"You're certain," Captain Atom asked as Diana and Amazon both sat in the room with Phase.
"Very," Phase told them. "I was ready to fade out if necessary. For a moment, I thought it was. Her eyes took on a very bright crimson shade. As if they were burning from the inside."
"I'd better speak to Kal," Diana said quietly.
"He's still on a mission," Captain Atom reminded her. "Deep space for the next few weeks."
"Great," Amanda sighed. "You do know how ironic it is that Adana started out as the most normal of my children?"
"So normal we never paid him any attention," Captain Atom nodded. "A mistake we have to correct. Not just in her case."
"It does beg the point of our classifying certain metas as inconsequential," Amazon told them. "Considering how Adana started….."
"I wonder how many more….potential problems….have been overlooked because we made this mistake in our classifications," Captain Atom murmured.
"I hope you're not suggesting we follow Cadmus' example, and start locking up anyone that might possess special abilities," Diana asked, looking a bit curt.
"Of course not, but we cannot afford to overlook….."
"Let's not get into an argument no one can win here," Phase cut them off. "This is about Meta. While I agree that she is….still manifesting, I don't think you've grasped the most astonishing factor of all in this case."
"Please, go on," Diana nodded.
"When Adana first…..changed….. We all know she was scared. Clumsy. Even careless. She broke things. A lot. Even after her initial training, she obviously killed at least one man by accident when she faced those gunmen. Only with every apparent power surge, she is now finding an instinctive grasp on that power, and managing it like….."
"A warrior born," Diana smiled.
"You could say that," Phase said. "I also have to wonder about her father, and grandfather's genetic influence."
"Adana never knew her father. He…..died before he was two."
"Yes. But his genetic influence cannot be discounted. Strength, flight, and her remarkable senses aside, I believe that Meta purposely held back her….heat vision when she glared at me. I think she knew exactly what was about to happen, and stopped it."
"If you're right," Captain Atom asked. "She may well be becoming the most powerful member the League has ever known."
"But does she still want to go back, and live a normal life," Amazon demanded, still in civilian garb herself. "That would still be her right if she wants it."
"Indeed. She never changed her mind the entire time on the island," Diana nodded at her daughter. "Mother said she had never seen so resolute a mind in all her time."
"Right now, we have to deal with this new resurgence of Cadmus, and whatever Project Failsafe might be."
"Granted," Diana told Captain Atom. "But right now, we also have to show her that we trust her. Second-guessing her, and trying to undermine her will only bring out her resentment….. Amanda?"
She nodded at the door.
"Ada's outside. Listening," she said in a somber tone.
"Come inside, Meta," Diana called, knowing why her daughter sounded so grim considering what they had just been discussing.
The door opened, and the young woman in blue stepped into the room alone this time.
"Something on your mind, daughter," Amanda smiled.
"Funny you should mention trust."
"Mother, when were you going to tell me about my father? When were you going to admit he wasn't just a deadbeat that ran off on us?"
Amanda looked grim.
"At the time, it was….easier for all of us," she told her. "Especially Tala. The last thing I wanted was my children running off to get hurt, or worse chasing some ghost that might have killed their father."
"Who was he, mother? Why did he die?"
"I….don't know. That is, I don't know why he died. But, your father was a very good man," Amanda told her. "His name was Jason West. The last real Flash's son. He wasn't as fast as Walter, but he was fast enough. And I loved him."
"If he was a West, where did Winter come from?"
"It was a name I took to distance us from our own pasts. When I first tried to live a completely normal life. Obviously, that did not exactly work out as planned," Amanda told her.
Adana never once looked at Captain Atom, who had already told her much of this. And more.
"What was dad doing that got him killed, mother? I can't believe you didn't find out. That you didn't look?"
"I looked. And then I left it alone. While I reacted at first, in anger, I admit, and became Amazon, trying to track his killer, I still had two children to think about, and that was what brought me peace."
"I think you left a lot out," Adana said somberly, still not mentioning what Captain Atom had told her.
About how she had left her children with Diana, and gone after the assassin ready to kill him when she found him. About her long, ultimately unfruitful search for a mystery man that even those who hired him couldn't identity. She had found the men who had hired the assassin, but it did little to ease her pain. Still, after linking them to Jason's death, and having them arrested, she realized she did have to consider her children. So she changed her name, disappeared for a time, and Amanda Winter became her only identity for quite some time.
However, even Captain Atom didn't know why Jason was killed.
"You really never found out why?"
"I found out why. Never who."
"Then why," Adana asked bluntly.
"Jason was working on meta rights. A certain politician wanted him shut up, because his political action group was starting to get a lot of influence on the Hill. When he couldn't be bought off, or scared off, they decided to kill him. Shortly after his death, the group he headed faded, and the registration act was passed."
"That's a very good why," Adana said coldly. "But I'm betting someone still knows the who, too."
"I didn't have mother's lasso, and even I didn't push as hard as I could. Maybe should have. We do have limitations…. As….good guys. Or girls," Amanda told her.
"Apparently," she murmured as she walked over, and put a hand on her mother's shoulder.
"You should have told me. Sooner."
"I was waiting for the right moment."
"So, telling me he was a bum that ran off on an Amazon warrior was better," she scowled.
"Unlike you, dear, I never inherited the wisdom of Athena," Amanda smiled wanly. "Can you forgive me?"
"Does Tala know?"
"No. I never told her, either."
"You should. Soon. She deserves to know the truth," Adana told her quietly.
"You are maturing," Diana smiled at her. "Tell me, what will you do now?"
"Now? It's obvious, Wonder Woman," she called her grandmother by her appellation. "We go after the politicians that arranged father's death."
"We are not in the business of….."
"Hold it, right there," Adana pointed at the man as Captain Atom started to rise, his voice actually rising a degree. "You are the one not using your mind, here. Think. They shut down dad's group, got the meta registration act passed to exploit it. Likely for a then already present Cadmus reboot. Now, we have whispers of this new Cadmus about to launch a meta-containment project they feel will not only hold, but control the metas around them. It's linked. All of it. That cannot be allowed to succeed, Captain. Not for a single instant."
"I agree. Amazon and I will take the Capital to meet with the usual suspects. Meta," Diana nodded at her granddaughter. "I want you, and your teammates standing by. The moment we find another lead on a likely site, and you need to find Mr. Wilson, as well as shut down this Failsafe they are planning."
"One question," Captain Atom asked, now standing as he looked right at Adana.
"Did you really manifest heat vision akin to Kal-El's? Were you really able to stop it when it seemed about to explode, as Phase indicated?"
Adana glanced at Phase's nearby Styrofoam cup, now empty, and it abruptly melted into a misshapen blob on the table.
"Any other questions?"
"How did you know how to control it?"
She grinned at Phase.
"I just….knew," she shrugged.
"Is there…..anything else," Amanda asked her daughter.
"Honestly, I don't know. I didn't even know I could fly until I jumped out of the van before it blew up."
Her mother grimaced.
"Back to practice," Captain Atom more ordered than suggested. "Until we have a lead, you need to fine-tune your abilities, and assess just what you can, or can't do. You might need that knowledge…."
"I have another question first. Mom, did you really agree to conscript Titan for this….job?"
"Ola is not only a powerhouse, but a very smart woman," Amanda told her. "Unfortunately, like many on parole, she has no place to go. No options to take her there. When I heard she was paroled, I thought giving her a real second chance rather than throwing her onto the street to lapse back into criminal ways would keep us from having to face her again anytime soon."
"Okay, I can see that," she murmured, and walked out.
"I give her another week before she tries to take leadership from Spark," Phase said very earnestly.
"The way she is developing, he may well give it to her," Diana smiled.
"That is not the way we do things," Captain Atom glowered at the two.
"Oh, give it a rest," Amanda muttered. "Honestly, sometimes you're as bad as dad."
Captain Atom said nothing to that.
The dark-haired woman turned from the bed where she had been laying before getting up to pull on her boots.
"You pack a punch, gorgeous," the older woman smiled, rubbing her chin. "I'm going to be feeling that one days."
"If I hadn't figured out you were….human, you'd be worse. I was ready to take your head off."
"Glad you are smarter than your mom, then," the woman told her.
"Mom said she agreed to give you a chance here."
"Well, I might not be a….criminal genius, but I know something about tactics, and I'm pretty good when it comes to tech."
"You still pack a mean punch, too."
"Yeah, but I don't go all out much these days. It costs, and I'm going to be feeling it for days, just like I said. Still," Ola Kalinski nodded as she sat down, eyeing her one bare foot. "Your mom did surprise me by offering me a job up here. It's more than I expected."
"Mom's big on second chances," Adana told her. "For what it's worth, I hope it works out."
"Even after all that tough talk earlier?"
"I get…..moody when people push me," Adana admitted.
"Remind me to avoid you during your monthlies," Ola grinned.
Adana blushed crimson.
"Seriously, though, you weren't bad, girl. Your mom never handled me that well. I haven't been hit that hard since the last time old Supes wailed on me."
Adana said nothing to that.
"Well, I do hope things work out," she said as she started to leave.
"So, why did you really come here?"
Adana glanced back at her, glancing around, and then walked over to press a button on a nearby console.
"Now, no one's listening. I just have one question. I'm hoping you can answer it, since you have….connections the League doesn't."
"Yeah," Ola asked.
"I heard about a certain assassin. No one knows his name. No one knows who he even is, and yet politicians, and bigshots hire him. Would you happen to know….?"
"Forget you ever heard about that one, kid," Ola told her, utterly pale as she stared at her now, her other boot forgotten as she looked at her. "I mean that. This guy…. He's poison to poison. Get it? You don't want to ever draw his attention. Ever."
"Then you know him."
It wasn't a question.
"I…..I have heard of him. Never met. Never wanted to meet. I heard about a guy that crossed him, though. They still haven't found the backstabber. Get it? And that guy, he wasn't known to be careless, or a pushover, either. But he just….vanished."
"Then how do you know….?"
"Because he wasn't not the type to just go away. Not in the middle of one of his typical capers. He crossed this guy, though, and the next day….. Poof. Instant disappearing act. Yet no one saw a thing. No one heard a thing. He's that good. You don't want to draw his attention. Trust me on that."
"He killed my father," Adana said quietly.
"I'm sorry," Ola told her earnestly.
"And I think he's tied to a resurgence of Cadmus."
"Please, tell me you're kidding," she groaned.
Adana shook her head.
"Anything you can tell me…."
"All I know is a word. They say, if you type that word, and put it on a certain search engine, he'll find you. You never know where, or when. But he does the finding. I don't think you want him to find you."
Adana considered the past few days, and her friends, and family.
"What's the word," she asked quietly.
"I have a lead," Adana told Gordon that evening in the mess, well away from any of the others present. "But I need to be able to be alone to pursue it. The thing is, I can't be….me, doing it either. Know what I mean?"
"So, you need a fake ID to set you up somewhere innocuous? Why not talk to….?"
"This is not exactly an…..authorized investigative pathway I'm taking here. But if I'm right, it will take us right to the real masterminds behind the whole thing."
"What do you need," Gaia asked as Ember and Dreadnaught just sat eating, pretending not to notice anything.
"I need a place to stage a meet. An ordinary place where no one will think twice about who I might be. Or might not be. It's a gamble, but if this works, we can bring some of mystery men out from behind the curtains."
"Sounds like it's worth a shot to me," Robert declared. "No way you are going in alone, though. Even you need backup, Meta."
"I'll have you guys on frequency, on standby, but I can't have anyone in my immediate vicinity. This guy would notice."
"You sound like you're expecting a heavy-hitter," Gordon realized.
"Very heavy. Cadmus's hired gun."
"Oh, hell," Todd rasped. "The same guy that took out your old man?"
"How did you know about that," she turned on him.
"Gossip flies even here. It wasn't that long ago that Amazon was tearing up D.C. looking for ghosts, and a lot of people were wanting her tried for assaulting some pretty high-placed people," Gordon told her. "I get the feeling you're looking at the same dead-end she did."
"Wrong. The dead-end just took a new road. I have a solid lead. I just need the place to stage a meet."
"First, tell me everything," Spark demanded.
"Only if you give your word to help, and not run to Captain Atom."
"This isn't about vengeance, Spark. Well, maybe in part. But you know I'm right. The regular League couldn't do this, trust me. It has to be…..covert. Someone this guy would never even think was suspicious. And if I'm right, we blow the lid off Cadmus, and the government's meta double-cross when we drag this guy into the light."
"All right. Open mikes, and you don't engage without backup," Gordon said curtly. "Agreed?"
"Agreed. From what I've been putting together, this guy is super-cautious, and twice as sneaky. It'll likely take us all to bring him down. But if I can lure him out, we can, and then that makes finding the real Cadmus a lot easier."
"I say do it," Gaia nodded. "Girl's got a right to bang the head of the man that took her dad."
"Yeah," Ember nodded.
"Whatever works," Robbie nodded in turn. "So, how do we do it?"
"I go back to college," Adana told them.
"We have a problem," J'onn told Captain Atom as he walked into the conference room where the hero was going over reports on his teams.
"I already know about Meta conscripting a safe house to lure out the Cadmus assassin. She's not that smart. Ms. Kelinski told me everything."
"I see. That is clever," the Martian murmured, "But that isn't what I was referring to, Captain."
"No," the man asked, looking up from the table. "Then what is it?"
"Recall Ms. Steele. Meta's friend?"
"Indeed. You recall she displayed an ability to shape-shift, and apparently explained it as a reaction to a vial she took from her mother's job the day she died? A vial spilled on her when the car crashed into the river?"
"I read the report."
"Have you….interacted with the young lady?"
"No. She struck me as a bit….insolent. I get enough of that from some of the novices. I don't need it from the civilians."
"I think it's more than that. I think….it's an external influence," J'onn admitted.
"External influence? Bad parenting? What do you mean…?"
"Think, Captain. She is exposed to a pink serum that makes her genetic structure completely….malleable. Able to shift into anything she can imagine. Her personality is erratic, insolent, and somewhat unstable."
"You're…..describing Plastic Man. But O'Brian vanished years ago."
"Yes, he did, didn't he? Just about the time the first meta registrations were starting."
"Oh, hell. If someone was able to distill whatever unstable chemicals gave him his powers….."
"It is possible they were passed on to Ms. Wilson. It's equally possible that some part of his genetic matrix was passed, too, giving her a degree of his personality, and….quirks."
"Maybe it's the malleability itself that influences the behavior," Captain Atom reasoned. "Still, either way, it suggests a troubling alternative to certain missing, or retired heroes we thought laying low all this time."
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?"
"Suddenly, Meta's ploy seems a lot more dangerous than I envisioned. We need someone inside. Someone that no one can see coming, just in case she needs more help than she realizes."
"How about me," a snide tone asked.
Both heroes looked around, seeing nothing.
"Right here, guys," Pinkie said as her head rose out of a chair sitting across the room. "How much stealthier can you get if no one even knows you're here?"
"Clever," Captain Atom murmured, and eyed J'onn.
"I couldn't even sense your mind. In fact, it occurs to me, I can no more read your mind, than I could Plastic Man's."
"So, you're saying I really did somehow get his powers?"
"It seems more than likely," J'onn said somberly. "Which means, young lady, you might need more help than you imagine, too."
"I don't know," the blonde, now fully human, walked over to lean against the table with a smirk. "Sounds like you guys are the ones needing help. And if I can do anything for Ada, you better believe I'm in. So, tell me what to do?"
"First, we'd better brief you on O'Brian's…..abilities, and ascertain just what you can, or can't do. If you have even a degree of his abilities, you might be just what we need," Captain Atom actually smiled.
"Okay, I didn't think you smiled. What's with the shark teeth, silver butt?"
"Silver butt," he sputtered.
"She calls me Green bean," J'onn sighed.
Captain Atom tried very hard not to groan.
To Be Continued…..