"This is some funeral," Pinkie murmured, staring at the gathered League on the command deck all watching the remote-controlled shuttle that had been conscripted to carry Todd's body to its final rest.
As it was a ship already damaged in previous action, it was chosen since it was meant to be retired anyway.
"Where's Ada? I mean, Meta," Gaia asked. "She should be here."
"I am," the tall brunette in a striking new uniform said as she stepped off the teleport pad a moment later with Diana at her side.
"Whoa," Pinkie blinked. "Nice threads."
"Later," she said, and looked to the rest of her team. "Let's honor our friend. A real hero to the end," she said somberly as she nodded to Spark. "He will be missed."
"Yes," Gordon agreed, and a single tear fell from his face.
"Won't be the same without him."
Adana glanced at Robbie.
"Everything changes," she told him sagely. "It's just part of life."
"Wise words," J'onn murmured as he came up behind her. "We need to speak."
"It's been a whole day. Did you find out…?"
"Privately," J'onn told her somberly.
"Okay. Afterward," she said, her eyes going to the small shuttle now passing Mercury's orbit.
The Martian nodded, and walked away.
She kept watching, right up to the time the ship seemed to flare, and then vanish in a bright haze.
"Goodbye, Todd," Spark sighed.
"Flame to fire," Gaia murmured.
Robbie just looked away.
Pinkie drew a deep breath, looked around, and asked, "Anyone see Connor? He should be here."
More than a few of those around them groaned.
"I'd better go see what J'onn needed. Might be important," she told Spark. "Catch you in the usual place?"
"We'll be in our quarters. Nothing going on just now," Gordon told her. "They're keeping us all up here while the American media crushes our reps."
"What," she sputtered.
"Feral is working on that one, but…. They're saying we're a band of rogues that hit a secret, military installation for reasons of our own. Evil reasons," Robbie told her.
Adana gaped, glancing over at Diana.
"Did you know?"
"I was with you, Warrior," she told her.
"Warrior," the team frowned.
"Later," she snapped at them. "I'm going to see what J'onn has to say."
"Calm down," he said first as he led her into a private room away from the command deck.
"I am calm," she seethed.
"I take it you've heard of the media reports."
"Spark just told me….."
"He's not wrong. Those in power are trying to cover an unlawfully placed secret outpost by claiming you were responsible for its destruction in the first place."
"Which….is technically true," she grumbled.
"Precisely. Which makes defending you tricky just now, since the administration to loathe to admit it even had a meta agenda going beyond the registration act."
"Hypocrites," she growled.
"They often are. However, in this one instance, they are partially innocent."
"While Janus, using the old Cadmus codes as a cover was not a legitimate government project, it was a military one."
"Of course," she grumbled.
"Led, and exploited by Anthony Luthor."
"Say who," she frowned. "I remember Lex. I didn't know he had a kid," she sputtered.
"Technically, he did not have….children. He did, however, have clones. One of them survived after his own death, eventually broke free of his containment, and proving he had his sire's genius, created a series of blank identities to cover his existence."
"So, he was behind everything?"
"More than you know. He was driven by an impulse even he likely didn't understand. Only where Lex hated Superman, this clone despises all metas. He decided to implement a way to destroy them all. Every single one."
"Which is whack, since the whole of humanity is a carrier for the gene," she realized.
"I don't think he cared. This clone isn't interested in wealth, power, or ambition. He simply wants metas exterminated. I believe it's a flaw in his mental programming. Likely why Luthor never activated him," J'onn speculated.
"So….where is he? I doubt he's going to be standing trial anytime soon. Is he?"
"And have the government exposed as the incompetents they were at being led by a clever Lex-clone into a doomsday plot. Again?"
"Right. So what happens?"
"There is more, Meta. One of his aliases was Daniel Wilson."
"Oh, no," Adana paled. "Barb."
"Yes. You should know, he is not her biological father. Wilson, as he called himself, chose to wed a single mother with a promising meta-gene, wanting to see what her young child would manifest. When it seemed she wasn't possessed of either an active gene, or any potential, he wrote her off."
"Wait," Ada rasped. "You're saying….Barb's own father was trying to have her killed," she exclaimed.
J'onn said nothing to that.
"I can't tell her that," she groaned.
"No. I suggest we tell her nothing of her….father. It would do her little good."
"And a lot of harm," she said grimly. "Did he…what about her mother?"
"Her mother was eventually conscripted into the Failsafe project. She apparntly died during the research phase."
J'onn said nothing to that.
"So, how do we go forward?"
J'onn smiled now.
"You don't think I'm going to stay up here, and hide, do you? I'm still going to college. I have friends here, with lives to continue. I am sure not hiding from a bunch of idiot reporters spouting phony stories," she spat.
"I didn't think you would. I was waiting for a reporter of our own to show up."
Which was when he walked into the room.
"Hello, Adana. Sounds as if you were having quite a time lately," Kal-El smiled at her, his hard, seemingly ageless body filling the room as he closed the door behind him.
Mom was right. He didn't need the cape, or the gaudy colors. The dark blue costume was more than enough with his sheer presence.
"Uh, hi. Yeah. I mean…."
"Calm down, Ada," Kal smiled at his granddaughter. "J'onn was briefing me on what happened while I was away. Sounds like you, and your friends acquitted yourselves quite well. Now, since Caleb Kent is a respected journalist like his late father Clark, I think I should get your story out before we let you finish off this fiasco. How does that sound?"
"Uh, fine. Fine," she said, just staring at him, and feeling a bit silly. For some reason, even her grandmother Diana didn't unnerve her the way he did.
"Good. I like the new costume by the way. It looks good."
"Uh, thanks. It's….kind of a story by itself," she said, eyeing J'onn.
"Indeed. I would imagine so."
"Did you peek," she demanded.
The Martian actually looked offended.
"She's teasing, J'onn. Now, let's get your side of the real story down, shall we," Kal asked. "Just start from the beginning."
She nodded, and did just that. Starting with the day of that mission when Captain Atom alerted them that someone was after Barb Wilson.
"It's Meta! Meta!"
"Ada! Over here," Carla's voice boomed as she waved manically over the crowd.
The brunette in a new costume walked alongside Dean Sanders, a neutral, if somber expression on her face as she didn't turn right, or left. She walked up to the podium prepared in the outdoor setting in front of the admin building, and nodded as the dean stepped up to the mike, and tapped the device that squealed faintly.
Some things, after all, never changed.
"If you will be quiet, and hold your questions," the dean declared as he spoke as much to the press, as to the coalition of students, and concerned parents gathered after news of Adana Winter's return to college reached them.
Caleb Kent's story came out as a small splash that created a tsunami as the current administration was left scrambling for cover as news that the registration gene-banks were being used by unscrupulous parties in the military to create a super-weapon that Adana's team had discovered, intercepted, and stopped before it could do any real harm.
With the thanks of a very angry Canadian government that had no clue Janus had set up shop under its very nose, the media had swiftly changed the official stories that had been initially set out to discredit and undermine her.
"First," Ian Sanders said as Adana stood beside him, and simply stared. "Many of you already know Adana Winter by now. Amazon's daughter came here to attend college, and find her own place in the world. The same as any of our fine students. It is to her credit that twice she has acted above, and beyond to save her fellow students, and then, to save us all. That does not change her desire to attend our institution, and complete her own education."
The complaints began to sound almost as once.
"My mom is such a sheep," someone groaned near Carla, and her small group.
"Before this gets out of control, I have someone that wants to speak. Other than Adana," he added when someone started trying to get the 'boos' going.
From behind the podium, and behind other members of the faculty, a pale, quiet blonde stepped forward, and smiled faintly at the costumed heroine. Then, drawing a deep breath, she turned, and stepped up into Ian Sander's place.
"My name is Barbara Wilson. Some of you know me. Some of you knew my dad. He was not only the head of Gen-Tech, and an advisor to the White House, he was a man that sacrificed his life for what was right."
Adana's jaw clenched now, but she maintained her silence as the blonde went on.
"I, myself, couldn't believe it when people targeting my father, began to target me. If it weren't for Adana, I wouldn't be here now. She saved my life more than once, and risked her life to find my father. It's not her fault she was too late. She saved me, and proved that I wasn't just a paranoid coed like the local police claimed. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be here, and my dad would have died for no reason," she sniffed. "But she….. She and her….friends…. They found those men responsible, and they risked their lives….. To stop those real madmen. One of them, a very brave young man, died to protect all of us. And you stand here….."
She stopped, tears flowing now as she wiped them away with a ruthless swipe of her hand, and glared.
"You stand here, and protest a brave woman who stood up when no one else would? Or could? Shame on you. Shame on all of you," Barb spat.
She turned, hugged Adana, and then walked away. Then ran.
No one stopped her.
Adana turned, and glanced after her, noting she was headed straight for the dorm.
Ian Sanders nodded at her now, clearing his throat to gain her attention, and she glanced back, and eyed the microphone as if it were something venomous.
"I have a prepared statement," she said, staring right into the center of the parents, ignoring the media around the crowd. "I will say what I have to say, and then leave. I would appreciate your attention."
For a moment there were a few murmurs, and then the entire crowd seemed to hush.
Likely because at that exact moment, four of the most famous Justice League members known to the world had dropped out of the skies to land directly behind her. She didn't have to look to know them. Diana, J'onn, Kal, and Captain Atom all stood there. Silent. Staring. Supportive.
Nice touch, she thought, wishing she knew they were coming.
Of them all, Kal still made her nervous. Knowing he and Diana were her grandparents still rattled her.
"I am Adana Winter. Some have called me Meta. I," she said, "Am an Amazon. Like my mother. And her mother before her. I grew up in Man's World. I grew up alongside you. Learned alongside your children. And I was overlooked. Because, for a long time, I was not a hero. I was nobody. But if I have learned anything, it is that life changes. I have a meta-gene. It changed me. I could be your child," she said, eyeing a woman holding an insulting sign. "Or yours," she said, turning to eye a man who had been muttering loudly against all metas. "Any of yours. But I am who I am, and all I want is the chance to finish my education, and live my own life. Because I am a meta, and an Amazon, I will stand up, and I will defend those around me who cannot stand for themselves. If that somehow offends you…"
She paused now, sweeping the crowd, and seeming to meet every eye.
"I don't care. I am Adana Winter. I am Warrior, and I am not here to please you. I am here to defend you. Nothing more. Now, get off my back," she growled, and leapt into the sky, and flew toward her dorm.
"That last wasn't in the approved statement," Captain Atom mused somberly as Kal stepped forward.
"Obviously," J'onn remarked dryly, but Diana could hear the rare humor in his tone.
"I liked it," Diana added.
"Children do grow up," the Martian declared.
"Thank you for giving Warrior your attention," Kal-El began. "While she is young, and more….abrupt, I hope you understand what she is trying to tell you. So long as she is able, so long as any of us are able, we are going to be here to defend you. And this world. That is our calling. I hope you give her the chance all of us needed at the start. To grow, learn, and mature. Despite her admittedly erratic beginnings, I hope you know she has given us, the League, and her family, every cause to be proud of her, and no reason to be ashamed of her. That said, I hope you will give her that chance here, and allow her to finish her education in peace. Thank you," Kal said, and stepped back.
Ian Sanders just stared at his unexpected guests, then someone shouted, "If you're so proud, where's her mother? Why didn't she come?"
Diana stepped forward now.
"My daughter, Amazon, is busy helping clean up the mess in D.C. that spawned all this madness," she told the speaker that was among the parents. "Any other stupid questions?"
"And you thought Ada was curt," Kal chortled to J'onn.
Captain Atom sighed, and stepped forward to take Diana's place.
"I, as Warrior's League sponsor am here to assure you that your children will be more than safe here while she attends classes. Not only will she be helping watch this campus, but the League in general will step up our patrols in the area to keep anyone from thinking to exploit her presence here. You have our word."
He stepped back, heels all but clicking, and nodded to Ian.
"If that is all, sir," he asked, and began to rise into the air.
"I believe….that's more than sufficient," the dean told him, watching the four legendary figures rise into the air over their heads.
"Wooooo," someone shouted. "Yay, Ada! We love Warrior!"
"Pinkie," Carla turned to shout, seeing the blonde with pink-striped hair standing behind her as if she had been there all along. "Where have you been?"
"Chasing cute guys," she grinned.
"Catch any," Lena asked knowingly.
"Nah. They were too fast," she sighed mournfully.
Lena and Carla both burst into laughter.
"You okay," Adana, back in civilian clothes herself asked as she walked into Barb's room after knocking, and hearing her softly whispered invitation to enter.
"I…. I will be," she said. "I hope you know…. I meant what I said. It's not your fault you didn't find my dad in time….."
"Just remember what your parents taught you, and be strong. You'll be fine," Adana told her, giving the blonde a light hug.
"Thank you. And…. Thank you for being…. Friends?"
"Sure. If you need anything, you know where to find me," she told her. "That is, if they let me stay."
"Surely they wouldn't kick you out now?"
"The dean is trying, but even I know he still has a lot of pressure to boot me," she admitted.
"What happens if they do," the woman asked her. "I mean…. Where would you go?"
"Honestly? I don't know. Maybe…. Maybe back to Themyscira for a while. I do still have a lot of lessons to relearn since I…well, powered up again."
"So, are you going to tell your friends? About...that other?"
"I've thought about it, and…. I think you're right. I should be honest with them. If only to clear the air. I am still more than a bit uncomfortable when Pinkie starts babbling about boys, and dating."
"Which is pretty much the only thing she does babble about," Barb remarked knowingly.
"Yeah. I do know Connor is pretty happy she's off the Watchtower just now."
"For now," a voice said from behind her. "And what was that about being honest," Pinkie demanded, standing there with Carla, Lena, and Janey behind her.
"Barb, I couldn't believe it when I saw you there. I was afraid…."
The brunette came over, and started to tentatively hug her.
Barb, once, would have shoved her friend aside.
This time, Barb hugged her first, and held on.
"I'm glad to see you, too, Janey," she said quietly. "Really glad."
"So, true confessions? What's up, girlfriend," Carla asked.
"My room," Adana sighed. "And….I'm asking you keep what I'm about to tell you secret. Please? Enough of my life has been broadcast lately," she grumbled indignantly.
"Hey, I'm all about secrets," Pinkie grinned, no one other than Barb yet knowing Pinkie was Plasti-Girl, and now a junior member of the League, too.
"Right," every one of them drawled.
"Mind if I come up, too," Barb asked, surprising the girls from the third floor.
"Sure," Adana shrugged. "Besides, you already know."
"She does? What? What does she know?"
"Impatient much," Carla asked Pinkie. "And what about you? What were you doing all that time you were gone?"
"Chasing Superboy," Barb grinned as she answered for the other blonde, having heard of that one from both sides.
"Superboy? The Superboy," Lena asked.
"He's back," Adana nodded. "We found him locked up by the baddies, and busted him out."
"He's so cool. I used to read all about him, and…."
They all eyed Lena, even as Pinkie growled, "He's mine. He just doesn't know it yet."
Adana and Barb both burst into laughter.
"Upstairs," Pinkie demanded. "I want to know about these secrets my best friend has been hiding."
"Yeah, what's with the new threads, and the new name," Carla asked.
"Okay, okay. I'll explain. Upstairs," she pointed.
"General Flagg," Amanda Winter burst into his office at the Pentagon, staring at the man as she dropped the unconscious Marine still clutched in one hand. "You're a hard man to see."
"Apparently not," the man grumbled, eyeing her standing there in full costume. "Weren't you retired?"
"Apparently not," she echoed his own words.
"Just what do you think you're even doing here? Give me one reason not to call down security, and have you busted….."
"Spare me the righteous indignation. We know all about the Luthor clone. We know you pointed Aiers at him, and wound them both up. We know you helped set up Janus, and covered for the entire program to ensure they could set up a working program under our collective noses."
"Speculation, and hearsay," he snorted.
"No. Hardly hearsay," she said, walking into the office. "You're as bad as your father, and just as blindly arrogant. I'm here to serve warning."
"We're watching you. The League is watching you. You may have the rest blinded, but you're on our radar now. Try anything else, and we will land on you."
"Am I supposed to be frightened by that bravado," he postured as he stood up behind his desk, drawing himself to his full height.
"No. That was merely information for your own edification. Now is the time for you to be frightened," Amazon said, and in a blur of motion, grabbed the man, slammed him into the wall, and held him there well off his feet.
"Not until you hear me out, little man," Amazon spat back at him, holding him easily in place.
"I know you and Aiers targeted my husband. I know you aimed that freak at my daughter, too. This is your first, last, and only warning. If you, or yours go anywhere near my daughter again," she said as she dropped him, and walked away.
"What," he demanded, regaining his feet as she reached the door. "More puerile threats?"
"Hardly," she glanced over her shoulder at the door. "You even look her way, and they won't even find the body. That, General Flagg, is a promise."
The door cracked from the force of her slamming the thick, oak panel.
Waylon Flagg, Richard Flagg's surviving son, stared at that broken panel for a very long time.
Then he left his office, went to his car, and drove away without looking back.
To Be Continued…