“Power.” Casey’s tone was curt. By now she was more than used to getting ‘the look’ from men of all ages. Sometimes it was flattering, sometimes disturbing. The jury was still out on Mr. Garrett. The look she gave Artemis and Redbird was skeptical at best. “You sure it’s a good idea to take Brainy Smurf here down to a fight between a bunch of over-sized apes?”
“Right now I’m not letting him out of my sight.” Redbird glared at Rett through the corner of her eye.”So yeah he’s coming.”
The boy didn’t even look at the crimson curmudgeon. “Jesus Christ, you’re charming.” He ran his fingers through his mussed hair. “Power Babe is right though, I am hardly the Gorilla fighting type. Hell, I am barely the lemur fighting type.”
Redbird gave a heavy sigh. “We really don’t have time to argue about this.” The Scarlet Squire turned toward the hall and boom tube pads. “We need to start getting some order down there and start figuring out what exactly is going on. If you want to make jokes and flirt that’s great but right now, if you’ll excuse me I have a world to save.”
Garrett looked at Casey, “She always like this, or is this just a special circumstance?”
“Nope. This is pretty much the standard Bat-itude.”
Artemis handed Garrett a pile of equipment, “Here, these should help extend your life by at least five minutes when we get there.”
The boy’s resistance was distracted by the toys handed to him by the girl in green. “I more of a computer kinda guy…” He held up a ring and chuckled. “You really know how to treat a girl.”
White eyes narrowed beneath the black strip. A little levity was one thing, but… “Look, Garrett, I’m a fan of keeping things light in the face of certain death; I’m certainly not at the level of Ms. Grim-n-Gritty,” she jerked a thumb in the direction Redbird had gone, “but you’re the one who got yourself involved with this. This isn’t some computer game you spend hours playing locked up in your bedroom. This is for real. People are dying down there and at the moment we’re the only ones who can make a difference. So you need to decide, right now, the direction your life is going to go. You need to keep in mind, however, that we cannot let you stay here. So it’s either man up or I let blondie toss you out an airlock.”
Without waiting for a reply, Artemis turned to follow Redbird, leaving Garrett standing with Casey and Ishmael. “So what’s it going to be, Boy Blue? You going to put on the bling and be the next generation Booster Gold, or gain first-hand knowledge of how cold it is out there?”
Ishmael was still alone. He wasn’t sure how he had ended up in a room full of so many colourfully clad people, but he wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t sure what they were doing, rushing around so busy and scared, but no-one seemed to have mentioned Jackson Hyde.
They had mentioned gorillas which he remembered were a kind of large ape apparently less than man. He wasn’t sure that was possible but he wasn’t thinking about the gorillas right now. He just wanted to find his friend. But Ishmael was not stupid and he could see the signs. This was something bigger than just him and he knew more than just Jackson Hyde were missing.
He could sense everybody tensing and their voices were sharp and nervous. He did not know how to react to them. Especially the boy with blue in his hair. He spent much of his time holding devices or at computers. Ishmael suspected he was a scientist and therefor did not like him.
Ishmael did not like talking; he did not like even being around people. But he was scared and needed to find his friend. “Is Jackson Hyde with the gorillas?”
The blonde woman and man with blue in his hair had been facing away from him but now turned to look. The man with blue in his hair looked at him with a raised eyebrow and a slight grin, the blonde woman looked sad.
“Are you still going on about…” the man began but the woman cut him short.
“No. No, he isn’t, Ishmael. At least we’re not sure. But they need to go. There is a lot going on here Ishmael and to find all of our friends we are going to have to do lots of different things.”
Ishmael thought he might cry. He walked away from them and went to a large window. It was dark outside. Maybe they were underwater. They weren’t. Outside was just black and a large blue and green ball that he didn’t recognize. Ishmael spoke slowly and asked a question that no-one had yet asked.
“Are you superheroes?….am I?”
Casey started to reach out for the young man, but thought better of it, given his last reaction to physical contact. She settled instead on speaking to his reflection, “That’s not the easiest question to answer either. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman… they’re all gone.” Casey found that her mother’s name stuck in her throat. She swallowed, her eyes flickering to Garrett’s reflection and back. “So does that make us superheroes? I dunno. But it does make us the best chance of keeping people safe from harm.”
“Mom always said that whatever she was labeled didn’t matter, that she did what she did because it was the right thing to do. It’s easy for people to take that for granted, I suppose… that there’s always going to be someone with a cape and mask to come along and do the right thing so that the rest of us can just go on with our lives.” Casey’s voice grew thick and wetness glistened in her eyes as the full weight of her last words to her mother finally took hold. Her shoulders slumped a little as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. That small gesture, however, seemed to put the steel back in her spine. “The best we can hope to do is live up to that ideal – because it’s the right thing to do – until we’re able to get the adults back.”
Ishmael wasn’t sure what the words meant. Not all of them. But something about them reminded him of Jackson Hyde. They were important words. Words that made the blonde woman cry it seemed.
This was one of those time Ishmael wondered if words were perhaps a good thing, a strong thing. And he wondered if he could ever use words like this. The blonde woman’s eyes were still wet and he remembered what Jackson Hyde had taught him about feelings and that when someone’s eyes are wet they are sad. Ishmael had no tear ducts so people would not know when he was sad, he realised. But when others were it was important to help. He tried to pick the right words. Important words.
“Please don’t be sad. I’m sure the gorillas wont be that scary.”
“I don’t think the gorilla’s are what is upsetting the pretty girl.” The boy genius sighed and put the ring on, his hand rubbing his left shoulder a bit. “I don’t think anyone is a superhero until they have to be and, boy, we dun been called up.” He only hoped his heart was up for Gorilla City.
He caught up to Artemis once more and smiled, the attempt at not losing his charming and confident demeanor holding for now. “You said something about getting me out of these jammies?”
The teen huntress looked at him, examining his face for a moment. The steeliness in those white eyes softened. “I did.” She looked down at the gauntlet braces and visor the young man cradled against his chest. Artemis’s lip drew up in a curl. “And I think I know just what set of jammies to swap you in to.”
She grabbed his arm, shooting a look back over her shoulder to Redbird. “We’ll catch up.” Diana dragged Rett back into the trophy room.
“You seem really eager all the sudden.” He let a chuckle out as she pulled him down one of the aisle. “I’m wondering if I should be nervous.”
“Always.” Di had stopped. The case in front of them held a mannequin donned in a gold and blue costume that had a strangely metallic sheen, despite its clearly flexible weave. That grin fell on him, though he was still staring at the costume. “Suit up.”
Rett opened the case and tugged at the form fitting material. “Doesn’t leave much to the imagination does it?” He was almost blushing. “I dunno if this will fit.” He tugged the gray shirt off over his head and pinched his own skin, barely built enough to be considered wiry. Artemis caught a glimpse at the shoulder he seemed to always be rubbing. From a long scar over his heart, blue circuitry reached over his shoulder and up the side of his neck just slightly.
The strange angular lines held her for a moment. A pang of concern tightened in her own chest.”Don’t worry about it,” She said, making herself look away and trying not to appear as if she was.”25th century science is pretty forgiving.”
“What?” He held up his arms and flexed his small biceps. “Not enjoying the gun show?” He chuckled and winked at her. “I know, I know… it is more of an art show… a stick figure art show.” He rested his closed fists on his hips. “You should probably give a guy his privacy unless you wanna see more of this figure’s stick.” As he spoke, he reached in the cabinet and carefully took the strange material in his hands.
The second his fingers touched the uniform, his circuitry began to glow just a little. The light in his lines were barely noticeable but the warm feeling swirling around his heart. A relief, a reassurance, instilled a confidence in him.
Whatever was meant to happen next was beginning. Ishmael could tell. The reason he could tell was because people were wearing horrible clothes. There was no such thing as nice clothes, but when people put on tight, bright coloured things he knew that’s when they would start hitting people. Which he had been told was good; though he still had to be entirely convinced on that particular matter.
Ishmael stood in the doorway as the girl in green turned away from the boy with blue in his hair. He had a strange wound on his chest, and Ishmael quietly stared. He stood and stared and the wound and at the girl. She had looked away, and Ishmael wondered if he should. But he could not. Not because of the strange mark but because of the two people. They did not seem to know each other and yet were so close and the man was even undressing. Ishmael did not know why they were doing this but part of him wished he could be closer. But he didn’t move. He just stood in the doorway and looked at them in silence.
“You know,” said the blonde as she placed her hand on his shoulder, he’d sensed her arriving from behind him as all his senses were on high-alert “you really can’t go crime fighting in a hoodie and beanie. You realize that right?”
Something about what she said and the way she looked at the man holding the gold and blue costume made him feel sick.
Casey could tell by the expression on Ishmael’s face, that he did not relish the idea any more than she did. She gave him a gentle squeeze. “Still, it’s better than loungewear and a robe.”
Ishmael failed to see any significant difference in the clothing the one called Garrett was removing and what he was putting back on, save for the bright colors. “Not much for capes and tights, myself,” Casey continued, plucking at her t-shirt. “Maybe it’s something to think about for when we get back, though.”
“I am about five seconds away from leaving all of you here and handling this myself!” Redbird’s voice echoed down the corridor.
Casey chuckled. “We better get going. Little Miss Moody gets anxious when there’s a fight going on and she’s not in the middle of it.”
Ishmael did not see the point but he thought it would be best to do what the tall blonde girl said. She was nice to him. Like Jackson Hyde. She spoke softly and not too often and this was good. So he did as she asked.
“Woah! Woah!” she began to say holding out her hands and turning away. Ishmael recoiled at her shout. When she turned back and noticed that beneath the clothes he was wearing some kind of modified wetsuit she laughed. Ishmael found it hard to process so many changes in emotion and she saw this.
Finally he stood in just the specialised material Jackson Hyde had given him not long ago and encouraged him to wear.
Casey put one arm round his shoulder and hugged him tight “You could pass for a regular Justice Leaguer y’know,” she said with a smile.
She was close and she was touching him and while part of Ishmael wanted to push her away and run another part realized, for perhaps the first time, being held like this was not entirely unpleasant.
Rebird’s head poked around the doorway, “Is it at all possible for us to go, now?”