Jack wasn’t bothered. He just wasn’t. He’d been playing the game a long time. The fact he was the only remaining member of the Royal Flush gang had taught him a thing or two about himself. Mainly that he was awesome. He’d robbed and fought and killed with the best of them. And now he was here: kicking back in jeans and T-shirt, looking like James Dean in his leather jacket, smoking a cigarette, inside an unlit armoury aboard an empty Watchtower. He was living the dream. Heroes were gone and he’d found himself in the favour of one of the most dangerously inspired geniuses on the planet. Even the itching of the synthetic eye behind his patch couldn’t get him down. Yes, it was a good day to be Jack.
Albert Desmond was not sharing in the feelings of relaxation. In fact he was a tad having a Zandian gun pointed at his head. The Zandian guard’s guns where the only lights they had inside the pitch dark of the armoury and yet this didn’t seem to do anything to settle Albert’s nerves. Apparently his one time possession of the sacred Philosopher’s Stone was enough to make him Zandia’s resident expert in magical lumps of rock. What wasn’t helping at the moment was that Desmond suffered from severe dissociative identity disorder. Albert Desmond was a good man. A man who was scared and unwilling to help. They really needed the good old Doctor Alchemy to show his face. Sadly, as Desmond insisted, the good doctor had been exorcised from his ensemble cast of identities some years ago.
“The boss doesn’t seem to think that’s the case,” Jack muttered puffing out a smoke ring.
“Your boss is wrong.”
“Our boss, Albie, our boss. You’re one of the bad guys, remember?”
The doctor swallowed. There was the sound of machines whirring to life and the darkness of the armoury quickly dissipated.
“What’s going on?” The doctor squeaked.
“That, Albie? I’d say that’s the good guys.” Jack withdrew the energy sword that hung from his belt. Could today get any better?
The young mock Justice League advanced through the Watchtower, making their way forward together toward the armory. Power Girl had strategically taken point, making sure that their strongest was there in case of any immediate surprises. She was closely followed by Garrett, leading them along with the hacked blueprints he’d downloaded onto his phone. Ishmael and Artemis brought up the rear.
The archer paused a moment, looking back behind them.
Redbird strode around the corner, catching up with a swift walk.
Artemis ran her thumb through the fletching of the arrow loaded against the bowstring. She regarded the other girl carefully a moment. She had that hood pulled low over her face, leaving the tinted yellow goggles of her cowl cast half with shadow.
Redbird nodded slightly. “Fine,” she said quietly, but there was an audible strain. She cleared her throat. “Anything yet?”
Artemis shook her head. “Nothing.” She looked ahead of them past the erstwhile Powergirl and into the lighted corridors that stretched out I front of them. “I just can’t see how anyone could have gotten into the tower. Even without the League around.”
Redbird gave her a sideways glance. “He did.” She said flatly pointing with her thumb to Garrett.
“You know, for the two stealthy ones of the group, you two sure make a lot of noise,” Casey said as they came to T intersection. “Which way?”
“There are voices. I cannot tell how many,” said Ishmael, pointing in the direction of the armoury.
“There are more in other places too. But they are muffled and hard to piece together.”
“How many?” Artemis asked, a cool calm of preparedness and thoughtfulness was present in her and many of the others, but Ishmael did not feel it.
“I do not know. I cannot sense their currents either. There is too much aftertaste from the machines and old sparks.”
“Then we’re going in blind again.” Ishmael still had trouble discerning certain tones of voice, and he was unsure if Casey’s response lay on the side of frustration or some sort of eagerness.
Not for the first time Garret couldn’t help but grin at his own brilliance. Sometimes it was hard not to. He waved his tiny cell in the air, the pale blue glow given off from downloaded schematics illuminating the walls. “Not quite. Somebody here came prepared.”
He chanced a look down the empty hall before confirming what Ishmael had said. “And That would indeed be the armory and where one of our sensors sets were cut dead.”
“Alright.” Diana reached back and counted the six arrows she had left in her quiver for the third time. They had all but one been recovered from their adventure in Gorilla City. It wasn’t going to get her far and depending on what waited on the other side of that door, it might not even get her into the armory to reload.
“Here’s what we’re going to do, Fishmael? Put an ear on that door, see if you can get a better… feel or whatever for what we’re about to storm into. Numbers, whatever you can get.” She looked to Casey, “PeeGee, you and him are our toughest, so you’re first wave. Rett, you’ve got that suit. Time to start figuring it out.” She tapped the metallic bands on his hands with the tip of her broadhead arrow. “Those things shoot. Shoot them. Booster also had a force field in there. That’s gonna help keep us alive while you and I play ranger from the back line for the next six arrows, then we’ll move in. I’ll aim left, you aim right.”
Redbird straightened, her shoulders square across. She looked at the archer with a strange expectation that was was, surprisingly, not defiant.
Artemis allowed herself a small smile. “I know better than to expect you to hang back.”
“We’ll bring the flash and bang.”
“I’ll maneuver behind them.”
“And I’ll try to hack spandex?” Garrett looked doubtfully down at the deceptively innocent-looking material clinging to him.
“You said you were very very smart.” Diana’s brow arched up. “I’m sure if Booster Gold could figure it out, you can.”
“To keep hanging out with pretty girls?” He looked down at his hands and ran his thumbs over the gold bands that spread across his palms and touched. Turning them over, he inspected the gauntlets that reached down his wrists. His curious probing fingers found edges around the blue squares and pressed down. The metal clicked just barely audible and glowed warmly with power. He felt… different; stronger, lighter on his feet. He pushed off the ground and hung in the air for a second longer than gravity should allow before hitting the ground again with a grin. “I’ll figure out how to hack air.”
Artemis tugged her hood back up, that smirk now lost in the shadow. “That’s our genius. I’ll feel better if you get that shield working before you start zipping around like Mighty Mouse.” She looked over to Redbird. “We ready to do this?”
Redbird nodded and then looked down at her utility belt and its woeful emptiness. She sighed and pulled the cable gun from its holster in one hand while pulling a tonfa into the other. “Hey we’ve made through an army of Gorillas, how bad can this be?”
“Famous last words…”
The doors that led to the armory were vast and thick and shut. For all his tapping and clicking nothing Rett tried was going to open them in the traditional, automated sense.
Power Girl stepped up to the plate. Ishmael didn’t even question his place anymore. Somebody had need of him and right now that was enough. They had found a role for him and that gave him some kind of peace. Plus, it was still relatively dark in the corridor and the pale blue glow of Garrett’s device reminded him of the calm ocean chasms.
“According to schematics the doors are double layered. If the systems were up, they would open simultaneously,” Rett chipped in. “Smashing through one and not the other is going to be fairly noisy and give whoever is on the other side plenty of running-slash-assault planning time.”
“So what you are saying,” PG began, as she started to hover slightly off the floor “is one of us takes out one door and the other breaks through the next ASAP?” She grinned.”What do you reckon, Ishmael?”
Her tone was softer as she turned to the pale aqua-teen.
In response he simply placed his palms calmly upon one of the vast double doors. Casey cracked her neck then her knuckles.
As Ishmael breathed in deep and slow, something began to release itself from his hands. A thick, viscous liquid seeped from his palms and oozed between his fingers.
“Umm…do we even want to know what that is?” Redbird asked, barely contained the group’s shared disgust.
Ishmael uttered one simple word. “Limpet”. And then, with a body designed to withstand the crushing pressure of the deepest ocean crevice, he tore the mighty, metallic door clean off its hinges.
Next up was Power Girl. As soon as the exterior door was clear, Casey flew into the next barrier, both fists forward. And while she didn’t quite take the door off its hinges, the impact buckled open enough of a hole for the others to pour through.
The Girl Wonder pulled her cable gun, and with a paff she soared up into the raftered ceiling of the armory.
“I’m counting four at present,” Redbird called into her commlink. “One looks like a member of the Royal Flush Gang so the others may be here too.”
“We have incoming,” An older Asian man in tactical gear called out to the others.
“I thought you said all the heroes were gone!” Jack yelled back at the leader.
“These are just children, Jack!” The man in tactical armor yelled. “If you idiots don’t think you can handle children, then we chose the wrong people.”
He leveled his assault rifle at the hole that Power Girl had made and where Artemis and Rett still were, “Alchemy take the flyer. Jack take the freak in black. I’ll take the children by the door.”
Redbird pulled one of her remaining batarangs and drew a bead on the man who seemed to be leading the intruders, when a darkness seemed to creep around her.
“Hello there, pretty.” An oily voice hissed in her ear. “I doubt our employers knew that you children were still in play,” shadows started to wind around Redbird, “I’m sure our employer will be more than happy to give us a bonus for killing you.”
Redbird didn’t even see the right cross coming that nearly sent her toppling off of the rafters. At the last moment, her fingers caught the edge of the rafter.
“You are skilled girl I’ll give you that,” his foot stamped down on her hand, “and you are soon to be dead.”
Jack cracked his neck and slide the shades up the bridge of his nose. “Too long. Too damn long.”
The energy blade in his hand began to crackle and just for the kicks he scrapped it along the floor; a vicious army of ruby sparks leaping up and trailing into the air following its point of contact.
Ishmael didn’t know who Jack was. Ishmael knew very little of ‘supervillains’. Jackson had never gotten around to telling him about them. Perhaps that was next lesson.
He had heard of Black Manta obviously. He knew all about the tragedies of Atlantis. He’d even heard of Luthor and knew the name Joker well enough to fear it. ‘Jack’ however was unfamiliar to him. And so he let the electroplaques that laced his body fizz to life.
Jack knew he wasn’t A list. Perhaps not even B or C list. But he had a big ass sword and contract to fulfill. And, dammit, people were gonna have to learn one day why he was the only remaining survivor of the Royal Flush Gangs.
Ishmael didn’t know any of this. He just ran forward, his external gills instinctively flaring up to make him appear bigger. Jack, equally, ran forward, blade crackling loudly as he raised it over his head.
And then they connected. The red energy shimmered and shouted as it fell down upon Ishmael’s shoulder. It couldn’t penetrate the surface but it brought him to his knees. Hard.
And at the same time a deadly quantity of voltage leapt from beneath his skin and hit Jack in the chest hard enough to throw him back several yards until he collided with a case of ancient and powerful artifacts. One of these, unseen by the rest, hit the ground and rolled off into the shadows. It was returning home.
It took only microseconds for Rett’s mind to put 2 and 2 and 3,471 together to know this was a badsituation. Mostly, it was the gun staring him in the face from across the room. He slapped the shield activation before he even had time to chide himself for not doing it prior to the doors being taken out. Rett may be the most rookie of rookies, but he was also supposed to be the smartest of smarts.
It was difficult, to say the least, avoiding his most basic human instinct to find cover. He was cover. That didn’t stop him from flinching as he jerked Artemis behind him by her arm as the bullets cut across the opening they both occupied.. She probably had something better planned but he didn’tknow that and he wasn’t about to let something he didn’t know make a mistake for him when he was perfectly capable of making a mistake himself.
Artemis rolled to the other side of Rett, taking in the scene through the subtle blur of Rett’s forcefield. It shimmered with the barrage of bullets ricocheting off it’s surface. The costumes made it easy enough to separate the foot soldiers from the specials easy enough, but her keen eyes picked one of those foot soldiers out as different.
“PG, I think we have a leader.” Ducking to the edge of the shield, she pulled her bowstring back, drawing down on the old man. The arrow shot with a blur, but Fite sidestepped it.
The old man spun, opening fire right on her.
Artemis ducked back. “And he’s a quick old codger!”
She loaded another bolt from her quiver, deciding to shift her focus. “How you doin, Rett?” She leaned back out and a second later the arrow had lodged in the barrel of a grunt’s gun. He howled as it exploded in his hand. “Wanna take this show on the road?”
Peeking one eye open, the boy had done little more than stand there and be a shield for the girl with the actual skills. “Any way of telling how long the shield can take this?” His teeth barely moved as he spoke.
“You read about Doomsday in history class?” She darted back around to his right, firing off two more quick shots and disabling another soldier. “That thing went toe to toe with the thing that killed Superman. I think you’re okay against small arms fire.”
Rett looked down, chancing to open both eyes. “Oh…” He shifted his stance a little, still jerking back a bit as another set of bullets pinged uselessly off his shoulder. “Well, alright then.”
He flexed his hands a little and lifted his gauntlet in the best, but still somewhat unconvincingly, nonchalant way and checked out the buttons he had yet to hit. “Since this one was forcefield and the ring was flying, I guess this one-” Hitting the button, Rett unleashed a blue energy shot that showered the pair in grey dust from the new hole in the ceiling. “Yeah,” he coughed, “I’m good to go.”
“Sure about that?” She waved the dust cloud away from her face. “Next time lets try pointing it at the bad guys instead.”
He looked back over his shoulder. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
Somewhere amid the flurry of madness and fear Doctor Albert Desmond scurried on his hands and knees across the dusty and, suddenly, scorch-marked floor. He had all the drive of a man possessed. A state not far from the truth.
“Its here. I saw it. Oh God I can’t believe its here. So close.” And in response a voice, not dissimilar from the first answered:
“Not anymore. We don’t need it. We left that behind.”
“You may have. We aren’t all as weak as you however.”
This was when Ishmael, pulling himself up from the spot where he fell, caught wind of the conversation. And he was ready to take steps at trying to be a superhero.
“Can I help at all? You seem to need help.”
The man didn’t turn around. Instead he merely snapped in response.
“We don’t need your help, boy.”
“I’m quite sure there is no need for…”
And as he shouted this last command Dr Desmond’s hands fell upon the item he had been searching for. Something that had been taken from him long ago. By the Justice League. He raised it up and pointed it at the aquatic youth. Instantly all the air between Desmond and Ishmael solidified from a central point that was the object in Albert’s hand. The force of which once again sent Ishmael sailing across the room.
“Well, well,” came the voice of the newly arisen, last survivor of the Royal Flush Gangs “Looks like the good doctor is back.”
“Oh, on the contrary boy,” said Desmond rolling over the Philosopher’s Stone in his fingers “I think you’ll find I’m very much the bad doctor.”
Artemis and Rett took a few slow steps forward, emerging from the cloud of dust created by experimental use of Booster Gold’s old gauntlets. Rett laid down a barrage of fire that cleared a path through the center as Artemis took quick, careful shots to clean out the men around Fite.
She spied the man in the back and knocked an arrow. Had it met its mark he would have fallen, clutching his wounded knee. Instead he intercepted it with a flash bursting from something in his hand. The arrow dissipated into a cloud of vapor.
“No such luck, archer,” he said, straightening up. His demeanor grew severe. “Doctor Alchemy is back!”
It was one part the perceived invincibility of the suit, one part the adrenaline, and one part being surrounded by a team of young superheroes that had given Garrett the courage of his words. “Doctor Daniels doubts your claim of a PhD in a make-believe field of science.” Perhaps it was also the severe lack of both rest and refueling that made him slightly more deliriously fearless, but that was something they would have time to explore when they weren’t under constant threat, if they ever were.
Ishmael had had enough of being thrown to the ground. In fact he had enough of a lot of things. But being beaten repeatedly was one of them. Especially since his new friends had shown him how useful his natural skill set could be.
Ishmael was strong. Very strong. And he was good at staying alive in conditions far more dangerous than this. What’s more he was very good at hunting. And he had decided it was time to show some of these people just what that looked like.
Redbird’s fingers ached as she hung from the rafter. Shadow Thief stood over her, his foot lightly pressed on the fingers of her right hand.
“You’re the newest little sidekick for the Batman aren’t you?” He hissed down at her. “Did you know that I was stuck in the shadow world for almost ten years because of Hawkman and your precious Batman? Ten years without being able to eat, or drink. Ten years without being able to touch, without being able to to have any human reaction. It was maddening!” He was raving now. His foot pressed down on Redbird’s hand. “Until she found me and released me.”
“And who is this then?” Redbird tried to say casually, as the pain in her hand increased. With her left hand she slid one of her tonfa free.
“Well since you are about to die, I doubt it could hurt to tell you,” a smile pulled at his lips, “very nice girl. Do you think I’m stupid?”
“No,” She stabbed the tonfa’s taser end into his leg, “I wanted you to be distracted so I could do this!”
The crackle of large amounts of electricity filled the air, as did the Shadow Thief’s screams. He fell backwards off of the scaffolding that they were on.
Redbird pointed her tonfa at his leg and with a paff her emergency cable snaked around the villain’s leg, as she pulled herself up onto the scaffolding and wrapped the cable around it.
“I’m down one tonfa, but Shadow Thief is down. How are you all doing?”
“Little busy over here,” Casey hollered. She was tracing streaks through the air alternately dodging blasts from Jack and the villain’s geriatric leader. “For an old fella, he’s a pretty good shot.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Ishmael fly across the room. Tracking his trajectory back, her eyes locked on a squirrely man in a cheap suit. He was holding aloft a glowing rock and she was sure he was about to launch into some villainous monologue. Casey always enjoyed, but never quite understood, that part of the story when her mom would explain away her day. Was it something in the Villain 101 handbook? Chapter 8: How to reveal your plan to your enemy and give them the time to recover after you put them on the ropes.
Whatever. All she knew is that whoever crazy Mr. I-Haz-A-Stone-Man was, he was about to take another shot at Ishmael. Fortunately for her, Grodd had flipped a switch in her brain, activating one of the cooler powers she’d inherited from her mother. Unfortunately, she wasn’t exactly used to using those powers. Squinting slightly, Casey focused on the stone. Ducking another blast from Jack threw her aim off, and instead of hitting the stone, the twin beams of laser light that shot from her eyes, struck her target in the hand, sending the stone flying.
Desmond’s scream echoed from the ceiling as he clutched his injured hand. Casey had no time to revel in the offensive defence of her new teammate. A blast from Jack’s sword sent her smashing into a nearby column and crashing to the floor.
The former Royal Flush member raised his blade back over his head, “Nighty Night, princess.”
He paused only a moment to grin, but it was more than enough. Artemis planted the arrow right in the base of the blade where it met the hilt. It lodged deep and the metal sparked as the energy a few times, eliciting a surprised look from Jack just before it exploded.
“Careful where you point that thing, Jack,” called the archer.
The disturbance was all Desmond needed. The stone called to him and within moments his fingers gripped it once again. But now Ishmael began to walk with purpose toward the wild-eyed doctor; wary of the potent relic in the palm of his hand. It was only gradually that he realised how incredibly difficult it was becoming to walk.
Even with his natural adaptations the pressure building over him forced him, first, to his knees and eventually he had no choice but to lay prostrate as the crushing force of solidified air held him in place.
“Do you know what the Philosopher’s Stone is, boy?” The doctor oozed calm, arrogant pride “It is the embodiment of man’s single, spiritual and evolutionary thrust. It is the essence of pure potential realised in material form. For eons scholar’s and alchemists pursued the means whereby one could transmute lead into gold. But this was merely the reflection of an inward quest. The stepping from the Fool to the Magus. Worth from worthlessness.”
Through the torrent of a year’s worth of pent-up monologuing Ishmael, with much straining, turned his eyes towards his companions, each locking in their own conflicts.
“Oh, if you think they may come to your rescue then you still have not comprehended the power I hold in my fingers. I could ignite the air in your lungs. Freeze your blood. I could turn your heart into glass. The Stone is not a tool or a weapon. It is a force of nature. A god. It possesses the ability to warp the fundamentals of science and nature. To bend reality; to bend light. Your friends therefore perceive only what I design for them to perceive. You are alone.”
Aiming was just math, but that did nothing to ease Rett’s “first shot jitters”. The one into the ceiling, of course, didn’t count. Jack. Royal Flush Gang. He could not recall any superhuman abilities, so he would need to be careful. He was fairly sure vaporising someone, even one of the bad guys, would be frowned upon.
Even with his calculations, he had nothing on the aim of the girl currently taking cover behind him. Fortunately, he was shooting something much larger than an arrow. The new Booster Blue leveled his arm in the direction of Jack, who was recovering quickly from his shorting sword. As there was a clear window between people sparring back and forth, he shifted the angle of his arm and lit off a blast of blue energy. It scorched across the room, illuminating people as it passed them, and hit its mark right at the big man’s feet. The concussion blew him back and slammed him into the solid wall behind him, his head making a dull, sick noise and knocking him out before he slumped to the ground.
As Ishmael struggled upon the floor Doctor Alchemy bent low over him and whispered in a voice that straggled comforting and threatening.
“And that is the crux is it not? You are so very alone. From your outward appearance I surmise some sort of alien lineage yes?” Since Ishmael lay down his pectoral gills were hidden from sight. This didn’t change the sting of truth in Alchemy’s words.
“You are not of their world. Among them you stand apart, sidelined. This is why alchemists sought the Stone so hard. Each of us is brimming with potential but circumstance, the nature of our birth, constrains us. We are mere cold lumps of lead. But, oh…” and as he continued he ran a finger gently across Ishmael’s cheek “…to be free! You cannot know the euphoria, the enlightenment, that comes from passing through one stage of life to the next. However I can show you. I can open your mind.”
Slowly Alchemy recoiled again and this time he pointed the Stone directly at Ishmael’s head. The boy instinctually closed both sets of eyelids tightly.
“The Stone can make one form of energy into another. Night becomes day. Air becomes stone. And the electric currents that flit around your synapses…they can be interpreted. They can be given life and painted out for us. I can turn your thoughts into light. I can show you your nightmares. So…little thing. Show me what it is your fear. That I may save you from ignorance. From yourself.”
And, much as he tried, Ishmael could not prevent those dread terrors that lurked in the back of his mind from coming to the surface. Little did he know they were to be his saving grace. For what more could a child of the oceans fear than having his sole haven turning against him? What is more terrifying for one who lives in the seas that the thought that he could be betrayed; that he could drown?
And as the Stone transmuted cerebral waves into light waves Alchemy misunderstood the message. He thought he had conquered.
“And now, little one,” he hissed “your eyes will be opened. And you will die alone.” And with this a column of water leapt from the stone and encircled Ishmael in a perfect orb. As it did so the pressurised, solidified air vanished.
Alchemy didn’t know his mistake until it was too late. Suddenly a bio-electric current surged from the boy and coursed down the tunnel of water to the magic rock. The force was not overpowering but just enough to jolt Alchemy into losing both his control and his footing.
“Ishmael!” The archer shouted from behind. She leveled her bow, arrow nocked as she aimed. It fired and planted in the impossible Doctor’s shoulder. “Keep your head!”
Ishmael’s black eyes snapped into determined focus on Dr. Alchemy; his hands crackled and popped. Suddenly they sparked wildly, blue electricity arcing up and around the older man’s body. Ishmael reached out a hand, thick with adhesive, crustacean glue, and wrestled the Philosopher’s Stone from Alchemy’s control.
The villain’s first response was to wail madly and then to leap forward in a futile and lacking display of physical prowess. He was batted backward by another small burst from the unflinching Ishmael.
It was only when Ishmael raised the Stone in Alchemy’s direction that his full helping of arrogance returned. “Fool!” he laughed “the Stone is nothing in the hands of the ignorant and uneducated. It holds no magic with you as its wielder. It is nothing but a rock to you.”
Ishmael did not move. But Alchemy could have sworn he saw the hint of a grin.
“No magic?” Ishmael repeated.
“None!” The doctor replied in triumphant glee. A wicked smile on his face.
Ishmael replied with a grin of his own. And then, with his bare hand, he crushed what was, for all intents and purposes, a very ordinary lump of rock.
Alchemy would have screamed and lashed out and brought down threats and curses upon Ishmael and all his line. He would have but he did not. For the gentle strobing of lights that flickered across Ishmael’s skin sent him into a deep and peaceful sleep.
Ishmael stood gingerly. His chest heaved with pain and anger. “He will trouble us no longer.”
“Alright, grandpa,” Casey flew in, her trajectory coiling around the blasts from infiltrating team’s leader, “I’ve had just about enough of you.” The energy weapon made an angry crunching sound as her fingers closed around the barrel. She planted her forearm across his chest and yanked the weapon from his grip, slamming him against the wall. “I should probably feel bad for pounding a guy your age, but I don’t take kindly to my friends being shot at.” He struggled against her grip, pinned there. She slid him up the wall with one hand. “Unlucky for you I learned to fight by trading blows with somebody even older than you.”
“I think that came out wrong, PG.” Artemis and Garrett joined the others among the unconscious bodies of their foes at the armory’s doors. “Aright, Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice, I suggest you spill something before our girl here opens you up like a tuna can.”
She glanced to Ishmael. “No offense.”
Ishmael returned her look with confusion.
“Really?” Redbird landed next to Artemis. “I’m ashamed, Speedy. you can do much better than a Sean Connery reference.”
“If you think I’m going tell you anything, you’re sorely mistaken.”
Power Girl tore the man’s armor from his chest like it was made of aluminum foil and cotton. “Oh, I think you’re mistaken about who’s mistaken.” She dropped the body armor dismissively.
The Asian scowled. “You children… Always so tough. More tough than smart. You pose her no threat. The world will change.” He ground his teeth, growling through them. “It already has.”
The man’s body began to twitch violently. His eyes rolled back, and foam poured over his lips and down his chin. His head pounded against the steel wall.
“Crap,” Casey laid him down, holding him firm.
The others dropped beside them. “Cyanide?”
“I would assume.” Redbird put her fingers to his neck checking for a pulse, “This is getting way too out of hand.”
“Ya think?” Artemis said as she looked over the ruined armory.
“He said we can’t stop her,” Redbird turned to the others, “but who’s her?”
“That’s the million dollar question, Red.” Power Girl folded her arms across her chest.
Another alarm went off in the satellite, “As if all the rest of this wasn’t bad enough,” Redbird said through gritted teeth, “Casey, get the whiz kid back the monitor womb now and find out what we’re looking at now.”
Casey nodded, “You might want to put your goggles on flyboy,” Power Girl grinned as she grabbed Rhett around the waist and sped off.
Artemis watched the blue blur disappear. She sighed and helped herself to a cache of green and black arrows to refill her quiver. “Think it’s a good idea splitting us up like this. We still don’t know what’s going on in the trophy room. They might be on their way here.”
“Casey can handle it alone for five minutes while you and I reload,” she said loading equipment into her belt, “besides I want to know what we are up against. Both Casey and Rett have comlinks, so if they get in trouble we’ll know and can back them up. We’ll be fine, we have Ish,” Redbird gave a tight smile, “What more do we need?”
“Was that a joke?” Artemis’s lip curled.
“Of course not.” The Girl Wonder turned away from the archer.
“I’m confused.” Ishmael cocked his head to the side.
Both girls looked at each other and started laughing in earnest.
“Seriously though, Fishmael,” Artemis socked him in the arm playfully. “you did good. We might just make a young Justice Leaguer out of you yet.”
“Thank you,” Ishmael nodded, his small smile highlighted by his somewhat reddened cheeks. “And it is Ishmael.”
“Uh huh.” The archer readjusted her quiver strap. She looked down to where Redbird was cuffing the rest of the boarding party to a pipe that ran along the wall. “You remember how to get to the Trophy Room from here?”
“Yes.” She tapped her head. “It’s all up he-“
“Sorry to interrupt, ladies and Ish,” the voice of the team’s young genius broke through the comms,”but it appears that our other group have finished their business. Looks like they’re making a break for… transporter room 3.”
“Shut it down!”
“Now why didn’t I think of that? Oh wait, I did. They’ve got someone very good working for them, because they’ve managed to lock me out of that system. Still trying. You might want to try and beat them to the punch.” He paused. “You know. Just in case.”
The three of them broke into a full sprint, Redbird running in the lead. The transporter room seemed so far away. And whoever they were, they had a lead. Rett kept feeding them intel as he worked his end. Five bodies, but the security cameras kept obscuring them whenever they came into view. They had done an impressive amount of homework, he told them.
“And for me to say that, it means something.”
“I’ll be sure to pass along your praise,” groaned the girl wonder as they rounded the corner.
Up ahead the transporter room door was open. They could see five figures stepping onto the platform. But only one of them cut any distinct figure. He was large, certainly at least 10 feet tall, judging by the distance. One of them, a fit figure of dark complexion and a suit identical to the one the first team’s leader had worn turned to look back at them.
Artemis had an arrow knocked before anyone could blink. Her eagle eye narrowed behind the fletching, and she let it go without pause. The projectile whipped across the distance into the room. The room hummed with a golden light and the five mysterious figures disappeared just as the broadhead planted into its controls with a fanfare of sparks.
“Settle down,” Redbird spat at the archer. She took a step toward the computer banks, “if we are really, really lucky…” her voice trailed off. She keyed in a few orders into the Zeta beam controller module. “Yes!”
“What?” The Archer pulled up next to her.
“How stupid, how utterly stupid can they be?” She stood up and smiled at Artemis. “They left their destination coordinates in the navigation system.”
“We know where they are?” Artemis grinned.
“We know where they are.” Redbird nodded.