The humming rose and fell, along with that strange, warm tickle that ran up the spine and out to the ends of every finger. Artemis flexed her fists open and closed when the room finished pixelating from the forest into the cool steel Watchtower transporter room.
The room was still. Quiet. They all realised this at once. Compared to the ominous hum of the jungle and the thinly veiled barbarism of Grodd’s Brute-opia it felt somewhat uneasy. They should have felt calm and peace. All that washed over them was unease. Each of them felt, in a unifying instant, a brewing sensation. Fate was percolating. A glance was exchanged between each of them.
“Home again home again…” Garrett said to break the quiet, stepping off the platform.
As the others followed him down, Redbird stayed put. “Something’s not right.”
“Just something?” She looked around. “I’m not sure there’s anything about anything that is right.”
The Girl Wonder ignored the comment. “The door. It was closed when we left.”
Rett walked up to the open door and crouched in front of the control panel. “It’s been shorted. Not a very clean job either.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Somebody’s been eating our porridge.”
Redbird held a finger up to her lips. Her eyes locked on to Artemis’s and both had a silent understanding. Redbird walked backward to the bank of computers on the opposite side of the room.
“We need to get eyes on where our guests are,” she whispered, “and what they want here. Think you can get the computers up and running?” She stared at Rett.
“Yes, but it would be far more efficient for me to just get them on and working.” The look on his face spoke enough sarcasm to translate his literal interpretation. Approaching the impressive set-up, he pulled the screwdriver he still had tucked in his boot from Grodd’s palace, a tool he had bonded with during the harrowing experience. Rett flipped it around his fingers in a flourish of show-off before setting it behind his ear like a pencil. He muttered quietly the entire way across the room. “Discover teleportation, invent something to combat psychic attack on the fly, disarm a gorilla bomb, and still get questioned about ability to do basic computer repair.” He flashed a teasing wink to the angering blonde.
Of course there were no passengers among them; nobody stood idly by while Rett did his thing. But Ishmael was the only one not in a similar mindset. He was ready to stand by these people now. He was fairly sure they were friends. But that didn’t mean he was ready to fight like them. He stood in the exact same spot where he had walked off the teleporter and thought of fish and and the ocean. He tried to picture them, tried to imagine being in the inky depths where all the silence would seem natural and serene… Except, he realised, there wasn’t silence.
“I think the League would take a bit of offense to calling their Watchtower ‘basic computer’.” The archer reached back and drew one of the arrows from the her quiver. She ran her thumb through its fletching. “It’s not like Batman’s calling up GoodBuy’s Nerd Squad for tech support when Plastic Man gums up the works with spam from BustyAsianBeauties.com.”
“BustyAsianBeauties doesn’t send out spam.” Rett’s voice came out from under the table supporting the computer as it blinked to life and began booting up. “And ‘Is it plugged in?’ is the most basic of computer repair.”
She put the arrow to her bowstring and cautiously leaned out the doorway. The corridor was empty both ways. She pulled her head back in, shaking it to Redbird.
“We’re going to need to hit the armory. I dunno about you, but I’m running uncomfortably low in the arsenal department.”
Redbird nodded. “I don’t know how good of an idea it is to split us up right now though.” The Girl Wonder pulled her hood back from her head her blond hair falling around her shoulders. She gave a heavy sigh.
Casey had wordlessly taken up post near the door. While she didn’t have the finely tuned danger sense of Redbird or Artemis, the sounds that she didn’t hear served to put her on edge. “You know, the press doesn’t exactly do this job justice.” She said, her voice as worn as the torn clothes she still wore.
“No one said it would be easy,” Redbird gave the other blond a sad smile, “and you are the one with the powers.”
“I never expected it to be easy, just…” Casey hugged herself as she stared down the passageway.”The public just sees the flash and glamour – at least the ones not at ground zero when someone like Darkseid comes to town – they don’t see the sweat and the dirt and… the blood. Mom never complained, she just did. I think I kinda took things for granted, caught up in the hype.”
“That’s easy to do.” The archer tugged her hood back. She fought back the urge to yawn. She would have loved nothing more than to tug the band out of her hair and curl up on a couch and watch garbage television. Clearly that wasn’t happening any time soon. “But there’s not much to glitz and glamour you can take with you.”
“I dunno about that.” The mechanic filled in the fourth point of the little discussion square. “Fancy shiny new clothes, surrounded by pretty girls, space fortress, I believe there was mention of ice cream cake…”
“There was,” Artemis chuckled. She appreciated the levity, whether it was out of nerves or just his apparently natural tendency. They could dwell when they had the time too. She stepped behind him and looked at the screen. “By you, though, so I’m not sure that counts. You also mentioned root beer floats, but those are also going to have to wait. First things first.”
He sat in the chair in front of the computer screen and began typing his way into the programming.”The icecream cake isn’t for me. It still counts.
The banter died down momentarily and a single voice broke the lull. “These machines?” Several heads jerked back to look at the pale, lank aquatic lad that still stood near the teleporter.
“Will they be able to tell us who the people in the other room are?”
The screens filled with surveillance images of empty rooms, flickering from one to the next and none of them revealing anything. “It doesn’t look li-” Rett stopped in the middle of his word as two screens gave nothing but static. “The Armory and the Trophy room… Well that’s suspicious.”
“Lovely.” Diana grumbled. “So now they’re armed too.”
“You did want to stop by the armory.” Redbird smirked and gave the other girl a jab with an elbow, adding with a wink, “I’m fine without the gadgets, but if you need some new pointy sticks we might as well take them up on their convenient location.”
The wheels on the computer chair squealed as Rett kicked himself back into the conversation. “I’m sure you delicate, fragile girls need a big, strong guy to watch your backs.” He looked about, craning his chin to try and peer around the three. “Looks like a devastatingly handsome nerd and a fish out of water will have to do.”
A strong hand landed on the teen’s shoulder. He looked up into Casey’s grinning face. “Oh, I’m sure you’re up to the task.” Her fingers gave an extra strong squeeze, and she winked.
Rett cringed “What is your thing with my shoulder?” He found himself rubbing the hidden circuitry once again.
“Well, Lagoon Boy,” Di twirled her arrow like a baton, “you up for finding out first hand what the machines can’t tell us?”
Ishmael began walking forward.
“There are many. I can taste them.” He passed the newly living machinery and as he did so they whirred quietly and flashed momentarily as fractional amounts of electricity were siphoned, before springing back to full capacity.
He now stood alongside the others, simply adding “And call me Ishmael.”
Professor Phillip Cobb was becoming irritable. Thankfully he had a lot of practice with this so it didn’t take him by surprise.
“Would anybody like to take a moment to tell me what the bloody hell is going on here?”
He straightened his tie and ran his hand through his greying hair. Today was not one of his best days. He suddenly had lint on his suit and all sorts of other issues to worry about.
“There are meta-people aboard.” The reply was a piercing hiss that rattled through the tightly fixed balaclava of his ‘compatriot’.
“For God’s sake, Kaliban,” Cobb hissed “I thought the whole ruddy point of this was to make sure there were no metas around.”
The two sat in silence momentarily. Behind them several Zandian guards twitched impatiently. They were clearly more ready for conflict than the dear old Professor. After several painful moments of stillness one of the guards spoke.
“Stop doing the stupid English accent.”
The speaker was female. He hadn’t noticed any female guards on the way in and yet the fact she was a woman was of great importance. Professor Phil Cobb liked to dwell in a deluded world in which he was a sophisticated gentleman and rather a hit with the ladies. It made the insult sting all the more.
Cobb’s neck turned a shade of ruby and he coughed into his handkerchief. For years he’d managed to maintain a fairly normal existence as a college lecturer, teaching brilliant young minds about the power of sigils and motifs.
And then came the day he was outed as a former costumed criminal. This resulted in a whole heap of mess that led him to seek refuge in the deplorable hell-hole that was Zandia. And for his sins he had now been drawn into a plot that, truth be told, was far over his head. But he knew symbols. And he could read pictorial languages.
And so he was here in his capacity as an academic to potentially master Egyptian hieroglyphs. He still didn’t really understand why. What’s worse was that he’d been lumbered with a mad-man.
“We need to move,” Kaliban, The Spook, whispered.
“I’m rather sure we were explicitly told not to do that in any way, shape or form,” Cobb was still having a hard time losing the accent he’d been perfecting for years.
The Spook wore a pair of night vision goggles and was dressed head to toe in a black, tight fitting costume that betrayed a sagging waistline and overall doughy form. He wasn’t plump; he was simply a man past his prime. Not that the Spook knew this.
“We stick to the shadows. We move silently, we…”
“That’s all very well and good for you, Master Escapologist and dabbler in hypnotism but…”
“You can’t be a master of two things. That’s simply not cricket. Freeze was never a master of ice and balloon modelling. You really need to work on your…”
“Silence fools.” The Zandian captain put a chill down their spines and a figurative gag over their mouths. Her voice dripped with the biting tones of a French dialect. And Cobb was now more sure than ever there hadn’t been a female captain when they had entered.
“Signalman,” she continued “is your your electronic scrambler still engaged.”
“Firstly,” Cobb began holding up his index finger “my name is Professor Phil Cobb. Secondly of course it…” this was around the time he looked down at his belt and noticed the light on the small, remote-controlled device, the light that should have been perpetually flashing, was dead.
The Zandians began to power up their weapons. The Spook, their get-out man, was handed a knock out-gas gun and miniature flares by Cobb himself while the good professor took out a small trinket from a long forgotten life.
“Guns that control the signals to the human brain are hard to come by these days. Fortunately I always suspected I might need this again.” He decided best not to tell anyone he hadn’t tested it to see if it still worked after years of neglect.
The guards were primed and the Spook, who still seemed far too keen for anyone of a mentally stable disposition, were itching to move. The French-woman disguised as any other Zandian soldier began to flex her muscles. They were soon going to be tested once again. Cobb seemed to be the only one together enough to realise now would be a very good time for one to wet himself.
The comlink in Redbird’s cowl began to buzz. It had been silent since the team got back from Gorilla City, and the only people that she would need to talk to were with her. She laid a hand on Artemis’s shoulder and whispered in her ear, “Go on, I’ll catch up.”
Artemis’s eyes arched in questioning, but she nodded and continued to usher the others forward.
“Who is this?” The girl wonder whispered into the comlink as she walked back toward the monitor womb.
“Thank God!” Tamara Fox-Drake’s voice came from the other side, “where in the hell have you been, girl?”
For some unknown reason, tears welled up in Redbird’s eyes. “Oh, Tam,” she cried as the doors opened back up into the monitor womb and Redbird walked into it and sat unconsciously into the chair with a bat embossed on it and drew her knees up to her chest. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Where are you?”
Maddie sniffed as she pulled her cowl off of her face and wiped the tears out of her eyes. “Currently the JLA watchtower trying to figure out what happened to Tim and Dick and everyone else.” She figured she would rather not tell Tamara about Gorilla City or how badly she had been hurt.
There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the comm. “Are you alone?”
“N-no.” Redbird tried to make her voice as strong as possible. “Artemis and I are working this together with a few other people. We’re trying hard to figure out what’s going on, I swear.”
“Sweetheart,” Tamara said as encouragingly as possible, “I don’t even doubt, but I have my own problems here.”
“What?” She jerked up her eyes wide with fear of what could be happening now.
“Jack has gotten it into his head that this is the time that he needed to join the family business and protect Gotham while everyone else is gone.” Maddie could hear the worry and exasperation that only a mother could feel, “He even went after those Jokers that keep creeping out of the woodwork.”
“Oh, God.” Her voice was barely above a whisper as her gloved hand slid over her mouth. “Is he okay?”
“Yes, luckily there was some kid named Starman there to help him.”
Maddie made a mental note to give Kyle a kiss the next time she saw him. “Thank God.” Fresh tears began to well up in her blue eyes. “Please tell me the little twerp is home now under lock and key.”
There was a laugh from the other side of the comlink that made Maddie jump. “You and I both know that boy is more his father than anything. He’s sent me messages letting me know things are okay but he hasn’t been home for fear that I will lock him up till he’s thirty.”
This brought a wet, tear filled laugh from Maddie as well. “That sounds like Jackie alright.” She went silent for a few moments that seemed like an eternity “I promise, Tam,” fresh tears started again,”I’m going to bring Tim and everyone back.”
“I know you will sweetheart, I know.” And the com went silent.
More tears splashed down on the Justice League meeting room as Maddie buried her head in her hands. She had to be strong. She had to be focused. This was weakness, and Bruce always taught her to never be weak. If she was weak, then she was dead. That was all there was to it.