#42: Like A House Of Cards (Part 1 of 3) Apr 23, 2014 18:46:19 GMT -5
Post by Admin on Apr 23, 2014 18:46:19 GMT -5
JUSTICE LEAGUE ROLL CALL...
Las Vegas, Nevada. 8.20pm PST
Las Vegas, Nevada. 8.20pm PST
The underground parking lot was nondescript. One of a hundred others in the city. The odd thing about this one was the fact that the small checkpoint office Professor Sarah Ralfston had driven up to was positioned against a wall, and yet here Ralfston was, her car pointing toward that wall, the checkpoint guard smiling as she wound her window down.
“Good evening Professor Ralfston.”
Designed to survive an atomic holocaust thanks to the promethium / metagraphene alloy making up its walls, you couldn’t tell from the outside of the structure that it was designed to survive the end of the world.
“Evening, Roland,” said Sarah. She lowered her car window down as protocol, and Agent Roland was in the process of positioning the scanning device toward her side of the car. The device was small, connected to the interior of the checkpoint building, and it fed information into the monitor in front of Roland’s chair.
“Last recorded entry twelve nights ago. Next planned entry in two days. You’re not on the duty roster tonight, Professor,” said Roland. “Can I ask your business?”
“I’m meeting Professor Moldovar,” said Sarah. She brushed a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “You know what he’s like. Even when I’ve got two weeks leave and we makes plans, he still forgets. Always forgetting. Such a douche.”
Roland snorted. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
“Hey, I’m allowed to say that because I’m sleeping with him,” said Sarah. “Watch yourself.”
Roland smiled and took a step back to watch his monitor load up with data. He nodded to himself.
“Body scans match recorded parameters. Apart from, hey, you got a new tattoo?”
Sarah nodded and held up her arm. She rolled up her sleeve. From the inside of her arm down to her wrist read ‘Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.’
“Voltaire,” said Roland. “Nice.” He touched his temple and began to whisper to himself. Thin, blue veins throbbed across his face and then he opened his eyes, and allowed his appearance to return to normal.
“Psychic scans are all above board.”
Finally, he pressed a button on the monitor in front of him and shining, rotating sigils became visible across the car, reconfiguring every second for ten.
“And you’re clear of occult presences.”
“Gosh, thank God for that,” said Sarah.
“Sure, like that joke will ever get old. Just wait until you pick up an extradimensional parasitic infection,” said Roland. “Then you’ll stop making that joke every damn time you see me.”
“Extradimensional parasitic infection? You obviously didn’t know my college boyfriend. Ciao for now, Roland.”
Agent Roland shook his head and began to type in the correct passphrases to activate the next step. “Native Erdel Gate online. You’re free to move forward, Professor Ralfston.”
“See you in thirty, fingers crossed,” said Sarah.
“When it comes to Pablo, like you’ll be that lucky,” said Roland.
Ralfston drove forward into a bright, swirling light and drove straight through the wall of the underground parking lot and arrived in the top-secret site of the Science City.
The sky was a twinkling lavender, the current dimensional location unknown to her but beautiful nonetheless. She drove up to the secondary checkpoint.
“Good evening Professor Ralfston.”
“Evening, Roland,” said Sarah. “Let’s get scanning, shall we?”
Las Vegas, Nevada. 8.55pm PST
Professor Ralfston strolled toward Pablo Moldovar, running her finger against the worktop as she went. Hunched over his microscope, Pablo paid no attention as she approached. Sarah was dressed to impress under her lab coat, something she rarely did when work was involved.
“What are you working on?”
Pablo didn’t look away from his work. “Hmm?”
“Pablo,” said Sarah. The intonation of his name and the suggestion in her voice was enough.
“Working on? Working? Umm.” Pablo looked up and grinned. “I’m just examining some tech from Central that the GPA recovered last week. I have an idea about matching it with…” He rubbed his eyes and his smile widened. “Sarah, wow, you look amazing.”
Sarah allowed herself to smile too. “It’s Thursday, Pablo. You remember what we agreed?”
“Thursday? Thursday! Oh, Sarah, I forgot, I completely forgot, I’m so sorry,” said Pablo.
Moldovar began to remove his labcoat as he headed toward the changing room, before clicking his fingers and turning back to put away the specimens he had been working on. Pablo leaned in to kiss Sarah and she touched his cheek before he continued his work.
“I don’t know why I waste my time on you sometimes,” said Sarah. She was smiling.
“Because I love you, and you love me,” said Pablo. He locked away his work and then moved past her, their fingers brushing. The cloakroom light was on and he made his way to his locker, leaving Sarah in the lab. “What’s the time, anyway?”
Sarah looked at her watch and let out a loud, theatrical tut. “Nine. You’re only…” She paused then looked at the time again. “Nine. Nine is the hour. The hour is now.”
“Sure, I assumed as much,” said Pablo. He was busy getting changed, not wanting to keep Sarah waiting.
In the lab, Sarah was unlocking the cabinet that stored the technology that Pablo had been working on. She took out the latest piece from the collection and considered it. The grip fit her hand perfectly. It was about as long as her arm, sleek and silver, with blank LEDs running from base to mouth.
“Yeah, I can’t get that to work,” said Pablo. He was running his hands through his thick, black hair as he approached Sarah. “Apparently it uses some kind of gene-lock, but I can’t figure out how to duplicate the DNA signature. It’s one of the Kobra weapons acquired from the Ark.”
Sarah remained expressionless while the barrel of the gun began to illuminate in tiny cells, little emerald lights moving from the grip to the muzzle. When all the LEDs lit up, green shifted to red, and the weapon began to hum.
“Holy crap,” said Pablo. “Sarah, what are you? How are you--”
Sarah aimed the weapon at Pablo’s chest. A sickly green, fluorescent tattoo began to spread from her right arm and up to her neck before spreading up her face and across her cheek. The serpentine signature then touched the corner of her eye, her corneas shifting to the same emerald colour.
Sarah fired and the energy salvo eviscerated Pablo then sent his wet corpse through the wall and into the cloakroom. Tears streamed from Sarah’s eyes as she looked at the security camera mounted on the wall.
“Faith to Kali Yuga.”
Issue Five: “Like A House Of Cards”
HoM / Flinchum / Bowers
Area 51, Nevada. 10.25pm PST:
Superman descended upon the site that had previously been home to Science City. Global Peace Agency agents were swarming around the immediate area, trying their best to ignore the gaping big hole in the ground, a mile deep.
The communicator in Superman’s ear itched. With the Martian Manhunter gone, they couldn’t skip a beat, but, without a telepath, communication was now more overt. They would have to make sure they didn’t get caught out in this age of media scrutiny.
Superman cursed himself. The fact that he had to think like that showed how far they had come since the Justice League first assembled to battle Darkseid during the Apokolips Invasion.
“Can you hear me?”
<Yes,> said Batman. He was nearby, but without squinting Superman couldn’t spot him. No matter. Bruce would reveal himself when he felt it necessary, and Clark trusted him so as not to pry.
“I thought Science City had been moved into a tesseract for safety, after the last attempted break-in?”
<A constantly shifting dimensional tesseract, rotating its location every twenty-four hours,> said Batman. <According to GPA intel, it was docked to this military base, ‘Area 51’. When all hell broke loose, the GPA bought the site home remotely. This is what they found.>
“Thank God you’re here,” said one of the agents as they landed. “This is insane. Completely insane.”
“Please talk me through what happened,” said Superman. “We were given the CliffsNotes.”
The agent led Superman into a hastily-erected command centre, where a bank of monitors had been set up.
“We beam all camera feeds into offsite servers in real-time, in case of emergency,” said the agent. “Ah, I’m Reynolds. Agent Reynolds. Senior Agent on site. Hi. But yeah, so we have the camera footage.”
“What does it show?” said Superman.
“One of our project scientists, Sarah Ralfston, used one of the weapons from the Kobra Ark to murder another one of the scientists, her boyfriend, Pablo Moldovar.”
“From the look on your face, you’re not going to tell me they had a lovers’ spat, are you?”
Reynolds glanced up to Superman and shook his head. “No, no, nothing like that.”
The camera footage showed the murder of Pablo Moldovar and the events thereafter. Another salvo of energy from the weapon activated the sprinklers and then the compound went into lockdown.
“That’s where things get worse, guys.”
The footage showed men and women in armour walking out of the water flowing from the sprinklers. Of the assorted armoured figures, one stood out. Attached to his arm was a device that appeared organic in nature, taking the appearance of a large, gauntlet-like shell. Naga turned to the camera and smiled then the feed went black.
“Lord Naga,” said Superman. He despised the anger that he allowed to slip into his voice. There was an edge to his voice that made perfect sense considering the Justice League’s recent interactions with Kobra and their worshippers.
“We vet all scientists working in the Science City,” said Reynolds. “If Ralfston was ever part of the Kobra cult, we would have known. We should have known. I don’t know how this happened, but I swear to God, we’ll find out. Ralfston’s had an impeccable record. There’s only ever been one blip on her record and that’s when she came to work a year ago with nitrous oxide in her system. Nothing major, but that’s how sensitive our sensors are.”
“Nitrous oxide? Laughing gas?”
“Yeah, and she didn’t have a dentist appointment. Weirdest thing. She was treated, had the remnants of drug flushed from her system, and she got on with her day. Done and done.”
“Interesting. So, where’s the Science City now?” said Superman.
“After Lord Naga arrived, the cameras were shut down, weird as all hell, and then within minutes, the entire complex was gone from the site. There’s no trace of the city anywhere that we’re scanning.”
“How many scientists were in the Science City when it vanished?”
Superman felt himself tense up.
“It was 9pm PST. The night shift had come on two hours before, so 117 men and women are currently missing, along with the compound itself.”
“Over a hundred men and women gone,” said Superman. “We’ll find them. Lord Naga can’t have taken a whole city so easily. There must be some clue.”
Batman’s voice entered his ears. <Get down here.>
“Agent Reynolds, the Justice League will be investigating the site. If we get in your way please let us know and we’ll withdraw,” said Superman.
“You’re not going to get in our way, Superman, sir. I don’t care what that Jack Ryder dick is saying, you guys are alright by me,” said Reynolds. He shifted from foot to foot. “Uh, excuse my language.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Superman.
Superman ascended into the sky, past the hustle and bustle of the GPA agents on site, and hovered over the gaping hole in the ground.
“How is this possible?” said Superman.
<I can think of a number of ways,> said Batman. <I’ve discounted twelve already.>
Superman nodded. Of course Bruce could. “Where are you?”
A flash of light at the bottom of the pit drew Superman’s attention and he floated downward.
At the bottom of the pit was Green Lantern and Batman, the former obscuring the Leaguers from view with his ring. He allowed Superman inside the construct he had thought into existence, while Batman went about his work on the ground.
“How long have you been here?” said Superman.
Batman glanced up and the Man of Steel could see his brow shift under his cowl. Without a word he continued his work.
Green Lantern smiled. “Long enough.”
“Any thoughts, GL?” said Superman.
“Some,” said Green Lantern. “I’m detecting a number of energy signatures across the entire compound, some internal to the city, some external. One’s really giving the ring a headache.”
“Is that even possible?” said Superman.
“Yeah, undocumented energies always slow the ring down,” said Green Lantern.
“Okay, so what do we have?”
“Another jigsaw piece,” said Batman. “I’ve got all I need. We need to vacate. Lantern, you have the imaging done?”
“Upload directly to the computers on Laputa," said John.
"Good, I want Flash to check it out when he’s back from the Slab," said Batman.
"Right, the teleporters are primed, awaiting our execute signal. We a go?”
Batman nodded and the Justice League vanished in a cerulean shimmer as the teleporters went about their work.
Slabside Penitentiary , New Jersey
“Why did you kill Jacob Marlowe?” said The Flash.
The cell was dim but the prisoner was clear as day. Kenyan was motionless. Pale-skinned. Emaciated. He looked at The Flash and smiled.
“Because Jacob Marlowe wasn’t Jacob Marlowe. He was an alien warlord here to conquer the Earth.”
Kenyan’s voice was a pitch higher than normal. Grating, and he knew it. He eyed up Wonder Woman’s lasso and his smile broadened. “You can slip that on me if you like, to check if I’m telling the truth.”
“And you took it upon yourself to kill him,” said Wonder Woman. “Why didn’t you inform the authorities?”
“Who? It’s not like there was a hotline for when you meet an alien warlord. This was back before the Justice League. Back when the Justice Society were still keeping to themselves. It was him or the world.”
The Flash turned away and looked at Wonder Woman. “I wish Manhunter were here. He’d be able to pick the facts out of his head like a lottery draw. Winning numbers ever time.”
Wonder Woman said nothing in response. “You’ve kept quiet since you were incarcerated. Transferred from maximum security unit to maximum security unit until you ended up here. And you’ve not said a word. Why are you telling us, now?”
“The timetable is accelerating,” said Kenyan. “What did you see?” He stood, the oversized shackles around his wrists clanking together. “What’s going on out in the big wide world?”
“That’s for us to know, chum,” said The Flash. “We’re not your dedicated gossip site.”
“Did you meet Spartan?” said Kenyan.
The Flash groaned inwardly. Of course this guy knew more than he was letting on.
“What do you know of Spartan?” said Wonder Woman.
“I met him, back in the day. ‘Jacob’s’ bodyguard. He took on a name, didn’t he? Jack? He’s the one who took over HALO when I blew his ‘great uncle’s’ brains out in Las Vegas a couple of years back.”
The Flash arched an eyebrow.
“Am I wrong?” said Kenyan.
“Why aren’t you ageing?” said Wonder Woman.
“Same reason I’m here,” said Kenyan. “Because of Jacob Marlowe. When you’ve been running around Planet Earth for thousands of years, you get bored. So he made me immortal, someone he could play chess with every decade as the world went on. He slowed down my ageing. Ha, we used to dance across Europe, waging a private war. He made a terrible mistake when he started playing with my genetics.”
“Yeah? Apart from the obvious?” said The Flash.
“Jacob didn’t realise that all I wanted was to watch his world burn,” said Kenyan. He gripped the bars of the cell and his body wracked with electricity. He held the bars tight, his hands touching air and his skin crackling. “Not just his home world, no, no,” he grunted, and began to laugh, blood bubbling out of his nose, “but his adopted one too.”
“Stop it,” said The Flash. He vibrated his body through the bars and entered the cell, wrenching Kenyan back from the bars and into the back of the small room. “You’re mad. You’re a mad little man.”
Kenyan dove for The Flash but the Scarlet Speedster sidestepped and kicked him down.
“We’re in chains,” said Kenyan. Blood fell from his nose and mouth. He held up his wrists, the manacles charred by his self-inflicted electric shock. “The difference between you and me is that you can see mine.”
The Flash zipped out of the cell and Wonder Woman nodded. They left Kenyan, the wardens swarming into the corridor to tend to the prisoner.
Shilo Norman was waiting for them, looking somewhat impatient. “You got him talking then?”
“That and more,” said The Flash.
“That man is insane,” said Wonder Woman. “You could see it in his eyes. Madness. With a complete disregard for his own safety, and that of others.”
“You can afford to have the former when you’re immortal,” said Shilo. “At least, that’s what I always thought of Scott*. I don’t know if you’d agree, Wonder Woman?”
*Scott Free, aka the New God Mister Miracle, Shilo’s old mentor
Diana said nothing. She was thinking about what Kenyan had said. Could Jacob Marlowe have actually been an alien? What was Jack Marlowe’s true identity? They would need to speak with him sooner rather than later.
“We have to return to the League,” said The Flash. “Share the info Kenyan gave us. I don’t trust that guy one bit, Shilo. You best keep an eye on him, I think he might be up to something.”
“Always do,” said Shilo. “Always do. Safe travels, folks.”
Laputa, Island Base of the Justice League
Wonder Woman recognised the technology used for the incursion into Science City immediately. “The Xebel artefact that was stolen. The items from the war cache that Shadow Thieves stole in Rio De Janeiro. Water-based teleportation. They used it to get in via the sprinklers.”
“Makes sense,” said the Flash. “Kobra then. Always Kobra. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had something to do with the warp marker last month.”
“J’onn didn’t leave because of Kobra,” said Lantern.
“I’m just saying,” said Barry.
“So the mole activated the sprinklers and Kobra used them as a portal to get in. The world we live in,” said Superman. “John, any luck tracking the energy signature?”
“As of yet, no,” said Lantern. “The ring is running 100% toward trace routines, but Kobra must be using something to block scans.
“We don’t know that Sarah Ralfston was a mole, I think there’s more to it than that,” said Wonder Woman. “I want to follow that lead.”
“So do I,” said Batman. “I’ve assigned a friend to shadow Jack Marlowe until we resolve this situation. Anything untoward and we’ll be informed. Nightwing told me that the League has had problems arise from Science City before*,” said Batman.
*Back in Justice League V1 #27, when Bruce Wayne was thought dead and Dick Grayson wore the cape and cowl
The Flash nodded in agreement. “That’s right. For a top secret compound built to house experts in esoteric sciences, it doesn’t exactly keep a low profile. They encourage all kinds of mad science craziness behind closed doors. Which is bad now that it’s been snatched off the face of the Earth.”
<Incoming transmission, GPA Frequency-2.>
“Does anyone else feel like we’re answering calls from the Global Peace Agency a bit too often these past few months?” said John.
Batman said nothing but his expression shifted to one of mild amusement.
“We can trust the GPA, we can trust James Harper,” said Superman. “Put the call through.”
The helmeted visage of the Guardian, prime field agent of the Global Peace Agency, appeared in the middle of the Justice League’s conference table, projected via hologram.
“Justice League, the Weatherman asked me to share intel with you regarding Science City.”
“Go ahead, Guardian,” said Superman.
“Science City was being used to house weaponry and technology gathered in the wake of meta-altercation events. Red level equipment we wanted to keep out of the hands of those who might do wrong with it,” said the Guardian. “I’m talking cybernetic attack units, rogue AIs, alien tech, countless threats.”
“My God,” said Green Lantern. “So you’re saying that Kobra has its hands on a cache of world-ending tech?”
The Guardian’s expression was unreadable under his helmet. “The majority of it was decommissioned. Deactivated.”
“And the scientists responsible for the decommissioning have been kidnapped too,” said Batman. He stood and existed the conference room. Wonder Woman headed after him.
“The Weatherman wanted you to hear this from us directly, Superman,” said the Guardian. “This wasn’t something we were keeping from you maliciously. The technology had to go somewhere and it was better in our hands than on the streets.”
“I don’t dispute that, Guardian,” said Superman. “But decommissioned or not, this is bad news. Thank you for your time.” The Man of Steel cut the transmission. “‘Better in their hands’. Good God.”
“That reeks of naivety,” said Green Lantern. “I’m all for protecting ourselves as a country but technology used to the detriment of humanity should be destroyed. Damn. There’s always something to be learnt. Something to be discovered No wonder we’re necessary..”
The Flash shook his head. “Again, I don’t think it’s that straight forward. We fight rogues who use freeze guns to disable police, mirrors to perform bank heists. If there’s a medical application to the former that can be discovered, a practical application to the latter, why should we not try?”
“Yeah, well, even taking all of that into consideration, I’m still getting nowhere with my scans. Kobra must have some mighty shielding keeping their presence off the map,” said John. “I even tried searching for the absence of energy signatures, but that failed too.”
“Keep trying,” said Superman. “Where did Bruce and Diana get to?”
“Batman mentioned wanting to look at Sarah Ralfston’s apartment ASAP, he might have gone back down to Las Vegas to follow that lead up,” said John.
“Makes perfect sense,” said The Flash. “Now, we’ve got some of the most advanced technology at our disposal here in Laputa. Why don’t we put our brains together and figure out where Kobra took Science City? There can’t be too many places you can hide a city in this world, right?”
“You’d be surprised,” said Superman. “Let’s get on it.”
Batman trudged through the corridors of Laputa and didn’t look back as Wonder Woman followed “Our one lead is Sarah Ralfston. You saw the same footage as I did, what did you notice that wasn’t right?”
“Apart from a woman killing the man she was involved with? The tattoo.”
“Yes,” said Batman. “Scans prior to her entry showed she recently had a tattoo drawn on her forearm. During the incident, it spread to her face. I want to know more. I’m teleporting down to Ralfston’s apartment. Do you want to join me?”
“Let’s go,” said Diana.
Global Peace Agency HQ, Location Unknown:
“They didn’t like it,” said The Guardian. “Not one bit.”
“They wouldn’t. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. The UN doesn’t want us interacting with the Justice League to the extent we are, and the US government have their own horse in this race, the so-called Justice League of America. ‘Sharing intel with an unknown entity,’ they call it. An unknown entity. Jesus Christ.”
Chloe Sullivan, Weatherman of the Global Peace Agency looked up at Jim Harper, currently seated opposite her. Harper’s helmet was on the desk in front of him, and he’d unbuckled his armour so his dog tags were showing. They both looked exhausted.
“This was supposed to be different, Jim. We tried being sneaky bastards in the DEO and it didn’t work. We tried being James freaking Bond with Checkmate and the results varied from bad to worse. This was supposed to be better. A UN-sanctioned group dedicated to peace. No double-talk. No games. But they won’t even let it work. They won’t let us do our jobs.”
“Red tape is always going to be a problem when you’re answerable to a higher power,” said Jim. “And in this case, the United Nations is one hell of a higher power.”
“What do you suggest we do then? The Justice League have saved us countless times. All our lives on the macro and micro level. Maybe it was naïve to think we could do this work differently? Maybe we were being stupid?”
“Bullshit,” said Harper. He pointed his finger at Sullivan, an angry look in his eye. “I have my pick of assignments, Sullivan. I’ve been doing wetwork and black ops since World War Two. I’ve done the superhero thing, I’ve done it all. You think I would have backed your horse if I didn’t believe in the cause? The Global Peace Agency is making a difference. They’re just obfuscating it, using Kobra as a weapon against us.”
“Jeffrey Burr is dead,” said Sullivan. “His own brother shot him in the head. We all saw it. Kobra should be done. Finished. We should have known that you can’t kill a religion by killing its messiah. We made a martyr out of him instead.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Harper. “There is something wrong with Jason Burr. Beyond PTSD, beyond the psychological damage done to him after thirty years captivity. He passes all tests. All exams. Now he’s running across the world trying to undo all the bad his brother did? He got over it all awful quick didn’t he?”
“Jason is a private citizen, we can’t--”
There was a commotion outside the office that caused Harper to grab his shield and spin around, while Sullivan pulled her sidearm from where she had strung her holster. The door to the office swung open and a group of armed men in black uniforms surged in.
“Stand down, Weatherman; stand down, Guardian,” said one of the men. “By order of the United Nations we have been sanctioned to relieve you of duty and debrief you on your way out. The Global Peace Agency is done.”
“You think you’re gonna intimidate me with that weapon, soldier?” said Harper. “Do you even know who I am and what I could do to you before you think to pull the trigger?”
“Oh, we’re all well aware of your credentials, General Harper. A man of your talents has been wasted on this endeavour, don’t you think?”
The soldiers parted to allow someone through.
“I know that voice,” said Harper. He said it quiet, angry. He knew that voice and it didn’t give him a warm feeling in his stomach.
A bald man, tall and clad in the same black that the soldiers wore smiled as he ordered the men to lower their weapons. “It’s been a while, Jim.”
“Henry Bendix,” said Harper. “What the hell is going on here?”
Bendix paid no attention to Harper, instead focusing his attention on Sullivan. “This experiment in overt pacifism is over, former-Weatherman Sullivan. The UN have authorised the seizure of all GPA assets and they’re amalgamating the newly-activated Stormwatch. You’re expected at the United Nations building to take your medicine.”
“Stormwatch? I don’t take orders from a two-bit--” said Sullivan. Her words were cut off when she suddenly de-materialised from her office and arrived in the middle of a large boardroom, surrounded by United Nation representatives from across the world. “Oh, crap. Hello, representatives--”
“Where did she go?” said Harper, back in the Global Peace Agency headquarters. “What did you do, Bendix?”
“Me? I did nothing, but the UN wanted to see her so I assume they transmatted her from here to there,” said Henry. “Now, General Harper, I would really watch your tone with me or you might lose some of the stars on your shoulder. I would hate to see a war hero forgotten by the public because he forgot his place.”
“I don’t serve this country to shut my mouth and follow orders without thinking,” said Harper. “And I don’t care what rock you crawled out from underneath, you can’t just--”
Bendix put up his hands and sighed, the bristling anger gone from him. “Look, I honestly don’t want a fight here. You and I, we go way back. Team One was a long time ago but it wasn’t that long ago. I shouldn’t have come in here all brim-and-bluster but I’ve had my eye on this role since I joined the military. Since I was Think Tank, Harper.”
“You always were a cold, calculating bastard,” said Harper.
“Enough. I petitioned the United Nations for the establishment of Stormwatch for the better part of the last two decades. I have my opportunity now to make a difference and I’m not going to let your bad attitude get the better of me.”
“This isn’t over,” said The Guardian. He picked up his helmet and pressed the concealed button on the back of his shield that caused him to shimmer out of existence. An untraceable alien teleporter he’d picked up back during his black ops days.
“It never is,” said Bendix. He looked back at the operatives that had come with him. “Begin debriefing. I need Skywatch operational and I want to know if any of these hippies are worth their salt. If they are, they get a seat at the big table, if not, I want their memories scrubbed of their tenure here and their severance. Go.”
Las Vegas, Nevada:
The teleporters materialised Batman and Wonder Woman in Sarah Ralfston’s studio apartment. The Caped Crusader went to work immediately, searching the apartment in the early hours of the new day, hoping to find a clue as to what happened in Science City.
“Have you considered expansion?” said Wonder Woman. She flicked carefully through a pile of papers, not knowing what she was looking for but confident that if she found it she would know it.
“Since we reformed,” said Batman. “If we’re to be a team that protects the world from anything, eight seemed like a very small number in the face of infinite evils.” He paused. “That said, I don’t know if there are members of our community that have the necessary skills required to function in the Justice League.”
“What about former members? Hawkgirl? Manitou Dawn? The Birds of Prey.”
“Like you say, they’ve already formed their own team,” said Batman. “I see no reason not to extend an offer, but I don’t think they would say yes.”
“There are countless others who have graced our ranks before that are more than up to the task of re-joining the Justice League. Five against Kobra, against a potential alien invasion, against whatever else lurks in the shadows of the world,” she trailed off for a moment, “it’s not enough.”
“Then recruitment should be our highest priority when this case is resolved,” said Batman.
“Agreed,” said Wonder Woman. “I’ve contacted Aquaman regarding the resurfacing of the Xebel technology.”
“I assume he’s angry,” said Batman.
“World’s Greatest Detective,” said Wonder Woman. Batman turned back at her and smiled. “The fortification of Poseidonis is nearly complete, he said he would rejoin us when he is confident his people are safe.”
“Understandable,” said Batman. “I’ve found something.”
Wonder Woman joined Batman in Sarah’s bedroom. There were sketches pinned to her closet, around the mirror. Quotes and sentences, all scattered about without any discernible pattern.
“This is what I was concerned about,” said Batman.
“What do you mean?”
“Ralfston’s tattoo. Here,” said Batman. He pointed at the quotes around the mirror. “Voltaire. Look at the fade on the paper. These have been here for months. She’s been planning it for a while.”
“What’s the implication?”
“When Nightwing was younger, still living in Gotham, still Robin, he wanted a tattoo. Something that he would have regretted as soon as he got it done,” said Batman. The memory seemed to relieve a tension in him. Lighten his load. “I told him I would pay for it, I’d be happy to pay for it, if he wanted one. But he had to be sure. He had to know what he wanted on his skin forever. He used to print off designs and ideas and stick them on the ceiling above his bed. If he didn’t mind waking up to it every single day he wouldn’t mind having it on his body. Suffice to say, nothing stayed on the ceiling for long, and to my knowledge, he still hasn’t got a tattoo. My boy, eh?”
Diana smiled and almost touched Bruce’s arm. A gesture she was unsure of, for some reason. One that made her hesitate before she could complete the action. Bruce turned and her hand was already back down at her side, but she was still smiling.
“What?” said Batman.
“I sometimes forget,” said Diana. “Nevermind. So she was sure she wanted the tattoo, that’s what you’re saying?”
“Yes. So her intent was hijacked. We need to—” Batman crouched and began to rummage through her wastepaper bin, searching for something, anything that might allow them to move on with their investigation. “Yes.”
Batman held up a napkin for ‘Midas Bar’. On the back of it was a phone number and a name, along with a message. A.T, Call me up when you’re sure…
“So this ‘A.T.’ is what?”
“Our tattooist perhaps,” said Batman. “I’ll have the number traced. P, are you getting this?”
Wonder Woman knew that Batman was communicating with Alfred Pennyworth, his faithful manservant and surrogate father, who more than likely staffed the supercomputer back at Wayne Manor right at this moment. Diana’s thoughts drifted back to her mother. Dead for years* but still alive in her heart. Bruce was lucky.
*Hippolyta was killed way back when in Wonder Woman #2
“Thank you,” said Batman. “I’ve got a location.” Alfred continued to talk in his ear. “That’s interesting. Batman out.”
“What’s interesting?” said Wonder Woman.
“Midas Bar closed a year ago, according to public records, so this napkin is old,” said Batman. “But Ralfston kept it. Discount tattoo offer from a random man in a bar? Doesn’t strike me as normal behaviour.”
“Let’s go pay ‘A.T.’ a visit,” said Wonder Woman. “I know a way we can get you all the answers you like.” She patted her side, where her lasso resided. “My gift to you.”
“Happy Birthday,” said Batman.
Superman’s belt buckle began to buzz.
“That’s new,” said John.
“Pssh,” said Barry. “It’s his cellphone. Nothing fancy about it.”
Superman excused himself and headed out onto the harbour of Laputa. It was so strange, using an entire, state-of-the-future-art city as your base of operations, but with views like this, Clark couldn’t help but feel blessed.
“Clark, hey,” said the voice on the phone.
“Chloe? Is that you?” said Superman.
“Yeah, listen, could we talk? I’m in Coast City, the house,” said Chloe Sullivan.
There was a knock at the door and within a few moments, it was opened by a man with his daughter in one arm.
“Holy crap,” said Hal Jordan. “Hey, Clark.”
Clark shifted his glasses up the bridge of his nose and smiled. “Hal.”
“I assume you’re here to talk to Chloe about the shit-storm she’s gone through today?” said Hal. He looked down at his daughter and pouted. “Ignore Daddy, ignore Daddy, Daddy says silly things sometimes.”
“Ha, well,” Clark almost shrugged, “I don’t know, I--”
“Clark?” Chloe looked out from the kitchen and at her phone. “Jeez, you’re fast. I sometimes forget.”
“You called, I came,” said Clark. “What’s happened?”
Hal excused himself from the conversation and began gently throwing his daughter up and down, all the while the young girl giggled and reached up as high as she could manage.
“The Global Peace Agency is done,” said Chloe. “The United Nations shut us down. Just like that,” she clicked her fingers. “Huh. Déjà vu.”
“Is this because of Science City?” said Clark.
“They’ve been angling to get rid of us since the Kobra operation. They never liked us interacting with you, Clark. They never liked us working with the Justice League. It’s why Jim had to play go-between. If I was seen talking to you, they’d have had even more ammunition.”
“Ammunition? What’s wrong with working with us? We’re the Justice League for crying out loud, we’re not enemies of the state.”
“You were once,” said Chloe. “Don’t forget that*. The US of A didn’t.”
*In the Justice League Vs America event
“That wasn’t us though, we were framed,” said Clark. “But you know that.” He sighed. “I’m sorry. We’ve been on the edge these past few months. Kobra keeps striking from the shadows and we can’t get a bead on him. I guess you have been too?”
“The Global Peace Agency was supposed to help defuse problems before they exploded out onto the civilian population, but due to my ties with the superhero community I’ve always been eyed with suspicion. I got the go-ahead and the funding to launch the organisation but the UN have been on my back since day one. The fact that Kobra—an organisation we supposedly shut down—just stole one of our facilities out from under our noses was the final nail in the coffin. The GPA is dead and there’s a new sheriff in town. Do you know who Henry Bendix is?”
“No clue,” said Clark.
“You soon will,” said Chloe. “Henry Bendix is a grade-A bastard. Used to be a special operative in the seventies, part of a group called Team One. He ran with Harper for a while, but the team didn’t last. Too many egos. Apparently he’s spent his time since, troubleshooting for the US government, advising presidents, consulting on practices across the board. Made himself indispensable and the go-to-guy when it comes to any and everything. This last decade or so he’s been proposing a new way to monitor and control metahuman activity, Stormwatch. And with the death of the Global Peace Agency, he’s got his funding. The memos are being sent out as we speak. Old boss met the new boss. Old boss got her ass kicked to the UN and got torn to shreds. So now I'm a free agent. Looks like the intelligence community has seen the last of Chloe Sullivan.”
“What’s the implication for the Justice League?” said Clark.
“Don’t step out of line,” said Chloe. “Or he’ll strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger.” She smiled but then her expression shifted into something darker. “Expect him to do the rounds over the next few weeks.”
“I look forward to meeting him,” said Clark.
Chloe smirked. “I’m sure. The thing is, the Justice League, you, you’re feared by governments. For all the good you do you’re still feared. You don’t care about borders or jurisdiction. You fly around the world and do what’s right, and I don’t fault that. Hell, I spent half my time making sure no one declared war on you these last few months. But I can’t protect you anymore. Henry Bendix will be gunning for you if you step out of line. America has a Justice League, home grown and patriotic as heck, and the rest of the world has Stormwatch.”
“The Justice League is made up of good people,” said Clark.
“And with a big ol’ Uncle Sam stamp of approval on their backs, Clark,” said Chloe. “Be careful or Bendix will hurt you. He’ll stop at nothing to hurt you if the world considers you to have done wrong.” She sighed and gestured to the kitchen. “Now, can I make you a cup of tea?”
Las Vegas, Nevada:
“This place is a dive,” said Wonder Woman.
“I didn’t know you had that word in your vocabulary,” said Batman.
“You’d be surprised what words are in my vocabulary, Batman.”
The store front was emblazoned with the words DEVIL’S OWN TATTOOS. An assortment of designs and patterns were stuck in the windows, but there was a CLOSED sign hanging for the world to see.
Batman kicked the door down and marched inside.
A familiar-looking man was standing over a pile of tattoo-design books. He was covered in tattoos, was bald and looked like life had gone a few rounds with him and won.
“A.T.,” said Batman. “Abel Tarrant. The Tattooed Man.”
“Oh, you found me,” said Abel Tarrant. The Tattooed Man didn’t move. His tattoos didn’t shift as they once did before his incarceration. “They said I’d have longer.”
“Tarrant,” said Batman. “I want answers.”
“I’m sure you do,” said Abel.
Wonder Woman grabbed Abel by the throat and held him up. “A man is dead. A hundred missing. I am not in the mood for lip.” She looped the lasso around Abel and threw him to the ground.
“Thank you, Wonder Woman,” said Batman, then turned to Tarrant. “You tattooed Sarah Ralfston.”
“I did,” said Abel. He cursed his inability to lie while under the influence of Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth.
“What did you do to her in the Midas Bar?” said Batman.
“Slipped her a mickey. Sounds mad but did you know that nitrous oxide makes you susceptible to hypnotism? It was just the push needed to plant a seed in her head, thanks to one of Kobra’s smarty-pants magicians.”
Wonder Woman's brow furrowed. “You suggested she get a tattoo? Why?”
“Stop asking me questions,” said Tarrant. He was spitting. Thrashing. “Because she had access and we designed a new tattoo ink, magic and science, would seep into the brain and make you do what you were told. Undetectable by even the Global Peace Agency’s scans.”
“They played a long game,” said Batman. He turned to Wonder Woman. “Contact the League.”
Wonder Woman nodded but then grimaced. “Communications are down.”
Abel began to laugh.
“What have you done?” said Batman.
“I helped set up a trap,” said Abel. “You’re surrounded by some of the deadliest men on the planet and Kobra made sure that this entire block is under lockdown. Magic and science, man. Can’t fault it.”
Batman groaned as he was thrown against the wall with incredible force as a man in black and purple armour stepped out from the back room. Wonder Woman dove for the man but another emerged behind him, grabbing her by the arm and slinging her Batman’s way.
They wore the same black and purple armour as the villain known as Planetmaster. Planetmaster singular. When the Justice League had faced him two months ago, his abilities had been enough to knock a tooth out of Aquaman’s mouth and restrain Superman.
The fact that six of them had emerged from the back room did not bode well for the two heroes.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” said Abel Tarrant. One of the Planetmasters removed the Lasso of Truth and opened a compartment in his armour that allowed him to slip the lasso inside. The gangly Tattooed Man headed over to his work station and began wiping down a tattoo gun and shaking his head.
“I knew it was inevitable, but I had hoped, I had prayed to the one true god, that I wouldn’t have to see your kind face-to-face again. But then Lord Naga told me that to serve the one true god I had to sacrifice myself. Give myself to Kali Yuga. I did it willingly and here you are! Delivered unto me like a gift from on high.”
Batman and Wonder Woman went back-to-back as the armoured men surrounded them.
“Tarrant, I want you to know one thing,” said Batman. The Planetmasters approached slowly. Their shadows loomed over the Dark Knight.
Abel placed the tattoo gun down on the side and smiled. “What’s that then, Bats?”
“When we’re done with them, I’m coming for you.”
IN ONE MONTH: Batman and Wonder Woman, alone against the Planetmasters!
IN TWO MONTHS: The greatest threat this Justice League has ever faced… comes from within!
IN TWO MONTHS: The greatest threat this Justice League has ever faced… comes from within!
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