"Nothing," Gordon told them as they left the Wilson house for the second time.
That, after they had joined up with the rest of their team at the Gen-Tech offices, and checked out Daniel Wilson's offices, and private lab.
"There is such a thing as being too clean," Robbie told them as Dreadnaught glowered at the butler who had let them into the 'storm shelter' made of the basement only with the greatest of reluctance.
If, that is, one turned a basement into an entire underground shelter that resembled a penthouse suite crammed with all the amenities. Little wonder the boss likely didn't want anyone knowing he was ready for a siege with all the provisions, and armaments down there.
Still, there wasn't anything that gave them any real clues.
"Actually, I think there is something that tipped their hand," Gaia told him as she now glanced back at the house with a thoughtful expression.
"What's that," Gordon, now in his full Spark costume asked as the light blue costume crossed by golden lightning bolts eyed her as Ada frowned back at the house.
"Well, even for a rich guy, that basement screamed doomsday scenario. It looked like Danny was getting ready to hole up for a very long time. Maybe he knew something bad was coming, and wanted to be ready. I'd bet money he was about ready to go on 'vacation' just about the time he vapored," the girl told him.
"That actually makes a lot of sense," Adana told Gordon. "I was just thinking about those provisions. He had quite a lot stored down there. Even if he only took Barb with him, there was enough to last two people for at least ten years. Or up to five for half that long."
"Which meant he had to have trusted someone else with the knowledge. The wrong someone else," Ember realized.
"Exactly," Adana agreed. "Spark, did you happen to get a contact list off his devices? Something that would suggest who Mr. Wilson had been talking to a lot lately? Like, the week before he vanished?"
"Three names come up consistently," Gordon nodded. "His junior VP, a lab rat we met at Gen-Tech, and…."
"Darla Steele. Meta, don't you know her?"
"Yeah, but…. Wait," Meta scowled. "Mr. Wilson was talking to Pinkie?"
"We need to talk to her," Gordon said without answering her. "If only to eliminate her before we head back to reexamine Gen-Tech's VP, and that scientist."
"We storm the college like some invading army, and the dean will be screaming at all of us. Let me arrange a meet. Somewhere that no one will look twice at us," Adana suggested.
"Because the gene-trackers are just going to ignore the fact you ran off only to come back to see your best girl," Robbie asked snidely. "They'll guess something is up, and might go after her next."
"We can't risk calling. They could have all manner of surveillance already in the area," Spark told her. "Like it, or not, this is now League business, and we have to see her. Let's go."
"Fine," Adana spat at him. "But don't get mad at me when Captain Stick-in-the-Mud yells at us because the dean complains."
"You actually call him that," Gaia gasped.
"That's the least she's called him," Robbie chortled. "They don't always get along."
Adana's expression was eloquent as they headed for the nondescript van they were using to get around to be low-key just now. At least, as low key as five colorfully clad young heroes could be driving around a small city in a minivan.
Target stared at the phone when it rang, and it proved to be the same number he had just dialed a day before. A number that shouldn't be calling now. Just a few more minutes, and he would have retired this phone, and gotten one that couldn't be traced back to him again.
"Justify this call, or you will be regretting it," he growled as he chose to pick it up.
"League members, including the Winter girl, just showed up at the college again, and dragged another girl out of school. It could be connected, so find out why. It's worth two large to us."
"If it involves the League, make it ten," he said, not sure he even wanted to try to slip around even one of their junior teams. Even the younger members had proven quite often that they were not to be underestimated. If Winter was involved, that meant she would be watching, too. And Diana, old as she was, was no slouch. If anything, she was sharper than ever.
"Five. Ten if you bring us the Winter girl in a bag."
"You want bodies, and you're talking more than a few hundred thousand," he growled irritably now. "Especially if they are League bodies."
"She's not active….."
"Then you are behind the times. The girl is actively working with the Martian, and Captain Atom. Or didn't your spies know that," he demanded.
"Fine. Ten for the information. And fifty for any fresh meta samples, bodies, or otherwise, that you can manage. We want to know why they are visiting the girl there, though."
"What was the girl's name they contacted?"
"The exact name is unknown, but I believe they call her Pinkie. Wilson was contacting her for reasons not in our files. Now the League is visiting her. That's too much of a coincidence. Whatever else, we want her, or her silence, assured."
"Understood," Target said quietly, and hung up, before crushing the phone in his hand.
"Pinkie," he murmured. "What the hell are you into now, girl," he asked as he turned to stare at a nearby photo on the mantle of his innocuous home.
Darla was involved with Dan Wilson? That was the contact they never let him hear about before now? Now she was getting visits from League teams? Apparently, his daughter was up to more than he had realized. Suddenly, he was wondering if her partying had entirely other connotations to it that he had blithely overlooked, thinking he knew her.
Heading for his room, and the hidden room that held his 'working gear,' Target prepared to find out just what the hell his daughter had gotten mixed up in before it blew up in her face.
Whatever it was, he had the unnerving feeling that Darla Steele did not have half his sense or caution when it came to dealing with dangerous scenarios. Which meant, he had little doubt, she was going to need help. A lot of help. Just to stay alive.
"What," Pinkie complained as she looked up from her notebook. "I think I almost got this one figured…..out….."
She realized that while Lena had tapped her shoulder, she wasn't looking at her. She, like the other girls, were staring at the open door where Ada stood in full costume. With four other costumed figures all looking at them.
"Pinkie," Ada told her. "We need to talk."
"We do," the blonde quipped.
"Not here," Spark told her. "You need to come with us, if you don't mind. Don't worry, we'll see you're returned soon enough."
"Safe and sound," Dreadnaught nodded somberly, not even smiling just then as the four girls in the room just gaped at them.
"Ada," Lena asked. "Is….Barb okay," she asked after glancing over at Nell, who just stared at her, pale, and astonished.
"She's fine. And in a very safe place. We just need to talk to Pinkiey now. It won't take long."
"Sure," Pinkie recovered. "Let me just grab my….."
"Leave the phone," Spark told her. "It's loaded with extraneous GPS, and spyware systems," he told her with just a glance.
"Dad," she muttered dourly. "I knew it. I freakin' knew it."
Flinging the phone so it bounced off the wall, and shattered, spilling battery, and several small chips from the back when it split, Pinky glared.
"Trust not the Man," she swore. "Even if it is your old man! Especially if it's your old man."
"Later," Adana told her, putting a hand on her shoulder. "We need to go before we attract attention."
"Right," Pinkie drawled. "Because you're all so incognito just now?"
"We will be," Spark told her. "Let's go. Time is crucial at this point."
"Okay, seriously," Pinkie said, frowning back at their friends as she was led out of the room. "What's going on, because the last time I saw you…?"
"Not here. We may be monitored while on campus."
"Okay, paranoid much?"
"Someone is piggybacking the local security network, and spying on this dorm in particular," Spark told her. "That means someone already knows we're here, and that we came for you. We can't risk interrogating you here, when it might be tipping off the wrong ears."
Pinky turned pale.
"You're saying someone is spying on our dorm? Our rooms? If I find them….."
"We'll take care of it," Spark told her, leading her down the hall while everyone that spotted them just gaped, and stood back. "You just need to trust us, and stay quiet until it's safe to talk."
She looked back at Adana, and asked, "So, someone really was after Barb?"
"And if we're right, you might be next," Adana told her as they left the dorm.
"Me," she sputtered as they led her to a dark van with tinted windows that Dreadnaught started up after climbing behind the wheel. "Why?"
"Why don't you tell us," Ada asked as she shut the door after they were all inside. "Buckle up, it's going to be a quick ride, and we do need to talk."
"Okay," she muttered, pulling a seat belt in place around her as Ada sat beside her, Spark in the passenger seat just eyeing something on the console, and the other three getting into the back seat behind them.
"Stealth cloak active," Spark reported. "Let's chat, girl," he said, turning to eye her.
"So, what? You want a weather forecast, or do you need the cheat sheet for…."
"We know you were conferring with Daniel Wilson just before he vanished. We know he was preparing to go underground for….an extended period. We want to know why. What were you two talking about? Why would he even come to you for anything," Spark demanded.
Pinky stared at him, her chin rising, her full lips thinning.
"This is serious, Pinkie," Adana told her friend. "Someone wasn't just after Barb. They were trying to kill her. They tried twice more after we left. They'll try again if we let them."
"She's on the Watchtower," Ada nodded.
"That's pretty safe," Pinkie murmured.
"These people are using state-of-the-art genetic trackers. They had access to meta registrations, and DNA profiles. And they deliberately targeted Barb's father, and likely now you. Why," Spark asked.
"Chill, bossy," Pinkie growled. "I'm talking to my friend."
"Pinkie, this is serious. If you know anything…."
"Okay. Okay. Dan….. We met online. At first, he was kind of a mentor. I was considering advanced nano-morphing as a field, and he was involved with some of the best cutting-edged work according to Gen-Tech's propaganda pages."
Adana nodded. "Go on."
"We started talking, and….. Well, Dan figured out I wasn't as dim as everyone else thinks I am."
"I never did," Adana told her. "Unless it's something you don't care about. Like economics," she said with a faint smile.
"Bingo," Pinkie smirked back. "Anyway, I started tossing out ideas to sound out off him. Hypotheticals. Then he, I thought teasingly, asked if I was hacking their computers, because some of my ideas seemed to be what they were working on at the same time."
"What ideas," Ada asked after Spark glanced her way.
"Genetic amalgamation. Not just hybrids, but combining several genomes via a techno-organic fusion to improve the species. Something like that."
"Why would you even think about something like that," Robbie asked curtly.
"Well, think about it. You could fuse the regenerative abilities of a chameleon into a stronger, more endurable host, and improve man as a species. No more worrying if you did, or didn't have a metagene. Or a compatible organ if you needed a transplant. Or something similar," she told him. "If you could fuse special genomes, you could jumpstart an entirely new evolutionary branch that would help us finally start learning to be….well, better. Or that was the idea," she grimaced.
"I think someone else has other intentions," Spark mused.
"Cadmus," Ember said from behind them.
"Cadmus," Pinkie frowned. "You're talking about those weirdos from the old days? Aren't they….?"
"They're back. And they're up to something big enough they want anyone that knows anything dead. I have the feeling once they figured out you knew anything at all, they would have come for you next. Just tell me, did you and Mr. Wilson talk about anything else in those last few days?"
"The last time we talked was over a month ago," she admitted.
"He was complaining about Barbie. You know how it is. Daughter's a disappointment. That kind of thing. Still, he was talking about taking a….vacation. Wondering how to convince her to….come along without an argument," she said, her eyes only then showing any realization.
"Yeah," Ada nodded. "He probably knew then. You sure he didn't try to tip you off?"
"He did suggest…..I try a more unorthodox vacation break myself. He even suggested a few islands he thought I'd like."
"Which islands," Robbie asked, glancing over his shoulder.
"His suggestions might have a point," Spark agreed. "Where did he suggest?"
Pinky rattled off several islands, some known vacation spots, some not. Nothing about them really stood out.
"I don't get the connections," Robbie frowned. "I thought for sure he might have been trying to pass on something. A secret code. A message…."
"Coordinates," Adana told them after a moment. "He was using coordinates in polynomial fashion."
"What," Gaia frowned.
"Think about it," she told Spark. "Take the first locations, all in the northern hemisphere, horizontally located from town."
"The others, all southern islands, all vertically located away from the nations."
"Longitude. But which….."
"If one is latitude, and the other longitude, then he wouldn't be obvious. Invert the locations, and put them together to form single coordinate, and you end up with…."
"Looks like we're going to Canada," Adana nodded at Spark.
"More specifically, northwest Saskatchewan."
"And I didn't bring a coat. Or are you dropping me somewhere….?"
"I think you'd better stay with us. You'll stay in the van, of course," Robbie told her, not even glancing back now. "Everyone hold on for vertical takeoff."
"Vertical? In a van," Pinkie sputtered.
"All-terrain mobile vehicle. And when I say all-terrain," Robbie grinned, pulling back on the wheel that suddenly jerked back from the dash as something clanged outside the body, and began to vibrate alarmingly.
"I hate to fly," Pinkie shrieked as the van converted, air spoilers sliding out from under its frame before it blasted into the sky on small, but powerful rocket boosters.
"Don't worry, you're perfectly safe," Adana assured her.
Pinkie, looking almost as pale as the clouds around them just then, didn't look convinced as she saw the city fall below and away from them at alarming speed.
Target, his own more subtle costume under his civilian clothes, walked into the girl's dorm without hesitation as he pulled out his identification.
"I'm here to see my daughter," he told the security guard on duty.
"She's not here," the man drawled, not even looking away from the small TV on his desk where he was watching an old movie.
"Then where is she," Damien Steele demanded to know as he eyed the indolent man that could use some exercise in spite of his apparent build.
"Who knows. Kid is always running in and out. I'm not her….."
Damien's hand had come down on the back of the chair, and spun the burly man around, and away from his desk.
"You, sir, are required to keep an eye on these young ladies, and ensure you know where they are at all times, and that they aren't in any trouble. Now, if she is gone, she had to have signed out. You will tell me where, when, and why, or I will be discussing your future employment options with your superiors very, very shortly," the big man said in a cold, implacable tone. "Understood?"
"Fine, fine. Jeez. All you had to do was ask. See," he gestured at the sign-out sheet. "She left….thirty minutes ago. Signed out with a bunch of fairies in drag. Guess she was off to some new party. That one likes to…..party….."
"Be aware you are discussing my daughter. Describe these….fairies?"
"Goofy looking kids. One of them was another student. That Amazon girl. Real nutcase that one, you ask me. Some fruit in yellow metal, and….."
"Never mind. You are describing Justice League members. Not fairies. You do know that?"
"They all look like fairies to me," the security guard snorted. "Who the heck dresses in their underwear to go outside? I ask you that?"
He shot another look at the sign-out sheet, noted Darla's distinctive drawl, and read her name, time, and reason. 'Confab,' she had written.
He said nothing as he turned, and walked out of the dorm.
Ten minutes later, he was back in a nondescript sedan that wasn't his usual car, and heading away from the college.
He waited until he was off campus, and away from surveillance from either side, and then used his new phone to dial a certain number.
"It's me. I need all surveillance you have on the two subjects mentioned previously forwarded to this number now."
He hung up without waiting for a reply.
"Amateurs," he muttered. He hated dealing with amateurs.
What concerned him, though, was how his daughter, usually a willful, and indolent creature, had gotten involved in an active League operation that crossed paths with his current employer. Something was off here. He just wasn't sure what, or why.
And he hated uncertainties. In his work, it was a sure path to failure, or worse.
He had to find out what was going on, and fast.
Even if he had to take the answers from his employer's own brain.
"We're really going to Canada," Pinkie asked, watching the landscape curve, and speed past them far below the unlikely vehicle.
She wasn't as sickly as she had appeared at the start, but she was still looking less than happy to be with them.
"For now, you're safest with us," Adana assured her. "Once we're sure we can shut these people down, everything will get back to normal soon enough."
"Define normal," Pinkie grimaced.
"Girl has a point," Gaia chortled.
Ember said nothing as Dreadnaught laughed, too, and Spark turned to eye Adana, and remarked, "According to the GPS markers, there is supposed to be nothing up here. As in virgin timber, and nothing else. You're bordering the Northwest Territories, and we're talking barrens, mountains, and not much else."
"Perfect place to hide something you don't want anyone else seeing," Adana nodded. "Especially since everyone has been looking for a resurgence of something like Cadmus after that last fiasco according to the records I studied."
"So, you do study," Dreadnaught quipped.
"And you don't," Spark chided him. "Ironically, Captain Atom was one of those that suggested we keep our eyes open from the beginning. He wasn't happy about the way Cadmus turned on the League, and almost destroyed the world itself before they were done."
"Well, to be honest, a lot of that was the Luthor/Brainiac combo," Adana recalled. "Although, they didn't help. The powers-that-be certainly didn't bother to realize how easily they had been exploited, and manipulated."
"Granted. But if they are anything like they were then, and if they are working on….nano-fusion," Spark added, glancing back at Pinkie, "Then we have to find out, and shut them down. Fast, and hard. The last thing we need is another Doomsday scenario biting us all in the backside."
"Or anywhere else," Pinkie muttered.
"You seem to be taking this pretty calmly considering," Gaia remarked from behind Pinkie. "Aside from your acrophobia."
"Hey, I'm not afraid of spiders," Pinkie shot over her shoulder.
Ada rolled her eyes.
"She means heights, Pinkie. Fear of heights," Adana told her.
"I'm not scared of heights, either," she grumbled, glaring back at her friend. "Just….weird cars that shouldn't have rockets shoved up their tailpipes," she muttered.
Ember laughed at that one.
"Took me a while to get used to the new ATVs we use, too," he admitted.
"Yeah? How long," she demanded.
"I'll let you know," he grinned.
Pinkie glanced back at him, and snorted.
"We're coming up on the coordinates," Dreadnaught reported. "The Watchtower still can't get a lock on the site. It's definitely got some kind of shielding that interferes with any observation from the usual means. Which means this is likely a hostile site."
"Agreed," Spark nodded. "Dreadnaught, put us down outside the perimeter, and we'll move in on foot to investigate. Agreed," he asked the team.
"Uh, I think someone has other ideas," Pinkie pointed out the front windshield.
"Incoming," Dreadnaught shouted, and twisted away from the vapor trails behind the small, silver darts coming their way.
"There's nothing on radar, or scans," Spark exclaimed.
"Blanks? They actually have blanks," Ember asked. "Let me out," he growled, and released his seatbelt, to stand up.
"Everyone tighten your harnesses. I'm opening the hatch," Spark shouted as Dreadnaught turned sharply again, making both Gaia and Pinkie wail in protest.
"This doesn't bother you," Pinkie shouted over the sudden rush of wind as the side door slid open, and Ember seemed to be sucked out like a cartoon character into the air beyond.
"You've never experienced my grandmother's flying," Adana told her grimly as her eyes remained locked on the smaller figure of Ember who now shot up on a trail of flame he was using to lift, and propel himself.
"Two of the five mini-missiles locked on his heat signature," Spark reported, the hatch still open. "We still have three inbound."
"Can't you close that door," Pinky asked uneasily.
"No," Spark shouted back over the roar of wind. "We may still have to bail ourselves!"
"But I can't fly," she protested.
"Neither can I," Dreadnaught told her, but didn't sound too worried about it.
Adana looked at Pinkie who was eyeing her.
"I….don't know," she admitted.
"I fly," Gaia told her.
"So do I," Spark told her. "After a fashion."
"After a fashion? After a fashion," Pinkie shrieked. "What does that….?"
The air buckled before them as two explosions shook the small vehicle as the missiles still tracking Ember suddenly exploded.
"Ember," Dreadnaught shouted, then banked, and they all saw the pyrokinetic streaking back around to intercept another of the three missiles still trailing their crazed flight.
"He likes to show off," Gaia huffed, and jerked off her own belt. "I'd better go help. Or we're still going to end up….."
"Too late," Dreadnaught shouted, all but tearing his belt away, and shoving his door open with enough force to warp the panel. "Everyone bail, now!"
Adana jumped even as she snapped her own belt and Pinkie's simultaneously. Spark and Gaia were already outside, and Pinkie was screaming in her ear as she saw Dreadnaught, his golden armor glittering in the sun, dropping like a stone.
Overhead, the small van flew on less than a few yards before two of the remaining three missiles turned, slammed into the undercarriage, and the resulting explosions rained debris down over them.
"Ada, you…. We aren't….. Falling," Pinkie rasped, clinging so tightly to Adana it seemed she had to choking her just then.
"Guess….I can fly," she said grimly as Gaia used her power over the air to blow the falling debris aside.
"What about Dreadnaught," Pinkie asked, looking down.
"Trust me," Spark shot past, his entire body seemingly composed of sparking and crackling electrons just then. "In that armor, nothing short of a nuke will even scratch him."
Adana didn't miss the fact he looked right at her as he spoke in that weird, buzzing tone he had in his electrical form.
"Everyone down, and let's hope they think they blew us away. Gaia, cover us if necessary with that fog trick of yours. Let's go."
"Right," Gaia saluted, and began to descend as the last missile locked on a larger piece of debris thanks to Ember's assist of superheating the falling shard, and it exploded well away from them. Ember flew close to them, dropping down with them, and just started at Adana.
"Didn't know you could fly, Meta," he commented.
"Neither did I," she admitted. "But when I jumped, it just….felt natural."
"Gotta love raw talent," Ember grinned, and dropped down to join Dreadnaught, still clambering out of the crater he had carved out of the forest floor below when he had impacted.
"You're kidding me," the man in mystic armor protested as he spotted the brunette dropping down with Pinkie in her arms, bracketed by Spark and Gaia. "She flies now? What can't you do, Wonder Babe?"
"I'm not knocking you into orbit yet," she growled. "Keep on with that kind of talk, though…."
"Stow it," Gordon snapped. "This isn't training, people. We're in a hostile field, and we're obviously onto something. Gordon, watch our backs. Ember, Gaia, move ahead, and see if you can recon the area ahead. I believe we're still about three miles from the actual coordinates."
"What about me," Adana asked when Gordon just looked around.
"Find shelter, and keep the civilian safe."
Meta just stared at him.
"I'm going to try to find an electrical feed, and sneak in to tap their systems. Maybe while they are focused on the intruder they just blew out of the sky, we can get in, do our jobs, and get out. Right now, that girl is our primary responsibility, Meta. So keep her alive while we finish this job."
Adana looked stubborn for a moment, and then nodded.
"You're right. I'll see if I can find water, too. If we're out here long, we'll need it."
"Don't bother. Anything in the immediate environment is likely going to be tainted by whatever they're doing inside that place," Gaia told her. "I can feel…..something around us. The entire area is….toxic."
"You can sense that," Spark turned to study the younger teen. "Is it airborne, or…?"
"Mostly in the earth, and the water. But part of it is in the air. Nothing serious, but…. I wouldn't trust the water. Or anything growing."
"Noted," he nodded at her. "Okay, you know what we have to do. Gaia, how far back does Meta need to get to escape the area's toxicity?"
"At least another two miles," she said after a moment.
"All right. Meta, pull back, and locate shelter outside the danger zone so your friend isn't hurt. If we're not back in…..three hours, call Captain Atom, and report our progress."
"Your primary duty is keeping your friend safe. She's a civilian."
"She's dead meat, hero," another voice growled as three men stepped around a stand of trees, and opened fire on them with automatic rifles.
Adana stepped forward at once, bracelets flashing like lightning even as Ember and Gaia superheated the air around them. Bullets just bounced off Dreadnaught's armor even as they simply passed through Spark who changed into his electric form.
An instant later, they all gaped as several bursts of gunfire hit Pinkie dead center in her chest, and shredded her clothing. Before bouncing back after hitting a critical point where her strangely pliant skin yielded, and then popped back out, sending the high velocity rounds back at their owner, bouncing off his own body armor.
"Take them out," Spark shouted, and as a group, they slammed into the three, and quickly overpowered them.
"I guess you guys are curious about me," Pinkie sighed as they all turned to face her, untouched aside from her shredded clothing.
"Goes without saying, Plasti-Girl," Robbie grinned as he labeled her impulsively.
To Be Continued…