Cassandra furrowed her brow, leaning over the checker board and carefully examining the piece that Rose had just jumped into her back row. She frowned slightly, leaning back again and finally placing a second checker on top of the piece. Then, she grabbed one of her own few remaining pieces and moved it forward.
“Hey, don't feel too bad,” Rose said, moving her new king piece back a space. “You're getting really good.”
Scratching her head briefly, the young mute girl moved another piece.
“Actually, I think we can try chess soon.” Rose slid another checker forward, holding her finger on it for a lingering moment before letting go. “It's a lot more interesting than checkers, and really helps you think strategically. I used to play it a lot with my... dad.” She went quiet a moment, breathing outwardly.
Looking up at her, Cassandra softened her eyes and tilted her head to the side. She wanted to ask a question... but had no way of expressing what that question was.
Rose knew what the question was regardless, able to sense it from the girl's sympathetic gaze. “My dad, yeah... he's a bad man. I always thought he loved me, but... well, I guess I was wrong.” She leaned forward against the table between them, watching as Cassandra moved another piece. “Your dad's pretty bad, too, huh?”
The girl suddenly froze, body going rigid and gaze becoming blank. Eventually, she bowed her head and slowly nodded.
“Yeah...” Rose uttered, pushing another checker forward. “I know the feeling.”
Cassandra looked at the checker board a long time, eyes shifting back and forth. Finally, she picked up one of her pieces and jumped it over three consecutive checkers of the opposite color.
“What the-” Rose said, sitting up straighter. She blinked curiously, staring at the board and wondering how the hell she had missed that. “Huh... nice move.”
Folding her hands in front of her, Cassandra gave a triumphant smile, legs swinging below her in her seat.
Rose took in a deep breath of cold mountain air, as she arrived in the snowy courtyard of the ancient Tibetan fortress. Despite the cold, the weather was actually pretty nice. Clear skies, bright sun... at least she wouldn't be training in the middle of a blizzard like last week. That had quite possibly been one of the worst training experiences in her life.
“You're early,” a voice stated.
Turning around, Rose noticed Lady Shiva approaching from across the courtyard. “Well, I think by now I've learned not to be late.”
The assassin smiled slightly. “Yes... after two years, I would hope so.”
“Seven hundred and forty-three days, to be exact,” she said.
“Yes... seven hundred and forty-three.” Lady Shiva shifted her stance, bringing her arms into a fighting position. “That's seven hundred and forty-three days of improvement.”
Taking in another deep breath, Rose shifted herself into a similar stance. “That's right. Care to see just how much?”
“As always.” And with those words, Lady Shiva lunged in with a quickness she very rarely showcased in a fight. This was different, though. This time, she wasn't holding back.
Rose watched carefully, waiting for the woman to come within striking distance. As the first strike whipped inward, time seemingly slowed down in her mind. Raising her arm, she blocked the blow and twisted her body to the side, countering with a palm thrust. Lady Shiva ducked, evading the attack and then driving her fingers into the girl's side.
With a subtle groan, Rose stepped back, catching her balance and fighting through the sudden explosion of pain in her ribs. Another attack lashed towards her, but she dodged, spinning around with lightning quickness. In less than a second, she found herself behind Shiva, using the opportunity to kick the back of the woman's knee. When Lady Shiva stumbled forward off balance, Rose followed up with a vicious kick to the back of her head. Shiva fell briefly before recovering and whirling back around to face her opponent.
“Very good,” the assassin stated, showing no visible sign of pain. “Now, again.”
They continued like this for the next seven hours, breaking only once for lunch. By the time they finished for the day, neither could stand straight. Rose walked with a limp and could barely move her left arm, while Lady Shiva bled from a cut lip and couldn't properly bend her knee. When the sun finally set behind the mountain peaks, they collapsed into the snow, remaining there for several moments to catch their breath.
“You have come a long way, little dove,” Lady Shiva said, wiping a line of crimson from her chin. “I am proud.”
“Yeah, well... being trained by the world's greatest assassin certainly helps,” she replied, with a long breath. “Though I still don't know why you're training me.”
“The time is not yet right... but perhaps soon.” Slowly climbing back to her feet, Shiva waved for her pupil to follow her. “Come with me, little dove. I have something to show you.”
Rose lifted a curious eyebrow, then quickly hobbled up to her feet. “Uh, sure thing, coming.”
Lady Shiva led her through the mountain fortress, deep into its lower levels. In the two years that Rose had been here, she had never gone anywhere other than the courtyard, her bedchambers, and the corridors in between. These subbasements, lit only by a series of blazing torches along the wall, were entirely new to her.
“In here,” Shiva said, opening a thick wooden door.
Rose followed the woman inside, closing the door behind her. When she turned her attention to what the room contained, her single eye went wide. “Whoa...”
The large, round chamber within was lit with the same kinds of torches as the previous corridors. The floor was not man-made, but rather a natural formation of the mountain on which the fortress had been built, and at the center of the floor sat a deep pool of bubbling water.
“What is this?” she asked, taking a curious step forward.
“A natural hot spring,” Lady Shiva explained. “But not a normal one. It is... special.”
Rose knelt down next to the spring, running her hand through the hot water. “Special how?”
“It possesses healing properties.” Turning around, Shiva began disrobing, stripping off her silk gi. “Soaking within its waters will revitalize our bodies, and mend our injuries.”
“...seriously?” Rose glanced up at the woman, crossing her eyebrows. “And you waited over two years to show this to me because...?”
“Because you hadn't earned it,” she replied, kneeling down and folding her clothes into a neat pile. “But now... well, this is a special occasion.”
Rose blinked, briefly shaking her head. “If you say so.”
Lowering her nude form into the water, Lady Shiva gestured for her pupil to join her. “Come, soak in the spring.”
“Uh...” she uttered, pausing briefly as she stood up straight. “I don't think that's a good idea.”
“And why not?”
Rose fidgeted slightly, glancing over at Shiva's clothes, then down at herself. “Well, it's just... I mean... I have scars. A lot of scars.”
Lifting an eyebrow, Shiva waded across the spring towards her. “You are... ashamed of your scars? Self conscious, perhaps?”
“I don't know... I mean, I guess,” she said, with a shrug.
A brief pause passed between the two, as Lady Shiva hoisted herself up onto the edge of the spring. Calmly, she scooted herself over into direct torchlight, highlighting her own body with a bright orange glow that revealed numerous markings all across her body, some small and thin, others larger and bumpy. “You are not the only one with scars, little dove.”
Rose widened her eye, as she lowered herself to examine Lady Shiva's body. She very tentatively held out a hand, running her fingers along the woman's shoulder, feeling the scars. “I... I didn't know.”
“Scars are nothing to be ashamed of,” Shiva explained. “They are merely another part of us, no different from our hair, or the color of our eyes, and each one tells a story about who we are.”
“I... never really considered that,” she muttered. “I always hated my scars, because they... they remind me of some things in my life I'd rather forget. Bad things.”
Turning slightly, Lady Shiva gently brushed a hand against the girl's cheek. “No matter how bad, you should never forget the things in your life that have made you who you are. Don't let your scars remind you of the bad things in your life, but rather how to move past them, how to become stronger.”
Lowering her gaze, Rose exhaled a long breath. “I... guess that makes sense.”
“Now, come join me,” Shiva said, slipping back into the spring. “You'll be glad you did.”
After a brief moment's hesitation, Rose stood straight again and slowly disrobed, shivering slightly at the cold air against her naked flesh. Looking down at herself, she closely studied her scars, faint white markings that marred a fair portion of her body. Lifting a hand, she also briefly traced a finger over the scar that slashed across where her left eye used to be. Finally tearing her gaze away, she lowered herself into the bubbling water of the spring.
“Oh, wow,” she uttered, eye instantly going wide. The moment she submerged herself into the hot water, the muscles in her body fully relaxed, any and all pain vanishing completely. Leaning against the edge of the spring, she tilted her head back and groaned out a satisfied breath, eye closing. “Just... wow.”
“It is a wonderful feeling, isn't it?” Shiva said, closing her own eyes as she relaxed in the healing waters.
“I'll say...” Breathing in deeply again, a wide smile curled across her face. “Wish you'd told me about this place before. I'd have worked twice as hard to earn a dip sooner.”
“Worry not about missed opportunities in the past,” Shiva stated, “and instead enjoy the now.”
The two remained quiet for a long while after, taking comfort in both the silence and the restorative properties of the spring. Tight muscles loosened, bleeding cuts closed up, sore joints relaxed, and peace found their stressed minds.
Eventually, Lady Shiva opened her eyes again, glancing at her student and breaking the silence. “You and my daughter have grown quite close, I've noticed.”
Rose opened her own eye, giving the woman a small shrug. “She's a good kid.”
“She likes you,” Shiva said. “While with her father, Cassandra did... interact with other children, but not how you'd think. Those other children were also assassins-in-training. They were only permitted to fight with Cassandra, to attack her. Cain wouldn't let them speak so much as a single word to her.”
“She... wow,” Rose muttered, lowering gaze to the water. “And I thought I had it rough.”
“That's why I'm glad she has you now.” Lady Shiva closed her eyes again, holding her arms around herself. “I rescued her from that life, and I am her mother... but what she really needed was a friend.”
Breathing outwardly, Rose folded her arms across her chest and bowed her head. “But even with a friend... The Syndicate still plans on using her as a weapon, don't they?”
“Yes,” she replied, nodding slowly. If ever Lady Shiva had shown an expression of true pain, it was now. “Yes they do...”
Rose sat cross-legged on the floor of her bedchamber, breathing in deeply and slowly, eye closed. She ignored the frost particles sticking to her body, and the shiver running through her spine. Though anyone else would be curled up into a ball right now, desperate for heat, she remained calm, breath steady.
Killer Frost stood over her, frowning. The icy blue woman paced around the girl momentarily, hands balled into fists and eyebrows cross. “You really... really like to spite me, don't you?”
Rose made no response, maintaining the meditative state that currently regulated her internal body temperature. It had taken her a year and a half to learn it, but now Killer Frost could no longer cause her pain, could no longer torture her like before. Now, she was the one in control.
“Scream, damn it!” she exclaimed. “Or... or whimper. Or cry. Or something. At least attack me!”
Killer Frost groaned loudly, bringing a hand to her forehead. “Come on... just a little smack?” She brought her face close, pushing her chin out. “Just like you used to... you know you want to.”
“Damn it!” Finally out of patience, Killer Frost wound up her arm and clubbed Rose across the face, forcing the girl to the floor. “If you just want to get it over with, then fine. But you take all the fun out of this, I hope you know.”
Rose slowly sat up, rubbing her cheek. “What's the matter, Frost? Lost your cool?”
The woman's eye twitched slightly at the comment. With a vicious kick, she buried her heel into Rose's chest, pinning her against the floor. “I'll make you scream, do you hear me?”
“Go ahead, give it your best shot,” she replied, grinning. “If you think you're woman enough.”
Rose uttered a small groan, as she blinked her eye open. She saw nothing, only the blackness of night. With a small yawn, she sat up in bed and squinted into the shadows, waiting for her sight to adjust. Something had awoken her, some kind of sound... but what? When at last she could make out shapes in the darkness, she focused her sight on a small bundle in the middle of the normally empty floor.
“The hell?” she uttered, climbing out of bed. She briefly rubbed her tired eye, then fumbled around the table for a match and a candle.
When the candle finally lit, burning away the inky darkness around her, she turned once again to the center of the room, gaze focusing on the bundle one the floor. At first, she thought she was hallucinating, or that maybe she were in the middle of some kind of dream. To be sure, she knelt down and carefully examined the items on the floor. No, she wasn't hallucinating. Then, she pinched her arm. Nope... not a dream.
Placing the candle on the ground, she reached for one of the two swords, hand grasping firmly around the handle. “Hel-lo,” she said, drawing the blade out of its scabbard. A wide smile formed across her face, as she inspected the sharpened edge. “Come to mama.”
Sheathing the sword, Rose then picked up the black and silver outfit. No, not just an outfit... armor, and it looked to be exactly her size. “What on earth...?” And then, she lifted her gaze. What she saw next charged her body with adrenaline.
The door to her bedchamber, the door normally locked from the outside... was wide open.
Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.
Note: The tenth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.
Becky took in a sharp breath, as Rose pressed a warm, damp cloth against the cut on her head. It wasn't too deep, but the bleeding did need to be stopped. Fortunately, her injuries weren't any worse than that, especially considering she'd been shoved by someone with high levels of super strength. Even after crashing through a table, the cut and a sore knee were the worst of it.
Leaning back slightly on the bed, Becky released a heavy breath, closing her eyes. “So, that was Wonder Girl, huh?”
Rose nodded. “Unfortunately.”
“Well, she's certainly... aggressive.”
“I prefer the term 'b*tchy', but maybe that's just me.”
A small smirk snaked its way across Becky's face. “That actually does sound better. You two don't really get along, though, do you?”
“Never have, even before I got Kid Flash killed,” Rose said, tilting her gaze downward. “I mean, she'd always been pretty cold towards me, and I was always looking for a reason to make her mad. So yeah, that was a match made in hell right from the start.”
Chuckling slightly, Becky gave her girlfriend another smile, then reached up and pushed the wet cloth away. “Hey, enough with tending to me. What about you? She clocked your jaw pretty good.”
“I wouldn't worry about it, I'm used to taking hits like that.” Rose paused a moment, pressing the cloth back to Becky's cut. “Besides, she held back. If she hadn't, I wouldn't have a jaw left. I guess even as much as she hates me, she doesn't actually want to kill me.”
“Well, I still say you should get looked at,” she insisted.
Rose lifted an eyebrow. “Is that right?”
“Come on, lie down.”
Putting up no real resistance, Rose moved forward to the bed and obeyed, pulling off her shirt and pants, then lying down on the mattress, front side down. She uttered a cool breath, eyes closing slightly as Becky got into position atop her, hands coming down to begin massaging her shoulders.
“See, doesn't that feel better?” Becky asked.
“Mmm... maybe,” she responded, with a subtle, satisfied groan.
A calm, gentle silence descended over the couple for a few moments, as Becky's hands slowly worked their way downward. It was a silence that they both enjoyed, taking peace in each other's company. In the time that they had been involved with each other, they had grown a close bond, a bond that often times, like now, needed no words. Of course, the silence could last only so long.
“This may not be the best time to discuss it, but... our next mission is the big one, right?” Becky questioned, working her hands along Rose's lower back. “We'll be trying to bring down the VRA at the source.”
Breathing in deeply, Rose opened her eyes and stared forward. “Yeah. We'll hit them hard, and we'll find Slade. We'll beat him, we'll capture him, and we will find out everything he knows, one way or another. Whatever he's planning, whoever is giving him orders, it all has to end.”
“Si... and even though he's your dad, you'll be able to...”
“To what? Fight him? Hurt him?” Rose glanced back over her shoulder slightly. “I told you everything about him, Beck, you know what kind of man he is. I disowned him a long time ago. When I face him, he's not my father; he's just another killer.”
Becky's hands stopped, a small sigh exiting her lips. Moving off her girlfriend, she lied down next to Rose and held an arm around her shoulders, head resting on the pillow. “I'm sorry for what he did to you, Rose. You deserve so much better than what he put you through.”
Rose smiled. You're sweet, you know that?”
“Well, I do try.”
Lifting up a hand, Rose took hold of Becky's, interlocking their fingers. “You're forgetting, though. I already do have better. I have you.”
Becky grinned widely. “Now who's being sweet, ah?”
“That's not all I can be, you know.”
“Hmm, is that so?”
Growing a smirk across her face, Rose leaned forward and gave Becky a deep kiss, while rolling on top of her in the process. “How about I show you?”
With the addition of the Teen Titans, their numbers had doubled, meaning that they were essentially twice as effective and twice as dangerous as before. Unfortunately, the VRA still had them all vastly outnumbered with the amount of heroes under control of neural stems. They weren't just going to need a lot of determination and power to succeed this time around, but a lot of luck, too.
“So, we all know the main purpose of this assault,” Power Girl said, as the team gathered in the main lounge the next morning. “To break into VRA headquarters, shut the place down, and capture Slade Wilson for interrogation. In order put an end to this, we have to figure out who he's working for.”
“I'd suggest breaking into two separate teams, in the event that we run into heavy resistance,” Red Robin stated. “We'll need a distraction team to draw a majority of the fire, and an infiltration team to get inside and go after Slade.”
Power Girl nodded. “Good idea. In that case, the distraction team will consist of myself, Wonder Girl, Superboy, Flash, Bombshell, and Static.”
Leaning forward on the couch, Bombshell gave a small grin. “And the objective for that team is to cause as much mayhem as possible, right? Now that I can do.”
“Which leaves Red Robin, Red Arrow, Ravager, Beast Boy, Raven and Rebecca for the infiltration team,” Power Girl continued.
Beast Boy glanced over at Cyborg. “What about Vic?”
“I'll be back here, working on a way to remotely shut down those stems,” he explained.
Superboy folded his arms, bringing a hand to his chin. “But you already managed to disable ours, didn't you?”
“When I could get up close and had time to interact with them directly, sure,” Cyborg said. “But that isn't going to be much help against someone attacking you. If I can figure out a way to disable them from a distance, though, then we'd have a distinct advantage against the VRA controlled heroes.”
At this information, Red Arrow frowned and shifted his weight slightly. “I guess I'll be the one to ask it: why aren't we waiting until you do figure that out to attack? Seems like it would make things a whole lot easier.”
“Because, there's no guarantee I'll be able to, at least not in the near future. The longer we sit around waiting for me to come up with a solution, the worse things get out there, and the more time the VRA will have to prepare for us.”
“I have to agree on that one...” Ravager muttered. “Giving Slade a significant amount of time to prepare against anything is not a good idea.”
“Right, we want to hit them while they're still vulnerable,” Power Girl said.
Static bowed his head slightly, breathing out a long sigh. “I just hope this works and we get the information we're looking for, because we are attacking a government building. In the middle of D.C. If this goes south, it's not going to end well for us.”
Power Girl's eyes narrowed. “If we fail, I doubt it will end well for anyone.”
A dead silence descended upon the group. They gave each other careful glances, nerves beginning to run high. No matter what happened, they couldn't fail.
Becky then stood up from her seat, planting one end of her staff firmly against the ground and giving Power Girl an affirmative nod. “Let's do this.”
Out in front of the VRA Headquarters building, a large garrison had been set up to protect against any incoming attacks. Most of the men were directly employed by the VRA itself, but it also included a collection of local police, as well as military troops. They were taking no chances. The only problem with this, of course, was the cost to not just gather them, but also keep them all stationed there, waiting for a threat they weren't sure was coming.
But Slade was sure. He was always sure. As he stood there behind a wall of large army jeeps, hands clasped behind his back, he carefully observed the setup. These men likely wouldn't be able to hold the line very long against the kind of power on its way, but they didn't really need to, either. They were simply present in order to slow the threat down, not take it out. He had other individuals more capable of that standing by for when they were needed.
“Are you sure they're coming?” Agent Croft asked, stepping beside him. “We have no intel to indicate an imminent attack.”
Slade casually glanced at the man, his stolid expression unchanging. “I suppose the previous attacks on our other facilities have escaped your memory?”
“They'll be here, and soon,” Slade assured. “To be honest, I'm surprised they haven't arrived already; perhaps even superheroes need a breather. The point is to be prepared, so when they get here, we can put them down.”
Agent Croft uttered a cool breath, turning his gaze back towards the garrison in front of them. Most of the men were just sitting around eating lunch, or reading a paper. They certainly don't look like a very prepared bunch. “Somehow, they're not inspiring me with a lot of confidence.”
“Just have a little faith. Pawns go first for a reason. Now, stay here and coordinate the defense. I'll be in my office.”
Once Slade disappeared back inside the building, Croft mumbled out a curse under his breath and folded his arms. “Stay here and coordinate... right. We'll be out here for hours before-”
“There they are!” one of the guards shouted.
Suddenly, the whole mass of troops began scrambling into defensive formations, taking position and readying themselves against the incoming superbeings. Power Girl was the first to arrive, swooping in and crashing down in front of the main line. Wonder Girl and Superboy flew down next to her, followed by Static and Bombshell. The Flash appeared a second later, running up behind the group and standing with his arms crossed over his chest.
Immediately, Croft ran forward with a bullhorn in hand. “Attention, superheroes! Surrender at once, or we will open fire. In light of your recent crimes against the VRA and the government as a whole, lethal force has been authorized! This is the only warning you get!”
Eyes narrowing, Power Girl took a few steps forward. The men at the front of the line instantly tensed up, raising their weapons at her. “And here's my counter. You stand aside and let us by peacefully, and none of you need to get hurt. This is your only warning.”
“Not going to happen, Power Girl,” Croft said, shaking his head. “You're not heroes anymore, you're the country's most wanted criminals. You don't stand down, and we will take you out!”
“You're welcome to try.” Not hesitating another moment, Power Girl's eyes suddenly glowed bright red, followed by a thick wave of heat vision that sliced forward across the ground in front of them. A tall cloud of dust and debris kicked up into the air, blocking the heroes from sight.
The front line open fired, some with standard assault rifles, others with the VRA's more sophisticated energy weapons that shot out powerful orbs of electricity. Of course, none of them even came close to hitting their mark before Power Girl's team was on them, bursting through the dust cloud and throwing themselves straight into the enemy force. Several men ran in a panic, while others still attempted to subdue their targets. It was rather futile, though, as their weapons had very little effect against the largely invulnerable heroes.
While the more destructive members of the team went around simply destroying vehicles and causing as much chaos as possible, Flash and Static worked on disarming everyone they could. Floating up high into the air on his levitating trashcan lid, Static sent out a field of electricity to magnetize and pull away their weapons. Flash, on the other hand, simply ran at super speeds in between all of them and physically pulled their weapons out of their hands. Within a minute, more than two thirds of the entire garrison was unarmed and helpless.
With an angry shout, Bombshell flew forward towards the back of the enemy troops and ripped straight through a military jeep, splitting it in half and causing it to explode in a rather impressive fireball. Fortunately, the surrounding men had ample time to get out of the way of any airborne metal pieces.
Turning around, she gave them a cross glare, as bullets bounced off her Dilustel skin. “Come on! That the best you got? You're all pathetic!”
Charging up her fist with quantum energy, she punched the ground squarely in front of her, causing a violent eruption of earth, stone, and concrete. This time, however, the flying debris exploded in a much wider radius, threatening to crush some of the nearby guards. Fortunately, a red and yellow blur zipped around and pulled everyone out of the way.
“Calm down, Bombshell!” Flash said. “We're not trying to hurt anyone!”
“If they didn't want to get hurt, they should have just surrendered!” she countered. As she went to direct her attacks elsewhere, however, a sonic blast exploded across her backside, launching her forward and straight through another jeep.
Flying into view, Blue Beetle raised his arm cannon for a follow up attack. “Could say the same to you, hermana!”
And suddenly an entire enemy team of supers arrived, including Black Canary, Stargirl, Argent, Hawkman, Jay Garrick, Terra, and Cyclone. For a brief moment, both teams of heroes just stood still, staring each other down. The other troops, meanwhile, took this opportunity to get the hell out of there, desperately retreating from the inevitable destruction about to take place.
“One last chance to surrender before we take you out,” Blue Beetle said, raising his sonic cannon again.
Before anyone could answer, however, the fallen Bombshell rocketed up from the ground and crashed into Blue Beetle midair, unleashing a power explosion of energy that sent him hurtling into one of the windows of the building behind him. A moment later, he flew back outside, relatively unharmed.
“I'll take that as a no,” he said. “Attack!”
Bombshell narrowed her gaze, flying in like a rocket once again. “You wanna go, blue boy? Let's go!”
And then the two sides clashed. As Bombshell and Blue Beetle went at it in the air, Jay Garrick, the original Flash, raced across the ground straight at the current Flash and lunged at him in a supersonic tackle. The two smashed into another building across the street, partially caving in one of the walls.
After sliding a ways across the ground, The Flash sprang back up to his feet and began racing back at the older man. “Don't make me do this, Jay!”
“You brought it on yourself, kid! You're a criminal now!”
Back in front of the VRA building, Stargirl flew in with her cosmic staff at the ready, heading straight at Wonder Girl. While forming a defensive force field around herself, she held the staff forward and fired off a sparkling and powerful cosmic blast. Wonder Girl stood her ground, holding her arms up in front of herself and taking the hit. She managed to endure for several moments, before the blast finally sent her airborne.
“Don't think that just because you wear that W on your chest, I'm a pushover!” Stargirl declared.
After stabilizing herself in the air, Wonder Girl jetted forward at Stargirl. When the next blast of energy came in, she dodged out of the way and moved in quick, delivering a thunderous punch that smashed against the force field and launched Stargirl into a jeep down below. Unfortunately, the force field held strong, negating any damage the attack might have caused.
As Hawkman lunged in with a vicious swing from his mace, Static ducked out of the way, floating backwards and firing an electrical blast. Hawkman simply held the mace forward, drawing in the entirety of the blast into it like a lightning rod and dispersing it.
Eyes going wide, Static floated higher, trying to keep his distance. “Okay, that shouldn't happen.”
“You've never seen Nth metal before have you?” Hawkman asked.
“Doesn't sound familiar, no.”
Flying after the young hero, Hawkman quickened his pace and took another swing. “Then have a closer look!”
Superboy jumped backwards, narrowly avoiding a giant silver plasma construct in the shape of a wrecking ball. However, the construct suddenly changed shape, shifting into dozens of long, flexible tendrils that lashed out and chased after him. While he managed to evade them for a while, they continued splitting into more and more, until eventually a number of them wrapped around his legs and swung him through the air, crashing into the side of the building.
“Not so super now, are you?” Argent said, grinning.
Her comment was answered by a very angry Superboy flying out from the rubble and blitzing straight at her. Eyes going wide, she formed a silver construct in front of her in the shape of a shield, taking the brunt of the resulting impact. The force of the blow still sent her plummeting back to the ground, though, leaving her in a daze.
As Superboy moved in to put her down for good, a loud, shrill scream of incredible power ripped through the air and hit him full force, throwing him backwards and forcing him to cover his ears.
“Sorry, Superboy, but she isn't the only one you have to deal with!” Black Canary exclaimed.
The team's final member, Power Girl, weaved her way in between several massive chunks of earth, as she headed towards Terra. This girl might have been her best friend, but she couldn't let that throw her off. Terra was controlled just like all the others, who could and would kill the uncontrolled heroes if given the opportunity. She needed to end this battle quickly, or at least drag it out long enough for the infiltration team to get to Slade.
“I'm sorry I have to do this again, Atlee!” Power Girl took to the air, eyes glowing red. “I don't have a choice!”
Atlee raised a fist, causing a massive chunk of earth to rip out from beneath the street. “There's always a choice, Peej! You just made the wrong one!”
As Power Girl closed the distance, a massive wind gust suddenly rippled through the air. At first, it was just a mild breeze, in comparison to her resilience, but soon picked up into near hurricane force, sending her spinning violently back through the air.
“You didn't forget about me, did you, Kara?” Cyclone asked, floating through the air. Another one of Power Girl's friends from the JSA, Maxine Hunkel, possessed complete control over air currents, and even sound waves, as of recently. That combination could be trouble.
By the time Power Girl managed to stabilize herself again in the air, a pair of enormous boulders came in from both sides and squashed her between them. Letting out a frustrated grunt, she pushed them back apart with minimal effort, only to take another flying boulder to the face, one that sent her crashing into a nearby building.
“You should have just surrendered, Kara!” Atlee declared. “Now we have to hurt you!”
Across the street from the battle, poised on a rooftop, the infiltration team watched carefully as their friends fought desperately against the VRA controlled heroes. While the distraction team did seem to be holding their own for now, they were still outnumbered, and their opponents weren't exactly pushovers to begin with.
Becky leaned forward over the parapet, her gaze unable to break away from the scene. “Dios, they're in trouble... you think they can hold out?”
“They're gonna have to,” Ravager said. “That's their job. Our job, on the other hand, is to take advantage of this. We need to get in there and find Slade.”
“Well, I'm ready you guys are,” Red Arrow replied. “I'd say those guys are plenty distracted now.”
Red Robin nodded. “I agree. Now's the time to go.”
Looking to Raven, Beast Boy gave her a nod. “Take us away.”
“Yes... let us go.” Raising her arms, Raven projected her soul-self once again, engulfing them all.
Raven took them to the second floor lobby of the VRA building. As they materialized out of her dark soul-self, the receptionist behind the counter uttered a terrified shriek, and instantly ducked down below her desk out of the way. Slowly, the woman peered up over the top to see what was going on.
“Alright, we're in,” Red Robin stated, looking around. “Question now is, where's Slade?”
“Well, there can't be that many places for him to hide,” Beast Boy said. “There's only five floors.”
Looking to her left, Ravager spotted the receptionist and walked over to her. “Hey, you. What floor is Slade on?”
The frightened woman let out a small yelp, tumbling back behind her chair and springing up to her feet. “P-please, don't hurt me!”
“Lady, we're not gonna hurt you,” Ravager said, with a small sigh. “Just tell us where Slade is.”
“S-slade? Oh, you mean Director Wilson, r-right. He's on the fifth floor in his office.”
Red Arrow blinked, scratching the back of his head. “Huh, never thought just asking would have worked.”
“Well you heard her, fifth floor.” Ravager turned to the others, hands coming to her hips. “Let's get moving.”
Staring in surprise, the receptionist gave the group careful glances, as she moved back to her desk. “You're... really not going to hurt me?”
Ravager folded her arms. “You don't plan on attacking us, do you?”
“W-what? No! Of course not!”
“Then yeah, you're safe. Now come on, we're wasting time.”
“I will have us there... shortly,” Raven said, once again extending her soul-self outward.
Before she could complete the task, however, a painful eruption of electricity exploded across her backside. Her eyes went wide, mouth gaping open and a horrific scream emerging from her throat. She fell forward, collapsing to the floor and twitching in pain, her entire body numb. Jutting into her back, right between her shoulder blades, was a small bat-shaped shuriken, with a blinking blue light on it.
“Raven!” Beast Boy called, rushing to the fallen empath's side.
A second electrically charged batarang came slicing through the air towards him, but Becky intercepted it, swatting it out of the air with her staff. A second later, a dark figure swooped in from around one of the lobby pillars, landing a kick on Becky's face and sending her reeling backwards. The figure landed nimbly, throwing another couple of batarangs, but Red Robin promptly knocked them both out of the air with two of his own razor discs.
“Cassandra?” Red Robin uttered, eyebrows lifting.
The attacker was Cassandra Cain, otherwise known as Black Bat, completely under the VRA's control. “First.. you fight me.”
Pushing past the others, Ravager came forward and cracked her knuckles. “You're kidding, right? You're a bit outnumbered, Bat B*tch, but hey, I won't complain. Gives us a chance to finally settle things.”
“She didn't come alone!” Suddenly, the werewolf Michael Kubrick bolted through the lobby, lips curled back and fangs bared. He made a wild lunge at the person closest to him: Red Robin.
With a deft maneuver, Red Robin rolled out of the way, while brandishing his extendable bo staff and moving into a defensive position. Then, the rest of the enemy team showed up, including a few familiar faces. The shark-alien woman Zaria, already transformed in all her monstrous glory, dove in from the ceiling, making a swipe at Red Arrow, who narrowly managed to dive out of the way.
When Beast Boy transformed into a tiger to help, the potted plants around them in the lobby suddenly sprang to life, rapidly growing and extending outward to take hold of him in the grasp of thick vines. The green skinned Poison Ivy slowly strutted around the side of one of the pillars, the vines lifting herself upwards into the air as well.
“Don't struggle too much,” Poison Ivy stated, a pleased smirk on her face. “My babies are still growing.”
Becky, meanwhile, held a hand to her head and shook off the last blow, while looking around at the melee. Before long, a new enemy appeared to attack, a blonde haired woman in a black and purple batsuit, carrying a bo staff similar to Red Robin's.
“Looks like you're all mine!” Batgirl announced, lunging forward.
Leaping out of the way of a vicious swing, Becky spun her own staff around and hit her opponent's weapon away, then thrust the end forward. But Batgirl was quick, leaning to the side to avoid the strike and then countering with a palm thrust that caught Becky square in the jaw. While recoiling from the blow, Becky felt another hit carom off her stomach, and then a third drill into the side of her knee. Fortunately, her armored bodysuit dispersed most of the force, resulting in very little actual damage.
After taking a second to briefly shake away the partial daze she was in, Becky swiftly dodged two more attacks, then ducked low and countered with an upwards swing from her staff. The end drilled Batgirl across the bottom of the jaw and literally lifted her up several feet into the air, the resulting shock wave knocking the woman out cold instantly.
Blinking a few times in surprise, Becky glanced down at the staff and smiled a little. “I really do love this thing.”
Before she had an opportunity to revel in her victory much longer, however, an incoming bolt zipped through the air and pierced her left shoulder.
“Hijo de puta!” she exclaimed, ripping the bolt from her shoulder. She quickly turned around to see another costumed woman standing there, wielding two small hand crossbows.
“I'm sorry, did that hurt?” Huntress asked, taking aim again. “Here, have another.”
Ravager took a small step to the side, watching as Black Bat carefully examined every motion she made. That was how Cassandra gained such an edge in hand to hand, reading her opponent's movements to such a degree that she could determine exactly how and where a person would attack. Likewise, Ravager possessed her precog, enabling her to see attacks before they happened. Both women had highly effective methods of defending themselves in hand to hand combat, and both were highly trained and experienced.
It made them a perfect match for each other.
“You said once... you wanted to smack me around,” Black Bat stated, shifting into a fighting stance. “Now... you have the chance. If you can.”
“I wouldn't waste my time if I didn't know I could,” she responded.
Black Bat's eyes narrowed. “The last time we fought... I slit your throat.”
“This isn't like when when we fought before.” Ravager held her hands up at the ready, turning her body to the side. “I'm not some rookie looking for daddy's approval anymore.”
Ravager lunged in for an attack. She was faster than when they last fought, she was stronger than when they last fought, and she was a hell of a lot more skilled, too. But Cassandra still predicted the location of each punch, deflecting them to the side. Black Bat's countering backhand struck only air, however, as Ravager ducked out way.
After a brief hesitation, both combatants staring each other down, they charged forward again. No more testing, no more messing around. For the most part, they both had an extreme difficulty hitting the other, with most attacks either being blocked, deflected, or outright avoided. But some attacks did land, and for a short moment they exchanged several blows in rapid succession, though nothing of particular significance. A split lip here, a jab to the ribs there; the damage was marginal.
“So you are... better,” Black Bat said, wiping blood from her mouth.
“So are you.” Ravager paused a moment, holding a hand to her bruised jaw. “But not as much.”
Ravager straightened herself slightly, lowering her hand. “Of course I am. You used to be leagues ahead of me, even with my abilities. But look at us now, almost even. That tells me you've either been slacking off, or somewhere along the way you just reached a point where you couldn’t improve anymore.”
“My peak,” she sated.
“Yeah, your peak. And guess what? I think my peak is higher.”
Cassandra went quiet, gaze narrowing as she brought her fists back up. “Let's find out.”
They rushed each other again, this time determined to find out who was the better. While Ravager had her swords and Black Bat had her gadgets, neither set of equipment came into play. This fight was personal to the both of them, even if Cassandra was being controlled by one of the neural stems. They went hand to hand, and only hand to hand. This wasn't just about winning, this was about pride.
As they reached each other, Ravager poised herself and waited for an attack. When the punch came, she turned herself to the side and wrapped her own arms around Black Bat's, then worked herself into a position to grab hold of the woman's midsection and under her armpit.
“Don't bother struggling,” she said.
Her grip came down like a vice, unyielding no matter how hard Cassandra tried to break free. Their skill might have been on par with each other, but there were some things that Ravager had to her advantage. Enhanced speed and strength, for example, the latter of which was the deciding factor here. Pushing forward, she forced Black Bat face first into the pillar in front of them, then pulled back and swung her to the floor. Throughout the entire assault, she never once loosened her grip.
“A little advice-” Kneeling atop Cassandra now, Ravager pinned both of the woman's arms in an awkward position behind her back, then slammed her face hard against the tile floor. “-when you're fighting someone who can see your attacks before you make them-”
Black Bat fought back, twisting her body to the side and using her legs push off from the ground and attempt to break free. But Ravager didn't let her go, instead twisting one of her arms even harder, and then lunging her knee forward straight into her jaw. “-you have to take that ability out of the equation. If there's nowhere for you to go-”
With another desperate lurch Black Bat started to wriggle free, sliding out from beneath Ravager and nearly getting away. But Ravager was quick to grab hold again, still not letting go, in spite of a hard palm thrust that whipped her head backwards.
Instead, she pulled Black Bat up and lurched her head forward, viciously headbutting the woman square in the face. “-then you can't get away.”
One final elbow strike to the back of the skull put Cassandra down for good.
“It doesn't matter what you transform into!” Poison Ivy exclaimed. “My lovelies will rip you apart!”
Currently in the form of a hummingbird, Beast Boy zipped around wildly, darting out of the way of monstrous, man eating plants. Fortunately, his speed and unpredictability in this form kept him alive for the moment. He would just transform into something much larger, but if he got too big, he might end up crashing straight through the floor, which likely wasn't reinforced enough to hold something like a mammoth or a T-Rex.
Instead, he darted out of the way of a few more lunging plant mouths and then quickly morphed into a gorilla, getting close enough to make a leaping dive at Poison Ivy. However, a massive plant stem suddenly shot up through the floor straight in front of him, causing him to very nearly run straight into it. Fortunately, he managed to change directions to avoid collision at the last moment.
However, it also left him vulnerable to the man eating plants, all of which began to converge on him at once. Going on the defensive again, he transformed back into a hummingbird, ready to keep dodging. But the need never arose, as suddenly a large ball of flame erupted at the base of one of the plants.
Instantly, Poison Ivy let out a horrified shriek of agony, eyes going wide and arms reaching out to the burning plant. “No! What have you done?! They're in pain! They're dying!”
A brief second later, Red Robin appeared behind her and delivered a hard strike with his staff to the base of her skull, knocking her out cold.
Morphing back into human form, Beast Boy glanced back at the cause of the fire. “Thanks.”
“Fire arrow,” Red Arrow said, giving a smirk. “Primitive, but effective.”
“Not really primitive when you're using kerosene as a base,” Red Robin remarked.
Ravager stumbled into view a moment later, moving around the withering and dying plant life. A short distance away, Kubrick, Zaria, Batgirl, and Huntress lay unconscious on the floor.
Holding a hand to the back of her head, she glanced around at the others for a moment, confused. “Where's Becky?”
“Uh, not sure exactly.” Red Arrow paused a moment, glancing back over his shoulder. “She helped us take down ugly and uglier over there, then I think she ran off.”
A sudden sinking feeling dropped into her gut. “Oh, Becky no... tell me you didn't go after him by yourself.” Instantly, she took off and running, sprinting towards the stairs.
“Damn it!” Red Robin declared, chasing after her. “Roy, B.B., take care of Raven! I'm going after them!”
The door to Slade's office burst inwards, tearing straight off its hinges with splinters and shards of glass spraying in all directions. Holding her staff at the ready, Becky stepped inside and took a defensive stance, staring at the man in front of her.
Slade stood there, fully dressed in his armored costume, except for the mask. A broadsword adorned his back, while multiple guns hung off his waist and legs. “About time, I was starting to get bored.”
“Slade! You're coming with us!”
Not answering right away, he pulled on his mask finally and straightened it, the Deathstroke persona taking over now. “Rebecca, isn't it? Shame... I was hoping for Rose.”
“Well you got me!” she countered. “And the others are on their way soon, so do the smart thing and come quietly.”
Deathstroke paused a moment, tilting his head and giving the woman a long look. “You're my daughter's... lover, correct?”
“Girlfriend,” Becky said, eyes narrowing. “Get it right.”
“Of course... and she's happy with you, isn't she?”
“The hell do you care?” she asked. “As far as I'm concerned, that's none of your business!”
“I'm her father,” Deathstroke said. “Her happiness is most certainly my business.”
Becky scoffed, lips curling into a frown. “Right, and that's why you drugged her, manipulated her, and made her kill for you? You're a regular father of the year.”
“Don't presume you know anything about it,” he said. “Even she doesn't know the whole story, not really.”
“Well, I'm sure we'd all love to hear it.” Becky finally lifted her staff, ready to attack. “You can tell it to us from behind bars.”
Taking a couple steps forward, Deathstroke clasped his hands behind his back. “Don't be stupid, girl. You're in over your head.”
“We'll see about that, won't we? For everything you've done with the VRA, everything you've done to hurt these people, and everything you've ever done to Rose, I'm taking you down.”
Deathstroke paused momentarily, reaching back behind himself and drawing his sword. Then, he took a small step forward and lifted the blade above his head, waiting. “I'll tell you right now, I don't want to fight you, Rebecca. But if you make the first move, do not expect me to hold back.”
Becky's gaze went narrow again, hands gripping her staff with both hands. As determined and eager as she was to make the first move, a part of her felt the pangs of hesitation. Something about this man was frightening.
Quickly, though, she fought those feelings away, instead running across the office at him. “Let's go!”
Deathstroke stumbled backwards, catching his balance against the desk and then pushing himself forward. When he and Becky engaged again, the exchange was brief but telling. When the butt of the staff jutted against his ribs, he felt a thunderous force erupt, a small shock wave ripping into his armor and knocking him airborne. He did, however, manage to flip himself around in midair and land back on his feet, though he staggered momentarily.
“Not bad,” he said, eye narrowing from behind his mask. “I might even go so far as to say pretty good. That suit is impressive.”
Swallowing, Becky took in a deep breath and staggered, dropping to one knee and wincing.
“The staff, too,” Deathstroke continued. “A fine piece of weaponry. But it doesn't matter how strong or fast you are, I still got you.”
A small grunt emerged from Becky's lips, as she glanced down to see a clean cut through her power suit, slicing along her ribs. “Rose told me you were dangerous... guess she was right.”
“Do the smart thing and stand down, Rebecca.” Deathstroke lowered his sword, taking a small step forward. “I don't want to hurt you again.”
“Sorry, but we have a job to do,” Becky said, clicking a switch on the center of her staff. A low pitched humming noise filled the room, as the weapon powered up to maximum capacity. “No more messing around!”
Deathstroke lifted an eyebrow in curiosity, preparing himself against the charging woman. As the staff swung in, he went to deflect the blow with his sword, but the massive shock wave that erupted sent the blade spinning through the air and knocked him off balance, hands shaking and numb.
When the staff hit his gut this time, he almost mistook the impact for a speeding train. Instantly, he lifted into the air and flew backwards towards the window behind him. Not only did he go through the window, but he also took half the wall with him, plummeting through the air from five stories up.
Realizing exactly what she had done, Becky's eyes went wide. She quickly ran over to the hole in the wall, terrified that she had actually killed the man. “Oh mierda!”
The roof of an attaching section of the building broke Deathstroke's fall before he could plummet the entire distance, crashing against the hard surface about twenty feet down. He lied there for several moments, groaning quietly to himself, then sat up and shook off the daze.
“Okay, a very fine piece of weaponry,” he muttered.
A short moment later, another figure landed on the roof in front of him, cracking the flat surface upon impact. Becky's suit absorbed the shock of the fall, allowing her to instantly recover and prepare herself for another attack. Rising back to his feet, Deathstroke held a hand to his chest briefly, then took a fighting stance.
“I'd stay down, if I were you,” Becky said.
“Girl, you really don't know what you're up against, do you?”
“I know I just knocked you out a window. Want to make it off a roof, too?”
A small sigh brushed past Deathstroke's lips. “I didn't want to have to do this...”
He suddenly sprinted forward, the fall apparently having very little effect on his ability to continue fighting. Becky readied herself, spinning her staff and delivering a vicious swing at his legs. But she struck only air, as Deathstroke leaped over the attack and delivered and explosive elbow that caught the side of her head. She staggered slightly, trying to recover quickly from the blow... but then the follow up strikes came.
Becky barely even knew where the attacks were coming from, they were hitting her so fast. And they hurt, too. A lot. Even with the armor that her suit provided, she felt the thunderous impact. By the time the onslaught finished, her entire body throbbed, almost numb.
Am I on my back? I am... what the hell happened?
Everything appeared to be spinning as she looked up at the sky, and for a brief moment she felt nauseous. Eventually, Deathstroke appeared above in her vision, standing over her. She tried to get back up to keep fighting, but her insides suddenly twisted, causing her to roll over and vomit, coughing and sputtering.
“I told you,” Deathstroke said, gaze narrowing, “you're in over your head.”
“I'm not... done yet...” she uttered.
He merely raised a fist, ready to put her down for good. “Yes, you are.”
Before he could deliver the blow, however, another voice interrupted him. “SLADE!”
Deathstroke glanced up just in time to see a figure dive bombing him from up above like a missile, feet first. Boots squarely striking him in the chest, he tumbled head over heels backward until popping back up to his feet and hunching over slightly.
“Rose...” he said, narrowing his gaze at his daughter. “Good of you to join us.”
“Your fight is with me, Dad!” She spat that last word with pure, ire-filled venom. “Leave her out of it!”
“It's her own fault. I did warn her about getting involved.”
Becky groaned slightly, sitting up very slowly and pressing a hand to her forehead. “Oy, I had him...”
Ravager's gaze snapped back to her girlfriend. She came close, kneeling down and pressing her hands to Rebecca's shoulders. “Becky, what the hell were you thinking? You shouldn't have gone after him alone!”
“I just... wanted to do something good for you,” she replied, looking into her girlfriend's eyes. She averted her gaze a moment later, glancing away with a sigh.
“Well, you’ve done enough for now,” Ravager said, leaning forward to give Becky a gentle kiss on the forehead. “Take a breather, I'll handle him.”
A moment later, another figure swung down into view. Red Robin landed nimbly on the rooftop, then retracted his grapple line and tucked it away. “You don't have to handle him alone.”
“I don't need your help, Tim,” Ravager stated. “Or want it. This one's personal.”
“You know I'm not just gonna stand here and watch you fight him alone,” he replied.
“Yeah, what he said.” Becky groaned quietly, pushing herself back to her feet. “Think I'm starting to feel a bit better here.”
And just like that, Deathstroke faced a three on one disadvantage. He could take any one of them just fine on their own, he knew that. But all three? That could pose a problem. “Well... isn't this interesting?”
Drawing her swords, Ravager led the charge, sprinting straight at her father. “Take him down!”
Deep within a dark bunker somewhere, location unspecified, a man sat at a large computer console, more like a small command center than anything else. This equipment far surpassed the stuff he'd been using in the past, and with it he could do just about anything imaginable with a computer. Right now, his 'eye in the sky' paid careful attention to everything going on in Washington D.C., specifically the attack on the VRA headquarters. Even more specifically, he was watching an aerial view of the rooftop on which Deathstroke fought against three opponents. The man seemed to be putting up a decent enough fight, but he was still outmatched.
“Well, it seems you've bitten off a little more than you can chew, Slade,” Calculator muttered, leaning forward in his seat. “Can't say I'm surprised.”
As he continued watching, the phone next to his station rang. It rang three times, then stopped. After a long pause, it started ringing again. It was at this point he reached over to grab it, knowing exactly who it was.
“I was wondering when you were going to call,” he said, sinking back into his chair.
“Are you watching?” the voice asked.
“Live satellite feed is crystal clear. I can see it all.”
“And how does it look?”
Calculator paused a moment, clicking a button on the keyboard and pulling up another screen. “Not good for the VRA.”
The screen now showed a view of the front of the VRA building. Most of the combatants were down and out at the moment, but Power Girl, Superboy, and Static were still in the game, fighting against Terra, Stargirl, and Argent. Pressing a second button, he zoomed in just in time to see Static deliver a particularly devastating blast to Terra, who went down in a smoking heap.
“The main defense squad is almost out,” Calculator informed. “I give them five more minutes, tops.”
“I see... “ The voice paused, breathing outwardly. “Unfortunate. You know what to do in that case.”
Calculator smirked. “Of course.”
“Slade may have failed, but as long as they don't get any information out of him, then the game continues.”
“Trust me,” Calculator said, “when I'm done here, there won't be anything left of him to get information from.”
“Good. Once you've done that, I'll take care of the rest.”
The phone clicked off a second later. Calmly hanging it up, Calculator pulled himself closer to the keyboard and cracked his knuckles. With a few short button presses, he pulled up the VRA building's security systems, particularly the little fail safe he had installed for an event like this. Glancing back up at the screen, he watched as Deathstroke continued to fight the other three. Knowing the locations of each charge, Calculator waited...
“Just a little closer, Slade. You're almost on it.”
“Rose, look out!” Becky exclaimed.
Lunging forward, Becky pushed the downed Ravager out of the way of Deathstroke's attack. Instead, the kick caromed off Becky's arm. With a hard glare, she grabbed onto the man's shin and yanked him forward, throwing herself at him. The two went down hard, rolling several times before coming to a stop.
Deathstroke flipped himself up on top of her, delivering a couple of hard strikes to face and midsection, but suddenly the claw of Red Robin's grapnel gun clamped around his left wrist and pulled his arm back, throwing him off balance. Then, Ravager was on him, leaping onto his back and wrapping her arm around his neck, choking and restraining him.
“It's over, Slade!” she shouted, squeezing her arm tighter around his throat. “You're coming with-”
Destruction and chaos abruptly engulfed their entire world, as the rooftop around them exploded, several various detonations going off and causing showers of debris to rocket into the air. In particular, one of the charges detonated right beneath where Becky, Deathstroke, and Ravager were positioned. Within moments, they were falling through empty space, as the roof collapsed around them. The entire building went with them.
Ravager landed with a thud, the back of her head smacking against a thick chunk of concrete. A dark rain of dust, rubble, and broken furniture crashed down over her a second later, everything going black. For the longest time, she couldn't even figure out which ways was up and which was down. A heavy pain ripped across her left arm, too, probably broken. It took every ounce of effort she had in order to move beneath the chunks of ruined building, but eventually she managed to dig her way out, even with only a single good arm.
Tearing the cracked helmet and dented faceplate off her head, she threw it to the ground and tumbled down a pile of rubble, grunting in pain when she landed on her bad arm. A brief, hacking cough grated her throat, as she expelled the concrete dust from her lungs. For good measure, she spit several times on the ground next to her, just to get the taste out.
What... the hell... just happened?
Gritting her teeth, she sat upright and looked around, seeing nothing but piles of debris around her. “Rebecca? Tim? Are you there?”
No answer. Wincing slightly, she forced her way up to her feet and staggered momentarily. When she finally stabilized herself, she sucked in a deep breath and began walking, a very noticeable limp in her stride.
A brief moment later, a weak, pained voice spoke out to her. “Rose...”
Rose's heart skipped a beat, gaze snapping in the direction of Becky's voice. Suddenly, all the pain, all the exhaustion was gone, as she rushed over to the woman's side. Through all of the rubble pinning her to the ground, Becky was barely even noticeable, only her head and one arm poking through the piles of concrete, steel, and brick. Half in panic, Rose threw herself at the debris pile, digging furiously with her one good arm.
“I can't... feel anything,” Becky uttered, her voice coming out in a hoarse whisper.
“Just hold on, I'm getting you out,” Rose said, tearing away a large chunk of steel. “You'll be fine.”
She'll be fine, she repeated in her thoughts. She has to be fine!
When she finally managed to loosen things enough, Rose took hold of Becky and pulled the woman free. Even free, though, Becky continued lying there, motionless. Not a single muscle moved for the longest time, until finally a few of her fingers absently twitched.
“I think... I think I was right on top of it,” she wheezed.
And so she was. One of explosive charges had gone off right beneath the spot where Becky had been lying on the roof. Most of her current condition was a result of that, with the tons of debris merely adding insult to injury.
“It's alright, you're okay,” Rose said, sucking in a deep breath. She swallowed a nervous lump in her throat, holding a hand to Becky's cheek. “Just keep looking at me, Beck. Stay with me.”
Becky's eyes weakly flickered upward, her breath stuttering and followed by a hacking cough that sprayed out a thick mist of blood. “How... how bad is it?”
Hesitating slightly, Rose reached down and removed the front plate of Becky's shredded suit, revealing massive bruising beneath. Internal bleeding, broken ribs, probably a collapsed lung somewhere in there. She knew what it meant... God help her, she knew what it meant.
“It... it's not that bad. Really,” she insisted. “We'll just... we'll get you to a doctor and you'll be fine. You'll be... you'll be fine.”
Becky breathed in deeply, only to abruptly enter another fit of coughing a second later. This time, not just a spray of blood came out, but a thick glob that dribbled down her lips. Rose clenched her jaw tightly, then tenderly wiped the crimson from Becky's mouth.
“Hey...” Becky said, eyes flickering slightly as she looked up into Rose's eyes. “I... I did good, ah?”
It took everything Rose had to keep from breaking down into a helpless pile of tears right there, hearing the weakness in Becky's voice. Her lips quivered, as she gazed down into Becky eyes... her fading eyes. She wanted to scream, wanted to cry, wanted to curse... Instead, she forced herself to smile, though the wetness brimming in her own eyes quickly betrayed any sense of confidence she had attempted to instill.
“Yeah... yeah you did good,” Rose said, sniffling slightly. She closed her eyes briefly, lifting a hand to rub them dry. “You did great.”
“Hey... don't be sad,” Becky said, curling her lips into the faintest of smiles. “I don't... I don't like it when you're sad.”
“But what am I... what am I supposed to do?” Rose tightened her jaw, squinting her eyes a few moments longer. Finally, she swallowed back a numb lump and opened her eyes again, staring down at the unmoving Becky in her arms. “I can't... I don't know what to do.”
Becky's arm suddenly began to move, though very slowly and very weakly. It took several moments, but finally her hand pressed gently against Rose's cheek. “Just... be happy. Okay? For me...” Her smile grew a little larger, as her eyelids lowered. “Dios... you really are beautiful.”
And then her, arm went limp, dropping into Rose's lap.
“Becky?” Rose uttered, gently shaking the woman. Her heart flew into a panic, eyes going wide. “Becky?!”
But there was no answer. Becky's breathing had ceased, her body motionless. For a few moments, Rose just sat there, staring in disbelief. A part of her brain didn't want to believe it, didn't want to acknowledge what just happened.
“No... no no no no no no no...” she said, stomach churning with desperation.
As she continued staring, however, it eventually clicked in her head. A short moment later, her heart exploded, a sudden wave of hysteria and sorrow flooding through her. Dropping her forehead down to Becky's, she closed her eyes and tried to hold the tears back, but it was useless; they streamed down her face in rivers, dripping off her chin onto Becky's cold, ashen face.
The cry that erupted from her throat barely sounded human, a sickening combination of sorrow, shock, horror, and pure, heartbreaking agony. “NOOOOO!!!”
In those fleeting, anguished moments, Rose's entire world had been ripped away.
Slade heard it before he saw it: the sound of his daughter's distraught voice screeching through the air, an unbearable shriek of pain and sorrow. At first, he wondered what could have caused her to scream like that, but as he tumbled down over a pile of rubble, he witnessed the sight. Rose knelt next to the limp, motionless body of Rebecca Chavez, her girlfriend, her love. Slade couldn't remember a time when his daughter ever looked so utterly broken, even after as much as he had put her through.
And it sickened him.
It sickened him to know that he had a part in causing this. Things were never supposed to have gone this far. Rose was never supposed to have been hurt, not like this. His legs buckled as he walked towards the scene, body weakened from the explosion, armor and mask shredded. He tried to look at his daughter, couldn't bring himself to, gaze instead shifting away in shame.
Had he really gone and destroyed her life all over again? The only reason he had become involved in all of this was to do something good for Rose for once; she might not have seen it at first, but when the dust settled she would have. Instead, he had accomplished the complete opposite.
“Rose...” He paused, unsure of what to say. All he could do was bow his head and continue looking away.
In response, Rose's head slowly lifted away from her dead girlfriend's, all that grief and sorrow suddenly shifting into pure, unbridled rage. “You...”
Suddenly, she was on him. Before he even noticed her rise from the ground, she sprang up and lunged forward with a brutal punch. Her knuckles caromed strongly off his jaw, whipping his head to the side and pushing him back a step. He could taste blood in his mouth, felt a tooth loose.
“She's dead because you!” Rose shrieked.
A hard knee to the chest now. Slade staggered, holding a hand to the point of impact and grunting. Rose wasn't holding back, putting everything she had into her attacks. He didn't know whether his body was just too sore to react in time, or if he mentally wouldn't allow himself to defend against her. Either way, she got in free shots.
“All you do is take!” Rose screamed, vision blurred with tears. “That's all you've ever done!”
A kick to the head and Slade fell back to one knee. He wasn't there for very long, as a backhand sent him to the ground. Then, she was on top of him, taking repeated swings with her one good arm and clubbing him across the face.
“First it was my mother!” Rose's knuckles crashed against Slade's jaw, splitting open flesh and spilling blood. “Then my life! Then my sanity! And now Becky!”
Slade squinted his eyes, a steady flow of crimson draining from an open gash on his forehead. Another explosion of pain and colors erupted in his vision, as his daughter's fist battered his face yet again.
“For once since you came into my life, I had something good! But you had to destroy it! Why?! Why do you always do this to me?!”
By the time Rose's fist stopped, Slade's arms had gone limp, the world spinning around him in a daze. It took a long moment before things finally started to focus again, and that was when he saw his daughter sitting over him with one of the guns from his holsters pointed straight at his face.
“Rose...” he uttered, coughing out a pained breath.
“Don't you dare say anything!” she riposted. “I don't want to hear anymore of your delusional excuses! You're a b**stard, do you hear me?! That's all you'll ever be!”
Her thumb reached up and pulled the hammer back on the revolver. Cocked and fully loaded, the only thing standing between Slade and a swift death now was Rose's trigger finger.
“Now you pay for everything you've ever done! To me, to others, everyone!” A second went by, then another. Rose's hand began to tremble, her finger quivering against the trigger. She glared down at her father with an odd mixture of hate and grief, sticky remnants of tears streaked down her cheeks. “I'm going to kill you! I have to kill you! That's the only way... the only way you'll stop... stop hurting people...”
Slade could only stare up at his daughter, a look of complete and utter shame in his eye. Breathing outwardly, he closed that eye, head bowing and hope diminishing. If this was how it was to end for him, then he was ready.
“I'm going to do it!” Rose insisted again, hand shaking harder. She swallowed back a numb lump in her throat and blinked away the renewed tears in her eyes. “I'm going to... I have to...”
Finally, Rose lowered the gun and dropped it off to the side. Bowing her head, she squinted her eyes shut and held her hands tightly to her head, doing her best to stifle back her sobs; she failed miserably.
“Why... why can't I do it?” she questioned, shaking her head in disbelief.
As her sobs grow heavier, Slade forced himself to sit up, fighting the pounding headache and pain wracking his body. For a brief moment, he just stared at his daughter, then gently reached forward and pulled her into a comforting embrace.
“I'm... so sorry, Rose,” he said, softly. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”
Ten minutes ago...
Power Girl delivered a thunderous punch to the last remaining VRA controlled hero, Argent. The silver skinned woman flew backwards violently, crashing to the ground and bouncing up into a nearby jeep. She went motionless a moment later, consciousness leaving her. For a brief moment, everything was quiet. No more fighting, no more explosions, no more destruction. The battle was over... for now.
“That was... annoying,” Superboy muttered, taking a look around. Only he and Power Girl were left standing.
Uttering a long, exhausted breath, Power Girl dropped down to sit against an upturned piece of pavement. “You're telling me... I just hope that was a big enough distraction.”
“I hope so, too,” came the voice of Red Arrow, from behind.
Turning around, Power Girl noticed both Red Arrow and Beast Boy, in the form of an elephant, standing there. With them were the unconscious bodies of Black Bat, Batgirl, Huntress, Poison Ivy, Kubrick, and Zaria, all draped across Beast Boy's massive backside.
“What are you two doing here?” she asked. “Where are the others?”
“Did you catch Slade?” Superboy added.
“Not exactly...” Red Arrow replied, as he pulled the unconscious bodies off of the big green elephant.
Beast Boy quickly morphed back into human form. “We sort of... ran into some complications.”
“They took down Raven first,” Red Arrow explained. “She's fine, though; teleported back to base to recover, after getting us out of the building. But the others ran on ahead without us.”
“Then we need to get over there and back them up,” Power Girl said, turning back towards the VRA building. “They might need our-”
The entirety of the VRA building suddenly went up in flames, as the steel structure blew apart. Windows burst outward and walls crumbled, as the VRA headquarters collapsed into nothing but a massive pile of rubble, which very likely contained the rest of their teammates.
“NO!” Power Girl exclaimed, flying forward in a hurry. The others followed close behind her. “Guys, everyone get in there! Find the others!”
Before she reached the destruction, however, a sudden blue and red blur flew in from out of nowhere, smashing straight into her and driving her through a nearby jeep, causing it to erupt in a hot fireball.
“Uh... what was that?” Beast Boy said, turning his gaze in confusion.
A second later, Power Girl reappeared, this time sent flying back the way she came and crashing into a telephone pole, completely taking it out. Staggering back up to her feet, she held a hand to her head and looked up just in time to see the blur racing back at her again. This time, though, she was ready, greeting it with a vicious punch that launched the figure backwards into the wall of a nearby building.
“I so do not need this right now!” Power Girl said, fixing the cape of her costume. A short moment later, the attacker calmly walked back out of the hole in the building, brushing off her own costume and staring at Power Girl.
“Maybe you should have thought about that before you attacked the VRA,” Supergirl stated, eyes narrowing. “Now I have to take you down.”
“You're like the third person to say that to me today,” Power Girl said, breathing out an annoyed sigh. “And everyone else who did is unconscious!”
Supergirl glared harder, flying up into the air. “Sorry, Kara, but you won't have the same luck here. It's about time I show you what you really are... a cheap imitation of me!”
The two Kryptonians collided again, throwing a double punch that connected at the same time, either woman battering their knuckles against the other's jaw. The resulting shock wave shattered the glass of every building and every car in a five block radius, as both Power Girl and Supergirl rocketed backwards away from each other and crashed violently through several consecutive buildings each. Even the other heroes had been blown to the ground as a result of the sheer concussive blast.
“Whoa...” Beast Boy muttered, slowly returning to his feet.
“I'm gonna take a wild guess and say they're not holding back,” Red Arrow said, rubbing a hand along the back of his neck.”
Superboy stood up straight, glancing back towards the destroyed VRA building. “I'd say you're right. But I'm not worried about that very much.”
“Uh, why?” Beast Boy asked.
“Because, I'm more worried about them.”
Looking to where Superboy pointed, both Beast Boy's and Red Arrow's eyes went wide, jaws suddenly dropping opening. Standing in front of them were the other members of the Justice League: Donna Troy, Batman, Jesse Quick, Green Arrow, and Jade.
“Oh come on!” Beast Boy groaned. “How is this fair?”
Quickly drawing a his bow, Red Arrow took aim. Just as fast, Green Arrow did the same. “It's not meant to be...”
Though Rose wanted nothing more than to pull away and smash her father across the face again, something prevented her from doing so. Maybe it was the grief restraining her actions, or maybe she just needed the comfort, the feel of caring arms wrapped around her, a voice telling her everything would be alright. Or, perhaps, it was because that for the first time, Slade was actually acting like the father he always should have been, but never was.
She hated that. She absolutely hated it. In spite of everything he had done to her, every despicable way he had acted, he actually cared. He actually loved her, in his own twisted, delusional way. That was why she couldn't pull the trigger... and that was why she allowed him to comfort her, why she didn't break his arm and smash his face in.
That was why she didn't kill him.
“I still hate you,” she uttered, resting her chin gently against his shoulder. She sniffled back a few tears, wet eyes squinting shut tightly. “I always will.”
“I know...” Slade replied, tightening his arms around her shoulders. “As well you should.”
“Why... why did you do it?”
Slade paused a moment, breathing in deeply before responding. “I didn't. I never wanted to actually hurt her. To hurt you. Whoever set those charges... it wasn't me.”
“No, I know that.” Swallowing a hard knot, she leaned back, meeting her gaze with his. “I mean, why did you do all of this? The VRA, controlling heroes, kidnapping, falsely imprisoning people, killing... everything.”
“I can't tell you. I'm sorry, I wish I could. Maybe in the future... but not right now. Just know that I never meant for things to go this far. I never meant...” His gaze slowly turned to the fallen Becky, her body lying limply against the hard ground. “...for any of this.”
A long silence passed between them. Rose lowered her head, tearful eyes closing again. She wanted to be angry again, wanted to kick, wanted to scream... but the grief wouldn't go away. “I loved her, you know? I... I really loved her.”
“I know,” he said, holding a tender hand to the side of her face. “And that's why I'm going to help you.”
“What are you talking about?” Rose asked, narrowing her eyes. “How can you possibly help me after everything you've done?”
“Because I know who's behind all of this, who put this entire plan into motion.”
Rose was quiet a moment, eyes widening. “Who's behind it... you mean the person who started the VRA. The person who...” She glanced briefly over at Becky, heart seizing with agony. When she could bear to look no more, she turned away again, throat going numb and eyes cross. “The person responsible for Becky's death. The person I'm going to kill.”
“I can take you to him,” Slade said.
“You'll do more than that.” Rose lifted her gaze, jaw clenching. “You'll help me take his goddamn head.”
Standing up to his feet, Slade reached down, offering a hand for his daughter to take. “I'd like nothing more.”
She stared at his hand momentarily, as if pondering whether or not she should actually take it. Eventually, though, she grabbed hold and pulled herself back up to her feet as well. “What's his name?”
Slade hesitated briefly, taking in a deep breath. “His name...”
“I'd stop struggling, if I were you,” Jade said. “Even if you break free, we're only going to beat you again.”
Battered and bloodied, Superboy lied limply in the green construct wrapping around him. Normally, he could break out no problem, but after taking a serious beating at the hands of Donna, Jesse, and Jade herself, he didn't have a whole lot left in the tank. Red Arrow and Beast Boy were already down, sprawled out on the ground nearby and unconscious.
Suddenly, an incoming white and red figure crashed into the ground nearby. When the dust cleared, Power Girl slowly staggered back to her feet, leaving Supergirl behind in the small crater created upon impact. Her body was battered and bruised, costume shredded. A short moment later, Supergirl also returned to her feet, in a very similar condition. She stood still for a second before falling against a newspaper dispenser next to her, grabbing onto it tightly to keep from hitting the ground again.
“A cheap... imitation, huh?” Power Girl said, leaning against a nearby jeep.
“You're just... lucky,” Supergirl replied, grip slipping from the newspaper box. She fell to one knee, breathing deeply.
Unfortunately for Power Girl, as evenly matched as she was with Supergirl, the rest of the Justice League already began to make a move to take her down. All she could do now was fall down to the ground and utter a desperate breath. “Well... we tried.”
As the League began to make their attack, however, a high pitched sonic frequency split the air. Though only beings with super hearing, like Power Girl, could actually detect it, that didn't stop it from affecting the neural stems lodged into the brains of the Justice League members. Instantly, they dropped to their knees in pain, screaming and grabbing their skulls. Within a short few seconds, though, the pain disappeared completely, as did any hold the stems had over them.
Power blinked, eyebrows lifting in confusion. “What the...?”
“You look like you could use a hand.”
Turning her head, Power Girl noticed Cyborg standing nearby, holding up a sound emitter attached to one of his mechanical arms. Standing next to him was Raven.
“Cutting that a little close, don't you think?” she asked.
“Hey, I just finished this thing literally thirty seconds ago,” he said. “I wasn't even sure it was going to work.”
“You weren't sure if... ugh.” Falling back against the ground, Power Girl uttered a long breath and just stared up at the sky. She could really use a nap right now.
The Justice League, meanwhile, was finally starting to come around, as they staggered back up to their feet.
“What... what happened?” Batman muttered, holding a hand to his forehead.
“I disabled the devices controlling you, that's what happened,” Cyborg explained.
“Vic?” Donna squinted her eyes shut a moment, trying to fight through an astoundingly painful headache. “You...you fixed us.”
“Oh god, it's still in there.” Reaching up behind her left ear, Jesse Quick tentatively fingered the round end of the stem sticking out of her flesh. “I can feel it in my brain... oh I'm gonna puke.”
“Everyone regroup,” Cyborg said. “We still have a job to do. We still need to find Slade.”
When the group of heroes finally arrived at the rear of the destroyed building, Rose and Slade were both long gone. Red Robin was there, however, sitting weakly against a large pile of crumbled bricks. When they saw what he was looking at, though, shock and panic set in.
“Oh my god... Rebecca,” Batman uttered, rushing over to the body. He knelt down and removed his gloves so he could check for a pulse.
Seeing this, Red Robin let out a sigh and bowed his head. “Don't bother... I already checked. She's gone.”
Clenching his jaw, Batman lowered his gaze and shut his eyes tightly. “Damn it.”
A heavy silence descended upon the group. Though not everyone knew who this woman was that died, it was enough that she had been fighting for a good cause, fighting on their side. They felt the loss, as though she'd been a comrade that they'd known forever. For the ones who did know her, however, the scene held a bit more impact.
Power Girl slowly came forward, fighting through the limp in her stride. “I... I gave her the suit. I'm the one that pushed her to go with us...”
The silence lingered a while longer, until Batman finally returned to his feet, taking in a deep breath as he stared down at the motionless Rebecca. “Come on, we... we need to find Slade. And Rose. They can't have made it very far.”
The level of security at the White House was, as expected, pretty heavy, with swarms of Secret Service Agents doing everything they could to protect the President from attack. Unfortunately, they hadn't exactly been trained to deal with something like this. Currently, the front lawn was littered with fallen bodies of fallen agents, unmoving and unconscious.
The two attackers moved through their ranks like demons, never standing in the same place for more than a second, it seemed. The Secret Service, in turn, could not get a clean shot on them, and even though both of the assailants looked to be in pretty dire condition – the woman even with one arm hanging dead at her side – there was no stopping them.
The remaining squad pulled back inside the White House, trying to bar the doors. It was futile. The larger man barreled into the entrance, almost ripping the doors off the hinges.
“Please, at least try not to kill them!” Rose said, running through the entrance after her father. “They're not the ones we're after!”
“Not quite my style-” Leaping forward into the entrance hall, Slade ducked below an incoming shot and kicked out the legs of the nearest agent, then finished the man off with a punch to the side of the head. As another couple agents attempted to subdue him, Slade spun out of the way, lunged forward, and took them both out with hard, crippling shots. “-but even I can make an effort.”
Rose joined the fray now, easily evading any shots fired her way and ripping through the lines of Secret Service with her blade. Even with only one good arm and a single sword, she found no challenge in taking down these goons. They might be bleeding and they might not be walking or using their hands again for a while, but they would live.
Right now, she was saving all her rage for the mastermind behind all these events, the man who nearly crippled the superhero community, and the man who caused Rebecca's death. When they found him, then she could start the killing.
“The West Wing,” Slade said, driving an elbow into a nearby agent's face. “That's where he'll be.”
After pummeling another nearby Secret Service Agent, Slade sprinted down the West Wing of the White House, with Rose in hot pursuit. Several more teams of the Secret Service met them along the way, but they fell just as quickly as the others. No one was going to stop them. With an angry shout, Rose ran at the door to the Oval Office and kicked it inward, ripping it straight off its hinges.
“Show yourself!” she exclaimed, hurrying inside with her blade at the ready.
The leather chair behind the Resolute Desk was facing away from them, blocking from view the man sitting in it. A short moment later, however, the chair began to turn, until it finally revealed the person they were after.
“Rose, it's been a while,” the President stated, hands folded calmly in front of him. “And Slade... how very disappointing to see you here.”
“Cut the bullsh*t facade!” Rose said, pointing her sword at him. “You're not the president!”
“Oh, aren't I?” When Rose didn't back down, a vicious sneer snaked its way across his face. “Very well, if this form doesn't suit you...”
And then, his face began to quiver. The skin on his body morphed, rippling as though made of a thick liquid, and reshaped itself into its true appearance, a much more familiar sight to Rose. Grip tightening around the handle of her sword, she narrowed her eyes coldly, the fury within her body igniting to new levels. She almost hadn't believed it when her father told her, but now that she saw him with her own eyes... there was no mistaking that face.
It belonged to Jeremiah Belmont.
“There, is that better?” Jerry asked.
“You were dead...” Rose muttered. “They found your body.
“No, they found a body,” he corrected. “It just happened to look like me.”
“And it was you... everything. It was all you.”
Jerry's knowing smirk grew larger, eyes glinting behind his glasses. “Yes... so it was. Sorry to hear about Rebecca, by the way. She wasn't the intended target, you know. Very unfortunate.”
Body quivering with rage, Rose took a step forward, eyes burning a hole straight through the man's face. “Don't you ever say her name!”
“Hmm, have I hit a sore spot?”
“What the hell were you trying to accomplish with all of this?” Rose took another step forward, fingers white knuckled around her sword handle. “What the f**k was the purpose?!”
Still smirking, Jerry slowly walked out from behind the desk, hands clasped behind his back. “If you must ask the question, then you aren't as smart as I presumed. Why else would a government want complete control over its nation's superheroes? Certainly not for safety or public interest.”
Slade figured it out first. “You wanted an army. An entire country of supers under your control.”
“Correct.” Jerry paced slowly in front of the desk, pushing his glasses up higher on his nose with a single finger. “You see, metahuman warfare is the next stage in the evolution of war. What's the purpose of having things like nuclear weapons when there exist multiple individuals who can swat them away like flies? When it comes to a country's military power, I think you'll agree that you superheroes make for a far more efficient defense.”
“What, and you just took it upon yourself to turn us all into your private soldiers, huh?” Rose questioned.
“But of course. You don't think it would have happened any other way, do you? There are certain... civil liberties and freedoms that get in the way.”
“So you went and got yourself some of those stems, took the president's place, and decided to take over.” Rose shook her head, eyes narrowing coldly. “Sounds to me like you just wanted power, no better than any other two-bit villain out there.”
Jerry breathed out an amused sigh. “Think what you will, Rose, but in the end I brought the superhero community to its knees. I gained control.”
“Well congratu-f*cking-lations,” she chided. “Just one problem: you failed. You got that? It's over.”
Breathing in deeply, Jerry brought his hands around the front of himself, holding his palms together and raising his fingers up to his chin. “Not yet, Rose. How many others did you two tell about me before you came charging in here to take me down yourselves? I'm guessing no one, isn't that right? Yes... you ran off to take my head as soon as your precious Rebecca died, didn't you?”
That was the last straw in Rose's unstable mind. Letting out a rabid shout of fury, she raised her blade and charged him. “I told you to never say her name!”
Jerry merely watched her as she ran in, making no sudden or desperate moves. Instead, a fraction of a second before she cut him clean in half, he stepped casually to the side, evading the strike. Rose blinked in confusion, taking a step back before Jerry's fist, which had abruptly grown to massive proportions, clubbed her across the chest. With a surprised groan, she flew back through the air and crashed against the wall.
“You see, all I have to do is kill the two of you,” Jerry explained, “and then all the proof leading back to me disappears.”
“What... the hell?” Rose uttered, stumbling clumsily back to her feet.
“Oh, this?” Taking a few steps forward, both his arms suddenly morphed into the shape of two long, razor sharp blades. “The result of that little crime spree I put you on last year. It's amazing what the combination of a little mutated clay and nano-technology can accomplish.”
Slade drew one of his automatic pistols and stepped between his daughter and Jerry. Without hesitating, he open fired, pumping out an entire clip. The bullets didn't even faze the man. He simply stood there and took the shots, his flesh rippling like putty with each impact. A short moment later, his body pushed the bullets back out, and with a rapid series of metallic clinking they clattered to the floor. To finish the sequence, the bullet holes left behind in Jerry's body closed back up again, perfectly healed.
Narrowing his eye slightly, Slade took a step backward. “So bullets aren't going to work.”
“I'm willing to bet taking his head off will shut him up!” Steadying herself on her feet, Rose grabbed her blade again and held it at the ready. “Take my other sword; I only have one arm right now.”
Slade complied, moving back and drawing Rose's second blade from the scabbard strapped to her backside. “Ready when you are.”
Of course, Rose had been ready since she kicked the door down. She needed no invitation to begin her charge again, this time fully prepared for whatever Jerry could dish out. “Take him down!”
The three combatants engaged in a swift series of blows. As enhanced as Rose and her father were, Jerry managed to keep up with every attack they threw at him, using his elongated arm-blades to deflect and parry, as well as counter with precise strikes of his own. Rose's reflexes and precognition were really put to the test, especially given how badly beat up she already was. Even Slade, not nearly at one hundred percent, pushed himself to his limits.
Jerry exploited these facts to his advantage, constantly keeping the two on the defensive. Though they had begun as the attackers, now they were the ones being assaulted. After deflecting a particularly brutal blow, Rose stumbled off balance only to be suddenly grabbed by Jerry's extending arm, which wrapped around her neck and waist like some kind of demonic tendril. While simultaneously combating Slade with his other arm, he swung her violently through the air and smashed her through the Resolute Desk, breaking it to pieces.
“Rose!” Slade exclaimed.
Ducking beneath another attack, Slade threw himself forward and flipped over to the other side of his opponent. With a single motion, he cleaved the man's arm off, causing the whip-like limb to lose its grip on Rose and release her.
“Are you alright?” Slade asked, hurrying to his daughter's side.
Meanwhile, Jerry casually walked over to his severed limb, now having reverted back to its normal shape and size, and reached down to pick it up. It took only a brief moment for him to reattach it to his shoulder, flesh rippling like liquid yet again before healing.
“You're picking now to get sentimental?” Rose said. She pushed Slade away and scrambled back to her feet. “Just take his damn head off!”
Sprinting at their enemy once again, she made several vicious slashes, all aimed for Jerry's throat. He easily deflected the attacks away, however, then morphed one of his arms into a large spiked mace, one that hit with the force of a speeding truck. Even though Rose managed to put her sword up in front of the incoming attack, the impact shattered the blade into multiple pieces, then sent her shooting through the air yet again. She landed with a thud against one of the walls and made no immediate move to get back up.
“You don't understand, Rose,” Jerry said, walking calmly forward. “I can become anything I want. I am a weapon. This isn't like the last time we met. This time, you can't beat me.”
“But I can,” Slade retorted, lunging at the man.
This time, Slade's attacks were much more ferocious and purposeful. He fought through his pain and injuries, pushing his body beyond its limits and forcing Jerry on a heavy defensive. Although Jerry had acquired impressive meta powers, his lack of fighting experience soon made itself apparent. Slade gained an edge, seized the advantage, and never let up.
Jerry made a desperate counter move, expelling several razor sharp spikes from his body in attempts to impale Slade when he got too close. But Slade, too, was fast, twisting his body and weaving between the spikes as he drove his blade forward with lethal accuracy. The point skewered through the center of Jerry's chest, driving straight out the other side.
A triumphant grin spread its way across Slade's face. “Got you.”
For a brief moment, Jerry's eyes went wide, as if in pain and surprise. However, his expression soon relaxed again, returning to an eery calm. “You should have listened to your daughter, Slade.”
Suddenly, Slade's own eyes flew open wide, a hot pain flaring through his stomach. Slowly, he glanced downward to see another spike extending from Jerry's body. This one, he did not avoid, as it instead pierced straight through his armor and his body, spilling out warm, sticky streams of crimson.
“You should have taken my head.” Jerry abruptly withdrew the spike, causing Slade to crumple to the floor.
“DAD!” Rose shrieked.
She found it strange that she would react this way to the sight of her father being so viciously impaled, seemingly on the edge of death. As much she hated him, as much as she always wished he would die... he was still her father, and seeing him lying motionless on the floor in a growing pool of blood sent her heart into a panic. Struggling through her pain, she staggered back to her feet and swallowed a hard lump in her throat.
This isn't happening... this whole day isn't... it can't be real. It can't be.
But it was real, she knew it is. This wasn't a dream that she would suddenly wake up from, and there was more riding on her success here than just her own life.
“A pity... I had such high hopes for him.” Jerry held his hands behind his back, staring down at the fallen Slade. “In the end, he proves to be just another disappointment.”
“That's it...” Curling her hand into a tight fist, Rose slowly lifted her gaze, hard eyes glaring with focused anger. “You've screwed with my life for the last time.”
She began her march towards him, not running or hurrying in any way, simply walking purposefully in his direction. Jerry smirked, morphing his arms into multi-bladed monstrosities. Gradually, Rose picked up her pace, his poorly concealed attempts at compensating not deterring her in the slightest.
“Because of you, I lost the the most important person in my life. Now, you pay for it.” She was sprinting now, coming straight at him. He took a wild swing with both his arms, but she ducked beneath them, sliding across the floor. She grabbed Slade's fallen sword on the way by and went straight between Jerry's legs behind him. “I told you before that you weren't worth killing. Well, guess what?!”
As she sprang back to her feet, a precognitive flash ripped through her head. She spun quickly in response, evading the incoming spike that shot out towards her. In the same motion, she whirled her arm around, whipping the blade with lethal precision. The razor edge cleaved cleanly through Jerry's neck, dislodging his head from his shoulders and sending it bouncing across the floor.
The headless body stood there for a moment, unmoving. Before long, however, it crumpled into a motionless heap. Moving her gaze, she caught sight of Jerry's severed head propped against the wall, lifeless eyes staring wide and unblinking.
“That was for Becky, you miserable son of a b*tch.”
Taking in a deep breath, she threw her sword away and then collapsed to the floor, sitting with arms resting against her raised knees. Bowing her head, she squinted her eyes shut and finally let everything out. First, she let loose an incoherent scream that echoed loudly inside the oval room, pouring all her anger, grief, and distress into it. Once her voice cut out, the tears followed. Rose had never been one to cry very often, hardly ever in fact, but there was no stopping it right now. She had been hurt far too deep this time.
A hand on her shoulder called her away from her sorrow. Blinking a couple of times, she turned her head and looked up to see Slade standing there, pressing his other hand against the hole in his gut.
“You did good, Rose,” he said.
“You... you're not dead.”
“I've always healed fast, same as you. I'll be fine.”
Eyes shifting away, she bowed her head again and stared at the ground. “Figures you'd be the one to survive.”
Slade pulled his hand back, a heavy sigh emerging from his throat. “I am sorry, Rose... you may not believe me, but I do want to see you happy. Rebecca never should have died.”
“No, she shouldn't have. But there's nothing I can do about it now, is there?”
A long pause descended over them. Slade just stood there, staring at his heartbroken daughter. There was that feeling again, the sickening sensation deep in his stomach. Why was he so terrible when it came to family?
“Just... go,” she said, looking away. “I know you don't want to stick around when the cops show up.”
“You're right... I should go,” he stated, moving past her. “I still have work to do, anyway.”
As he headed for the exit, Rose stopped him momentarily, looking to him. “And Dad... this time, stay out of my life for good. Every time you come back into it, you break something. I'm just... I'm tired of being broken.”
His gaze lowered, while the shame simmering in his gut grew to new levels. For a long moment, he just stood there, motionless. It wasn't until he heard the faintest sounds of approaching sirens that he finally tore himself away and kept going. “Goodbye, Rose.”
The team of D.C. police officers hurried into the main entrance of the White House. For a brief moment, they stopped to look around at the bodies of the Secret Service strewn about, some bleeding and others not moving at all.
The officer in charge, Officer Harrow, moved forward with his mouth slightly agape. “What the- damn it, don't just stand around people, check on them!”
Immediately, the other officers approached the fallen agents and inspected them, looking for signs of life. As badly as the Secret Service had been beaten, none of them were dead. Sure, some were unconscious or had their ligaments severed, but there were no fatal injuries.
“Looks like they're all still alive, sir,” one of the other officers said. “Nothing too bad, either.”
“Well what the hell happened in here?” Harrow wondered, holding a hand to his head.
A small cough answered his question. Turning to his left he noticed a still conscious Secret Service Agent slumped against the wall and bleeding from the wrists.
“It was the VRA Director, Slade Wilson,” the agent explained. “He and some b*tch stormed the place. We tried to hold them off, but they got through. They went after the President... Oval Office.”
“Sh*t, everyone move!” Harrow declared, running down the hall. “I want men in that office five minutes ago!”
The swarm of police officers continued towards the West Wing, guns already drawn and at the ready. Harrow was the first to snake his way around the corner of the open doorway, pointing his weapon forward and preparing for anything. The first thing he saw was the Resolute Desk in pieces, broken apart by some phenomenal force. His gaze next found the headless body of the President lying in the middle of the floor. A sickening knot twisted its way into his stomach at the side.
“My god...” he uttered, swallowing back a numb lump.
His thoughts were interrupted when another one of the officers moved into the office, gun pointed forward. “Hands on your head, now!”
Harrow shifted his gaze, now seeing the white haired woman sitting against a wall, one of her arms hanging limply at the side, outfit torn up, and body scuffed and bleeding. She stared directly back at them, her expression unchanging from a distant, almost forlorn look of calm. Slowly, she moved one of her hands up and placed it on the back of her head.
“I'd raise the other one, too, but... yeah. It's not doing so well,” she stated.
Walking cautiously across the floor, Harrow held an arm in front of the other advancing officer. “Careful with her, keep your distance for now. We don't know what she can do.”
“Oh, would you relax?” Rose rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “I'm too exhausted to fight back. If you're going to arrest me, just do it already.”
It was at that moment that another officer inspecting the severed head on the other side of the room furrowed his brow in confusion, then looked back at Harrow. “Uh, sir? This isn't the President.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Of course it's the-” His voice cut out suddenly, as his eyes fell on the head leaning up against the far wall. That face was... not the President at all. It was someone else he didn't recognize. “What in the name of...?”
“His name was Jeremiah Belmont, in case you're wondering,” Rose explained. “A sort of... shape shifter, I guess. As far as I know, he took the place of the real President ages ago, then started to control congress and other forms of the government.”
“Then the real President...”
Rose shrugged. “Probably been dead a while. Jerry here was the one behind the creation of EPRA law and the VRA. Every superhero that went to register was implanted with a neural device that gave him complete control over their actions.”
Harrow held a hand to his head again, eyes unblinking. “This is insane.”
“Yeah, welcome to my world.”
Releasing a small breath, Harrow tore his gaze away from the severed head and looked back at Rose. “And you just killed him?”
“I let him live once before,” Rose said, coldly. “Then all of this happened. Wasn't making the same mistake twice.”
Harrow stared at her a moment longer, then slowly returned his gaze to the severed head. “Jesus...”
Rose grunted in slight discomfort, as Harrow forced her limp arm behind her back to be cuffed with her other arm. Several bones were broken and crushed, she knew, along with some torn or sprained tendons. She probably wouldn't be moving it again for a while.
As Officer Harrow led her towards the nearest squad car, one hand on her shoulder, the other on the back of her head, she lifted an eyebrow and gave the vehicle a long look. “You know, it's been a while since I've been in one of these. I almost miss it.”
Harrow paused a moment, lifting a confused eyebrow at her. “I'm honestly not sure how to take that comment.”
“Take it whatever way you like.”
Before he could push her into the vehicle, though, a surprising sight pulled their attention away. Coming through the front gates of the White House grounds, some flying and others walking, was just about every hero that had been involved in the D.C. battle against the VRA, all of them freed from control by Cyborg's specially modified sonic device.
Batman was the first of the heroes to approach the pair. “Officer, what's going on here?”
Clearing his throat, Harrow fought through the initial shock of seeing so many superheroes gathered right in front of him and answered, “Clean up, that's what's going on. Your friend here made a mess of things inside.”
Eyes slowly narrowing, Batman's gaze came to rest on Rose. “What did you do?”
“Saved everyone's asses,” she said, staring straight back at him.
“She stopped the guy behind this whole VRA sh*tstorm, from what I understand,” Harrow explained. “Some kind of... shape shifting guy or something posing as the President. I don't know, I'm not used to dealing with this stuff.”
This information caused Batman to pause, arms folding across his chest. “How did you know who it was?”
“I didn't,” Rose said. “But Slade did. We took him down together.”
“And where is Slade now?”
“Hell if I know. Gone, and good riddance.”
Batman's arms lowered again, his expression suddenly growing cross. “You let him go? After everything he's done?”
“I wasn't exactly in a position to stop him, in case you haven't noticed,” she retorted.
As Batman went to make a counter point, Officer Harrow interrupted. “It's alright, Batman. We got the real culprit, that's good enough for now.”
“Hold on, if you're defending her, then why are you arresting her?” Batman asked.
“Because she still killed the guy,” he replied, with a small shrug. “Like it or not, murder is a crime no matter who commits it for no matter what reason. If a jury decides to find her not guilty, then so be it, but I still have to take her in.”
Another long pause passed between them. Batman uttered a heavy breath, bringing a hand up to rub his eyes tiredly. “Alright... understood.”
“Don't worry, really,” Rose said, quietly. “I could use the isolation... it'll give me time to think.”
Eyes softening, Batman raised a hand and placed it on her shoulder. “I... we found Becky. I'm so sorry, Rose.”
“If it's all the same to you, Dick, I'd rather not talk about it right now,” she muttered, looking away.
“Right... of course. I'll see you later.”
On that note, Harrow gently led Rose into the back of the squad car, then closed the door and headed around to the driver's side. A short moment later, he drove off towards the local station, leaving the other police officers behind to help clean up the mess and secure the area.
Once Rose was gone, Power Girl walked up next to Batman and held her arms around herself. “Do you think she'll be okay?”
“I really can't say,” he replied. “She's always been strong before, but this... I'm afraid it might be one heartbreak too many.”
Nearby, Red Arrow let out a tired, pained breath, while holding a hand to the back of his head. “So, I guess this whole VRA thing is finished, then, huh?”
“Looks like it, soon as Raven helps identify which members of congress and the like are still under stem control,” Cyborg replied. “Then I can help return them to normal.”
“That's good, I suppose. Doesn't help the fact that the government still has a list of all our identities now, though.”
At this comment, a small smile formed across Cyborg's face. “Oh, I wouldn't worry much about that. I already nabbed the hard copies back at the VRA building. As for the digital copies... well, I have a couple friends working on it right now.”
Holding a hand to his chin, Calculator stared back at the screen of his computer console, which showed a progress bar of the data he was downloading. Currently, the bar read sixty-seven percent. While throwing all his chips in with that Jeremiah guy seemed to have been a bad investment, he wasn't out of ideas yet. Even with the VRA sunk, he still had access to all their data, which would soon be copied to his hard drive. After that, he could sell the identities of any superhero he wanted to the highest bidders.
“Come on... just a little bit more,” he said.
The progress bar hit ninety percent, then ninety-five, and then... it froze. Narrowing his eyes, he leaned forward and glared at the screen. When still nothing happened, his fingers flew over the keyboard.
“What the hell is- why isn't it responding? What's going on?!”
And then, the screen shut off, becoming completely dark. A second later, it flickered back on, this time showing a glowing green face on it, an overly familiar avatar belonging to the last person he wanted to see right now.
“Hey there, Calculator. Remember us?” asked the synthesized voice of Oracle.
A second avatar appeared on the screen, this one red: Proxy. “You didn't think you were getting away this time, did you?”
“NO!” Slamming his fists down on the table, Calculator stared madly at the two faces in front of him. “You can't be here!”
“And yet we are,” Proxy said.
“We were busy wiping the VRA's database, when lo and behold we detected an outgoing signal transferring the data,” Oracle explained. “Imagine our surprise when it led right back to you.”
“But that's not all we found.” A certain delight found its way to Proxy's tone. “We also traced the signal used to set off the explosives back at the VRA building, the explosives that killed one Rebecca Chavez.”
“The police should be there right about...”
The door behind Calculator suddenly crashed inward. Spinning around, he came face to face with a team of no less than five police officers, all pointing guns at him. For a moment, he blinked stupidly at them, until finally he raised his hands.
“-now,” Oracle said. “Hope you enjoy your ten to twenty.”
Back at the wreckage of the VRA building, only two people remained behind. Wonder Girl sat on a large chunk of concrete, leaning forward with her arms resting on her knees and gaze locked on the body of Rebecca Chavez just three feet in front of her. The sight knotted up her stomach, and yet she could not look away.
Leaning on his bo staff for support nearby, Red Robin slowly glanced at her. “You've been staring at her for ten minutes now.”
“I... can't help it,” she replied. “She shouldn't have died.”
“Probably not. But she did.”
“Were she and Rose just... I mean, did they...” Wonder Girl paused a moment, trying to force out her words through a sad lump in her throat. “Did Rose really love her?”
“As far as I know,” Red Robin said. “Everything I heard was secondhand from Dick, but... yeah, it was serious.”
Releasing a tired sigh, Wonder Girl brought her head down into her hands. “You know, I honestly thought I'd be happy if Rose ever had to feel this kind of pain... now I realize it just makes me sick. No one should have to lose the one they love... not even her.”
Red Robin said nothing, instead turning his gaze back to Becky,. He could hear the ambulances approaching now.
“She actually seemed excited to meet us, you know?” Wonder Girl said, swallowing. “Hell, she even knew who I was. And what did I do? Punched her girlfriend and shoved her through a table.”
“There's nothing you can do about it now,” he replied, with a small shrug.
Wonder Girl's eye slowly closed, trying to hold back the growing wetness of tears. “If you see Rose again... tell her I'm sorry, alright? For everything.”
Slowly, Red Robin turned to look at her again. “That's something you should do yourself.”
“Right, because that would go over well,,” she said, scoffing out an amused laugh. Almost instantly, however, she resumed her sorrowful expression “I'm the last person she wants to see right now.”
“Can you really blame her?”
“Yeah, well... whatever. I need to... I need to think, clear my head. I'll see you later.” With that, she flew up into the air and disappeared.
Rose lay on the bench quietly, head resting against her arm. Iron bars stood tall in front of her, plain stone walls on her other sides. It had been about six hours now since they took down the VRA. Six hours since she killed Jeremiah Belmont. Six hours since...
“Becky...” Forcing her eyes shut, Rose lifted her hand to her face and pressed her fingers to them. She sucked in a deep breath, slowly letting it out and trying to remain calm.
It was hard, of course. Becky was the only person she had ever loved that way, the only person she'd ever opened up to completely. And it hadn't just been a crazy fling, or anything like that. It had been love, she knew it deep in her heart. She could have seen herself spending the rest of her life with Becky, and nothing would have made her happier. But now...
The sound of the door at the end of the hallway opening caused Rose to raise her head and open her eyes again. She blinked a couple of times curiously, then sat up on the bench as an officer approached the door to the cell. The cop already had his keys at the ready, slipping one of them into the lock and then sliding the door open.
“Alright, let's go,” the officer said.
Rose narrowed her eyes. “What's going on?”
“Someone posted your bail.”
“Who-” That's when she noticed the other man walking into view next to the officer. He gave her a small wave, smiling slightly. “Well, that was thoughtful.”
“Couldn’t just leave you in here,” Dick said, shrugging slightly.
“You should have,” she muttered. “I honestly don't think I would have minded that much.”
Giving her a sympathetic look, Dick walked forward and handed her a folder with several papers inside it. “Here.”
Confused, she took the folder from him and started flipping through them. “What's this?”
“Your court dates.”
“Don't worry about it too much,” he said. “Considering the situation, the judge might just throw out the case altogether. I've seen stranger things happen.”
“Yeah, whatever. Let's just go. I should probably get this arm looked at.”
Dick nodded, motioning for her to follow him down the hall. “Before we do, though, I brought someone with me to see you.”
“Who?” she asked, giving him a narrow glance. “Because right now, there aren't a whole lot of people I'd want to see.”
“Trust me, this is one of the exceptions.”
When they make it through the doorway leading into the main part of the station, a small blonde girl suddenly ran towards her. “Rose!”
Eyes going wide in surprise, Rose knelt down to give the girl a warm, one-armed hug, holding on tightly. In seconds, they were both forcing back tears. “Holly... oh I missed you.”
Sniffling, the girl held her arms tighter around Rose. She could barely get through her words, stumbling through sobs. “I'm... I'm sorry about... about Becky...”
Taking in a deep breath through her nose, Rose brought her chin forward and rested it on Holly's shoulder, eyes closing and heavy heart sinking a little further in her chest. “I know, Holly... I know.”
Michael Kubrick rubbed the back of his head tenderly, as he pushed through the entrance of the city morgue. Zaria was with him, both having managed to escape the scene at the VRA building before the cops showed up. After things went south, it only made sense to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. But while they should be five hundred miles from here by now, instead they had been contacted. By who... well, they didn't know.
The call had been from an unknown number, claiming that they still had work to do. He didn't want to trust it, of course, but Zaria insisted that if this was supposed to be some kind of set up, they could always just eat whoever the guy was. That idea actually intrigued him enough to go along with this stupid meeting.
When they entered the cold chamber, a bald man in a white lab coat and glasses was already waiting for them. For a brief moment, he simply stared at them, until waving for them to come in.
“So who the hell are you, huh?” Kubrick asked.
“The name is Professor Hugo Strange,” the man explained. “I don't believe we've met, have we?”
“No, we haven't.” Kubrick narrowed his eyes, already losing his patience. “So why the hell did you call us?”
“Yes... and how did you get our number for that matter?” Zaria added.
“Oh, I'm not the one who called you, no. I was merely sent ahead to greet you both.”
Kubrick sighed, rubbing his fingers against his eyes. “Uh huh... so then where is the guy who called us?”
“He'll be here shortly,” Strange replied. “In the meantime, we're to make preparations.”
Squinting her eyes at him, Zaria cocked her head to the side slightly, then brushed back her hair. “Preparations for what?”
Moving away from them, Strange made his way over to the wall of storage drawers. He counted them off, then stopped in front of a specific one and pulled the chilled compartment open, revealing a naked, bruised corpse within.
Recognizing who it was, Kubrick crossed his arms and let out a scoff. “Hmph, Chavez. She always was biting off more than she could chew.”
“Explain to me why exactly we're in a morgue looking at a dead body,” Zaria said. “I still haven't quite grasped the purpose.”
Without answering her question, Strange looked over to Kubrick and motioned for him to assist. “Help me move her to one of the tables.”
“There had better be a good reason for this...” Kubrick muttered.
Walking forward, Kubrick aided Strange in lifting the corpse off the sliding drawer and then carried her over to one of the flat metal tables nearby, setting her down. Then, Strange headed over to a locker on the other side of the room and opened it, causing another limp, ghostly body to crumple out to the floor. This one belonged to the mortician on duty, a young blonde woman.
“Now, help me get her on the other table.”
Narrowing his eyes slightly, Kubrick walked over to offer his assistance again. “Looks like she died pretty recently.”
“Well, I would imagine so,” Strange replied. “I injected her with a lethal dose of sodium penathol a mere hour ago.”
After dropping the dead mortician on the second table, Kubrick walked back to Zaria's side and folded his arms. “Now, are you going to explain what we're doing? Who called us here?”
“I did.” Turning suddenly, they noticed a man standing in the doorway, a man dressed in a dark suit, long coat, fedora hat, and black rimmed glasses. Walking forward, he flipped his hat off and rested it on the table next to Rebecca's corpse. “I have to admit, I'm surprised you two actually showed up. But I'm glad you did.”
“Who the hell are you?” Kubrick asked.
“I'm who you've been working for this entire time,” the man explained. “What's the problem? Don't recognize your boss?”
“Hun, I've never seen you before in my life,” Zaria said, shaking her head slowly.
“Ah, of course, you don't know me in this form. Where are my manners?” In an instant, his face reformed itself, morphing into a spitting image of the President of the United States. Both Zaria and Kubrick's eyes began to widen in surprise and confusion, as the man's face then returned to normal. “Is that better?”
Kubrick paused a moment, taking a careful step forward. “Who the hell are you?”
“The name is Jeremiah Belmont. And my friends... we have work to do.”
It was raining. Of course it was raining, why not? It was the only thing that could have made this day more miserable, after all, so might as well throw it in. Rose stood amongst the others gathered next to the grave, her left arm in a sling and eyes locked on the casket in front of her. The church service had been hard enough to get through, but now the committal... it felt like someone was reaching into her chest and unceremoniously crushing her heart.
The grip on her hand suddenly tightened. Looking down, she saw Holly standing there with red, puffy eyes. No tears, though; she'd long since run out of them, now only dry, sticky remains left behind on her cheeks. Taking in another breath, Rose lifted her gaze back to the casket, as it began to lower into the grave.
The priest raised his hands and lifted his head, speaking to all those gathered. “And so, we therefore commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life. May Rebecca Anne Chavez forever rest in peace.”
As the officiants began to fill the grave, the mourners slowly took their leave, one by one. Rose, however, lingered for a while, watching the process. With each shovelful of dirt that fell into the grave, Becky's passing felt just a little more final, and Rose's heart a little heavier. Holly stayed, too, leaning close and holding an arm around her.
Something out of the corner of her eye pulled Rose's attention, however. When she saw who stood there, a sick knot tightened in her gut. Rebecca's parents, Jorge and Emma Chavez, walked by, shooting a hateful glare in her direction. She said nothing, instead averting her eyes and staring at the ground, even as they spoke.
“Stay away from our family from now on, do you hear me?” Jorge said, holding his arms tenderly around his wife.
“If she hadn't met you... our baby would still be alive,” Emma insisted, wiping tears from her eyes.
Two quick statements that cut like daggers. When they finally left, Rose sucked in a deep breath and looked up at the sky, rainwater stinging her eyes.
“They really don't like you, do they?” a calm voice asked.
Rose turned her head briefly to see Circe walking up beside her, holding an umbrella above them. “Not that surprising, is it? I'm the one who told them their daughter was dead, I'm the one that put her in that position... that and they didn't know about Becky's lifestyle before.”
“Until you spoke at the service.”
“She always did say her parents would never approve.” Rose breathed out a sigh, bowing her head. “It's no wonder they hate me... too many reasons.”
A quiet pause descended over them. By now, the grave had been fully filled, the funeral over. Abruptly, the complete finality of it all began to sink it.
Sniffling a little, Holly looked up at Rose with empty eyes. “Can I... go wait in the car?”
Nodding, Rose gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder. “Yeah, of course.”
“You can go to my car, if you like,” Circe said. “Lyta's there.”
“Alright...” Breathing out a heavy sigh, the young girl marched away from the grave to the line of cars nearby.
Another pause went by, before Circe finally broke the silence again, lifting her umbrella higher. “You know, I... haven't really ever been the sentimental type.”
Rose lifted an eyebrow, slowly glancing at her. “You don't say.”
“And I know I've been a bit rough around the edges since we met, and I never really gave you or Rebecca the thanks you deserved,” she continued. “Just the lingering mentality of being an all powerful sorceress, I suppose.”
Snorting out a small scoff, Rose blinked down at the grave again and stuffed her hand in her pocket. “Yeah, I guess that could have something to do with it.”
“As I've spent time you, though, as a mortal and as a mother caring for her daughter... I'm starting to see the world in a different light. It's... hard to describe, really, but...” Gently, Circe raised a hand, resting it comfortingly against Rose's shoulder. “I want to thank you for it.”
Rose shrugged. “That's what friends do.”
“I realize that now. You have been a friend to me, a good friend, and I wish to offer my condolences to you. Rebecca, too, was a good friend.”
“A great friend.”
“Yes,” Circe said, smiling ever so slightly. “A great one.”
The two remained standing there a few moments longer, until Circe finally took her leave. Rose remained, though, still unable to pull herself away. For several minutes longer, she stood in silence, just watching, waiting. Half of her hoped that maybe she would suddenly wake from this nightmare, that she'd open her eyes, roll over in bed, and have Becky there to tell her it was all just a bad dream. The other half told her that it was wishful thinking. This was reality, and she had to accept it.
Another voice called out to her, this one belonging to a familiar man. “Rose.”
Lifting her gaze, she turned around suddenly to see not only Dick Grayson standing there, but also Tim Drake, Roy Harper, Karen Starr, Cassandra Cain, Wally West, and Cyborg.
“What... what are you all doing here?” she asked, face twisting with confusion.
“Just wanted to offer our support,” Tim said.
Wally nodded. “Yeah, you helped us all in a big way, you know. Heck, you helped save my family. The least we can do is express our sympathies.”
Moving forward, Roy held a hand to her shoulder and gave a strong nod. “She seemed like a wonderful person.”
Rose swallowed back a knot in her throat, nodding slowly. “She was.” Her gaze then moved to Cassandra, giving the woman a slightly bemused look. “Even you showed up?”
“We are... rivals, yes? But I don't hate you,” Cassandra replied, extending her hand. “You are... a friend.”
For a brief moment, Rose just stared at her, until finally grabbing hold and shaking hands. “Friends, then.”
“But sometime... rematch.”
A very small smile began to form on Rose's face. “Any time you want.”
A quieter voice drew her attention this time. Karen approached, rubbing one of her arms nervously and bowing her head. “Rose, I... I'm sorry. For giving Becky that suit, for sending her out with us, I... it's my fault.”
“Maybe... but blaming you won't bring her back,” Rose said, sighing quietly. “I know what you meant by it, and I know you weren't trying to get her hurt.”
“Still... I am sorry,” Karen said. “I didn't know her for very long, but I could tell what a great person she was, and how much you cared for each other.”
Exhaling, Rose nodded absently. “Yeah, I know.”
A short pause passed, until Cyborg took a couple steps forward and folded his arms. “You're not alone in this, you know.”
“He's right,” Dick stated. “You still have friends, friends who care about you. If you ever need anything, if you ever want to talk, we're here.”
“Thank you... all of you. I, uh... I just need to get going now, I...” Sucking in a large breath, she lifted a hand to her eyes and quickly wiped them dry. Swallowing, she gave an affirmative nod and then moved past them. “I have to get Holly home, and... need to reopen my studio... I'll see you all later. Thank you.”
She didn't look back as she left, instead keeping her head pointed forward and gaze lowered to the wet ground. She didn't even so much as try to move around the puddles, walking straight through them on the way back to the car. Before she got there, however, one more voice reached her ears, this one not nearly as welcomed as the others.
Freezing in place, she slowly turned her head to see Cassandra Sandsmark standing there behind a tree and holding an umbrella.
Moving from the tree, Cassie hurried towards her. “I... I'm glad I caught you, I didn't know if-”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Rose snapped.
Hesitating briefly, Cassie stiffened, blinking absently. The amount of burning ire pouring out of Rose was enough to put even Wonder Girl on edge. “I was just... I wanted to pay my respects.”
“What on earth for?”
“Because... because I'm sorry about Rebecca. I... know you really loved her.”
Rose's gaze grew cross, jaw clenching. “What the hell do you care? You didn't even know her. All you did was put her through a damn table!”
“No, don't you dare apologize to me!” Rose exclaimed. “After everything you've said to me, after every horrible interaction we've ever had, and how you left things between us last time, don't you even think about suddenly 'seeing the light' and trying to make up for it.”
“I'm not finished yet. You want to know something? It's a damn shame you didn't know Becky, because she was a great person. She was kind, and funny, and caring, and always willing to put others ahead of herself. She wasn't selfish, she wasn't cruel, and she never held a grudge. She even gave her life for something she believed in, fighting for you and everyone else. She's a better person than you will ever be. You want to apologize to someone? Apologize to her. Now do me a favor and stay the hell away from me.”
And with that, Rose turned and stormed off, not giving so much as a quick glance back. Cassie stood there for the longest time, lowering her umbrella and blinking in stunned silence as the rain began to soak her.
Rose leaned against the counter with her good arm, staring at the microwave as the timer ticked down. She was in a sort of surreal daze at the moment, vision going blurry while she waited. It wasn't until the microwave beeped that she finally came to her senses and reached forward to open it. If she had been thinking straight, she probably would have realized not to grab the open end of the popcorn bag, instantly scalding her palm on the hot air seeping out.
She made no move to go run her hand under cold water, though, simply squeezing it into a fist for several moments and trying to push the pain away. Eventually, she reached for the bag again, and this time pulled it out more carefully. After opening it with her hand and teeth, she dumped the contents out into a bowl, then lightly salted the kernels. When she was done, she carried the bowl into the living room, where Holly sat quietly on the couch, waiting.
“Here, I, uh... I made some popcorn for the movie,” she said. “I know you don't like it buttered so I just... added some salt. Want some?”
An answer didn't come at first, as Rose moved around the couch and sat next to the girl. Eventually, though, Holly leaned to the side and rested her head against Rose's shoulder. “I'm not really hungry...”
Breathing outwardly, Rose's expression sank slightly in sad understanding. Placing the bowl of popcorn in front of her on the coffee table, she then held her arm around Holly and rubbed the girl's shoulder. “Yeah... me neither.”
“I'm really gonna miss her.”
“So am I, Holly... so am I.”
Swallowing back a lump in her throat, Rose shut her eyes and took in another deep breath. The movie that they had been planning to watch suddenly disappeared from their thoughts, and instead the two remained like that, comforting each other over the loss of Rebecca. Through all of this, at least Rose could be happy knowing that Holly was safe.
That's right... I still have Holly, and she needs me to be strong... we need each other more than ever now.
Blinking back a few tears, the girl raised her gaze and sniffled. “Yeah?”
“I, uh... I was thinking about something,” Rose said, shifting her gaze slightly. “I mean... I don't know if you'd even want to, but... I mean, when you were taken away, I... well, I don't want that to happen again. I... I don't want to lose you, too. So, I thought that maybe I could get some, uh... some adoption forms, and fill those out. You know... I mean, if you wanted.”
Holly sat upright with wide eyes, blinking several times. “You mean, you... you want to adopt me?'
“Well... yeah. I mean, sure I'm your legal guardian, and sure I look after you, but... I want to make it official.”
Sniffling again, Holly forced a smile to show through her grief, then lunged forward and threw her arms around Rose in a warm hug. “That would be... great. Really great. I... thank you, Rose. Thank you.”
Pressing her head gently against Holly's, Rose's arm wrapped around the girl's shoulder. “You're welcome, Holly. I love you, girl... always will.”
“I love you, too, Rose. Er... wait, does this mean I should call you mom?”
And for the first time in a long time, Rose uttered a small laugh. Leaning back a bit, she gently kissed the girl's forehead and smiled. “Only if you want to. Now come on... let's get you to bed.”
Once Holly was in bed, Rose returned to the kitchen. She stared at the bowl of popcorn for a minute, then dumped it in the trash. A moment later, she reached up to the top shelves and pulled out the alcohol. She didn't have to be up in the morning for anything, so she might as well drown herself in a drunken stupor before crashing in bed.
And yet, as she poured a shot, she abruptly lost the will to drink it. She took a long look at the glass, then dumped its contents into the sink, and when that was done she moved on to the entire bottle, pouring it all down the drain. Releasing a long sigh, she leaned forward against the counter and held her head in her hand. Eventually, she returned to the living room and collapsed on the couch, staring up at the ceiling.
“Becky... if you're watching, I just... I love you. I'll always love you, no matter where you are.” Lowering her gaze again, she stared off aimlessly in front of her, eyes drooping in sorrow. “And... and I'm sorry. We were supposed to watch each other's backs and I let you down. I should have seen it coming...”
She swallowed now, a hard knot twisting its way into her throat. Holding a hand up to the side of her head, she closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath. “I'm gonna miss you, Beck... I'm really gonna miss you.”
“You're getting better,” Lady Shiva said, offering a hand.
Rose stared up from the ground, chest heaving with exhaustion. A wet trail of crimson leaked down her chin, fueled by her split lip and bloody nose. Shiva did not make a habit of holding back during their training lessons, and although Rose was both enhanced and exceptionally skilled, Shiva was on an entirely different level. No matter how hard she tried, Rose could barely last a minute against this deadly woman. At the very least, she was improving... several weeks ago, she couldn't last fifteen seconds.
Taking Shiva's hand, Rose hoisted herself back to her feet, where she teetered for several moments before steadying herself. “You... you're really amazing.”
“Yes, I know,” Shiva replied, curling her lips into the slightest of smirks. “And so are you, little dove, for one so young.”
“Um... thanks, I guess.” Rose paused, leaning forward with her hands pressed against her knees. God, she felt like she was going to puke. “I just... can't figure it out.”
Lady Shiva lifted an eyebrow. “What's that?”
“Why... why you're doing this. Helping me. Training me. Offering me a way to... to take my revenge, but at the same time allowing that woman to... torment me. I don't understand it.”
“No, I suppose you wouldn't,” Shiva said, holding a hand to her chin. “And perhaps I'll tell you some day, but for right now I think it's best if you return to your chamber for the night. We've trained enough for one day.”
“No... no we haven't,” Rose muttered. She gave Lady Shiva a narrow look, widening her stance and holding her arms at the ready. “I'm never going to get to your level by slacking off, and it's not even sundown yet. Yesterday, we went to sundown.”
“Yesterday, your face wasn't a bloody mess.”
Rose's gaze grew harder. She turned her head momentarily, spitting out a glob of blood, then wiped some of the crimson from her face with her sleeve. “I don't give a damn. I've never slacked off before, I'm not going to start now. We go to sundown.”
Lady Shiva hesitated a moment, until finally shifting her body into a fighting stance. “Very well... if that's what you wish.”
“You know what I love best about this?” Killer Frost asked, twirling a finger around in the air. The thin, clinging layer of ice particles coating every surface of the chamber suddenly grew thicker, colder. “It's the fact that you still think you're going to get out of here.”
Rose lay on the top of her bed, curled into a ball and shivering madly. She'd fought back again, like she did every time this woman came to visit, but it wasn't enough. She still couldn't put Killer Frost down before the heat left the room, chilling her bones and nearly shutting down her body. Every time she moved, she thought she felt her bones shattering, or her joints popping. In truth, such feelings were merely an illusion, because in reality most of the feeling had abandoned her body entirely.
“But I have to say, you're getting better,” Killer Frost added, holding two fingers to her crooked nose. She tentatively gripped down on the bone and twisted it back into place, flinching only briefly before lowering her hand again. “If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were trying to make this more enjoyable for me.”
“Sh-shhh-shut-t-t up y-you b-b-bit-tch,” Rose stammered, frozen lips barely able to push out the words. She tried to uncurl herself, tried to form a fist, to make another move to attack... but she couldn't. Her body shivered too fiercely, desperate for any source of warmth whatsoever.
“Aw, don't be like that.” Killer Frost took a few steps forward, reaching an icy hand down to grip Rose's cheeks and turning the girl's head. “You'll make me sad.”
With her face now staring up at the woman's, Rose made a desperate attempt at insult, spitting. Unfortunately, her saliva went about an inch before falling back to her own face and freezing solid. At the pitiful sight, Killer Frost tilted her head back and laughed, genuinely amused.
“Oh my, that was priceless!” she exclaimed, still giggling under her breath. “Oh, do try it again. Please? For me?” When Rose did nothing, Killer Frost lowered her own face towards the girl, their mouths only inches apart. “No? Shame.” Exhaling, she sent out a frigid breath of air surging into Rose's mouth and down her throat.
Instantly, Rose recoiled, coughing and sputtering as she clawed her hands at her neck. For several moments, she couldn't breathe, body heaving with shock and pain. Finally, she managed to settle down and suck in deep, cold breaths, as her lone eye leaked tears that froze flat against her cheek.
“I bet that was uncomfortable, huh?” Killer Frost said, smirking wickedly. She then gently traced a finger along Rose's shoulder, across her chest, and down her midsection, all the while siphoning more heat as she went. “I have to say, I'm glad you're so much more... durable than the others. All my past pets would have been dead by now, frozen from the inside out. But you... you can take it, can't you?” Her smirk grew wider. “Yes, you can... I like that.”
When at last Killer Frost left, when she had had her fun for the night and took the frigid air with her, Rose was finally able to curl herself up in the blankets of her bed. No more frost coated the walls, no more ice or snow. Things were dry again, and she could no longer see her breath, but that did not instantly take away the chill. She lay there for what felt like hours, clutching the thick blanket tight around herself and just hoping, praying, that feeling would soon return to her body.
Rose wasn't sure what time she fell asleep, or how long she'd been out when an abrupt noise awoke her, but at least her body no longer shivered uncontrollably. For a brief moment, she remained still beneath the blankets, staring into the darkness. Then, the noise came again, the soft, shrill creak of the door opening. With it came a sudden glow of orange light, a dim candle burning away the inky blackness of night. In that light, a small silhouette appeared, one that gradually came forward into the room.
“Hello?” Rose uttered. She cringed at how weak and hoarse her voice sounded. Apparently, she had still not completely recovered from Killer Frost's most recent assault.
“Hey, who's there?” Her voice expressed no fear, no nervousness, simply curiosity. Who could be visiting her at such a late hour?
Finally, the figure holding the candle drew near enough that Rose could make out features. It was... a girl. A small girl, Asian, maybe twelve years old, short scruffy black hair, and a look of intrigue on her face.
“Uh... hi there?” Rose said, lifting an eyebrow. Well, this was definitely someone she hadn't seen around the mountain fortress before...
The girl spoke no words, merely tilting her head to the side and furrowing her brow slightly.
“Um... do you speak at all, or...?” Still no reply. “Do you have a name?”
The girl nodded.
Rose sighed, rubbing her eyes slightly. What little patience she had was already beginning to wear thin. “Are you going to tell me your name...? Or maybe what you're doing here?”
Again, nothing. The girl came a little closer, leaning in and giving a long, curious look.
“Okay, listen, I'm trying to sleep here,” Rose insisted. “If you could, I don't know, shoo, or something, that would be great.”
Before anything more could be said, however, another voice from the open doorway interrupted them. “Cassandra!”
The girl whirled around suddenly, stiffening up and holding her candle tightly against her chest. A much taller figure walked into the light: Lady Shiva, dressed in a fine, red silk robe and carrying a lantern of her own. She looked so much different, when not garbed in some sort of battle uniform... more natural, gentler. Of course, one would be foolish to allow such looks to be deceiving.
“What have I told you about wandering around at night?” Shiva asked, coming forward and taking hold of the girl's hand. “Back to bed with you.”
Rose watched, more confused than anything, as Lady Shiva urged the girl back out the door. Rather than follow, however, Shiva breathed out a long sigh and looked back.
“My apologies, little dove,” she said. “My daughter... has a habit of wandering off and exploring things. She must have found you interesting.”
“Wait... your daughter?” Rose lifted an eyebrow, sitting up a little straighter. “I didn't know you had a daughter.”
“That's because I never told you,” Shiva said, plainly.
Rose paused momentarily, bowing her head. Eventually, she worked out another question. “What's she doing here? I mean... this doesn't seem like the best place for a kid, is all I'm saying.”
“I brought her here with me, because it is far safer a place for her than where we came from.” Lady Shiva stood there calmly, placing her lantern down on the nearby table and sighing outwardly.
After another moment of quiet, Rose tilted her head and asked, “Where... where did you come from?”
Shiva didn't answer, at first, instead folding her arms and glancing up at the ceiling. Eventually, however, she looked back to Rose, eyes softening slightly, and explained, “A place very far from here. A small village, in the jungle... a place of pain, and violence.”
Rose remained quiet, now sitting at full attention as the master assassin told her tale.
“In my village, there is a tradition,” Shiva said. “Each generation, a young girl is selected to be molded into the perfect warrior. Graceful, agile, quick, precise... deadly. That girl takes on a title, one that has been passed down for centuries: Lady Shiva, the same title I now bear. Somewhere along the way, however, the tradition grew... warped. They stopped waiting for full generations to pass before selecting a new Shiva, instead forcing the title down a single familial line, and doing so with less and less time in between.”
Shiva went silent a moment, exhaling deeply as she stared at the floor. “I was already chosen to be the next Shiva before I was even born, just like my mother before me, and her mother before her. I began training on my fifth birthday. Every day was a constant battle, a never ending struggle just to survive the training. It was difficult... but I can at least say it made me strong. Still, I never had a chance to be anything other than Lady Shiva.”
“Wait, if your mother was already Shiva...” Rose said, scratching her head slightly, “and you were training to be Shiva... when, or... how is the title officially passed on?”
“She who bears the title of Shiva is, by definition, an assassin,” she explained. “The very first target that the one in training is given... is the current Shiva.”
“But that is not all,” Lady Shiva continued. “That very first assignment is given to the Shiva-in-training when she reaches puberty, the first time she... bleeds. Afterward, a man is selected to lie with her and create the next Shiva.”
“Wait... you mean you...”
“I was fourteen when I had Cassandra.” Shiva went quiet for a long moment, maintaining her long stare at the floor. “But by then, I already knew that I didn't want this life for her. It took a while for me to work up the audacity to break the tradition, but on the eve of Cassandra's first birthday, I fled with her. I left behind my village, my home... my entire life, all to keep Cassandra from having to go through what I had gone through. There was, however, a small problem with that. The father did not take kindly to my taking our daughter away.”
Rose folded her arms, shifting slightly in her bed. “The father?”
“A man named David Cain,” she stated, with a striking venom in her tone. “A very dangerous, very powerful man. He tracked us down within two months, ambushed me... left me for dead and abducted Cassandra for himself. I spent years looking for them, all while putting the skills I had to use in order to make money, money that I put into tracking down my daughter. I just found her last year, managed to take her back from Cain.”
She closed her eyes, bringing a tired hand to her forehead and sighing again. “The things he did to her... I took her away to keep her from becoming what I had become, but he erased any chance of that. He taught her things... how to fight, how to kill... he hurt her in ways I can't imagine, to turn her into an even greater assassin than Lady Shiva, nothing but a mere tool to use. And through all that, he never even taught her how to speak, how to communicate normally... her only language is through action, through violence.”
“Well, that's... terrible,” Rose admitted, glancing to the side. “But... I mean, she didn't really look all that... well, violent.”
“A rose is beautiful, yet its thorns can still prick, can't they?”
Lady Shiva looked back to the open doorway, staring into the darkness. “Now, I keep my daughter here with me, where Cain can't get to her.”
“Where you... what, hope she'll live a normal, quiet life away from violence?”
“If only it were that simple.” Shiva turned her attention back to Rose, flickering firelight from the lantern dancing across both their faces. “No, the people I work for, they've already seen what Cassandra can do. They're already planning how to use her for their own goals.”
Rose narrowed her eyes, confused. “So... just leave. No one's keeping you here, right? Take your daughter and just, I don't know, vanish or something.”
“I am far too invested now to simply abandon my position,” Lady Shiva insisted, shaking her head. “Besides, were I to do such a thing, they would find us, and they would kill us both.”
“Okay... never mind, then.” Rose huffed out a small breath, arms folding. Well, that was a depressing thought.
“In any case, I've spoken far too much.” Shiva grabbed the lantern and turned back towards the door. “I'll let you get your rest now, little dove. You'll need it.”
All was quiet in the apartment, at least for the time being. The sun had just risen above the horizon, bringing with it a new day. For Barbara Gordon, it was a magical day.
Suddenly, the radio clicked on, emitting steady, upbeat music, blaring at almost full volume. “I used to think maybe you love me, now baby I'm sure / And I just cant wait till the day, when you knock on my door / Now every time I go for the mail box, gotta hold myself down / 'cause I just cant wait till you write me, you're coming around.”
As the chorus hit, Barbara Gordon herself ran out of her bedroom door, still dressed in only a simple T-shirt and her underwear, along with a pair of socks, and her Green Lantern ring placed firmly around her finger. Reaching the hardwood floor, she slid several feet, a broad smile across her face, and began singing along with the song while dancing in rhythm with the beat.
“I'm walking on sunshine (whoa oh) / I'm walking on sunshine (whoa oh) / I'm walking on sunshine (whoa oh) / And don't it feel good (HEY!) Alright now / And don't it feel good (HEY!) Alright now / All right now yeah! (HEY!)”
Her legs never stopped moving as she made her way over to the kitchen to cook up some breakfast. She grabbed a skillet from the drawer, turned the stove on, and then bounced playfully up and down on her feet several times, as the music continued in the background.
“I used to think maybe you love me, I know that it's true / And I don't wanna spend all of my life just waiting for you (just waiting for you) / Now I don't want you back for the weekend, not back for a day, no, no, no / Baby I just want you back and I want you to stay.”
Barbara next danced herself over to the refrigerator, pulling it open wide and sifting through to find the eggs. Leaning over forward, she swayed from side to side, pulling the carton of eggs, a pack of cheese, and bag of vegetables into her arms.
“I'm walking on sunshine (whoa oh) / I'm walking on sunshine (whoa oh) / I'm walking on sunshine (whoa oh) / And don't it feel good (HEY!) Alright now / And don't it feel good (HEY!) Alright now / All right now yeah! (HEY!)”
Back at the stove, she cracked a couple of eggs open onto the skillet. She gently ran it back and forth over the flame until finally leaving it alone as she moved back across the kitchen floor, breaking out into an even more vigorous dance. The smile on her face could have lit a beacon.
“Walking on sunshine / Walking on sunshine / I feel the love, I feel the love, I feel the love that's really real / I feel the love, I feel the love, I feel the love that's really real / I'm on sunshine baby yeah / I'm on sunshine baby yeah.”
As her eventual omelet solidified into a more solid form, she lifted the skillet up again and flipped the the cooked eggs up into the air. She quickly spun around, holding the pan behind her back and catching the omelet perfectly.
“I'm walking on sunshine whoa / I'm walking on sunshine whoa / I'm walking on sunshine whoa / And don't it feel good hey alright now / And don't it feel good hey alright now / And don't it feel good hey alright now.”
When the music finally ceased, Barbara breathed out a deep breath and held her hands to her hips. Too long had it been since she'd been able to dance like that, freely, openly, without the restriction of a wheelchair. To be able to jump around on her legs again, to move her body to the beat, to have real fun with it... it was probably the one thing she had missed most. But now... now she had it again, all thanks to a silly green ring.
As Barbara sat down at the kitchen table to eat her breakfast, a knock came on her apartment door. She paused a moment, wondering who it could be, but when the urgent voice soudned out from the other side of the door, she smacked a hand to her forehead and groaned.
“Babs!” Dinah Lance called out, pounding her fist against the wood. “Babs, are you in there? Are you alright?! Barbara!”
“I'm fine, Dinah!” she replied, remaining in her seat. “The door's open, come on in.”
Dinah burst through the entrance a moment later, practically racing across the floor. “What on earth happened last night?! Our line went dead when we made our move, and then I couldn't get into contact with you again! We thought maybe something had happened, that maybe you'd-”
“Dinah, I'm fine, really,” Barbara assured. She held her left hand up, urging the woman to calm down, while her right hand, the one with her ring, remained below the table. “Just a... minor equipment failure.”
For several moments, Dinah remained silent, blinking at her friend in confusion. Then, she came forward and sat down at the kitchen table across from her and said, “An equipment failure? You had an equipment failure?”
“Yeah.” Barbara shifted her gaze slightly, taking a bite of her omelet.
“But... you never have an equipment failure,” Dinah said, lifting an eyebrow. “Ever.”
“Well, I've never had my computer literally blow up in my face before, either,” Barbara replied, with a small laugh.
Dinah blinked, scratching the side of her head. “What the hell happened?”
“Oh, nothing much.” Barbara paused a moment, then glanced over at the fridge. “Hey, you want something to drink?”
“Oh, uh, sure,” she said, starting to get out of her seat. “I'll just grab a-”
“I got it.” And on that note, Barbara pushed her seat away from the table, stood up, and walked towards the refrigerator. The stunned silence that followed brought a wide grin to her face, as she opened the fridge and took out a carton of orange juice.
“Babs, y-you're-” Dinah started, eyes open wide. She stood there for a moment, unable to form proper words as she watched her formerly paralyzed friend grab a glass from the cupboard. Finally, she managed to spit it out. “You're walking!”
Barbara held her smile, as she returned to the table and passed the glass of orange juice to her friend. “Yeah, pretty awesome, right?”
Dinah blinked again, rubbing her eyes to make sure she wasn't seeing things. “But I- I mean- how?”
“Well... it's all thanks to this.” Then, Barbara finally lifted her right hand, showing off the green Power Ring. “As long as it's charged and I'm wearing it, I can walk again.”
At this point, Dinah dropped back into her seat, staring blankly forward. This time, she couldn't even bring herself to blink. “That's a- that's a- a-”
“Yeah... it came to me last night,” Barbara explained, looking down at the ring. “I don't know why it chose me... but it did.”
“And you accepted it? Just like that?”
“It's a lot of responsibility, I know,” Barbara said. “And in many ways, a burden. But... that's something I'm willing to accept, yeah. Not just for the use of my legs, but for a greater purpose, you know? At first I wasn't completely sold on it, but I did some thinking before I went to bed... maybe this is what I was meant to do.”
Dinah was quiet for a few more moments, as she gulped down most of her orange juice. When she finally took her glass away, she breathed out a deep sigh and brushed back her blonde hair. “But... but I mean, what about Oracle? And what about the team?”
“I can have Wendy take my place easy enough.” Barbara smiled lightly, sitting back down at the table and folding her hands. “I've been training her as my back up long enough... I think she's ready for it.”
“Well, I mean I guess... but- but what about, well...” Dinah paused, rubbing her eyes again. “I mean, Green Lanterns spend most of their time in space, right? How often would you even still be here? To see your family, your friends...”
Barbara was silent for a long moment, tilting her gaze downward. She shrugged, shaking her head. “I... don't know. I suppose I'll find out when I go to Oa.”
Dinah lifted her eyebrows. “Oa... you mean G.L. Headquarters?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “The ring has been urging to take me there already, but I've been holding off until I can at least say goodbye to people. I... don't know how long I'll be gone or what I'll be doing, yet. I barely even know how to make the ring work at this point. I imagine they'll be training me.”
“But... you'll be back, right?” Dinah asked. “I mean, eventually.”
“Well yeah, the other Green Lanterns are back here all the time, right?”
Dinah breathed out softly, getting up from her seat. “Then go for it, girl.” Leaning forward, she gave her friend a warm, comforting hug, holding on tight for a few moments.
When Dinah finally let go, she asked, “Who else knows about this? I mean, have you told your dad?”
Barbara cleared her throat, pulling her hair back behind her ear. “Well... he thinks I'm going away on business.”
“...what kind of business would a librarian need to go away for?”
“The other kind of business.”
“Oh, right...” Dinah said, with a small chuckle. “I forgot, he knows about... well, you.” She paused a moment, only to suddenly look up quickly. “What about Nightwing?”
Babs smiled slightly, glancing away. “I'm meeting him later... I'll break it to him then. Hopefully... well, hopefully he'll understand.”
Dick Grayson looked around the busy Gotham street corner, searching for Barbara. This was where she had told him to meet that afternoon... so where was she? He squinted his eyes a bit, trying to see through the driving rain pouring from the sky. Why she'd want to meet outside on a day like today was beyond him. Last he knew, she didn't enjoy being soaked. But, of course, he didn't question her. He simply went along with it.
The street corner began to clear up after a few minutes, as people went about their business and moved on. Eventually, the only one left standing there was Dick, and some other woman dressed in a raincoat with an umbrella pulled low over her head. He waited several moments, arms folded across his chest, until finally walking over to her.
“Excuse me, miss?” he said, coming up behind her. He couldn't see who she was yet, not through the umbrella. “Have you seen woman around here, red hair, in a wheelchair? I'm supposed to be meeting her here, but I haven't... haven't...”
As he spoke, the woman slowly turned towards him. Within moments, she was facing him, allowing him to get a clear look at her, and when he did, his eyes went wide. “Babs...?”
“Hey, Dick,” she said, offering a broad smile. “How's it going?”
“Barbara! You- you're-”
“Walking, yeah, I know,” she stated, lifting a playful eyebrow at him. “So you just going to stand there gawking or are you going to hug me?”
Saying nothing more, Dick came forward and wrapped his arms tightly around her. The umbrella tilted slightly off to the side, spilling rainwater onto their heads, but he didn't care. “I just, I don't understand... how?”
She paused a moment, breathing outwardly as she lifted her hand. The Power Ring glowed softly on her finger. “This.”
Dick needed no explanation. He knew what the ring was, knew what it meant. He softened his eyes as he turned his gaze from the ring back to Barbara's face. “So you have to go, then?”
“Yeah,” she said, nodding. “I... I don't know why the ring chose me, Dick, but I'm going to do my best to fulfill its calling.”
“I know,” he said, curling his lips into a gentle smile. “You always do your best. That's what I love about you.”
“I don't know how long I'll be gone,” she added, swallowing a little. “I'll have to go to Oa, I'll need training, then I'll probably be on patrol, and I don't know if-”
Her words abruptly cut off, as Dick moved in, pressing his lips to hers. Barbara allowed herself to sink against his body, feeling his arms again wrap around her. They held that kiss for the longest time, until finally Dick pulled his lips away and gave her another caring smile. “I'll still be here when you get back.”
Barbara returned the smile, lifting up on her toes slightly. “Promise?”
He nodded. “Promise.”
“Then, I guess... I'll see you later,” she said, taking a small step back. She broadened her smile, giving him a little wave, and then finally ran back into the nearest alleyway, disappearing from sight.
Dick stood there, watching carefully. He glanced upwards, spotting a bright green streak darting across the sky, until finally disappearing into the clouds. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he maintained his smile. “Go get 'em, Babs.”
Barbara wasn't certain exactly how long the travel took. She was certain that it had taken a long time, yet it had barely felt like more than a few hours. She had no direct control over her flight path, though, merely along for the ride as the ring brought her to her destination: the planet Oa. When she finally descended onto the surface of the planet, the bright green bubble surrounding her disappeared, allowing her to freely walk across the raised platform she now found herself upon.
“Whoa...” she uttered, moving up to the edge of the platform. Spread out all around and below her was one of the most amazing, beautiful scenes she had ever seen. “So this is Oa...”
The architecture was so unreal, completely unlike anything back on earth, or anything she could have even imagined. She had heard stories from the other Green Lanterns about this place, but a few words of description just couldn't do it justice.
After she finally got over the initial wonder of witnessing Oa firsthand, Barbara finally managed to glance down at herself, now realizing the uniform she was dressed in. The design must have been pulled subconsciously from her mind, because it was exactly how she would have wanted it. Simple, practical, and clearly indicate of a Green Lantern.
“Nice... not bad.”
Suddenly, another voice interrupted her. “So, the new recruit finally arrives.”
Turning around suddenly, Barbara looked up above her, at the Green Lantern floating up in the sky. “Uh... yeah, I guess that's me, huh?”
“You don't look like much,” he said, arms folding. After a long, careful look, he finally descended in front of her. “But then, they never do when they first arrive. What is your name, Lantern?”
“Uh, Barbara,” she answered. “Barbara Gordon.”
“Barbara Gordon... I see.” He paused a moment, until finally waving her along, flying up into the air again. “Follow me, Barbara Gordon. You must meet with the Guardians.”
Barbara paused a moment, staring back down at her ring and concentrating. After a brief moment's hesitation, she finally lifted up into the after him. “Right, on my way, uh... what do I call you?”
“Sinestro,” he replied, glancing back over his shoulder. “My name is Sinestro.”
Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.
Note: The ninth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.
The VRA facility interrogation room was about as dull and bland as possible, made specifically to numb a person's mood. Plain grey walls, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling above, and no clock, making it impossible for one to tell how much time had passed inside. Rebecca Chavez estimated that it had been maybe three hours since anyone had been in to see her, but she couldn't be sure. She'd been sitting at the lone table in the room, silent and alone, for what felt like an eternity. They were trying to break her, she knew.
Isolate a person long enough and insanity would set in, hallucinations began. It was a well known torture technique. They would come back eventually, try to get her to talk again, and when she refused they'd leave her alone for a longer period of time, a period of time she had no way of keeping track of. This wasn't standard police interrogation by any means, but then, these weren't standard police officials, either. This was the VRA, an agency of power drunk b**tards out to ruin the lives of any superhero that wouldn't answer to them, not to mention those associated with those heroes.
That's why she was here, arrested and taken in just for being involved with Ravager, who patrolled the streets of Silverstone City at night. When Ravager failed to register, they had come after her, taken her in by force with some super powered goons of their own. Then, they had taken Becky, Holly, and even Circe and her daughter, Lyta. As far as Becky was concerned right now, they could all go to hell.
The door to the room finally opened, revealing a familiar person. She had really come to loathe this man, Agent Croft. He had a way of crawling under a person's skin, even when remaining perfectly calm and cordial.
“Rebecca Chavez... how are you? I hope these past few hours haven't been too taxing.” Sitting down at the table across from her, Croft passed over a can of soda. “Thought you might be thirsty.”
Becky made no move to accept the offering, instead folding her arms across her chest and glaring at him.
“Fine, have it your way,” he said, taking the can back.
“She's being transported to one of our more secure facilities, built especially to handle individuals like her,” Agent Croft explained.
Becky's jaw tightened, but she didn't lose her cool. Not yet, at least. “And Holly?”
“The girl has been handed over to social services and placed back into foster care. It was the natural approach when both people looking after her were... no longer available.”
Now she lost her cool. At this revelation, Becky slammed her fists down on the table, lurching partially out of her seat. “You can't do that!”
Croft folded his hands calmly in front of him. “Actually, according to the law, we can.”
“She doesn't belong in foster care, you son of a b*tch!” Becky was fully on her feet now, leaning across the table. “She belongs with us, people who love her!”
“I'm afraid love isn't enough in this matter, Rebecca.” Agent Croft leaned back in his chair, straightening out his tie. “With the charges against you and your partner, neither of you will be fit to take of her anymore.”
Taking in deep, seething breaths, Becky glared a hole through the man. She wanted nothing more than to lunge across the table and rearrange the b**tard's face, but that wouldn't accomplish anything. It would only make things worse. “Should I even bother asking what you did to the others?”
“The woman known as Circe is currently in one of the other rooms down the hall, under charges for attacking a VRA official,” he said. “As for the girl, Lyta, she's been taken to one of our children's facilities, where we'll be able to monitor the growth of her power.”
“Screw you,” Becky muttered, slowly sinking back into her seat. She retained her hateful glare. “You can't just take children from their parents like that.”
“I'd respond to that comment, but then we'd just be heading towards redundancy,” Agent Croft replied, clearing his throat. “Let's move on, shall we? Currently, you're facing up to sixty days of imprisonment for your involvement in aiding the illegal vigilante known as Ravager. We're prepared to reduce the sentence, or drop it altogether, if you'll just cooperate with us.”
“So you've told me already. Three times.”
“Yes, and you've turned us down all three times. But, we're patient. There's still time to change your mind.”
Becky slowly leaned forward, fingers clutching the edge of the table tightly. Her eyes narrowed, gleaming with ire. “Listen to me very carefully, you slimy pr*ck. Nothing you say or do will get me to help you. Any information you're looking for from me, you're not getting it. End of story.”
“I would urge you to reconsider.”
“And I'd urge you to f**k off.”
Croft gently tapped his fingers on the table. “You are aware that refusing to cooperate with the VRA can multiply the length of your sentence, correct?”
Letting out an exasperated sigh, Becky threw her hands up in the air and sank back against her seat. “Of course it can, why not? You've already thrown due process out the window, why not make up more crap while you're at it?”
“ If that's how you feel, then I suppose there's no further need to keep you here,” Agent Croft said, standing from his seat. He briefly fixed his glasses before marching towards the door.
“Why do I get the feeling that you don't mean you're letting me go?” Becky muttered.
Opening the door, Croft waved in a pair of VRA operatives, these ones dressed in uniform and carrying heavy duty stun guns. “Take her to one of the holding cells, while I go fill out a report. She can begin serving her sentence now.”
A large transport vehicle rumbled along the road through Metropolis, heading west past Queensland Park. Two VRA operatives sat in front, one driving and the other talking quietly on a cell phone in the passenger's seat. In the rear section of the vehicle, divided by a wall with a small, barred window, two prisoners awaited arrival at the holding facility, where they would be serving their ninety day sentence.
One of the prisoners, a man with reddish hair and one arm amputated above the elbow, leaned back casually against the side of the vehicle, staring at the ceiling. The other prisoner was Rose Wilson, still out cold from her recent arrest the previous night. The blow to her head had been a strong one, and put her in dreamland for well over sixteen hours.
As the minutes went by, Rose slowly began to come around, eyes flickering open. A small groan escaped her throat, as she realized a throbbing pain deep in the back of her skull. She tried to put a hand to her forehead, but soon discovered that her wrists were cuffed behind her back. Normally, she'd be able to snap the chain with little difficulty, but with an inhibitor collar around her neck, all of her enhanced attributes were null. Try as she might, she couldn't wrestle out of them.
The other prisoner turned to look at her. He leaned forehead, resting his arm against his thigh. “Rise and shine, Rose. Have a nice nap?”
Squinting her eyes, she glanced over at the man. Her vision was still a little fuzzy, but she knew that voice. She'd heard it many times before, though not in a long while. Even with it being so long ago, though, there was no mistaking it. “Roy?”
“In the flesh.”
The man was Roy Harper, formerly Red Arrow of the Titans, and also father to Lian Harper, the girl that Rose acted as a nanny for several years ago. They'd been friends for a while, at least during that time span, but he pushed her and everyone else away once his life went to hell after Lian died. What he'd been doing since then, Rose had no idea. She hadn't heard anything about him in almost three years.
Breathing in deeply, Rose took a moment to gather her senses. When her vision finally cleared and the throbbing in her head began to subside a little, she let out her breath and stared at him. “So they got you, too, huh?”
“From what I understand, they got everyone,” Roy said, with a small shrug. “Or at least almost everyone. Those who already registered with the VRA went and switched sides in a hurry, then started tracking down the ones who hadn't. I got ambushed by Stargirl and Blue Beetle.”
Rose furrowed her brow. “You mean they turned on each other just like that?”
“Just like that.” Roy sighed, leaning back against the truck wall. “Either the VRA has one hell of a persuasive registration policy, or there's something else going on.”
“There's always something else going on,” she muttered. “This whole thing reeks of foul play, everything from how the bill was handled to putting my father in charge.”
Roy nodded. “Yeah, I saw that. If Slade's involved, something is seriously wrong.”
“Somehow, he got a presidential pardon. Who the hell gives a guy like him a pardon?”
“No one I'd want to meet.”
Uttering a long sigh, Rose hung her head and stared at the floor. Her thoughts slipped back to Becky and Holly, wondering where they were and if they were alright. Circe and Lyta, too. Wherever they were, she just hoped they were safe.
After a brief pause, Roy folded one leg over the other and pursed his lips. “I notice you got a new eye.”
Rose lifted an eyebrow, bringing her gaze up to him again. “I notice you didn't get a new arm.”
“Funny,” Roy said, frowning slightly.
“So where are they taking us, anyway?”
“Stryker's Island,” he explained. “Once the new law passed, the VRA took over ownership and retooled it as their maximum security holding facility. It's where they keep the unregistered vigilantes.”
Rose frowned, shaking her head. “So no lawyer, no trial, no nothing. Just straight to the cell.”
“And it's all completely legal.”
Curling her hands to fists, Rose stood up. “Well, they're out of their minds if they think they're gonna keep me there.”
No way she was going to let herself be held in prison like this. New law or no new law, this wasn't right. None of it was. The VRA and everything it stood for was a sham, she was sure of that. She just had to figure out the secrets behind it, figure out a way to shut it down.
“And I suppose you have a plan to escape, right?” Roy asked.
A small smile spread across her face. “Please, I always have a plan.”
Ten minutes later, the transport vehicle slowed down to a stop in front of a small set of docks at the West River. There, another team of armed VRA officials waited for them, just outside the ferry that would take them across to Stryker's Island, or rather, the new VRA Maximum Security Facility.
The two guards in the front of the truck got out and went back to open the rear doors, while another two stood behind them with their weapons at the ready, just in case the prisoners tried anything. The moment that the doors opened, Rose leaped out and kicked the closest man to her in the face, sending him to the ground. The other operatives converged on her instantly, but she wasn't screwing around. Her hands might have been cuffed behind her back, but she didn't need them to take out a few goons.
Sweeping her leg behind another, she tripped the man to the ground, then ducked below an incoming projectile. One of the agents fired his weapon, a strange gun that emitted a concentrated sphere of electricity, meant to stun and incapacitate non lethally. Unfortunately for him, all he managed to do was shoot his buddy before Rose kicked up and knocked the weapon out of his hands.
As the gun flew through the air, Roy came to the edge of the vehicle and caught it, spinning it around in his hand to grab the trigger. “You know, I might only have one arm-” Quickly and accurately, he took aim at one of the guards and fired. The man went down, twitching and spasming. “-but you still should have restrained me.”
“Save the quips!” Rose said, spinning around and knocking the final guard out cold. She looked over her shoulder to see the group of guards near the docks already on their way. “Time to move!”
Rose allowed herself a quick moment to crouch, bringing her cuffed hands down and then jumping her legs backwards, thus bringing her arms in front of her body instead of behind. They were still chained together, but at least now she could use them, and it made sprinting away from the pursuing VRA operatives a lot easier.
The pair soon found themselves in Suicide Slum, one of the more run down areas of Metropolis, also one of the more dangerous. Of course, they weren't concerned so much with that as they were with the heavily armed guards chasing them. Fortunately, they had a bit of a lead and were able to duck into an alley to hide for the time being.
After waiting several minutes, Rose slowly peered out of the alley, trying to make sure that the coast was clear. “No sign of them so far...”
“Any ideas on how we're going to get away?” Roy questioned. “Something tells me we won't be difficult to pick out of a crowd.”
“Uh, I didn't really think this far ahead. But if you come up with anything, feel free to mention it.”
Roy paused, looking up at the building next to them. “Well, a lot of these buildings are abandoned from the looks of it. We could find a place to hole up in, wait them out until night. Then we can figure out another course of action.”
“Hmh... I guess that's not too bad of an idea,” Rose said. “See if you can find a suitable place, I'll keep an eye out.”
Moving back down the alley, Roy began inspecting the nearby buildings for one that would work as a temporary hideout. Rose stayed at the front of the alley, positioning herself behind a dumpster and looking over it for any signs of the men chasing them. For the time being, though, it appeared that she and Roy were safe.
That was, of course, until she heard voices coming from the other end of the alley. “There they are!”
Already halfway crawled inside a window, Roy forced himself to duck back out and start running in the other direction with Rose, as the men pursued them. He briefly turned to fire off another one of the electrical pulses from his weapon to keep the men at bay.
“I thought you were keeping lookout!” he shouted.
“Well excuse me for not having eyes in the back of my head! Just move!”
The two sprinted down the street, ignoring the couple pedestrians here and there who gave them odd looks. When a second squad of VRA operatives appeared down at the end of the street, cutting them off, Roy grabbed Rose by the arm and pulls her down another alley.
“This way!” he said, firing another shot at their pursuers.
They didn't get very far, however, before coming to a dead end, with a high brick wall blocking their path. Rose looked around quickly, searching for any means of escape, but the only thing around them were smooth walls. Nothing to climb on, no windows to jump through, or anything like that.
“Well, isn't this just fantastic?” Rose said, shooting Roy a hard glare. “Good going!”
“Well how was I supposed to know? Come on, let's double back and-”
“Hold it!” a VRA official ordered.
The VRA squad now stood at the mouth of alley, blocking the only escape. As the guards began to advance towards them, Rose took a defensive stance, not ready to go quietly. She'd put up as fierce a fight as she could before they took her in again.
However, she never had the need to do so. Before the VRA squad made it very far down the alley, a massive gust of wind suddenly ripped through the street, focused on the armed men. The dozen or so operatives suddenly flew through the air, tumbling farther down the street along with piles of garbage and other debris.
“Uh... did you see that?” Rose asked. “Tell me you saw that.”
“I saw it...” Roy said. “Not sure if I believe it.”
“What was it?”
At that moment, a figure appeared in front of them at the end of the alley, a woman with long red hair and a pair of glasses, wearing a business suit. “Don't just stand there, come on!”
Snapping out of their surprised stupor, both Roy and Rose ran after the woman down the street. Within several minutes, the woman led them to a car parked on the side of the road and got into the driver's seat.
“Quick, get in,” the woman urged, already starting the engine.
Needing no second invitation, Rose threw open one of the doors and slid inside the vehicle. Roy hurried around the other side and got in next to her. Once they were in, the tires screeched as the car took off down the street, leaving the VRA long behind.
Finally able to relax, Rose sank back in her seat and let out a cool breath. “Thanks.”
“Don't mention it,” the woman replied. “Figured you two could use a hand.”
“But why help us?” Roy asked.
“Because I hate the new EPRA law as much as you two.”
Rose paused a moment, sitting up straighter. “Alright, and who are you?”
“Call me Karen,” she said. “Karen Starr. It's safer that way, at least for the time being.”
“Karen Starr...” Rose narrowed her eyes, thinking carefully a moment. She'd heard that name before. “You mean... the head of Starr Industries?”
“The very same.”
Rose lifted an eyebrow and stared at the woman's reflection in the rear view mirror. “So Karen Starr is just a secret identity, huh? Because I know that wind wasn't just a random act of nature.”
“Ah, yeah... super breath,” Karen said, with a small chuckle. “Not exactly the most glamorous of my powers, but it has its uses.”
“Really? Super blowing?” Trying to stifle an amused laugh, Rose leaned closer to Roy and whispered, “I could think of a few things that would be useful for.”
Karen's gaze suddenly shifted up to the rear view mirror. “I also have super hearing.”
Rose slowly met the woman's gaze in the mirror, clearing her throat. “Uh... right.”
“So where are we going, anyway?” Roy asked, looking out the window.
“Well, I was looking for my cousin, the reason I'm even in Metropolis today,” Karen said. “Haven't been able to find him, though... I was about to head back to New York City when I heard your little predicament and came to help.”
“New York City, huh?” Rose leaned back in her seat, pursing her lips. “Haven't been there in a while.”
Karen nodded. “We'll head to my apartment; I have a couple of people like us waiting there.”
“You mean 'unregistered vigilantes'?” Roy said.
“Yup. And we're going to figure out exactly what the hell is going on.”
A smirk spread its way across Rose's face. “Now that I can get on board with.”
The drive from Metropolis to Park Slope, Brooklyn took approximately three hours. By the time they pulled up outside the apartment building, the sun was setting, casting a wave of orange light over the horizon. The three occupants inside the car waited a while, until the street was relatively clear, before finally getting out.
As they approached the building, Rose glanced down at her still cuffed hands and tried to hide them close to her body. If people were to see the handcuffs on her, chances were that it would raise a few suspicions. Then again, the collar around her neck didn't help much, either. Fortunately, she didn't have to worry about that for very long.
“Here, let me get that for you,” Karen said, grabbing the cuffs and snapping them effortlessly. She quickly did the same to the inhibitor collar, then threw the pieces into one of the bushes outside the building entrance.
Blinking a couple of times, Rose turned her gaze towards Karen and frowned. “Thanks... though you could have done that like three hours ago.”
“Hey, I was driving,” she said. “Besides, you didn't ask.”
“Well maybe I would have, if I'd known you had super strength, too.”
Karen smirked. “And that's not all I have.”
“Of course it's not...” Rose muttered, groaning out an annoyed breath.
“If it's all the same to you ladies,” Roy said, “I'd rather continue this conversation inside.”
Karen nodded, leading the way inside. “Right, come on. The others are waiting inside, though keep in mind we'll probably have to relocate soon. With the amount of heroes the VRA has at their beck and call, they probably already know who I am. Odds are, they'll send a team here eventually.”
Rose folded her arms again, staring at her. “We don't even know who you are.”
Turning his attention to Rose, Roy furrowed his brow curiously. “You don't?”
“You're telling me you do?”
“I thought it was obvious,” he said, giving an absent shrug.
Rose paused a moment, then swung her gaze back to Karen. “Wait, so who is she?”
“Inside, people,” Karen urged. “Let's continue this inside.”
When they finally made it up to the apartment, Karen pushed the door open to lead them inside, then let out a relieved breath. “Well, I can finally take this off.”
Reaching up to her head, she grabbed hold of her hair and... pulled it off. As it turned out, the long red hair wasn't her hair at all, but a wig instead. Underneath was a head of blonde hair that fell down around her chin. She then took her glasses off, too, and tossed them in a small basket near the entrance.
“Wait...” Rose muttered, taking a closer look at the woman. The wheels were finally starting to turn, as she recognized the face and matched it to a well known superhero. “You're kidding, right? Karen Starr is Power Girl?”
“Shocking, I know,” she replied. “But you can just call me Kara when I'm not in costume.”
Rose lifted an eyebrow. “Kara, Karen, Power Girl... how many names do you have?”
“Enough to keep my identity a secret.” Kara turned back to her, giving a knowing smile. “That's the whole point, isn't it?”
Following Kara into the living room, they were greeted to the sight of two other unregistered heroes. One of them, a tall red haired man in jeans and a T-shirt, Rose didn't recognize. He sat casually on the couch, watching the news, which currently detailed the recent superhero arrests. The second person, though, Rose did recognize. Even out of costume and instead dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, there was no mistaking the woman, especially not with the red gem embedded in her forehead. Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the living room, Raven concentrated in meditation, eyes closed and levitating several inches off the floor.
“I'm back,” Kara announced, throwing herself down into an armchair. “Picked up a couple of strays, too.
“Wally?” Roy said, taking a few steps forward. “That you?”
Looking over at the group, the red haired man on the couch sat up straighter in surprise. “Roy? Man, where the heck have you been? Haven't seen you in years.”
“It's... a long story,” Roy said. “So they got the Justice League, too, huh?”
“Yeah...” Wally sighed, folding his arms across his chest. “The VRA showed up at the Hall with damn near an army to take us in. We tried fighting back, but it was all I could do just to get out of there. Fortunately, they didn't have anyone who could catch me. After that happened, I went looking for everyone I knew, anyone who might not be under VRA control yet.”
Wally shook his head. “Not much. I managed to meet up with Power Girl here, and then Raven found us, going on about our friends being made into 'soulless vessels' or something like that... she didn't really elaborate before she went into sleep mode over there.”
Rose crossed her arms and stared over at the entranced Raven, who seemed to be shutting out everything going on around her in order to maintain her meditative state. “She found anything useful?”
“Dunno, she's been meditating like that since yesterday,” Wally said. “Hasn't even eaten anything.”
“Well, it has to have something to do with this whole VRA fiasco, right?” Rose questioned. “And how they suddenly got everyone who registered with them to go out like trained attack dogs and take down everyone who hadn't.”
“Let's hope so.” Wally gazed at Raven intently for a few moments, his eyes narrowing. “We need all the information we can get if we're going to fix things.”
“We will,” she assured. “They're already broken enough as it is.”
Breathing out a heavy sigh, Kara rested her chin against her fist and blew a stray hair out of her face. “If we're going to figure out what's going on, we need to start at the beginning, with the passing of that Extraordinary Persons Regulation Act. There is no way something like that ever should have made it through to become law, let alone in a matter of a few months.”
Wally scoffed. “No kidding. The thing didn't even get amended once, in spite of the League's efforts to point out everything wrong with the bill in the first place. With how that thing was worded, the VRA ends up having absolute power when it comes to the regulation of superheroes.”
“And let's be honest,” Roy added, “when's the last time all sides of congress have completely agreed on anything the first time around?”
“Then there's Slade.” Rose narrowed her eyes, bringing her fist into her palm. “It's no secret to the government that he's one of the world's most wanted criminals, yet the president of our country gave him a full pardon, then put him in charge of the VRA. Tell me nothing shady is going on there.”
“I don't think shady even begins to cover it,” Wally said. “Not only do they now know almost all superhero identities, but they also have most of those individuals working for them.”
Roy nodded. “Obediently and without question. Almost like-”
“-they're being controlled...” Raven slowly opened her eyes, as the others turned their attention towards her. Still levitating in the air, she moved her hands to her knees and gazed down at the floor in front of her, distant, sorrowful. “I understand now... why Wonder Girl and all the others I examined felt so empty, so emotionless.”
Kara tilted her head to the side, pursing her lips. “Is that what you've been doing this whole time?”
“Yes...” she explained. “I have been projecting myself elsewhere, locating our fellow heroes, our friends... All of them, cold and unfeeling.”
“Because they're being controlled somehow?” Wally asked.
Raven nodded. “I believe so. Not just in that they are being given orders and following them... something is forcing them. I do not know what... but I can feel it within them... free will is gone, replaced by artificial instructions constantly being delivered into their minds... telling them how to think, how to act, how to feel...”
“So let me get this straight,” Rose muttered, rubbing her fingers tiredly against her eyes. “The VRA takes these registered heroes and somewhere during the process... brainwashes them?”
“Something to that effect, yes,” Raven affirmed.
“Well this just keeps getting better and better.”
Roy brought a hand to his chin, thinking deeply. “Alright, so put all of this together and you get... what?”
Wally cleared his throat awkwardly, scratching his cheek. “I don't mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but...”
“You don't, trust me,” Kara said, shaking her head. “At this point, it wouldn't surprise me.”
“But if that is the case... then who's in charge?” Rose said. “How high up does this go? And what are they hoping to accomplish?”
A small pause passed between the group. They gave each other careful glances, contemplating the gravity of the situation. Something bad was going on here, and so far it looked like they were the only ones who could stop it.
Eventually, Wally stood up from the couch. “That settles it. I don't know how, but we're going make things right. They think they can just take away my family, my friends... no way.”
Sitting up straighter, Roy gave his friend a hard look. “Your family?”
“Yeah...” Wally bowed his head, breathing out a heavy sigh. “Linda and Jai for 'associating' with me, and Iris so they could 'monitor the growth of her power'.”
Clenching his jaw, Roy brought his hands together and gave an understanding nod. “We'll get them back, Wally. We'll fix this. Somehow.”
Slade Wilson sat quietly at his desk, going over several reports regarding the recent arrests and detainments made by the VRA's various facilities. As expected, it was a lot of information to go over, and there were a lot of names on the list. From what he could gather, they now controlled at least 95% of the superhero community. That lingering five percent was where his concerns now resided.
As he turned the page of one of the files, his office phone rang. He ignored it for several moments, before finally reaching over and lifting it to his ear. “VRA Director Slade Wilson speaking.”
He recognized the voice coming in over the line; it was not an easy one to mistake, especially considering the amount of time the two had spent working together to organize this. “Yes, of course. Everything is going smoothly, as expected... No, not yet.”
Rummaging through the papers on his desk, Slade pulled out a specific sheet of paper and glanced it over. “The next batch is going through as we speak. It more than doubles our current numbers. No, no fatal incidents to report; every implantation has been a success thus far.”
Leaning back in his seat, Slade took in a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. He tapped his fingers gently on the arm of his seat, listening carefully to the man speak. “A small number still remain unaccounted for, but we'll find them. We have plenty of information to locate them now, so it's only a matter of time. Of course, I'll update you shortly. Goodbye.”
When he hung up the phone, the intercom on his desk suddenly clicked on, followed by his secretary's voice on the other end. “Mr. Wilson, Mr. Smalls is here to see you.”
“Send him in, Cindy.”
A short few moments later, Holocaust walked into the office, with his large arms folded across his chest and a frown on his face. “Bad news.”
A small sigh escaped Slade's lips, a hand coming up to his forehead tiredly. He supposed it was only a matter of time until someone made a mistake somewhere. “What is it?”
“Just got a report from Metro,” the man explained. “Two prisoners escaped from the transport to Stryker's and got away.”
“And which two prisoners would they be?”
“According to the information, it was a man named Roy Harper and a woman... Rose Wilson. They were last seen heading east, aided by another unknown woman; red hair, tall, glasses, powered.”
A silence passed over them for a brief time, until Slade leaned forward, folding his hands in front of him on the desk. “I see.”
“This girl...” Holocaust started, shifting his weight slightly. “Any relation?
“And you still had her taken in? Seems like a waste... With that kind of relation, she'd have done better working for us.”
Slade brought a hand to his chin, falling back into his seat. “Let's just say that we haven't gotten along in quite some time. She never would have agreed, not willingly.”
“So you sent her to the facility... got it.” Holocaust straightened himself, bringing his hands back across his broad chest. “In any case, what do you want us to do about it?”
“Track them down, what else?” Slade said. “The tracking device in Rose's collar would be a good place to start, see if you can pick up a trail.”
“Right,” he said, turning from the office. “I'll put together a team.”
As Holocaust moved towards the door, however, Slade raised a hand, urging him to wait a moment. “Oh, and Leonard... don't come back without them.”
The small group of heroes remained in Kara's living room still, continuing to discuss how to handle the VRA. Several empty boxes of Chinese takeout were strewn about, their dinner of choice. Considering the fact that the VRA was most likely on heavy watch for each one of them, they found it better to be safe and have food delivered than go out and get something.
Sitting on the couch, Roy carefully twisted a robotic prosthetic arm around on his severed stump, until finally it snapped into place. When the red lights on the side begin to blink on, he tested it out, clenching the robotic hand into a fist and slowly releasing it. “Much better. Thanks for the run, Wally.”
In the past couple of hours, Wally had gone and retrieved the gear from both Rose and Roy's places of residence, considering they weren't nearly as effective without. Given the nature of his powers, it hadn't really been much trouble for him, either.
“Not a problem,” Wally said, with a dismissive wave. “Figured you could use the extra hand.”
Narrowing his eyes slightly, Roy folded his arms across his chest, tapping his fingers a few times on the prosthetic. “Hilarious.”
“Aren't I always?”
Rose knelt off to the side of the room, going over the gear spread out in front of her, including her armor, swords, and a carefully assorted allotment of gadgets. She went through each of them, taking note of exactly what she had for future reference. Given the circumstances, she probably wouldn't be able to call up Batman for more when she ran out.
“Looks like everything is here...” she muttered, tapping a finger against her chin. “Were there really only two smoke pellets left?”
“Uh, pretty sure,” Wally replied. “Hold on, let me check.”
In the blink of an eye, the man vanished, accompanied by a gust of wind that knocked over the empty takeout boxes. Kara let out a small groan at this, as she came forward to clean up the mess in her apartment. By the time she finished throwing away the boxes, Wally was back, standing in the middle of the living room again and tossing over a small round pellet.
“Found one more floating around under your bed. Should really be more careful where you put your toys. Especially the one in your sock drawer.”
Rose flinched, eye twitching slightly as her gaze shifted hotly up to the man. “You went through my drawers? That's private!”
“Uh...” Wally shifted a little, clearing his throat. “No, actually. That was supposed to be a joke.”
“But now we know,” he said, walking casually back across the apartment.
Feeling a numb sensation crawling its way through her body, Rose slowly turned back to her equipment and packed the gadgets into her belt. She could feel their stares on her, could sense what the men were thinking at that private bit of information. Even Kara lifted a hand to her mouh and let out a small laugh, smirking with amusement.
Kill me. Someone just kill me now.
“In any case,” Kara said, lightly clearing her throat, “we need to move out soon. I don't know how much longer this apartment is going to be safe, so suit up and get ready.”
“Uh, yeah, I'll just be... getting dressed.” Mumbling quietly to herself, Rose took her armor with her into the bathroom to get changed.
Roy and Wally went to find their own private corners of the apartment to do the same, while Raven and Kara remained in the living room. Ever prepared, all Kara needed to do to get into costume was strip out of her suit, as she already wore her white leotard underneath. She then began fishing around the apartment for her gloves, boots, belt, and half-cape.
Raven, too, slowly pulled off her sweatshirt and began changing into her more traditional cloak and robes. However, her expression was distant, almost vacant. She was contemplating what they had learned recently. Everything about this situation unsettled her, formed a sick sensation deep in her gut.
“Their pain...” she breathed, clasping her cloak together with its red brooch. “I could feel their pain, you know.”
Adjusting the cape around her shoulder, Power Girl glanced over at the empath and narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean? Whose pain?”
“Our friends... the other heroes...” Raven bowed her head, pulling her hood up to conceal her face. “Whatever is controlling them is hurting them. They may lack emotion, but... they can still feel... and I sense pain in all of them.”
Releasing a small breath, Power Girl placed a hand on the woman's shoulder. “We'll help them, I promise. Everyone that the VRA took from us, everyone they're controlling, we will get them back.”
“I pray you are right... because if we fail, the consequences could be catastrophic.”
A few moments later, the others began to file back into the living room, Wally dressed in his traditional Flash uniform, Roy in his Red Arrow outfit, and Rose in her Ravager gear.
“So, what's the first course of action?” Red Arrow asked. “I wouldn't mind busting into the VRA HQ and grilling Slade for some answers. Maybe after we beat him around a while.”
“No, not while they still have people they can use against us,” Ravager said, shaking her head. “We should concentrate on freeing our families and friends first, the ones the VRA locked up. Once they're safe, then we can worry about hitting Slade with everything we got.”
“Right,” Power Girl agreed, nodding. “But question is, where do we start specifically?:
Flash folded his arms. “Their minimum security facility. That's where they keep everyone who was 'associated' with the unregistered heroes; it's were my wife and son are.”
“And Becky...” Ravager murmured.
Testing the strings on his bow, Red Arrow gave a small nod of approval. “Alright, and after that?”
“Definitely the children's facility, where they keep all the powered kids,” Power Girl stated. “I don't care what laws they're enforcing, those children don't deserve to be locked up and studied like lab rats.”
“Let us hurry...” Raven urged. “Time is already running thin.”
“Alright, everyone-” Ravager's words abruptly cut off, as a flicker of precog burst through her head. “-get down!
Not two seconds after her warning, there came a large explosion of hot wind and flames at the front of the apartment. The wall erupted inwards, sending a shower of debris inside the living room and knocking all but Power Girl off her feet. Through the dust and smoke appeared several figures in the hallway beyond, one of them with his body wrapped in flames.
Another man, dressed in a brown and tan costume, peered closely inside the apartment and sniffed the air. “You see? I told you I had the right place. Could track them from a hundred miles away.”
“Good work, Blake,” Holocaust said, moving past the kitchen and spreading his flames to the rest of the apartment. The rest of of his team moved in behind him, consisting of Killer Frost, Scandal Savage, Knockout, and the aforementioned Catman. “Now, take 'em out!”
Within moments, pandemonium erupted within the apartment. As the heroes began to recover from the sudden explosion, Holocaust's team moved in for the attack. Bright orange flames grew rapidly, consuming the apartment and filling the space with thick, black smoke.
Fortunately, Power Girl was already on the defensive, throwing herself forward into the enemy group head on to give her allies a chance to regroup. By the time they did get back to their feet, Power Girl launched backwards through the living room, crashing into the sofa.
“Alright, the big ugly one hits a little harder than I expected,” she muttered, getting back to her feet. “Nothing I can't handle, though.”
On that note, she suddenly flew back the way she came, tackling Holocaust and dragging them through several walls until exiting the building somewhere outside. A red and yellow streak then raced across the room and crashed against the large, red haired Knockout, sending both of them tumbling back into the hallway beyond.
“I got the amazon!” Flash shouted, disappearing from sight with his opponent.
Grabbing the faceplate to her helmet, Ravager snapped it into place and turned on the built in air filters, then drew her swords ran straight for Scandal. “The clawed b*tch is mine!” Leaping over a burning coffee table, Ravager engaged the woman, blades clashing and clanging together.
Red Arrow took this opportunity to let loose a flurry of arrows, one after another at Catman. Unfortunately, Catman managed to nimbly duck, dodge, and dive around furniture, to avoid the projectiles and close the gap between the two, engaging in hand to hand. No longer able to use his bow to shoot at close range, Red Arrow instead used it as a melee weapon, swinging it ferociously with a mix of kicks and other strikes.
This left Killer Frost and Raven to square off against each other. For the moment, Raven made no move attack, instead staring at the frosty blue woman with contemplative eyes.
“It's a little hot in here, wouldn't you say? I think we need to cool things down a bit.” Raising her hands up into the air, Killer Frost rapidly absorbed the surrounding heat, instantly dropping the temperature. Soon, the flames extinguished into nothing more than a cold mist. Then, she held her arms forward and directed a massive wave of ice forward, as a wide, murderous grin slashed across her face. When Raven suddenly vanished into thin air, however, she faltered, lowering her hands and blinking curiously. “What the- where the hell did she go?”
Raven suddenly appeared behind her, through a mass of dark haze and energy. By the time Killer Frost realized what was going on, that same blackness engulfed her, pulling her within a separate world all its own – Raven's soul-self.
It was dark inside here, and cold, too, even for her. Killer Frost's body was constantly supercooled, yet she still felt an uncomfortable shiver tingle its way up her spine. And then, a massive figure appeared before her. It was that woman, Raven, but much larger and distorted, and downright... evil looking.
“What... what the f**k is going on?” she said, taking a step backwards.
“You are a deeply disturbed woman...” Raven said. “I can feel the hate in you, the murderous intent... you have killed many times before and you will do it again...”
“You sound like my therapist...” Killer Frost muttered, charging her hands with a thick wave of ice. “I hated my therapist.”
“You must... atone,” Raven replied, opening her arms wide. The blackness began to spread again, engulfing and consuming Killer Frost. The frosty woman thrashed about, trying to throw it off, but in this world, such a thing was futile. “Feel the pain you've caused others... feel what your victims have felt.”
The only sound that followed was a shrill, horrified scream.
Ravager ducked below a horizontal strike, the woman's dual arm blades slicing harmlessly overhead. Moving forward, she slashed her swords upwards at the now clearly exposed body of her opponent, but Scandal was no slouch either, throwing herself to the side and avoiding all but a couple of small cuts across her side. Ravager parried the next strike, then spun forward and exploded her elbow squarely against the woman's face.
“Not as easy when I have my gear, is it?” she said, lunging forward again.
Scandal crossed her arm blades in front of her, deflecting the swords and then kicking her leg forward. The boot landed hard against Ravager's stomach, forcing her backwards and on the defensive again. “You're right; you're actually putting up a fight this time!”
Out in the hallway, Flash ran circles around the far stronger, but far slower Knockout. Every time she threw a punch at him, he simply moved out of the way with more than enough time to spare. In fact, he moved so quickly from place to place that, to Knockout, it almost looked like he was teleporting.
“Hold still, cur!” she shouted.
“You're getting closer!”
Whirling around again, Knockout swung her arm forward, having every intent of punching the man's head clean off. Just as it looked like her knuckles were about to connect, though, Flash suddenly disappeared from sight.
“Oh, almost had me that time!” he declared.
Growling in frustration, Knockout turned to attempt the same thing yet again, and as expected achieved the same results. Now, though, Flash decided that he had played around long enough. Moving far faster than she could keep track of, he unloaded on her, though was careful not to go too far.
“You seem pretty durable,” he said, “but I wonder how you'll fare against a few thousand supersonic punches.”
Within seconds, he finished his attack, then pulled back and watched as the dazed woman teetered on her feet for a moment, before finally toppling to the floor, exhausted and battered.
Outside the apartment, Power Girl whirled the large man around and around, finally whipping him towards the ground with thunderous force. Holocaust crashed into the sidewalk, causing the entire street to shake and a small crater to form at his point of impact. Nearby citizens on the streets ran away screaming in a panic, terrified over the two super powered individuals engaged in combat. The blow didn't seem to faze Holocaust that much, though, as he quickly crawled his way back to his feet.
But Power girl didn't give him a chance to recover, flying in like a rocket and delivering a punch to his face with such ferocity that it created a miniature sonic boom in its wake and sent the man careening into the air. Before he got too far, she flew up to meet him, speeding above and then delivering a double handed blow to send him straight back down again. Once more, she super sped her way ahead of him again and caught him with her fist as he crashed against her. Finally, she threw him lightly to the ground and brushed her hands together.
“That outta do it,” she said, looking down at the man. “Gotta hand it to you, though, you sure can take a punch.”
As she began to return to the apartment, however, Holocaust suddenly rose up from the ground again, cracking his neck from side to side and breathing in deeply. A swirl of flames burst around his body, growing hotter by the second.
“Not bad,” he said, curling his lips into a smug grin. “Now it's my turn.”
Swinging his arms forward, the intense flames leaped from his body. Power Girl stood her ground, throwing her arms up and enduring. Her body was Kryptonian; a little heat wasn't going to bother her. She didn't know how up to speed this guy was on Kryptonians, but so far he was doing a lousy job in trying to beat one.
Through the flickering flames and smoke, her sharp vision noticed him charging her. Ducking out of the way of his attack, she sent another titanic punch into his gut that lifted him airborne. She quickly flew up alongside him and took hold, continuing her ascent.
“What the hell you doing?!” Holocaust said, looking back down at the ground.
“Taking you for a little ride,” she replied. “If I can't put you down the old fashion way...”
“You'll what, drop me from thirty thousand feet?” A loud, boisterous laugh burst from Holocaust's lips, as the flames surrounding his body burned hotter. “Ha! Good luck!”
“Not quite what I had in mind.”
Power Girl continued flying higher and higher, well past the clouds. Though the searing flames had already begun to scorch and burn her costume, they slowly weakened and died as the oxygen thinned out at such a high altitude. Eventually, the fire extinguished completely, leaving the man dazed and delirious.
“You think... this is gonna stop... me?” he uttered, voice shaky and fading.
Soon, he finally slumped forward in Power Girl's arms and passed out cold. Quickly, she began her descent again, heading back towards ground level.
Back inside the apartment, Catman tackled Red Arrow through a table. The two went down hard, several long wooden splinters jutting up and stabbing into Red Arrow's side. But the impact didn't take him out, as he used the momentum to flip Catman up over his head, then while still on the ground raised his bow, nocked an arrow, and fired upside down at the airborne man. The projectile zipped through the air, piercing the side of Catman's leg. Red Arrow seized the opportunity to spring back to his feet and run at the downed man, delivering a crippling kick to the face. This time, Catman stayed down.
Meanwhile, a disarmed Ravager spun around another vicious strike and slipped behind Scandal. Jumping upwards, she landed on the woman's shoulders, clenched her thighs tightly, and then flipped backwards. Her sheer strength and momentum forced Scandal into a backwards somersault, ending with her head smashing into the floor. The woman went limp a moment later, collapsing and unmoving, but still breathing.
A short moment later, Raven reappeared and opened her cloak. A black mass spilled outward, as Killer Frost tumbled to the floor, curled up into the fetal position and shuddering with her eyes wide in horror. The others looked over the scene curiously for a moment, eyes focusing on the almost catatonic Killer Frost.
Slowly, Ravager moved her gaze up to the stolid empath. “The hell did you do to her?”
“I made her feel pain...” Raven said. “All the pain she has caused her victims, all the terror, the agony. She will recover... eventually.”
Clearing his throat slightly, Red Arrow leaned in close and gave Ravager a quiet whisper. “She always was a bit scary.”
“Uh, guys, great that we won and all,” Flash said, suddenly appearing next to them, “but we should probably be going. I just did a sweep of the block, and the cops are almost here. I think I spotted another VRA squad on its way, too.”
The side wall abruptly crashed inward. Power Girl came forward, taking in a couple deep breaths while trying to fix her scorched costume. “Flash is right, we need to get out of here now.”
“Allow me,” Raven said, lifting her arms above her head. As the sounds of sirens began to fill the air, the heroes disappeared into Raven's dark energy, teleporting through space to their destination.
“This is wrong,” Becky muttered. “Hijo de puta, this is wrong...”
Lying on one of the two cots hanging from the wall, Becky held her hands behind her head and stared up at the bottom of the top bunk above her. The prison cell was small, nothing more than a square space with a sink, a toilet, and the two aforementioned cots. Instead of iron bars, however, the front wall was composed of thick, clear Plexiglass, completely unbreakable for the women inside.
“No lawyer, no trial, bogus charges...” Becky rubbed her eyes, sighing. “They just throw us straight in a cell.”
“Not to mention forcing us to wear these atrocious orange jumpsuits,” Circe replied, leaning over the side of her bunk and looking down at Becky.
“You shouldn't be trying to make a joke out of this,” Becky said, narrowing her eyes. “It isn't funny. None of it is.”
“And what would have me do instead? I am mortal now; I don't have the power to help us.”
Becky brought a hand to her head, squinting her eyes shut in annoyance. “I don't know, try to sound p***ed off, maybe? Or at least a little upset? You've barely said anything since we got here.”
“You think I'm not angry? That I'm not furious? Because I am. These people took my daughter away and have the audacity to cage me up like an animal. If I had my magic still, not a single one of them would escape my wrath. I would burn them all to see Lyta safely back to me, in my arms again.” For a brief moment, she stared at the wall across from her, fingers gripping the side of her cot tightly. A bright flare of rage began to form across her face, though she quickly stifled it away and uttered a cool breath, relaxing again. “But I can't. I'm stuck here, powerless to do anything.”
“Then why have you been so calm this whole time?”
“Because lamenting and complaining about it won't make the situation any better.” Circe's voice grew quiet, as she rolled back over on her mattress. “Instead, I've been spending my time contemplating.”
Becky furrowed her brow. “Contemplating what?”
“How I'm going to get my daughter back once our sentence is complete, and how I'm going to make them all suffer for what they've done.”
Before Becky could respond to Circe's claims, a loud, high pitched alarm blared through the facility. Sitting up, she scooted off the cot and hurried to the Plexiglass wall, watching as a team of guards sprinted down the corridor, weapons at the ready.
“They're in the east wing!” one of the guards shouted. “Stop them!”
Becky continued watching until all the guards in their cell block were gone, heading to the other side of the building to apparently deal with some kind of threat. Eventually, she turned around again and sat on the edge of her cot. The shrill alarm continued to ring loudly in their ears, forcing her to raise her voice in order to be heard.
“What do you suppose this is all about?” Becky asked.
“Probably some idiot trying to escape,” Circe said, with a shrug. “Can't imagine that ending well.”
Suddenly, the door at the other end of the corridor exploded inwards, blown off its hinges with several red colored arrow shafts stuck to the edges. Instantly, Becky sprang back to feet, trying her hardest to peer around the corner of her cell through the clear wall. She spotted two figures entering into the hallway, both dressed in costume. One of them she didn't recognize, a man in red leather carrying a bow. The second, however, she knew all too well.
“You know, for minimum security, you'd think they wouldn't have a building that was teleport proof,” Ravager muttered, running down the hallway.
“Well you know, that would just be too easy,” Red Arrow replied. “Besides, it's much more fun this way.”
“Let's just hope Power Girl and Raven's distraction lasts long enough.”
Ravager and Red Arrow stopped when they reached the proper cell, finding both Becky and Circe inside. Smiling widely, Becky pressed a hand up to the clear wall. In response, Ravager pressed her own hand against it as well, on the opposite side.
“Dios, am I glad to see you,” Becky said.
“Didn't think I'd leave you behind, did you?”
Becky laughed. “Didn't even know you'd escaped!”
“Less talking, more breaking out,” Red Arrow urged.
Pulling her hand back, Ravager reached back over her shoulder and drew her swords. “Right, get back.”
Once Becky was clear, Ravager quickly made several precision cuts along the Plexiglass. Normally, this wouldn't have much of an effect, but ever since Batman had upgraded her swords to be five times sharper, the blades cut through the barrier like paper. Instantly, the Plexiglass wall fell to pieces, allowing the two women inside an escape point.
“Come on!” she said, waving them along. “Let's get the hell out of here!”
Several minutes later, the group retreated to a secluded alleyway, a short distance away from the facility. Three others individuals waited for them, one of them being the Flash. The woman with him was Linda Park-West, his wife, and the young boy was his son, Jai West. Both were dressed in identical orange jumpsuits.
“You both sure you're alright?” Flash asked, carefully inspecting his family.
Reaching forward, Linda embraced her husband in a warm hug, breathing in deeply “We're fine, hun. Just... thank you for getting us.”
“Yeah... it really sucked in there,” Jai muttered.
Flash narrowed his eyes. “Hey, language, mister.”
“Well it did...” Jai said quietly, shrugging his shoulders.
A small sigh left Flash's mouth. “I know. We would have freed everyone if we could have, but there's too many people in there; we can't bring them all with us.”
“Wally, what about Iris?” Linda asked. “Is she...?”
“We're going after her next,” he assured, “along with every other child the VRA wrenched away from their parents.”
Standing off to the side, Becky watched the reuniting family and uttered a deep sigh. “Things have really gone to hell, huh?”
“You don't know the half of it,” Ravager said. “I'll fill you in later.”
Finally, Power Girl and Raven found their way back to the designated meeting area, floating down to ground level from above.
“Everyone here?” Power Girl asked, looking around the alley.
“All present and accounted for,” Red Arrow said, nodding.
“Good, then let's get out of here. Raven, you know the place, right?”
Raven nodded, raising her arms up again and enveloping them all into her soul-self once again. “I'll have us there shortly.”
The underground safe house reminded Rose a bit of Batman's bunker, except much better lit and much less of a 'cave' vibe going on. In fact, the place was more or less just a big apartment, complete with all the normal amenities: kitchen, bathrooms, living room, television, computer, bedrooms, laundry room, etc.
“So, you're sure we're safe here?” she asked.
“One hundred percent,” Power Girl said. Reaching up to the clasp on her cape, she removed the red garb and draped it over the back of a couch. She then turned around to lean back against the couch, holding herself up with her arms and casually crossing one ankle over the other. “This is the subbasement of the subbasement; nobody knows about it but me. I had it built beneath the Starr Industries Building a while back just in case I ever needed a safe place to hide.”
Rose tucked her helmet under arm, giving the area another quick scan. Wally had already changed out of his Flash costume and back in his civilian clothes, while talking with his family on the other side of the room. Roy left a short while ago to take a shower, and Raven had shut herself up in one of the bedrooms to meditate. Circe, too, opted to be alone in the same fashion, finding a quiet room for herself.
“Hmh, good call,” she said.
Becky stepped forward towards Power Girl, clearing her throat briefly before extending a hand forward. She shifted nervously on her feet for a moment, while scratching the back of her head with her other hand and smiling rather awkwardly. “I, uh, just want to say thanks for helping us, and, um, it's great to meet you. I've seen you on the news before, read about you in the papers sometimes... you lead the Justice Society, right?”
“That's right...” Lifting her eyebrows, Power Girl reached out to shake the woman's hand, though she couldn't help but notice where Becky kept looking. “And you're welcome, too. But try to keep your eyes up, alright?”
“Wha- oh! Oh my- lo siento!” Becky exclaimed, eyes going wide. “I didn't mean to- I mean I was just-”
Uttering a small groan, Rose smacked her hand against her forehead and then pulled Becky away from the rather well endowed woman. “Easy with the eyes, Rebecca. Let's not be a perv.”
“Well I can't help it!” Becky insisted, giving Rose a sharp look. “They're just so- and then with the big hole in the costume- and they're so-”
Folding her arms across her chest, Power Girl chuckled softly to herself, fully amused at the woman's awkward behavior. “It's alright, really. I get that a lot. Though, admittedly, it is usually from the men.”
“Ay caramba...” Becky bowed her head, cheeks flushing. “I think I need to take a shower. I'll, uh... I'll just be going now.”
“I'll be there in a few,” Rose said, watching the woman disappear down the hall.
Once Becky was gone, Power Girl glanced at Rose and smirked. “She always like that?”
“Not usually, no...” Rose paused a moment, her own gaze drifting back and locking onto Power Girl's chest. “Then again, I don't think I've ever seen her in the presence of a woman carrying around a couple of watermelons before.”
“Flattery and sarcasm,” Power Girl said, lifting an eyebrow. “Now that's a new combination.”
“Yeah, I'm great like that,” she replied. “Anyway, when are we making our next move? The more time we waste here, the longer those kids have to endure whatever the hell the VRA is subjecting them to.”
Power Girl nodded. “Tomorrow. It's late right now, and the team has been through a lot tonight. Best to give everyone a chance to rest and recover; the next place is probably a lot better guarded than the one we just came from.”
Pausing slightly, Rose shifted her weight and breathed outwardly. Her gaze quietly found its way to the floor. “I wouldn't really call us a team. More like the only ones left who can do anything.”
“Better than nobody left at all.”
“I suppose... I just hope it's enough.”
Formerly serving as one of the world's most premier prisons for dangerous super powered criminals, Stryker's Island had since been turned into the VRA's maximum security facility, where they kept all those superhero vigilantes who failed to register. At least, that was what they told the public. In reality, there was something much more sinister at work here, and the man currently rummaging around the laboratory was at the forefront of it.
Professor Hugo Strange pursed his lips in contemplation, as he examined the broken surgical equipment in front of him, including a bent scalpel, twisted drill tips, and dull saw blades. Not a single tool had managed to break through the girl's tough exterior. Granted, he had had this issue before with a few other subjects, but never to this degree. No, a Kryptonian's durability was something altogether different. It looked like he was going to have to make a special request.
“Don't go anywhere, my dear,” he stated, heading for the phone on the wall. “I'll be right back.”
His subject, of course, wouldn't be going anywhere at all. The young Kryptonian and member of the Justice League, Supergirl, was currently and completely unconscious, not to mention heavily restrained on the surgical table. Even if she did miraculously wake up in the next twenty-four hours, she wouldn't be able to move. Not even her levels of strength could break out of those specially designed inhibitor straps, tested to resist super powered forces of over one million tons. Needless to say, they were not being careless when it came to holding certain individuals.
Strange removed his glasses and let out a long sigh as he dialed the number. Five rings went by before he finally got an answer, a callous voice appearing on the other end.
“What is it, Hugo?” Slade asked. “I trust your work is coming along smoothly?”
“Quite,” he replied. “However, I have run into a small snag. Seems that I'm going to need some special equipment for this one.”
“Let me guess, the Kryptonian girl?”
“Precisely. None of my instruments can pierce her invulnerable hide.” Strange briefly glanced back at the unmoving Supergirl. “I'll be needing a drill bit with a Kryptonite tip in order to make the implantation. Otherwise, she's useless to us.”
“Have you tried an inhibitor collar?” Slade questioned.
Strange's eyes narrowed. “Don't insult me, Mr. Wilson. That was the very first thing I tried. Unfortunately, alien physiology doesn't work the same as ours. Our current inhibitor collars are built to suppress an individual's metagene, thereby neutralizing their powers. Or, if the individual is magic based, we can apply our magic dampeners to prevent them from accessing their power. But aliens do not possess a metagene or operate by magic; their abilities are a natural part of their evolution, meaning we have no current technology that can negate those powers.”
“Spare me the science lesson, Professor,” Slade said. “I get it. You'll have your drill by tomorrow morning.”
“See to that, and you'll have your very own Kryptonian at your disposal.” Hanging up the phone, Hugo moved back across the lab and began cleaning up the broken tools, dumping some of the more irreparable pieces into the trash. When finished, he removed his lab coat and made his way towards the exit, flicking the light off on his way out the door. “I'll be back for you in the morning, Supergirl.”
After exiting the laboratory, Strange headed down the corridor to the third door on the left. This brought him into another room, the subject recovery chamber. His most recent subjects leaned back against slanted tables, with thick, reinforced straps holding them in place without falling. Heart monitors were hooked up to each of them, emitting a steady cacophony of electronic beeping.
“Veronica, how are their vitals looking?” he asked.
The blonde woman sitting at a computer on the opposite side of the room swung her chair around slowly to face him, removing her glasses and letting out a tired sigh. “Vitals are completely stable, and none of them are showing any abnormalities. Seems to be a another successful batch.”
Pausing, Strange glanced over at the subjects, the remaining members of the Justice League: Cyborg, Batman, Donna Troy, Green Arrow, and Jesse Quick. “Good. See to it that you activate them before you leave; I want them operational by tomorrow.”
“Of course,” Veronica said. “I'll get to work on it now.”
When Strange left the room, Veronica turned back to her computer and began running several programs. The heart monitors beeped faster for a moment, as the activation process began. Shortly after, the beats returned to normal. Now all that was left to do was to wait for complete functionality, which should take approximately six hours. In the meantime, she could use a hot shower and a long nap. Turning the computer off, Veronica got up from her desk and exited the room, shutting the lights off behind her.
For a short while, the only illumination in the room came from the steady blinking of the monitors. However, several minutes later, a bright red glow appeared, emanating from Cyborg's robotic eye. Though the human part of his brain was still dormant, inactive and awaiting functionality, the machine part of his brain worked on overdrive.
Detecting foreign programming...
Activating defense protocols...
Local firewall activated...
Foreign programming removed.
And then, Cyborg's normal eye suddenly flew open, while his lungs inhaled a deep, shocked breath. He swallowed a hard lump in his throat and attempted to move forward, only to find himself strapped down to the slanted table. It didn't take much in order to break free of them, however, as he stumbled forward and waited for his systems to boot up.
“The hell am I?” he uttered.
The last thing he recalled, he and the rest of the Justice league had been fighting against a small army of other heroes under the control of the VRA... and they had lost. After that... nothing. Everything was blank, just a wall of darkness in his mind. Instead of trying to think about past events he couldn't remember, though, he instead focused on the present, turning his attention to the room surrounding him. When he realized that his friends were tied up and unconscious, he immediately attempted to wake them.
“Guys? Come on, hey, time to get up!”
Of course, that had little effect, as they were completely unresponsive. Lifting up one of his arms, he flipped open a panel and activated his bio scanners, trying to get a read on their condition.
Scanners say they're out cold... he thought. No signs of waking up any time soon, either. Okay, plan B.
Moving away from the unconscious Justice League, Cyborg sat himself in front of the computer. When he dispersed the screen saver, he found the system requesting a password. Within moments, he interfaced himself with the computer and began going through its system. The password came to him in an instant, allowing him unrestricted access to all of the computer's files, data, and information, downloading it all into his own system.
Several minutes into his hacking session, however, particular pieces of data began flying through his head. He suddenly realized where he was and what was going on. This was a VRA facility, and what they were doing...
Once he finished downloading the computer's entire hard drive, he pushed himself back in the seat and stared at the screen, partially mortified. “This is bad... this is really bad.”
If the data he had just received was accurate, then he needed to figure out some way to stop it, some way to fix what the VRA was doing, and fast. But he couldn't do it here, not under the noses of the VRA itself. He needed to escape... but how?
“So, you're going to free the children tomorrow?” Becky asked, looking up at Rose from the edge of the bed.
Rose, in the middle of examining her armor for any damage that might need repairing, didn't look back when she responded, instead continuing her work. “We'll try to, anyway. With some luck, we might even be successful... and after that, we take down the VRA headquarters, pay a little visit to my dad, and find out what's really going on.”
“And I suppose you'll be leaving me behind, right?”
Pausing, Rose turned now to glance over her shoulder, giving Becky a narrow gaze. “Haven't we had this conversation already?”
“Yeah, well maybe it's time to bring it up again,” she insisted.
“Becky, I don't think-”
“No, just listen to me, okay?” Becky stood up, folding her arms and walking up to Rose. “If you think you're going to go running off on some crazy mission without me, then you're loco. You really think you can just leave me here, waiting and hoping you come back again? What if you don't?”
Hardening her gaze, Rose looked squarely into Becky's eyes. “I will.”
“You can't promise that, Rose. You know you can't promise that. The situation is a bit different than what you're used to.”
“Which is exactly why you shouldn't be coming along,” Rose explained. “We just freed you, I'm not going to throw you right back into harm's way!”
Becky placed her hands on her girlfriend's shoulders, fingers holding firmly. “I'd rather be in harm's way with you than out of harm's way waiting around helplessly for you to come back.”
“And I'd rather not get my girlfriend hurt, or arrested, or worse!” Rose retorted. “I'm trying to protect you.”
Becky frowned, glare intensifying. “I don't need protecting! Christ, Rose, you've been spending all this time training me, getting me to improve, but you won't let me help you. If that's the case, then what's the point?”
“The deal was to teach you how to better defend yourself, so hopefully my life wouldn't catch you in the crossfire,” Rose said. “I was never trying to train you to become my crime fighting partner or anything. If that's the notion you got, then I'm sorry, but it's not going to happen.”
“Right, because you're so much better.”
“Yeah, I am!” Rose countered, brushing Becky's hands away. “Like it or not, I've been doing this for years. I have the experience and the skill to handle this kind of stuff. You don't.”
“You forget I've been a cop for five years,” she said. “I'm not exactly new to fighting crime!”
“Being a cop won't stop some super powered goon from punching your head off!” Rose shouted. “The stuff I deal with is a little more dangerous than your average thug with an uzi, and now with the VRA having nearly the entire superhero community at their disposal, you'll just end up getting yourself killed! You can't help, Becky! I wish you could, but you can't. That's just the way it is!”
Clenching her jaw tightly, Becky folded her arms across her chest for a moment, glaring hotly at her girlfriend. At the moment, though, Rose didn't feel so much like a girlfriend as an arrogant, egotistical b*tch. Even if she was putting Becky's safety first, at the moment it just came across as condescending.
“You know what? Fine!” Grabbing a robe off the bedpost, Becky slipped it on and made her way towards the door. “Whatever. I'll just wait here and pray you don't die. Like I always do.”
“Where are you going?”
“Away from you!” Becky slammed the door behind her, rattling the frame as she walked out into the hallway and headed back to the kitchen area. Maybe some coffee would help calm her down, though she highly doubted that. When she did finally make it into the kitchen, she just stood there a while, leaning against the sink and taking in deep, steady breaths.
It was dark right now, most of the lights shut off a while ago with everyone going to bed, but she made no move to turn them on. She rather preferred the dark at the moment. When the kitchen light suddenly flicked on, however, she looked up to see a familiar figure standing there, dressed in powder blue pajamas.
“Oh, uh, P-Power Girl...” she uttered, almost at a loss for words. “Hi.”
“Please, I'm in my civvies,” the woman replied. “It's just Kara.”
“Uh, Kara, right. Sorry.”
“So...” Kara breathed, hands coming to her hips. “That sounded like some fight.”
Becky blinked, flinching slightly. “Wait... you heard that?”
Smiling slightly, Kara pointed to her ears. “Super hearing. And with the way you two were yelling...”
“Oy...” Holding a hand to her head, she lets out a frustrated groan. “It's just... I feel so useless around her, you know? I mean, she's great; she's strong, fast, smart, and can kick a whole lot of ass. But me... I'm just me. Sure, she might be training me on the side, but a lot of good that does when she won't even let me help her.”
“Sounds like she's just protective.”
“Yeah, I know...” Becky muttered. “She cares, and that's great, but I'd rather be out there fighting with her. Of course, when it comes to that she just treats me like a kid, like I'd just be getting in the way. And maybe she's right, sure, but maybe she's not. Maybe I'd do just fine.”
“Hmm... sort of a 'never know until you try' kind of thing, right?”
“Exactly.” Breathing out a heavy sigh, Becky lowered her gaze and rubbed her temples tiredly. She was starting to get a rather aggravating headache. “But it doesn't matter anyway. Not really a whole lot I can do about it.”
Kara folded her arms across her chest, leaning back against the counter and thinking a moment. It wasn't everyday that she met a person quite like Rebecca Chavez. In spite of the anger and the frustration in the woman, Kara could see a good deal of determination in her, too, and a desire to do good. The only problem was that Becky didn't have the means to do it, at least not in the way the superheroes around her did.
“What if I said I might have something that could help?” Kara asked.
The small group of heroes gathered in the living room the next morning, preparing for their inevitable assault on the next VRA facility. It was a brazen move to be sure, but with the way things were, they didn't have many other options. They had already been branded fugitives, so they might as well act like fugitives, and they weren't about to let innocent children, powered or not, be held prisoner away from their families just so some scientists could study their abilities.
Securing her swords on her back, Ravager took a moment to look around at the others. The heroes were all there, including The Flash, Red Arrow, Raven, and of course, Power Girl. Wally's wife and son were there to wish their dad luck, and even Circe sat off to the side, watching them. But Becky was nowhere to be seen.
Curious, Ravager looked over to Power Girl. “Hey, have you seen Rebecca this morning? We... sort of had a fight last night, and she never came back to the room.”
“Oh, Becky?” Power Girl lifted an eyebrow, thinking momentarily. “Not sure... I imagine she's probably still testing her new suit.”
Narrowing her eyes, Ravager gave the woman a hard stare. “What do you mean, 'her new suit'?”
“Hey, Rose! Think fast!” a voice shouted.
Ravager turned suddenly, not only in response to the voice, but also a flicker of precog flashing through her head, and brought up her arms to block an incoming strike. The long metal pole swung viciously, caroming off her forearms with a force much greater than it should have. A miniature shock wave erupted from the point of impact, flipping her backwards through the air and over the couch. She only barely managed to twist her body around to land on her feet in a crouch.
“And that was the low setting!” Becky exclaimed. “I can shatter concrete on high!”
Becky moved in again, racing at a speed far greater than she should have been able to, and lunged in with surprising skill. The spinning kick that she delivered came with a grace and precision that she had never shown before. Though Ravager managed to sidestep the kick, a follow up blow from the butt of the staff caught her off guard and launched her backwards again, tumbling head over heels. As she scrambled back to her feet, she stared at her girlfriend with eyes wide, half in panic.
What the hell is going on?!
When Becky made another move, Ravager was ready for her, and the two exchanged a brief series of blows – yes, exchanged blows. Never before had Becky ever been able to land a solid hit on her during their spars, but right now the woman was fighting like some kind of possessed demon. She was faster, stronger, her movements more elegant, precise. Furthermore, the strikes that Ravager landed barely seemed to have an effect. Becky kept coming, completely unfazed, and in moments tripped Ravager to her back with a sweeping blow to the back of her legs. Before Ravager could make a move to get up, the end of Becky's staff twirled around and planted itself straight against her throat.
“Not bad, ah?” Becky said, grinning widely. “Do I pass the audition?”
Ravager just stared up at Becky, blinking in confusion from behind her faceplate. She couldn't put into words how utterly dumbfounded she was at the moment, having no idea what just happened. From what she could tell, Becky had somehow made a monumental leap in ability overnight, and it must have had something with the costume she currently wore, a rather tight, though durable and armored power suit, with metal guards on the shoulder and arms. Its armored plating also extended up to her head, adding more protection everywhere except a spot to allow her hair to flow out.
The others, meanwhile, watched in equal surprise, mouths hanging open and astounded. A few moments later, though, Red Arrow's expression shifted into amusement. “Wow... she really handed it to you.”
Flash agreed, nodding his head. “Yeah, that was...”
“I know, right? This thing is amazing!” Becky exclaimed.
Blinking a couple of times, Ravager slowly reached up to move the staff away from her throat, then sat upright, still staring. “Becky... the hell was that? And what are you wearing?”
Walking forward, Power Girl gestured at the suit and smiled. “Ladies and gentleman, I give you the latest prototype from Starr Industries' Tech division. The X-suit is a state of the art piece of equipment designed to increase a person's natural attributes to the maximum and beyond. By keying into the wearer's bio-electric signature, it works with the body to increase strength, agility, speed, reflexes, stamina; you name, it does it. Originally meant to be a tool to help workers in dangerous jobs more easily and safely complete their daily tasks, it also makes for one heck of a superhero costume.”
“Well you certainly got the sales pitch down...” Ravager muttered.
“Thanks, I've been practicing,” Power Girl replied. “You don't think it comes across as a little too cheesy?”
Ravager said nothing in response, merely glaring at the woman.
“So, what do you think?” Becky asked, taking a step forward and helping her girlfriend back to her feet. “With this thing, I can do everything you can; maybe more. I can help you now, Rose. I don't have to sit on the sidelines anymore.”
Ravager paused a long moment, looking over Becky's suit carefully. “Becky... I don't like this. You can't just... put on a costume and suddenly become a superhero.”
Narrowing her eyes slightly, Becky frowned and held her hands to her hips. “So even when I'm perfectly capable of handling myself, you still don't want my help. Is that it?”
“It's not that, it's just-”
“In case you didn't notice, Rose, I just beat you. Don't tell me you're a sore loser now.”
“I just don't want you getting hurt,” Ravager said, her eyes softening. “I... you know how much you mean to me, right?”
Letting out a small breath, Becky reached up and put a hand on Ravager's shoulder. She then reached up to remove the woman's faceplate, so she could look into her eyes. “About as much as you mean to me, ah? You know that's why I want to be there with you, why I need to be there with you. If you're putting yourself at risk like this, then so am I. That's just the way it is.”
A small pause passed between them. Ravager lowered her gaze, a sigh escaping her lips. She was fully and completely against allowing Becky along, but at the same time, what could she really do to stop her? No matter what Ravager did, short of tying her to a bedpost, Becky wasn't going to wait behind again, not now.
She doesn't know what she's getting herself into...but I can't stop her. God help me, I can't stop her.
“Fine... you can come,” she said, finally giving in. “Just... don't get yourself hurt, alright?”
“Hey, you watch my back and I'll watch yours. Deal?”
Looking up again, Ravager gave a small smile. “Deal.”
“Well, at least they had the courtesy to put this place in the middle of nowhere,” Red Arrow said.
The group sat on a rocky outcropping, overlooking the buildings down below, about five hundred yards in the distance. All around them stretched the seemingly infinite Arizona desert, a vast expanse of dry, red rocks and earth, and dead shrubs. The compound wasn't exactly on the main road, either, instead about three miles down a barely visible dirt path.
“Probably to discourage the kids from trying to run away,” Flash added. “Only place to go is miles of desert.”
Ravager turned her attention to Power Girl. “What do you see down there?”
Squinting her eyes, Power Girl carefully observed the compound in the distance with her super vision. She was silent for a moment before finally reporting her findings. “Several guard patrols, five men per squad. Can't see inside the buildings, though; the walls must be lead-lined.”
“And I cannot teleport inside...” Raven said. “They have taken... many precautions.”
Flash huffed out an annoyed breath. “Who wants to bet I can't vibrate through the walls, either?”
Standing up and holding her staff against the ground, Becky took in a deep breath and glared down at the compound. She was motivated, determined, and yet also held a degree of eagerness and excitement; this time around, she got to be one of the heroes. “Alright, so what's the plan? How do we get those kids out of there?”
“Well, our goal here is to free everyone, right?” Ravager said. “So, essentially we need to take over the entire compound. I say we go with the full frontal attack, work on subduing all the guards and gaining control of the facility. That way, we can stick together and watch each other's backs.”
Raven nodded. “I agree... They are likely to have many security protocols that would prevent a stealthy infiltration. We must... force our way in.”
“Fine, as long P.G. leads the charge,” Red Arrow said, leaning against his bow.
Raising an eyebrow, Power Girl glanced back at the man. “Quick to throw me to the wolves, I see.”
“Of course I am, you're our only heavy hitter,” he explained. “Get in there and cause as much damage as possible; we'll back you up.”
“Well, I suppose I can live with that...” Power Girl stated, floating up into the air. “Alright then, let's get down there and introduce ourselves, shall we?”
“Hey, do you see that?” one of the guards asked, squinting into the distance.
The east patrol suddenly stopped and looked over to where their squadmate was pointing. In the distance, about two hundred feet up in the air, was a small white dot fast approaching, with a flicker of red trailing behind it.
Another guard stepped forward and held a hand up above his eyes, trying to shield the bright sunlight. “I dunno, maybe a bird or something?”
“Could be a weather balloon,” another suggested.
“What the hell would a weather balloon be doing out here?”
Before they could further discuss the possibility of what it might be, their buddy threw himself at them, pushing them out of the way. “Jesus, look out!”
Two long, hot beams sliced across the ground nearby, kicking up dirt and dust into the air. Of course, Power Girl hadn't actually been aiming at the squad, instead only intending to cause chaos and distract, but the guards didn't knew that. As far as they were concerned, some super being was trying to kill them. When she swooped in from above and began targeting empty vehicles and patches of dirt, several more squads came running in from throughout the compound to stop her.
As if they could stop her. They could try all they wanted, but none of them had a way of breaking through her tough, Kryptonian skin. Bullets bounced off, stun weapons merely tickled, and blunt objects had no effect whatsoever. This allowed her to create as much mayhem as possible, while subduing every person she came across. Granted, she wouldn't really hurt them... much. They just needed to sleep for a while.
As several more teams poured out of the surrounding buildings, a red and yellow blur zipped into the compound, rocketing from person to person and knocking them out cold. They never knew what hit them, as The Flash moved far faster than their eyes can register, although he was plenty careful to not accidentally kill anyone. A short few moments later, the rest of the heroes arrived.
Staying near the back of the pack, Red Arrow unloaded shot after shot, each arrow finding its target and putting the victim down with a powerful, stunning electric shock. Raven levitated upwards, holding her arms up and projecting her soul-self outwards in the form of a giant raven that swooped down onto her enemies, throwing them backwards and holding them down. Ravager, however, took a much more direct approach. She leaped forward into a small squad, fists at the ready, and when she found the openings she needed, she put them down with hard blows to the head.
And then there was Becky. Showing no fear or hesitation, she sprinted forward with shocking speed, hitting somewhere around fifty miles per hour by the time she reached the nearest group of guards. They took aim with their weapons, but she was already out of the way, leaping through the air and flipping over them, while swinging her staff down in mid jump and striking two in the sides of their skulls. When she landed, she twirled around and swept low, tripping up another, and then lifting the metal pole skyward to catch the fourth man in the bottom of the jaw, knocking him clear off his feet.
“Ha! Did you see that?” she exclaimed, grinning broadly.
Turning her gaze, Ravager looked over to notice another stray guard running up behind Becky with a stun baton. “Look out!”
Without so much as turning around, Becky sidestepped the blindside attack and whipped her staff up over her shoulder, smashing the man in the face and sending him hurtling backwards. “You worry too much, Rose, I got it covered!”
Breathing out a brief sigh, Ravager moved to the side and caught a guard's arm in mid attack, twisting it harshly and snapping bone. A follow up knee to the face knocked him out.
Meanwhile, a lone guard took cover behind a jeep and lifted his radio up to his mouth. “Are you seeing this?! We need backup out here! They're tearing us apart!”
A small hiss of static came in, followed shortly after by a somewhat annoyed female voice. “Yes, I'm aware of what's going on.”
“Well then where's the support?!”
“Soon, just try to hold out a little longer,” the woman replied. “It's not like any of you are dying.”
When the radio clicked off, the guard blinked down at it and then threw it away in frustration. As he went to look around the jeep again, watching the Kryptonian woman creating all sorts of destruction to the property, a crimson arrow suddenly zipped through the air and planted itself against his chest. Blinking, he stared down at the shaft for a brief moment before a powerful electric shock surged through him. Within seconds, he passed out.
Inside the main office of the facility, Amanda Waller leaned back in her seat and tapped her fingers against the desk in front of her. She couldn't say that this little attack on the compound was unexpected; with everything going on, she would have been surprised if the remaining free heroes didn't try something like this. However, she had been hoping that her team would be a little more capable than what they had shown so far. Then again, with a Kryptonian and the fastest man alive leading the charge, it was no wonder why they were failing so miserably.
But all that was about to change. Looking across her desk at the six individuals standing in her office, she simply gave them an affirmative nod. “Bring them down.”
It didn't take long before all the guards on the outside of the compound were down and out, bodies quite literally strewn everywhere. They were all still alive, though, and would eventually make full recoveries. While the others regrouped, The Flash took a couple seconds (quite literally) to move all the unconscious men into more comfortable positions, lying them down on their backsides in neat rows.
“Alright, that's everyone,” he said, rejoining his teammates. “When we're done here we can take them to the nearest hospital, but they should be fine.”
Power Girl nodded. “Alright, let's get inside and–”
Long before her words finished leaving her mouth, a blur sprinted in from seemingly out of nowhere and tackled the Flash from behind, throwing him wildly across the desert ground.
“Wally!” Red Arrow shouted, running forward.
When The Flash finally rolled to a stop, he sprang back up to his feet and held his head, trying to shake himself out of the daze. “Alright, who's the coward with the sneak attack?”
Looking back in the direction that he was attacked from, Flash got a clear view of the person standing there, the one who had blitzed him from behind. The blue jeans and black T-shirt with an S-shield on it might not have been the trendiest superhero costume ever, but it was certainly recognizable.
“Superboy?” Ravager uttered, blinking.
“You shouldn't have come here, Rose,” Superboy said, his tone stolid and hollow. “None of you should have come here. Now we have to take you down.”
Ravager narrowed her eyes. “We?”
Turning their attention back towards the main building of the compound, they noticed another group standing there ready for a fight, a group consisting of familiar faces: Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Static, Bombshell, and Beast Boy.
Ravager's heart sank at the sight. “Oh... crap.”
Holding his bo staff at the ready, Red Robin led the charge. “Titans, take them out!”
As the Teen Titans begin to make their attack, Ravager took charge and called out the match-ups. “I'll take Static, Raven you got Bombshell!”
Without saying a single word in response, Raven took to the air, enveloping herself in her soul-self and preparing a defense.
“Power Girl, Wonder B*tch is all yours!” Ravager stated. “Becky, take Beast Boy!”
Becky looked back quickly to her girlfriend. “I don't know which one that is!”
“The green one! Roy, you're on Tim!”
“Way ahead of you,” Red Arrow replied, already taking aim with his bow.
He let the arrow loose with pinpoint accuracy, but Red Robin merely spun his staff and swatted the projectile out of the air, allowing him to close the distance and make a leaping attack that forced Red Arrow to jump back out of the way. Red Arrow followed up with a second shot, but the arrow missed again, as Red Robin ducked away to the side.
Flying in on a levitating slab of metal, Static sent out a vicious bolt of lightning. Ravager's reflexes and precog allowed her to dodge, but only barely. It reminded her of the time they had both fought in the Dark Side Club tournament a few years back. Static had been mind controlled then, too, though in that case he'd at least been fighting it. Whatever was controlling them this time seemed to have an unyielding grip.
Power Girl and Wonder Girl collided midair with thunderous force, grappling with each other momentarily. Eventually, Power Girl managed to flip them around and throw her opponent off towards the ground. The earth cratered beneath Wonder Girl upon impact, but the blow didn't seem to faze her, as she recovered and flew into the air again only seconds later. This time, Wonder Girl led with a punch to the face, sending Power Girl spinning upwards into the sky.
Power Girl slowed herself to a stop in enough time to fly out of the way of the next attack. Swopping around behind her opponent in an instant, she sent a hot beam of heat vision into Wonder Girl's backside, burning away part of her shirt and blasting her forward like a rocket. Wasting no time, Power Girl sped forward again, catching up and delivering a double, overhanded blow to the back of the head.
“Sorry kid, but you're not my league yet,” Power Girl stated, gazing at her downed opponent from the sky.
However, in spite of impacting the ground a second time with astonishing force, Wonder Girl flew up again a short few moment later, blitzing through the air and delivering a hard series of blows to Power Girl's face and midsection. Power Girl finally managed to catch one of Wonder Girl's punches, as well as blocking a kick with her other arm, but suddenly reeled backwards in response to a headbutt straight to the nose. Then, Wonder Girl swung her around wildly several times, throwing the woman with every bit of her power into the ground.
“I'm more than just in your league!” Wonder Girl shouted, floating back down to earth.
Power Girl uttered an irritated groan, pushing herself up to her hands and knees briefly and brushing the dirt from her costume. “That's it, no more messing around.”
On the other side of the yard, Becky squared off against the green kid, holding her staff at the ready. It would help if she had any idea on what this guy's powers were, but for now she'd just wing it.
“So, uh, what do you do?” she asked.
Beast Boy suddenly shifted into an eight foot tall grizzly bear, growling and and charging straight her. Becky's eyes went wide, as she leaped up and over a wild claw strike. She landed nimbly on the other side, turning around and spinning her staff to catch the grizzly in the backside. A small shock wave burst out from the tip of the pole, sending the bear hurtling forward, but after a brief moment Beast Boy recovered and morphed into a falcon, flying up into the air above her.
Shielding her eyes against the sun, Becky gazed up curiously, watching as the bird suddenly fell into a dive, coming downward with tremendous speed. “Not sure what you plan on doing like that, but I always did like baseball.”
Lifting her staff up like a baseball bat, she took a stance and waited for the falcon to come into range, intent on swatting the thing for a home run. When the bird abruptly transformed into a hippo, however, she shifted her stance quickly, having only a fraction of a second to react before the two ton animal crashed to earth, smashing her against the ground.
Fortunately, her suit not only allowed her to react quickly enough, but also prevented the massive animal from flattening her. Lying on her back with the hippo caught against her palms and feet, she started to push, limbs shaking violently as she struggled to heave the load upward.
“Get... off!” With one final, desperate shove, she sent Beast Boy several feet into the air, allowing just enough space for her to roll out from under it in the second or so the hippo was airborne. Retrieving her staff, she stumbled back up to her feet and took in several deep breaths. “Come on... that all you got?”
This time, Beast Boy morphed from a hippo into something that looked like a velociraptor straight out of Jurassic Park. The dinosaur uttered a shrill shriek and then made its charge.
Becky deadpanned, sighing deeply. “Ay caramba... I had to ask.”
Meanwhile, Flash and Superboy squared off, slowly circling each other.
“You sure you really want to do this?” Flash asked.
“Why not?” Superboy countered. “I'm fast, too. Almost as fast as Superman. Almost as fast as you. And I'm a lot stronger.”
Flash smirked slightly. “Kid, you're nowhere near as fast as me.”
“Why don't we find out?”
In an instant, Superboy disappeared from his current spot, blitzing forward in attempts to take his opponent out with one blow. But The Flash was faster, reacting before Superboy even made it halfway to him. He could tell that Superboy wasn't holding back, so neither did he, reaching speeds he didn't normally need to hit in a fight. As a matter of fact, none of the Titans were holding back; whatever was controlling them was pushing them to their fullest. If he or the others on his team tried to hold back like they normally did in battle, they would lose. Hopefully the others had already figured that out by now.
Flash did have to hand it to him, though; Superboy was fast. Probably one of the fastest there was next to a speedster. But, in the end, he wasn't a speedster, who had many more tools at their disposal when it came to speed. Now, if Superboy could get a couple solid hits in, he might have a chance, but he'd never get that opportunity. Once The Flash amped it up, there was little Superboy could do. In fact, most of his attacks started to slow down, becoming sluggish. The only chance he had had to land a blow was at the beginning of the fight, and now that chance was long gone.
“Feel yourself getting slower yet?” Flash asked.
Superboy rushed forward again, but he wasn't even breaking the sound barrier now. A few more seconds, and he was barely at Olympic level speed. By now, The Flash didn't even have to try in order to avoid him.
“That's the feel of your speed being drained from your body,” Flash explained. “The longer this fight goes on, the slower I make you. And then, I do this.”
Knocking out a Kryptonian with sheer blunt impact wasn't easy. It required an astounding level of force, and how exactly do you measure force? Mass times acceleration. What level of force do you get when you multiply the mass of one's fist accelerating at greater than light speed? Well, we'll leave the math to the mathematicians and just call it what it is: a lot. When Superboy went down, he stayed down. He likely wouldn't be getting up for a while.
“Damn it, hold still!” Bombshell shouted, darting her gaze around frantically.
Flying forward again, fists glowing with quantum energy, she took another swing at Raven. And just like the last ten times, Raven simply teleported out of the away. It was really starting to frustrate her. At least, that was what her mind was being told. With every failed attempt, the signals came in stronger; she had to subdue this woman!
“Amy... you are a strong woman,” Raven said, calmly. “You don't have to do this. Whatever is controlling you... fight it.”
“The hell are you talking about?” Bombshell questioned, eyes narrowing. “Nothing's controlling me!”
Uttering a small, distant breath, Raven teleported out of the way of another attack, then raised her hands and splays her finger apart. “If reason will not work...”
Suddenly, a grip of telekinesis latched onto Bombshell and swung her downward. Letting out a surprised yell, the metal-skinned woman crashed against the ground hard. Really hard. Telekinesis wasn't a power that Raven used often, so it was no wonder that Bombshell had forgotten about it. Now that she remembered, though, she suddenly realized just how much of a mismatch this really was, as Raven lifted her up and slammed her back into the ground repeatedly. It didn't do much to actually hurt her, but it did put her in one hell of a daze, rattling her head quite a bit.
When Bombshell finally felt the telekinetic hold release her, she stumbled back up to her feet, teetering. “Goddamn... hey, what the hell?!”
A black mass began to form around her, swallowing her. In a brief few moments, Raven's soul-self completely engulfed her, drawing her within and imprisoning her.
Another hot wave of lightning ripped towards Ravager, forcing her to lunge to the side again. She could feel the heat as the bolt boiled the air around her. Sliding across the dirt, she pushed herself forward again, sprinting at Static. Before she made it even halfway to him, though, he unleashed another electrical blast that pushed her back on the defensive again. In spite of what some might think, dodging lightning wasn't exactly the easiest thing to do in the world, even when she can see it before it happened.
At least she was lasting longer than the last time they fought, but she knew it was still only a matter of time until he landed a hit, and although her new suit was largely insulated against electrical attacks, she'd rather not have to test just how protective it was if she didn't have to. She had to go for all or nothing.
Spinning out of the way of another lightning bolt, she sprinted forward again, then leaped into the air, a second blast rippling below her. Leading with her knee, she exploded a powerful blow against the side of Static's face, but at the same time felt an electrically charged punch erupt against her ribs.
As the two tumbled to the ground, Ravager uttered a small groan and rolled over onto her knees, bringing a hand up to clutch her side. Her body was numb and tingling, but at least she didn't feel any more damage than that. The new insulation in her armor seemed to hold up pretty well. Unfortunately, her strike didn't put Static down for good, a wide field of lightning crackling around him as he pushed his way back to his feet.
“Damn it, why can't you just stay down?” she muttered.
As if on cue, a small boom erupted from behind and sent him plummeting back to the ground, unconscious. Standing behind him, Becky twirled her staff in one hand and carried an unconscious Beast Boy in the other.
“Need a hand?” Becky asked, grinning.
“I said. Stay. Down!” Power Girl shouted.
Pushing her foot downward, she forced Wonder Girl's face back into the dirt, preventing her from getting back up. Breathing deeply, Power Girl wiped the blood from her split lip and gave one final stomp for good measure. Wonder Girl's strength finally faded along with consciousness, as her body went limp beneath Power Girl's heel.
“Hey! A little help over here!” Red Arrow exclaimed.
Some distance away, Red Arrow and Red Robin's fight had spilled over towards a small storage shed, one wall of which had a hole through it. Several smoking arrow shafts burned in the ground around them, while Red Robin struggled to get his attacker off of him. Red Arrow knelt against his backside, pinning him against the ground with the bow's string pulled tight around his neck.
This hold lasted only a second longer, as Red Robin finally managed to flip Red Arrow off and deliver a punch to the jaw. Trying to regain control, Red Arrow ducked back and took a swing with his bow, battering the Titan in the head and finally putting him down.
“Stand aside...” Floating into range, Raven opened her cloak again and projected her soul-self into the air. The black mass reached outward, engulfing each of the unconscious Teen Titans and swallowing them back beneath her cloak. In moments, they disappeared. Dropping back to the ground, Raven fell to her knees momentarily and held a hand to her forehead. “They will be... safe there. Until we can figure out how to fix what's wrong with them.”
Breathing out a long breath, Ravager hung her head and slowly rose back to her feet. “Good... glad that's over.”
“We're not finished here yet,” Power Girl stated. “Everyone, split up into smaller groups and search the compound. We have to find those kids.”
As they walked down the corridor of one of the main buildings, Becky tapped her staff casually on her shoulder and glanced over at Ravager. “So, uh... not bad for my first time out, right? I mean, come on, admit it, I was totally awesome.”
Lifting her eyebrows behind her mask, Ravager slowly looked over to her girlfriend. For a moment, she just stared.
Becky brought her hands to her hips and frowned. “What?”
“Nothing, you just... you were pretty good out there,” Ravager said.
Ravager shook her head. “No buts. I didn't know how you'd fare in a battle like that, even with the suit... but you handled herself really well. I'm proud of you.”
Breaking out into a wide grin, Becky threw an arm around her girlfriend and chuckled. “Dios mio, anyone else hear that? My girlfriend is proud of me! Isn't that sweet?” Of course, there was no one else around at the moment. Becky and Ravager had broken off from the others to cover more ground. “So, where do you suppose everyone is, anyway? I figured they would have least saved some defenses for the interior.”
“They must have thrown everything they had at us,” Ravager said, looking around carefully. “We did the same to them, after all. Question is, though, where are the kids?”
Pursing her lips, Becky moved her gaze to the left. Squinting through the small glass window of a door, she spotted something strange and moved closer to investigate. A few moments later, her eyes went wide. “I think I just found them.”
A second later, she pushed her way through the door, revealing what appeared to be a cafeteria beyond. Rows of long tables lined the room, each with dozens of children of all ages sitting down and casually eating. They ranged anywhere from five to maybe fifteen years old, each of them taken from their families and held here.
“They're just... eating,” Becky said. “Like normal kids.”
Ravager frowned. “You call that headgear normal?”
Each child had been outfitted with a strange, helmet-like device that wrapped around their heads, with wires and blinking lights. Approaching the nearest kid, Ravager looked closely and waved a hand in front of the boy's face. No response. The boy just blinked absently and slowly continued to eat his sandwich.
“Dios...” Becky breathed. “They're like zombies.”
“How much you want to bet it's the sci-fi helmets they got going on?” Ravager lightly touched one of the helmets, contemplating briefly whether or not to take it off. “Must... pacify them or something.”
“So what do we- oh my- Rose!”
Glancing upward, Ravager looked over to where Becky pointed and felt her heart jump. Springing back to her feet, she rushed over to the young, purple haired girl at the end of the table. “Lyta!”
Of course, there was no response, as the girl merely continued eating and didn't even acknowledge their presence.
“Can we just... take the helmet off, or what?” Becky asked.
“I don't know... there's no telling what it could do to them. We need to find somebody who can figure out how these things work. We need to help these kids.”
Pushing the door open, Red Arrow narrowed his eyes and looked around. It looked like they were in some kind of laboratory, with a bunch of medical and chemistry equipment out in the open, apparently having been in use not too long ago.
“What the hell is all this?” he wondered. “What are they doing with these kids that they need this crap for?”
“I don't know...” Flash said, “but I intend to find out.” In an instant, he disappeared, moving through the building at high speeds.
Red Arrow blinked a few times before realizing that his friend was gone. Uttering a small breath, he held his hands to his hips and started making his way through the lab. “I hate it when he does that...”
He found The Flash a few minutes later in one of the last rooms in the building. At first, he didn't realize what was going on, but it didn't take long to figure it out. Halfway across the room, he froze when he saw the rows of machines lined against the wall, each one containing a small child strapped down and hooked up to a bunch of wires and needles jabbing into their bodies. Small forceps forced their eyelids wide open, preventing them from blinking, while heart monitors kept track of their systems.
“Dear god... “ he uttered, slowly bringing his gaze towards Flash. “Wally, is that Iris?”
Flash knelt on the floor in front of one of the machines, a small girl clutched in his arms. The girl made no noticeable cognitive actions, lying limply and staring straight off into space, a weird helmet wrapped around her head.
“She's not responding, Roy. I... I'm trying to reach her but all she does is stare.”
“Must be the helmet she has on,” Red Arrow said. “They all have one.”
Moving towards the machines, he started to unhook the children. Not a single one uttered a word or so much as looked at the two men in the room. They just stared... motionless, unthinking.
When all the other children were safely out of the machines, Red Arrow walked over to his friend and put a hand on the man's shoulder. “We'll help her, Wally. We'll help all of them.”
“No, I don't care what you think is supposed to happen here!” Waller shouted. “The facility is compromised, and the team you sent me didn't help! If you want to keep this place under control, you need to send more backup immediately!”
The phone that she had been screaming into suddenly went dead, clicking off. Eyes going wide in surprise, she glared down and then angrily threw it across the room. “Damn it, Wilson!”
That was when the door to her office suddenly burst inward, flying off its hinges. Standing there in the entrance was a very angry, dirtied, and scuffed up Power Girl, staring a hole through the woman. Behind her stood the more reserved, quiet Raven. Marching into the office, Power Girl approached the desk, grabbed it with one hand, and tossed it through the wall with minimal effort. Then, she reached forward and grabbed Amanda Waller by the shirt collar.
“You think this changes anything?” Waller asked, eyes narrowing. “The VRA will come down on you harder than ever.”
“Then it's a good thing we plan on crippling them, isn't it?” Power Girl stated.
“You're out of your minds, all of you.” Waller lifted a hand, trying to yank Power Girl's grip away. It was, of course, futile. “The VRA has complete power. When it comes to you people, we are the law!”
“News flash,” Power Girl said, “just because the law gives you permission, it doesn't make you any less of a criminal for what you've been doing here, and sooner or later you'll answer for it. You all will.”
A short while later, the team regrouped back in the apartment bunker beneath the Starr Industries building. With them were all the children from the facility, still equipped with those strange, brain numbing helmets. They didn't dare attempt to take the things off without knowing exactly what they were dealing with and how to do it safely. For all they knew, simply unhooking the wires and removing the helmets could cause permanent brain damage; that is, if permanent brain damage hadn't already been done.
“Okay, so that Waller woman and the Teen Titans are in Raven's... soul thingy,” Becky said, trying to get recent events in order, “the injured guards we transported to the nearest hospital, and now we have a bunch of kids with brain drain helmets on that we don't know how to properly take off... what next?”
“We find someone who can and will help these children,” Power Girl replied. “Waller likely knows how these things work, but she isn't helping. That means we're going to need someone with tech experience... a lot of tech experience. I'll see what I can dig up.”
A short distance away on one of the couches, Circe looked up, holding her daughter closely in her arms. Lyta lay there motionlessly, a blank, faraway look on her face, completely unresponsive. “But they can be helped, can't they?”
“I promise we'll do everything we can,” Power Girl said, “but until we find someone who can examine and determine what kind of danger removing those helmets poses, then the only thing we can do is be patient.”
Circe wasn't the only concerned parent in the room, though. Linda and Wally, fresh out of his Flash costume, sat with their daughter, Iris. The girl's twin, Jai, was also nearby, studying the helmet curiously.
“Is there anyone left that hasn't been compromised by the VRA?” Wally asked. “There has to be someone we can contact about this.”
Power Girl sighed, lowering her gaze. “I really have no idea, Wally, I'm sorry. Everyone I know of who might be able to figure it out is already under the VRA's control. There might be someone who works in my company with the proper experience, but even then I don't know if we can trust anyone to not turn us in.”
“Well we'd better come up with something fast,” Roy said, leaning absently on his bow. “These kids don't deserve this...”
Nearby, Rose leaned back against one of the couches, arms folded and eyes slowly glancing from person to person. Suddenly, a small flickering red light caught her gaze. Turning towards Raven, she narrowed her eyes slightly. “Uh, Raven, you're blinking.”
“I'm... oh.” Looking down, Raven noticed that the brooch of her cloak was steadily blinking with bright red light. Carefully, she reached up and unclasped it, allowing her cloak to fall to the floor. Turning it over, she presses a small button on the back of the brooch and then raised it to her ear.
“Uh... what's she doing?” Rose asked.
Straightening himself, Wally gave the empath a long look, eyes focusing on the brooch. “That isn't just to hold her cloak together; it's also her old Titans communicator. Well, I imagine she still uses it since she's still on the Titans, but the only people who know the proper frequency are former members.”
“So someone's trying to contact her,” Rose muttered.
“Must be,” Wally said. “Question is, who?”
“Yeah, and is it someone on our side, or a trap?” Roy wondered.
Breathing outwardly, Raven lifted her cloak back up and reattached it around her shoulders with the brooch, then began to disappear through her soul-self. “I'll be... right back.”
Power Girl blinked, taking a quick step forward. “Wait a minute, where are you-”
But a second later, Raven vanished into thin air, the black mass completely dissipating.
“And she's gone,” Becky said, scratching the back of her head. “Where do you think she went off to in such a hurry?”
Looking up to her husband, Linda's expression lifted, hopeful. “Do you think it's someone who can help with the children?”
“That would be nice...” Wally said, shifting his gaze, “but somehow I don't think we're that lucky.”
Holding his bow over shoulder, Roy let out a long breath and glanced at the floor. “With everything that's been happening lately, we could use a little luck.”
“Anyway, I guess we should find a place where we can adequately keep the children for the time being,” Power Girl said. “They seem to at least be capable of basic functions, so sleeping and eating shouldn't be a problem... though I might have to go shopping for some more food. I don't think I have enough for all of them in that little fridge.”
“Don't worry about that, I'll go,” Wally said. “I can get the shopping done faster, and you're still in your costume anyway.”
“Alright, but at least let me give you some money to-”
Her words never got a chance to finish leaving her mouth before the dark flicker of Raven's soul-self suddenly reappeared in the middle of the living room. As Raven rematerialized, however, they quickly realized that she wasn't alone. Standing next to her was a man quite familiar to most of them.
“So I hear you could use a tech expert,” Cyborg stated, folding his arms across his chest.
Eyes going wide, Wally ran up to the man with a big smile. “Vic! Oh, man is it good to see you! What happened? I thought you got taken with the rest of the Justice League.”
“I did,” he replied. “In fact, the others are still under VRA control as we speak.”
“Well how did you get away?”
“Long story, but I'll try to be succinct,” Cyborg started. “I woke up a couple of days after the Justice League was attacked and taken, in the VRA's maximum security facility.”
“You mean where they take all the heroes who didn't register, so they can serve their sentence?” Becky said.
Cyborg nodded. “Exactly. Only they aren't locking up the ones who fail to register; in fact, they're doing the same thing to everyone, whether they registered or not.”
“Controlling them somehow, right?” Power Girl narrowed her eyes, jaw tightening. “Brainwashing or whatever method they're using.”
“Yeah. By the time I woke up, the rest of the Justice League was already unresponsive, in the process of being 'activated', as they call it. The only reason the same thing didn't happen to me was because they didn't account for the computer half of my brain.” Reaching up to his head, Cyborg lightly tapped the metal side of his skull. “My security protocols took over and eliminated the process before it could compromise me. Then, when I couldn't get the rest of the team to respond, I hacked into the VRA's computer systems instead to learn what I could. From there, I pretended to be controlled like everyone else, until I got to a point where I could break away and contact someone I could trust.”
“And what did you find from their files?”
“Nothing good. For starters, they're controlling people with these.” Holding out his fist, he uncurled his fingers slowly to reveal a long, needle-like device with one rounded end and a bunch of integrated wires. “They're called neural stems.”
At the sight of the stem, Rose and Becky's eyes instantly went wide.
“I've come across them before,” Rose said. “Last summer I busted a sub sect of the League of Assassins, led by a man named Shao Shen. He's the one who created them... or at least the scientists who worked for him did. They used the stems to control people around the city, trying to build some kind of force for... something. I never did find out what his ultimate plans were; stopped him before that became an issue. Last I heard, though, they were causing their victims' heads to pretty much explode. Apparently, they've been improved.”
Becky folded her arms, tapping her fingers gently. “But the entire stash was confiscated following Shen's arrest. After his trial, they were destroyed so they couldn't be used again. Where did these ones come from?”
“Not from Shen, that much is certain.” Rose paused a moment, then suddenly held a hand up to her forehead and groaned, a sudden revelation hitting her. “That must be how my father got his pardon. They're controlling the president, congress... sh*t they must have the entire government in their pocket. They're the reason that messed up bill went through the system so fast, why this whole law got made in the first place...”
“Alright, I'll bite,” Roy said. “Who are they?”
“Hell if I know, whoever's pulling the strings. But you can be damn sure we're gonna find out.”
Lifting up the device closer to his eyes, Cyborg gave the thing a long look, then turned his attention fully back to the others. “Whatever the case, I did manage to have my systems run a full diagnostic on a stem's capabilities, as well as how to properly neutralize them. If I have time to work, I might be able to create a counter device that we can use break others out of the VRA's control. In the meantime, let me see what I can do for the kids.”
Slade Wilson sat back in his seat, one hand raised to his chin in thought as he watched security footage from the earlier attack on the VRA's children facility. He took careful note of the individuals involved, began contemplating the best ways to plan for them. Power Girl, Red Arrow, Flash, Raven, and of course his daughter, Rose. Then there was the one he didn't recognize, the one in the odd power suit. While he didn't fully know the woman's capabilities, she didn't seem to be that big of a threat.
What worried him the most was the fact that they were able to capture the Teen Titans. Should they figure out a way to disrupt the neural stems, then their numbers would grow and they'd be a much larger pain. Nothing he and the VRA couldn't handle, of course, but still a pain.
Eventually, he grew tired of studying the footage and clicked his computer off. Then turned to the man sitting in the corner of the room. “They'll likely attack here next. You know that.”
“Of course I do,” the man replied. “And you'll be prepared, won't you?”
“I always am.”
“Good, because when I put you in this position, I was expecting a lot.” The man shifted his stance, standing straighter. “Your name has a certain reputation, after all. So far, though, I've been... disappointed. Two of our facilities have been attacked in as many days, you've been quite incapable of stopping the culprits, and now they're coming after you. If they should capture you-”
“But if they do-”
“They won't get a word out of me,” Slade assured. “Client confidentiality is one of my highest priorities.”
The man paused a moment, eyes narrowing. “I should hope so.”
Leaning forward, Slade firmly folded his hands in front of him on the desk, staring intently at the man. “Just remember, when all this is over, you had better follow through with your end of the bargain. It's the only reason I agreed to this hostile takeover to begin with.”
“Oh, I will, most assuredly. In fact, I've already located her.”
A brief pause passed. Though Slade showed no signs of a shifting demeanor, he did straighten slightly in his seat, eye narrowing. “Where is she?”
“In a safe location, away from this country and under the impression that both you and Rose have been long dead. As for her exact coordinates, they will be disclosed when you clean up your mess and get my plans back on course.”
Slade's jaw tightened slightly, his gaze intensifying. “Have them ready.”
On her way back down the corridor from the bathroom, Rose turned the corner and very nearly walked right into Cyborg, narrowly managing to turn to the side just before collision. “Oh, sorry. Didn't see you there.”
“It's cool, it happens,” he said.
A small, awkward silence descended over them for a few moments. Shifting her weight, Rose reached up and crossed her arms over her chest, gaze moving off to the side. “So... everything taken care of?”
“Yeah, the helmets have been disabled and Raven just finished reuniting all the kids with their families.”
“I see... that's good. And the Titans...?”
Cyborg turned his head, nodding back in the direction he'd just come from. “In the living room, last I checked. Took a while, but I was able to disable their neural stems. They're just... readjusting. You know, they could see everything that happened when they were under control, they just...”
“Couldn't do anything to stop it?”
Rose dropped her gaze, a deep breath exhaling past her lips. “...I know what that's like.”
She briefly recalled the days that Slade had her under the control of his mind bending serum, the same serum that gave her her enhanced abilities. When she had finally been freed of that control, looking back on everything her father had forced her to do... it had been horrifying.
“And how have you been, anyway?” Cyborg asked. “I mean, I heard a lot from Dick, but I don't know the details... he says you've come a long way.”
“Ha, yeah that's one way of putting it,” Rose said, laughing quietly. “I've been... good, at least before this whole sh*tstorm happened.”
“Heard you're raising a kid.”
A broad smile suddenly spread itself across her face. “Yeah, Holly. She's the sweetest damn girl you'll every meet, I swear.” And then, her expression hardened again. “But the VRA took her, shoved her back into foster care... When this is all over, I'm tracking her down and I'm never letting anyone take her again.”
Cyborg nodded understandingly. “Hopefully that'll be sooner rather than later. But that's good, Rose. I'm glad to hear you're doing well.”
Rose smirked, lifting an eyebrow. “Remember the good old days, when you used to attack me on sight? Now here you are wishing me well.”
“Well, things change. People change.”
“Heh, yeah, even me.”
On that note, Cyborg's expression grew a bit more serious. Rose knew that look; she hated that look. It meant that he was about to act like a scolding, yet concerned older brother.
“But there are some things that you still need to take care of,” he said. “When's the last time you talked to the Titans?”
Breathing outwardly, Rose looked away again and frowned. Damn, she hated lectures. “Aside from that one time me and Tim crossed paths, not since the incident... so about two years.”
“You need to talk to them, you know that. After what happened with Bart, after you left them, cut them out... you need closure. You all do.”
“Yeah, I know.” She paused, bringing her arms over her chest again. “I just... I'm working up to it.”
“You've had two years to work up to it, Rose. Now's as good a time as any.” Saying nothing more, Cyborg gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder, then continued past her down the hallway.
Rose uttered a long, frustrated sigh, then held a hand to her head and gazed in the other direction, towards the entrance to the living room.
As good a time as any... right.
Breathing in deeply, she finally continued moving down the corridor and entered through the doorway into the living room. Most of the Teen Titans were there: Tim, Conner, Cassandra, Beast Boy, and Raven. Bombshell and Static were missing at the moment, though, which was probably for the best; those two weren't involved in the whole Bart incident, so there was really no need to drag them into this. Her words were meant for the others.
Speaking of them, the current conversation they'd been engaged in instantly ceased the moment that Rose entered. All eyes turned towards her, though no one said anything, only staring.
That is, until Cassie broke the silence. “What are you doing here?”
Hostility right off the bat, probably should have expected that. At least from Wonder B*tch anyway.
“Well, if we're keeping track,” Rose said, glaring at the blonde haired woman, “saving your asses and helping free you from mind control, after someone went and betrayed the team in the first place.”
Cassie began to rise out of her seat, a hateful frown forming on her face. “I see you haven't changed one bit.”
“Both of you, knock it off,” Tim said. “We're not here to fight with each other.”
“What do you want us to do instead, just make up nice with her?” Cassie turned her gaze, glaring at Tim now. “Have you forgotten what she did?”
Tim shook his head. “No, I haven't forgotten, but it's been a long time since then. It was a mistake, an accident, and maybe it's time we move past it.”
“Yeah, I mean... we can't hold a grudge forever, can we?” Beast Boy said.
“Maybe you can't.” Cassie once again brought her attention to Rose, eyes narrowing. “But I don't just go forgiving someone who gets one of our friends killed, someone whose life couldn't hold a candle to Bart's.”
The group went silent again, unsure how to react to Cassie's harsh words. Swallowing slightly, Rose folded her arms across her chest and took in a deep breath. She knew that Cassie loathed her, even before she got Bart killed, so this reaction didn't really come as a surprise. But apparently those two years since the incident had done nothing to even remotely soothe Cassie's opinion. If anything, it had only gotten worse.
Rose sucked in another small breath, finally ready to speak. “Listen-”
“No, you listen,” Cassie said, coming forward and poking a finger against Rose's chest. “From day one, I knew you were trouble. You were arrogant, self-centered, barely got a long with anyone, and you were constantly putting the rest of the team at risk for your own agenda. And that's not to mention all the times you ditched us, just to come crawling back again. But we always took you back, always gave you a home, a family, and what did you do to repay us? You continued acting like the same inconsiderate b*tch you've always been!”
Conner blinked a few times, rising from his seat. “Cass-”
“No, Conner, don't say anything,” she said, never taking her eyes off Rose. “Just don't. I need to get this off my chest. Rose, you've never cared about anyone but yourself. You've never listened, never considered how your actions might affect the people around you, and while you always said you considered the Titans your family, you did nothing to show that you actually cared. And you know what? You will never change.”
Rose's eyes slowly narrowed at the woman, her heartbeat starting to elevate. She forced herself to remain calm, though, instead just pursing her lips and staring intently. “Well, I can see this was a mistake...”
“The only mistake was ever letting you on our team in the first place.”
“Yeah... of course.” Rose nodded slowly, then turned her head away, heading out of the living room. Obviously this wasn't going to work.
Cassie scoffed, shaking her head. “And there you go, running away again.”
Rose stopped dead, jaw clenching and fists tightening. Taking in a deep breath, she suddenly whirled back around and stared coldly at the woman, pointing at her. “Now it's your turn to listen, got it? Ever since I first came to your little team, you were nothing but cold and condescending to me, just because of who my father was and what he did to me!”
“I'm sure the fact that you're mentally imbalanced had nothing to do with it,” Cassie remarked, rolling her eyes.
“I said, listen!” Rose snapped, coming closer. “You never gave me a chance to be anything other than the b*tch you saw me as! Nothing I ever did would have been good enough for me to crawl out of the gutter you had me in! And even when I thought we might have been warming up to each other, every time you started treating me with a little respect, I make one mistake and it's all gone, just like that! Had to start from scratch all over again, every time! So yeah, I was b*tchy, I was selfish, I was arrogant. That's what you had me pegged as, so that's all I ever was, no matter how much I tried to be otherwise! You want to know something that will blow your mind, Cassie? Everything you just said right now? You were right. One hundred percent, undeniably right!”
Rose allowed a brief moment to pass for Wonder B*tch to absorb the information. In spite of the apparent confusion on Cassie's face, she didn't say anything, probably too busy wondering where exactly Rose was going with this.
“Except for one thing,” she continued. “That I'd never change. Because you know something? I have changed. I've changed a lot. I hate that it took Bart's death for it to happen, but that's what gave me the wake up call. Bart was my friend, too, you know. I might not have been open about it, or been all goody goody with him like the rest of you, but I liked him, and I never wanted him to die. It was my own stupid decision that got him killed and I spent a lot of time hating myself for it. And I'm sorry, alright? I never got a chance to say that, but I'm sorry! For Bart's death, for being a sh*t team member, everything!”
Another moment of silence passed between them, this one longer than before. Cassie folded her arms and glared back at Rose, jaw tightening and eyes narrowing. Eventually, she managed to utter out a cold response. “Sorry doesn't bring him back. And I don't care how much you think you've changed, Rose, it doesn't make things any different. Just stay the hell away from me.”
Their conversation was suddenly interrupted, however, not by one of the other Teen Titans sitting around the living room, but by a different voice coming from the doorway. “Dios mio, what's with the shouting? Can hear you from the other end of the bunker.”
Everyone turned towards Becky momentarily, but no one said anything, not at first. Rose and Cassie were still seething at the other, trying to calm themselves down in light of the new, unrelated arrival.
“And who are you?” Cassie asked, eyes shifting briefly.
“Rebecca Chavez,” she responded. “You're... Wonder Girl?”
“Well, uh, nice to meet you. And all the Titans, hey.” She gave the group a little wave, smiling slightly. Her attention fell on Beast Boy momentarily, her demeanor suddenly shifting nervously. “Oh, uh, sorry about having to beat on you earlier, BB. No hard feelings?”
Beast Boy waved off the comment. “It's cool, given the circumstances. Don't sweat it.”
“Right, good. Still sorry, though.” Becky then turned her attention back to Rose, putting an arm around the woman's waist. “So you coming to bed or what?”
At this comment, Cassie's eyebrows suddenly lifted, eyes widening. A small, amused scoff snorted out of her throat, as she looked over at Rose. “Wait, wait. You and... her? You're joking, right? That's just... wow, I do not believe that one.”
Again, Rose's gaze narrowed at the Wonder B*tch, heart rate quickening. “What's the matter, jealous?”
“Right, as if. I don't swing that way, least of all over you.”
“Oh come on, we both know you wanted me,” Rose chastised, folding her arms and smirking. “That's why you could never keep a boyfriend for more than a couple months. Hell, just look at Tim and Conner over there, how long did they last? And refresh my memory, but I'm pretty sure they're the ones that dumped-”
The rest of her words were lost, as Cassie's fist cracked into Rose's jaw, sending her crashing to the floor. Instantly, the entire group of Titans were on their feet, moving to restrain her.
Becky, however, was the first to jump to Rose's defense, stepping right in between them. “Malparido! The hell is your problem?!”
“She brought it on herself!” Cassie shouted. “Now get out of the way!”
“You touch her again and I'll-”
“You'll what? Scratch me? Just move!”
Time tried to get between the two women, pushing them away from each other. “Everyone just calm down! Cassie, you're going too far, leave them alone!”
“Shut up, Tim, this isn't your problem,” Cassie stated, pushing him out of the way with minimal effort. “It's hers. Now, out of the way!”
As Cassie went for Rose again, Becky attempted to stop her. Unfortunately, she didn't have her suit or her staff at the moment, so when she tried to push the woman back, things didn't go so well. With a single arm, Cassie shoved Becky out of the way, putting a lot more force into it than she should have. For a brief moment, Becky was airborne, then crashed into the living room table, splintering it in half on the way to the floor.
“Becky!” Rose was suddenly on her feet, forgetting all about Cassie or anyone else, only wanting to make sure that her girlfriend was alright. Kneeling down next to the broken table, she reached out and helped the woman into a sitting position.
Becky groaned, holding a hand to a small, bleeding cut on the back of her head. “Dios... that hurt.”
“It's alright, you'll be fine,” Rose said, brushing back a strand of hair out of Becky's face. “Just a scratch. Can you stand?”
“Si, it's not that bad.” Uttering another pained breath, Becky gradually rose back up to her feet with Rose assisting her.
Slowly turning her head, Rose gave Cassie a brief, but venomous glare. “Are you happy now?” Then, she helped Becky limp back towards the doorway. “Come on, let's get you to bed.”
Cassie just stared at them as they left, a very evident frown on her face. She tried to keep her head high, not wanting to admit even to herself that she had probably gone too far. Eventually, she turned away from the others and stormed out of the room. “B*tch.”
“I'll k-kill you... I s-s-swear I'll k-kill you,” Rose muttered, breathing in deeply from the floor. She looked up, barely able to move her tired, chilled bones, unable to feel her fingers or toes, lips shuddering and numb. Even her clothes had mostly frozen and broken to pieces by now, leaving her near exposed in the frosted room, tiny little frozen flakes clinging to everything.
“Oh you'll try,” Killer Frost said, flashing that wicked grin of hers as she sat atop the chair in the center of the room, which was nothing more than a mostly empty space save for a bed, a desk, a chair, and a cold, stone floor. “And please do... I love it when they fight back.”
Rose groaned, clenching her frigid fingers tightly, trying to get any warmth from them she could. “F-f-f**k you.”
“Mmm... no, not the way it works,” Killer Frost said, wagging a finger teasingly. “But then you've already figured that out. Now, have a good night, my dear. I'll be back tomorrow.”
With that, the icy blue woman stood up from her seat and blew a mocking kiss at the girl, carrying with it a surge of extra chilled air. Rose cringed, shaking harder as she curled herself up into a ball, desperate for warmth. When Killer Frost finally left the room, that warmth did arrive, slowly but surely. The temperature grew, and feeling returned to her extremities. Within ten minutes, her breathing steadied and she could no longer see her own breath.
Is this what my life's become? she wondered. Is this... is this how I'm supposed to live now? As a prisoner? As a pet? Aplaything?All because my dad, because he... he sold me out... we were supposed to be in this together, but he gave me to these monsters!
She still couldn't wrap her head around it, why her father would done that to her. He'd been so good to her, been a real father. He loved her, trained her, was there for her when her life fell apart... but she'd seen it with her own eyes, seen him accept a trade of a couple million dollars for her imprisonment by these b**tards that called themselves the Syndicate, or at least a small part of of the Syndicate. This was only one of their strongholds, somewhere deep in Tibet.
It was bad enough... what Jackal did to her. But now this? Her father selling her out, and... and that Frost b*tch? Why did she find herself in these situations? Why was her life so full of... so full of sh*t? What had she done wrong?
When I get out of here... I'm going to kill them all. I don't care who gets in my way. They're all dead. Every last one.
“Wake up,” a cold voice stated, calling her from her sleep.
Rose quivered, squinting her eyes tightly and pulling her blankets closer around her body. Finally, she eased her eyes opened and looked up from the bed, vision slowly coming into focus. Standing above her was... a different woman, not Killer Frost. This woman, she hadn't seen before.
No wait... yes she had. In the security footage that showed her father taking the deal that left her here... this was the woman who had offered it.
“You!” she shrieked, bolting upright in bed. She sprang forward, lunging at the woman with every intent on crippling her. No, not crippling... killing. “You did this to me!”
The woman took a step back, watching with careful eyes as she brushed aside the wild attack. She stepped left, then ducked, then came forward with astounding speed and delivered a powerful blow to her attacker's gut. “Sit down.”
Rose's eyes went wide, body seizing up and a nauseous sensation bubbling in her stomach. Staggering backwards, she collapsed against the bed, gaping for breath.
“I did nothing to you,” the woman claimed. “Was your father that left you here. Your father, who sold you to us for cash. He did this to you. You know this, don't you?”
Rose swallowed, clenching her jaw and lowering her gaze. She squinted her eyes shut, tears already stinging from behind the lids. “So what, you're just gonna rub it in my face, huh?”
“Merely getting the facts straight.”
“But you're still keeping me here,” Rose said, tilting her gaze upward again, with a glare that could have stopped a charging bear. She winced slightly, hands clutching at her gut; the woman's strike had been astoundingly powerful. “I'm still your prisoner. You still work with the b**tard who ruined my life. And you give me to... to that b*tch.”
The woman considered the words a moment, nodding casually. “All true. But I have a question I'd like to ask you about that: would you like revenge on them? Would you like them to suffer?”
“What are you talking about?” Rose asked, eyes narrowing. “What kind of... of question is that? Why wouldn't I?”
“I thought as much. What if I told you that you could?”
“I'd wonder why the f**k you're telling me, when they're your friends.”
The woman smirked, chuckling lightly. “My friends... no. Pawns, more like. I have no regard for them, they merely do their part.”
“So then... what?” Rose paused, swallowing a lump in her throat. “You expect me to believe that you're going to let me get back at them?”
“Let you? No.” The woman shook her head, arms folding across her chest. “You're going to have to earn it.”
“I'm going to train you.”
Rose blinked, sitting up straighter with a puzzled expression. “What?”
“You're very talented, little dove,” the woman said. “But I could make you better. You could be the best... and you could get back at everyone who's hurt you.”
For a very long moment, Rose sat there, breathing in steadily and saying nothing. Finally, she bowed her head and stared at floor. “And why should I?”
“Because you will not get out of here any other way.”
Rose swallowed again, fingers tightening against her thighs. “And if I do this... let you train me... you'll let me go? Let me have them?”
“I said you'd have to earn it,” she replied. “If you learn enough, if you grow enough... then you will be able to do it yourself.”
Another pause. Rose turned her head, considering the woman's words. “Can you at least keep that c**t away from me?”
The woman shook her head. “Again, you have to earn that. Killer Frost... enjoys the strong ones like you, the ones who fight back but whom she can overpower... Become stronger and keep her away yourself. Consider that your motivation.”
Squinting her eyes shut, Rose took in a deep breath and bowed her head again. “One last question... just who the hell are you?”
“Oh, I had a name once,” the woman replied. Then, her lips slowly curled into the slightest of smiles. “But now, I go by a title. One handed down in my village for generations. They call me... Shiva.”
“You must be faster!” Shiva said, whirling the hard wooden stick around through the air. The end tip caught Rose's chin, snapping the girl's head back and sending her staggering to the ground. “And I know you can be. I've seen it!”
Rose pushed herself up to her hands and knees, but Shiva didn't give her a respite. Before she could return to her feet, the stick came down again squarely across her back. She uttered a tiny yelp, only for her breath to catch as a second blow came across her shoulder.
“You are not a normal girl, little dove.” Shiva paused a moment, waiting for Rose to get up to her knees, then brutally whipped the stick across Rose's cheek. The girl staggered again, but remained up right. “You are strong, fast, better than the normal human. You are special. But you your mind is clouded. You are hindering yourself, and until you clear your head, you will not improve. Now, dodge!”
The stick whistled through the air again, moving faster than the normal person could see. But Rose wasn't normal... she was like Shiva said, special. Faster, stronger, smarter than the average human, and she could see the attack coming. Or, at the very least, sense it. Bringing a hand up, she placed her palm directly in the stick's arc, catching it and then snapping it in half with a quick jerk.
“Stop... hitting me,” she said, glaring at the woman.
Shiva straightened slightly, pulling back her broken half of a stick and tossing it to the side. “That's better. Now, show me what else you can do.”
Rose didn't hesitate. She ran in full force, spinning her body and whirling in her hands expertly, aiming at the woman's pressure points. Shiva reacted far faster than she expected, twisting her arms away and then delivering a powerful knee to her gut. Rose's eyes went wide, lips bursting open with a silent gasp as she doubled over and then fell to her knees.
“You have skill, but you do not utilize it well,” Shiva informed, sending another kick to the girl's face. Rose snapped backward, landing on her back in the snowy ground of the fortress courtyard. “You attack like a wild animal, no focus, no sense of direction. You're very raw... and you must be sharpened.”
Rose groaned, rolling over and bringing a hand to clutch her split lip. But she didn't grow frustrated, or back down, or try to make excuses. This woman was just better than her, plain and simple... no getting around it. “Then sharpen me.”
Lady Shiva smiled, turning her body and preparing to attack again. “Exactly what I hoped to hear, little dove.”
“Oh Rosey,” Killer Frost said, pushing the door open. A frigid chill followed her, instantly frosting over the room. “I'm baaack.” She stepped into the room, looking around carefully... but saw no sign of the girl. “Rose?”
The door suddenly slammed shut. Before Killer Frost could react, Rose charged from behind the door and lunged at the woman, bringing a kick to the back of her knees, causing her to stumble. She followed with an elbow to the back of the head, and then moved in for a finishing blow... but in mid attack, a thick layer of ice abruptly surged up around her legs, up to her knees. She tripped, falling hard to the ground.
“Oh that's good,” Killer Frost said, holding a hand to the back of her head. She staggered back up to her feet, clearly woozy from the sneak assault. Turning around, she sneered, a gleam in her eye. “Do it again.”
“I swear... when I get my hands on you, you frosty b-mmff.” Rose recoiled sharply, as a thick casing of ice froze across her lips, silencing her.
“No no no.” Killer Frost shook her head, coming forward and driving her heel against Rose's chest, forcing her to the floor. “I'm still in charge here.”
This is the official timeline for the DC Mayhem continuity. This is made to keep our continuity rock solid, and so people (especially the authors!) have an exact idea of what important events have happened to the various characters in use, and when they happened, so we can prevent continuity conflicts. This will be updated periodically as more and more characters and stories are written.
Vandal Savage is born.
July 2: Jason Blood is born.
December 14: Etrigan the demon binds with Jason Blood.
August 5: Scandal Savage is born.
April 13: Peter Merkel is born.
May 5: Slade Wilson is born.
February 18: Bruce Wayne is born.
February 4: Edward Nigma is born
October 9: Crystal Frost is born.
March 3: Slade Wilson lies about his age to join the Army, training to be one of their very best soldiers.
June 4: Thomas Blake is born.
June 19: Sandra Wu-San is born.
March 3: Harleen Quinzel is born.
December 25: Superman's rocket lands on Earth, where he is discovered by the Kents.
September 23: Barbara Gordon is born.
October 27: Peter Merkel, Jr. is born.
July 30: Sandra Wu-San is forced by her village to take the title of "Shiva", and begins her training.
November 13: Dick Grayson is born.
May 13: Donna Troy is born.
June 16: Donna Troy's parents are killed in a house fire. She is then taken in and cared for by Wonder Woman.
August 19: Ravan is born.
January 18: Slade Wilson suffers an accident during the Gulf War, robbing him of his right eye and the use of his legs.
April 23: Slade Wilson undergoes an experimental procedure to restore his body, but it was thought to have failed.
August 5: Alex Merkel is born.
April 7: Jason Todd is born.
August 2: The effects of Slade Wilson's experimental procedure finally kick in, fully restoring his body and enhancing him to metahuman levels.
September 5: Slade Wilson attempts to rejoin the Army at Fort Benning, but is denied. That same day, he meets Adeline Kane.
December 2: Stephanie Brown is born.
July 29: Thomas Blake murders both his parents.
October 19: Slade Wilson and Adeline Kane marry.
December 5: Grant Wilson is born.
February 20: Tim Drake is born.
April 17: Slade Wilson first creates the Deathstroke persona, as a way to push and challenge his enhanced body.
December 11: Deathstroke takes a contract in Cambodia, where he is hired to protect Lillian Worth. The two become very close.
January 19: Deathstroke takes on another job that brings him to Cambodia, where he begins an affair with Lillian.
October 20: Joseph Wilson is born.
November 27: Deathstroke ends things with Lillian.
June 4: Atlee is born.
August 17: Rose Worth is born.
September 4: Lady Shiva learns of the mercenary/assassin Deathstroke and begins following his career, aiming to surpass him.
December 12: Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe is born.
January 12: Ravan begins training in the art of boxing under Darwin Cook.
August 4: In Greece, Ravan begins an apprenticeship under the assassin Constantine Drakon.
September 12: Cassandra Cain is born.
April 2: Ravan trains under the assassin Bamboo Monkey in Thailand.
September 11: Lady Shiva breaks her village's tradition and flees with her daughter.
November 23: David Cain tracks down Lady Shiva and critically wounds her with a surprise attack. Leaving her for dead, he abducts their daughter, Cassandra.
January 13: Clark Kent begins manifesting his super powers, which he cannot yet control, leading to several unfortunate accidents.
January 14: Clark Kent goes missing.
March 18: Lady Shiva completes her first official contract as an assassin, using the money to help aid her search for her daughter.
December 24: Cluemaster is arrested.
November 19: The Jackal is hired by the wife of one of Deathstroke's former victims for revenge.
December 25: The Jackal takes Slade Wilson's family hostage, in the process murdering his sons.
January 8: Adeline Kane divorces Slade Wilson.
January 24: Batman makes his first appearance..
March 3: Slade Wilson meets Lillian Worth in New York City, as well as her daughter, Rose Worth. He discovers that he is the father.
March 7: Slade abandons his Deathstroke persona and begins living with Lillian and Rose.
March 27: Donna Troy becomes Wonder Girl.
June 8: Dick Grayson's parents are murdered during a live performance at Haley's Circus.
June 18: Dick Grayson is taken in by Bruce Wayne.
August 3: An unknown man wearing a tuxedo and red mask has an accident at Ace Chemicals, and is never seen or heard of again.
August 21: The Joker makes his first appearance
September 17: Slade Wilson and Lillian Worth marry. Rose Worth becomes Rose Wilson and begins learning martial arts from her father.
October 5: Dick Grayons learns that Bruce Wayne is Batman and begins his training as Robin
January 20: Edward Nigma takes on the alias of the Riddler
February 4: Barbara Gordon first dons a "Batgirl" costume.
July 11: Barbara Gordon officially becomes Batgirl.
January 5: The Jackal, now working for a criminal organization known as The Syndicate, is once again hired to mess with the former Deathstroke. He kills Lillian, beats and rapes Rose, but is eventually stopped by Slade. An explosion allows Jackal to escape, while Rose loses her left eye.
February 10: Slade Wilson begins training Rose harder than he ever has before so they can take revenge together.
August 12: Clark Kent moves to Metropolis.
August 19: Ravan destroys a Kobra cocaine processing center in Columbia. Meanwhile, Ravan's mother is killed at home.
September 5: Slade Wilson breaks into his old Army base and steals remnants of the serum used to enhance him. He treats Rose with multiple doses.
October 8: Killer Frost sells her soul to Neron
November 5: Dick Grayson quits being Robin after a dispute with Batman, and goes on to create the Nightwing identity.
March 9: Barbara Gordon is shot and paralyzed by the Joker.
June 29: Bizarro is "born".
September 11: Barbara Gordon first creates the Oracle persona.
September 27: Batman meets Jason Todd, a young homeless boy, and takes him in to be the new Robin.
October 12: Lady Shiva, Killer Frost, and Psimon are recruited by The Syndicate.
February 18: Donna Troy moves to Washington D.C. and begins fighting crime on her own.
May 7: Ravan returns home to find his mother long dead.
June 21: Oracle first contacts Black Canary to work for her. Dr. Harleen Quinzel begins therapy on Patient #1037, The Joker.
July 12: Lady Shiva finally tracks down her daughter, taking Cassandra away from David Cain and his brutal training.
August 11: The current Robin, Jason Todd, is murdered by the Joker.
October 11: Huntress joins Oracle and Black Canary, officially forming the Birds of Prey.
February 27: Harley Quinn drowns herself at Ace Chemicals in a desperate attempt to get Joker to accept her.
May 11: Rose Wilson completes her training under her father, and the duo begins tracking down Jackal, she as Ravager and he once again as Deathstroke.
June 2: Power Girl arrives on Earth-1.
November 6: After contacting Calculator for information on Kobra, Ravan is imprisoned in Iron Heights Penitentiary.
November 19: Deathstroke and Ravager infiltrate a Syndicate stronghold in Tibet, where they attempt to assassinate The Jackal. The stronghold, led by Lady Shiva, is ready for them and they fail in their task. Ravager is taken prisoner, while Deathstroke is led to believe his daughter is dead. Deathstroke vows to exterminate the entire Syndicate.
November 21: While prisoner at the Syndicate stronghold, Rose begins training under Lady Shiva.
January 21: Tim Drake discovers that Bruce Wayne is Batman and meets him to become the new Robin.
May 26: Atlee meets Power Girl.
September 8: While in prison, Ravan joins Kobra.
December 15: Ravan escapes Iron Heights Penitentiary.
December 21: Ravan first witnesses Lady Shiva, and is instantly smitten with her.
December 23: Ravan arrives in Metropolis.
November 3: Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe's home is destroyed, along with her family.
December 4: Ravager escapes from her stronghold prison, taking Cassandra Cain with her at the request of Lady Shiva.
December 25: Black Alice drains Killer Frost's power, breaking the contract and restoring a portion of her soul but leaving Killer Frost nearly crippled.
March 15: Misfit "joins" the Birds of Prey.
April 22: The Red Hood is taken to Arkham Asylum, and Harley Quinn finds a mysterious letter in the mail.
May 13: Edward Nigma gets a job as an analyst and designer at Starrware Labs.
May 26: Karen Starr discovers Nigma's identity as the Riddler, and realizes his uses on a team.
May 29: Edward Nigma and John Henry Irons start building a green power suit.
June 16: Misfit leaves the Birds of Prey to set out on her own.
June 23: Power Girl and the JSA leave for Mars. Atlee meets Misfit.
June 25: The JSA divides. The remaining team moves in with Jason Blood in Gotham
June 26: Riddler vanishes. Raven joins the JSA.
June 28: Jack Ryder, Victor Sage, and Bleez join the JSA.
June 29: Bizarro finds a small square planet, and makes his home there.
August 3: Killer Frost is brought to Belle Reve by the JSA. Terra and Misfit continue living together in Manhattan.
August 27: Power Girl finds Edward Nigma in a warehouse, addicted to heroin.
September 10: Barbara Gordon is selected to join to Green Lantern Corps.
September 11: Barbara Gordon leaves for Oa.
October 25: Mario Falcone is killed by Kitrina Falcone.
November 27: The new Secret Six is formed.
November 29: Joker is killed.
December 4: Ravager (Rose Wilson) joins the Secret Six.
January 9: Edward Nigma gets a P.I.'s license to work in the city of Gotham.
“That'll be four twenty-three, please,” the cashier stated, flashing a pleasant smile. The woman seemed almost a little too enthusiastic about her job.
In much less of a pleasant mood, Barbara Gordon breathed out a small sigh and opened her wallet to remove a five dollar bill. “Keep the change,” she said, leaving the money on the counter.
“Oh, well thank you,” the cashier replied, tossing the change into the tip jar.
“Yeah, don't mention it.” Barbara placed her coffee in the cup holder on her wheelchair, then took her bagel in her lap and wheeled herself across the breakfast shop to one of the small tables near the window. She paused there a moment, looking outside and scanning the city streets. “Now where is he?”
As if on cue, her cell phone rang. Uttering a quiet groan, she bowed her head and reached into her pocket, already knowing who it was and why he was calling. Still, she held the phone to her ear and answered just the same. “Hello?”
“Hey, Barbara...” the voice said, carrying with it an air of disappointment and regret. It was her father, Jim Gordon.
“Let me guess, you got called in again?”
A small sigh came over the other line. “Yeah, 'fraid so. Turns out we just got swamped with-”
“It's okay, Dad, really,” she said quickly. “You're commissioner, you're busy, I get it. You don't need to explain.”
“Still, sorry I couldn't make breakfast,” Jim replied. “I'll make it up, promise. How's dinner sound?”
A small smile curled its way across Barbara's freckled face. “Sounds great, Dad. I'll call you later.”
Barbara ended the call and placed her phone back in her pocket, then wheeled herself closer to the table. She knew that her father likely wouldn't make dinner, either, with how busy he'd been lately. He'd try, sure, but work would get in the way, just like it usually did. They had been trying to spend more time together lately, but things just never seemed to open up. If there was one thing that she regretted most about her time as Batgirl, so many years ago, it was all the times she'd blown her father off to go beat up some thugs in an alleyway, all those chances for spending time with him passed up. As terrible a fact as it was, it took her getting shot to really bring them close together again. If not for him helping her adjust... she didn't know how she would have survived.
But life went on. Barbara became used to the wheelchair, used to living her life with a disability (not that she'd ever admit having a disability), and her father fell back into his work, and now... well, now things were back to normal, for the most part, full of more missed opportunities. Still, it wasn't like Barbara didn't have things to occupy herself with. She still had her job down at the Gotham Public Library, and then of course... her other occupation.
Speaking of which, she hoped that Dinah and Helena were ready for tonight. International weapons smugglers didn't catch themselves, and they had a very busy night ahead of them.
Somewhere in space sector 2814...
A bright green streak of light slashed across the blackness of space, bursting through a rippling hole in the very fabric of the physical plane. The Green Lantern known as Reemuz blinked curiously, slowing to a stop and gazing around the star-filled void. He could just make out two large masses in the distance, a small planet and its moon. Remaining on his guard, he flew towards it, bringing his glowing ring up to his lips.
“Green Lantern of Sector one-three-two-one, reporting,” he said. “I've followed the culprit through what I can only assume is a worm hole of some kind. I've come out to... some other end of space, and am continuing pursuit. Will update progress in two cycles.”
Holding his ring forward, Reemuz put on a burst of speed, heading straight for the nearby moon, nothing more than a barren hunk of rock floating around a planet barely larger than itself. He took another moment to look around, scanning the distance. No sign of his quarry anywhere, so far, but he wouldn't give up his search so easily.
“Ring, where am I?” he asked.
His ring began to glow brighter, as a slightly tinny voice responded. “Coordinates indicate Sector 2814.”
“The moon Charon, orbiting the planet, Pluto, of the Sol System.”
Reemuz narrowed his eyes, floating upward a ways and pointing his ring forward. “Scan for energy signatures.”
A wide arc of light burst forth from the ring, sweeping across the space in front of him. He turned slowly, allowing the ring to process its scan, until suddenly a bright trail of flickering crimson haze appeared, highlighted by the ring's energy.
“Got you,” he muttered, flying off in the direction of the residue.
He didn't make it very far, however, before a red hot shot of plasma streaked towards him from behind, piercing directly through his chest and out the other side. Reemuz's eyes went wide, pain ripping through his body. A second shot split the air (or lack thereof), this one puncturing through his neck. Then, his body went cold, as bright colorful spots rapidly set in over his vision. With a twitch and a desperate gasp for breath, his eyes closed.
Several moments past, until finally the ring glowed brightly and floated off his finger. “Ring status report. Green Lantern 1321 deceased. Priority directive located. Moratorium on sentient ring replacement.” Suddenly, the ring shot off through space like a missile, reaching faster than light speeds in an instant. “Proceeding to nearest sentient populace.”
“Are you in position?” Barbara asked, holding her headset microphone closer to her lips.
A crackle of static came in over the other line, followed by Black Canary's familiar voice. “We're all set. What's the ETA?”
“They should be getting there in T minus five,” she said. “You're only going to get one shot at this, so make sure you're ready.”
“We're ready, relax.”
“And make sure Huntress-”
“I'll keep her line, Oracle,” Black Canary replied, letting out a small laugh. “We've been through the plan a dozen times.”
Barbara smiled lightly to herself, folding her arms across her chest. “Just checking. Never hurts to be thorough.”
A small paused followed as they waited. Still three minutes to go. A short moment later, however, Black Canary broke the silence. “So how are things with your dad? You said you'd been trying to see each other more often, right?”
Huffing out a small breath, Barbara hung her head and shrugged. “Same as always. Missed breakfast, had to cancel dinner.”
“Sorry to hear.” Another small pause. “And... how about things with Nightwing, hmm?”
Barbara flinched slightly, sitting up straighter in her seat. Pushing her microphone close, she cleared her throat and said, “That's, uh, not something I want to get into right now. You're coming up on T minus one.”
“That serious, huh?”
“No, that's not what I- Dinah, just not now, okay?”
Black Canary snorted out a chuckle. “Fine, fine. They're here anyway. We're moving in three, two-”
Barbara uttered out a loud yelp, as the computer screen in front of her shattered, sending out a shower of sparks in all directions. She threw herself backwards, only to plummet straight to the floor when she tilted too far back in her chair. With a loud thud, she hit the floor, glasses and headset flying off, while her head bounced against the carpet.
“Ow...” she murmured, sitting up slowly and rubbing the back of her head. When she opened her eyes to see what had caused her computer to explode, however, she instantly forgot her headache, as her eyes went wide. “Oh you gotta be kidding me...”
“Barbara Gordon of Earth,” the floating green ring said. “You show great willpower, and have the ability to overcome great fear. You have been chosen.”
“No,” she said, slowly shaking her head. “No no no no no no.”
Given the fact that she'd been around the superhero community for the better part of eight years, give or take a couple, she knew what a Power Ring was. What she didn't understand was why one of those rings was floating in her control room, selecting her of all people. She didn't want this, she didn't need it. She wasn't meant to be a-
“Green Lantern selection process completed,” the ring stated, as it zipped around the room wildly before flying directly onto one of Barabra's fingers.
Instantly, a bright green glow surrounded her body. But that wasn't the only thing that happened. No, something else happened... something extraordinary that she didn't expect.
Her toes twitched.
“Wha-?” she uttered, staring down at her legs. They were flat against the floor, and, like usual ever since that fateful night five years ago, were motionless... until her knee bent slightly upward.
Eyes going wide, she suddenly felt muscle control in places she hadn't in a long time. It was so strange, so surreal... and yet so amazing at the same time. She brought a hand up to her mouth, stifling a baffled gasp as she bent both legs up to her chest. Then, she reached out with both arms, hands trembling something fierce, and hugged her legs closely... and there it was. Feeling. She could feel her arms touching her legs, and she could feel the open air against her exposed toes.
“No way,” she uttered, swallowing down a numb lump in her throat. “Just... no way.”
Very slowly, very carefully, she began to rise from the floor. She stumbled slightly, legs unsteady from years of disuse. She'd always kept her legs toned with electrical stimulation to contract the muscles, but those same muscles had still not supported her own body weight in over eight years. Even with the aid of the Power Ring, she stumbled at first, catching herself against the desk and pushing up with her arms, until finally, after several minutes of teetering and tripping, she stood on her own two feet.
“Oh my god,” she said, breathing out an exasperated puff of air. Her lips started curling into as wide a grin as they could muster, and she couldn't stop. “Oh my- oh my god!”
Then, suddenly, the ring on her finger glowed brighter, pouring forth a blinding light. She held her hand farther away, shielding her eyes with her other arm, until finally the light dimmed. When she lowered her arm, she spotted a large green object sitting on her desk. There was only one thing it could be, she knew.
“The power battery...” she said, taking a careful look at it. As she drew closer, the lantern began to glow brighter, as did the ring. Taking one more shaky step towards the battery, she slowly extended her hand, bringing the ring forward. As if in a trance, the words of an oath suddenly burst from her lips. “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall-”
“Waahh!” she shouted, suddenly toppling from her feet back to the floor. Instantly, she tugged the ring from her finger and held it tightly in her hand. Turning around, she noticed a young, freckled redhead standing there behind her fallen chair: Charolette Gage-Radcliffe, otherwise known as Misfit, and otherwise known simply as Charlie. Also, a teleporter. “Charlie! What have I told you about bouncing into my place?”
Charlie blinked a couple times, holding a finger to the corner of her mouth and tilting her eyes upwards, thinking. “Um... to bounce outside and use the front door?”
Barbara merely lifted an eyebrow, folding her arms across her chest.
“Heh, right, my bad. But this is important!” Charlie threw her hands up in mock despair, eyes opening wide. “I met this really awesome – though really weird – friend, and I sorta invited her over to watch a movie with me, but then I realized, I don't even have a TV! So was wondering if I could borrow- hey, what's that? And why is it glowing? ...and why are you on the floor?”
Charlie's gaze suddenly found the Power Battery sitting on the desk. Quickly, Barbara reached up and removed it, shoving it behind her back. “It's nothing, it's just- look, I'm kind of in the middle of something, so just go ahead and grab the TV from the living room.”
“Uh... well alright, cool,” the girl stated, with a small shrug of her shoulders. Her eyes suddenly shifted back down, however, causing her expression to twist into confusion. “Uh, hey Babs? Your hand is glowing.”
Blinking, Barbara shot her gaze downward, noticing that the Power Ring's glow was coming through her hand. “You can't be serious,” she muttered, opening her fingers briefly to look at the glowing ring, then stuffing it behind her back with the battery.
“Hey was that a ring?” Charlie asked, coming closer. Her curiosity had been peaked to a whole new level. “Why was it green? And why is it glowing?”
“OUT, Charlie!” Barbara urged, a little more forcefully than she probably should have.
Charlie instantly backed off, hands raised in surrender as she turned towards the door. “Okay, sorry. Sheesh, must be that time of the month...”
When the girl was finally gone, Barbara breathed out a heavy sigh and then rolled herself over, staring at the ring and battery. She couldn't feel her legs anymore, which meant she'd only be able to use them again with the ring on. As much as she wanted to toss the ring away, as much as she wanted to be rid of that kind of burden... those few moments of standing on her own two feet again, they had smitten her. She had never realized how much she missed it until she had it again... she could walk again, or go jogging. Hell, she'd be able to go dancing again.
“Okay, ring... you drive a hard bargain,” she said, slipping it back onto her finger. Instantly, sensation returned to her tired legs. Breathing in deeply, she clenched her hand to a fist and then pressed the ring to the face of the Power Battery. “Now, where was I?”
Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.
Note: The eighth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.
The line of students shuffled towards the exit, after a long hour of training and hard work. Though all dressed in white gis, some wore different colored belts, acknowledging their higher rank. Of course, with this being the intermediate class, they were all near the same level, with a fair mix of greens, blues, and oranges.
Rose wiped the sweat from her brow, heading behind the counter and loosening the belt of her own gi, watching as her students began to leave. “Good job today, everyone. Remember, this was the last class for next two weeks, but we'll be open again after New Year's.”
Her students turned back and gave her a few waves and parting words, then headed outside into the snowy streets. It had been nearly four months now since her martial arts studio had been open, and since then it had really taken off, becoming quite popular amongst the people in the neighborhood, mostly younger kids in high school. Of course, Becky and Holly both had been sure to make it to her evening classes for more training, in addition to the private lessons she already gave them.
Becky, in particular, had really come a long way in such a short amount of time, proving to be quite a natural at it. In spite of a somewhat slow start, she had been picking up Rose's teachings at an increasingly quick pace and could almost even land a hit during their spars. Then, there was Holly, the little firecracker that she was, who had only further increased her skill. She reminded Rose a lot of herself near that age, packing a lot of punch for one so small.
Removing the top of her gi to expose the plain white T-shirt beneath, Rose let out a small sigh and dropped into a chair behind the counter. Opening the mini-fridge next to her, she pulled out a bottle of water and took a long sip, then turned her attention to the woman sitting at the counter. “So, how's everything look?”
“Just finished paying the bills for this place and sorting through the student payments,” Circe responded, clicking through the computer in front of her. “Everything is in order.”
“Good to hear,” she replied. “You seem to be adjusting just fine.”
“Please, I'm not that out of tune with things work in the world,” Circe said. “Acting as your bookkeeper is simple enough.”
Rose took a small sip from her water, then folded her arms firmly across her chest. “You know, I still haven't received a thank you for giving you this job. Or for getting you Becky's old apartment, after she moved in with me. Or for letting you have my old car.”
“Haven't you?” Circe lifted her eyebrows in mock surprise, as her fingers typed away on the computer. “Imagine that.”
Releasing a small sigh, Rose took another gulp of water. Circe could be pretty abrasive, but she did her job well enough. Also, true to her word, she'd been raising her daughter well, even enrolling Lyta into Holly's school; the two girls were in the same class together now, and had grown quite close.
“So, are you and Lyta coming by later?” she asked.
Circe's fingers briefly stopped typing, as she turned to look over her shoulder. “I suppose. I still have no idea what the purpose of this 'Christmas' is, but Lyta is looking forward to coming over. What time would be appropriate?”
“Well, I'm taking Becky and Holly out to dinner later, when Becky gets off work,” Rose said, scratching an itch on her forehead. “Probably be back around seven... say seven-thirty?”
“We'll be there at seven-thirty, then.” Circe turned back to the computer again, fingers flying across the keyboard.
Christmas Eve, one of the happiest times of the year for many people. For Rose, however, it had been a long, long time since she had experienced a truly enjoyable Christmas holiday, not since she lived with her mother over seven years ago. Last year had been alright, with just her and Holly, but given that she had still been adjusting to her new life, it hadn't been as great as it could have.
Now, however, she could share this Christmas with not just Holly, but Becky, too. Even Circe, as disagreeable as she could be, and her daughter, Lyta, were there to participate in the festivities, or at least as festive as a small Christmas Eve get-together could be.
Rose busily worked in the kitchen, putting together a tray of dessert snacks, most of which she had baked herself the day before. She was only glad that none of her old team had been there to see her baking, of all things. Especially Wonder Girl... Cassie would never have let her live it down. Hell, she had even been wearing an apron. Two years ago, Rose would have sooner burned an apron to ashes than put one on, but she had grown in that time, changed in ways she never could have imagined.
As Rose continued putting together the desserts, Becky was with Circe in the living room, attempting to explain the concept of Christmas to her. Circe sat there in confusion, her gaze narrowed and brow furrowed.
“So, you're telling me that this holiday is supposed to celebrate the birthday of an imaginary figure who died two thousand years ago?” Circe asked. “I fail to see the point in that.”
“Uh... something like that,” Becky said, clearing her throat. “But forget the religious aspects of it. It's more just a day for friends and family to come together and celebrate the good in their lives. And exchange presents, of course.”
Folding her arms across her chest, Circe leaned back in the armchair, eyes shifting over to the Christmas tree across the room. “And what is the purpose of decorating a tree with brightly colored lights and ornaments?”
“Well, just for... decoration,” she replied. “I mean, it looks pretty, ah?”
“I wouldn't call it pretty. Gaudy, maybe.”
“Er, in any case, it's also where you put the gifts.” Becky gestured down by the floor. “See, there under the tree?”
Circe paused a moment, bringing a hand to her chin and pursing her lips. “Well, I suppose that's a more practical reason...”
“We got you a gift, too, you know.”
Suddenly, Circe's demeanor shifted. She sat up straighter in her seat, eyebrows raising and arms folding. “Oh, did you?”
“There's one for Lyta, too,” Becky explained. “They're under the tree with the others.”
Gaze moving briefly over to the bundle of wrapped presents beneath the tree, Circe lifted her eyebrows and let out a cool breath. “I see... Lyta, dear, did you hear that?”
But her daughter wasn't listening, currently engaged in her own activities. A short distance away, over at the table, Lyta and Holly sat together. Holly leaned forward, watching in awe as Lyta held her hands out and emitted bright, colorful flames from her palms. She made the flames dance and take different shapes, then let them burst into sparkles. Being a demigod herself, and the daughter of (formerly) one of the most powerful sorceresses in the world, Lyta's own magical potential was quite large.
“That is so cool,” Holly uttered, in wonder.
“I can do more, too,” Lyta said. “Watch.”
Holding her hands far apart, Lyta caused flickering sparks to jump between her fingers, until finally she held a steady electrical current. After a few moments, she brought her palms together, pressing them firmly and causing her hands to glow brightly.
Holly grinned widely, thoroughly impressed. “Man, I bet you could put on, like, the best magic show ever.”
“Maybe not the best, but yeah, it would be pretty awesome, right?”
“Lyta,” Circe called again, “I said 'did you hear that', dear?”
Finally, Lyta heard her mother, looking up from her spot at the table. “Huh? No, what's that?”
“There's a present for you under the tree.”
Instantly, the girl's face lit up, as she jumped out of her seat and ran for the tree. “Really? Awesome!”
“It's from all of us,” Becky said, flashing a warm smile. “Hope you like it.”
“I helped pick it out!” Holly announced, running close behind her friend.
Finding her present fairly quickly, Lyta levitated it up into the air in front of her and tore off the wrapping paper with a simple wave of the hand. Her gift was a book, a hugely popular and successful book, in fact, and written by a good friend: 'Hex Appeal: The Modern Girl's Guide to Magic', by Zatanna Zatara.
“Most of the stuff in there is just a bunch of illusions and sleight of hand for the average person,” Becky explained, leaning forward. “But Zatanna assured us that someone like yourself could get a whole lot more out of it. You like it?”
“Like it? I love it! This is so amazing!” A huge smile spread across her face, Lyta waved another hand, causing the levitating book to begin flipping itself through its pages. “There's a lot cool stuff in here! Thank you so much, this is great!”
Becky waved a hand, sinking back in her seat with a smile. “Ah, de nada. Glad you enjoy it. Now, I think your mother should open her gift next, don't you?”
“Oh, I'll find it for her!” Lyta said, going through all the presents again. She soon found the proper one and sent it off through the air towards her mother.
Catching the small wrapped gift, Circe stared at it for a few moments, rolling it over in her hands. “It's quite small...”
Becky let out an amused breath, shaking her head. “Just open it, girl.”
Finally, Circe did indeed open the gift. Beneath the wrapping paper was a small felt box, which she flipped open to find a gold chained necklace inside, with a small, ruby pendant. Instantly, Circe's eyebrows raised, as she lifted the jewelery up and takes a closer look. “This is... I mean, it's beautiful. You... really bought this for me?”
“Hey, it's a gift,” Becky said. “Like it or not, you're our friend, and we give our friends gifts on Christmas.”
“I don't know what to say.”
“Well, 'thank you' might be a good start.”
A long pause drifted between them, as Circe gazed at the pendant for a while longer. Eventually, she gently slipped it around her neck, a very small smile on her face. She looked suddenly more docile and agreeable than before. “Thank you.”
Carrying a tray of desserts, Rose made her way into the living room finally, joining the others. Lyta and Holly immediately attacked the tray, going straight for the brownies when she set it down on the table. Smirking a little, Rose reached for one of the small cups on the tray and then passed it to Circe.
“Ever had eggnog?” she asked.
“I don't believe I have,” Circe said, taking the cup. She tentatively stared at the liquid inside for a brief moment, and then lifted it to her lips to take a sip. Instantly, she held a hand up to her mouth and grimaced, forcing herself to swallow. She then coughed a few times, putting the cup back on the tray. “Vile, absolutely vile!”
Rose tried not to laugh too hard, giving Becky an amused look. “Well, you either like it or you don't. Guess you fall into the latter category.”
“I'll grab the wine, in that case,” Becky said, still chuckling under her breath as she headed to the kitchen. She returned a short few moments later with a cup of wine that Circe took immediately, downing a large gulp to get the taste of eggnog out of her mouth.
“Oh, Circe, I've been meaning to ask,” Rose said, “can you watch Holly tomorrow?”
Circe lifted an eyebrow. “Isn't tomorrow your Christmas Day?”
“Yeah, but unfortunately some people have to work tomorrow, regardless,” she replied.
“Police detail,” Becky explained, taking a sip of eggnog. “The station arranged for a police escort to transport a dangerous metahuman criminal. I'll be working that.”
Rose nodded. “And they want me to help. Well, technically not me. They want Ravager, in case something goes awry.”
In the past several months, her relationship with the local police force had gone from shaky to incredibly solid. With how much she had helped them, and how much crime she'd stopped, especially crime that the police wouldn't have been able to otherwise, The Ravager was not just a mysterious vigilante anymore, but instead a well regarded fellow peacekeeper around the the city. It was for that reason that they had asked her to go along on the police transport, since she had experience handling extremely dangerous meta criminals.
“I don't remember seeing anything about that in the papers,” Circe said.
“Was kept pretty quiet,” Becky replied. “The guy was actually nabbed one town over, then brought here for trial. Of course, being what he is, they pushed him through the court system pretty fast. Now that he's officially guilty, he has a nice cozy cell waiting for him in Belle Reve.”
“I see.” Circe pursed her lips slightly, bringing her wineglass up for another sip. “Well, I suppose I can watch Holly tomorrow, in that case. I'm sure Lyta wouldn't mind.”
“Good, thanks.” Rose gave an appreciative nod, then plopped herself down on the couch next to Becky. “We'll bring her by sometime in the morning, soon as we finish opening presents here.”
A couple hours later, Circe and Lyta took their leave, heading back home. Rose put Holly to bed, then helped Becky clean up the kitchen and the living room, until finally, at around eleven, the two got a chance to just sit back and relax on the couch together, watching the snow fall outside the large window in front of them.
“Feels good, doesn't it?” Becky asked.
“Celebrating Christmas like this. Friends, family...” Reaching out, she took one of Rose's hands in a firm grip, interlocking their fingers. “I know you said you've never really had much of that.”
“Not in a long time.” Returning the squeeze with her hand, Rose leaned closer to Becky, resting her head on the woman's shoulder. “It does feel good.”
Becky turned her head slightly, lifting Rose's chin with her hand. Leaning in, she gave a deep, loving kiss, then curled up closer to her, shifting into a warm embrace. “Merry Christmas, Rose.”
“Whoever arranged for a police transport on Christmas Day should be shot and hanged,” Ravager muttered, folding her arms firmly across her chest. She stood with Becky on the street just outside the police station, awaiting the transport to get underway.
At least, that was one of the passing thoughts currently running through her head. She should have been enjoying a nice morning of presents, cinnamon rolls, and general laziness, but instead there she was, working in daylight for the first time since coming to Silverstone. While she could have refused and just opted to stay home with Holly, she had worked too hard to gain good standing with the local police to go and blow them off, and Holly would be fine with Circe and Lyta.
“I'm pretty sure that would be the Chief,” Becky said. “Something about lighter traffic.”
“Remind me to smack him next time I see him.”
Becky chuckled. “I'd do it for you, if it wouldn't get me fired.”
Sighing, Ravager planted her hands firmly on her hips. “So, who is this guy we're transporting, anyway?”
“Goes by the name of Leonard Smalls,” Becky explained. “According to the information they handed out, he's a powerful pyrokinetic, along with the usual schtick of super strength and durability. Hell, I heard he once survived a trip down to the Earth's core. But, he's got an inhibitor collar on him now to nullify his powers, so he shouldn't be a problem.”
“And he was stopped during a rampage over in Springfield?”
Becky nodded. “By the Flash, yeah. Not sure what his problem was, be he tore apart half the town before finally being subdued.”
“Well, with a name like Smalls, can't really blame him for being so angry.”
A small smirk formed across Becky's face, as she opened the door to her squad car. “You'll be following behind us, right?”
“On my new ride, yeah,” Ravager said. “I'll be ready at a moment's notice, if something goes wrong.”
“Kay, see ya out there.” With that, Becky got into her squad car and closed the door, waiting for the signal to move out.
Ravager gave her a wave, then headed over to her new bike, an even more heavily advanced cycle built for her by Batman. It looked much the same as her last one, but the engine was more powerful, and the steering much smoother. It had also been outfitted with a bunch of nifty and useful little gadgets for special occasions. As she mounted the bike, she was approached by an older cop, greying around the ears and wrinkling around the eyes.
“Hello, hey, you're The Ravager, right?” the officer asked.
“You see anyone else dressed up in an armored suit and wearing a mask?”
“Uh, right.” He briefly cleared his throat, then held a hand out towards her. “Anyway, I just wanted to introduce myself before we get this show on the road. I'm Officer McCormick, I'm in charge of the transport today.”
Ravager stared at the man for a moment, before finally reaching forward to shake his extended hand. “Tell me, McCormick, you really expect something to happen?”
“Oh, I'd certainly hope not,” he said. “But with these kinds of people, you never can be too careful. No telling what kinds of friends they might have trying to bust them out.”
“And you think a dozen squad cars, plus me, are going to be enough to repel one of these hypothetical attacks?”
“It'll have to do, because it's all we got. Besides, you're used to this kind of stuff; you can handle it, right?”
Ravager grinned beneath her mask. “Oh, trust me, I can handle it.”
The traffic was very light on the highway, with only a scant few other cars here and there. Most people were at home either sleeping in or opening presents at this time, and those that would be traveling wouldn't be doing so until later in the morning. This allowed for the police transport convoy to progress swiftly and smoothly towards Belle Reve Penitentiary. Given that the location was about six hours away, however, they were in for quite the long drive.
Keeping in the back, Ravager paid close attention to the setup. Six squad cars out in front of the armored car transporting the prisoner, and six behind it. If anything did happen, she just hoped that they could handle it. One or two rogue metas coming to free their boss, sure, no problem. But a whole team? Well, that could be an issue.
It was snowing still, had been since the night before, resulting in a heavy blanket of white powder covering the surrounding land, and a rather slick road surface. At least they got a white Christmas, even if driving in the snow was a real pain in the ass, especially on a bike. Fortunately, her new ride came equipped to handle all kinds of weather conditions.
About a half hour down the highway outside of Silverstone, something did happen, although nothing that they had expected. The convoy was forced to slow down to a halt, as a road block consisting of half a dozen black cars with tinted windows sat directly in their path across the entire width of the highway.
Ravager glared from behind her faceplate (now outfitted with two eye holes, ever since she got her missing eye back). This definitely wasn't normal. Stopping her ride, she got off and started walking towards the front of the line of squad cars. As she passed Becky's car, the window rolled down.
“The hell do you suppose this is?” Becky asked.
“Not a clue,” she replied. “But I intend to find out.”
By the time she reached the front of the convoy, Officer McCormick was already there, talking to a man dressed in a dark suit and tie, with tinted sunglasses. “...out of your damn mind! This man killed fifty-seven people in an hour, and caused millions in property damage!”
“I'm afraid it's a presidential order,” the man in the dark suit said.
“Bullsh*t! You honestly expect me to believe-”
“Alright, what the hell is going on here?” Ravager interrupted, approaching the two men.
They quickly glanced back at her. The man in the suit looked remarkably calm, while McCormick was borderline livid.
“And you are?” the unknown man asked.
“This is Ravager,” McCormick explained. “She's assisting us on our transport today. Ravager, this is Agent Croft, with the FBI. He's demanding that we free our prisoner.
Furrowing her brow, Ravager slowly looked over to the fed. “You do realize who you're talking about, right? A highly dangerous criminal capable of incredible amounts of destruction. A murderer, plain and simple.”
Agent Croft merely folded his arms. “We know who he is ma'am, but you're to release him at once. I have the written order right here.”
Reaching into his pocket, Agent Croft pulled out an envelope and removed the folded paper inside. McCormick took the paper from him and quickly read it over. It was, indeed, a written order to release the prisoner, signed by the President of the United States himself, along with the presidential seal stamped right next to the signature.
“This is insane,” McCormick said, shaking his head. “We can't just let him go; he's been found guilty in a court of law. He's a convicted felon!”
“Not our call, just following orders.”
Putting a hand on McCormick's shoulder, Ravager turned him to the side for a moment, leaning in to whisper, “I don't like this, there's too much wrong with it.
“You're telling me,” he replied. “None of this makes any sense.”
“Exactly. How did they even know when we were transporting this guy? They haven't given an actual reason for his release, either, just that it's supposedly a presidential order. That also doesn't make any sense. Why would the president want to free a mass murderer?”
Officer McCormick uttered a long, frustrated breath, holding a hand to his forehead. “But at the same time, what are we supposed to do? The papers look legit, and if this is a presidential order, we can't ignore it.”
“So you're just going to let him go?”
“Believe me, I don't like it, but I don't see how we have any other choice.”
Letting out a small groan, Ravager slowly shook her head. “Alright, fine, but just remember that-”
Her words suddenly caught in her throat, as her mind blotted out with a precognitive vision. It wasn't one of her brief warnings of an attack, it was a more extensive one, which she'd become quite used to by this point. But what she saw sent her into defensive mode. Federal agents firing, dead cops, burning vehicles, and a man standing over them wrapped in flames.
“Officer McCormick,” she said, holding a hand to the man's back, “walk very slowly back to your vehicle, and leave this to me.”
“What are you-”
“Just do it,” she urged. He gave her a long, confused look, but the seriousness in her tone finally got him to head back to his squad car. Ravager then turned back to Agent Croft, glaring at him. “So, when were you planning to do it?”
The federal agent merely lifted an eyebrow, apparently confused. “Do what, exactly?”
“Open fire on everyone here.”
A long pause passed between them, until finally Agent Croft tilted his head forward, looking over the top of his sunglasses. “He was right about you; you do see things.”
Ravager's body suddenly tensed up, eyes narrowing. “Who?”
But she never got an answer. Instead, she saw another flicker of precog, this time reacting to it instantly. Before Agent Croft could get a hand on his gun, Ravager delivered a hard palm strike to the bottom of his chin, whipping his head back and knocking him to the ground unconscious. Then, pandemonium erupted. The feds standing behind their cars all drew their weapons, beginning to open fire. Some carried pistols, but others were equipped with heavier artillery, mostly assault rifles.
Several cops went down before they realized they were under attack and started shooting back. Ravager was already on the move, leaping over the wall of cars and attacking everyone in range. They tried to shoot her, but were largely unsuccessful, as she viciously beat them down into unconsciousness.
Within a short couple of minutes, the shootout ceased. Ravager glanced around quickly, carefully examining the area. The feds were either unconscious, dead, or rolling around in crippling pain. Back on the other side, she spotted at least half a dozen dead cops, on the ground and bleeding. Hurrying quickly back over to the police convoy, she looked around frantically.
“Becky!” she called.
“Over here,” came the reply.
Ravager's gaze quickly turned to find Becky sitting on the ground and leaning up against her squad car. She was bleeding from a gunshot wound on her arm, but didn't appear to be hurt beyond that. “You alright?”
“Si, just a flesh wound. I'll be fine.”
“What in the hell was that?!” McCormick shouted, drawing their attention as he approached. “You want to explain why you just caused federal agents to shoot at us?!”
“They never meant to do this peacefully,” she explained.
“What are you talking about?”
“They were going to kill us all after they freed the prisoner. No one would have gotten away.”
McCormick's eyes narrowed. “And how the f**k do you know that?”
“I saw it.”
“What do you mean you-”
A loud burst of gunfire suddenly went off. Officer McCormick fell face first against the cold ground, bleeding from multiple bullet wounds along his backside, spreading out a crimson pool below him. Taking a surprised step backwards, Ravager looked up back over at the road block. Through the whipping snowflakes falling from the sky, she saw a figure standing atop one of the cars. He held a pair of automatic pistols, barrels smoking.
Ravager instantly froze up when she recognized the man. Mask or not, there was no mistaking him for someone else. He was far too familiar to her; those colors, that costume...
“You...” she breathed, tightening her hands to fists.
And then, the voice.
“What's the matter, Rose?” Deathstroke took a small step off the car, landing against the ground on his feet. “Didn't see that one coming?”
Chaos erupted across the highway yet again, this time fueled by the mercenary known as Deathstroke, otherwise known as Ravager's father. As soon as he appeared and killed Officer McCormick, the remaining cops open fired on him. Unfortunately, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. He reacted far too fast for them, already moving, ducking, and weaving out of the way. Within seconds, he mowed them all down with his automatic pistols, until not a single one was left standing. The only ones left now were him, Ravager, Becky, and the prisoner in the armored car.
Ravager took a step toward her father, swords already drawn. “You have some nerve showing up here, coming after me. After all this time, I'd finally put you behind me... and then you show up again like this. You son of a b*tch...”
“What makes you think I'm here for you, Rose?” Deathstroke questioned, lowering his pistols. “I gave you a chance before to come with me, to start our family over, but you threw the offer back in my face. You don't interest me anymore.”
“Then why are you here, shooting down cops? Last time we met, you said you were cleaning the slate, starting over. So much for that bullsh*t, huh?
“I'm here for the prisoner, nothing more,” he explained. “I was hired to make sure this transaction went... smoothly. My client is a very important man, after all.”
Ravager narrowed her gaze from behind her mask. “Your client?”
“Details, Rose, you know I can't divulge them.”
Leaning back closer against her squad car, Becky stifled a small groan of pain, pressing her hand closer to her bleeding arm. It may have been just a flesh wound, but it still hurt. “Rose, who is that?”
Ravager paused, jaw clenching. “My father...”
“Dios mio...” Becky turned her head slightly, trying to look around the side of her squad car. “You serious?”
“I wish I weren't,” she muttered.
Cocking his head to the side slightly, Deathstroke's single eye glared at her through his mask. “Giving away your identity to the local cops now? Or is she a friend? Didn't realize you had any these days, after that incident with the Titans.”
Ravager scowled, fingers tightening around her sword handles. “You don't know anything about it.”
“I notice you have a new costume now. Finally decided to try and step out from my shadow? It doesn't suit you.”
“And two eye holes?” Deathstroke lifted a hand to his chin, as if intrigued. “Is that supposed to be ironic or did you really go and get another?”
“You can change your appearance and distance yourself from me as much as you like, but it doesn't matter, Rose. In the end, you'll never be anything more than Daddy's little girl.”
“I said... SHUT UP!”
She suddenly sprinted at him, wanting nothing more to do with his venomous words. She had thought herself free of her b**tard father, living her own life with no more constant reminders of him. She had finally been able to push him out of her mind entirely, had been starting to forget him... and then, in an instant, all that freedom was gone.
Ravager lunged in at him wildly, viciously, swinging her blades with every intent on ripping through her father's midsection and spilling his insides out over the highway. But of course, he was too quick for that, simply moving out of the way and drawing his own sword.
For a brief few moments, their steel clashed. Her heart thumped quickly in her chest, everything slowing down as her mind and body came into near perfect, fluid harmony. She could see his attacks, defended against them effortlessly, pressed her assault... but then she realized that he was just toying with her. All that harmony came crumbling down when his knee drove straight into her gut with tremendous force, knocking the wind from her even through her armor. A follow up kick to the head sent her sliding across the ground, and knocked the faceplate clean off her helmet to expose her face.
“You've gotten better, Rose,” Deathstroke stated, taking a few, slow steps forward. “I can see it in the way you fight, the way you move. But you're sloppy right now, clumsy. You can't get me out of your head, can you?”
Gritting her teeth, Ravager pushed herself back up to one knee. As she moved to stand back up, Deathstroke was suddenly on her again, driving his leg squarely into her chest and causing her to crash into a nearby squad car, denting the door. Walking forward, he reached down and grabbed her by the front of her suit, pulling her up to eye level.
“And as long as I'm in your head,” he said, his voice coming out in a cold, menacing whisper, “you can't beat me.”
The loud bang of a gunshot echoed through the cold, winter air. Deathstroke pulled his hand back in sudden pain, the bullet driving into his armored costume and forcing his sword from his grasp. Slowly, he turned to see Rebecca standing there with one hand pointing her pistol at him. Her other arm hang limply, bleeding from the wound near her shoulder.
“Get away from her, you b**tard!” she shouted, taking in deep, slow breaths. “Put your hands on her head, and get down on your knees! I won't say it again!”
“Becky, don't!” Ravager pleaded, squirming in her father's grasp. “Just get b-!”
Her words cut out suddenly when Deathstroke's fist plunged into her gut. Even through her armor, she felt it. And it hurt. Doubling over, she dropped to her knees, barely able to breathe. All she could do was look up in dismay as her father turned towards Becky.
She doesn't know what she's doing, she'll get herself killed!
When Deathstroke didn't back down, Becky fired again. But he was already out of harm's way, on the move and rushing straight at her. Her eyes went wide, as she tried to follow him with her aim. Two more shots went off, but they both missed; in seconds, he was upon her. Utilizing her recent training, Becky attempted to defend herself, and actually managed to evade and block the first couple of strikes. She quickly lost ground, however, until finally Deathstroke's knee exploded into her stomach, followed by his palm snapping her head backwards. A straight, stomping kick to the chest put her on the ground, coughing and gasping for air.
Reaching into his holster, Deathstroke pulled out another one of his guns and pointed it down at her. “Should have stayed out of it.”
Before he could shoot, however, Ravager came it at him half crazed, slashing her swords and screaming. “Don't you touch her!”
Though her blades managed to draw blood, the wounds were shallow and did little to slow her father down. Deathstroke quickly recovered from the surprise attack and disarmed her, then put her down again with several hard blows to the midsection. Falling back to the ground, Ravager held her arms over her gut, curling up into a ball and shuddering. She might as well not even be wearing armor against him.
“Well, looks like I was wrong,” Deathstroke said, glancing back down at Becky. “Not friends at all. You never cease to surprise me, Rose.”
“Go to hell...” she groaned.
Ignoring her, Deathstroke walked through the carnage, stepping over the bodies, and finally made it to the armored car. Shooting off the locks to the rear doors, he threw them open and jumped up inside, where a large, dark skinned man sat, strapped to the bench on the side with a thick metal collar around his neck.
“Leonard Smalls, Jr.?” Deathstroke inquired.
The man let out a gruff breath, looking up at him. “You're lookin' at him. But I prefer Holocaust.”
“So who the hell are you?”
“I'm the one who's getting you out of here,” Deathstroke explained. “A very important man has a proposition for you, one I don't think you'll want to pass up.”
“Hmph.” Holocaust spit onto the truck floor, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “I'll be the judge of that.”
“If you want your slate wiped clean,” Deathstroke said, gaze narrowing, “you'll take the offer. Either that, or I leave you here.”
Holocaust frowned, lifting his chin slightly. “I'll consider it. That's all you're gettin'.”
Walking up to the man, Deathstroke drew a knife and cut the straps holding Holocaust in place, then broke the inhibitor collar with his bare hands. Instantly, Holocaust stood up and held out his fists, unleashing a swirl of fire that burst through the top of the vehicle. Grinning widely, a pleased chuckle echoed in his throat.
“Now that's what I'm talkin' about!”
“Come on, we're wasting time.” Turning from the truck, Deathstroke hopped down to the highway. “We have places to be.”
When the two exited the armored car, Deathstroke looked around carefully. He didn't see any sign of his daughter or her girlfriend; they most likely retreated when they had the chance. Not that it mattered; he didn't come here for them, after all.
“One more thing before we go,” Deathstroke said. “Get rid of the evidence.”
“Heh, my pleasure.”
Red hot flames engulfed Holocaust's body, then quickly began to spread across the highway and consume vehicles and bodies alike, incinerating them to ash. In mere seconds, a towering inferno raged across the road, thick billows of black smoke rising into the sky.
Police Chief Gerald Palmer sat behind his desk, hands folded and gaze narrowed at the two people standing across from him: Ravager and Rebecca Chavez, the latter of whom rested her injured arm in a sling. They'd just finished debriefing him on the events that took place on the highway, and quite frankly, it was a lot to absorb.
“So let me get this straight...” Palmer breathed. “You were stopped by a federal roadblock, demanded to give up your prisoner, then attacked not only by the FBI, but an international criminal mercenary, resulting in the deaths of fifteen police officers. That about sum it up?”
Hanging her head, Becky swallowed back a holly knot in her throat. “Yes, sir.”
“I'd say that pretty much covers it, yeah,” Ravager muttered, arms folding across her chest. “Except, you missed the part where the pyro freak torched the entire scene. Wasn't a lot left when we went back to check.”
Leaning back in his seat, Palmer ran his fingers through his hair sucked in a large breath of air. He was trying to hold it together, in spite of an overwhelming mixture of anger, grief, confusion, and a swarm of other emotions raging inside his head like a maelstrom.
“Son of a b*tch...” he said, hanging his head low. “I knew those men. Good cops, every last one of them. Now I have to tell their families that...” He paused, lifting a hand and rubbing his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. “Goddamn it.”
Both Ravager and Becky remained silent, only glancing at each other briefly.
“Okay, you two just... go,” Palmer said. “Chavez, take the rest of the day off. Ravager... do whatever you normally do. I'll handle this. Gotta send a team up to investigate the scene, send word out to the deceased's families, report this... incident. Just... go, both of you. Now!”
Ravager was the first to turn and leave, heading out the door. Becky, however, remained behind a brief moment. She knew all those men, too, knew them well. They were fellow cops, there was a bond there. Losing that many of her comrades in one day... it was like driving a spike through her heart.
“Sir... if there's anything I can-”
“Not now, Chavez.” Palmer shook his head slowly, burying his face into his hand. “Just... not now.”
Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, Becky nodded slowly, then finally left the office.
Rose watched quietly, as Becky marched across the penthouse into the living room, dropping herself onto the couch. They were both tired and hurting, but in different ways. For a long moment, neither said anything. Becky sat there, motionless, while Rose stood in the main hallway, head hanging. Finally, she turned and made her way into the kitchen.
“I'll... put some coffee on,” she said.
The next ten minutes went by in utter silence. Rose just stood there, watching the coffee drip into the pot. When it finished, she poured two cups and walked into the living room to be with her girlfriend. Though she held one of the cups of coffee out, Becky didn't acknowledge it at first. Only after Rose pushed it closer to her face did she finally take it, bringing it to her lips and sipping down the hot drink.
Rose sat down down across from her in one of the arm chairs. She took a long sip of coffee, then leaned forward and placed her mug down on the table between them. Words escaped her at the moment, not knowing exactly what to say. Neither of them had been prepared for such an incident today. Even Rose, with all her experience, was at a loss.
Fortunately, Becky broke the silence. “So... that was your father?”
Becky didn't even blink, holding her cup of coffee close to her lips. “He's a b**tard.”
“I know.” Breathing in a long gulp of air, Rose held a hand to her forehead and sunk back in her seat, eyes closing. “I thought... I really thought I was finally free of him, you know? I had my own life, one that he wasn't a part of, I'd managed to get him out of my mind... and then he comes right back in and f**ks with me all over again.”
“Who do you think hired him?” Becky asked.” It... couldn't really be the President, could it? I mean, you don't really think...”
“No, no way.” Rose shook her head adamantly, staring a hole through the table. “If Slade's involved, then those guys couldn't have been legit, definitely not feds. Maybe just some goons my dad's employer hired as plan A. When that fell through, daddy dearest came in as plan B. But whoever it is... whoever hired him, I'm going to find him, and I'm going to hurt him.”
“Yeah... I'm sure you will.”
A brief moment of silence passed between them. Rose glanced up at Becky, noticed the hurt on her face. Seeing her this way... it made Rose sick to her stomach. Getting up from her seat, she moved forward around the table and sat on couch next to Becky, putting a hand on the woman's shoulder.
“Becky... I'm sorry,” she said, bowing her head. “I really... I know they were your friends. I was a cop, too, I know how strong that bond is... and you worked with them a lot longer than I did.”
An answer didn't come immediately. Becky simply sat there, quietly staring down at her reflection in the cup of coffee. Eventually, she breathed out a heavy sigh and shook her head slightly. “I just... I wish I wasn't so useless all the time.”
Rose furrowed her brow, giving a curious look. “What are you talking about?”
“Rose, what did I really do today? I shot at a few people, got shot myself, then almost got killed. A big help I was, huh?”
“Becky, there's nothing you could have done.”
“But that's the problem!” Beck was on her feet now, lurching up from her seat and holding her good hand up to her head. For a moment, she just paced back and forth, then finally dropped her arm and looked to Rose. “With how you live your life, with what you do... this whole superhero thing, I can't help you with that. No matter how much I want to, I can't. Yeah, I'm a cop, but as you love to point out, there's just some things that the cops can't handle. Take today, for instance. All I did was get in the way. I want to do more.”
“But you already do more, Beck.” Rose stood up from her seat, stepping forward and holding a comforting hand to her girlfriend's shoulder. “You help me every night, at that computer, on the radio. You-”
“Jueputa!” she snapped. “I don't want to be stuck behind a computer! When you're out there every night getting yourself shot at, putting bad guys away, what am I doing? Sitting at a desk and praying to god that you come home in one piece. I want to be out there with you, Rose, I want to really help you.”
“Becky... even if I wanted to put you in danger like that every night, you still wouldn't be ready, you're just-”
“A rookie, right, I know.” Becky bowed her head, huffing out a frustrated breath. “Madre de Dios, I know.”
Rubbing her eyes tiredly, she started pacing again, then swallowed another numb lump in her throat. She held her fingers to her eyes, taking in a deep, shaky breath, and trying to hide the wetness of tears beginning to form. But she wasn't entirely successful; Rose could see the moistness seeping around her fingertips.
“And I don't have any powers or anything special about me, anyway,” Becky continued. “I can't even fight that well... what could I really do?”
Rose moved around in front of her again, reaching forward and placing her hands gently on either of Becky's cheeks. “You don't need anything super or special about you, Becky. No matter what, you're special to me, and that's what matters.”
“I... I know, I just... I can't help it, you know? I hate being here while you're out there, knowing I can't do anything for you. I just wish I could do more.”
“But you don't need to. Just being yourself... being in my life,” Rose said, gently caressing the side of Becky's face. “You're already doing more than enough.”
When Becky went silent, lowering her gaze towards the floor, Rose leaned in and gave a firm, loving kiss. She held it a long time, coming close and wrapping her arms around Becky's shoulders, letting her know that she was there for her. When their lips parted, Becky took in a heavy breath and swallowed, nodding slowly.
“Thanks...” she breathed. “I'm just gonna take a while to clear my head. Think I'll take a shower.”
“Alright, you do that,” Rose said, with a nod. “I gotta go pick up Holly, anyway. When I get back, we'll all go out for dinner, how's that sound?”
A small smile curled its way across Becky's face. “Sounds perfect.”
It was snowing again, light flurries fluttering down weakly from the sky above. People lined the streets, watching the squad cars and police motorcycles drive by in a long, mournful procession. Six days, that was how long it took to organize such a massive funeral march. As much as the city would have like to have individual funerals for these fallen officers, there just wasn't enough taxpayer money to go around for fifteen such instances. Never before had such a tragedy befallen Silverstone's finest, and every single person there hoped that it never did again.
Rose stood on the sidewalk, at the corner of Levitt and Hunting Street. Holly was there, holding her hand tightly and watching with watery eyes. She may have been young, but she was old enough to understand the kind of impact that such an event had on a city and its people. The general public hadn't been privy to the details of the event that actually took the lives of so many officers, though. All they had been told was that these men had died while trying to apprehend dangerous criminals. As for the information about Deathstroke, the phony feds, and phantom presidential orders, that was all being kept under wraps, at least for now.
After the initial wave of police cruisers, the long lines of officers on foot appeared, marching behind the slow procession. Becky was right at the front, walking in rhythm and trying to keep her head high, in spite of the tears streaking down her face. But she wasn't the only one crying; every single officer shed tears that day. These fallen were their co-workers, their comrades, their friends, and they would be missed.
As the line of police continued on, Holly glanced up and tugged gently at Rose's hand. “Are they going to catch the people that did this?”
Breathing outwardly, Rose returned the gaze. “Of course they are.”
“Are you going to help?”
“Yes,” she replied, turning her attention back to the procession. “You're damn right I am.”
No matter what it took, Rose would find out who was responsible for that massacre. She was already heavily involved as it was, with her father being the biggest lead that they had, but there was something more driving her motivation, something burning deep. Whoever did this would pay dearly. Whatever she needed to do... the people responsible wouldn't get away. She'd make sure of it.
Looking back to the funeral procession, Holly let out a heavy breath, tightening her fingers around Rose's hand. “Good.”
Several hours later...
Becky knocked lightly on Chief Palmer's office door, taking in a deep breath and then slowly letting it out. When the voice on the other side of the door told her to come inside, she hesitated. Part of her just wanted to turn the other way and keep on going, maybe find a nice hole to curl up into and disappear. Of course, the other part of her, the stronger part of her, forced her through the door. She closed it behind her, then stood awkwardly in front of the man's desk, bowing her gaze.
“You can sit down, Chavez.”
“Oh, right. Of course.” Moving forward, she quickly seated herself down in the chair across from him. “Sorry, I... I mean, I wasn't...”
“I know,” he said, giving an understanding nod. “Don't worry about it. Now, what did you want to see me about?”
“I just... wanted to talk. About the incident last week.”
“What about it?”
Becky swallowed, breathing in deeply and hesitating to respond. She held her police hat in her hands, absently fingering the brim with her thumb. “I want to apologize. I was there when it happened, you know? I.. I tried to do what I could, sir, but it wasn't enough. We were caught completely off guard, unprepared, and we failed... I failed.”
Becky hung her head, as a silent pause drifted over over the room. Regardless of how much she knew it wasn't her fault, knew that there was nothing else she could have done to help, the guilt was still there, clawing at the back of her mind constantly.
Palmer gazed back at her, shifting in his seat and sighing. “The only reason you failed is because I failed. I should have handled it differently, set up the transport another way... I don't know, maybe I put too much trust in that Ravager.”
“Ravager is the only reason I'm still alive, sir,” Becky said quickly, jumping to Rose's defense. “She fought tooth and nail with us, but even she's only one person.”
“I know, I know...” Palmer sighed, shaking his head. “It's not her fault. And it's not your fault, either.”
“Right... it's whoever set us up, whoever hired Deathstroke, whoever wanted that prisoner free. That's who we should be going after, and I want to help. Whatever you need me to do, sir, I'm yours. I'll take extra shifts, go undercover, work with the detectives, it doesn't matter. I want to help catch these b**tards.”
Another long silence descended upon them. Palmer's gaze moved away from her, a hand coming up to run through his hair. He looked nervous, agitated even.
“What is it?” Becky asked, narrowing her eyes. “I know that look, something's wrong.”
“Something's wrong, alright,” he said, swallowing back a knot in his throat. “We won't be handling the investigation.”
“Mierda!” Becky leaned forward in her seat, sitting straight with her eyes wide. “Are you kidding me?”
“I wish I were, believe me.”
“What the hell happened?”
“It's become a federal case,” Palmer explained. “All I was told was that the FBI would be handling the investigation, and that we can't be involved. You know, because we're just the damn city cops.”
Jumping to her feet, Becky slammed her fists on top of the desk. She wasn't just angry anymore, she wasn't just upset; she was p*ssed. “The city cops who just lost fifteen members of their force! And they're telling us we can't be involved? That's bullsh*t!”
“Believe me, I'm right there with you, but there isn't anything I can do about it. Those are the orders.”
“Jueputa!” In her outburst, Becky drove her boot into the desk, giving it an astoundingly hard kick that rattled everything on it.
Palmer didn't make a move to calm her down, though, or try to get her to stop. She was reacting exactly how he had expected her to react. He wasn't any more pleased about the situation that she was; the only difference was, being Police Chief, he didn't get to react like that. Rather, he had to retain his cool, had to bite the bullet. But Becky... he let her vent.
“Of all the garbage things to... I can't even... Goddamn it!” Becky slammed her fist down on top of the desk again, knocking off a cup full of pens to the floor. “Permission to take the rest of the day off, Chief? I... I feel like I need to go hit something.”
“Was just about to suggest it myself, actually. Take tomorrow off, too, give you some time to clear your head.”
Clenching her jaw briefly, she nodded to him and then headed to the door. “Thank you, sir.”
The door slammed behind her, shaking the entire wall. Breathing out another long sigh, Palmer leaned forward against his desk and held his head in his hands; he suddenly had a very large headache.
The Red Rose Martial Arts Studio might still have been closed for another few days, but Becky really wanted to hit something, and this was the only place with a sizable enough area for them to spar in properly. Rose ducked an incoming punch, then countered with a palm thrust to the chest. Becky stumbled backwards, growling in frustration, but didn't let that slow her down. She came back in again with a whirling kick, viciously. Rose threw up an arm to block it, then pushed the leg to the side.
“It has to be some kind of joke,” Rose said. “The feds are really just coming in and pushing you out of the way?”
“Of course they are, because why not?” Exhaling a loud, sharp breath, Becky lunged forward with another punch; she hit only air. Trying not to fall too far off balance, she followed up quickly with a roundhouse elbow, but again Rose blocked it. “I'm pretty sure it's in the FBI handbook, to be the biggest a**holes possible. Kick us off the case, keep us in the dark... hijo de puta!”
As their spar went on, Becky grew increasingly aggravated, not only because of the situation involving the investigation, but also because she still hadn't managed to land a hit on her sparring partner, in spite of how bad she wanted to let out her frustrations on something. She thought that maybe this time, she would actually give Rose a challenge... but not so much. Even with how much she had improved, Rose was still leaps ahead of her.
“Damn it!” she shouted, shifting her footing and lunging in with another kick. “I need to hit something!”
Again, Rose blocked an incoming strike and pushed Becky off balance. She wasn't fighting back as she usually did, instead just defending herself. No reason to add insult to injury, after all. Still, Becky didn't give up, pressing her zealous attack with everything she had. Unfortunately, everything she had wasn't nearly enough, as Rose continued to nearly effortlessly avoid her strikes.
“Would you rather I just stand here like a dummy?” Rose asked. “Or do you want earn it?
Another duck, another weave, another misstep that threw Becky off balance. “To be honest, I'd rather just beat the crap out of something!”
This time, Rose caught Becky's arm and twisted it slightly, then pushed her backwards while stepping behind her and tripping her up.
Becky went down hard, landing on her behind and beating her fists against the mat. “Mierda!”
“There's always the heavy bag.”
“The heavy bag doesn't fight back.” Flipping herself back up to her feet, Becky lunged in with a flying kick. Rose sidestepped it, pushing her on by and causing her to stumble yet again. “It won't help me improve.”
Uttering another loud breath, Becky turned and threw a cross jab, only to once more be pushed away with ease. This time, Rose moved behind her and put her in a simple choke hold, with one arm forced behind her back.
“And... I'm going... to improve!” A few months ago, Becky would have been trapped for good, but not anymore. Throwing her body forward, she used the momentum to flip Rose over herself onto her back.
Letting out a quick breath upon impact, Rose looked up and then grabbed onto Becky's gi, pulling her down as well. “You have improved. But you still have a long way to go.”
When both were back on their feet, Rose took another defensive stance and waited for Becky to make her next move. For the moment, however, Becky just stood there, taking deep, angry breaths.
“I'm waiting,” Rose said.
“When do you have to pick up Holly?”
“Uh, she'll be at Circe's for another few hours, why?”
Becky sucked in a deep breath, then wiped the sweat from her brow. “Good.”
On that note, Becky ran in with a wild yell. Rose shifted her stance, ready to defend herself, but she wasn't quite prepared for what happened next. Even her precog didn't pick it up.
Diving forward, Becky tackled Rose to the ground, pinning her there on her back and straddling her hips. She breathed deep, heavy breaths, hands coming up to pull open Rose's gi. In the next moment, Becky's lips began attacking Rose's neck, while her hands moved in under her clothes.
Rose's eyes went wide, back arcing and body tingling. “Whoa, alright, wasn't expecting that.”
“If I can't beat away my frustrations, I'm gonna handle them a different way,” Becky said, lifting her girlfriend's shirt off.
As Becky began trailing kisses down Rose's body, Rose gasped out a sharp, pleasant breath, eyes closing. “Well sh*t... be my guest.”
The two women walked up to the apartment door hand in hand, both rather glowing at the moment. After what Becky had initiated, though, it was no wonder.
Raising a fist to knock on the door, Rose glanced over at her girlfriend and raised her eyebrows. “So, you feeling better now?”
“A little, yeah,” Becky said, with a deep breath. “Still doesn't make me like being benched by the feds any better, though.”
“I know, but don't worry. They might be able to put you on the sidelines, but they can't do the same to Ravager. We'll get to the bottom of this with or without permission, promise.”
Giving her hand a firm squeeze, Becky smiled, leaning in to give Rose a quick kiss. The door opened a moment later, revealing Lyta behind it.
“Hi, Lyta, how's it going?” Rose said, giving the girl a friendly grin.
“Hey!” the girl replied, beaming up at the women. “Things are great, thanks. Come on in, everyone's in the living room.”
Following the girl into the apartment, Rose and Becky made their way into the living room, where Circe and Holly were sitting and watching the television closely. From the looks of it, the channel was on some kind of political talk show.
Rose furrowed her brow curiously, sitting next to Circe on the couch. “What's going on?”
“Shh, you're going to want to hear this,” Circe said. “Just listen.”
Now even more confused, she turned her full attention to the television screen, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. It didn't take long for her to identify the man being interviewed by the female talk show host; it was the current New York State Senator, Thomas Greene.
“So, can you give us some more details on this bill you're introducing?” the host asked. “I've heard from many sources that it could change our nation forever.”
“You mean 'introduced'; it's already making its way through the process of becoming law,” Green explained.
“Right, of course,” the host replied, with a small chuckle. “In record time, too, isn't that right? It was only proposed a few months ago, and already it's being voted on.”
“That's correct.” Senator Greene shifted in his seat, crossing one leg over the other. “The content of this bill is of great importance to the security and stability of our nation for years to come.”
“Why don't you reiterate, for any of our viewers just joining us? What about this bill is so important?”
Green cleared his throat, sitting up straighter. “Well, it's no secret that our world is populated by people of extraordinary power, people who dress up in costumes and masks, hide their identities, fight crime. We call them superheroes. Our kids look up to them, they have their own comic books, they save the world, etcetera, etcetera.”
“But you feel there's a problem with that, correct?”
“Not so much in the sense that I don't appreciate what these people do,” Greene said, “but in the sense that they aren't regulated, they aren't controlled, and they aren't held accountable for when they make mistakes. This happens on a consistent basis; they do so much good that we overlook the fact that they don't strictly follow the law, laws that work well enough for the rest of our nation's people.”
The host nodded, holding a hand to her chin. “A lot of people don't mind that, though. Even local law enforcement agencies back our heroes with what they do. As long as they keep helping others, should it matter if they're always acting inside the strict confines of the law? Just to play devil's advocate here, they have saved the world more times than we can count.”
Greene shook his head. “I'm not denying how much they help, I'm saying that these people need to be monitored closely, they need to be regulated. Sure, they do good, but they've also done bad. You have some so called superheroes that are the good guys one day, and then bad guys the next. That's a lot of power out there that could turn at the drop of a hat.”
“Well, I'd have to agree with you there.”
“And furthermore, if these people are going to using that kind of power, whether for good or otherwise, they must be held accountable for collateral damage. Too many times have I seen unnecessary amounts of destruction as a result of a superhero's power. And what happens? It gets swept under the rug. We turn the other way, because, oh, they're the hero, they have the power, so it's not their fault. Well guess what? Sometimes, it is their fault.”
“I see, yes,” the host responded, nodding slowly. “Could you give us an example?”
“Gladly.” Clearing his throat, Senator Greene looked straight back into the camera, as if talking directly to the audience. “Go back about a year and a half, maybe two years ago, down in San Francisco. A bunch of thugs storm the local police station, take half a a dozen officers hostage, and make demands. Aside from the fact that the victims are some of the city's finest, sounds like your standard hostage situation, right?”
The host nodded. “Seems like it, yes.”
“Well, that's where you'd be wrong. See, when negotiations don't get anywhere, instead of following normal procedure, what happens? They call in the local superhero team, the Teen Titans; you know them.”
Up until now, they had been watching the program in relative silence, mostly concerned and curious. Now, however, Rose was on her feet, heart pumping rapidly. “That son of a b*tch!”
Turning to her, Becky put a hand on her shoulder, eyes narrowing. “What is it?”
“He's... he's bringing it up,” she said, voice shaking in utter disbelief. “That. The reason I left the Titans, remember? I told you about it.”
The revelation suddenly hit her. Becky's eyebrows lift, eyes going wide as she turned back to the television. “
“..setting the explosives off, even though she was told not to go in,” Green explained. “A mistake that got six police officers killed, as well as one of their own. You'd think that this 'Ravager' would be held accountable for such a tragedy, right?”
“Well, of course,” the host said, as though it were obvious.
“And you'd be wrong again. What happened instead? The incident was ruled as an accident.” Senator Greene shook his head, curling his lips slightly before continuing. “Sure, relations between the San Francisco police and the Teen Titans were shaky for a while, but were any charges filed? Did the superhero known as Ravager pay for her mistake? No, it was forgotten about. Just one of the many reasons why this bill is going through so quickly, so that if things like that happen again, someone answers for it.”
Rose was livid now, hands clenched to fists and arms shaking. Her eyes glared a hole through the television screen, throat numb. “It was an accident! I didn't mean...”
But the interview continued, in spite of her rather loud outburst. There was nothing she can do to make them stop, after all. She wasn't there; she could only watch.
“I suppose you make fair points,” the host admitted, folding her hands in front of her on her desk. “But what exactly would this bill accomplish with the superhero community? What is its intent?”
“The Extraordinary Persons Regulation Act intends to deliver a way to monitor these people we know as superheroes,” Green explained. “No longer will they be free to run around uncontrolled, doing things as they see fit. They'll follow strict regulations, and be held accountable for their actions, or they won't do anything at all. With the laws set forth when this bill is voted in, there will be no more uncontrolled vigilantism.”
The host lifted a curious eyebrow. “And instead replacing it with... controlled vigilantism?”
Greene nodded. “In a sense, yes. Those people we know as superheroes will be required to register with the government, in turn giving us access to their full identities, details on the extent of their powers, if any, and will regularly report to our department, who will determine and monitor their activities.
“It should also be noted that this Act covers not just those we refer to as 'metahumans', but also those affiliated with magic, such as the magician Zatanna, individuals who are of a more alien origin, like our very own Superman, as well as unpowered vigilantes who are physical weapons in their own right, such as Batman. Those who refuse to register will not be allowed to continue their 'superheroing' by law, and if they attempt to break that law, they will be detained and arrested for illegal vigilantism.”
They watched the program with wide eyes, in utter disbelief at what they were hearing. Rose clenched her jaw, shaking her head and muttering under her breath, while Becky ran her fingers through her hair. Even Holly and Lyta watched with their mouths slightly agape. Only Circe seemed to be remaining calm.
“Bullsh*t,” Rose uttered. “This is complete bullsh*t.”
“They... can't do that,” Becky said. “Can they do that?”
“I think they just did,” Circe remarked, tapping a finger against her chin.
“But they can't!” Rose swallowed, running her fingers through her hair. “They want us to hand over our secret identities? They're secret for a reason! And f**k all if they think I'm gonna be playing call girl for some government patsies!”
Becky shook her head. “It won't go through... it can't go through. They'll vote against it. Right?”
No one had an answer. All they could do is keep watching the program.
“Oh, just one more question,” the host said, leaning across her desk. “You mentioned that the newly registered 'extraordinary persons' would have to report to your department. What department is that?”
“Ah, I'm glad you asked.” Senator Greene folded his hands, sitting straighter in his seat. “Since other departments of this nature have been... unsuccessful in the past, as well as restricted in how much they can get involved, a new government funded department will be created, called the Vigilante Regulation Agency, or the VRA. I actually have the future director of this agency with me here today, if you'd like to have a few words with him.”
“Oh, well, yes, that would be great. Bring him out.”
When this new 'director' walked into frame, Rose wasn't quite sure how hard she kicked the coffee table, but it flew across the room and crashed into the wall. She screamed, too, rather loudly, though not any coherent word or thought, just a wild, angry, spiteful shout of disbelief. Thoughts began to swarm around in her head, and suddenly some things started making sense.
Those feds weren't fakes... which means those presidential orders were legit... But that doesn't make any sense. Why... why would they do that?
As the man, wearing an eye patch across his right eye, sat down and shook hands with the interviewer, Senator Greene leaned forward against the desk in front of him and smiled. “Allow me to introduce you to the future Director of the VRA, when this bill passes: Mr. Slade Wilson.”
In the middle of the interview, shortly after Slade Wilson had been introduced as the future Director of the Vigilante Regulation Agency, things were suddenly interrupted. A red and yellow blur zipped into the building, rushing straight past personnel quicker than they could see. In an instant, the Flash stood in front of Senator Greene with his hands pressed against the table in front of him.
“Are you out of your mind?!” Flash shouted.
Camera crew, sound operators, the talk show host, the guests, and everyone else present all stared in surprise for several moments, an awkward silence descending over them.
Leaning back in her chair, the woman conducting the interview uttered an exasperated breath and then motioned to the man in red. “Uh, w-well, looks like we have an unexpected guest with us, ladies and gentleman. I give you the Justice League's very own Flash.”
The Flash glanced between the host and Senator Greene briefly, then focused his gaze on Slade, pointing at him. “This man is a criminal! A dangerous, murderous psychopath, and it's hardly a secret! You all know him as Deathstroke the Terminator. He should be behind bars, not sitting here on a talk show! And hiring him as this director of your bogus agency? What's the deal? This some kind of stunt? Because it's a stupid one.”
Grinning slightly, Slade folded his arms and sank into his seat. “Good to see you, too, as always.”
“Don't play friendly with me, Slade,” Flash said, eyes narrowing. “You know damn well what kind of person you are.”
Clearing his throat, Senator Greene leaned forward, giving Flash a very stern look. “We appreciate the concern, really, but I'm afraid it is unneeded. Mr. Wilson has done some questionable things in the past, yes-”
“Questionable? Well if that isn't the understatement of the century...”
“-but he's been given a second chance, employed under direct order of the government to head the Vigilante Regulation Agency.”
“Full presidential pardon,” Slade stated, his smirk growing. “If that means anything to you.”
“He's already been given enough chances.” Flash looked over at the host now. “Guys like him don't change; he's a killer, end of story.”
“While we appreciate this visit, Mr. Flash,” the host said, clearing her throat, “are you quite finished insulting and slandering my guest on national television?”
“Yes, if we could get back to the discussion,” Senator Greene said, sitting up straighter in his seat. “I believe we were on the specifics of the registration process.”
Flash snapped his gaze over to the senator. “Don't even get me started on this bill of yours, Senator. Superheroes registering with the government? Are you trying to get our families targeted by our enemies? Because that's what will happen when you force us to give up our identities. There's a reason we wear these masks, and it isn't just a fashion statement.”
Greene held up a hand, gently shaking his head. “I assure you, the secret identities of you and your fellow superheroes will only be divulged to a select few members of the government, namely the President, his cabinet, and those in charge of the VRA, like Mr. Wilson here.”
“Of course...” Leaning forward closely, Slade uttered the whisper quietly, so the cameras can't hear. “...some identities I already know. Isn't that right, Wally?”
Throwing up his hands in disgust, Flash turned and started walking away from the set. “This is completely bogus, I'm out of here. But you can bet we're not done with this, Senator. You're going to have a very vocal superhero community rising up against this bill, I guarantee it.”
“By all means,” the senator said, curling his lips into a smile, “we welcome it.”
The Justice League wasn't quite what it used to be. After many fallouts, disbandings, rebuildings, and members leaving for other things, the once most prominent superhero team in the world was but a shell of its former glory. That wasn't to say that the current members didn't still operate normally or wouldn't be there to fight the big fight when the next alien invasion found its way to earth, but most of the big names were gone, replaced by newer faces. Membership was a lot smaller than it used to be, too, no longer expanded to the much larger team it was in its heyday.
Still, all, or at least most, of the current members did show up to the meeting, the first one in a long time. They gathered around the conference table in the meeting hall of the Hall of Justice, at the very back of the building, away from the public museum area. Batman sat at the head of the table, with the other members spread out around the sides: Donna Troy, Supergirl, The Flash, Cyborg, Jesse Quick, and Jade. There was still one empty seat, but considering the member who it belonged to hadn't returned any calls, they weren't waiting for him to show up.
Leaning forward, Batman folded his hands in front of him and gave them all a long look. “I assume we all know why we're here?”
“Yeah, to figure out what we're going to do about this trumped up law they're trying to pass,” Flash said.
“I must admit,” Donna stated, “from what I've heard, it does not sound like an avenue that will benefit heroes.”
Folding his arms, Cyborg sat back in his chair and frowned. “I don't think it's meant to benefit heroes, only the lawmakers who want to keep better tabs on us.”
“You mean control us.” Supergirl stood up from her seat, leaning forward with her palms flat against the table. “That's what this is about; the government wants us in their back pocket to do with what they please. And forcing us to give up our secret identities...”
“Would that really be such a bad thing, though?” Jade suggested. “I mean, if it would help with superhero relations...”
“Easy for you to say,” Supergirl countered, shooting the woman a hard look. “You don't have a secret identity.”
Looking up from the stack of papers in front of her, Jesse Quick snickered under her breath. “Yeah, pretty hard to accomplish that when you have green hair and skin.”
“Nobody asked you,” Jade snapped.
“Alright, calm down,” Batmans said. “We're not here to argue. Jesse, you still keep in contact with the JSA, right? What are their thoughts on this?”
“Well, according to Power Girl, she's pretty much against it,” Jesse said, with a shrug. “Something about exposing her identity causing complications with running her company effectively, or something. Though, the other members aren't as concerned over it. She may be their leader, but she's in the minority.”
Flash let out a small sigh, bringing a hand up to his chin. “Then I guess it's up to us to come up with a solution.”
A moment later, the doors to the meeting hall slid open, revealing a man garbed in green and brown. The others looked over at him for a moment, until he finally approached the table and sat down.
“Heard you were having a meeting,” Green Arrow stated, tapping his fingers against the table.
“Connor,” Batman said, giving him a nod. “Glad you could make it.”
“Yeah, well my father sure wasn't coming,” he replied, shrugging slightly. “Figured you needed an arrow representative.”
Donna leaned forward, giving him a long gaze from across the table. “Is Oliver still...”
“On his mad quest for vengeance? Yeah, pretty much.”
Let's move on,” Batman said. “Jesse, what can you tell us about the details on the bill?
Glancing up again from her papers, which happened to be a copy of the Extraordinary Persons Regulation Act given to them by Senator Greene, Jesse let out a long breath and shook her head. “Nothing good, I'm afraid. There's a lot more in here than just what they're telling people in the media. From what I can gather, any superhero that fails to register with the VRA by the designated deadline and continues to try and fight crime, can be arrested and jailed for illegal vigilantism for no less than 90 days on their first offense. Depending on the number and severity of infractions, that time only goes up from there.”
“Branded criminals for trying to help people,” Cyborg muttered. “Go figure. I don't like it.”
“It just seems so unnecessary and extreme,” Donna said, breathing out a frustrated sigh.
Jade merely shrugged. “The simple solution would be to just register, then we can keep doing what we do.”
“Yeah, but on the government's leash,” Supergirl argued. “And if you muck up and cause unneeded damage while trying to fight a supervillain or something, they'll slap you with... uh, what was it called again?”
“Superhero negligence,” Jesse replied.
“That's not all, though.”
Flash groaned, holding a hand to his head. “Of course it's not.”
Clearing her throat, Jesse sat up straighter in her seat and flipped through a few pages. “According to section twelve, paragraph B, it will become law for citizens to notify the VRA of anyone with metahuman, magical, or otherwise destructive abilities. This includes people who have been identified to have the metagene, even if it isn't active, and forces them to register so the VRA can monitor their growth, development, and level of power.”
“This just keeps getting better and better,” Flash said, shaking his head.
“And with how vaguely this section is worded,” she continued, “it could even allow the VRA to take children from their homes if they fit the above descriptions, to be held in a government facility where they can be watched, with no indication of how long they're forced to stay there.”
Tapping his fingers on the table, Green Arrow shook his head and frowned. “So, they don't just want to control superheroes, they want to abduct kids with powers and raise them themselves. Wouldn't be surprised if they tried to turn those kids into government weapons.”
Glancing over at Jade, Supergirl folded her arms and glared. “Still in favor?”
“I... suppose that might be a bit too far,” Jade admitted, bowing her head. “Maybe it could be worded differently, or some sections amended. But I still don't think the general idea is that terrible.”
“Yeah, well for those of us with secret identities, exposing that will leave our families as open targets,” Flash added. “If people know who we are, they'll know who to attack to get to us.”
“But it's not like our identities would be thrown out to the general public or anything,” Jade said. “They're only going to the government, and even then mostly just the VRA.”
Cyborg scoffed, shaking his head. “You really that's going to end well with someone like Slade in charge? Somehow, I don't think our identities are any safer in his hands than the public's.”
“What I want to know is why in the world they would give him that chance?” Flash held a hand to the back of his neck, rubbing absently as he considered the question. “Why would they want a cold blooded murderer in a government position?”
“And why would he have received a presidential pardon for his past crimes?” Donna added.
“Seriously,” Jesse said. “Is the president on something, or what?”
Batman uttered a deep sigh, folding his arms. “Another matter for another time. We need to focus on the bill right now.”
Flash shrugged. “Any ideas?”
“Well, we could show up at the congressional committee meeting tomorrow,” Cyborg said. “That's when they'll be finalizing the bill's last minute details before sending it off to the president to sign.”
“Some of us could, anyway,” Green Arrow replied. “I doubt the entire Justice League showing up at the capitol building and interrupting a congressional meeting would look good.”
“A valid point,” Donna said, nodding. “I would suggest that we also come up with a written counter to the bill itself, voicing our concerns and opinions, and why we believe the bill should not be passed.”
Supergirl raised an eyebrow. “And you really that that will work?”
“It's worth a shot,” Jesse said. “I mean, what else can we do? Just sit here and hope the thing gets vetoed by some miracle?”
“We should also come up with an alternate version to the bill, one more clearly defined, just as an alternative if we can't stop it from passing altogether,” Jade added. “Maybe they'll consider some changes.”
Looking around at the Justice League members, Batman stood up from his seat and leaned forward, hands flat against the table. “All in favor of this course of action?”
The time was roughly one-thirty in the afternoon at the Capitol Building, when the doors to the conference chambers burst open. Several men in suits hurried after the three costumed individuals, trying to stop them, but of course they couldn't really do a whole lot. The members of the senate and house of representatives on the conference committee all turned their attention to the interruption, their previous discussion coming to an abrupt halt.
One senator in particular, the familiar Senator Greene, stood up from his seat and leaned forward, glaring at the intruding heroes. “Might I ask what this is all about?”
Coming forward to the center of the chamber, Donna Troy, Cyborg, and Supergirl looked up at Greene. Donna acted as their spokeswoman, approaching the man and dropping a large packet of papers in front of him.
“We've come here to protest the passing of your bill,” she explained. “This here is a written declaration from the Justice League of America that details our concerns, apprehensions, and overall distaste for what your proposed laws will do to the superhero community.”
Clearing his throat, Greene slowly sank back into his seat, then folded his hands in front of him. “I'm afraid that's not the way it works, dear.”
“Maybe not,” Donna said, “but I think you can agree that this bill is unique in not only its content, but also the way in which it's being shoved through the system to be made law as soon as possible. I think that warrants an unorthodox counter. If you'll just read through this document, you'll find our response to every section of the bill, our opinions on it, and why the idea should be voided or how it could be improved.”
“And you managed to type this all in one night?”
Donna lifted an eyebrow, smirking slightly. “We have two speedsters on our team.”
“Point taken.” Leaning forward for a moment, the senator took a few moments to look over the first page, then briefly flip through the packet, before closing it again and taking in a deep breath. “Well, you seem to have put a great deal of thought and effort in this, and you know we of course highly respect the League's input.”
“Of course,” Donna replied. The three teammates gave each other quick glances, as though mentally noting to each other that they didn't quite believe the man's words.
“Tell you what,” Senator Greene stated, “we'll break this conference for lunch and I'll make copies of your... protest. Once everyone has a copy and has read it thoroughly, then we'll reconsider our options on how to approach this bill. How does that sound?”
A brief pause passed between the group. Cyborg and Supergirl leaned in close, whispering their thoughts to her. Nodding, Donna looked back to the senator and folded her arms. “Very well, as long as you'll take our opinions seriously and strongly consider them.”
Greene nodded. “Absolutely. Now, if you'll excuse us, it looks like we have a lot of homework to do.”
The three heroes gave their goodbyes and then finally exited the chamber. When the doors closed behind them, Senator Greene let out a cool breath and glanced back down at the packet. He gazed at it for a few moments, then lifted it up and dropped it into the trashcan next to his table. No one else so much as batted an eyelash over the action.
“So, where were we?”
Three weeks later...
Slade Wilson took in a deep breath and slowly let it out, standing behind his desk and looking carefully around the office. It would do just fine, for now. He might consider reorganizing things later on, but right now he had more important things to deal with than the arrangement of furniture. Sitting down in his seat, he reached over to the intercom system at the corner of the desk and pushed the button.
“Cindy, send Leonard in, please,” he said.
“Right away, Mr. Wilson,” the woman's voice responded.
Several minutes later, Leonard Smalls, Jr., otherwise known as Holocaust, entered into the office. The large, muscled man came forward and dropped down a stack of files on the desk.
“Welcome, Leonard,” Slade said, folding his hands in front of him. “Enjoying your new position?”
“Actually a bit boring, but it beats prison.”
“Don't worry, you'll be seeing plenty of action soon, I assure you.” Slade paused a moment, reaching for the folders on his desk. “Are these the files I requested?”
“Every last one of 'em,” he replied. “The top one is a list of all the supes who registered already. The first wave, as you called it.”
Opening the top file, Slade glanced over the list inside, which included names, addresses, aliases, and an assortment of other personal information. A few names in particular caught his eye, next to some notable superhero identities: Bernhard Baker, Courtney Whitmore, Lorena Marquez, Antonia Moretti, Suzanne King-Jones, Ray Palmer, Dinah Lance, Jaime Reyes, Mia Dearden, Bette Kane, Natasha Irons, and Jennifer-Lynn Hayden.
“Interesting...” Slade breathed. “This is good progress.”
“More are comin' in everyday, too.”
Slade nodded. “And yet still many more will refuse to register; that is inevitable enough. Once the deadline passes two weeks from now, we'll need to be ready to step in; you'll need to be ready, as will the rest of the task force you'll be leading.”
Holocaust glanced down at the other folders. “Is that what those files are for?”
Looking back down at the stack of files in front of him, Slade began spreading them out across his desk. “Yes, and these should do for now. In time, we'll have plenty more at our disposal. Now, get back to work; I have a few calls to make.”
Wiping sweat from her brow, Rose took in a deep breath and grabbed a bottled water from the mini-fridge behind the counter. She had just finished teaching her fourth and final class of the day, which meant in a few hours she would be heading out for the night as Ravager on patrol, just as she always had, EPRA and VRA be damned. She might have had zero success in turning up any evidence or information against her father, and that stupid law might have passed exactly as the government said it would, but that wouldn't stop her from doing what she did best; nothing would. No one was going to make her play pet attack dog to the VRA, especially not with Slade, of all people, in charge.
Suddenly, a strong pair of arms wrapped around her midsection from behind, squeezing tightly. A soft kiss came next, pressing against the side of her cheek. Smirking, she turned her head and returned the kiss, pressing her lips firmly against Becky's. From the seat behind the counter, a small, almost disgusted groan sounded out.
“Uck, you two are absolutely nauseating sometimes,” Circe muttered. “What's the expression? 'Get a room?' Yes, do that.”
Raising her eyebrows, Becky glanced over at the purple haired woman. “When you find love one of these days, maybe you won't be so easily nauseated.”
“I tried love once, didn't like it.”
“Must have had something to do with you ending up damned to Hell,” Rose said, grinning slightly.
Circe rolled her eyes. “Yes, it must have. Now, if it's all the same to you, I'd very much like to get home. It's been a long day.”
“Yeah, alright, get going,” Rose said. “Just remember, we have belt tests tomorrow morning, so we're opening an hour earlier.”
“I know when we're opening tomorrow,” Circe said, narrowing her gaze. “I made the schedule, remember?”
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Circe stood up from her seat and grabbed her coat. “Lyta, dear, we're going.”
On the other side of the studio, Lyta and Holly were in the middle of their own improvised training. While Lyta used her magical talent to shoot out small orbs of light, Holly practiced either her footwork and agility by dodging them, or her hand eye coordination by striking them out of the air.
When her mother called for her, however, Lyta looked up and smiled. “Alright, coming. Later, Holly!”
“See you tomorrow!” Holly said, giving a friendly wave.
When Circe and Lyta went to leave through the door, however, they were suddenly met by a man wearing a suit and dark sunglasses (despite it being night out), who pushed his way past them inside.
“Uh, sir, hello? We're closed right now,” Circe said. He didn't respond, instead walking straight up to Rose and Becky. “Hey!”
Again, no answer. But he didn't need to say anything for Rose to know exactly who it was. It might have been a little more than a month ago, but she hadn't forgotten that face: Agent Croft, of the FBI.
Well, looks like someone survived the highway barbeque.
It was what he finally said, though, that made her heart beat rapidly in her chest. “Rose Wilson, otherwise known as The Ravager, pleased to meet you again.”
Instantly, Rose's eyes narrowed. She stepped in front of Becky, glaring coldly at the man. “Two questions: What the hell are you doing here, and how the hell do you know who I am?”
“I'm with the VRA now, Rose,” he said. “It's our job to know these things.”
“Well isn't that just dandy?” Rose muttered.
So Slade's his boss now, no wonder he knows who I am.
“As for what I'm doing here...” Reaching into his coat pocket, Agent Croft pulled out a folded slip of paper and handed it over to her. “I have a warrant for your arrest.”
As he pushed the warrant in front of Rose's face, Becky quickly moved around her, eyes wide. “Arrest?! What are you talking about? What the hell are the charges?”
The other girls, Circe, Lyta, and Holly, watched in much more reserved silence, though they were just as confused and concerned as the more vocal Becky.
“Well, let's see, what was there...?” he muttered, looking back through the lengthy warrant. “Oh, yes, failing to register on time with the VRA, for one. The deadline was three days ago, and the police confirmed your activities these past few nights acting as Silverstone's vigilante, a direct violation. That's a minimum of 90 days right there. Then, there is also superhero negligence, which you committed roughly two years ago and resulted in the deaths of six police officers.”
“That was a mistake!” Rose snapped. “An accident!”
“Yes, a mistake that you're finally going to be paying for.”
“But this wasn't even a law when that happened!” Becky countered. “You can't charge her with that!”
Croft looked back down at the warrant, pointing out a particular line. “Actually, according to section twenty-seven of the Extraordinary Persons Regulation Act, retroactive arrests are perfectly legal in this scenario. But that isn't all, anyway. We also have you on no less than two-hundred and sixty-seven counts of assault and battery as an illegal vigilante, and the murder of one Arnold Pavoni.”
Rose felt her eye twitch, hands trembling. “Pavoni was scum!”
How does he even know about that?! Pavoni's body was destroyed in the house explosion, which Jerry caused. No one knew that I killed him before that! No one even knew I was there!
“But you don't deny the murder,” Agent Croft stated. “So, all in all, you're looking at some hefty jail time once you're convicted.”
“Jueputa!” Becky growled. “This is crap!”
Clearing his throat, Agent Croft glanced over at Becky and reached into his coat again. He then pulled out a second folded slip of paper and handed this one over to her. “And here's the warrant for your arrest, as well.”
Becky's eyes immediately bugged out of her head. “What?!”
Reaching forward, Rose grabbed the man's shirt collar and yanked him towards her. “What the hell crap are you trying to pull now?!”
“Nothing at all,” Croft assured. “This is perfectly standard, actually. According to our information, the woman known as Rebecca Chavez has been knowingly aiding and abetting an illegal vigilante, as well as a wanted criminal – that would be you.”
“You're out of your mind!”
“As for the girl, Holly Sanders,” he continued, “she's to be taken and handed over to social services.”
At this statement, Holly's eyes went wide, as she immediately rushed over to stand behind Rose for protection. A brief moment later, Rose straight up clocked the man, bashing her knuckles into his jaw. Agent Croft flew back through the air, landing hard and sliding across the floor. When he came to a stop, he wearily sat up and wiped the blood from his lips.
“And now we can add assaulting a VRA official to your charges,” he muttered.
“You are not taking Holly away! You hear me?” Rose moved in front of both Beck and Holly, standing between them and Agent Croft. “You're not taking any of us! Now get the hell out of my studio before I throw you out!”
Slowly returning to his feet, Agent Croft reached inside his mouth and pulled out a loose tooth, followed by spitting out a large mouthful of blood. “I had hoped we could handle this peacefully, like adults, but in the event that you decided to act like a child, I brought backup.”
“The hell are you talking about?”
Before he could answer, the front window of the building shattered inward, sending a spray of glass in all directions. Circe desperately pulled Lyta out of the way, as two figures landed inside, both women. The first was shorter, with auburn hair and dressed in a tactical leather outfit complete with a lower face mask covering from her neck to her nose. A pair of metal bracers adorned each arm, both equipped with two long, wicked looking blades. The second woman was much taller, standing at least a head and a half above the other, with long, fiery red hair, toned muscular body, and a green colored costume with domino mask.
Still holding his jaw, Agent Croft walked backwards and gave the two women a hard look. “Scandal, Knockout, take them in.”
The shorter woman with the arm blades began advancing forward. “My pleasure.”
Rose pushed Becky out of the way, as Scandal suddenly lunged in with a solid kick. She was surprised at just how deft and perfectly placed the attack was, being forced to duck down and roll away from a follow up swing of the woman's blades. Springing up to her feet, Rose flipped back over the counter, barely evading a second blade strike.
The woman known as Knockout, meanwhile, came forward towards Becky and simply folded her arms. “I will give you a single opportunity to surrender, whelp.”
“Like hell,” Becky said, taking a defensive stance. “Holly, get back, I got this.”
Once Holly was in the clear, Becky made her move, utilizing all the training that Rose has given her up until this point to attack. Unfortunately... it didn't go nearly as well as she pictured it in her head. Knockout didn't even move, instead standing there as the roundhouse kick struck the side of her head, not even causing her to flinch.
Becky, on the other hand, felt like she had just kicked a brick, hopping backwards on one foot in pain. “Hijo de puta!”
Rose weaved around the blade attacks, doing everything she could to avoid being hit. Her reflexes and her precog were doing just fine, but she wasn't wearing her armor right now, and she didn't have her own swords, while this woman was fighting viciously, wildly.
Sh*t, I feel like I'm fighting naked right now.
Finally, she saw an opening. Turning her body to the side, she trapped one of her opponent's arms with her own, then reached up with her other hand to catch Scandal's remaining wrist. Without so much as a hesitation, she threw her head forward and smashed it against the woman's nose, snapping it instantly.
“F**k!” Scandal shouted, as a stream of crimson sprayed down her lips.
And then they were both falling. Scandal tumbled backwards, taking Rose with her, while driving her knee forward. Rose landed right atop it when they hit the floor, the knee coming into her gut and knocking the wind from her lungs. Coughing in shock, Rose rolled off and held her abdomen, trying to scramble back to her feet. Her precog went, though, forcing herself to lunge backwards again; but she wasn't in time.
Razor steel sliced into the meat of Rose's shoulder, not a grievous wound, but enough to draw a fair amount of blood and burn with agony. When she hit the floor again, she cringed briefly, trying to force herself through the pain. But suddenly Scandal was atop her, blades pressed against her throat. She froze, daring not make a move.
If I had my swords, this b*tch would be mincemeat!
“You so much as twitch and I'll cut your throat to the bone, got it?” Scandal asked, eyes narrowing.
From the other side of the room, Agent Croft cleared his throat. “We need them alive, Scandal.”
The masked woman groaned, rolling her eyes. “Whatever.”
Knockout walked back over to Croft, carrying a now unconscious Becky over one shoulder, as easy as though carrying a pillow. “I've defeated mine.”
“Someone give me some cuffs so I can- oof!”
Scandal's words cut off abruptly, as an attacking Holly struck her in the head from behind. The young girl may be small, but she knew how to fight, and she wasn't about to let the closest person she had to a mother get beaten and arrested like this.
“Don't do that again,” Scandal stated, slowly glaring towards the girl. She really, really didn't want to have to hurt a child.
“Leave her alone!” Holly yelled, swinging in another punch.
Scandal lifted one of her arms, catching Holly's fist with little effort. “I said, back off, kid.”
“Don' you touch her!” Rose made a move to get up, but the cold blades pressed closer to her neck, effectively keeping her at bay.
Suddenly, Holly lifted up into the air, as Knockout came up from behind and hoisted her high by the head. Holly struggled, kicking and screaming. “Let me go! Let me go!”
“Quiet, young one,” Knockout said, trying to keep her voice calm, soothing. “We are not going to hurt you.”
It was at that moment when Lyta, who had up until now been watching the scene from the sidelines with her mother, rushed forward. Circe tried to stop her, but lost her grip on the girl.
“Lyta, no!” Circe called. “Don't get involved!”
Lyta ignored her mother. “Leave my friends alone!”
Holding her hands up, Lyta's palms abruptly crackled with magical energy. A bolt of lightning shot out from her finger tips, striking Scandal and throwing her off Rose, while an invisible force caused Knockout to release Holly and then launched the woman backwards into the wall.
“Are you alright?” Lyta asked, hurrying to her friend's side.
“Yeah... I'm okay,” Holly said, rubbing the back of her head. “Thanks.”
“Well, I couldn't just let them-”
Lyta's words abruptly cut off, as her eyes rolled into the back of her head. She teetered there for a moment before falling forward, unconscious with a small dart sticking out the back of her neck. Agent Croft moved forward and lowered his weapon, a tranquilizer handgun.
“The magic girl will be coming with us, too,” he said.
Crying out with pure, seething anger, Circe charged him. “You b**tard!”
But Circe was mortal now. She had no magic, no power, and no real physical fighting experience. Agent Croft might not have had any powers of his own, but he did have some training, and thus easily overpowered the woman with a sidestep and chop to the back of the head. Circe went down hard and didn't get up.
Rose was back on her feet now, holding a hand to her bleeding wound and taking in deep breaths. She gave the terrified Holly as consoling a look as she could muster and reached out to hold the girl's hand. “It's alright, sweetie. I promise, everything's going to be-”
A hard blow to the back of her head dropped her into a heap. Knockout leaned forward to grab the unconscious woman, hauling her back over to the others. “That will be quite enough now.”
Holly hurriedly followed, beating her fists futilely against Knockout's backside. “Put her down! You can't do this! Rose!”
And then Holly went down, as well, another tranquilizer dart sticking out the side of her neck. Scandal walked over, breathing heavily and holding a hand to her chest, where the lightning bolt had struck her. The blow had ripped straight through her outfit, burning a hole into her skin.
Grumbling to herself, Scandal reached down to lift Holly up by the shirt collar. “Can we go now?”
“Of course.” Agent Croft waved them forward, heading out the door. “Bring them to the van, bind them, and we'll head back to the facility.”
As Scandal makes her way towards the door, Knockout stopped her to inspect her wounds. “Are you alright, my love?”
“Yes, fine,” the smaller woman assured. “Just some scratches; they'll be healed by the time we get back, don't worry about it.”
Knockout breathed out a small sigh of relief. “That's good.”
“Now come on, let's get out of here,” Scandal said. “Liana's waiting for us back at the hotel.”
Commissioner James Gordon stood on top of the police building roof, aiming the large spotlight up at the clouds. Letting out a cold breath, he shivered slightly, a chill running up his spine. It must have been five degrees outside, and he didn't want to be out here any longer than he had to, especially considering the nature of this call... he just wanted to get it over and done with. So far, though, they'd been waiting up here for forty minutes.
Next to him, Detective Harvey Bullock shifted his weight and let out an impatient sigh. “He ain't coming.”
“He'll be here,” Gordon assured. “He always answers the signal eventually.”
“That could be hours from now, if he's busy.”
“So be patient.”
Finally, twenty minutes later, two figures swung down onto the rooftop, seemingly out of nowhere. Batman stood straight, holding the cape of his costume closely around his body. Robin, on the other hand, leaned back against the parapet and folded his arms, waiting for them to get the meeting over with.
“What's this about?” Batman asked.
Switching off the bat signal, Gordon shoved his hands into his pockets and breathed outwardly. “Listen, Batman, I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do about this.”
“What are you-”
Narrowing his eyes, Batman abruptly cut his own words off, now noticing a handful of men dressed in armored tactical gear and carrying non-lethal weapons, marching up the stairs that led from the building to the roof. Remaining silent, he took a small step back and carefully analyzed just how many men there were, their positioning, and what kinds of weapons they had.
One of the men, the only one not wearing a helmet and visor, came forward and held up a slip of paper. “Batman, Robin? This is a warrant for your arrest, under the new vigilante laws put into place recently. You were both given ample time to register with the VRA, but have failed to do so. As such, you will be taken in and held for 90 days, at which time you will be made to register with us and then released.”
Still silent, Batman slowly reached forward and takes the paper from him.
Robin, on the other hand, jumped up straighter with his eyes wide. “What?! Uh uh, no way, you're not taking us! Just try it!”
“Robin, calm down,” Batman said.
“Calm down? Are you insane?” Robin looked back at him, glaring intently. “They're trying to arrest us!”
“And whining about it isn't going to make the situation any better.”
Glaring, Robin folded his arms again. “I'm not whining...”
Turning his attention to the VRA Agent again, Batman gave him the warrant back. “I can't leave Gotham alone for that amount of time.”
“Well, you should have thought about that before you failed to register,” the agent said. “Then you'd still be here legally.”
“And at your beck and call.”
“Make the smart decision, Batman. If you don't come peacefully, our orders are to take you by force.”
As the surrounding squad team raised their weapons, Batman drew his hand towards his utility belt. “That would be a very unwise decision on your part.”
Moving forward again, Commissioner Gordon brought his hands out of his pockets and folded his arms. He looked conflicted, caught between his partnership with Batman and orders from a higher authority. “Batman, please don't make this any harder than it needs to be. Just do your time, register with them, and you'll be back before you know it. We can handle things until then.”
“You know I can't do that, Jim,” Batman said, shaking his head.
The VRA Agent sighed. “Then you know what we have to do.”
Suddenly, Robin charged forward at the man, in a clear move to attack. “Just try it, punks!”
“Robin, wait!” Batman called.
He hadn't been planning to fight these men; a simple smoke bomb and quick escape would have worked well enough. Clearly, though, Robin had other ideas. The VRA Agent didn't even move as Robin leaped forward, simply watching with knowing eyes. Suddenly, a brown blur dove into view, coming from the shadows of the rooftop, near the doorway leading back into the building. A strong kick drilled into the side of Robin's head, sending him tumbling across the roof.
“Robin!” Batman called, taking several steps forward.
The Boy Wonder groaned slightly, pushing his way up to his hands and knees. He was dazed, a throbbing pain in his head. Whoever hit him had hit him hard. “Cheap shot...”
Batman took a defensive stance, instantly recognizing the man, dressed in an almost knockoff costume of his own but with brown and tan colors, instead of black and grey. His name was Thomas Blake, otherwise known as Catman, the world's most premiere hunter and tracker, also a highly skilled combatant and sometimes criminal.
“Settle down, kid,” Catman stated, folding his arms. “Or I'll hit you harder next time.
“Blake...” Batman narrowed his eyes, frowning. “What the hell are you doing here?
“My job,” he replied. “I'm with the VRA now, ever since they recruited me as part of their task force. I'm here to make sure you go with them. You're welcome to resist if you really think you can take all of us.”
When Robin finally stumbled back to his feet, he held the back of his head and glowered at the man. Without so much as another word, he ran forward to attack Catman head on... only to be abruptly put down by one of the VRA operatives' stun guns, rendering him flat on his back and and twitching from the electricity coursing through him.
“Alright!” Batman shouted, lowering his guard. “That's enough! I'll go, just stop it!”
The VRA Agent severed the charge from the cables connecting the stun gun to Robin, relieving the Boy Wonder from pain, though it would be a while until he regained his motor functions.
Watching this, Harvey Bullock shifted his weight uneasily and frowned. “Jesus, he's just a kid...”
“And yet he's as guilty as the rest of them,” the VRA Agent replied.
“So,” Catman said, turning his gaze back to Batman, “ready to come quietly?
Bowing his head, Batman let out a long breath, not seeing many options at the moment. “Fine, I'll go. Robin stays, though; he's still just a kid. I'll serve his time in addition to my own, if need be.”
The VRA agent paused a moment, considering the proposal. He then glanced back Robin, holding a hand to his chin and nodding. “Alright, we can do that. You see? We're not unreasonable. Now, come with us; we have transport waiting down at street level.”
Batman gave the men a long look, shifting his gaze between the VRA operatives, Catman, and Gordon. Then, he finally walked forward, escorted by the team back down the stairs, and Bullock going with them. Before leaving, however, he turned to Gordon to make a request. “Make sure Robin's alright.
Gordon nodded. “Of course.”
When he was gone, only Gordon, Catman, and the still recovering Robin remained on the rooftop. Gordon breathed out a sigh, shoving his hands into his pockets and bowing his head. Catman, on the other hand, pulled out a cell phone from his utility belt.
“We got the big man,” Catman stated to the person on the other end of the phone. “Move in on the Birds. Start with that leader of theirs.
Instantly, Gordon's heart jumped, his eyes wide. “No! What are you doing? She's already registered! Why the hell are going after her, too?!”
“She registered, sure,” Catman said, “but that's not all we got her on. She's still been aiding and leading unregistered vigilantes around Gotham, and that makes her guilty by association. So, the VRA brings her in. That's how it works.”
“If you think I'm going to let you lay a hand on my daughter, you're insane!” Gordon shouted.
Catman merely shrugged, heading back towards the stars. “Not me, but someone will.”
The underground base known as Firewall, built beneath Barbara Gordon's apartment, once served simply as the new Batgirl's personal base, her very own batcave. There, Batgirl was assisted by Proxy, Oracle's protégé. In the past couple of years, however, with Oracle returning once more to lead Gotham's Birds of Prey, Firewall had evolved into a base for the entire team. Now, both Oracle and Proxy monitored and assisted the Birds' crime fighting activities around the city, though Oracle also continued to aid all heroes who required her expertise.
The two women sat across from each other at two separate computer terminals, surrounded by screens, holographic maps, and streams of data. Leaning forward in her chair, Oracle clicked a button on her keyboard and brought up a large map of Gotham's East End.
“I said the one on Park Street,” she said, speaking into her headset. “The deal's going down in twenty minutes, you need to get there and get into position.” There came no response. “Black Canary, do you copy? Black Canary?” Still nothing, just a hiss of static. “Huntress? Batgirl?” Silence. “Black Bat? Anyone? What the hell is going on?”
Glancing up from her terminal, Proxy gave her a concerned look. “Barbara, I'm getting some weird interference on my end. Can't seem to figure out the cause.”
“And I think my signal just went dead,” Oracle replied, eyes narrowing. “That shouldn't happen. Wendy, see if you can-”
Her words stopped abruptly, as the screens around her workstation began to flicker and fill with white noise. An electrical hissing soon followed, playing over every single one of their speakers.
“Yeah, and that definitely shouldn't happen, either,” Proxy said.
Instantly, both women's fingers flew across their keyboards, trying to do everything possible to regain control of their systems. But no matter what they did, nothing worked. Oracle's adrenaline began pumping furiously, as panic set in. This shouldn't be happening. This couldn’t be happening. She had built these systems herself; they were untraceable, unhackable, and completely crash proof.
Then, everything went dark, as the base's power suddenly cut out. The backup generator kicked in a few moments later, throwing on the emergency lights and providing a small amount of power to the computers. Two screens flickered on, one in front of either woman. On those screens appeared a face. It was hazy and distorted, but there was only one person it could be.
“Is that...?” Proxy uttered, glaring at the image with wide eyes.
Well, well, good to see you again, Oracle.” The distorted face grinned, leaning closer to the camera. “Barbara. Babs.”
Oracle swallowed a knot in her throat, retaining her firm, unyielding expression. “How did you get in here?”
“You registered with the VRA, remember?” Calculator said, tilting his head to the side. “Just like a good little girl. And I work for them now; all that information they have is mine. Who you work with, where you operate from, how to hack into your unbreachable systems...”
“You gotta be kidding me!” Proxy exclaimed, slamming her fists down on the counter. “You're a criminal! Why the hell would they hire you?”
“Ah, Wendy...” Calculator shook his head, uttering a deep sigh. “I'm very disappointed in you, joining in with these heroes. These people are responsible for putting you in that wheelchair, and they're the reason your brother is dead, or have you forgotten?”
Proxy paused, clenching her jaw tightly. “Unlike you, Dad, I don't hold grudges. I forgive. And given the choice between them and you, they win every time.”
Calculator bowed his head. “As I said, disappointing.”
“Enough crap,” Oracle stated. “What are you doing here? We both registered with the VRA, you shouldn't be coming after us.”
“Ah, so you did. Unfortunately, not everyone on your little team followed suit, yet you continue to work with them. That makes you just as guilty as they are. As we speak, a squad is moving in on your base; they'll be there shortly.”
“You son of a b*tch!” Proxy pounded a fist on her keyboard, breaking off several keys in the process. “You can't do this!”
“Oh, but I can,” he replied. “I would suggest going quietly, too. There's no reason we have to make this difficult.”
Springing into action, Oracle turned her wheel chair away from the computer and began wheeling herself across the floor. “Wendy, see if you can manually activate the security systems! I'll try and restore the main power!”
“On it!” Proxy immediately turned herself around and wheeled her way over to a control panel on the wall, punching in a numbered passcode.
Calculator merely widened his grin. “Don't bother, girls. I have complete control over your base; there's nothing you can do. Now, have good evening. I'll be seeing you both very soon.”
The parking garage was quiet and nearly empty, save for a scant few cars here and there. The Birds of Prey were in position, though, waiting for the expected huge drug deal to go down. At least, that was what they were supposed to be there for. So far, however, nothing had happened. No shady individuals, no activity, definitely no deal.
Peering around the side of a pillar, Huntress looked around carefully, curiously. “Are we sure we're in the right place?”
“Uh, I'm pretty sure,” Batgirl replied, her voice crackling in over the comm link. “The signal was pretty fuzzy for a while, but I thought this is what Oracle said.”
“Can't contact base,” Black Bat said. “The signal... dead.”
“Don't worry about it, nothing's wrong,” Black Canary assured. “And this is the right place.”
Huntress frowned. “I still think I heard her say the one on Park Street.”
“Then you misheard,” Black Canary said quickly. “It's the one on Levitt.”
Uttering a small sigh, Huntress shrugged her shoulders and disappeared back behind cover again. “If you say so.”
A couple more minutes ticked by, with no sign of the drug deal going down. Eventually, however, someone approached. Huntress heard the footsteps coming closer, echoing inside the spacious parking garage. Immediately, she raised her crossbow, preparing to engage. But then, she heard something else, words coming in over her comm.
“Canary, what are you doing?” Batgirl asked. “Hey! Canary!”
Confused, Huntress looked around the side of the pillar again. To her surprise, she saw Black Canary out in the open, walking towards a man in a suit and sunglasses. “Whoa, hey, what's going on?”
“Black Canary? Hello?” Black Bat glanced around her cover, hand on her utility belt. “Dinah?”
Black Canary moved next to the man and turned around, hands on her hips. “Everything's alright. Just come on out.”
The three other members of the team gave each other careful glances before slowly moving out of cover.
“Alright, feel like explaining this?” Huntress asked.
“Good evening to you, Birds of Prey,” the VRA Agent said. He took a moment to reach into his pocket, pulling out a small slip of paper. “I have with me a warrant for your arrest.”
Huntress lifted an eyebrow. “I'm sorry, come again? I could have sworn you just said you were going to arrest us.”
“Yes... it is,” Black Bat said.
Batgirl's blinked, confused. “Wait, hold on, why?”
Clearing his throat, the agent folded his hands in front of him and stared calmly. “For failing to register with the VRA and continuing your illegal vigilantism.
“Oh you gotta be kidding!” Huntress blurted, taking a step forward. “This whole thing is a sham, you know that? Tell you what, you turn around and walk out of here, and I won't but a bolt through your knee. How's that sound?”
“You were right, Miss Lance,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “They won't come peacefully.”
Eyes going wide, the Birds of Prey stared in surprise, their focus on Black Canary. Even Huntress' aim faltered, crossbow lowering.
“Canary, you... you're working with them?” Batgirl asked, barely able to get the question out. “You registered?”
“And set us up...” Black Bat added.
“Is that what this is?” Huntress swallowed a numb lump in her throat, trying not to let the pain of betrayal show on her face. She took a step backwards, slowly shaking her head. “All of a sudden you're a government patsy turning against your team? Your friends? I thought we made a pact, Dinah. None of us were supposed to register with the VRA's bullcrap! We were supposed to look out for each other!”
Black Canary's expression didn't waiver, remaining almost miraculously indifferent. “I just thought it was the sensible thing to do. This is the law now, and we must obey. Resisting is futile.”
“My god, would you listen to yourself?” Huntress said. “I swear they must have brainwashed you or something, because the Black Canary I know doesn't talk like that!”
“Please go quietly,” Canary urged. “I'd rather this situation not escalate.”
“Escalate, my ass!” Huntress raised her crossbow again, pointing it at the VRA Agent. “You already sold us out!”
Black Bat slowly turned to glare at Black Canary. “Will you bring us in? Will you... fight us?”
“If I have to,” came the reply.
“This isn't happening,” Batgirl said, holding her hands to her head. “This can't be happening. I'm dreaming, I must be.”
“I'm giving you girls one chance to come peacefully, so we can all sort this out,” the VRA Agent said. “If you don't, we will take you by force.”
Huntress narrowed her eyes, placing her finger on the trigger of her crossbow. “You can damn well try.”
“Helena, one more chance to stand down,” Canary said. It sounded quite suspiciously like a threat.
“And then what, you burst our skulls with your canary cry?” In an act that Huntress never thought she'd do, she turned her weapon on Black Canary, her closest friend for years. “Is that what our friendship means to you? What it meant to you?”
“As expected...” The agent sighed, shaking his head slowly. “Looks like we'll have to do this the hard way. But your friend here won't be bringing you in. They will.”
Suddenly, a dark shape rushed into view, leaping over a nearby car and throwing itself at Huntress. Whirling her aim around in time, she got off a couple shots before the furry beast landed on top of her and pinned her to the ground. Blinking up in shock, she suddenly realized that she was staring eye to eye with a massive, snarling werewolf.
“Unless you those are silver tipped, don't bother,” Kubrick growled. “They won't do you any good!”
Huntress tried to move, struggling beneath the beast, but his strength far surpassed her own, and the several knee shots she managed to bring up into his abdomen didn't even phase him.
“Hold on!” Batgirl shouted, hand flying to her utility belt. She pulled out a sonic batarang, clicking the middle button to activate the charge. “I got you!”
Before she could throw it, however, another figure lunged into view, colliding with her with enough force to send her spinning back head over heels across the ground. When she recovered, she noticed the blue skinned, shark mouthed alien monster charging at her again. Turning to the side, Batgirl evaded the slashing claws and countered with a kick to the monster's stomach. The blow didn't have much of an effect, however, and then suddenly its long, barbed tail curled up and wrapped around her throat, pulling her into the air.
“You!” Black Bat declared, recognizing Zaria from their previous encounter. “Celarian!”
“Ah, you remembered what I am this time,” Zaria said, glancing back with a sneer. “I'm flattered.”
Black Bat already had an electric batarang in hand, ready to throw. “I beat you before... will do it again.”
“True, you have beaten me...” Zaria's replied, licking her long tongue around her lips. “But you're not fighting me this time.”
And that's when the cement ground beneath Black Bat's feet cracked apart. Instantly, she jumped backwards to get out of the way, but didn't get very far before thick plant vines coiled up and lashed out at her. Within seconds, they wrapped around her arms, legs, neck, and abdomen, holding her firmly in place. A few moments later, a large plant pod rose up from the ground behind the vines, opening up to reveal a green skinned woman with striking red hair, her only clothing being a few strings of leaves: Poison Ivy.
“Don't bother struggling,” Ivy said, grinning pleasantly. “The harder you squirm, the tighter my babies constrict.”
With all members of the Birds of Prey now restrained, the VRA Agent stepped forward. “Now, as I was saying, you girls are all under arrest.”
The subbasement of Titans Tower was mostly quiet at the moment, with only one occupant present and utilizing the training equipment. Tim Drake gripped the chin up bar tightly, pulling himself up repeatedly at a steady, even pace. Somewhere around his fiftieth rep, the door at the other end of the room slid open, revealing a cloaked and hooded figure floating towards him.
“Tim...” Raven said, in that passive, quiet voice of hers. “We must speak.”
Blinking at the girl, Tim hung there from the bar for a few moments, just dangling. Finally, he dropped down to this feet and grabbed a towel, wiping sweat from his brow. “Sure, what's this about?”
“It's about Wonder Girl,” she replied. “I have noticed... changes in her, these past few days.”
Curiously, Tim furrowed his brow and folded his arms across his chest. “What kinds of changes? As far as I can tell, she's been the same as always.”
“It isn't anything you would notice. Her personality, her actions, her mannerisms... they are all still the same.”
“Then what's wrong?”
Raven floated closer to him, staring intently into his eyes. Her own eyes were hard, serious. “It comes from within her. Ever since she returned to the tower last week, I have sensed an emptiness inside her, an utter lack of emotion and feeling, as if devoid of any soul. I fear everything she does right now is an act.”
Reaching for the bottle of water next to him, Tim took a long gulp, mulling over Raven's words in his head for a moment. “And you're absolutely sure about this?”
“At first, I wasn't,” she said, lowering her gaze. “I thought that maybe my powers were malfunctioning... but then I projected myself into her mind to be sure. I found... nothing. Just an empty void lacking emotion. Yet, at the same time, I'm sure that she is the real Cassandra Sandsmark. Where did she go when she left last week?”
“To visit her mother,” he said. “Do you think something happened to her there?”
“I feel something must have, yes.” Raven held her cloak tighter around her body, breathing in deeply.” Something caused this... loss of feeling, though I do not know what it could be.”
Giving a small nod, Tim started walking towards the door, motioning for Raven to follow him. “Come on, we'll go have a talk with her, see what we can find out.” Before he made it to the exit, however, red blinking lights began to flicker above them, accompanied by a loud, blaring horn.
“The alarm?” Raven uttered, looking up at the blinking lights curiously.
“Damn it, someone's on the island without permission,” Tim said, hurrying down the hallway to the elevator.
Raven floated after him, keeping pace. “An enemy, perhaps?”
“Or a tourist trying to get a closer look than he should. Either way, we need to get topside, now.”
Several minutes later, every member of the Teen Titans (consisting of Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Superboy, Raven, Beast Boy, Static, and Bombshell) exited the front entrance of the tower. The two trespassers stood calmly outside, waiting for the team to show up. Upon seeing these two individuals, the Titans immediately took a defensive position. After all, how often do a pair of super villains show up on your front doorstep without looking for a fight?
Holocaust moved forward, hands held behind his back and a large smirk on his face. “Teen Titans, we meet again.”
“Holocaust...” Red Robin muttered. “What are you doing here? Kid Flash sent you on a one way ticket to the earth's core years ago.”
“Didn't think that could really stop me did you?” he said, scoffing out a laugh. “Heard what happened to the little speedster, by the way. Shame, really. Was hoping for a little payback.”
A sudden burst of electrical energy split the air, as Static came forward, Lightning bolts flickering and jumping around his body. “You got some nerve coming here, Leonard! You want a fight, then you came to the right place. I'll be more than happy to put you down again!”
“Not here to fight, Static,” Holocaust said, with a flippant wave of the hand. “Well, at least not if you behave yourselves.”
Bombshell scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Right, and I suppose you're just here for some small talk? Cut the crap and get to the point. The hell are you doing here?
“I wouldn't talk that way to the head of the VRA's Task Force, girl,” Holocaust said, narrowing his eyes.
Static's own eyes went wide. “The head of... what?!”
“That's right, I work for the government now.” Holocaust grinned, cracking his knuckled. “It's my job to deal with you people.”
Red Robin frowned. “We people?”
“Superheroes, of course. At least the ones that don't register like they're supposed to. The deadline passed four days ago, and you're all currently acting as illegal vigilantes, giving me the power to arrest you all for ninety days imprisonment. Ya dig?”
“He's kidding, right?” Beast Boy asked. “Tell me he's kidding.”
“If you're with the VRA, then what's she doing with you? You're telling me they hired her, too?” Red Robin pointed at the woman behind Holocaust, a woman with icy blue skin and hair, and an unnatural chill emanating from her cold body.
“That's right,” Holocaust said. “Killer Frost is with me.”
Beast Boy shook his head. “Alright, now I know he's kidding.”
“So let me get this straight,” Red Robin said, rubbing his fingers against his yes. “A legal, regulated government agency hired two well known super villains as a part of their task force to bring in rogue superheroes?”
Killer Frost grinned. “Heh, kid, you don't know the half of it. Now, be a good little boy and come quietly. Or don't; I wouldn't mind snapping off a few frozen limbs first.”
Superboy came forward now, hands curled into fists. “Enough talk. You two don't belong here! Get off our island before we throw you off!”
“Oooh, I'm terrified,” Killer Frost said, her wicked grin growing wider. “What are you gonna do, Kryptonian?”
And then, Wonder Girl spoke. “Guys, just do it... Don't make it harder than it needs to be.”
All eyes turned towards her, wide in disbelief.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Superboy asked.
“Just go with them and do your time,” she urged. “Then you can register like I did and be back doing things like normal.”
Beast Boy's mouth hung open, eyes blinking. “What? You went and registered with these bozos?
Wonder Girl simply shrugged. “My identity was already public, Gar. It only made sense.”
“That's not the point!” he replied. “Now you answer to them, right? Like a trained attack dog!”
“Maybe... but it's better this way,” Wonder Girl said. “There doesn't need to be anymore tension between heroes and those in authority. Even though we answer to them, we can still do good, just like always.”
Bombshell held a hand to her head and scoffed. “And I thought Ravager was nuts. This b*tch is off her rocker.”
Moving towards her, Superboy put his hands on Wonder Girl's shoulders, staring into her eyes. “Cassie, would you listen to yourself? You can't honestly believe what you're saying. It's... not you.”
“It is me, Conner. It's all me.”
Meanwhile, Raven, the other silent one of the group, was on her knees, a hand pressed to her head and eyes closed. She looked almost sick, afraid even, and her voice came out in nothing more than a hoarse whisper. “I was right... there is something wrong. This isn't Wonder Girl... not as we know her. She's... I can feel something now... but it's not coming from her.”
Static glanced over at Raven, the only one to take notice of her at the moment. Leaning down close, he put a hand on her shoulder. “Raven, you alright? What's going on?”
And then, Raven's eyes flew open. “We're in trouble.”
Before Raven could give further warning, Wonder Girl reached into her pocket and pulled out a small lead box, then flipped the top open. A bright green glow emerged, coming from the small space rock within. Instantly, Superboy doubled over in pain and nausea, sweat beading from his forehead. In seconds, he collapsed to the ground, groaning incoherently as the chunk of Kryptonite landed next to him.
“Cassie, what the hell are you doing?!” Red Robin shouted. “You'll kill him!”
“If you won't come quietly, then we must take you...” Without warning, Wonder Girl flew forward with a burst of speed, heading straight for Static. He put up an electrical field to try and defend himself, but the resulting impact of her super strength punch sent him flying through the air, eventually landing in the waters of the San Francisco Bay.
Red Robin ran forward, grabbing at Wonder Girl's shoulder. “Cassie, stop!”
She slowly turned towards him, taking firm hold of his arm and forcing him away. “No, Tim. You won't stop me.”
“Forget talking, she's out of control!” Bombshell exclaimed. “She needs to be put down!”
Bombshell launched herself at Wonder Girl, throwing a punch infused with an explosive amount of quantum energy. Whirling around, Wonder Girl threw up her arms in defense, taking the brunt of the impact and flying wildly back in the air. Bombshell quickly flew after her, fists already charged with more quantum power.
“Not so fast,” Holocaust stated, raising an arm.
A torrent of flames erupted around his body, sending a scorching stream straight at the silver woman. When the flames engulfed her, Bombshell uttered a loud cry of pain, falling from the air. Keeping the inferno on her, Holocaust turned up the heat, causing the girl to roll over in agony. The extreme temperature began to strip away her metallic, Dilustel skin, peeling it off and exposing her normal flesh beneath.
“That's enough,” Killer Frost muttered, with a disappointed sigh. “We're not supposed to kill them, as sad a fact as that is.”
In response to the attack, Beast Boy suddenly charged forward, in the process transforming into an enormous, forty foot tall T-Rex. Opening his jaws wide, he plunged his head down, intent on chomping Holocaust between his teeth. Before he got that far, however, Wonder Girl flew back in and delivered a thunderous punch to the side of his face. Beast Boy went down immediately, reverting back into his regular form and falling unconscious.
“Damn it, Cassie!” Red Robin turned and ran towards the crippled Superboy, making a desperate dive for the chunk of Kryptonite. He had to get rid of it in order to get Superboy back on is feet.
Unfortunately, in mid lunge a cold wave suddenly blasted over him. He felt the temperature drop rapidly, until a thick layer of ice encased around his body, pinning him against the ground.
“Chill out, kid,” Killer Frost said, smirking.
Holocaust turned his attention back towards the only Teen Titan still standing. “Just one left.”
Raven, however, wasn't in much of a condition to fight back. Hands holding her head tightly, she groaned and took in deep breaths, sweat pouring down her face. “No, no... this is wrong. This is all wrong!”
All she could focus on was the utter emptiness coming from Wonder Girl, an emptiness being filled with artificial emotions and instructions. There was something inside Cassie, something forcing her to do this... and it was destroying her.
“I can't... I must find help. I have to fix this!” And then, in a swirl of dark mass, Raven vanished from the island, teleporting through her soul-self.
A red and white blur streaked across the sky, high above the Appalachian wilderness. Taking in deep, frantic breaths, Power Girl glanced back over her shoulder and lifted a hand to wipe a trickle of blood from her lip. Even with her high level of invulnerability, she was bruised and beaten, exhaustion stinging her lungs. Her costume, too, was torn and shredded, barely hanging onto her body. And the pain... it took a lot to make her feel real pain, but by Krypton, she felt it now.
Twenty minutes ago, it had been a completely normal day. She'd called a JSA meeting, just like she did every Monday, gathering together all members of the team. But the JSA weren't the only ones who showed up to the meeting. A whole team of VRA operatives had come with them, threatening to take her in for failing to register. Of course, she had completely brushed this aside. After all, what were they going to do, shoot her? She had her own reasons for not wanting to hand over her life and identity to the government, and no one was going to make her.
That was, of course, until the entire JSA turned on her. They had all registered with the VRA, and they were all now following the government's orders. Just like that, her leadership and friendship to them had suddenly vanished. When she had refused to let herself be taken away by the VRA, they attacked. They all attacked. She might have been one of the strongest women on the planet, but even she couldn't overcome that kind of onslaught. She had just barely been able to get away before they took her in, and right now she was on her way to meet up with one of her closest friends, assuming the homing beacon worked.
Landing somewhere in the middle of a forest, with a range of rounded mountains in the background, Power Girl collapsed on top of a large rock and huffed out a deep breath. Crap, my body hurts. Feels like I just went ten rounds with Darkseid.
Half an hour later, a large shadow descended over her from above. Squinting slightly, Power Girl sat up and leaned back on her arms, watching as a dark haired girl in a white and black outfit floated down on a levitating rock.
“I got your call, Peej,” Terra said. “What's going on? And what the heck happened to you? You look terrible.”
“Yeah, well I feel terrible, too.” Power Girl uttered a heavy breath, holding a hand to her forehead. “Something's wrong, Atlee, something's really, really wrong. The VRA just showed up on the Justice Society's doorstep looking for me. I mean, sure, I didn't register like I was supposed to, but come on. They can't really expect us to just give our whole lives up to them so we can keep beating up super villains, right?”
Getting down on her hands and knees, Terra leaned forward over the edge of her floating rock, hovering several feet above the ground. “And they did that to you?”
“No, that's the part that's so messed up!” she replied. “I could have swatted those VRA goons away with my eyes closed if I wanted to, but I never got that chance. My whole team turned on me, Terra. The entire JSA, they just... they attacked me. I put up a fight for as long as I could, but then I got the heck outta there and called you.”
“Hmm... sounds problematic,” Terra muttered.
Power Girl scoffed, bowing her head. “Well if that isn't an understatement...”
“I really wish you registered, Peej. Now I have to bring you in, too.”
A cold, numb sensation quivered into Power Girl's chest. “No... Atlee, not you, too.”
Terra merely shrugged, then reached out and clenched a fist. Instantly, the earth around her rose up in the form of a giant hand that grabbed hold of Power Girl, squeezing tightly.
“You have to understand, the VRA is trying to help us,” Terra explained. “We all need to listen to them and follow their laws. Just come peacefully, Peej. It's only 90 days, and then you can register with them like you already should have. Nothing terrible.”
Gritting her teeth, Power Girl tightened her muscles and threw her arms up, bursting through the earth holding her. “No, this isn't right! None of this is right!”
What the hell is with everyone? Why is the whole superhero community turning on each other?!
A flying boulder abruptly cut off her thoughts, exploding against her backside. Normally, it wouldn't hurt that much, but with how battered she was already, it did damage. Cringing, she fell to one knee, a hand pressed against the ground.
“Don't make me hurt you, Peej.” Terra raised another hand, causing a second boulder to lift up into the air. “And I can hurt you, especially in your current condition.”
“Yeah, well... you're forgetting something.” Taking in a deep breath, Power Girl suddenly rocketed herself forward at super speed, blitzing the girl. “I can hurt you, too!”
She made certain to hold back with her punch, way back. After all, she wasn't trying to take Terra's head off or anything. Whatever was going on, whatever was doing this, they were still friends. She just needed to put the girl down for a while, until she could figure out what was wrong. When her fist connected, Terra went down hard, not moving but still breathing.
“Sorry, girl,” Power Girl uttered, reaching down to lift the girl into her arms. “Come on, let's take you home. Then I need to figure out what the hell is going on around here.”
When the doors to the Hall of Justice meeting room opened in front of him, the Flash folded his arms and looked around. Supergirl walked in next to him, hands on her hips. Cyborg and Donna were already waiting for them inside, but the others weren't there yet.
Before any of them could speak, Jesse zipped into the room, coming to an abrupt halt right in front of them. “Z25Y(2AB)6. Alright, I'm here. What's going on?”
“You mean you don't know?” Cyborg asked, lifting his eyebrows.
“Uh... no. Should I?”
Cyborg narrowed his eyes, folding his arms across his chest. “Considering you called us here, I would hope so.”
“Wait, what?” Jesse blinked, turning her attention to Donna. “But I was called here by Donna.”
The Justice League members paused, glancing at each other in confusion.
“And I was called by Supergirl,” Donna explained.
“Don't look at me,” Supergirl replied. “My call came from Cyborg.”
“And mine came from Jade,” Flash said.
Another voice interrupted them, as the doors opened up again. Green Arrow walked in, bow over his shoulder and eyes narrowed. “And Flash called me.”
A dead silence descended over the group. After several moments, Cyborg brought a hand to his chin, a very cold sensation running through his half-machine body. “Then the question is: who really called us?”
“I did,” a voice echoed across the room, as the other set of doors opened to reveal another figure walking towards them, a very familiar figure: Deathstroke.
The Justice League immediately went on the defensive, preparing themselves for an attack. The man was in full costume, after all, with weapons at the ready.
“Slade...” Cyborg muttered. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Ah, Victor... not as sharp as you used to be, are you?” the mercenary said.
Flash took a step forward. “Cut the small talk, Wilson. Give us one good reason why we should pummel you and drag you off to jail.”
“Well, for starters, I haven't committed a crime,” he informed.
Jesse scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Oh, duh, of course you haven't. Because you're such a nice guy, right?”
“I'm a free and innocent man now, whether you like it or not,” Deathstroke stated. “I'm also the head of the Vigilante Regulation Agency, the agency that you were all supposed to register with according to the new laws put into place two and a half weeks ago. The deadline expired, and none of you complied.”
“Because it's wrong,” Donna stated. “And it is not something we can give in to. Forcing heroes to give up their identities and fall under government control will not end well.”
“Yeah, and what's stopping the government from forcing us to go attack another country, huh?” Supergirl folded her arms, shifting her weight. “Sorry, but I'm not fighting your wars for you.”
Letting out a short breath, Deathstroke simply shook his head. “Doesn't matter what you think about it, Donna. It is law now, and by law, it's my job to take you in for breaking it. Come quietly or suffer the consequences.”
“We're not going anywhere with you, Slade,” Cyborg said, already charging up the sonic blaster on his arm.
Green Arrow nodded in affirmation. “Now get out. This room is for Justice League members only.”
“Sorry you feel that way.” Deathstroke shook his head again, letting out a small sigh. “Looks like we'll be taking you by force, then.”
“Right, you and what army?” Jesse asked.
Lifting an eyebrow, Deathstroke looked past the team, as the doors behind them opened. “That army.”
When the doors opened, numerous superheroes entered the chamber. Among the crowd was Animal Man, Aquagirl, Argent, Arowette, Speedy, The Atom, Flamebird, Blue Beetle, Stargirl and nearly the entire JSA, as well as a dozen others at least. Leading the pack, however, was a painfully familiar face, a green skinned woman flying up in the air and glowing with energy.
“So, how are we going to do this?” Jade asked.
“Jade?!” Flash took a step forward, his eyes going wide. “What the hell are you doing with them?”
“The right thing,” she responded. “You should have registered, Wally. You all should have. Now you pay for your inaction.”
Jesse clenched her fists, jaw tightening. “You backstabbing little... 3x2(9YZ-”
But before she could finish the phrase, a beam of green energy emerged from Jade's palm, wrapping around her mouth in the form of a gag. If she couldn't speak the full speed formula, she couldn't gain access to the speed force, and thus her powers.
“You're coming with us, whether you like it or not,” Deathstroke said, drawing his sword. “By order of the VRA, you are all under arrest.”