it is complete, you will have the option of returning to your Earth if you so wish. Is that acceptable?"
"Yes, Great One" said Tigress, bowing. "Thank you."
"The pleasure is all mine" said Ra's as she left. He smiled.
"Welcome, Tigress, to your new home."
Belle Reve Parish
December 29, 08:09 CST
Hugo Strange stood on the Belle Reve helipad as Superman and Green Lantern appeared from the sky, three bound figures in tow within a sphere construct.
"Ah, Superman" he said. "What an honor! I heard that you had brought us a surprise."
"You could say that" said Superman, gesturing to the three prisoners in Lantern's care.
"Ah, Mr. Nigma" said Strange, addressing Riddler first. "So glad for you to be joining us once again. We can't have you running around, besmirching the name of Belle Reve, now can we? Oh, coincidentally, your latest psychological report came back. As you have been deemed 'criminally insane' you are to be transferred immediately to Arkham Asylum. Isn't that wonderful?"
"A-Arkham?" Riddler gulped. "But Arkham's for crazy people! I'm not crazy, in fact I'm the sanest person I know..."
"The other two, Strange" said Superman, clearly not in the mood for games.
"Oh, let's see... What!?" Strange exclaimed. He pulled a radio out of his pocket and spoke into it. "Mr. Cooper, contact Isolation immediately and confirm the presence of Black Adam and Victor Freeze. Now!"
"Yes sir" replied the radio.
"He's not going to confirm it, Strange" said Green Lantern. "We've got them here. You're done. We know that you've been smuggling prisoners outside for-"
"Warden Strange?" the radio beeped. "They're here. Why so concerned?"
"WHAT!?" Superman and Lantern shouted.
"It appears that something peculiar is going on, Mr. Cooper" said Strange into the radio. "I am heading down there now." He turned to the two Leaguers. "If you would follow me? Perhaps we can work this conundrum out together."
"Conundrums?" asked Riddler, perking up. "I love conundrums! How about I help and we'll just forget about the whole Arkham thing?"
"But first, we should drop Mr. Nigma off at processing" said Strange, walking inside.
"I was afraid he'd say that" Riddler said, saddened. Freeze and Adam glared at him.
"I guess we better see what's up" said Lantern. Superman sighed and shrugged."I guess we better see what's up" said Lantern. Superman sighed and shrugged.
"Whatever it is, Batman's not going to like it."
December 29, 09:08 EST
By the time the zeta tube computer was done listing the various Team and League members entering the library of the (fortunately closed to the public) Hall of Justice, everyone had already found or conjured (magic is so useful) a chair. Kid Flash had somehow found popcorn and was munching as fast as he could, trying to make up for two straight days of not eating.
"Well" said Green Arrow, utilizing his great skill at understatement. "This is going to be one hell of a debriefing, isn't it?"
Batman stood up and cleared his throat. "Tonight we fought a group of supervillains with more resources, more members, more advanced technology and a larger reach than anything we've ever encountered. The Watchtower's scanner is still malfunctioning due to Tigress's virus, so we were unable to track their portals. We've inflicted some damage, but the fact that so many escaped means that they'll be back. Over the next few days it is critical that we process every single piece of information we have about them. Team, this especially means you. You have spent far more time in the enemy presence than anyone else. Even seemingly insignificant details may be of importance. However, I understand that you have been through a lot and that you are exhausted. The thorough debriefing will begin after you've all gotten some sleep, some food and a shower."
"Can't argue with that" said Robin.
"However, there are a few points I feel we must discuss now" continued the Dark Knight. "First of all are the... implications of Tigress's existence."
Everyone in the room either looked at Artemis or tried to look like they weren't looking at Artemis.
"We know very little about the alleged 'alternate universe' from which she originated" said Batman. "However, she was able to us Artemis's zeta tube access, suggesting that she possesses identical DNA, fingerprints and other biometrics to our Artemis. We'll need to keep an eye out for her or any other 'evil duplicates' that might be running around. It sounds like having a criminal version of another one of us is unlikely, but I don't want to risk it. Keep an eye on each other. In the meanwhile, we will try to see if we can modify our security to prevent such an intrusion."
The various members of the Team looked at one another with various degrees of suspicion, from somewhat trusting (M'gann) to very skeptical (Red Arrow).
"Furthermore, it appears that Psimon has been more active than we expected, given his allegedly comatose state. It is possible that he has obtained a considerable amount of intelligence from his 'interrogation' of Artemis. With your permission, I would like Martian Manhunter to perform a non-intrusive surface scan all of your minds to ensure that there has been no further tampering, and to help you all improve your own psychic defenses." Rocket looked down at the floor, as did Robin.
"But how did Psimon recover so fast?" Kid Flash asked. "Miss M shorted out his brain in Quarc, but he was definitely conscious in Germany with the rest of us. Rob and I gave him a friendly chair to the head."
"Perhaps he found some way to escape without the Quraci doctors realizing?" suggested Red Tornado.
"Nope" said Aquaman, entering the room. "I just got off the phone with the hospital. Psimon is still present and still comatose, no doubt about it. And guards have been checking on him on the hour, with a security camera watching 24/7. He was not in Germany tonight."
"We are missing something" said Aqualad. "Flash said that Mr. Freeze and Black Adam were safely in Belle Reve between when Superboy and Miss Martian fought Freeze at Cape Chidley and when Freeze appeared at the base in Spain, from which he teleported to Germany, where Adam was also present."
"It shouldn't be possible" said Flash. "Belle Reve's got pretty tight security. Even if the Warden's in the bad guys' pocket, it wouldn't be easy to sneak them in and out so quickly. It's almost like they were in two places at..."
Batman's earpiece beeped. "Yes, Superman?" he asked. There was a second of silence as he listened to Superman's report. Then he said something in reply that stunned the entire room.
"What do you mean there are two of them?"
"I mean what I said, Batman" said Superman. "There are two Black Adams and two Mr. Freezes; one of each in Belle Reve and another in our custody. Yes I'm sure, I'm staring at them right now!"
Superman, Green Lantern, Warden Strange and the Mr. Freeze and Black Adam from Germany (both collared and restrained) were inside the Extreme Containment - Isolation block of the prison. Sure enough, another Mr. Freeze and Black Adam were in their respective cells.
"I really don't know what to say" said Strange as Superman covertly poked the imprisoned Black Adam's arm. Definitely not a hologram. "I've never seen anything like this."
The Mr. Freeze inside the cell looked up from his game of solitaire chess and nodded to the Freeze outside. "Doctor" he said, giving a slight nod of recognition.
"Doctor" the second Freeze replied, returning the nod.
"Do you two know each other?" asked/demanded Green Lantern.
"His reputation proceeds him" said the Freeze in the cell.
"As does his" said the duplicate.
"This is getting us nowhere" said Strange. "And I'd hate to think of the potential legal implications. If we've had the wrong Victor Fries in custody the entire time..."
"Lantern, can you scan them or something? See if you can tell them apart?"
Green Lantern nodded and raised his ring, bathing one Freeze and then the other in green light.
"The two Freezes are genetically and physiologically identical" he reported after a minute. As he turned to scan the first Black Adam, Warden Strange gave a little nod to a cloaked figure in the security room overlooking the hallway. Superman saw the nod and turned to look at the room, but there was no one there.
"Okay, this one looks normal" Lantern reported of the Black Adam from Germany. "That just leaves..."
The Black Adam in the cell jumped back and slammed the door shut, sticking something into the lock to jam it.
"Guards!" Strange shouted. Lantern formed a construct, instantly pinning the newer Freeze and Adam to the ground, a gag over Adam's mouth. Adam was depowered and Freeze's suit was barely functional, but there was no reason to take chances. If something was going down, they were not going to let themselves be jumped from behind.
Superman grabbed the door and wrenched it open. Had it been locked by the control room then even he would have had some difficulty but with merely a jammed hinge, it was easy for a man of his strength to open.
The cell was empty, save a bed, a chair, a small table, a toilet and a sink.
"All, units, this is Warden Strange" said, well, Strange into his radio. "Possible code orange. Lock down the facility, now! I repeat, possible code orange. Black Adam is no longer in his cell, location unknown. I need a team down here to Iso to sweep for him pronto."
Strange turned to Superman and Lantern. "I don't suppose either of you know what just happened."
The two Justice Leaguers shook their heads.
"Well, then, perhaps you'd like to help us in the search?" the Warden asked.
Superman sighed. "Batman's REALLY not going to like this."
"So now Black Adam's missing?" Red Arrow grumbled.
"That appears to be the case" said Batman. "Superman and Green Lantern are searching Belle Reve now, and I will be there shortly to investigate. This is very troubling, but possibly quite informative. Why would the spare Adam need to escape but not the spare Freeze?"
"I think I know how they did it" said Robin. "Or, at least Freeze and Psimon."
"We're listening" said Superboy.
"Savage said that Tigress wasn't the only person they'd brought over from another world. Is it possible that they brought in not only an evil version of Artemis but also equally evil versions of Mr. Freeze and Psimon?"
"If so, then we've got a serious problem on our hands" said Green Arrow. "If we've got to be on the lookout for evil duplicates of good guys and regular duplicates of bad guys, and we're still not sure who they're working for..."
"We are assembling a picture of our new opponents as we speak" said Wonder Woman. "Right now we can't say for sure how big it goes, what they want or who's at the top, just that they're there and they're bad news."
"Okay, if we've all gotten our daily dose of paranoia, what else is there?" Rocket asked. Superboy stood up.
"There's something I need to tell all of you" he said. He'd been hoping to get this over with with just the Team and not most of the League, but it had to be done. At least Superman wasn't around...
"I stopped by Cadmus Labs around Thanksgiving" he said. "Found a few things out. Biggest one: My DNA's not all Kryptonian. The Cadmus guys couldn't get it to work—trust me, I saw the end result of that—so they mixed it with human DNA. My powers aren't late coming in, they're stunted. I'm never going to have flight, heat vision, etc under normal circumstances."
"But you demonstrated such abilities tonight" said Aqualad.
"Tonight wasn't normal circumstances" Superboy said, holding up one of his shields.
"What is that?" asked Batman, eyes narrowing.
"This is called a shield. It suppresses my human DNA, boosts my powers up to Superman levels for about an hour. But it's hard for me to think while I'm using them; I just want to keep hitting things until it wears off."
"Dare I ask where you got those?" Black Canary asked.
Superboy sighed. "Lex Luthor. He funded Project Kr. He donated the human DNA. He's my father as much as, if not more than, Superman."
The room was silent for a moment.
"Well, I did not see that coming" said Green Arrow.
"I think Luthor has a connection to our new set of bad guys" Superboy said.
"Well, LexCorp did help pay for the base in Spain, didn't they?" said Captain Marvel, stealing some of Kid Flash's popcorn.
"What about Queen Bee?" Black Canary asked. "M'gann, you mentioned hearing her be mentioned when you were captured. Do you remember anything else?"
M'gann stood there for a second, like a deer in the headlights, or whatever the equivalent Martian expression was. Of course she didn't remember anything else! The only Bee connection she knew of was that Bee had forced her to steal Conner's shields the night before the mission, far too much of a coincidence. But if she admitted that, then she was done as a member of the Team. Artemis might have been a fake mole... but she was a real one, wasn't she?
"Uh, no. Sorry" she said quietly, shaking her head. "Just the name."
"I wonder how she could be a part of this?" asked Artemis, not noticing the stunned and then more angry look that Superboy was giving the Martian.
"Well, the Bialyans were the first ones to get the Apokoliptan weapons and portal tech, so maybe they sold them off to Intergang and our new friends" suggested Robin.
"That is possible" said Martian Manhunter. "We will need to look into it."
"I will need to examine these 'shields'" said Batman. "We need to make sure they aren't meant to sabotage us." Superboy nodded and handed the three remaining ones over.
"Anything else?" asked Aquaman.
"The nanites" said Robin. "From what we've gathered, both Zatanna and Kid Flash have Ivo-made nanites in their bloodstream. KF's, at least, are keeping down his super-speed, and Zatanna's let them knock her out by remote control back on the Bioship."
"I'll have the Atom have all of the Team's blood work analyzed to see if there's a problem" said Batman.
"I will also report as soon as my diagnostics of Zatanna's condition are complete" said Zatara.
"M'gann's Bioship is damaged beyond repair" said Martian Manhunter. "Until I can return to Mars and acquire a replacement, the Team will need to rely upon zeta tubes and conventional transport."
The room was quiet for a minute.
"Alrighty then," said Green Arrow. "If that's everything, how about we let the kids finally get some rest?"
Batman nodded. "Mt. Justice is still offline, but until then you have access to the backup quarters here at the Hall of Justice."
"What, no Watchtower?" Kid Flash asked.
"Hasn't this mission been long enough without something else going wrong?" Batman asked.
"Fair enough" replied the junior speedster.
"Well," said Artemis, stretching. "I'm gonna go hit the shower. See you all later."
The group nodded and dispersed.
Well, most of them dispersed. The majority of the Leaguers returned through the zeta tube, while most of the Team members headed off to various parts of the Hall of Justice.
Soon, only Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Robin, Aqualad and Red Arrow remained.
"You wanted to talk?" Batman said to Aqualad.
"Yes" said the younger Atlantean. "I feel that the Team's disastrous performance tonight is my fault. I am prepared to resign as leader."
"Oh, not this again" groaned Robin. "I know you don't like being leader, but do you have to try and weasel your way out of it every single time something goes wrong? We all screwed up this round, Kaldur, but we came back and we won. And I was actually in charge when we all got captured in the first place, so by your logic I'm clearly not fit to lead. RA's leaving for the League proper in two days, so our leadership options are potentially-possessed Zatanna, super-eager-to-please M'gann, new girl Rocket, anger-management-specialist Superboy, has-an-evil-clone-running-around-and-a-bad-attitude Artemis and Wally. Take your pick."
"He has a point" said Red Arrow.
"If you do not feel that you are qualified to lead the Team, then I can't force you" said Batman. "But before you try to resign, I would suggest talking with them, and see if they see your failure in the same light you do."
"All leaders fail" said Aquaman. "What separates a good leader from a bad one is how they handle that failure."
"Thank you" said Aqualad, bowing his head slightly. "You all have given me much to think about. I will be in my quarters."
He walked down the hall only to notice a second later that Aquaman was following him.
"Kaldur, we have known each other a long time" said Aquaman. "I can tell that something else is bothering you."
Kaldur turned and, seeing that no one else was around, steeled himself for the truth. "My liege, I have discovered... disturbing information with regards to Black Manta."
"It... It would appear that he is my biological father."
Aquaman's face stayed almost exactly the same, only frowning slightly.
"I suspected as much."
Kaldur suppressed a gasp. "What do you mean, my king?"
Aquaman sighed. "Kaldur, when your mother and Calvin defected from Manta, Sha'lain'a told me quite a lot. When you were born, the timing suggested that this was the case, but we were unable to confirm without DNA samples from Manta himself. He has repeatedly proven... unwilling to cooperate with the Atlantean authorities on this or any other matter."
"If you knew this," Kaldur asked "then why did you train me? Why did you allow me to become your protégé?"
Aquaman smiled. "Because, Kaldur'ahm, it never mattered. You are not who your parents are. You are who you and you alone choose to be. If that is my protégé, the leader of the Team and one of the greatest friends I have ever known, then I see no reason for this to change anything."
Kaldur was stunned. True, he hadn't quite expected to be kicked out of Atlantis or anything, but for Aquaman to simply shrug this news off like it was meaningless...
"Thank you, my king" Kaldur said, bowing.
"No, Kaldur'ahm" said Aquaman, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Thank you."
Artemis wasn't really feeling tired, so she decided to go a few rounds with a punching bag in the gym to "work off some steam."
She'd made four holes in the thing before she noticed that Red Arrow was watching her.
"Do you normally stand around in gyms watching girls punch things?" she asked. He shrugged.
"Please tell me we've at least gotten the whole 'I'm the mole' thing out of the way, right?" she said, resuming her punching. "'Cause I think I've proved that pretty clearly by now."
Red Arrow sighed. "Fine. I apologize for considering you a traitor. In my defense, your evil alternate universe double did a very good job of impersonating you."
"And in my defense," Artemis replied "that had absolutely nothing to do with you suspecting me."
"What did you expect, lying to us about your background?"
Artemis stopped punching and turned to face the older archer.
"Okay. If I had come here and straight-out said 'My dad is Sportsmaster, that mercenary who's tried to kill you a bunch of times, my mom is an ex-con and my sister works for the League of Shadows' would that have actually made you suspect me any less?"
Red Arrow frowned. "Fair enough." He turned to leave.
"Since I guess we can trust you" he said, stopping at the door "there's something you might like to know that your counterpart said."
"She claimed that there was another mole on the Team, and put her money on Miss Martian."
"She lied about a LOT of things" Artemis pointed out.
"And told the truth about certain things as well" Red Arrow responded. "Just something to keep in mind."
He left the room, closing the door behind him.
Artemis turned and knocked the punching bag off its chain with a single kick.
"M'gann!" said Conner, catching up to her.
"Oh! Uh, hi Conner" she said, sounding very nervous.
"M'gann, you promised that we'd tell the Team about Bee."
"And we did" the Martian said, acting like she didn't know that she was 100% lying.
"M'gann, you were aiding the enemy, however unwillingly. The others need to know about these sorts of things. It could be the key to bringing these guys down once and for all."
"I know, I just..." M'gann hovered slightly off the ground, hands behind her back, a nervous habit of hers.
"I'll do it! I promise! Just... at a better time. Everyone's so stressed out right now, this'll just make things worse."
"You didn't do something serious like poison Wally, did you?" Conner asked.
"No! No! Taking your shields was the worst thing I did. I don't know who poisoned him, or who put those nanites in Zatanna. Rocket was being controlled by Psimon, wasn't she? That might have been how they did it."
Great thought Conner. THAT'LL help the new girl adjust. Poisoning two teammates under mind control on your first day on the job. He almost felt sorry for her.
"What else did you do?" Conner asked. At least he had to know, so if there was something serious he could try to find a way to counter it without revealing M'gann's secret. He wasn't going to do that on his own. She'd tell them when she was ready.
"Really little things. Kinda weird. Like giving her Wally's shoe size. I think she was just testing me, making sure I was following her orders."
M'gann sighed. "Some DNA samples."
"From us?" Conner practically shouted. He didn't like that one bit, especially given his... strained relationship with the idea of cloning.
M'gann shook her head. "From me."
"Why would they want your DNA?" Conner wondered aloud.
"I don't know. Bee didn't say, of course, but she wanted it pretty badly."
Conner rubbed his chin in thought, a habit that he really hoped he hadn't picked up from Daddy Lex.
"Excuse me" came a voice. M'gann and Conner turned to see Martian Manhunter standing not too far away.
"Uncle J'onn!" M'gann half said, half shrieked.
"Forgive my intrusion, M'gann" he said. "I was not listening to your conversation. I merely wished to say that I sensed something troubling you, and was wondering if you would like to talk about it."
"No, no, everything's fine!" M'gann lied, pretty transparently.
"Be that as it may, I would still prefer it if you spent some time with Black Canary" J'onn said. "I know that your mother would appreciate that as well."
"Of course" said M'gann. "I'm going to go to my room now." She hovered off before anyone could respond.
Conner turned to go to his room when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Conner" said Manhunter. "I believe that M'gann trusts you more than she does even me. Please, help her as best you can and keep her safe."
Conner let out a quiet "Of course" and went down the hall.
Now my life really IS a soap opera he thought.
Raquel sighed and sat down on a bench.
Somehow, everyone had made it back alive and more-or-less intact. That was especially impressive given what they'd gone up against in Germany. Granted, she hadn't been there in person, but in some ways it just made things worse, having to watch the battle unfold on a computer screen, unable to do anything except give bits of advice. At more then one point she'd seriously been thinking about what the hell she was supposed to do if everyone in the field was killed or captured. It was not a comfortable thought.
"Hey, Rocket" said Zatanna, sitting down next to her.
"Hey, Zatanna" Raquel replied quietly. "I'm, uh, sorry that I poisoned you with nanites and then let you get captured by Tigress."
"Hey, no worries" said Zatanna. "You were being controlled by Psimon for the nanite thing and Tigress fooled basically everyone. Trust me, if there's anyone around her that isn't going to blame you for doing stuff under someone else's control, it's me. Besides, from what I heard, it was your idea to use the Helmet of Fate to save me. If you ask me, that makes you a real hero, whether you've got your belt or not."
"Thanks" said Rocket.
Icon appeared, holding the inertia belt.
"I have good news, Raquel" he said. "In their haste to retreat in Germany, the enemy left behind your inertia belt. Green Lantern detected it in the rubble, remarkably intact. I have examined it and I believe that it is repairable."
"Really?" Rocket perked up.
"Yes. It appears that someone tampered with the inertia winder, causing it to fail. It should be easily fixable."
"Great" groaned Rocket. "More sabotage. You don't think I did this too...?"
"I cannot say for certain" said Icon. "It is a very complicated device."
"Still, I guess this means you're back on active duty" said Zatanna. "Congrats."
"Thanks" said Rocket, getting up. "I should probably call my folks." She and Icon walked off.
Zatanna sat there for a moment, thinking. Tala and Nabu were currently silent, and their powers felt dormant, though they were still there, like they were sleeping. It was probably for the best, honestly. Having that much magical energy flowing through you all the time was not good for your health.
Zatanna spotted someone standing nearby out of the corner of her eye. She turned and saw Greta, standing very still, like she wasn't sure if she wanted to be noticed or not.
"Hey, Greta" Zatanna said, like talking to ghost girls was perfectly normal. "Thanks for everything you did for me. I don't think I would have gotten through this without you."
"Secret is happy to help Z" said Greta, smiling.
"Oh, and tell Mr. Nelson thank you as well, if you see him."
They were silent for a minute.
"Uh... Secret was wondering if she might be able to stay around for a little bit" said Greta.
"What do you mean?" Zatanna asked.
"Z and At are the best friends Secret ever had" Greta said. "Maybe... Secret could spend some time with Z before she moves on?"
"Uh, sure" said Zatanna, mentally imagining asking Batman (or worse, her dad) if it was okay for her to hang out with the ghost of a murdered fourteen-year-old girl.
Eh, they'd probably be okay with it.
"Thank you!" said Greta, obviously very happy.
"No problem" said Zatanna, but by the time she'd looked up, Greta was already gone.
I wonder what normal people my age spend their time dealing with she thought.
Artemis was on her way back from the gym when she bumped into Kid Flash.
"Hey, babe" he said, doing his standard super-suave-to-him-really-stupid-looking-to-everyone-else routine.
"Not in the mood, West" she muttered, trying to slip past him.
"Oh come on, Artemis, cheer up!" he said, blocking her path. "We won!"
"Yeah," muttered Artemis. "Everything's hunky-dory."
"Is something wrong?" Wally asked.
"Gee, I dunno" Artemis replied, putting a hand on her hip. "Maybe the fact that I got kidnapped and replaced by an evil assassin and NONE OF YOU NOTICED?"
"Technically speaking, Robin figured it out like right away" said Wally.
"Yeah, that makes it soooo much better. I'm glad that I've made such an impression that Robin is the only one who'd recognize the real me!"
"To be fair, Tigress was really good at being you" said Robin, suddenly appearing out of nowhere, eating a bag of chips. "Not as good at being you as you are, obviously, but pretty good."
"Dude." said Wally. "Chips. Now"
Robin smiled and complied. He might have had it bad going two straight days without eating, but KF had had it worse, with a higher metabolism, a nanite injection, a round of Joker Venom poisoning and being frozen.
Artemis sighed. "Sorry I snapped. It's just kind of stressful, you know? Realizing that someone could steal your life so easily."
"Hey now, give yourself and the others a little more credit" said Robin. "They WOULD have caught on if she'd tried to stay permanently. You two aren't as similar as you think."
"How so?" Artemis asked.
"Well, there's the fact that she's a sociopathic hitwoman who works with your dad and you're a Justice League affiliated hero."
"By the sounds of it" Artemis said quietly "that was more of a matter of my mom having a lucky fall than anything about us."
"Hey," Robin said, being serious. "you're still pretty new at this, so here's a piece of advice: Never trust what the bad guys say. Ever. One of the things about being bad guys is that they tend to lie or twist the truth to get what they want. Especially when they're trying to recruit you."
"That reminds me" said Artemis, kicking Wally in the shin. "Someone didn't trust me to stay good the first chance I got to switch sides."
"Ow!" said Wally. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I promise, the next time you appear to betray the Team, I'll have a little more faith."
"There you go, Wally" said Robin, patting him on the head. "You're learning." He turned to walk away. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I really need a shower. Ciao!"
Artemis and Wally watched Robin go.
"Well," said Artemis. "I guess I better get to-"
Wally kissed her.
Artemis was so shocked that she didn't even knee him in the groin like she normally would have. A rush of teenage hormones and confused thoughts filled her brain.
Why had she been more concerned about Wally not recognizing her than anyone else? No, it couldn't be, that'd be silly... right?
The kiss ended as suddenly as it began.
"How's that for not trusting you?" he asked, smiling. Artemis didn't respond.
"Well, see ya later, babe" the speedster said, winking and walking off.
Artemis stood there for a minute, not moving except to briefly touch her fingers to her lips. She looked at her fingers, then touched her lips again, her brain still processing what just happened and what it meant.
And also trying to not think about how Jade would laugh her mask off if she ever found out.
Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, Red Tornado and Zatara gathered back in the library.
"The Team seems to be taking it all relatively well, considering" said Manhunter.
"Yeah, well, I'm definitely giving them all sessions today" said Black Canary. "I assume that's okay now, oh wise Batman?"
Batman ignored the sarcasm. "Yes. I think it's for the best if you do that. I want the Team to remain functional and whole as much as you all do."
"Well, in that case" said Canary "they're off-duty. For at least a week, almost certainly two, ideally a month or more. No more missions, not even a routine patrol. They're still kids. They need some time to relax, and to process what they've been through."
"Understood" said Batman. "Any time-critical missions will be performed by League members instead."
"Uh-huh" said Green Arrow. "Say, do we know any more about this massive bad-guy conspiracy we've been dealing with?"
"I was just about to go to Belle Reve to see if I can recover any evidence about the missing Black Adam" said Batman. "All League members will be on the lookout for any additional connections, and the German, Canadian and Spanish militaries are processing the Stuttgart, Chidley and A Coruña sites. Right now, our list of members involved directly in last night's events includes the Riddler, Sportsmaster, Cheshire, Black Manta, Klarion the Witch Boy, a Mr. Freeze, a Black Adam, the Brain and his gorilla, Psimon and Vandal Savage, not to mention Tala and Tigress. Parasite, Professor Ivo and Queen Bee appear to be accomplices and Lex Luthor is quite likely involved. Then there are the more theoretical connections: Warden Strange, Kobra, the Injustice League, Killer Frost, Captain Cold and Icicles Jr. and Sr., the entirety of Project Cadmus and possibly Intergang."
"So... a whole lot of bad guys and no idea what their objective is" said Green Arrow. "Fun."
"Speaking of which," said Black Canary as Batman turned to the zeta tube to head for Belle Reve. "I need a drink."
"It's like 10 AM" said Green Arrow.
"You wanna do the therapy instead?" Canary asked. Arrow shook his head.
"That's what I thought."
December 29, 10:57 CST
Hugo Strange entered his office and locked the door. The search had made no progress, as he expected, and Batman was due any minute.
"Well, that went remarkably well" said a figure in a brown hooded cloak sitting in Strange's chair.
"I suppose it did" said Strange. "They have no idea how Tet-Adam disappeared and even Batman will take some time to figure it out. In the meanwhile, they have confirmed that all other prisoners who are supposed to be here are here, and are checking them for duplicates."
"There are not any others, are there?" asked Psimon.
"Not that I know of" said Strange. "However, it's only a matter of time before they notice that six prisoners were transferred out this morning and decide to check up on them."
"That won't end well" said the psychic.
"I agree" said Strange. "As it happens, I think the stress of this whole duplicates mess is getting to me. It's time to go on administrative leave. I'll leave Joseph in charge. He's not one of us, but he won't be a problem."
"Very good. It appears that Lifeboat Protocol has been a success" said Psimon. "I think it would be prudent if both of us left before Batman has a chance to investigate."
"I'm going to miss this office" Strange sighed, pouring himself a glass of wine. "But, it can't be helped. To the Light" he toasted to the air.
Psimon smiled as Strange offered him a glass as well.
"To the Light" he said.
Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana
December 29, 13:16 CST
Count Werner Vertigo sat in the back of the prison van, grumbling. The peasants who ran Belle Reve had awoken him rather rudely and informed him of an immediate transfer to ADX Florence Federal Prison in Colorado. He had protested and demanded his lawyers, which had simply led to a laughing guard and a buzz from the shock collar.
His present company did not make the Count's irritation lessen. Professor Ivo kept prattling to himself about things that no one cared about. Icicle Sr. sat to himself looking smug as he always did. And then there was the smell. Oddly enough, it wasn't Ultra-Humanite, who, despite being a gorilla (albeit one with a human brain) was very well-groomed. No, it was Blockbuster. Apparently he'd been a great scientist once, but then he'd drunk some chemicals he shouldn't have and ended up a brute and a simpleton who was too large to fit in the Belle Reve showers. The perfect person to be stuck in a confined space with.
The prison van pulled over and stopped.
"Alright, boys" said one of the guards, Mason, tapping his palm with a baton. "You're out of our hair now. The ADX crew'll take it from here." He opened the back door of the van and shook hands with a new, blonde guard, who moved into the back of the van, his hat down over his eyes. Vertigo didn't bother looking at the new guard. It didn't matter, after all. They were all the same: Peasants. Worse, peasants who believed they had authority over him, and had a shock collar to back it up with.
Mason and two other Belle Reve guards got into a second van that must have been driven by the new arrivals and drove back down the highway. Presumably they'd thought that trading vans was safer than moving the prisoners from one to the other.
After a minute, the van started moving again. Icicle Sr. chuckled to himself.
"What's so funny?" Professor Ojo asked, the blocking device preventing him from firing his eye laser still firmly clamped over his headgear.
"Am I the only one who saw what just happened?" Icicle asked.
"We have been transferred from the guards at one prison to the guards at another" said Vertigo. "It is hardly a complex affair."
"None of you have been in prison much, have you?" asked Icicle.
"What do you mean by that?" Ivo asked.
"Yeah," Icicle said, amused by the prospect of knowing something someone allegedly smarter than him didn't. "Transfers like that happen, but never in the middle of nowhere on the side of the highway. For that matter, you don't get told you're being shipped out of prison two hours before. Lawyers get pissed about that kind of thing. This was not a standard procedure transfer."
"And your point?" Ojo asked.
"You guys honestly haven't figured it out?" Icicle asked. "Are you sure they're worth the trouble, Crusher?"
"Not my call, Joar" said the new guard, taking off his hat and fidgeting with the bandage on his nose.
"Sportsmaster?" asked Ivo. "How wonderful to see you!"
Sportmaster smiled. "I'm sure it is. Pull over on the next right" he said to the driver, who complied.
A minute later, they were over a hill and in a deserted field. Sportsmaster opened the door and let the prisoners out. A helicopter appeared in the sky, landing within seconds.
"Welcome, friends" said Vandal Savage, stepping from the helicopter as Sportsmaster and the driver disabled the prisoners' inhibitor collars and unlocked their shackles.
"Savage" said Vertigo, trying to look presentable, which was difficult in an orange prison suit.
"You six are very fortunate" said Savage, pacing with his arms behind his back, as he often did. "You are the last prisoners for whom we have been able to secure early release for the foreseeable future. You have been chosen because the Light takes care of its own, but also because you each have something of value to provide us."
Vertigo looked at Blockbuster again. What the brute could provide besides cheap dumb muscle was beyond him.
"Professor Ivo, Professor Ojo, Ultra-Humanite, Count Vertigo, Blockbuster and Mr. Makhet... welcome back to the Light."
Cape Chidley, Labrador, Canada
December 29, 13:43 ADT
"This place sure is burned to a crisp, isn't it?" said one soldier, shining the flashlight on his rifle around the scorched hallways of one of the destroyed buildings.
"Watch it" said a second soldier. "Justice League says that this was a supervillain base, so who knows what kind of stuff they've got down here?"
"Relax" said the first. "Either they cleared out before they blew the place, or they fried themselves along with it."
"I'll relax when I'm not four stories underground in a torched evil lair" replied his partner. The fact that the explosion had destroyed all of the lights and killed the power, leaving them relying solely on flashlights, didn't help.
There were four of them in the fireteam, one of a dozen Canadian army units sweeping the tunnels underneath the Cape Chidley facility. It was pretty clear that the former occupants had meant to destroy all traces of their activities, but that didn't necessarily mean that they had succeeded.
"Hey, check this out!" said a third soldier, pointing down a short hall interconnecting two longer halls. The blast had gone up the two long halls, but it looked like the shorter hall had been relatively shielded. A set of five glass and metal tubes were there. Four empty ones had been smashed, but it looked like they had been positioned surrounding the fifth one, almost as if they were protecting it.
The fifth tube still hummed slightly, presumably on some form of backup battery since the main base power was trashed. Water condensated on the outside of the glass, obscuring what was inside.
The first soldier stepped over the broken glass and walked up to the fifth tube. With a single gloved hand, he wiped away enough moisture to see inside.
There was a girl, somewhere between a teenager and a young adult inside. She looked unconscious but comfortable, almost like she was sleeping. Her blond hair spilled over her face.
"Guys, I think we need to call the captain" said the soldier.
"Forget that" said the second one, looking over his shoulder. "We need to call the Justice League."
He pointed at the girl. She was wearing a white jumpsuit that glowed slightly in the light. It was blank, except for a single red emblem on her chest.
An emblem that almost anyone on the planet could recognize easily.
The Superman S.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, clcmanWrite a Review