JUSTICE LEAGUE

20

Sacrifices
 

Someone smacked X-Raytor's hand. "Don't light a match in a crowded lobby!"

"But it's dark!" X-Raytor said, unable to see a foot in front of him.

Oreo Avenger sighed, and turned his mask around. "There! Put it on right next ti- wait a second, why didn't you just see through that with your x-ray vision?"

"Er..."

They were, indeed, in the lobby of the Norton Amphitheater- sight of the 2003 Academy Awards- the Oscars! The floor was checkered marble, and the walls were painted an ivory color, with gold filigree along the top. There was a large portrait of someone who X-Raytor assumed was Norton.

The entire lobby was filled with reporters. Reporters and celebrities, and security officers in dark blue uniforms. X-Raytor did a quick count, and realized there were quite a few security guards. So... what did they need the Justice League for?

"LOOK!" Dragon Girl squealed. "It's that guy from that show!"

"It is!" Rosma agreed.

"I still say this is a dumb idea."

Pinzz jerked her thumb at X-Raytor. "What's up his butt?"

"Same old," Xiao said. "He's bitter and crabby for no reason aside from the fact that when he's not looking through our clothes, he's amazingly self righteous."

Pinzz blinked. "Oh."

X-Raytor was, once again, glad that he wore a full body suit, so that no one could see him flush. If only they had some semblance of an idea why he was stressed-

But no, no, they wouldn't. And he wouldn't tell them either. About the visit from M.O.R.P.H.Z.- the suggestion that the Green Penguin might still be alive. About the needle pricks of pain over Ne-Pinzz's unexpected return. After all, he was supposed to be over her, right? Not like he hadn't had any relationships end before.

And speaking of that... when they, when Agent Morgan-Wall was listing the people in the secret facility in Dakota, along with his parents and extended family, she had said "that girl."

That girl. Of course X-Raytor knew who "that girl" was. He had always wondered if she was alive or not, and this proved it, he guessed.

He had never gotten over her, just like he had never gotten over Pinzz.

And all of this added together yielded the reason that X-Raytor was really pissed off. That and he hated the press.

It was just then that a microphone was shoved in his face.

"Hello, I'm Deborah Thompson. You're the, ah," She checked his clipboard. "You're the Justice League, right?"

"Yeah." X-Raytor said.

"Excellent! Do you mind if I ask you all a few questions?"

X-Raytor was about to say: "YES! I MIND! GO TO HELL!" when Rosma pushed past him. "Deborah Thompson! Yes, I've heard of you- you did that piece on the Tri-Leaders, right?"

Deborah's face wavered, as if she was just reminded of something very strange and disturbing, but then resumed her constantly-grinning-TV-news-correspondent-of-the-year-give-me-an-interview-or-you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again look.

"Sure, we'll answer some questions!" Twisk said.

"Her hair's giving me the creeps!" Oreo Avenger whispered, as Deborah went to get her camera-man, who was hobnobbing with that guy who was in that movie, and that girl who was in that movie and was on that show. You know the one. "It's so bouncy! It's frighteningly bouncy!"

"Just try to appease her," Rosma said. "I hear she even creeped out the Tri-Leaders when she interviewed them!"

"Did anyone else see that besides you?" X-Raytor asked, regardless of the fact that he had, indeed, seen it. And had thrown an emu at the TV whenever he saw that sucker-punching bastard John, Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuuum!) onscreen.

"I was watching Cops!" Midnight Chatter said, nodding proudly.

It was then that X-Raytor remembered. "Hey, do you guys see anything odd about the number of security guards here?"

"Shhh!" Raven said. "Here she comes!"

Deborah Thompson walked back to them with her cameraman, who shared her perpetual, phony grin. X-Raytor scowled, but, of course, they couldn't see it under his mask.

"This is Deborah Thompson, reporting live from the 2003 Oscars, and with me tonight I have the members of the famed Justice League!"

She turned the microphone towards Rosma. "And what are you all doing here tonight?"

"We're providing security," Rosma said. "There's been a serious super villain problem in this city recently, and they were worried that someone might try something tonight."

Deborah nodded. "And do you think there is any sort of real threat to the Oscars?"

X-Raytor realized that saying there had been threats might not be the best public statement to make right now, and was about to warn Rosma- but Rosma had figured it out on her own. "We don't have any substantial proof, but it's always good to be cautious!"

Deborah nodded again, but it was clear she was dissatisfied. "One thing I'm sure the viewers at home have noticed is that not everyone is present tonight."

"That's right," Oreo Avenger said, and the microphone was in her face now. "Some of our members are off on their own things."

"I just recently returned, in fact," Pinzz said, poking her head in.

"You're Pinzz, right?" Deborah asked.

"You bet your bouncy hair I am."

Deborah frowned. "So, you're back to stay?"

Pinzz shrugged. "Looks like it!"

X-Raytor felt another burst of pain in his chest. Pinzz- his Neary- back, back now. M.O.R.P.H.Z. The Green Penguin- uncle Bubba. "That girl"...

He felt a serious headache coming on.

"One of your better known members, Studmuffin, has been absent for a while," Deborah said. "Can you tell us anything about what he's doing?"

"I think he’s on some sort of secret mission,” Crystal Freeze said. "He was here a little while ago for the Second Battle of Albuquerque, but he didn't tell us much about what he was doing. He left again after that.”

Deborah's eyes lit up. "Ah, yes, last November! Word is, you were all pretty busy last November."

X-Raytor knew it was a trap, but before he could react in any way, Midnight Chatter had stepped up to the mic.

"Oh yeah, it was nuts! We went and fought John, Lord of Darkness, and-"

"Ahem." Everyone else said at once.

Midnight Chatter blinked. "Wha- Oh. Sorry, um- We went and fought John, Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuum!), and then we went to the Tri-Leader prom, and as a direct result of that, we fought in the Second Battle of Albuquerque near the end of last December!"

"And are you associated with the Tri-Leaders?" Deborah asked.

"Well, sort of..."

"Not really," Raven cut in. "Just a passing acquaintance."

That, of course, wasn't the truth- the Justice League had done quite a few jobs for the nefarious Tri-Leaders, and although they usually ended up being for the common good, X-Raytor had always had a problem with working with supervillains. Not that he'd ever say anything- after all, Roseidous was Studmuffin's cousin, and Oreo Avenger and Ann Chovi had met at a bake sale before Oreo had even gotten her powers. Besides, X-Raytor himself wouldn't mind trying out that tied-and-taped-to-a-tree thing those girls Holli and Tails were always doing. It looked... kinky.

"You were at the Tri-Leaders' prom, though," Deborah said. "Don't you think it's a little questionable when a group of super heroes meet so casually with a group of super villains?"

"It's not all black and white, you know," Oreo Avenger said. "There's plenty of shades of gray!"

Deborah blinked, as if this concept was foreign to her.

X-Raytor took his chance. "What we're trying to say is, we were there as chaperones. You know what happened at their last party, right? It got Richard Simmons killed!"

Deborah was about to ask another- probably incriminating- question, when Tony Norgate saved them. He was just as jittery as he had been at HQ, and X-Raytor swore that he was wearing the same black suit.

"Um, h-hello!" Tony said. He extended his hand, it wavered, and he let it drop. He brought it halfway up again, and then let it fall back down. "So glad you, ah, came. We've been-" He noticed the camera, and Deborah Thompson, and frowned. "W-why don't you, er, come with, ah, me, and we'll try to get you, um, set up."

They followed him further into the lobby, away from Deborah and her grinning camera-man. As they left, Oreo Avenger and Rosma threw pennies at the back of Deborah's head, and watched her hair bounce from the impact. When she finally felt it, and turned around, they both pointed Mel Gibson, and Deborah glared at him.

"You will, um, you will be spread out amongst the audience." Tony said. "Half of you on the g-ground floor, and, ah, half of, um, you in the balconies."

"Isn't anyone going to be backstage?" Violet Princess asked.

Tony paused, and his face lost a little color. "Um, er, ah, um, n-n-no, you s-see, um, we already, ah, have the backstage area, um, covered. Y-yes. Covered."

"But wouldn't it be safer-"

"N-n-no, that's perfect, um, perfectly okay."

"Can't I at least go somewhere where no one can see me?" Eric whined. "I want to take these clothes off. They confine my aura!"

"They confine a lot more than that, and that's why we like them." Xiao said.

Eric blinked, and scratched his head. "Huh?"

"Nothing."

Tony led them to the other side of the lobby, where three enormous double doors were spaced across the wall- the entrance into the actual amphitheater. Tony pushed the middle door open, and let them in before him. Everyone- including X-Raytor- stopped dead in the doorway.

The amphitheater- which wasn't really an amphitheater, since it had a ceiling- was packed with people in elaborate formal wear- gowns and three-piece suits and bizarre, clothing-like things that could only be classified as fashion.

Everywhere X-Raytor looked he saw strangely familiar faces- but a different type of familiarity, one bred of watching way too much TV. Celebrities. Stars. The people whose faces were plastered all over the magazines and newspapers and tabloids, people who would watch him from the racks as he checked out his groceries (Or, at least, when he used to buy groceries. After what happened last time, that had become Raven's job). It was just like seeing them on the TV, on the movie screen, but here they were real and beautiful and famous. It was almost surreal.

"Wow." Drew said. "I guess this is one of the perks of the job, huh?"

"Um, e-excuse me?" Tony said. "Who wants to, ah, remain on the, the, um, ground floor, and who wants to, ah, who want to g-guard the balcony?"

"Isn't the balcony just the audience?" Raven asked.

Tony nodded.

"Crowd control." Netic said. "Fine with me."

"There's sixteen of us," Superdude said. "Eight of us can stay down here, and eight of us can go up to the balcony."

"I'm staying down here!" Rosma said quickly.

"Me too!" Oreo Avenger said.

"And me!" Crystal Freeze said.

"I..." Violet Princess started to say, but then her jaw dropped, and all that came out was: "Guuuuuuh..."

"Do you see something?" Pinzz asked. Tony straightened up.

"Guuuuuh..."

Pinzz looked at the others. "What's she doing?"

"Guuuuuh..."

"Let me try to get through to her," X-Raytor said, and then cleared his throat and said: "Um, Violet? It's me- Isomorphix. I'm being very dark and brooding and shady... and my shirt is off. Want to see my katana?"

Violet's hand shot up and whacked X-Raytor in the face. All she said was: "Guuuuuh.... brah..."

Everyone exchanged looks as X-Raytor rubbed his face.

"...Braaaaaaaah... Braaaaaaaaah..."

"I think she's going to explode!" OMEGA said.

"My aunt exploded once!" Midnight Chatter said. "You should have been there, oh man, it was crazy! One second she's just sitting there, playing with a stick of dynamite and then BOOM!" He nodded proudly. "She had to buy new furniture."

Everyone stared.

It was then that Violet Princess finally said: "... Braaaaaaad..."

" 'Brad?'"

"... Braaaaaaaaad... guuuuuuuuuuh!"

"Oh, I see," Oreo Avenger said, and pointed. X-Raytor looked and saw none other than the indomitable (well, sort of indomitable) Brad Pitt, walking down an aisle to his seat.

"I'M STAYING ON THE GROUND FLOOR!" Violet screamed. None of the celebrities seemed to notice.

"Hey! I just realized something!" Eric said. "Under these clothes, I'm still naked! Score!"

"Eric goes to the balcony." Dragon Girl said. "And I'll go up there too, to make sure that he doesn't get out of his clothes."

Eric sagged, but then shrugged.

"Okay, so that's me, Crystal, Rosma, Oreo and Violet down here," Pinzz said, counting off the names on her fingers. "And Netic, Dragon Girl and Eric are up on the balcony."

"I'll go up to the balcony, too," Drew said. X-Raytor wasn't sure if it was just because she was anti-social, or because she'd been getting buddy-buddy with Netic as of late.

"I'll stay down here." Raven said

"I guess I will, too." Midnight Chatter said. "By the way, isn't Scarlett supposed to be here?"

"That's what I heard..." X-Raytor said.

"I'll do the balcony." Xiao said. She didn't need Fred rubbing elbows with all of these powerful people. Or stealing their life force, of course. Couldn't have that.

"I'm all for the upstairs." OMEGA said.

"Me too," Twisk said.

"Me three!" SuperDude said.

"That's too many people!"

SuperDude frowned. "Fine, I'll stay down here."

"Is that everyone?" Violet Princess asked. Her eyes were still on Brad Pitt, and she seemed to be struggling to stop herself from tackling him.

The others all turned to look at X-Raytor.

"We need one more person on the ground floor." Crystal said.

X-Raytor scoffed. "Oh, yeah, that's exactly what I want to do, stay down here and guard the rich and the famous."

"Good! You're down here, then!" Raven said. X-Raytor scowled under his mask.

Rosma's face darkened. "Speaking of rich and famous, look who's the life of the party."

X-Raytor followed her gaze, and found himself looking at the unmistakable form of Bo Powers. His massive body was covered in a white, three-piece suit, his little pig-eyes bright. In one monstrous hand he held a tiny champagne glass, and X-Raytor saw that he actually had a guy following him around with a bottle of champagne. He was surrounded by numerous celebrities and people from the city's upper-crust.

"Do you think we'd get in trouble if we just tackled him?" Xiao muttered.

"Bastard could probably pay to have us burned at the stake." X-Raytor said.

Tony cleared his throat again. X-Raytor was getting annoyed at his constant jittery-ness. If he didn't calm down soon, X-Raytor wasn't sure if he'd be able to resist punching him in the face.

"The, uh, the show will be starting in, ah, in twenty minutes." He said, after checking his watch. "If you want you could, er, you could get set up now..."

"Thanks, Stuttering Stanley," X-Raytor said. Tony frowned, but then nodded, and turned away. He headed down to a small staircase down next to the stage. It led to a door that X-Raytor could read as: "BACKSTAGE." Tony disappeared into the darkness of the backstage.

"Okay," Pinzz said. "I know I just came back, and I don't mean to be snapping out orders or anything, but listen- we are here strictly for security reasons, and we will not be stalking celebrities like giggling teenagers."

The others nodded solemnly, and then Pinzz snorted. "Ha! Screw that! Let's go stalk some celebrities like giggling teenagers!"

"Right on!" Midnight Chatter said, and immediately pounced on Superdude. "OMIGOD! OMIGOD! YOU'RE IN THE JUSTICE LEAGUE!! OMIGOD! OM- wait..."

Midnight Chatter coughed, and helped Superdude up.

"I think the stairs to the balcony are over there," Xiao said.

"We should get up there, then," Twisk said, but then Drew spoke up.

"Hold on a second. Before we go anywhere, I made something especially for an event like this, when we all have to be in separate places." She pulled a handful of tiny, tear-drop shaped objects from her pocket.

"Two-way radios," She said. "Small enough to not look suspicious, and they filter out background noise so that you can hear each other clearly."

She started to hand them out.

"Will these be on the whole time?" Violet Princess asked, clipping hers to the neck of her costume.

"Yeah, I'd think so."

"Um, does that mean we'd be able to listen in on each other?"

Silence. X-Raytor coughed something that sounded like "Brad Pitt!" and Violet glared.

"No, you see," Drew held up one of the tiny radios and tapped it. "To talk to someone, you have to give it a voice command. You also have to tell it if you want to talk to everyone on the open circuit, or if you just want to send a message to one person."

"Oooooh..." Midnight Chatter said, as he put his on.

Eric frowned. "You know, if I were naked, I wouldn't be able to put this on so easily..."

Dragon Girl grabbed onto his shoulders and started to push him towards the balcony staircase. Twisk, Netic, Drew, OMEGA, and Xiao followed.

"We'll see you guys later," Twisk said.

Crystal waved them off, and then turned to the others. "What do we do now?"

Rosma shrugged. "Well, we should probably try to come up with some plan of action..."

Violet Princess immediately turned and ran down to where Brad Pitt was.

Rosma blinked. "...Or not. Let's go find some celebrities to stal- er, protect!"

She, Oreo Avenger and Raven started walking down towards the left side of the amphitheater, scanning the crowd. Pinzz and Crystal did the same, heading towards the other side of the room. Midnight Chatter just turned around in circles, and eventually fell over and rolled off somewhere, and SuperDude ran back to the lobby at top speed, after mumbling something about having to "piss like a race horse."

X-Raytor was alone. Finally.

It was not shaping out to be a good day. It was like the universe was conspiring to force him into a nervous breakdown in the next three hours or so. The M.O.R.P.H.Z. agents and their unnerving theory about the Green Penguin's survival.

He started to say that penguins were "aqua-." I'm guessing he was going to say "aquatic," and damn it that would make sense. Why would a fall into the water kill a penguin? Then again, it was a really long fall, and Oreo did nail him Mrs.-Fields-from-Hell style. After all- chocolate is harmful to penguins, and he took a ton of it! He has to be dead, he has to be...

The bile rose in X-Raytor's throat, and he felt a familiar surge of self-hatred. Here he was, surrounded by all of these f***ing stars and snobs, hoping beyond all hope that his uncle was dead.

What sort of a bastard am I? He thought, turning to walk down the back aisle, the way Pinzz and Crystal had gone. Why am I so worthless, huh? Is that what this day's about? Trying to get me to just kill myself so that I don't have to plague humanity with my worthlessness anymore? Well, congrats, cause its working...

And even worse, even worse- that casual mention of "that girl." All he had to do was hear those two little words, and boom- he could feel his heart being ripped right open. And he was supposed to be over her...

And Pinzz! He was supposed to be over her, too! That's why he was in Neary Issues Rehab- so why wasn't it working? Just looking at her brought back all of those memories of the social, the togas, the musical numbers, the streaking (heh heh), and, of course, that damned falling branch that brought her back to reality. He had never even found out if they really had spent a whole weekend together, back when he was Oreo binging.

He felt like going on an Oreo binge now. Anything to cloud his mind, free him from the guilt and the self-loathing. It was times like this when he really missed ADD.

X-Raytor was shaken out of his revelry as he walked directly into Harrison Ford.

"Oh, er, sorry," X-Raytor said. Then, his brain clicked. "Hey! You're Han Solo!"

Harrison Ford straightened out his jacket. "Yeah, that was me." His eyebrows narrowed. "You're not going to ask me about that parsecs thing, are you?"

"No, of course not!" X-Raytor lied. "I was going to say, however, that I just saw Raiders of the Lost Ark yesterday."

"Er, okay."

"Did they let you keep the whip after The Last Crusade?"

Harrison Ford blinked. "Um, no. Hey, did you see K-19?"

X-Raytor shook his head slowly. "I'm pretty sure I saw the trailers, though."

He beamed. "What did you think of my Russian accent?"

There was a pause, and then X-Raytor said, "... Um, hey! Look at the time! I've got to go! Good luck on the Oscar, Mr. Ford!"

X-Raytor hurried away before he could say anything else.

Damn celebrities, always looking for approval. They're more worthless than me, the lot of them! There isn't one, not ONE celebrity that I would ever, ever, EVER be caught dead near! I hate all celebrities! I hate all famous people! And I hate each and every single f***ing person who has ever been on the TV! I HATE THEM ALL!!!!!!!!!

"Um, hi, you're X-Raytor, right?"

Had X-Raytor's ears not been as tuned as they were, he may very well have whipped around and screamed: "GO THE F*** AWAY!!!! I HATE YOU ALL!!!!!!!!"

But, fortunately, very very very very very very very fortunately, his ears were well-tuned. Or, at least, they were in this case. He knew that voice.

At first he told himself it was impossible, that he was just hearing things, that he really had had a mental breakdown over everything. But then he turned around- and there she was.

She was short- five feet, four inches tall, in fact, with brown hair that was, right now, being worn up. She was wearing a whitish-silver dress, and her eyes were green. She was radiant, she was glorious, she was and isle of perfection in this dirty, dreary, space-underneath-Ian's-bed of a world of ours. She was X-Raytor's Goddess.

Cara DeLizia.

"Is that a ‘no’? I know, I know, I should know what each one of you looks like, especially after the Second Battle of Albuquerque and everything, but there’s just so many of you…" She blinked.

SHE BLINKS LIKE AN ANGEL!!!! X-Raytor thought.

He said, quite eloquently: "Uhhhhh…"

Cara blinked again. "Er, I guess not, then. Um, do you know where X-Raytor is, then? Scarlett told me to meet him, and, um…"

X-Raytor’s mind clicked. Scarlett. Right. She had told him that she had ensured that his Goddess would be there, that he would get to meet her, but- but he had never actually believed that! After all, if she would lie about getting her freak on with Midnight Chatter, she’d lie about anything! It was also well known that all of the other Justice Leaguers were horribly jealous that he and Cara were, clearly, soul mates, and were incessantly mocking and ridiculing his love for his Goddess. But… but Scarlett had been telling the truth this time! Freaky.

"Okay, then. Um, if you happen to see X-Raytor, tell him that Scarlett said we’re supposed to meet…"

X-Raytor suddenly regained control. "Wait! No, wait! I’m X-Raytor! X-Raytor… name… is… my…"

She gave him a semi-odd look, but then smiled. "Oh, okay. I guess Scarlett told you we were gonna meet, right?"

"Er, of course! And I believed her! The entire time!"

Cara nodded slowly, and got the look that most people got around X-Raytor- a look that wondered whether he was trying to be funny or was just plain nuts. "Um, good, then! Oh, um," She stuck her hand out. "I’m-"

"You’re Cara Elizabeth DeLizia, born in Silver Springs, Maryland on April 10, 1984, where you lived for a while, down the street from Patrick Levis (even though you didn’t know it at the time) and later you moved to California with your dad, your mom (who home schooled Patrick Levis’ little brother, might I add), and your sister Melissa, who is also an actress. You got into acting at a very early age, and were featured in numerous commercials, had a part in a Mary-Kate and Ashley sleep over movie, you were an extra in Sleepless in Seattle, and you became a recurring character named Sara on the show ‘Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher.’ Your first starring role, of course, was in Disney’s hit series, ‘So Weird,’ in which you played Fiona ‘Fi’ Phillips for the first two seasons, and the first episode of the (piece of crap) third season, which was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, and while you were there you were home schooled on the set. You liked every aspect of the show, and, as of February 11, 1999, your favorite episode was ‘Singularity’ (which is one of my favorites, might I add- it was a real ‘feel good’ episode!), but later it was harder for you to pick a favorite because they are all SO DAMN GOOD! Right now you are playing a reoccurring character on the hit series ‘Boston Public’ named Marcy Kendall, who, as we learned in last Monday’s episode, is pregnant, and is in danger of being kicked out of school because of it! And that’s very possible, now that you’ve returned to Disney, to, of course, film the fourth season of ‘So Weird’ (It’s all on my TiVo!)!"

There was a lot more that he could say- about how she wanted to direct/produce someday, and she was (as of February 11, 1999) working on a script, and about every single one of her hobbies, and her favorite music and TV shows and movies- but at that moment he ran out of air and was forced to take a long, deep breath.

Cara blinked her angelic blink again. "So… you’re a fan?"

"Oh, uh, I’ve seen your stuff once or twice," X-Raytor said, trying to sound casual, while, at the same time, using a derivation of a quote from the episode ‘Destiny.’

"Er, anyway, um, hi!" He said, and shook her lovely, perfectly formed hand. "I’m X-Raytor, card carrying member of the Justice League! No wall, no door, no secret compartment is too thick for me to see through- guaranteed or your money back!"

She nodded again, and there was a very awkward silence.

BECAUSE I’M F***ING IT UP! Stop acting like such a freak AND BE COOL!!!! He closed his eyes, under his mask, of course, and said, "I hope it wasn’t too much trouble to get here. Because if it was, you know, I know where Scarlett’s cabin is, and-"

"Oh, no, no problem. We’re filming right outside of the city, so I was here anyway."

It was X-Raytor’s turn to blink. "Wait… filming what?"

She gave him that odd are-you-joking-or-just-insane look again. " ‘So Weird.’ Didn’t you know that we moved filming from Vancouver because Alexz kept assaulting the set?"

X-Raytor stared for a long time.

"I guess not, then." She said. Another awkward silence, and X-Raytor relaxed slightly at the knowledge that she was equally nervous. Nervous in a good way? Nervous in oh-my-God-I’m-about-to-meet-a-super-hero sort of way? Or maybe nervous in a bad way? Maybe from before, maybe from his little freak out from before. Maybe she had heard about the thousands of times he’d been an idiot before. Maybe- oh, Christ- maybe she had heard about him looking through girls’ clothes.

No, no, she couldn’t have. She- she wouldn’t have met him, right? Oh, Christ…

"Um, do you, like, want to sit down or something?" Cara said, and twitched her hand over at a pair of seats.

"Oh, um, sure! Sure. Listen, I’m, um, I’m sorry about freaking out before. It’s just that, um, I’m a, um," Christ, he was starting to sound like Tony Norgate now. "I’m, um, I’m just a really big fan…"

"Oh, no, no! No problem." She said. "I mean, I’m sort of used to it. Then again, I guess you are too…"

X-Raytor’s brain seemed to be on stall. "What?"

"You know, being a super hero and all…" She frowned. "Oh, come on, don’t tell me you haven’t been mugged by fans at least once. I mean, after the Second Battle of Albuquerque and all of that," She paused. "Er, you were one of the ones at the Battle of Albuquerque, right?"

"Oh, yeah," He said.

She shook her head. "Sorry, I’m not really all that caught up on Justice League stuff."

X-Raytor grinned what Crystal had once called the "dorky grin." He didn’t think it was that dorky but if it was, well, at least his mask would hide it. "It’s the newspapers fault. They only talked about the Tri-Leaders and Silent Jim and Super Shibes, anyway. I’m surprised they didn’t make Studmuffin the star of the whole thing, like they usually do…"

"Well, he is a, um, stud…"

X-Raytor nodded. Studmuffin always had gotten the most media attention, and now that he was back off on his secret quest or whatever, the tabloids were going wild with speculation. He had read in the Inside View that he was now secretly married to Jennifer Aniston and living in a huge house in El Segundo, California, with OJ and Gary Conditt.

"I think my name was in one article," X-Raytor said. "Something about me destroying the original Justice Jet. Okay, well, that’s true. But what they don’t say is that I destroyed the big Hot Dog Man transport ship with it. But nooooo! Forget that! All hail Super Shibes because he ate a few hot dogs!!! But I got the last laugh! Oh, yes I did! Now that shadeball and his new ego are working the drive-thru at a Moobie Burger in Camden! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!!"

Cara took a step back.

X-Raytor realized he had freaked out again. He coughed. "Um, sorry. It just, uh, you know."

"…Yeah. I think so, at least. So, do you want to sit down?"

"Sure," X-Raytor said, trying to sound as casual and not-crazy as possible. He followed her over to the pair of seats and was suddenly very self-conscious of his costume. He could have at least put on a tux, right? Why was he such a freaking slob…

Then again, he was out in public, and he did have a secret identity to protect, so there!

They sat down. X-Raytor fidgeted in the seat, resisted the urge to slouch. He tugged at his bow tie.


"So," Cara said. "Why are you guys here? I mean, just a local celebrity thing, or…" She was studying his mask. "Is there something big going on? Are you guys here for security?"

X-Raytor fidgeted again. "Er, I’m not really sure if I’m allowed to say anything…"

"There is, isn’t there!" She said, a bit too loudly. She continued, more quietly this time: "What is it? Super villains? That Lord of Darkness kid? The possibility of Ballistic getting an Oscar?"

"Well, maybe. Except for the Ballistic thing- that’s just impossible. We-" He looked around, and then leaned in closer. "We were told that there were some anonymous threats on the ceremony or something."

"Like when people said they were going to kidnap Russell Crowe back in ’01?"

"Yeah! Only, well, like you said, this city has a bit of a super villain problem…"

Like the Green Penguin. But he has to be dead, right? I saw him die, I swear…

"Wow," She chewed on her lower lip. "You guys have quite a job, huh?"

X-Raytor shrugged. "It’s got its high points and its low points."

"Oh, come on! I mean, not only do you get powers, but you get to fight crime, take down super villains, just make things better all the way around! I mean, acting’s my thing- I wouldn’t trade that for the Tangerine Hologram Watch, but some days… man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to fly,"

"I can’t fly," X-Raytor said.

"X-ray vision could work too," She said, and X-Raytor practically melted in his suit. She was teasing him. He loved it when girls teased him.

But he didn’t want to lie to her. "There’s a lot of bad things about being a super hero, too," he said.

"Such as?"

"Well, for one thing, you need to walk around in these costumes all day! I mean, some of our members, sure, people don’t recognize them with their costumes off, they can blend into a crowd. But if I do that, I poison everyone with the radiation coming out of my eyes!"

She stared. "You’re a super hero, protecting this city and the world from evil and chaos, but you can’t think of a way to safely go around in public?"


"Er… not really?"

"Why not make sunglasses or something, with tinfoil on them? Then you’d look perfectly normal without the costume."

X-Raytor actually did have a pair of sunglasses like that- he’d worn them to the Justice League social- his last night with Neary- but afterwards, had hung them up in the Trophy Room of the Hall of Justice, along with everyone’s’ togas.

Besides, he was sort of anal-retentive about his costume. After so long… it felt like his skin, now. That black mask, with nothing but two, glaring triangle eyes covered by tinfoil- that was his face. Not that he was going to tell [I]her[/I] that.

"You know, I never thought of that," He said, trying to use the bottomless supply of charm he had been endowed with. "Maybe you could, um, come by the Hall of Justice sometime and, er, you could give me more ideas or something…"

Damn, I’m subtle! Go me!

She gave him a look- a smile- that revealed that he had been about as subtle as an atomic bomb. He winced.

"Sure." She said

X-Raytor sat still for a moment and then said, still being extremely subtle: "YIPPEEE!!!!"

In the row ahead of him, Tom Cruise shrieked and covered his head for protection.

"It was Julia Roberts!" X-Raytor said, and then turned back to Cara. "But, um, anyway, you wanted to know what the downsides were to being a super hero? Well, aside from the fact that spandex tends to, um, run up, there’s the fact that, because we have powers, we’re expected to do everything in this city, because the police are useless, and even though that’s true and common knowledge, newspapers and politicians are always taking pot shots at us when things are quiet, and, of course, there’s the fact that there are a few dozen whackos out there, trying to find out our identities so that they can kidnap our friends and families in order to force us to do their dirty work." X-Raytor took a deep breath, just as he was about to pass out from lack of oxygen.

Cara was still staring at his mask. "Does that happen a lot?"


"We’re more careful, since we have an actual headquarters and all- if someone tries to follow us home, they have to break into the inner levels of our sanctum to even get an inkling of our true identities! … Or just walk into the rec room. Some of us take off our costumes there," He stretched and cracked his knuckles. "It’s not really a problem for me. I mean, I rarely take my costume off- but, contrary to what any other members might tell you, I do bathe!- and I really don’t have any family too kidnap anyway,"

She nodded and looked down. It was just then that Tony came out on stage and stopped behind the podium. "Ex- um, excuse me, l-ladies and, er, gentleman. The, uh, the show will be, um, be starting in about t-ten minutes, so if you could all, um, move towards your seats…"

**********************************************

"That’s disturbing." Raven said.

"What? X-Raytor and Cara DeLizia?" Oreo Avenger asked.

"No, I mean something that’s actually possible."

Oreo Avenger didn’t have the heart to prove her wrong.

"I mean Violet and Brad Pitt."

"What’s so weird about that?" Rosma asked.

Down in the third row from the stage, Violet sat next to Brad Pitt. Well, not technically next- seeing how she was sitting in his lap, with her arms in a death lock around his neck.

"Er, I know that it’s important for you to protect me and all, but do you really need to, um, sit on me?" He asked.

"It’s in your best interest, Mr. Pitt, trust me!" Violet said. "You know what else would be in your best interest? Letting me massage your biceps. Yep, just in case you need to punch some kidnappers or something, you’ll want them in tip-top shape!"

"Er, that’s okay…" Brad Pitt said. He eyed the stage. "Did you hear I’m up for ‘Best Actor?’"

Violet blinked. "Actually, no. I didn’t know that you were up for anything…"

"Well, that’s probably because I wasn’t in any movies this year. But I think that the Academy recognizes my talent enough award me anyway."

Violet felt some internal alarm go off at this, but shoved it to the back of her mind. "Who was nominated?"

Brad Pitt scoffed. "I don’t know. Some losers- Daniel Day-Lewis for Gangs of New York. Yeah, like villains ever win (here, at least). Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt, but, you know, it’s Jack Nicholson. Adrian Brody for The Pianist, but that was a piece of crap. Michael Cain, for The Quiet American. And then that guy from Gone in Sixty Seconds- Nicolas Cage- for that Spike Jones piece of garbage."

"Adaptation?" Violet suggested. The alarm was going off again, but how could there be anything wrong when she was here with Braaaaaaaaad?

"Whatever. I didn’t see it."

"Hey! Look at that! Your bow tie came undone! Let me fix that for you!" She tore off his perfectly done bow tie and began to retie it, much to Brad’s confusion.

"See? Disturbing." Raven said, from the top of the aisle.

"Forget Violet!" Rosma said. "Let’s go stalk some celebrities of our own!"

"Let’s stay far, faaaar away from Vin Diesel." Oreo Avenger grumbled.

"You’re just mad because you got stuck as him."

"Don’t make me turn you into Bruce Willis."

They made their way through the theater, shaking hands and occasionally talking to celebrities ("Oh, I just love your work. Splendid job at Albuquerque, just splendid!"), dodging groupies ("My friend Dave is all about Spider Girl and Wonder Woman and Storm and Elektra- but you, are, like, definitely the hottest super heroine ever! Can I have one of your socks?") and reporters ("Is it true that you are having a madcap, whirlwind affair with Ian, King of Unparalleled Nastiness? Any of you?").

"Freakin’ vultures." Oreo Avenger said.

"Yeah, when are they going to learn to treat famous people with the same humanitarian respect as everyone else?" Then she noticed something across the room, and snatched a cup from Martin Scorsese’s hand and hurled it. "Screw you, Ben Affleck!" She yelled.

"Regardless of how famous they are, how can you feel okay about just running up and latching on to someone out of nowhere? I mean, don’t they realize that we have feelings? That we don’t want to just be assaulted on the street by drooling fans?"

"Hey! Look!" Oreo Avenger said. "It’s Elijah Wood!"

Rosma whipped around, and made a running jump, landing on Elijah Wood and knocking him to the ground.


"GAH!" Elijah Wood said.

"Guuuuh…" Rosma said. Then she seemed to remember herself and helped him up, brushing off his suit jacket. "Er, um, sorry about that, uh, Mr. Wood. My name’s Rosma Galak- Justice League- and I’ll be here to, um, be your bodyguard for the evening. Yeah, that’s it."

Elijah cocked an eyebrow over his dreeeeeaaaaamyyyyy blue eyes. "Um, okay."

"We should take our seats now, Mr. Wood," She said. "And, you know, that suit jacket is weighing you down. You may want to, um, take it off. Yes…"

Raven sighed. "What did I say about disturbing?"

"It’s not disturbing!" Oreo Avenger said. "It’s stalker-ly! Where would this world be today if we couldn’t hound our favorite celebrities in semi-illegal ways bordering on psychotic obsession?"

Raven shrugged. "Ohio?"

"Indeed we would, Raven. Indeed we would."

**********************************************

"Look at them all," Fred said, as Xiao stood at the edge of the balcony. His shadowy form, on the wall next to her, swept out an arm over the crowd. "Mere mortals, worshipped and given power beyond belief because they’re able to pretend to be other people on a screen. Or tell other people how to pretend to be other people on a screen! I am a demon! I have powers unlike any being on this Earth! I can possess any body I desire at will! These- these- celebrities should all be bowing down to me!"

"Oh, cry about it." Xiao responded. A woman in a nearby seat looked at her oddly, and Xiao cleared her throat. "Um, sorry."

"You can’t even do the possession thing right," She continued, but this time talking to Fred mentally. "I mean- Christ! Even that Legion guy you’re always bitching about was able to tell the difference between the actual body and a shadow."

"It’s Legion guys," Fred pouted. "And they possessed a herd of pigs!"

"Did they miss the bodies and possess their shadows?"

"No."

"Then they’re still more accurate then you."

Her shadow put its hands on its hips. Xiao knew that would get a few odd looks. "I’m accurate!"

"Sure you are."

"I am!"

"Uh huh."

"And powerful!"

"Right, which is why you didn’t just break us out when Magic Finger kidnapped me."

"He rendered me powerless!"

"He promised you pie if you didn’t fight back."

"No, he promised you pie," Fred said. "I just answered for you."

"Funny that you’d even want it, seeing how you’re a shadow and all."

"I could have used my powers to eat it!"

"Sure."

"Really!"

"Of course you could have."

"You’re going to learn to respect me soon enough," Fred growled sullenly.

Xiao shrugged and scanned the balcony seats. The other Justice Leaguers up there were spread out. She could see some kid bothering Dragon Girl, while waving what looked like a Lord of the Rings action figure and a piece of wheat at her. Eric was fidgeting with his belt, but OMEGA slapped his hand away before he could get anything off.

"I’m hungry," Fred grumbled, and the shadow looked down at all of the powerful people below.

**********************************************

"And I got this from the actual set in Bucks County!" The kid- whose name was Zach- said, waving an ear of corn.

"That’s nice." Dragon Girl said.

"Yeah! I got there, like, a week after they finished filming! I think I even saw this exact one when I saw Signs in theaters!"

"Fascinating."

"Of course, I’m sort of pissed that Signs isn’t up for anything," He said, frowning. "I mean, it totally owned Frida in ‘Costume Design.’ Right?"

"Um… totally…" Dragon Girl said.

"And how about this load of crap- Peter Jackson wasn’t nominated for ‘Best Director.’ I mean, sure, Two Towers has plenty of nominations, but this would have been the icing on the cake! It’s blasphemy, that’s what it is! And who am I supposed to root for, anyway?"

"How about Wych Kaosayananda for Ballistic?" Dragon Girl suggested.

Zach’s face went ashen. "Sweet Jesus no! How did that get nominated?!"

She coughed. "I was kidding."

"Can I hold your sword?" Zach asked. "I want to practice my ‘Eat-My-Shorts-Uruk-Hai’ decapitation move for when Lord of the Rings wins something!"

Dragon Girl pulled it away. "Er, I’d prefer that you didn’t…"

It was then that Twisk walked up the aisle. "Hey, Dragon Girl. OMEGA accidentally threw the box with the programs in it out the window when he was doing his Carrie impersonation, and I was wondering if I could borrow y-" She blinked, and looked at Zach. "Don’t I know you?"

"Er, no, of course not." Zach sunk a little into his seat.

"Weren’t you at Albuquerque? You’re one of the Tri-Leaders’ Pizza Boys, right?"

"Er, no! That’s someone else- some demi-god named Yoda, or something. I hear he’s the coolest guy on Earth, by the way. But, you see, if I was a Pizza Boy, I would be working tonight and not here! So, if I were a Pizza Boy, I would be skipping work to be here! And then Roses would kill me! So, it’s a good thing I’m not a Pizza Boy! No siree!" He was silent for a moment, and then shrieked, "STOP ACCUSING ME!!!!!"

Dragon Girl and Twisk blinked as Zach held his ear of corn for comfort. "Um, sure, Twisk, you can have my program…"

"Thanks. See anything suspicious yet?"

"Nope. Nothing. You?"

"Not yet. But, hey, things are just getting started, right?"

**********************************************

And, indeed, things were getting started.

"I guess we should sit down soon…" Crystal said.

Pinzz frowned. She was watching Bo Powers. "Have you guys had any run-ins with Bo since that thing at the cabin last year?"

Crystal felt a little nostalgic at that- it had been her first mission. "You mean, after you left? Nope. We barely even heard about him, besides all the crap the media puts out."

"Don’t you think that’s a little… odd?"

Crystal shrugged. "You know him better than me."

Bo looked up from his conversation with Michael Clarke Duncan and noticed Pinzz and Twisk. He didn’t seem all that disconcerted at seeing Justice Leaguers there, and tipped his glass at them.

Crystal smiled back, and muttered. "If this weren’t a public place I’d freeze the bastard again."

"They’d probably throw you in jail for assault," Pinzz grumbled. "It’s just not fair how he can just walk all over the city like this."

"Him or someone else." Midnight Chatter said, popping up from behind them. Crystal and Pinzz jumped.

"Don’t do that!" Pinzz said, whacking him upside the head.

"Ow! It’s true, though. I got my powers from a Mob guy," Midnight Chatter’s face went blank. "I don’t- don’t remember it all, exactly, but I get this feeling like he just walked all over people without thinking twice about it. I think. That’s they’re kind, anyway- they’re rich, they have lots of influence, so they think they can do whatever they want."

"And the only people stopping them is us," Pinzz said. She blinked. "Wow, that is scary."

The lights dimmed, and people began to move towards their seats.

"Should we sit down?" Crystal asked. "Or are they going to make us stand around like security guards?"

"Don’t ask me," Pinzz said. "You guys know more about all of this crap than me."

"Tony got us some seats," Midnight Chatter said. "They’re sort of spread out, though. SuperDude’s over there." He pointed over to where the Fastest Dude on Earth was sitting in the middle of a block of seats, bothering Natalie Portman.

"I’m over there, next to George Lucas," Midnight Chatter grinned evilly. "Time to give him a piece of my mind about Attack of the Clones."

"Huh. Well, have fun," Pinzz, moving away quickly.


"Wait a second, Tony wanted me to show you where your seats are," He handed them a piece of paper from inside his pocket. Crystal took it and they read:

The seecret entranse is (Some scribbles and dark eraser marks, and then,) Fi’s burthday is September 2nd, 1985

And under it:

Pinzz: A-13

Crystal: K-2

"What the hell?" Crystal said.

"I know, I thought the K section was sort of a weird choice too…"

"No, I mean- what is that?" She said, pointing at the note on top.

"Oh, uh, I don’t know," He shrugged. "X-Raytor said it was stuck in his mask or something when I asked him for a piece of paper…"

"Figures it would be X-Raytor," Pinzz said.

"Says the girl who dated him for three weeks," Crystal said. Pinzz glared and she smiled innocently.

"Rumor was, they were hot and heavy!" Someone said, walking by.

Pinzz glared again, and the guy sped up.

"I just want to make one thing clear," Pinzz said. "Over the time that I spent as ‘Neary,’ nothing happened between X-Raytor and myself that could be in anyway scandalous or illicit."

"But you don’t remember any of it-" Midnight Chatter started to say, before Pinzz kicked him in the knee.

"And, you know, I seem to remember you saying ‘Nothing new’ when we saw X-Raytor streak…"

"You’re taking that completely out of context!" Pinzz said. "You see, what I meant to say was, um,"

"Excuse m-me, um, everyone?" Tony said, reappearing at the podium. "W-we are going to begin the show in, ah, about two seconds. If you could, um, if you could please take your seats…"

People responded this time, and started to sit down.

"Well, hey! What do you know! Time to sit down!" Pinzz said, and ran off in the direction of section A.

"Maybe it’s better if we don’t know…" Crystal said, and headed off to find her seat.

Midnight Chatter looked around, and his heart sped up with the electricity of it all. The Oscars! He was at the freaking Oscars!

He grinned, and said, "Here we go!"

**********************************************

"Here we go," X-Raytor said. Tony had left the stage, and everyone was getting in their seats.

Even with his costume on, Cara could tell he was nervous. Probably just pre-award show jitters, she guessed, but…

But she was getting that feeling again. That strange feeling that only came along when something bad was about to happen. That feeling that made her want to hate math, (which isn’t that unusual, I know), update her website and, of course, live on a bus. A big, blue and white bus. Actually a modified 1991 Eagle Bus. The feeling became more intense, and she remembered what they had talked about earlier, about the super-villain problem in this city…

"My fiona-sene is tingling…" Cara murmured.


"What?"

"Er, nothing. Do you feel… weird, at all?"

X-Raytor thought for a moment, but, really, the only thing he felt like doing was sitting here. With her. Not a weird feeling at all, really.

But there was something…

His eyes darted to Bo Powers, and then over at Pinzz, sitting near the stage, then to SuperDude, towards the back, and to the door to the backstage that Tony had gone into, and Violet, sitting with Brad Pitt, and-

It was like Connect-the-Dots- there was a connection, but he didn’t have all of those helpful little numbers that would show him where to go to make the picture complete. And he didn’t have a pencil. Or a pen. Or a pen/cil.

He had a bow tie, though…

"No, not really," He said.

Cara shrugged. "Maybe there’s just a draft or something."

"Do you want me to take off my clothes? You could wear them! They would keep you warm!" X-Raytor said.

Cara moved back a bit. "Um, no… that’s… okay…"

Under his mask, X-Raytor cursed himself for being such an idiot.

Must be a super hero thing… Cara thought.

**********************************************

"Here we go," Deborah Thompson said to her cameraman.

"You do know that I’m not allowed to film here, right?" He asked.

"Oh, don’t wet yourself," She said. "Listen, there is something big going on here. The whole Justice League is in attendance, there’s been mysterious threats- and look! Bo Powers himself is here! You remember when they attacked his cabin last year, but it all got chalked up to a mistake?" She scoffed. "Mistake my heinie."

"Whatever you say," The cameraman said, and once she was looking the other way, he stuck his tongue out at her bouncy-haired head.

**********************************************

"So it doesn’t bother you to wear those big, hairy feet all day?" Rosma asked.

Elijah Woods shrugged. "They itch, sometimes, but after doing the first movie, I got used to them."

Rosma flashed on her fantasy of Elijah showing up at the Hall of Justice door, wearing those feet, and almost drooled.

Instead, she said, "Do you think you’ll win Best Actor?"

"Oh, um," Elijah straightened his tie. "I wasn’t nominated."

"What?"

"I wasn’t-"

"THIS IS BULL!" Rosma roared, causing the celebrities around her to jump. "I’M GOING TO KILL SOMEONE I SWEAR TO GOD!!!!!!"

"Hey, wait, please! Calm down!" Elijah said. "Listen, it’s no big deal. I’ve got more chances than this, right?"

"Oh, um, yeah. Of course." Rosma said. Because you’re so young and buff and smoking-hot cute!

"Here we go," Elijah said, as the orchestra assembled onstage.

**********************************************

Oreo Avenger knew there was something wrong.

For one thing, she was sitting next to that annoying little kid from Spy Kids. She seriously wanted to shove an Oreo into his mouth, turn him into a Frisbee, and chuck him out the nearest window. Preferably into traffic.

But aside from that, she had noticed something a bit odd about the seating here on the ground floor- none of the Justice Leaguers seemed to be near the others. She could see Rosma, still harassing Elijah Wood, a good ways away. Crystal was all the way on the other side of the room. And if she sat up a bit, she could see Midnight Chatter, in the same block of seats as her, but a good ten rows ahead.

Why were they so spaced out? So that they could cover the entire theater? Well, yes, that made sense, but if one of them saw anything suspicious, would they be close enough to act? And would the others be close enough to help?

And where the hell was Scarlett? Maybe she was hosting, and just hadn’t told them or something.

Oh well. She was sure there would be plenty of time to see Scarlett later.

**********************************************

Tony Norgate kneaded his hands anxiously. Everything was going to start soon, very, very soon…

The backstage was alive- people rushing all over the place, the presenters, making sure they looked good for when they would be on stage, and Steve Martin, who was hosting this year, telling stories from the set of The Three Amigos.

Tony walked stiffly away from the entrance to the stage, and came up to one of the security guards, a huge man standing in front of the door that led back to the theater.

"Everything’s running sm-smoothly, right?" Tony asked. "No, um, no problems? No inconsistencies?"

"Everything is going as scheduled, sir." The security guard said, and Tony nodded.

He was about to start pacing when he saw Ewan McGregor walk in from the dressing rooms. "Ah, M-Mr. McGregor! Are you, ah, are you ready for your b-big performance?"

"Yeah, sure. The piano’s out there, right?"

"Of course."

Ewan bit his lip. "Have you seen Scarlett around? She was supposed to be here by now…"

Tony shrugged. "I, um, I haven’t s-seen her at, uh, all. N-not since you, er, since you re-returned."

Ewan nodded, and then adjusted his bow tie.

"H-here we go," Tony said, glancing out at the stage.

**********************************************

"I’m hungry," Fred said.

"How many times do I have to tell you- cry about it!" Xiao muttered.

"You’re going to learn soon enough," Fred said, and he leaned on the shadow of the balcony. "You’re all going to learn…"

"Whatever you say, Freddy,"

Meanwhile, on the other side of the balcony, Eric frowned over the railing, pulling at his bow tie. Stupid clothes. He hated clothes! All you could do with them was wear them, and what good did that do? No, Eric had learned the truth long ago- the only way to be truly happy was through nakedness. Or nekkidness. Or both.

Or both? This idea struck him as new and glorious, and he could see the old doctrines of nudists being struck down and reformed. Yes! Yes! He would do it! He would destroy the temple of all things nude, and rebuild it in three days- he would be a Bare-Assed Messiah! He would do it, he would ring in this new era where nakedness and nekkidness were embraced- together!- as the true path towards happiness and perfection!

"WHOOO! BEING NAKED RULES!" He screamed.

From behind him, someone in the audience yelled: "TAKE IT ALL OFF, BABY!"

Not wanting to disappoint his fans, Eric reached for the buckle of his belt-

Pain shot up his finger, his arm, and suddenly he was on his toes, twitching and convulsing. His spine arched back, and his hand fell away from the belt buckle. With a final jolt of pain, it was over.

"Hey, Eric," Twisk said, walking by. "Forgot to tell you- Drew put electro-shock booby traps in your clothes. Hope you don’t mind."

"No, it’s fine." Eric said, his face twitching.

Twisk smiled sweetly, and headed back to her post near the back of the crowd. She had only had to hose down three people so far, and the ceremony hadn’t even started yet…

Drew sighed irritably and tried to get comfortable, leaning against the wall. Next to her, Netic was slowly turning a dime over and over in the air, looking bored.

"Do you think they need anyone to guard the sound booth?" Drew asked.

"Valet parking would be better than this," Netic mumbled. "This crowd is so damn tame…"

The dime suddenly shot away from her, zipping past Dragon Girl’s face and whacking Zach in the head. The ear of corn dropped from his hand, but Dragon Girl stuck out her foot and caught it before it hit the floor.

"There!" Netic said. "Now all I need is a few dimes the size of washing machines! And enough to hit everyone here! Then we would really have an award show!"

"Do you ever think that maybe the static electricity is, um, getting to you?" Drew asked.

"Of course not," Netic said, sending another coin flying. This one hit a girl with unnatural orange hair, a few seats away. She rubbed her head, and then looked back at them, scowling.

"Costume wearing freaks," She spat.

Drew blinked, but Netic reacted immediately, storming over to the girl’s seat. "What did you say?"

The girl wasn’t going to be intimidated, even as Drew blocked off her exit. "You heard me. You’re costume-wearing, cape-flapping, power-hungry freaks. You think you can just run around this city doin’ whatever the hell you want, just cause you can chuck metal or shoot laser beams outta your eyes?"

"Yeah, and we ‘freaks’ are the only law enforcement you have." Netic snapped.

"We don’t need no frickin’ masked marvels keepin’ us safe- that’s what the cops are for."

"I’m sort of new here," Drew said. "But I’ve noticed that the cops do, um, jacks***."

"We want badges, not masks!" The girl said. "Badges, not masks! Badges, not masks!"

Netic was about to give the girl some open-skull surgery with the metal part of her chair, while Drew kicked her or something, when OMEGA showed up, one eyebrow cocked over his glowing blue eyes.

"Is there some sort of problem here?" He asked.

The girl glared at him defiantly. "Y’all think you can intimidate me? Just cause you’ve got f***in Christmas lights for eyes, you think you’re better than me?"

"You’re going to return to your seat now, ma’am." OMEGA said.

"And what if I don’t wanna, huh? It’s a free country!" She folded her arms over her chest.

OMEGA’s eyes narrowed. "It wasn’t a request." The glow blue of his eyes became brighter, more intense, and the girl was suddenly moving backwards, like she was on a conveyor belt. The girl stared at her feet in shock.

"Hey! HEY! You can’t do this! You can’t d-" She was cut off as she dropped into a sitting position.

"There are very strict rules about talking during the show," OMEGA said. "Do you need me to assist you in keeping your mouth shut?"

The girl closed her mouth, but continued to glare at them with absolute hatred.

"You get used to that," OMEGA said, as they moved away. "I know you two are relatively new, so, listen- there’s a lot of people who, well, they aren’t that thrilled about us using our powers to fight crime."

"They’re jealous, you mean," Drew muttered.

"That’s sorta it," OMEGA said. "But, like, it’s the classic story of all bigotry, you know? Hatred out of blind fear. Like, that girl, for instance- she’s probably never tried to bench press in her life, and if she did, the most she’d be able to manage would be, like… a dead pigeon or something. And then she sees me on the news, picking up an armored car and tossing it with nothing but my mind- she’s going to be scared. I mean, after all, what if one of us went bad? How would they fight back, these normal people? We’d probably hand their asses to them, and that’s why they’re afraid."

"But look at everything you guys- we- have done," Netic said. "And look how useless the police are! If we were outlawed, this whole place would turn into chaos. I mean, is that what they want."

"From my experience," OMEGA said. "Yes. That’s exactly it."

**********************************************

Bo Powers drummed the neck of his wine glass. He wasn’t all that nervous- everything was going as it should, so far. They were all here, they had all taken their seats without an inkling of suspicion, and the show would be starting any minute now, and then-

Well, and then, they would die.

Bo had waited a long time for this- they had cost him too much, these spandex-wearing ninnies. His cabin, the grocery store operation, the castles he had funded for Magic Finger and Paper Kut, and, of course, the occasional arrest of one henchmen or another.

In fact, the only thing they had done that was in anyway beneficial to him was disposing of that Green Penguin fellow. What was his real name? Bubba, that was it. Bubba. A vigilante- Bo’s least favorite type of henchman. They were too emotional, too unpredictable. And he had certainly been a wildcard, that one. Bo had played him as long as possible, but when the cards started rebelling, that’s when you threw them into the paper shredder.

Or hid in your bunker until you were sure that it was dead. Whatever.

But there would be plenty of time for payback soon enough. For now, he was content to just sit back and enjoy the show.

"Here we go," Johnny, one of his chief henchmen, said from beside him.

**********************************************

"Here we go," Brad Pitt murmured.

"What was that?" Violet Princess asked. She wasn’t able to hear him when he talked low now, after she had taken her own seat. She would have liked to sit on his lap all through the show, but, apparently, she was cutting off the circulation to his legs. And he definitely needed those legs working fine, if he was going to put on a Speedo and strut around for her.


Of course, she hadn’t let him in on that plan yet, but once he was ready…

"Nothing," Brad said, flashing his even teeth. "Just talking to myself."

"Ah."

Yes, love was truly blooming! Or, at least, Violet was swooning, while Brad gave her the occasional once-over. Yes, it was destiny all right, just like X-Raytor was always saying about himself and that girl from ‘So Weird’ (like that would happen). The only obstacle to their happiness, of course, was…

"So, uh, where’s Jennifer Aniston tonight?"

Brad blinked, and then coughed into his fist. "Um, didn’t, uh, didn’t you see the Inside View? She, uh, she left me, and she’s secretly married to your friend Studmuffin, and living in a huge mansion in El Segundo, California, with OJ and Gary Conditt."

Violet would have been happy to just accept this, and write that unworthy Aniston off for good, but something didn’t seem right. "But Studmuffin told us he was investigating something in Brazil…"

Brad looked blank, and then shrugged. "Well, um, it’s just what I read. All I know is that Jennifer left me for some super hero with a big ego. Might have been Ozymandias or something, I don’t know…"

"Oh. Well, then. That’s too, uh, bad." Violet said, as an image of herself jumping up and down on Jennifer Aniston’s head flashed through her mind.

"And, you know, I haven’t gone out with anyone for a while," He said. He was watching her out of the corner of his eye.

"Oh, well, um, wow, you know, what a coincidence," Violet said. "Cause, um, you know…"

Calm down, damn it! Say your words in the right order! It’s only Bra- it’s only Bra- Bra- Braaaaaaaa-

"MARRY ME! NOW!" Violet shrieked. Brad jerked back.

F***!

"Oh, um, sorry, just, uh, practicing." She said, clearing her throat. "But, um, you know, ever since I started the whole super-heroine gig, I haven’t been out on a date either…"

"Well, isn’t that a coincidence," Brad said, and grinned his seductive grin. Violet swooned, and told the little voice of reason that was telling her to keep her guard up, to f*** off.

After all, she was here with Brad Pitt. And what bad came from a night with Brad Pitt?

Just then, the lights of the amphitheater dimmed, and the crowd started to quiet down. The show was finally starting.

"Here we go," Violet Princess said, and kicked back in her seat.

An austere, middle-aged woman appeared on stage, she cleared her throat, and everyone shut up. "Good evening," She said, like it was anything but good. "I am Grand Maestro Julia, and I will be conducting the orchestra tonight. I would ask that you all-"

The audience started talking again.

"Ahem, excuse me, if you could all…"

Everyone was ignoring, so Grand Maestro Julia dusted off her suit, cleared her throat, and said: "SHUT UP!!!!!!!"

The audience fell silent.

"Thank you." She returned to the orchestra pit, and the lights faded again.

Then, a generic male voice, that sounded one heck of a lot like the Movie Phone guy boomed through the amphitheater- clearly some sort of narration for the people watching from home. "Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes the greatest achievements in cinema of the previous year. It is the event that makes everyone in Hollywood sweat, it is the event that makes naked bald guys with swords cool, it is the crowning cinematic event of the year. And now, ladies and gentlemen, presented to you by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Cadillac, live from the Norton Amphitheater, we welcome you to the seventy-fifth Academy Awards!"

The audience burst into applause, and X-Raytor was immediately caught up in the award show buzz. Sure, he had been all pissed and anti-celebrity before, but now, now that it had actually started, his entire body was in rush mode. It was a natural high, a huge, award show rush. And he was sitting next to Cara. Yeah, that had a part in it.

Of course, of course he’d feel excited and anxious and electrified, even being within a yard of her. But this- this was different. For the first time… in a long time, maybe even the first time in six years, he felt like he was worth something.

"And now, your host," The voice said. "Mr. Steve Martin!"

There was more applause, and Superdude stood up and yelled "THREE AMIGOS RULES!"

Steve Martin walked out on stage, grinning, and waved to the audience.

"It’s Steve Martin!" Twisk said to DragonGirl. "It’s Steve freakin’ Martin! I love this job!"

"Thank you!" Steve Martin said into the microphone, and the applause just got louder. "Thank you!"

"THREE AMIGOS RULES!" SuperDude yelled into the tiny communicator Drew had given him and the others. The other Justice Leaguers jumped a few feet, and Oreo Avenger threw her program at him from across the room (it ended up hitting Meryl Streep, but who cares?)

Once the applause died down, Steve Martin started talking again. "Thank you, thank you. You’re a beautiful audience, really! Except for you. And you. And you, all the way in the back there. No, I’m kiddin’, you’re beautiful!"

There was some laughter and more applause.

"You know, I think you would have made a much better host," Rosma said to Elijah Wood. He shrugged and smiled, being a modest little hobb- er, hottie. Or actor. Or something.

Rosma grated. Stop that! That’s a line X-Raytor would use!


"You know, I think you would have made a much better host," X-Raytor said to Cara.

"Stop that! That’s a line X-Raytor would use!" Cara said.

"What?"

"Oh, uh, sorry. Reflex. A friend of mine used to say that."

"Her name wasn’t, by chance, Thalia, was it?"

"…It was actually…"

"Oh." X-Raytor cleared his throat. "Because, um, I’ve never met her before. Yes."

"I don’t know about being host, though," She said, grinning. "I mean look at the previous hosts- from 1990 onwards, I mean."

"Um, okay."

Cara wrapped her knuckles against her palm at each name. "Billy Crystal, Billy Crystal, Billy Crystal, Whoopie Goldberg, David Letterman, Whoopie Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Billy Crystal, Whoopie Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Whoopie Goldberg, and, now, once again, Steve Martin. I’m seeing a pattern here."

"Yeah! Whoopie Goldberg’s name is fun to say!" X-Raytor said. Cara blinked. "Oh, um, and there’s a monstrous conspiracy to have Billy Crystal and Whoopie Goldberg… and now Steve Martin, dominate the host position."

She looked down and shook her head, but she was still smiling. "Yeah, something like that."

"Well, how about this," Steve Martin said. "First time in a long time that the Oscars haven’t been held in L.A. You know, I told them not to let Terry Gilliam anywhere near the equipment room,"

The audience laughed again, and from the balcony, Eric yelled: "OOOOOOH SNAP! I didn’t get that, but OOOOOOOOH SNAP!"

It was true, though- the main reason that the Oscars were taking place in the Justice League’s city was because the Kodak Theater was undergoing some heavy repairs, after it was mysteriously trashed. Rumor was that Studmuffin, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Conditt and OJ had attempted to blow it up in protest of Ballistic not being nominated for Best Picture. The Inside View was all about them nowadays- they were calling them the Chi-Dance Quartet.

Steve Martin nodded on stage, as if it was all a very sad, tragic situation. "But nooo, don’t listen to me! ‘Oh, you’re Steve Martin, we don’t have to listen to you! Come on, you did Bowfinger, for Christ’s sake!’ No respect, I swear. I’m surprised they even let me host this thing- I mean, you’d think they’d get Billy Crystal. Or Whoopie Goldberg. Or Billy Crystal. Or Whoopie Goldberg. Hey, is anyone seeing a pattern here?"

"Told you," Cara whispered to X-Raytor.

"Anyway, I guess you’ve all had enough of me, so let’s get on with this show, huh? You see, it seems we missed one of the Oscars last year- the Best Male Performance in Moulin Rouge. How did we miss that one… well, because a certain pyromancing superheroine hadn’t convinced us otherwise yet.

Up on the balcony, Netic and Drew’s heads both snapped over in the same direction, as the orange haired girl started to stand up. She looked back at them, hesitated and then sat down.

"Raise your hand if you think she was going to say ‘Badges, not masks,’" Drew muttered.

"Speaking of that," Steve Martin said. "I think I see some Justice League members out there in the audience. Want to take a bow?"

Pinzz and Raven immediately stood and bowed, and then Oreo Avenger, and OMEGA, and Super Dude, and then the others. X-Raytor hesitated, but then Cara nudged him and he stood and waved sheepishly. The audience began to applaud again, and there were even a few whistles from the back row.

Why is it that they love us right now, but they forget about us the second we do something really important? he thought. And then, Oh, stop being such a pessimistic f***! This city loves us!

And it was then that someone on the ground floor, a guy, yelled "Badges, not masks!" at the top of his lungs. The applause faltered, and then started weakly up again, and faded out.

The girl with orange hair looked back smugly at Netic and Drew. Drew had to restrain Netic from chucking a chair at her.

X-Raytor looked around, trying to find who had yelled, and saw the others had done the same. After throwing what he hoped was a warning look out at random, he sat down.

"A**-hole." He muttered.

Cara patted his arm. "Ignore him. He’s probably just jealous that he’ll never be able to fit into tights."

"You know, most of the people who protest us are sorta fat… but then again, so are our fans…"

Cara blinked. "What, there’s actually, like, a movement against you guys or something?"

"Sort of. It’s very underground, but-"

"Well, I don’t know about you," Steve Martin said, cutting X-Raytor off. "But I happen to like masks. That, of course, is why I’m having a secret affair with X-Raytor: I’ve got a serious mask fetish! … Don’t tell my wife."

"That’s not true!" X-Raytor whispered. "I’m one hundred and ten percent available! And straight! Well, at least, ninety nine point nine percent." He paused. "Available, I mean."

"I’m sure." Cara said.

"Really!" He blinked. "Wait, you’re sure? So, uh, are you extremely, tremendously, infinitely happy about that?"

She gave him a wry smile, and pointed at the stage, just as Steve Martin started talking again.

"Anyway, enough about me. As I was saying, we have this lost 2002 Oscar for Best Male Performance in Moulin Rouge to hand out, and here, to prove his worth is our winner. You know him as a struggling writer in Moulin Rouge, a hairy Jedi in Star Wars, and a guy who discovers, shockingly, that heroin messes you up Trainspotting! No, I’m not talking about Richard Simmons- ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Ewan McGregor!"

The audience erupted into applause again, and Steve Martin walked off stage, as the curtain parted. Ewan McGregor was in the middle of the stage, sitting behind a big piano, and lit in a soft blue light. A single spotlight came down on him. The crowd went silent, and everyone became fully focused on Ewan. He turned to the audience, and started talking- like he was reciting a poem, X-Raytor realized.

"It’s a little bit funny,

This feeling inside

I'm not one of those,

Who can easily hide

I don't have much money,

But boy if I did,

I'd buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor,

But then again, no,

Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show

I know it's not much,

But it's the best I can do,"

The orchestra hummed to life, and Ewan began singing.

"My gift is my song

And this one's for you."

He entered the chorus, singing softly, playing the piano now.

"And you can tell everybody,

This is your song

It may be quite simple but

Now that it's done,

I hope you don't mind, I hope don't you mind

That I put down in words

How wonderful life is while you're in the world."

"I didn’t know Ewan McGregor and Elton John were the same person!" SuperDude whispered to Natalie Portman, who looked like, after the ten minutes they’d spent sitting next to each other, she was ready to file a restraining order.

X-Raytor continued to glance meaningfully over at Cara, from the corners of his eyes, even though she couldn’t see it, hoping that she would use some amazing, undiscovered power of telepathy to read his mind and realize that what Obi Wan Kilt-nobi up there was singing was everything he wanted to say. Sure, sure, he had actually known her for all of twenty minutes, but it was like… like his world had just clicked around her. It was as if he could feel his life hinging on her- this sort of draining, sublime dependency…

It wasn’t the first time he’d felt it, either. But he didn’t want to think about before now- he wanted to be here, now, next to this girl whose very existence made him feel like his life was actually worth something, listening to this song.

Meanwhile, Ewan moved on to the second verse, singing a bit louder and stronger this time.


"I sat on the roof,

And kicked off the moss

Well a few of the verses, well they’ve got me quite cross

But the sun's been quite kind while I wrote this song,

It's for people like you, that keep it turned on."

As he sang this part, he was joined by a chorus, backing him up, and just as he finished, a spotlight came down on them. One man, a little apart from the rest, sang some backup opera as Ewan began the next part. Violet felt something and, on her well-honed super hero reflexes, had been about to jump up and fight, when she realized- it was just a hand. Just a hand nestled up against hers. Brad’s hand.

So excuse me forgetting,

But these things I do

You see I've forgotten,

If they're green or they're blue.

Anyway the things, what I really mean,

Yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen!"

The music, and the opera singing man, swelled, and the choir launched into the chorus.

"And you can tell everybody,

This is your song

It may be quite simple but

Now that it's done,"

In his seat, Midnight Chatter’s fists clenched until the knuckles were white. It isn’t fair. Scarlett should be here to see this. It just isn’t fair…

He blinked- what wasn’t fair? He searched his mind for some lead, but found nothing, except a deep, abysmal feeling of despair and helpless rage. Maybe it was nothing, maybe just something suppressed from before he lost his memory. He tried to shake it off. Tried.

Ewan reentered the song, as the chorus and the opera singer and the orchestra all swelled behind him.

"And you can tell everybody,

This is your song!

It may be quite simple but

Now that it's done,"

Everything started to quiet down a bit then.

"I hope you don't mind, I hope don't you mind

That I put down in words,

How wonderful life is while you're in the world,

Hope you don’t mind,

I hope you don’t mind!

That I put down in wooooords,

How wonderful life is…"

The music, the chorus, the opera singer, Ewan- everything in the entire room, the entire freaking universe it seemed, rose up into an ecstatic crescendo. As it peaked, Brad and Violet’s hands locked, and she felt herself slip completely away.

"While you’re in the wooooooooooooorld!"

The choir and the opera singer rose in unison, and then faded off. The orchestra played a few final, quiet notes, and then all was silent.

In a nearby hotel, a light breeze blew through the open window of an apartment. The breeze pushed the open mini-bar door slightly, and caused an empty bottle of sleeping pills, lying on the floor, to roll over just a little bit. The sheets on the recently disturbed bed didn’t move at all.

And then, back at the Norton Amphitheater, there was the sound of applause.

Ewan stood up from the piano, grinning, and bowed. After a moment, Tony came out and handed him an Oscar. They held a quick conversation up on stage- which even Pinzz, near the front, wouldn’t have been able to hear over the applause. She was pretty sure, though, that she had lip-read the word "Scarlett" and something to the effect of "Is she here yet?" Then, Tony left the stage, and Ewan, grinning again, went up to the podium.

"Thank you," He raised the Oscar in a salute, and the applause began to die down. "Thank you. This really is an honor, even if I was the only nominee. Anyway, I’d like to thank a few people very quickly- my parents, of course. My wife, Eve, and our daughters, Clara and Esther. We can put this up on the shelf when we get home! Um, also, Baz Luhrmann for directing Moulin Rouge and Elton John for writing the song- I hope you can forgive a Scotsman for at least trying to sing it. And of course, a very special dedication to someone who, it seems, wasn’t able to make it here tonight, and without whom this award wouldn’t exist- Scarlett Fyre of the Justice League. Thank you all again, thank you!" The applause began again, and Ewan left the stage, pausing to shake Steve Martin’s hand.

When the applause had died down, X-Raytor looked down at his tiny two-way radio. "Open channel," He ordered, and the tear drop-shaped device hummed to life. "X-Raytor here," he said. "Any of you guys seen Scarlett?"

The others responded with a mix of "No"s, "I-don’t-know"s, and, of course, "Shhh! Quiet down, X-y!"s. Only Midnight Chatter seemed particularly worried.


"Huh," X-Raytor said, and turned his attention back to the show.

"How do you like that, huh?" Steve Martin asked, as the applause wound down. "You know, I never got my own, special Oscar, and I never wore a kilt either! Jesus! Now I know all I have to do is rip off Elton John."

Over the laughter, no one but Twisk heard some guy shout, "AND SOME SUPERF** FRIENDS!" Twisk ignored the comment but, somehow, she just happened to shoot a little cold water down the back of the guys shirt, causing him to jump up and shriek like John, Lor- er, like a girl I mean.

"Anyway, I think the writer has wasted enough time with my pseudo-comedian banter," Steve Martin said, sending a look at the writer, who happened to be sitting in the front row (booyah!). The rest of the audience turned and glared as well.

"Er… I don’t know what you’re talking about! I think this post is running very smoothly!" He said, before jumping up and running out of the theater.

"Ahem, anyway," Steve Martin said. "Let’s get on with the show!"

And get on with it they did. Oh, they got it on, all right! On live TV, no less!

Xiao tried to pay attention during the first award presented- the spectacularly insipid "Best Original Screenplay"- but kept getting distracted by Fred, rambling about which of the presenters had the better tasting soul.

"Will you shut up?" She snapped, as she applauded the first nominee.

"No one cares about these earlier ones anyway," Fred said. "Like you really care about ‘Best Original Screenplay’!"

"Of course I do!"

"Yeah? Then who are you voting for?"

"Uh… Y Tu Mama Tambien! Yeah!"

"You didn’t see that!"

"Neither did… your mom!"

"I’m a demon. I was born amidst the swirling vortex of Chaos."

"So was your mom!"

"Stop that! You said you’d never stoop to mom jokes!"

"And you said you’d shut up while I was watching the show!"

"I’m hungry."

"Don’t even start that again…"

"And the winner is," Presenter Salma Hayek said. "Y Tu Mama Tambien!"

Loud applause, and the director and some other people allegedly from the crew of the movie went up to make a speech.

"I thought you were rooting for this," Fred said.

"I am. On the inside."

"Well, you need to get a little more rowdy!"

Xiao felt something like a hand close over her brain, and suddenly she was up on the balcony railing, yelling: "YEAH! Y TU MAMA OWNS ALL OF YOU!!! YOU ARE ALL ITS BITCHES!!!!! TAKE THAT, LEO!"

Leonardo DiCaprio, whose movie Gangs of New York had not won "Best Original Screenplay," hung his head in shame. Not because he wrote it, but because pouting is the limit of his acting abilities. Ahem.

Fred let go of Xiao and she blinked, looking down at the sea of people below, who were all gaping up at her. She sheepishly stepped backwards, onto the balcony.

"That’s what I was about to say!" One of the writers of Y Tu Mama Tambien said from onstage, and everyone laughed again.

"Don’t do that!" Xiao hissed.

"I’m going to do that every time you mock me from now on," Fred said smugly. "You really, really do need to learn how to obey me."

"Oh, go stand under a street light or something." Xiao turned her attention back to the show, as the winners returned to their seats. On the wall next to her, her shadow’s hands were balled into fists.

The next award was equally as unexciting- "Best Adapted Screenplay." Eric thought Adaptation should win because (as he pointed out over his radio, to the annoyance of the other Justice Leaguers) the award was for best adapted screenplay, and the movie was called Adaptation. They both had the word "adapt" in them, see? See? It makes perfect sense!

Sadly, the rest of the universe didn’t seem to think so, and Chicago won. Some guy named Rick Williams was happy about that- so happy, in fact, that DragonGirl had to restrain him from bursting into song- but by this point, X-Raytor was seriously on edge. Ever since that blankety-blank Dr. Lansky had cured him of his ADD, he had been able to concentrate perfectly- which meant he actually paid attention to the show, when there was so much that should have distracted him! He would have been really sullen, too, had it not been for- you guessed it- Cara.

She seemed to be his excuse for everything tonight, he realized. He was plunging into all-out infatuation- and he liked it.

Cara was, to tell the truth, a bit edgy herself. Her damn fiona-sense wouldn’t leave her alone, and something about the seating arrangement bothered her, something…

And that’s when the show started getting good! Ben Affleck came out on stage to present the next award, and people started yelling about him being "The bomb in Phantoms. Yo." Raven added her own: "YEAH REINDEER GAMES! LOSER!"

In her seat, Deborah Thompson said, "Do you think he would answer if I yelled that question about Jennifer Lopez?"

Her cameraman shrugged. "Try it, I’m going to go stand over here. Away from you."

"A simple ‘no’ would suffice."

Ben Affleck waved to the crowd. "Hey everybody!" He said. "You know, when I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot in way of special effects. Yeah, you wanted to have a space ship fly by, you taped a piece of string to a Styrofoam dish and swung it at the camera," He demonstrated with his hands. "Anyway, we’ve come a long way from there, and nowadays, special effects are one of the corner stones of Hollywood. That’s why our next award is for achievement in visual effects!"

Applause. Raven tried to throw a program at Ben Affleck, but it didn’t get very far.

"And the nominees are," He shuffled his cards, and the video screens above the stage faded into a montage of exploding spaceships, robots, and a short, green guy, jumping around like… a short green guy.

"Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones!"

Applause.

"Boy, if I were that stud Yoda, I’d be really excited!" Zach said.

The screen changed. "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers!"

"Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!" Zach yelled, standing up. "You know I love ma ring! You know dat!"

OMEGA reached out with his mind and yanked Zach’s feet out from under him. He fell back into his seat, almost breaking his ear of corn.

"And finally, Spider-Man!"

All of the Justice Leaguers (especially X-Raytor and Oreo Avenger) cheered. With the exception, of course, of SuperDude, who crossed his arms over his chest and muttered "I hate super hero movies. Stupid super heroes."

"And the winner is," Ben Affleck said, opening the envelope. "Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones!"

The audience applauded (with the exception of X-Raytor who, despite the fact that Cara was still next to him, stood up and booed) as George Lucas and some other people went up to receive their award. Up in the balcony, Zach sat bent over, drooling on the floor and mumbling, "Trixy Jedises! Filthy, thieving Jedises! Trixy, trixy! They’ve stolen our presssscioussss Ossssscar!"

George Lucas made his speech- something about the magic of storytelling, and how he was planning on digitally editing some acting ability into the Hayden Christensen scenes in Episode Three. Then he sat down, dodging insulting comments about Jar Jar Binks as he went.

"NOW GET OFF THE STAGE, AFFLECK!" Raven yelled.

The guy in the seat ahead of her turned around, revealing none other than Matt Damon.

"Listen," he said. "I’d cool down if I were you. You see, me and Ben, we’re very close. A lot of us here are very close, and if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us."

Raven sneered. "What? You and your Good Will Hunting buddies?"

"Hey, back off! Don’t make me open it up on you Jason Bourne style!"

"Bite me, Loki!"

"At least my body is solid all the time!"

Two seats down to Matt Damon’s left, Morgan Freeman leaned over and whispered, "Will you kids just can it? I’m trying to watch the show, here! Besides, I worked with Affleck in Sum of All Fears, and trust me, he’s nothing to get upset over!"

"Shut the f*** up, Morgan Freeman!" Raven snapped.

"Yeah, why don’t you go back to making Bruce Almighty?" Matt Damon added.

"Hey! I was in Shawshank! You want to mess with that? Huh? Huh?!"

Raven and Matt Damon quailed, and turned back to the show. Morgan Freeman leaned back into his seat.

"The Talented Mr. Dumbass." Raven muttered.

"Shadowcat rip-off." Matt Damon shot back.


"Don’t make me come over there…" Morgan Freeman whispered.

The next two awards were, frankly, dull. "Achievement in Sound" and "Achievement in Sound Editing." I mean, who the hell cares? Okay, okay, so Zach cared because The Two Towers won for "Sound Editing," and Peter Jackson got to go up in talk. And Rosma cared because she got to give Elijah Wood a nice, big, HUG.

But who cares about them?

"I know I didn’t," Brad Pitt mumbled irritably, looking at his watch.


"Hmm?" Violet asked, a little groggily. She had decided to take a nap when she heard the next award would be for "Sound Editing."

"Nothing. This is just taking sort of long, is all. I want to get to the good stuff."

"Well, what’s the next award?" Violet tried not to drool at the absolute sexiness of his forehead, creased by frustration. She felt like Homer Simpson: Mmmm… creases…

"Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures." He said, scanning the stage. "Or Original Song. Whichever you prefer."

"Ah."

Brad noticed her dreamy stare, and flashed a smile. "But with someone like you here, I guess I’ll be able to make it through."

"Guuuuuhh…" Violet said.

Over her tiny radio, Oreo Avenger said, rather loudly: "OOOOOH! VIOLET IS IN LUUUURRRRV!"

Violet clamped her hand over the receiver, and smiled innocently.

Meanwhile, the presenters Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger had come out on stage, and were introducing the award.

"…And in recognizing that, our next award is for Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures." Renee Zellweger said.

"And remember, just because we win, doesn’t mean it was fixed." Richard Gere said, giving a big, confidential wink to the audience.

"And the nominees are…" Renee Zellweger said. As she read off each one, a video clip of the song played on the screen above her. "‘Burn it Blue,’ from Frida… ‘Father and Daughter, from The Wild Thornberrys Movie."

"HEY YEAH!" Midnight Chatter cheered. "HEY YEAH!"

"Um… yeah… ‘The Hands That Built America,’ from Gangs of New York… ‘I Move On,’ from Chicago… and ‘Lose Yourself,’ from 8 Mile!"

"BOOOOOOO!" Oreo Avenger yelled.

"And the winner is," Richard Gere said, opening the envelope. "‘Lose Yourself,’ from 8 Mile!"

As the audience applauded and a sound clip started to play, Eminem stood up, a skinny, blond, sunken-eyed white boy trying to look tough. He walked semi-sullenly down the aisle.

"What a loser," Oreo Avenger muttered. Then she stood up and yelled, "STOP TRYING TO BE A HARD-ASS! YOU’RE THE WHITEST WHITE BOY ALIVE!"

Someone next to her whispered something.

"Oh, right, sorry: ASIDE FROM JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE!"

Eminem had stopped walking, and turned around. Without replying, he flipped Oreo Avenger off. With both hands. Because he’s a tough guy.

"Do that to my face, bean pole!" She yelled.

"Don’t make me come over there!" Eminem said. "You don’t want none of this!"

"Just keep walking, Q-tip! You couldn’t even take Alec Guinness!"

Silence.

Oreo Avenger sighed. "…And it’s an insult because he’s dead…"

"Oooooooooh…" The audience said.

"Alright, that’s it!" Eminem said, stalking back up the aisle.

"Oh, it’s on now!" Oreo Avenger said, vaulting over the seats and landing in the aisle. She produced her Oreo satchel.

Brad Pitt stood up suddenly, and Violet jerked back in shock. He seemed to remember himself, though, and sat back down, edgily watching as Oreo and Eminem turned the Oscars into Celebrity Smackdown.

Oreo Avenger sneered. "Ready to eat… a cookie… aw, crap, that insult doesn’t work…"

"SEE!" A man near the back row was saying. "SEE! All these super freaks are fascist tools to oppose our freedom of speech! We want police, not men in tights! Badges, not ma- EEEEEEE!!!!!!"

Crystal whistled innocently as the man ran out of the theater, holding his crotch- which appeared to now be a large block of ice.

"Cookie girl, y’all don’t know what you got yourself into!" Eminem said. He and Oreo Avenger began to circle each other.

"Oh yeah, well… your mom!"

"Oh, Christ!" Cara said. "Does he have to put a big exchange of mom jokes in everything he writes?!"

"He hasn’t done it to me yet!" X-Raytor said.

It was a different case entirely with Oreo Avenger and Eminem.

"Yo momma’s so ugly, they thinkin of movin Halloween to her birthday!" Eminem said.

"OOOOOH!" Someone yelled from the sidelines.

Oreo Avenger was not, however, daunted by this clich- er, cruel joke! "Yeah, well, yo momma’s so fat, when she go down to the beach, people throw wet towels on her, yellin ‘Save the whales!’"

"SHE OWNS YOU!" Denzel Washington called, and then mumbled something about it being Samuel L. Jackson.

"Well, yo momma’s so easy, everybody’s had a turn!"

"Yeah, well, yo momma’s the most irresponsible, useless, domineering, llama-loving, Oreo-eating, To-The-Barricades-watching, waste of life that ever walked on the face of the planet!"

Eminem shrugged. "Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m always bitching about her. What’s your point?"

"Uh… and you’re white!"

"THAT’S IT!" Eminem roared, and threw his… well, his knobby, pale body at her in the most pathetic attack ever witnessed on live TV.

Oreo Avenger brandished an Oreo, and was about to turn him into a banana slug… when something like a liquid blue bullwhip snatched the cookie from her hand.

Pinzz landed between them. "Okay, that’s enough! You, get up on stage and get your little golden naked dude! Oreo, sit down. We have enough attention already…"

Oreo turned and saw that, indeed, everyone was staring at her. She cleared her throat. "Uh, sorry." And sat down.

Eminem scowled, but went up on stage and made his little speech. It wasn’t until he had sat back down that Brad Pitt finally relaxed. Violet caught the slightest whiff of something being wrong, but her head was so hazy with Braaaaaaad…

"We’ll be right back with more of the 75th Academy Awards!" The Movie-Phone-esque voice boomed over the loud speaker. Tony came out, and stood at the podium.

"Ex, ah, excuse me, ladies and, uh, gentlemen. W-we will, ah, we will be having a-a five minute commercial break. If you sh-should have to, um, u-use the bathrooms, n-now would, ah, be the t-time."

"Excuse me a moment," Brad Pitt said to Violet. "I have to go find out something backstage…" He got up, walked onto the stage and crossed out of sight, Tony behind him.

X-Raytor turned to Cara. "Do you need to go to, um, the…"

Sound classy! Yes, you’re a classy guy! Say something classy!

"The, uh, restroom… facilities…"

"Er, sure…" Cara said.

"Okay! So do I!" X-Raytor said, almost giddy with the idea of going to the bathroom!

"You seem a little… uptight…" Cara said, as they walked up the aisle.

"Me? Uptight? Noooo! Not me! Me? Noooo!"

"If you say so…"

X-Raytor sighed. "Okay, okay, fine. Yeah, I am a bit uptight. I just, um, I wasn’t really expecting- and, you know… I… and you’re here, and… you know?"

"I know. But, you don’t have to be so nervous, okay? Just relax. I’m not judging you or anything…"

"Oh, um… cool?"

"Cool."

"Cool!"

"WICKED AWESOME!!!"

X-Raytor blinked, and Cara coughed. "Um, I said the, uh, women’s room is this way… yes…"

By the time they reached the ba- "restroom facilities"- though, there were two enormous lines piling back into the lobby. It was then that X-Raytor saw the crudely made sign, reading "detour" right under the sign for the women’s room.

"Maybe there’s extra bathrooms?" He said, and they went off down the hallway.

"Look! Look!" Deborah Walters said. "One of them- the guy in the black tights… X-Raytor! X-Raytor’s going down that hallway! This is our chance to get an interview!"

"Oh, come on!" Her cameraman said. "I have to piss like a race horse!"

"You won’t get anywhere in this job if you don’t learn to hold it in!" Deborah snapped, and her hair bounced warningly. "Now, let’s go!"

X-Raytor and Cara were heading down a relatively dark hallway, now. The lighting hadn’t been fully added yet, and the smell of fresh wood shavings was heavy. But, to X-Raytor, at least, it was a welcome relief from the obnoxious mix of perfume and cologne in the theater. He ran a gloved hand along the white-washed wall.

"So," Cara finally said. "Now that we have a chance to talk…"

X-Raytor’s heart started pounding again. "Er, yeah?"

"Well, like, I know Scarlett wanted us to meet and all, but… this doesn’t really feel right."

X-Raytor wanted to just roll up in a ball somewhere and die. Was he really going to be crushed this quickly? And on today, of all days… when Neary had returned, and "that girl" was still alive somewhere in North or South Dakota. It must have been punishment, punishment for how worthless he’d always been, punishment for abusing his powers, for-

"Do you know what I mean?"

X-Raytor fought emotion back savagely, and managed to say, "I- uh… you mean, us meeting, that was… it doesn’t feel…"

"Oh, no! No, no!" Cara said, shaking her head. "No, I didn’t mean that. I meant meeting here, you know? It’s like we’re getting thrown into the whole thing a little too fast. Like, we’re supposed to figure out if we, you know, if we like each other, I guess, in the middle of all this chaos and stuff. Um… am I making any sense?"

X-Raytor’s body seemed to go into pause. So, she hadn’t meant- well of course she hadn’t! He was X-Raytor after all! He was a hunk of chiseled man flesh, wrapped in suave, black spandex! Who could resist his charm, and complete confidence in himself? No one, that’s who! Yeah! Damn straight!

"Oh, yeah, yeah! I agree," X-Raytor said. "I mean, we haven’t really gotten much of a chance to talk."


"Exactly!" Cara said. "Like, I don’t really know that much about you personally (you know, even with the whole secret identity thing), and you- well, okay, so you probably know more about me than I do, but that’s something else entirely."

X-Raytor tried not to skip down the hall. He could see the two doors that he assumed were the extra bathrooms a little ways down. He checked his watch. Four minutes until the show started up again. Excellent.

"So…" He said. "Do you think, like, we should plan to meet again after this, have an official first… uh, first, um, date type thing?"

Cara rubbed her arm. "Yeah, that’s sort of what I was thinking. Maybe, like, when I come over to the Hall of Justice..."

"Um, sure, yeah, that would work." X-Raytor said, in his best not-that-I-would-usually-just-be-sitting-around-doing-nothing voice.

"Okay."

"Okay."

They reached the two doors.

"I guess this is it…" X-Raytor said. "Sort of a weird place to have a bathroom, huh?"

Cara nodded distractedly. Her fiona sense had suddenly gone haywire, but in a strangely familiar way. Something she hadn’t felt since…

"I’ll be right out," She said, and pushed the door open. It immediately swung shut behind her, leaving the room in darkness. She felt for the light switch, flipped it, and the square ceiling lights came on.

There was someone crouching in the nearest sink.

"GAH!" Cara jumped back, and the person on the sink tittered. It looked vaguely like a girl- with emphasis on the "vaguely"- wearing what seemed to be a pile of gray-green rags that hung off the edge of the basin. The nails on her fingers had been worn blunt and gray, and caked with something like dirt. Her face was partially obscured by her overgrown, ratty blonde hair. All that could really be seen was her twisted, triumphant smile.

"Fell for it!" The girl/thing hissed, and giggled. "Yes yes! You fell for it! Now you are all ours. All ours!"

"Hey…" Cara said. "This isn’t the, uh, broom closet. My mistake. I guess I’d better be, uh, leaving now…" She turned to run out the door when the girl-thing rocked back, the hair falling away from her face. Cara stopped dead, her eyes wide.

"Oh my God- A-Alexz?"

And indeed, it was none other than Alexz Johnson! Yes, the same blonde non-actress, pseudo-singer, Canadian-hell spawn who horrified and mauled us all for life as Annie on the Cursed Third Season of ‘So Weird’! She was a strumpet all right, and a tawdry one at that!

"Not so smart now, yes?" Alexz said. "Not so smug like when you took show away from us. We are the winners now, we!"

Cara held her hands up placatingly. "Alexz, I told you- they chose to bring me back for the fourth season on their own. I didn’t tell them to, okay? And, um… you’re talking in the plural…"

"Are not!" Alexz snapped, and the mania in her eyes turned savagely defensive. "We are talking for both of us!"

"Both…"

Alexz smirked. "Me… and the panther. Us."

"The panther?"

"The panther!"

Cara nodded slowly, absorbing everything, and then clapped her hands together. "Well, um, that’s great! But, you know, I only have, like, three minutes before I have to get back to the theater, so, uh…"

"Not be going anywhere!" Alexz said. "We have you now, yessss, we have you! And now you will pay for stealing the show from us…"

"Alexz, don’t make me call animal control…"

Alexz was down on all fours in the sink now (which was inexplicably not collapsing under her…yeah…), eyes narrowed. She let out a feral- panther- growl, and pounced.

**********************************************

X-Raytor leaned on the wall outside, and checked his watch. Three minutes till they had to be back to the theater. He was sure Cara would be done before then.

There was a loud crash from inside the women’s room. X-Raytor

paused, and then knocked on the door. "Uh, is everything okay in there?"

"Oh yeah, yeah, sure! Everything’s fine!" Cara called from the other side of the door. He heard a strange, almost feline noise, and then Cara yelling, "Back! Back! Get back before I… uh… throw this soap dispenser at you! …Since when do they bolt these things to the walls?!"

X-Raytor blinked, and then leaned back on the wall. He had learned, as being one of the few guys on the Justice League, that it was better to not ask about what girls did in the bathroom. That and the fact that all of the girls’ bathroom walls were now lined with lead, to counteract his x-ray vision.

There was another muffled crash, followed by an inhuman yelp, from the bathroom. X-Raytor tried to tune it out.

And it was then that he heard the footsteps. He looked up to see Deborah Walters, and her irritated cameraman, coming down the hall. Oh, perfect. Like he had any time for this.

"There! See, told you he went down this way!" Deborah said to her cameraman.

"Can I go to the bathroom now?"

"Sure, sure, whatever, just put the camera on the tripod."

The cameraman produced a mini-tripod, and attached the camera to it, angling it up so that both Deborah and X-Raytor could be seen. Then, with a helpless shrug towards X-Raytor, he disappeared into the men’s room.

"Hi there, I’m Deborah Walters, I’m sure you remember me from… well, from the lobby."

X-Raytor glanced uneasily at her bouncy hair. "Er, yeah."

"Would you mind answering a few questions for us, Mr…"

John

James

Failure

"X-Raytor." He said, shoving the old names- and, of course, his eternal function in life- into the back of his mind. "I’m X-Raytor."

"Of course. Then, Mr… X-Raytor… would you mind answering a few questions?"

"Well, first off," X-Raytor said, pushing off from the wall. "What for?"

Deborah frowned, and then said, "For, uh, for a piece I’m doing about the Justice League… at some point…"

Something heavy hit the other side of the wall in the women’s room. X-Raytor thought he heard Cara yell something like: "Ha! Who’s the panther now?!"

After shrugging at Deborah’s confused look, he answered her question, "Are you sure this isn’t just for some sort of scandalous, vilifying, character assassination exposé of the sort that would only ever appear on the pages of The Inside View or, well, your show?"

"Of course not!" Deborah said. "I’m insulted that you would even insinuate that! My motives here are strictly for reaching the truth, in the most unbiased way possible!"

X-Raytor nodded. "So you won’t be asking me any questions about Studmuffin and the rest of the ‘Chi-Dance Quartet?’"

"Are you confirming the existence of the Chi-Dance Quartet?" Deborah asked, leaning forwards.

"Er, no. Look, there’s only two minutes until we have to go back to the theater, okay? So I’d really like to…"

Sensing that her prey was about to escape, Deborah went in for the kill. "Is it true that you and the rest of your fellow vigilantes are trying to remove Bo Powers in order to take his fortune for yourselves?"

Even X-Raytor’s mask seemed to register shock. "What?"

"And is it true that your, your, organization, if we can call it that, is in cahoots with the Tri-Leaders, who, at least, should be your arch-nemeses?!"

"Uh…"

"Well?!" Deborah demanded, shoving her microphone in his face. "Well?!"

"Jesus Christ!" the cameraman said from the other side of the men’s room door. "Where did you learn to give an interview? Wait- hold on, I’m coming out there,"

They heard the toilet flush, the sink run, and then the cameraman emerged, wiping off his hands. "Now, let me show you how to do a real interview." He snatched the microphone from her, and then turned to the camera. "Hi. This is Grant Hicks, on location at the 2003 Oscars ceremony. During the commercial break, I was able to score an exclusive interview with none other than X-Raytor, a member of the famed Justice League! How are you tonight, X-Raytor?"

X-Raytor leaned into the microphone. "Uh, fine."

"We’re short on time, so let’s make this quick: first off, do you have any responses towards the growing anti-super hero movement in this city and other parts of the country?"

X-Raytor wanted very badly for one of the others to be there, someone who would answer the questions for him, take away the responsibility. He knew he was probably the most opinionated out of the whole team (with a few notable exceptions), and he had been waiting for a chance like this for a long time-

A chance like this… a chance to get everything he’d ever wanted to say about being a super hero out in the open. A chance…

"Well, Grant, I know that there are a lot of people who don’t like the fact that we’ve taken full responsibility for the law in this city. Some people see us as a bunch of costumed vigilantes, trying to ring in anarchy by doing whatever we want. Some people see us as the new, upgraded KGB or the Gestapo or something. And some people, well, some people are just plain scared that we’re going to take over and start some new super-race over everyone else. And, frankly, that’s all bull."

X-Raytor took a breath, tried to empty his mind, and just let the words flow out.

"All we want to do- me and my friends- all we want is to use these powers we have to protect normal people like you. I mean, none of us asked for these powers, you know. We could have just made the choice to go around pillaging the city- I could be burning open bank vaults with my pupils right now. But we chose- chose- to use our powers defend the innocent, punish injustice, and all of that. And while it would be nice to get a bit more gratitude, that’s not why I’m doing this in the first place."

The cameraman/Grant moved the microphone back to himself. "And do you think there are people who are glad you’re there to protect them? Do you think some people look up to you- all of you- as heroes?"

X-Raytor thought for a moment, and then said, "Yeah. You know, yeah, I think we do have a lot of fans out there. I haven’t gotten to meet many of them, you know, because I’m usually out fighting crime and all that. But I know they’re out there, and that they support us, and for that, I’m- we’re all really thankful to them.

"Of course, that brings up a question I always ask myself: should people be looking up to us? Are we really all that great role models? I know, for instance, that I have a pretty diverse following among kids- I think it’s the full body costume, really. Unlike the others, it’s not clear what race I am- even though that doesn’t really matter much, I guess. But I’m no saint, and who’s to say that I’m a better role model for, say, inner-city kids than a bunch of gun-toting, joint-smoking rappers? Hell, I go out and beat the living crap out of people every day- for a living! We all do. And, I think, it also gives some people the idea that they can put the law into their own hands, too. And unless you have powers, or some sort of skill- well, dressing up in spandex and trying to stop muggings will probably get you killed. But in the long run- in the long run, at least- I think the main message we’re sending out is that there are powerful people who care about the weak and defenseless. There is a force of good in humanity. And that’s what putting on this costume is all about."

X-Raytor felt numb- he wasn’t even sure where the words had come from. They had just- well, spilled out. And now that they were gone, he felt strange- empty and contented at the same time.

The cameraman nodded, impressed.

X-Raytor remembered something. "Oh! And, uh, Howard Stern rules! Whoo! Yeah!"

The cameraman jerked back. "Uh… yeah?"

X-Raytor shrugged. "I don’t know. I never listen to the guy. But people always say this sort of thing when they’re on TV so it, uh, felt appropriate."

"Oh, um, right!"

Just then, there was a shriek, a splash, and then Cara stuck her head out into the hallway. "Uh, does anyone have, like, a stick or something?"

X-Raytor turned to the conveniently appearing broom closet, and opened the door. "How’s this?" He asked, pulling out a mop.


"Perfect." She said, taking it. "Oh, I’m, uh, almost done."

"Oh, okay. No rush or anything."

Cara nodded, and then closed the door. They could hear her yelling, "Hey! Get back in there! It’s time for you to return to the cesspool where you belong! Back! Back! Get in there! Annie, begone from this mortal form! In in in!" This was accompanied by loud splashing sounds and enraged growls.

X-Raytor, the cameraman, and Deborah stared at the door, and then turned slowly away.

"Anyway," The cameraman said. "Thank you, X-Raytor, for speaking with us tonight. I’m sure our viewers at home will agree that you’ve shed some new light on what it’s really like to be a super hero."

"I can only hope." X-Raytor said.

"On location at the Oscars, this is Grant Hicks. Back to you, Phil." He grinned at the camera, and then reached over and turned it off. "They’ll air this after the award show is over." He explained.

"Okay. Um, cool!"

The cameraman nodded, and then he and Deborah headed back towards the theater. X-Raytor heard Deborah say something to the effect of, "I ask the questions from now on! Nobody wants to hear that dribble! They want to hear about the Chi-Dance Quartet! And who the hell is Phil…?"

There were a few, final crashes in the women’s room, and then a long, choking flush, and, finally, Cara emerged. She put her hair back in place, straightened her dress out, and then nodded. "Okay, ready. Sorry it took so long."

"Er, it’s okay," X-Raytor said, as they headed down the hallway. "Should I, uh, ask what was going on in there?"

"Oh, um, nothing much. I just ran into an old, uh, acquaintance."

"Oh. Okay, then."

X-Raytor felt great, better than he had in a long, long, long time. He had finally gotten everything out in the open, finally gotten to say most- most- of the things that he’d always wanted say, and, as an added bonus, he hadn’t screwed up! And now that the pressure was off in terms of trying to impress Cara, for tonight, at least, he didn’t feel half as stressed out. And the thoughts of Neary and the Green Penguin and "that girl" had all been shoved far, far into the back of his mind.

They reached the lobby just as the main lights started to flash, indicating that they had about thirty seconds to get back to their seats. Most of the audience was already flooding back into the theater. X-Raytor did a quick look around, checked off each of the other Justice Leaguers, noted that Bo Powers was looking a bit relaxed, and that the door with the small staircase leading up to it, the door Tony had entered to get backstage, was still closed. As the lights went down, and Grand Maestro Julia started the music back up, he noticed Brad Pitt crossing the stage, and rejoining Violet.

Once the show was officiall on the air, Tony came out and stood at the podium. "Well, um, l-ladies and gentlemen, there h-has been a, uh, a change in our schedule for tonight. We’ve, ah, we’ve decided to s-skip every award up to P-performance by an Actor in a L-leading Role."

The audience rippled with confusion, and all of the Justice Leaguers (except Violet) became instantly alert.

Elijah Wood noticed Rosma straighten up and asked, "What’s wrong?"

"Something’s about to happen…" she said, and then ordered her microphone to initiate an open channel with the others. "Everyone keep your eyes open. Something’s up."

"Nice detective work there, Sherlock," Pinzz said. "I’ll be ready to suit up the second something happens."

"You guys are overreacting," Violet said. "Everything’s fine and peachy and… muscular… guuuuuh…"

"Violet?" Rosma said. "You, uh, with us?"

"She’s in LURV!" Oreo Avenger said.

"What’s going on here?!" Zach demanded from the balcony. "I wanted to see ‘Achievement in Art Directing!’"

"Well, y-you see, we decided to, ah, to skip all of the, um, b-boring awards and, ah, get to the g-good ones…" Tony said.

"But what about the performers?" Colin Farrell demanded, standing up. "I wanted to see U2!"

"Oh, who the f*** cares about the Irish?!" Someone yelled from the back. Colin Farrell and X-Raytor simultaneously flipped him off.

"I’m not going to get to present an award!" Harrison Ford moaned.

Tony ignored them all. "C-could M-mr. Washington p-please, ah, come up on stage?"

A little confused, Denzel Washington stood and walked up onstage. "Um, I wasn’t really prepared to do this so soon… uh… I guess, uh…." He looked at Tony, but Tony just shrugged helplessly and went backstage. "Uh… every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards the best performance by an actor in a leading role. Seeing how Hollywood has always been famous for its strong leading men- and women! And women! Don’t kill me!- this award is specifically important. And, as many of us here know, playing the lead in any production is no easy feat. It requires a certain amount of charisma, talent, and the ability to realize when you’re not the only star. And so, we have this prestigious award: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role!"

The audience clapped, but everyone was still, very clearly, confused.

"So, uh, I guess I should read the nominees?"

"That won’t be necessary." Someone said. For a second it was like Violet’s brain was on stall. And then she realized-

It was Brad Pitt.

"I think we already know who the winner is," He said, walking towards the stage. "Me."

"Brad-" Violet said, starting to stand up.

"Everything’s under control," He said. "Why don’t you just sit down. You too, Mr. Washington."

As Brad stalked up the stairs, onto the stage (and Denzel Washington uneasily sat down), Cara poked X-Raytor’s arm. "What’s going on here?"

"I don’t know," He said. "But it ain’t good."

"I’m glad you could all make it here tonight!" Brad Pitt said into the microphone onstage. "Especially the members of the esteemed Justice League." He sneered, and X-Raytor immediately knew they’d been had.

"I don’t think this is really Brad Pitt." DragonGirl whispered over the radio.

"Doesn’t matter who it is," Crystal whispered back. "What does he want?"

Violet could feel herself falling apart. How had she not seen it? How had she let this f*** to trick her, to manipulate her?! And why, why the hell did it hurt so much?

"Well, this theaters a bit small, huh?" Brad Pitt- or whoever the man was- said. "Let’s get a bit more room, shall we?" He pressed a button on his cufflink, and it was then that the entire night went straight to hell.

The walls on either side of the stage suddenly evaporated- just faded away. The door and the miniature stair case attached to it as well. It revealed a wide, extension of the theater, devoid of seats.

And every square inch of either area was covered with heavily armed men. There had to at least- at the very, very least- be two hundred in each wing. About half as many men had appeared on the balcony, as well. Way too many thugs, with way, way too many guns.

"Oh Christ…" X-Raytor moaned.

"That was called a hologram." The Brad Pitt look-alike said from the podium. "This is called a trap."

His grin widened over his white teeth, and it was the grin of a shark. "And I’m calling you dead."

Every member of the Justice League was on their feet in a second, but the Brad Pitt look alike was unfazed. "Now, now, don’t try anything just yet. You’ll have plenty of fighting to do before I kill you, don’t worry. Let me finish my little spiel here, and then we can really get this started, okay?"

"How about I just burn that smirk off your face now? Does that work for you?" X-Raytor said.

"How about- you try anything on me, and I have my troops open fire into the audience?"

X-Raytor cast a glance uneasily to his right, to the closest of the two miniature armies. The soldiers- thugs, really- were grinning, some even stroking their automatic rifles like pets. All of the celebrities around him were looking around frantically, panicked. If any of them tried to run… if any of them tried to run, this fake Brad Pitt guy could order to have the whole theater gunned down. Cara’s eyes were wide.

And then X-Raytor noticed something. Over on the other side of the newly opened wing to his right, behind the lines and lines of men, he could see what must have been the real version of the stair case leading to the backstage door. And he got that feeling again…

"Wait," Raven said. "Hold on a second here. How did you get this many guys in here, unnoticed?"

The Brad Pitt look alike grinned. "I orchestrated this entire night without anyone noticing. Do you think moving my troops in would be that much of a problem?"

X-Raytor’s microphone crackled for a moment, but no message came. It was a signal, he realized, and turned to look at the army of thugs to his right. He focused in on them, as he had done so many times before, peeling away skin and clothes simultaneously (even if he did die in three seconds, he didn’t want the memory of their naked bodies imprinted on his mind for even that long), his gaze passing through tissue and muscle and organ and bone, and finally coming out on the other side. He penetrated row after row, line after line, keeping count mentally, and then, suddenly, he had a clear view of more than half of the wing. Empty.

He did a quick check on the other side, and found the same thing- after he had gotten through about one hundred real men, on either side, there was nothing but empty space. He looked at Raven and nodded.

"Nice try… whoever the hell you are," Raven said. "But I call your bluff."

"What do you-"

"Most of those thugs are holograms, aren’t they? What, you didn’t think I read Animorphs #21? Duh. The hologram within a hologram thing? Who wasn’t expecting that?"

The fake Brad Pitt shrugged. "Fine. Fair enough. Plenty of them are real, though. Enough to slaughter this entire theater, at least. And there are certainly no holograms among the troops on the balcony." His bloodthirsty grin returned. "Besides, I’ve enlisted some special help for tonight’s festivities, and they will more than make up for the lack of soldiers."

"Special guests?" Deborah Walters said, standing up. "Well, seeing how I’m the only qualified interviewer here," She glared at the cameraman. "I’ll be handling the questions."

The Brad Pitt look alike stared blankly at her, and then said, "No… that, um, won’t be necessary. And I must say, I am infinitely happy that your mother’s red carpet show was canceled this year. Now I won’t have to contemplate hanging myself when I watch this on my TiVo."

Deborah glared and sat down. "At least tell me you’re getting all of this." She muttered to the cameraman.

"I’m getting it." He said, trying to hod the camera as out of sight as possible.

"Anyway, like I was saying," the Brad Pitt look alike said, "Uh… what was I saying?"

"You were introducing some special guests or something." Pinzz supplied.

"Oh, right, sorry." He regained his composure and said, "And now, our special guests for this evening! I’m sure all of you Justice Leaguers know them- they are all very old friends of yours, after all."

"Oh, good!" Eric said from the balcony. "For a second I thought it was going to be our enemies! Silly me!"

The Brad Pitt look alike blinked. "Uh… yeah, okay. Anyway, you’ve known our first guest for a very long time, and he’s hated you for just as long! Say hello to… Magic Finger!"

A murmur ran through the audience, and then Magic Finger sauntered in from one of the lobby doors. He cocked his right hand into the shape of a gun, acted like he was sighting along the barrel, and pretended to waste everyone in the room. He let out a belly laugh, and then said, "Surprise, surprise!"

The grin on the bastard’s face was almost too much for X-Raytor to stand. Magic Finger had missed so many occasions to take revenge on the Justice League in the past, this must have been like heaven to him.

"Now this is a party!" Magic Finger said, practically giggling. "You f***s are so screwed you can’t even guess. I’m gonna-"

"I swear to God," Raven said. "If you say ‘first hand,’ I am literally going to feed you that podium."

"I-I wasn’t!" Fake Brad Pitt said. "I was going to say, uh- hey! Wait! I don’t have to explain myself to you! I’m in charge here!"

"Yeah, well, you’re doin’ a bang-up job," Magic Finger mumbled, but quickly shut up at a look from fake Brad Pitt.

"Now, if we could please continue, I’ll introduce our second guest. Now, of course, you all know him, but none of you do as well as Oreo Avenger!"

"Uh oh…" Oreo Avenger moaned.

"That’s right!" The Brad Pitt look alike said. "It’s the master of origami himself, Paper Kut!"

Paper Kut came in from the lobby door on the other side of the theater from Magic Finger. He was, as always, a giant squirrel- a byproduct of one of Oreo Avenger’s earlier uses of her shape shifting cookies. A bandoleer was strapped across his chest, displaying tiny paper knives, darts, and other weapons. In his hand he held his weapon of choice- a wickedly sharp paper saw. Oreo Avenger noticed, cringing, that there was a clear tube protruding from his neck, snaking down into his bandoleer- something to help him breathe, she guessed, ever since Neomatrix had introduced a deadly and painful virus into his esophagus a while back. Many of the Justice Leaguers had had a very hard time trusting Neo after that.

Neo… Oroe Avenger suddenly realized- she hadn’t seen Neo since they left for the show. She had completely forgotten about him, in fact.

Neo and Scarlett. That’s two of us missing… and that can’t be good.

"Christ!" Pinzz said from the front row. "Did you guys even watch the holding center while I was gone?"

"We’ve been busy lately!" Midnight Chatter said. "It’s not m- er, whoever was placed on guard duty’s fault that there was a massive jailbreak from the inner levels of a top-notch crime-fighting team’s headquarters!"

"Hey, hey!" Fake Brad Pitt said, snapping his fingers. "Let’s get back to my introductions now, okay? You don’t have to comment every time something happens!"

"You know, you really shouldn’t be so uptight…" Superdude said.

"Maybe you could go see Dr. Lansky!" X-Raytor said, and then, more quietly, to Cara: "Not that, you know, I’m in therapy or anything."

"Ah, but what if I said I liked therapy?" She said.

"Then I’m in therapy! I love therapy! Therapy therapy therapy!"

"Wow," She said. "You should be glad I’m not Alexz, or I would be telling you to lick my shoes right now."

"Satannie!" X-Raytor hissed.


"Satannie!" Oreo Avenger and Raven repeated.

Cara snorted. "Sa- Satannie?"

"Satannie!"

"Satannie!" Oreo and Raven echoed again.

"I am so sick of this…" the Brad Pitt look alike said. "Okay, you know what, no more games. Sixtus, if you could please…"

One of the thugs in the right wing walked forwards, yanked a man out of his seat, threw him to the ground, and pressed the muzzle of his rifle to his head. The audience began to murmur again, and X-Raytor could feel the insistent, barely restrained fear. How long before someone panicked? Or tried to be a hero? People didn’t react well to hostage situations anymore- not after 9/11 they didn’t. There had been several times that X-Raytor had showed up at some warehouse where the First Trumpet or La Resistance or the Alan Rickman Fan Club were holding a bunch of people hostage- only to find that the hostages had already, in desperation, rushed and subdued their captors. More often then not, one or two of these hostages was lying fatally stabbed or shot on the floor. But in this case…

In this case, if anyone tried to be a hero, if anyone acted before Pitt Man or whoever the hell this guy was gave the order… then all two hundred plus of those thugs would turn the entire audience into hamburger meat. Not to mention what Magic Finger could do- X-Raytor didn’t even know half of the arsenal contained in the bastard’s surgically enhanced hands. Like it or not, fake Brad Pitt was fully in charge now. X-Raytor wanted to punch something, wanted to shove the Brad Pitt look a like’s bow tie right down his f***ing throat- he felt so frustrated, so restrained, so-

So impotent.

It’s- I can’t… I can’t get it to… I can’t…

It’s okay. It’s okay. We don’t have to now. We can just, you know, sit here. Okay? James?

Words from so far away. Long before Neary, long before the Justice League even. Before he shoved his head in that damned x-ray machine, even. Before everything had gotten so complicated…

Cara. Neary. The Green Penguin. M.O.R.P.H.Z. "That girl." Why now? Why tonight? Why was it all coming so fast?

Why can’t I…?

James, please… it’s- it’s okay… we can just…

"Oh my god," Cara was saying, next to him. "Oh my god." The man being held at gun point was quietly pleading with the grinning thug called Sixtus.

"You have completely ruined my moment here," The Brad Pitt look alike said. "But I am going to try, try to move on and introduce our next guest. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, you all know him, but I hear that X-Raytor knows him particularly well," He winked slyly- he seemed to be getting back into his groove now.

X-Raytor seized up. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t-

Penguins are aqua-

He had to be dead he had to be dead he had to be dead.

Penguins are aqua-

"Here he is…" Fake Brad Pitt said, gesturing towards the center lobby door. "She-Man!"

"OH THANK GOD!" X-Raytor shouted as the conniving cross-dressing criminal called… She-Man… strutted into the theater.

Oreo Avenger and Rosma exchanged significant looks.

"I didn’t mean it like that…" He mumbled. He turned his head a little, and from the look on Cara’s face, he could tell she was worried about far more important things than X-Raytor being attracted to cross-dressers. (WHICH HE WAS NOT!!!!!)

She-Man leered at the Justice Leaguers and the audience, and patted his purse. Inside it- as X-Raytor and Oreo Avenger had learned first hand- was a large arsenal of weapons, disguised as cosmetic supplies. Such as a lipstick tube machine gun. And some compact mirror grenades.

"Looking, ah, lovely as usual, She-Man," The Brad Pitt look alike said. "Oh, and is everyone enjoying the show so far? Everyone? Your friend over there agrees, right, Sixtus?"

The thug called Sixtus nudged the back of the man’s head with his rifle, and the man began to jabber in agreement.

"Excellent. Oh, and of course- how’s your night going, Violet Princess?" He leaned forward on the podium, expecting some sort of response. Instead, Violet just stared forward, shocked and hurt and confused all at once.

"Wonderful," Fake Brad Pitt said. "That’s just wonderful. Now, I’m going to speed up these introductions a bit, seeing how you all know our guests anyway. So, next, we have one of your less-encountered nemeses, the Ferret!"

The Ferret entered from backstage, flipped over the orchestra pit, and landed on the floor in front of it. Grand Maestro Julia glared, but he didn’t seem to notice. The Ferret (who was, in fact, a giant ferret) was wearing his usual costume- a yellow-orange jumpsuit, along with a large sombrero. The Justice League had, really, only encountered him once or twice, defeating, but not capturing, him both times, but his presence was actually a bit of a relief. At least they knew his powers- how his sombrero could both spray potent nacho cheese from its tip, and could also be thrown, as a bladed discus- much like Odd Job’s bowler hat in Goldfinger, but we’re not going to get into that…

The Ferret made a big, sweeping bow, and then leaned back against the stage.

"And next- oh, um, well, actually, I was given an introduction to read here, let me get that out," Fake Brad Pitt pulled out a scrap of paper, and squinted at it. " ‘And now, presenting the D-‘ the what? I think it says: ‘the Doobage Duo, the master pimp masters of pimp masters,’ something…" He sighed, balled up the paper, and threw it over his shoulder. "Just forget it, and welcome: the Silencer, and his junior partner, Loud Mouth!"

Loud Mouth and the Silencer seemed to be pushed onstage, both looking rather dazed. They, of course, wore their own shabby costumes, and carrying no weapons- after all, their very existence was a hazard to mankind. They were the complete antithesis of each other- Loud Mouth was (literally) the loudest man on Earth, who could raise his voice well over fourteen decibels. He was also the most obnoxious person on the face of the planet. The Silencer, on the other hand, was a complete absence of sound- even his punches were silent. Plus, he was a technological genius- motherf***er’s like MacGuyver! No, he’s… oh, you know the deal…

Rumor had it that they had gained their powers by falling into a vat of acid.

"Yo, why the f*** am I the junior partner?" Loud Mouth demanded. "I’m the f***ing boss here, not this tubby bitch!"

"Please, just go pose in front of the stage," the Brad Pitt look alike said.

"Not until you get it right! I don’t care if he has no f***ing article in front of his name, I’m the f***ing head honcho here! …Well, uh, besides you, boss."

"Glad you remembered it," the Brad Pitt look alike glared. "Could you please…"

"What?" Loud Mouth asked, as the Silencer dragged him off stage, to stand in front of it (on the opposite side from the Ferret, of course).

"And now, to conclude our line up," The Brad Pitt look alike said. "Last, but not… no, wait… last, but most certainly least… John, Lord of Darkness!!!"

Silence.

""Does this joke ever get old?" The Brad Pitt look alike muttered. "Oh, all right: John, Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuuuum!)!"

The audience gasped in horror and awe. Or maybe that was just a yawn. When John was involved, you could never be sure.

"Not again!!" X-Raytor moaned.

"Why me?!" Grand Maestro Julia demanded.

"Oh, just get that guy over there to shoot me now!" Deborah Walters moaned.

It took a few moments for everyone to realize John wasn’t there.

"Ahem… John, Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuuum!)!" The Brad Pitt look alike repeated.

Nothing.

"JOHN! GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!"

John, Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuuum!) stumbled gloriously through the door She-Man had entered from, tripping over his cloak, and rolling down the aisle, until he hit the stage.

WHAM!

"Owies…"

"So glad you could show up." Fake Brad Pitt said.


"Thanks!" John replied, standing up. "Sorry about the wait, it’s just that I needed to go to the bathroom, and there was a detour sign, so… oh, right. Sorry." He shut up, and tried to look menacing. Draw your own conclusions about how that worked out.

"Together, we are… THE LEAGUE OF S***ERS!" Loud Mouth blared.

"Keep it down, little kid!" Pinzz snapped. "We’re all in the same room here!"

"And we are not the League of S***ers!" Brad Pitt look alike said. "We’re just a loose group bound by the common goal of making sure none of you get out of here alive. Besides, only idiots are pretentious enough to give their group a name. Like a certain Justice League I know of."

"Or the Tri-Leaders!" John interjected.

"Or La Resistance," Half the people in the audience muttered.

"Or the Pizza Brigade! All hail General TAS!" Zach cried. "Um… not that I’m involved…"

"Hey!" John said. "Is that Yoda up there?"

"Of course not!" Zach yelled back. "I’m just a random person whom you have never met before, but just happens to be a big fan of the Pizza Brigade, that’s all!"

"Sixtus?" The Brad Pitt look alike said. "If John says something stupid again, please shoot him in the leg."

"Gladly," Sixtus said.

X-Raytor had put his hand on Cara’s shoulder, hoping it would be some comfort (for him as well), but he felt like he was about to wet his tights. He couldn’t look afraid now, he couldn’t fail everyone again…

"Okay, this is all very nice and all," He said. "But now, who are you?"

The Brad Pitt look alike sneered. "I’m your God."

"How about, like, um- what’s the word I’m looking for?- oh yeah, a name, jackass."

The Brad Pitt look alike’s face tightened, and Sixtus glanced quickly down at his rifle, but then, from the back, Magic Finger said:

"Him?" He snorted. "He’s the head honcho."

"The Head Honcho?"

"That’s what I said, Eye Boy."

"I was actually hoping for something a bit more dignified and intimidating than ‘the Head Honcho,’" the Brad Pitt look alike said. "But, oh well, for the two minutes you’ll be alive after this, it’ll suffice."

"Question number two," X-Raytor said. "How did you arrange all of this- changing the location of the Oscars and stuff? Did you trash the Kodak theater? And how, even if there aren’t as many as we thought, did you get all of these thugs in here?"

And how did you make sure no one was going to lean on that hologram wall? X-Raytor thought, and in his mind’s eye, saw the backstage door Tony had entered…

"Uh-uh." The Head Honcho said, wagging his finger. "I've seen way too many Bond movies to know that you never reveal all the details of your plan, no matter how close you may think you are to winning."

"Okay, fair enough," X-Raytor said. "But how about this one- what’s with all the lame ass villains? I mean, aside from Magic Finger, Paper Kut and She-Man, how many of them have really presented any sort of a problem for us?"

"Yo! Me and the Silencer locked these motherf***ers up for a cage match and all that s***!" Loud Mouth said. "We were gonna tape it for you too, boss, but then this tubby f*** let them out…"

"And I seem to remember owning you all back in my cave." John said, sneering at X-Raytor.

Sucker punching bastard. X-Raytor thought sullenly.

"Wow. You guys have really gone down the crapper without me, huh?" Pinzz said over her radio.

"He’s tougher than you might expect." Crystal whispered back. "He’s got dumb luck coming out the whazoo."

"And where’s Scarlett?" John demanded. "I want her to bear witness to you all about my mad singing skills!"

"Can I shoot him in the leg now?" Sixtus asked the Head Honcho.

"All I’m saying," X-Raytor interrupted. "Is why didn’t you get some of the really tough villains? I mean, like… uh… you know!"

"The Supermodel Clones are, indeed, here, if that’s what you mean." The Head Honcho said. "They’re outside to prevent any police forces from invading. Male police, to be exact. And as for the old villains… well, most of them are either in jail, retired, or too wrapped up in their own stupid schemes to help me out. Oh, and someone threw Captain Carnage down an elevator shaft a while ago."

"Captain who?"

"Never mind. Besides, your present nemeses should do the job well enough, especially with my soldiers to help. And if not…" He reached into his cufflink and pulled out a small, metal cylinder, with a red button on top. "If not, then I’ll make sure we all go out with a bang."

The celebrities in the audience almost lost it then, with the very idea of a bomb. Someone even tried to get up, but Crystal immediately shoved them back into their seat.

"A bomb?!" She-Man demanded. "You never said anything about a bomb!"

The Ferret seemed to be the only super villain not disturbed by this, and his rodent face cracked into a sneer. Bo Powers- who X-Raytor had half forgotten about, stood halfway up, and then sat back down.

"Need to know basis only," The Head Honcho replied coolly. "You didn’t need to know. Besides, I’ll doubt it will come to that. It’s time to get back to business anyway."

"Netic," X-Raytor whispered over his radio. "When the product hits the fan, do you think you’ll be able to stop all of the bullets?"

"It’s- s***. There’s a lot of guys here," She answered. "There’s, like, fifty up here, and two hundred or whatever you said down there… and they don’t all have just one gun each…"

"How about the rifles?" X-Raytor asked. "Can you stop the rifles at least?"

"I think- yeah. I can stop them from firing, at least. You guys will have to handle the pistols, though."

"Thanks, Netic, I’m sure we can handle it from there." He said, not believing it for a second.

"Everyone, please listen." The Head Honcho said, drawing himself up regally. "We’re going to end this now. Members of the Justice League- for the damages and losses you’ve caused me and my henchmen, and for your very existence, I sentence you and every celebrity pig here to quick, brutal, and atavistic death. If you want to beg my henchmen for mercy, go ahead, but don’t even try it on me. No negotiations- I don’t want any of you to work for me, I don’t want any of you to surrender to me- I just want you to die.

"This is the final solution. This is the end to your illustrious, and undeservedly long, careers. They will remember this for years as the single greatest massacre on American soil in all of history- it will be in the history books, they’ll write volumes and volumes on how the Academy Awards were crippled by the work of one brilliant man. They’ll be cleaning up the blood for months, and will spend even longer trying to identify a single person out of the ravaged pile of meat you are all about to become. And without you all here? Well, I’ll be free to- finally- pursue more lucrative business opportunities. Of course, if it looks like that isn’t going to happen, well," He gestured with the cylindrical detonator.

"But that’s enough talk. Let’s just finish this, right now. It’s been just wonderful meeting you all, just wonderful, but now, at long, long last, it’s time to say good bye." He clasped his hands behind his back and smiled nonchalantly.

"Kill them."

All of the thugs- all two hundred and fifty of them- raised their rifles and pressed down on the triggers. Nothing. For a moment there was confusion, and then the Head Honcho roared: "KILL THEM!"

With a bloodthirsty cry, the thugs charged.

Most of the audience was up and out of their seats before the two miniature armies hit the rows, screaming figures in tuxedos and inconveniently long dresses, running from twin tidal waves of muscle and ammo. Some of them simply dived under their seats for cover.

"What now?" Superdude demanded frantically. "What do we do?!"

X-Raytor’s heart was pounding in his chest, the adrenaline flowing at top speed. It was the first time he’d felt so good since Albuquerque.

"What do we do?" He said into his radio. "Our jobs."

"Damn straight!" Pinzz said, pressing the activator behind her ear. He costume immediately covered her body. "Let’s do it!"

"Nice one, Rachel," Raven said.

"Come on you apes, you wanna live forever?!" Midnight Chatter demanded, and charged at the nearest group of thugs.

"Everyone! Either get to the exits or get the f*** down!" X-Raytor roared, and mentally kicked up his vision to "zap" mode.

"Not to get all chauvinistic or anything," He said to Cara. "But stay down and wait here until I get back."

"I’m not arguing!" Cara said, and ducked under her seat.

X-Raytor vaulted himself into the air, and landed directly in front of the closest wave of soldiers. A large thug swung his now-useless rifle at him, but X-Raytor ducked and fired, piercing the man’s knee with a pair of lasers. And then the rest of them were upon him. X-Raytor’s world became nothing but punches and kicks, his knuckles ramming into vulnerable flesh, and the toes of boots hitting his ribs. There were too many people around him- he couldn’t even get focused enough to use his powers.

"Stay down," Rosma said to Elijah Woods, and turned to face the closest wave of thugs. Further up the row, she could see Oreo Avenger and Raven doing the same. Without a second thought, Rosma became invisible, and ran directly into the oncoming wall of soldiers.


As the celebrities panicked, the Justice Leaguers and the thug army clashed.

Crystal struck out left and right, freezing anyone who came within range, but becoming more stressed for space all the time. Pinzz used her fingers as bullwhips, yanking weapons from the thugs’ hands, and flogging them. Superdude seemed to be everywhere, darting in and out, occasionally giving a thug his trademark super speed tackle. Rosma blinked in and out of sight, all the while trying to stay in a space where she could protect Elijah Woods. Raven had taken more of a defensive, becoming intangible to avoid attacks, becoming solid again to deliver her own. Oreo Avenger, who wasn’t having much luck getting her Oreos down any of the thugs throats, and Midnight Chatter, who was… Midnight Chatter… did their best to hold their ground. Midnight was able to tackle Sixtus just before he brought the butt of his rifle crashing down on his hostage’s head.

Ewan McGregor was on the ground, feet pounding on his back, his face shoved into the theater’s floor. Any second now, Scarlett would show up and save him. Any second now…

It was only when X-Raytor had fought his way out into a clearing, and stepped on Tom Cruise, that he realized- all of the celebrities and audience members that had been ducking under their seats were being trampled and suffocated by the massive thug army.

"Holy s***, we’re killing them…" He ordered his radio on. "Anyone! Anyone who can get these guys to clear out- please! Somebody! They’re trampling-"

One of the thugs grabbed X-Raytor by the head- yes, by the head- and lifted him up.

"Did I intuhrupt your call there, skinny?"

X-Raytor tried to keep his head from popping off of his neck. "Gah! No, it’s- gkk- it’s perfectly all right- gah!" With a final wheeze, his head lolled forwards and his body went limp.

"Got ‘im! I got one of ‘em, boss!" The thug yelled, but was drowned out by the sounds of the battle.

It was then that X-Raytor’s foot flew up and caught him under the chin. "Acting! TA DAA!" He dropped from the man’s grip, delivered a quick uppercut, and dropped him.

"You see? That’s what happens when you grab onto my head! I keep telling people, just the other day, I was saying: ‘Don’t grab onto my head, because you know that will only-‘ aw, crap. Right. The civilians." He switched his radio on again. "Listen, if anyone can do anything, anything at all to clear the air a little down here, please do it!"

**********************************************

But things were just as hectic up on the balcony. OMEGA seemed to be having the best luck, tossing thugs left and right, and using his powers to keep them away from the terrified audience members. Twisk was blasting away with the force of a fire hose, but it wasn’t doing much good. DragonGirl had her sword out, and was swinging it expertly, sending pistols flying, and occasionally some fingers as well. She used the flat of her blade to take down anyone who got close enough. Drew and Netic were huddled in a corner- Drew with no powers, and Netic desperately trying to keep the rifles at bay, as dozens of thugs struggled to regain control. Eric was still clothed. Yeah.

Xiao took a hit to the stomach, and flew backwards. She wasn’t that strong on her own, and Fred wasn’t helping out much.

"A little help would be nice!" She said. Her shadow giggled.

"No, no, not yet," Fred said. "This is getting good!"

A thug rushed her, swinging a short club. She dodged, snatched the club away from him, and whacked him over the head for it. Oh, what she would do for a HAMMER right now!

"Netic," Drew said, tapping her on the shoulder. "Can you move?"

"It’s my head," She gritted. "So many guns… ugh!"

"Listen, we need to find that bomb. If we can… I might be able to defuse it."

"How do we find it in the first place, though?"

Drew thought for a moment. "Uh, X-Raytor’s power is x-ray vision, right?"

Netic gave her a look.

"Just checking! Just checking!" She turned on her microphone. "Uh, X-Raytor? Do you have a minute?"

"I’ll have one once somebody clears the air a bit down here!" Came the reply.


"Listen, can you- can you just look through the walls and stuff, and try to find the bomb?"

There was a moment of silence, except X-Raytor’s occasional grunts, and then- "I think I found it, but I don’t really know what a bomb’s supposed to look like, so it could just be…"

"X-Raytor," Drew said. "I’m going to say this very slowly: WHERE THE F*** IS THE BOMB?!"

"It’s under the stage! Under the stage! Christ!"

"Under the stage?" Drew repeated.

"That’s what I- ow! Hey, don’t start what you can’t finish, baldy!" The connection went dead.

"X-Raytor says it’s under the stage." Drew said, turning back to Netic.

Netic stood up painfully, one hand clutching her head. "Let’s go."

They disappeared down the nearest stairwell.

**********************************************

"We need to get these people out of here!" OMEGA shouted. "If we could bring the fight downstairs, someone could try leading them outside."

"Yeah, and at the same time, X-Raytor wants us to clear the battle out from downstairs." DragonGirl responded. Suddenly, she had an idea. "Excuse me for a moment," She said to the thug she was fighting. She turned, ran- and hurled herself off of the balcony.

In midair, DragonGirl’s body became suddenly bloated and then longer, as green scales began to cover her. Her face stretched out, and a long pair of backwards curving horns sprung from her head. The fight on the ground floor stopped for a moment, as everyone looked up at the massive form of a Chinese dragon- falling right on top of them.

Instantaneously, the thugs were running, dashing back for the cover of the two wings before they could be crushed. But a few feet from the ground, DragonGirl suddenly twisted in the air, and flew towards the nearest group of retreating thugs. She whipped her long, serpentine body out, and slammed them from the back- sending at least fifty men flying into the opposite wall, to fall unmoving to the floor.

The Justice Leaguers cheered, and immediately, celebrities were getting up and running towards the exits. DragonGirl flew- slithered, really- overhead, and smashed into the ranks of the second group of thugs.

The Head Honcho’s face was a mask of rage, and his thumb played fitfully on the detonator.

Meanwhile, up on the balcony, the sight of DragonGirl had distracted the thugs long enough for OMEGA to get them moving towards the staircases.

The orange haired girl who had yelled "Badges, not masks!" before was now clinging onto his costume, screaming "I don’t want to die!" in his face.

"Please, miss, you have to keep moving."

"I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!"

"Listen!" OMEGA raged. "If you don’t get down those stairs right now, I’m going to throw you! Now MOVE!"

On the ground, some of the thugs had regrouped- but not nearly as many as before. As DragonGirl terrified the majority, the other Justice Leaguers handled the others.

Deborah Walters stuck her head up from under her seat. "Grant- hey! Are you still alive!"

Grant raised his head, which had been stepped on in the first onslaught. "Ooooh… yeah, sort of…"

"Then why the hell aren’t you filming! Get this!"

The super villains stood, unnoticed, on the sidelines. Waiting.

**********************************************

And as the battle raged, and DragonGirl swooped over head like a serpentine bomber, Violet Princess simply sat, looking lost and betrayed.

He- I can’t believe it… he- he- he…

And suddenly, the real Violet Princess, buried under layers and layers of Brad-Pitt-induced love sickness, rose up.

"He-he-he." Why the hell is this about him?! Why should I care what that f*** did!

B-but he’s so dreeeeaaaamy… She argued with herself.

And he’s a scum bag! And he’s not even really Brad! The real Brad would be much dreamier, that’s for certain… guuuuh… GAH! Stop that! That bastard’s going to PAY! That lying, two timing son of a bitch! My mother warned me about guys like him, but did I listen?! MEN! THEY’RE ALL THE SAME!!!!!!

Meanwhile, two thugs had approached Violet, and stood over her.


"You think she’s in shock or something?" One of them asked.


"I don’t know." The other one answered. "Christ, what’s with the purple hair? Does she think she’s Dennis Rodman or something?"

"They’ll let anyone be a super hero these days, I tell you…"

"Yeah, I miss the days of Dean Cain…"

"Hey, you know who looks like Dean Cain? That kid with the web site. What’s his name? J-"

"THEY’RE ALL THE SAME!!!!!!!" Violet suddenly screamed, and leapt up, kicking both thugs in the face. They fell, and she looked up furiously onto the stage.

"YOU ARE A DEAD MAN!!!!!" She raged at the Head Honcho, and advanced towards the stage.

The Head Honcho grabbed the microphone. "I need protection! Now!"

A dozen of the thugs who had been running from DragonGirl turned and intercepted Violet just as she was about to reach the stage.

"You wants t’ get to th’ boss, you have t’ get through us first." One of them said, sneering.

Violet shrugged. "It’s your funeral."

She leapt, elbowing the first thug in the face, and then burrowing her foot in his stomach. As he fell, she looped her arms around two others’ heads, and crashed them together.

"HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A WOMAN SCORNED FOR SEGA!" She raged, and attacked.

**********************************************

Meanwhile, X-Raytor dashed back to his seat. "Cara? Cara?! Christ, say something!"

"Ugh…"

"Cara? Cara, are you all right?"

"I will be…" She grunted. "Wants you stop standing on me."

X-Raytor looked down, and then jumped back in horror. "Oh, Christ, I’m sorry, I- you’re okay?"

"I’ve got a headache, but… yeah." She looked around. "Holy crap…"

"Yeah," X-Raytor said grimly. "But at least it can’t get any wors- aw, s***. I said it."

And it was then that the super villains entered the fray.

"Anyone who’s close to a super villain, get to them before they cause any serious damage!" Rosma snapped.

Oreo Avenger turned to see a sombrero flying at her. She ducked, and the bladed hat whirled past, sticking in the wall… a few inches above Deborah Walters head. She gulped, and ducked.

Suddenly, there was a blur of yellow, and the Ferret somersaulted over Oreo Avenger’s head, and pulled his sombrero free from the wall. "Nice one, Mrs. Fields." He said.

"So, you want some of this? Don’t remember what I did to Eminem, huh?"

The Ferret tucked his sombrero under one arm, and held the top part of it forwards. "Say cheese!" He fired his hat, and nacho cheese sprayed out at Oreo, too fast for her to even make a comment about his lame ass joke. She leapt over the spray, hit the wall with both feet, and propelled herself back onto one of the rows of seats. The seats, down here at least, were clearing out now, as celebrities made mad dashes for the exits. There were still, however, plenty of them hidden under their seats.

"Is that the best you can do… Weasel, or whatever your name is?"

"Ferret!" The Ferret snapped, and fired another blast of cheese. Oreo dodged this one as well, launched herself into the air, and threw an Oreo at her opponent. The Ferret ducked, and the Oreo crashed harmlessly against the wall.

"Whatever you say, Stoat." Oreo Avenger said.


"FERRET!" He raged. "Now hold still so I can cheese you!"

Oreo Avenger ducked under another spray, and began to crawl under the rows of seats, using them for cover.


If I get out of this, She thought. I’m never going to eat cheese again.

**********************************************

"Who wants a piece of this?" Magic Finger demanded, laughing.

From up on the balcony, Xiao succeeded in breaking her club over a thug’s head, and looked down. "Magic Finger. Now, there’s something that should make the night fun!"

She got up on the balcony railing.

"You’re not going to jump, are you?" Fred asked.

"Well, I’m not taking the stairs! Besides, you’re going to cushion my fall."

Fred crossed his shadowy arms over his chest. "What if I don’t want to?"

"Then your ‘slave’ gets smashed. Your decision!" She winked, and then jumped off the railing.

For a moment, she wasn’t sure if he’d do it, but then she felt a force pushing up from under her, slowing her fall, until she landed gently on the ground.

"What’s wrong?" Magic Finger was saying now. "Nobody wants to play?"

"My mommy told me never to play with strangers." Xiao said. "Or guys who have finger fetishes."

Magic Finger looked over his shoulder at her, and grinned. "Xiao. Long time, huh?"

His right hand whipped around, index and pinky finger extended. Xiao had a moment to duck before they both opened fire. Bullets tore up the row of seats behind Xiao, and she hoped, breifly, that no one had been hiding under them.

"You’re hiding?" Magic Finger said, almost incredulous. "A member of the big, tough Justice League, hiding? Not so brave when you’re not hanging me over a shark pit, now, are we?"

"I really don’t have time to discuss morality right now," She said. "Especially not with you." She hopped up, vaulted over the seats, and landed a kick to Magic Finger’s chest. He stumbled back, and then opened fire again, with only his index finger this time. Xiao dodged again.

"Let me talk to the demon again," Magic Finger said. "Just like when I kidnapped you- maybe I can strike a deal with him."

"Sorry, Fred’s in sort of a pissy mood tonight."

"Hey!" Fred said.

"Well it’s true!"

A shadow fell over her, and Xiao looked up to see Magic Finger leaning over the row of seats. He pointed his index finger again, and suddenly, something grabbed Xiao, and lifted her up. Magic Finger jerked his hand savagely to the side, and Xiao flew through the air, crashing into another row of seats.

"Ooooh… ow."

Magic Finger grinned, and advanced.

"Wow." Fred said, with barely contained glee. "Looks like you’re really screwed now, huh?"

**********************************************

OMEGA dashed down the hall, the crowd from the balcony thundering behind him.

"Are we almost there?" The orange haired girl demanded. "Do you even know where we’re going?"

"To the back exit." OMEGA said. "They have the Supermodel Clones guarding the front, if you were paying attention. It shouldn’t be too far from here."

He checked the next corner, quickly gave the all clear signal, and they moved on.

"This is all your fault!" The orange haired girl said. "You super freaks! People are getting trampled in there because of you! You stupid- hey! Listen to me!"

OMEGA rounded on the girl, and the crowd slowed to a stop.


"Listen." He said. "You don’t like me, that’s fine. You don’t like us, that’s fine too. But I am trying to save your ass, and everyone else here, while my friends could be getting gunned down back in the theater. So I suggest you either shut up, or go back and try your luck with the Head Honcho. Got me?"

The girl nodded shakily, and then OMEGA gestured for them to move on.

He came to a T intersection of the halls, looked around the corner- and saw twenty thugs, standing at the end of one hall. At the end of the other was the exit.

OMEGA leaned against the wall and sighed. They couldn’t go back, but if they went forwards, these thugs would slaughter them all. They were trapped, until either side won the battle in the theater, or the Head Honcho blew them all up. Trapped, unless…

Unless.

OMEGA turned to the crowd. "There’s twenty men at the end of the hall to my right, and the exit is down the hall to my left. I am going to go out in the hallway, and the second I say ‘go’ you are all going to run for that exit, and not stop for anything. Understand?"

The people who had heard him nodded silently, and OMEGA turned away. He took a deep breath, and stepped out into the hall.

"There!" One of the thugs yelled. "There’s one of them!"

"Enjoying the show?" OMEGA asked.

"Look at his eyes, man!" Another thug said. "They’re- f*** that’s weird!"

"Who cares?" The first one snapped. "Just kill him!"

They raised their automatic rifles, and opened fire. OMEGA’s eyes flashed pale blue, and the bullets stopped dead as they approached him, falling harmlessly to the floor. The thugs kept shooting, regardless.

"GO!" OMEGA shouted, and the crowd went, shoving down the hallway and out the exit. A few people looked back at him- including the orange haired girl- but kept running.

OMEGA could feel himself wearying from using his power to stop all of the bullets. About half of the crowd was out now, but there were still plenty more coming. If he let go, they were all dead.

"What is this?!" One thug demanded.

"Is this that Chi guy?"

"Dude, don’t you know? He’s living in California with-"

OMEGA had an idea and, suddenly, struck out with his telekinesis shield. The thugs flew back, guns dropping from their hands.

Two thirds of the crowd has escaped now. And OMEGA saw, behind the twenty men he had pushed down, at least twenty more, trying to get into the hallway. Too many. Too many to block, at least.

OMEGA stepped forwards, and as the audience members flooded out to freedom behind him, he struck out with his telekinesis, throwing the thugs into walls, into each other.

The crowd was dwindling now. Soon they would all be-

A bullet tore through OMEGA’s leg, and another caught him in the shoulder.

The thugs were immediately on him, kicking and punching, smashing him with their rifle butts. "You like that? Huh? You like that, psychic boy?"

OMEGA felt himself slipping away. There was only one thing he could do to ensure the safety of the audience members now.

OMEGA struggled to his feet, using his telekinesis to soften the thugs’ blows. He called on every ounce of power he had, and began to concentrate it. The air in the hallway became alive- the thugs’ hair stood on end, and the carpet rippled like water around OMEGA’s feet.

"Do you feel that?" One of the thugs asked.

OMEGA drove the power inward like a spike, and with a wrench that made the thugs’ brains shudder, his head split open, and blew apart.

It was like a miniature nuke had been set off in the hallway. The thugs closest to the blast had all of their bones broken at once, dying instantly. Those on the fringe were flung into the walls, their bodies smashing and breaking against them. The carpet tore itself, the walls cracked, and the exit door blew outwards- and then all was silent.

Forty bodies lay broken and dead on the floor, and at their center, the headless body of OMEGA.

**********************************************

"Yo! It’s Obi f***ing Wan!" Loud Mouth shouted. The Silencer covered his ears, and was about to whack him upside the head when he saw that it was, indeed, Obi Wan Kenobi- known to you and me as Ewan McGregor.

"Uh… hi?" Ewan said.

"Holy s***, Silencer! Obi Wan is Irish!"

The Silencer nudged him.

"What?"

The Silencer gestured, and Loud Mouth stared blankly at his hands. Finally, his eyes lit up. "Ooooooh. Scottish, sorry."

"Um… you’re fans?" Ewan asked hopefully.

Loud Mouth snorted. "S*** no! In fact, we’ve got a list of, uh… what are they called?… Oh yeah! Grievances! We’ve got a list of grievances to give you!"

"Oh." Ewan said. "Okay…"

"First off, why didn’t you smack that annoying little Anakin S***walker?" Loud Mouth slapped his palm with the back of his hand. "You gotta lay down the law, bitch!"

"Er, okay then. I’ll remember that, I-"

"Secondly, what the f*** is up with you killin’ Darth Maul, huh?"

Ewan blinked. "Um… he was trying to kill me?"

"You know what I think the reason was?" Loud Mouth said. "I think you were just, like, wetting your panties because he’s the baddest motherf***er in the whole f***ing galaxy! Nooch!" He and the Silencer pounded their fists together.

"Oh, come on, he wasn’t that cool." Ewan said.

"Yeah, keep sayin’ that. Yo, Silencer, I think I got another reason! I bet this sorry sack of s*** here killed our boy Maul, because he was so f***in bad, he was stealin’ all the bitches! Obi F*** Kenobi here just wanted fine-ass Amidala all to himself!" He leaned forwards and winked at Ewan. "And who wouldn’t! Dude, I bet Maul could have gotten some crazy s*** together with her. Her and all of her handmaidens! At the same time! Buuuung!"

The Silencer nodded… silently.

"So, yeah, that’s some sad s***. Maul could’ve been, like, rollin’ in it, but then you had to go and slice him up and s***, you c*** smoker! And now, me and the Silencer are gonna hand your ass to you- Darth Maul style! Naga nooch!"

"It’s amazing," A voice said. "But I think you actually talk more than me."

Midnight Chatter landed on Loud Mouth and the Silencer’s shoulders, and slammed their heads together. The two stoners collapsed, and Midnight hopped to the ground.

"You should probably get out of here, Mr. McGregor." He said. "Oh, um, and I loved Moulin Rouge!"

"Really?" Ewan asked, standing up.

"Well, um, Scarlett said she’d kill me if I didn’t say that…"

"Scarlett?" Ewan repeated. "Is she here?"

Midnight Chatter frowned. "You know, I’ve been wondering that all n-"

"SNOOOOOOOOCH!" Loud Mouth yelled. With his voice, of course, it was enough to send both Midnight and Ewan flying.

"Now I’ve got a f***in headache!" Loud Mouth said, readjusting his snowcap. "What do you think this is, a f***in Jackie Chan movie?!"

"Run." Midnight Chatter muttered to Ewan. "Just so you don’t have to hear him talk anymore."

"Hey! Pay attention! I’m not gonna take this s***, you hear me?! I’m the crime commander! Not you, not this tubby f***, ME! I make this s*** work! I-"

A hand swung, and slapped Loud Mouth right in the face. Immediately, a block of ice covered his mouth.

"Do you ever shut up?!" Crystal Freeze said.

Loud Mouth yelled some muffled curses, and small cracks began to appear in the ice.

"Thanks, both of you." Ewan said, getting up and running for the exit.

"Now, let’s handle these two." Crystal said.

She leapt at the Silencer, who dodged her blow, and dealt her one in the back. Midnight Chatter noticed that even as the Silencer’s hand hit her, there was no sound. He charged as well, trying to hit the Silencer from the midsection.

The Silencer took his tackle, grabbed him by the right arm, and flipped him over his shoulder. Midnight landed in a heap on the floor, next to Crystal. Loud Mouth finally broke the block of ice over his mouth and spit out a few chunks.

"Good work, lunch box. Now let’s handle these f***s!"

"Wait!" Midnight Chatter said, standing up. "You have to give us a chance to fight back, first!"

"We do?"

"Yeah!"

"Oh…"

The Silencer elbowed him.

"What? Oh! Hey! We don’t have to give you a chance!"

"Yes you do!" Midnight said.

"No we don’t!"

"Yes you do!"

"No we don’t!"

"Do!"

"Don’t!"

"Do!"

"Don’t!"

The Silencer turned to raise his eyebrow at Crystal, and got a fist in the face instead. He stumbled back, and pulled a small gadget out of his overcoat- something like a remote control, only with two nodes at the end, each crackling with electricity.

"Nice." Crystal said. "I guess you are better than MacGuyver, huh?"

The Silencer shrugged, and as he did, Crystal kicked the weapon out of his hand, grabbed his overcoat and pulled him close. "Nighty night, Silencer!" She put her hand on the top of his head, and concentrated. The Silencer’s eyes rolled upwards, and frost started to accumulate in his hair until, finally, he collapsed.

Crystal nodded, satisfied.

"Do!"

"Don’t!"

"Do!"

"Don’t!"

She sighed, and turned to grab Loud Mouth’s head. His hand shot up, grabbed her wrist, and flipped her onto the floor.

"Yeah! That’s right! That’s why you don’t mess with me, see? I’m the king, motherf***ers!"

"Not so fast," Midnight Chatter said, in a strange, Western drawl. "You didn’t reckon on me, now, did you?"

Loud Mouth looked over at the unconscious Silencer for an answer, and then said, "Uh… no?"

Midnight Chatter spread his legs like a gun fighter, and his eyes narrowed beneath his 3-D glasses. "It’s you and me now, varmint. One on one. A duel to decide, once and for all… who the number one talker is in this town."

"Oh, so that’s how you wanna play, huh?" Loud Mouth said, grinning. "Fine. Let’s go, spammer boy."

"Come into my lair, said the dreth to the chorkant."

Midnight Chatter’s unexpected Ellimist Chronicles reference earned him the advantage, as he and Loud Mouth descended into a type of ritual combat known only to those who couldn’t shut up. Crystal watched in terror, awe, and downright confusion.

"Yo, did I tell you about the time me and the Silencer were on the run?" Loud Mouth said. "Well, we were, like, carrying this couch, to bring back to the bosses pad, you know, and we were runnin’ down this alley- and I was lookin’ all hot and s***, ‘cause I was sweatin’, and I was so hot that tubby over there was getting’ really turned on (cause, you know, he loves that s***)- and then we saw, like, this window, and there was this chick in there… with two painters! It was a three way! An all painter three way!"

Midnight Chatter winced from the utter pointlessness of Loud Mouth’s rambling, but recuperated and shot back: "Did you know that the Tri-Leader symbol looks almost exactly like the Mitsubishi symbol? Does that mean they like cars? I bet they’re going to take over the world with cars! And then everyone will have to work at the gas stations! Just like in that story, ‘Trucks!’ …Only those were trucks. And a bus. Did you know that Tails is as evil as a bus?"

Loud Mouth stumbled, weakened. "Yo! No fair with the obscure To the Barricades reference!"

"Why? We’ve been making them all night!"

"Still!"

"And it won all of the Tony Awards," Midnight Chatter nodded sagely.

Loud Mouth grinned evilly. "That’s where you’re wrong, dingle berry! They haven’t done the Tony Awards yet! It couldn’t have won anything!"

"Well, it will!" Midnight Chatter snapped. Then he cocked his head. "Wait… why do you know when the Tony Awards take place?"

Loud Mouth went pale. "Uh… it, uh… you see… the Silencer! Yeah, the Silencer! He’s all about theater! Yeah! Him!"

Midnight Chatter nodded pityingly. "What’s wrong, Loud Mouth? Are you afraid of counteracting your masculinity by admitting you like theater?"

"Hey! You can’t do that!" Loud Mouth said. "Psychowhatever s*** doesn’t count!"

"Well, what if I talked about something else, related to that?" Midnight Chatter asked, raising an eyebrow. "What if I wanted to talk about therapists? Hey! Did you know that if you add a space, therapist becomes ‘the rapist?’ Oh, and if you do the same thing with friend, it turns into ‘fry end!’ And when you put a space in Yankovic, you get ‘Yan Kovic!’ …Wait, or maybe you get ‘Yanko Vic’… no, that’s dumb, how about ‘Yank Ovic?’ Hey, my aunt knew a guy named Yank Ovic once! She said he liked to dance around in clogs and buy Eurotech products!" Midnight Chatter nodded proudly. "And he ate cats."

Loud Mouth gaped at him, and then fell to his knees. "Stooooop… pleeeeeeaaaaaaase! I can’t… f***in’ take it… anymore… yo!"

"Kitties are friendly. I like to pet kitties." Midnight Chatter said. "Except Hellbeast. Nobody likes Hellbeast. But everybody likes Hamlet! … I think…"

Loud Mouth’s eyes bugged out of his head, and then there was a muted pop, and smoke began to waft from his ears.

"Ooooh… ooooowie… noochies…" He fell onto his face.

Crystal stood up. "Uh… wow. What was that?"

"A noble form of fighting used by chatters everywhere." Midnight Chatter said. "It’s called: ‘Talk-A lot-Until-the-Other-Guy’s-Brain-Stalls-Up-And-He-Passes-Out!’"

Crystal just shook her head. Suddenly, a battle cry went up from across the room, and she saw some of the remaining thugs charging back into the battle. She could see DragonGirl, slowly sinking back to her normal form- re-energizing herself, Crystal guessed.

"Come on, MC." She said. "We’ve got plenty more to do…"

**********************************************

X-Raytor kicked the thug in the stomach, and Cara stuck her foot out behind him. The thug stumbled backwards, tripped, and fell on his back.

"You know, if you really want to be safe, you should get out of here." X-Raytor said, turning to her.

"If I wanted to be safe, I never would have signed a contract with the Disney Channel." She said.

"Good point."

X-Raytor headed up towards the back of the theater, where it was relatively clear. He needed a second to look around. He could see Oreo Avenger, playing keep away from the Ferret, while Magic Finger menaced Xiao. Crystal and Midnight Chatter were joining DragonGirl in fighting some thugs now, and Violet was having her own miniature war down in front of the stage. He didn’t see Drew or Netic yet, but the Head Honcho wasn’t looking all that edgy- maybe they’d have some more time. Maybe.

"I think," Cara said, catching up. "I think I just figured something out."

"Huh?" X-Raytor said, turning.

"Did you notice anything weird about the seating order? For you guys, I mean?"

X-Raytor nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I do remember thinking something was odd about it…"

"I think I know what it was," She said. "You guys were all spread out."

X-Raytor stiffened. "Of course. Of course! That’s right! You’re a- oh God, you’re a genius!" He started pacing. "They wanted to spread us out so that we wouldn’t be able to group together when everything came down. Someone was planning on us being separate, just like… just like someone made sure there were no other security guards here! Yes, it makes sense now!"

And then, once again, X-Raytor’s eyes were drawn to the staircase across the empty wing, with the "Backstage" door at its top. "The one thing that doesn’t make sense," He said. "Is why you have a separate door going backstage, when you can always just get there from onstage."

Cara blinked. "What?"

"Come on," He said, heading towards the empty wing. "We’ve got to hurry."

**********************************************

"This is just pathetic." Pinzz said.

"I don’t know," Twisk said. "I mean, I wasn’t helping there specifically, but they told me not to underestimate him…"

Superdude blinked. "I’m with Pinzz- this is just sad."

John, Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuuum!) was performing his Somersault of Sinisterness (as seen in To The Barricades!) for them, all the while saying things like: "OW! Can’t touch this!" or "Check it!" He finally landed on his feet and looked at them expectantly. When they didn’t burst into applause, John said: "So… intimidated yet?"

"Let’s just trounce the little yutz and get it over with." Superdude muttered.

"No, come on, I’ll just slip him up," Twisk said. "No need to go all out. I mean, he is a kid…"

"I don’t care if he’s in preschool," Pinzz said. "I want a piece of him in the worst way."

Silence.

"I didn’t mean it like that." She clarified.

John grinned evilly. "You all just made the biggest mistake of your lives."

"Don’t worry, kid," Pinzz said, extending her arms. "This will only hurt a lot."

"Ooooh! Oh no! I’m scared!" John said. "The big bad Justice League is going to kick my hiney, even though I owned them all last time! Boo hoo hoo!"

"This is why I came back from Montana?" Pinzz asked herself.

"Well, okay," John said. "If you have to waste my time with your pathetic… patheticness… then let’s go, already."

Pinzz, Twisk, and Superdude exchanged looks and shrugged. All three turned and attacked at once.

"GAH!" John yelped, and, on instinct, performed his amazing Somersault of Sinisterness to the side, flipping over and through Pinzz’s fingers as they struck at him like miniature bullwhips. "Hey! Hey! Hey!"

John landed, free of the fingers, and ducked as Twisk shot twin blasts of water at him, punching holes in the stage. "Hey! Hey! One at a time, now!"

He rolled under the water blast, and jumped back a moment before Superdude punched him at high speed, the hero’s arm going straight through the plywood of the stage. John reached up, put a hand on Superdude’s head, and vaulted over him. "I’ll beat the twinkies out of each and every one of you, I promise! Wait your turn!"

John’s leap carried him directly into the orchestra pit. He landed on his feet, right between two of the violin players. Grand Maestro Julia glared down at him.

"John. We meet again."

"Oh, hi Grand Maestro!" John said, waving. "Psyched about the Tony Awards?"

Grand Maestro Julia was about to give some snide remark when Superdude appeared above her. "How much do you weigh?!" He demanded. "You almost shoved my neck into my chest!"

"I’ll assume you’re talking about him." Grand Maestro Julia said, her eyes narrowing.

"Er, yes ma’am! Of course!" Superdude said, backing off. Pinzz appeared next to him.

"What do you think you’re doing, Speed Racer? We’ve got him cornered!"

"Racer X was Speed Racer’s brother!" John said.

Pinzz pointed her hand at him, and her fingers shot out. John began to do one of his amazing ninja moves, which he learned from playing video games, but his foot got stuck in his cloak and he tripped. Pinzz’s fingers shot by him, smacked harmlessly on the floor, and stuck. Seeing his chance, John jumped on Pinzz’s elongated digits, and tried to run up them like… well, like a bunch of long fingers. All he succeeded in doing, however, was make Pinzz lose her and topple into the pit. John jumped at the last second, and scrambled out of the pit.

"Okay, that’s it!" Pinzz roared, and shot her fingers up at the wall, so that she could climb out. And it just happened to be that the piece of wall her fingers stuck on was just a teensy weensy bit loose. Pinzz looked up as a chunk of wallpaper and plaster tore itself free, and dropped directly towards her.

"I hate my life."

The piece of wall landed on her head, broke in two, and Pinzz collapsed.

Twisk and Superdude exchanged looks.

"Whoo hoo!" John cheered. "One down, two to go! Your move."

Twisk leapt into the air, and fired water at him in mid-jump. John dodged the first two blasts, but his foot caught on the now wet floor, and he slipped, fell on his back and began to slide uncontrollably over the wet carpet.

"GAH! Out of the way! Out of the way!"

John nailed Superdude in the legs and sent him bowling over. John came to a stop right at the bottom of the center aisle. He leapt to his feet, and ran up the aisle as Twisk pursued.

"Yes!" John crowed. "Come, little Justice Leaguer! Come to your DOOM! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!!"

"You see?" Twisk said. "This is why I spent that free theater pass on Cats instead of your Barricade crap."

"BLASPHEMY!" John roared, and charged. Twisk casually shot two streams of water in front of his feet and, once again, John slipped. Twisk hopped over him as he slid by, and whipped around. John struggled to his feet, and charged again, flailing his arms in an attempt to do something slightly like a punch.

"You know, I’ve got to give you credit for trying," Twisk said, as John got closer. "But, really, this is just sad."

She raised her hands, palms up, index fingers extended, and shot two streams of water into John’s face. John stumbled, sputtered, and made a final lunge, grabbing Twisk’s wrists and forcing the streams out of his eyes.

"That- puh!- that wasn’t very nice!" John said… threateningly.

"Yeah, well wait until you see this!" Twisk angled her thumbs downwards and with a loud crack, two yellow bolts of electricity raced at John’s face. John threw himself down, and the bolts hit a dry part of the carpet, causing it to sizzle.

"No fair! I didn’t know you could do that!" John cried.

"Is it my fault that you don’t watch the news?" Twisk asked, and fired another bolt.

John dodged again, jumped to his feet and, in a sudden burst of insight, grabbed the bottoms of Twisk’s thumbs, stopping her from aiming at him.

"Now, I’m no technological genius, but what would happen if I did this?" John asked, and pulled Twisk’s hands down, ramming her thumbs into her shoulders. Their sizzling, electrified tips touched her bubble suit, and John threw himself aside.

It happened instantaneously- Twisk began to shudder as electricity coursed through the liquid of her suit. The suit glowed blindingly, and Twisk’s screams could barely be heard over the thunderous crackling. Finally, her hands fell from her shoulders, and Twisk went flying in the opposite direction, landing heavily on her back. Her entire costume smoked, and occasionally popped and crackled with residue electricity.

John wiped off his face, and went over to inspect the damage. Twisk was still alive- her suit had taken the bulk of the electricity- but she was unconscious.

"You know," He said to himself. "I wasn’t really sure that would work…" He thought for a moment, and then came to the conclusion: "Damn, I’m good!"

He immediately slipped on the wet carpet and landed on his back. And that really would have ruined his moment, if it wasn’t for the fact that Superdude was about to hit him with a high speed tackle. Instead, Superdude’s feet hit the fallen Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuuum!), and he went flying into the back wall, right next to where Deborah Walters and her cameraman were crouching. He left a nice, big, Superdude-shaped mark on the wall as he dropped to the floor.

"Score!" John cheered. "Three outs! You lose! That’s why they call me the Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuum!), baby! I AM INVINCIBLE!"

John recalled something from the Evil Overlord’s List a moment before the electrified belt buckle dropped on his head. John jerked wildly, and then dropped on his face.

"I got my pants off!" Eric cheered from up above, waving his burnt hands. "Force field that!"

Pinzz crawled out of the orchestra pit, a large bump on her head. Up the center aisle, she could see Twisk painfully sitting up. Pinzz noted dully that John was unconcious and that Eric was naked once again, frightening the remaining thugs off of the balcony.

"I should have just stayed in Montana." She muttered.

**********************************************

Paper Kut ran the blade of his paper saw over his palm very lightly, as he watched Oreo Avenger struggle with the Ferret. She would beat him soon, yes, and then he would step in. And at long last, Paper Kut would have his revenge.

For now, however, he would wait. He glanced over at where Superdude was getting up, after his painful collision. How anyone could be defeated by that Lord of Darkness kid was beyond him, but this pathetic S.O.B had, it seemed.

And plus- and plus- he had been Oreo Avenger’s date to that, that… social thing. The thing She-Man had trashed. And it had been Sadie Hawkins style, right? She had asked him. Touching, really.

Paper Kut decided to have a little fun.

"Nice moves therrrrre, speedy." He said, swaggering to Superdude. His voice was very guttural now, due to that damned bubonic plague-type thing the alien had injected him with. Speaking of the alien- Paper Kut didn’t see him anywhere. Too bad- he would have liked to get his revenge on that f*** too.

"At least," Superdude said, a little shakily. "I’m not a giant squirrel."

Paper Kut grinned. "Let’s go, Superrrrrdorrrrk. I haven’t gotten to use my saw herrrre all night."

Superdude’s eyes crossed, and then uncrossed. He must have really hit that wall hard. That didn’t seem to be enough to stop him, however.

"Fine. Let’s do it, fuzzy."

Superdude became a blur before Paper Kut had a chance to react. He jerked back on instinct as Superdude plowed past, and came to a stop a few feet away. He grinned. "That was a warning."

"And I’m ignorrrrring it." Paper Kut said. He knew what to expect this time, he just had to wait…

Superdude became a blur again, coming at Paper Kut almost faster than he could see. He just needed to wait for- THERE!

Paper Kut hopped back, and swung his saw. An arc of red followed it as it passed through the blur.

Superdude stumbled, slowed down, and fell. Paper Kut walked over, and saw a particularly nasty gash, right through Superdude’s side. He was still breathing shallowly, however.

Well, Paper Kut knew how to put a stop to that.

He raised the saw, and brought it down in a triumphant arc-

There was a flash of steel, and the saw was caught on the blade of a sword, inches from Superdude’s neck. He followed the blade of the sword up to its hilt, up the arm of its owner, and saw- DragonGirl. Fully human once again, but not looking much happier than when she had been a reptile.

Paper Kut grinned savagely. "Finally. A challenge."

He back flipped, and landed in the nearest aisle. DragonGirl followed, running across the tops of a row of seats, and coming down at him with a flying chop.

Paper Kut swung his saw up and deflected the blow, and tried his own, aimed at her midsection. DragonGirl jerked her sword downwards, parried, and spun away from her opponent.

"You know, I think I like your voice better this way." She said. Paper Kut glared.

"Verrrrry funny. And I liked you better as a big worm." He leapt forwards, but instead of attacking with his saw, he swung his giant bushy tail around, knocking DragonGirl off of her feet. She had time to scramble up before he was on her again.

DragonGirl parried his next three strikes, and then swung wildly at his chest. The blade skimmed his fur, but went no deeper. Paper Kut knocked her blade back with his saw, and back flipped again. When he landed this time, however, he had pulled a pair of paper throwing stars from his bandoleer, and sent them flying at DragonGirl.

Ducking on instinct, DragonGirl avoided one, and was able to jump up and cleave the other. She was about to attack again when-

WHUMP!

A giant, furry tail smacked her in the midsection, knocking her over. Her sword fell from her hands.

Paper Kut reached out with one of his paws and grabbed her by the collar, pulling her up. He raised the saw.

"Therrrre can be only one." He hissed.

DragonGirl brought her foot up and kicked Paper Kut between his furry legs. He was still crouched over when she snatched up her sword- and drove it through his midsection.

Paper Kut let out a surprised gasp, and looked up at her with almost offended eyes. He raised the saw weakly, but DragonGirl knocked it away.

"You… you ca…n’t…" He managed.

DragonGirl stared, unable to comprehend, as Paper Kut fell to his knees- sliding off of her blade- and then collapsed face down on the floor. Her sword was wet and red.

"Superdude!" She suddenly remembered, and ran back to where he had fallen. The blood had pooled around him, and DragonGirl tried to cover the wound with her hand- but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Superdude had stopped breathing a minute ago.

Tears running unnoticed down her face, DragonGirl dropped her sword, and concentrated. The tears dried as green scales ran across her body…

**********************************************

Rosma slammed the last thug’s head into the ground, and then stepped over him, breathing heavily.

"Sorry about that," She said to Elijah Wood, who was squatting in the aisle. "Sometimes it takes a while to drop them."

"Er, that’s okay…" Elijah said. "Listen, I’ve been trying to convince these people over here," He gestured to a small group of celebrities, crouching under their seats. "But they don’t want to move. I think they’re too scared."

"And well they should be." Someone said, from behind Rosma. She whipped around to see a dark, hooded eyed man in a tube top and a mini-skirt. She-Man.

"Huh. I was wondering where you went." She said, and slammed her fist into his muscle stomach. She-Man didn’t even flinch.

"Ow…" Rosma said.

She-Man sneered, and then his hand shot out, and he grabbed Elijah Wood by the collar.

"GAH!"

"Hey!" Rosma said. "Put him down!"

"Aw, is this your little pretty boy actor boy friend?" She-Man said. "I didn’t know you were a pervy hobbit fancier, Rosma."

"Just let go of him." Rosma said.

"Whatever you say." She-Man said, and threw Elijah Wood to the floor. Rosma dropped onto her knees, and shook Elijah’s shoulders.

"I’m okay! I’m- ow!" He winced.

"It must suck to be famous," She-Man said. "You’ve got all sorts of sickos out to make you suffer, huh?"

He reached into his purse, and rummaged through it. "Let’s have some fun now, huh?"

Something dropped next to Rosma. She looked down and saw… an eyelash brush. She glanced up at She-Man and raised an eyebrow.

"Pick it up," He said.

Rosma went to touch it- and suddenly, an inch long knife blade sprung from the cylindrical part, cleaving the actual brush in half. Rosma jerked back, but then, gingerly picked it up.

"Okay… and what am I supposed to do with this, again?"

She-Man’s grin became absolutely demonic. His eyes moved over the Elijah. "I want you to cut him. I want you to cut his perfect little pretty boy face while I stand here and watch."

Rosma thought he was joking for a second, and then realized that he was dead serious.

"And if I don’t?"

She-Man produced a compact mirror from his purse, or, more accurately, a compact mirror-grenade. He waved it at the small group of people huddling under their seats nearby. "If you don’t, then all of these nice fat cats here will be smeared all over the theater."

There was a pause, and then a woman in a pale blue dress, sticking her head out above her seat said, "Do it."

Rosma didn’t comprehend for a moment, and then she realized the woman was talking to her.


"What?!"

She-Man’s face was blank for a moment, and then his eyes lit up, like he just couldn’t believe how freaking lucky he was.

"Come on," The woman in the blue dress urged. "Do it already. Get us out of here!"

To Rosma’s further disgust, one or two other people murmured in agreement.

She-Man turned to her. "Well?" He said hungrily. "You don’t want to disappoint your audience, do you?"

Elijah Wood lay mute, his eyes wide with fear.

Rosma looked slowly from the cowering audience members, to She-Man, to Elijah, to the eyelash brush-knife. She-Man tapped the activator on the compact mirror-grenade warningly.

Rosma looked directly into Elijah Wood’s eyes and whispered, "Sorry."

Her hand moved forwards.

For a moment, She-Man was confused, even moreso when he looked down and saw an eyelash brush growing from his fishnet-clad right leg. It was only when he saw the first dark line of blood that he felt the pain.

"My LEG!" He screamed in outrage. "My leg, you BITCH!! Holy- you got blood ALL OVER my stocking!!"

He struck out savagely, but Rosma was no longer there- vanished. With a final burst of desperate rage, She-Man pressed the activator on the grenade, and spun to hurl it at the audience members.

An invisible fist caught him in the face, turned him around. He felt a knee in his side, and someone’s grip around his wrist, trying to wrestle the grenade from him. She-Man clumsily reached into his purse, tried to get his gun-

An elbow crashed down on his head, and he was out. Rosma popped back into visibility, and pried the grenade from the hand of the falling super villain. She pivoted, yelled:

"X-Raytor!" and threw.

X-Raytor, still trying to make his way to the right wing and the "Backstage" door, spun around. He saw the grenade, arching upwards, and let a pair of lasers fly.

BABOOM!

It blossomed into flame, and shrapnel rained down on what was left of the seats. And almost immediately after the fireball had melted into smoke, DragonGirl, fully draconian again, exploded into the air, with a roar that made X-Raytor’s teeth chatter.

Meanwhile, Rosma helped Elijah to his feet. "You okay? Sorry if I scared you there…"

"No, no, I’m okay," Elijah said shakily. "But, um, if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to get the hell out of here now…"

"Yeah, sure. Oh, um, but go out the back way, okay? I don’t think you want to run into the Supermodel Clones."

"I’ll take your word for it." Elijah said. "Uh, and this is sort of weird to say now, but, uh, nice meeting you."

"Oh, yeah! Thanks! It was a, uh, pleasure!" Rosma said.

Gah! Pleasure! Stop!

"I MEAN!" She said, causing Elijah to jump. "Ahem, I mean, it was nice to meet you, too."

"Oh, okay. Um, see you around, I guess." He said, with a sort of lopsided smile.

"Yeah, sure. Give me a call if you’re in town again!"

"Sure… uh, the Hall of Justice is in the phone book, right?"

"Right."

"Okay. Um, bye!"

"Bye!"

Elijah hurried up the aisle, and out the exit.

"Sooooooo hoooooooot…" Rosma said, drooling.

Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to see the woman in the blue dress, with the other audience members slowly coming out of hiding behind her.

"Thank you, thank you for saving us!" She gushed. "You know, I- I didn’t really mean what I said about, um, cutting that kid, I was just… I was just trying to…"

"I know what you were trying to do." Rosma said. "Now get out of my sight."

The woman face fell. "You don’t understand, I had to-"

"You had to?" Rosma snapped. "You had to allow another human being to be tortured, just to save your own butt?"

"It wasn’t like that…" The woman mumbled, and walked up towards the exit. The others followed, not meeting Rosma’s eyes.

When they were gone, Rosma just shook her head, and turned to subdue the thugs DragonGirl was terrorizing.

**********************************************

Oreo Avenger dodged another blast of nacho cheese, and hovered just over the Ferret’s head.

"You know," She said. "You really need to work on that aim. Sure, I can fly and all, but you’re never going to get anywhere in villainy if you can’t at least-"

"DIE!" The Ferret yelled, and fired again.

"At least let me finish talking first!" Oreo Avenger said, darting out of the way. Instead of hovering, though, she dove straight for the Ferret, grabbed his furry arms and forced the sombrero’s point upwards. The Ferret tried firing, but the most he could do was get cheese all over the bottom off the balcony. He and Oreo Avenger stood locked, neither able to do much.

"I hate you!" The Ferret growled. "Hate you!"

"I’m not exactly your biggest fan right now myself," Oreo said. "Hey, while we have this opportunity to talk,why don’t you tell me exactly what’s going on here."

"Drop dead." The Ferret spat.

"Come on! At least tell me who the Head Honcho really is."

"I will tell you one thing," The Ferret said, and his snout formed into a sneer. "After I cheese you- after I cheese you and all of your friends- I’m going to find out who you really are, and I’m going to hunt down your family, your friends, even people who have changed your tires, and I’m gonna cheese them too. And then I’ll slice you all up with my sombrero and sell you to Taco Bell to put on their nachos!"

Oreo Avenger’s eyebrows shot up. "Are you serious?"

The Ferret giggled his high-pitched giggle. "Oh- I am so serious."

"Wow." Oreo Avenger said. "Well, then I guess you can’t blame me for doing this," She lifted her foot and brought it down hard… right on the Ferret’s tail.

"OOOH! OW! OWIES OWIES OWIES!!!" The Ferret shrieked, and reached down to caress his tail.

Oreo Avenger immediately launched herself into the air, and whipped an Oreo out of her satchel.

"Hey, Mink! Let’s go! Time’s awasting!"

He snapped his gaze upwards at her, opened his mouth to yell "FERRET!", and Oreo Avenger threw the Oreo. The Ferret’s eyes widened, and he tried to close his mouth a few seconds too late.

With a spectacular poof!, the Ferret was replaced by a cement cat. Oreo Avenger shrugged, and picked it up. "Hey, hold on to this for me, okay?" She asked, tossing it to Deborah Walters. Deborah caught the cement cat and almost dropped it on her feet.

Oreo Avenger turned back to the rest of the theater, to see her fellow Justice Leaguers still locked in combat. DragonGirl was handling the majority of the remaining thugs- which was not a very large number, while everyone else was fighting on the ground. She could see X-Raytor and Cara DeLizia, trying to get over to the right wing through the chaos, while Magic Finger gloated over Xiao. Where to help? Where to go first?

It was then that she saw the form of Superdude, a few yards away. The carpet around him was stained red.

"Oh no…" Oreo Avenger dashed over to where he lay, and immediately saw the ugly slash in his side. The blood had stopped flowing a long time ago, and what had escaped was pooled around him. Oreo didn’t even need to feel for a pulse- he was dead. No doubt about it.

She turned on her radio. "Oh- oh crap! Somebody! We’ve- s***! It’s Superdude, he- he’s dead."

Across the room, X-Raytor stopped and whirled around. "What?" He said over the radio, his voice unusually quiet.

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Raven said. "I saw it- it was Paper Kut. They were fighting and he…"

"Paper Kut?" Oreo Avenger repeated.

"Yeah. He- DragonGirl got him, though."

Up above, DragonGirl roared thunderously.

"Oh my God…" X-Raytor was saying. "This- this can’t be happening. This- we don’t…" There was a moment of silence, and then he said. "Keep doing your thing, everybody. I’m going to go make the f*** behind all of this wish he’d never been born."

Oreo Avenger saw him turn, and follow Cara into the right wing. They were running towards a miniature staircase, leading up to a brown door…

Oreo Avenger turned her radio off, and looked down at Superdude. How could this have happened? After so long, after so many impossible situations… now? Could it really be so random, so pointless? How did it make sense? How did any of it make sense?

Oreo Avenger walked over to the nearest aisle, and found Paper Kut, lying on his face. The blood pooled around him as well, and his paper saw lay next to him, wet and red. He had killed Superdude because of her, of course. To get back at her. She knew it made no sense to feel guilty- she couldn’t have known there would be any harm in asking Superdude to the formal- but as… someone… had once told X-Raytor, a long time ago, guilt was a bitch. Oreo could hear those words now, she could smell the night air of the city, mixed in with smoke and fresh rain. She could see the light reflected off of the wet asphalt under her feet, and ahead of her…

Oreo Avenger shook herself back into the present, and shoved her emotions deep down inside of her- a trick they had all become good at over the years. There were still plenty of thugs left. She had to be a super hero now and then, maybe, later, she could work on being human.

**********************************************

Sixtus had recovered, and pulled a small, semi-automatic pistol out of his black, leather trench coat. But it was just his luck, just his luck, of course, that by now all of the celebrities had escaped. Even that wirey little f*** he’d had up at gunpoint. There were still plenty of Justice Leaguers, of course, but they were all either too far away, or too close to one of the Head Honcho’s oh-so-precious supervillains. Regular thugs like him, they were expendable- but there was no way that he was going to waste his drinking buddies to get at that purple haired bimbo at the bottom of the stage. It would probably serve the Head Honcho right to get into a fight once or twice. Maybe it would take him down from his pedestal, lower him back down on to the level of the common thug. Then again, he didn’t want to look like he wasn’t doing anything…

So, in short, Sixtus had whipped out said small, semi-automatic, and started firing it wildly in the air, occasionally at DragonGirl’s monstrous form when he got the chance, mostly just at random.

Which provided a big problem for Drew and Netic, as they crawled slowly behind a wrecked row of seats.

"You sure you can’t spare any power on this guy?" Drew grumbled.

"Even with DragonGir playing human bowling, I still have, like, ninety-something guns to hold onto. They’re mostly trying to use their pistols, yeah, but- guh!" She winced and grabbed her head. "But I think I sprained myself or something. And I’ve got this metallic taste in my mouth…"

Drew ducked as a stray bullet flew over her head. "You strained your power? Can you guys do that?"

Netic shrugged. "Don’t ask me. Next to you, I’m the new girl."

"At least he’s not shooting at us." Drew said.

And it was, of course, then that Sixtus saw them.

"HA!" He bellowed, and fired from the hip, tearing up the seats and carpet around the two girls.

"Now would be a great time to find our way under the stage!" Netic yelled.

Drew knew there should be a door on the front of the stage somewhere, an entrance to the crawlspace beneath. But unless it was being hidden by the crowd of weary thugs still trying to fight Violet, she wasn’t seeing it anywhere.

"The orchestra pit!" Netic said suddenly.

"I can’t see into it from here," Drew said, as she rolled behind a new row of seats. Sixtus clumsily opened fire, riddling the chair above her with bullets. Drew tried to flatten herself into the ground. She couldn’t move- not without risking getting shot. Netic was crouched in the row across the aisle- not much help at the moment.

A bullet richocheted from the back of a chair, and a bullet thudded into the carpet a few inches from her face. And then, there was no more firing. Just a few desperate clicking sounds, and Sixus’ curses. Netic looked over the ruined seat next to her, and saw that the man was trying, without much luck, to unload his gun and get a new clip from his jacket.

Drew looked over at Netic, and she nodded. Before Drew could respond, Netic was up, running across the seats towards Sixtus. The man tried frantically to load his new clip, but it kept coming out-

Netic tackled him and they both fell, the gun hitting the carpet. By then, Drew was already running towards the orchestra pit. She stopped at the edge, the toes of her black combat boots sticking just over the edge, and looked down quickly. The pit was empty by now- Grand Maestro Julia and her orchestra long since fled. Plenty of clear spaced for her to just hop into.

"GO!" Netic snapped from behind her. Drew jumped and turned at the same time- she caught a glimpse of Sixtus on his belly, reaching for the gun, Netic bearing down on him. She saw the gun swing upwards, and-

Drew was in the orchestra pit now, as shots rang out. Netic. What had happened to Netic? Drew thought it a little weird that she was worried so much- she had gotten used to only really caring about herself and, most times, her father. Even the friend whose house she’d stayed at before joining the Justice League, she’d never had any real attachment to her, either. So why now, why with the Justice League? Of all things, she should have been more uncomfortable- her genius wasn’t appreciated nearly as much as it should have been, and plus, she was surrounded by people whose very existence made half of the human race feel inferior. And there was always someone barking out orders- Pinzz, before she left, Studmuffin, when he’d come back for Thanksgiving, Rosma, X-Raytor…

Right. The stage door. The bomb.

Drew dashed over to the side of the stage, and looked around, shoving intruments and chairs out of her way in the process. There! She saw the top of the square door, the rest hidden behind a fallen cello. Drew shoved it… and it didn’t budge. For a moment she was confused, and then she peered into the circular hole behind the strings and discovered that the cello was, in fact, filled with rocks.

Which was very convenient for the plot- er, for the… cellist…

Drew pushed again, but the instrument wouldn’t move. She stood up and growled. She’d have to find some other way to-

Sixtus flew into the cello head first, smashing it into pieces and causing the rocks inside to drop in a pile on his closed-shaved head. Netic dropped into the orchestra pit, rubbing her upper arm. "He’s heavy." She said.

"You’re alive." Drew said, kicking some rocks out of the way.

"Er, yeah," Netic said, looking back towards the sounds of the dwindling battle. "About that… I sort of had to, um, let go of the other guns to stop this guy from shooting me, so, uh, let’s hope nobody got, like, shot or anything, huh?"

Drew nodded. "Um, sure. Here, help me get him out of the way."

They dragged Sixtus’ unconcious body away from the door, got rid of the rocks and the broken cello. Netic lifted her foot and kicked the crawlspace door in, causing a cloud of dust and and a fresh, woodchip smell. Drew looked up at Netic, and she swept her arms out at the entranceway: After you.

Drew crawled under the stage, and for a moment she could see nothing, or feel nothing, for that matter, aside from the dusty wood beneath her palms and knees. When her eyes finally adjusted to the darkness, she saw that the crawl space was not cramped at all- almost big enough for someone as short as her to stand, in fact. She moved further into the empty space, and Netic crawled in after her. Outside, they could hear Violet Princess slamming thugs against the stage.

"How long is she going to keep that up?" Netic asked irritably. Drew guessed her head ache hadn’t gone away yet.

"I need some sort of light to find the bomb," Drew said.

Netic coughed on dust. "You don’t have any gadgets for that?"

"Nope."

Netic was still for a moment. "Wait, you’re our chief technician, but you don’t even carry a flashlight around?"

"We’re at the Oscars! Why would I need a flashlight at the Oscars?"

"X-Raytor brought matches."

"Well… maybe he smokes!"

"He doesn’t smoke."

"Well… then… maybe he’s a pyro!"

"Huh. Maybe." Netic rummaged through something, and then a beam of light cut the darkness. "But me, anyway, I always carry a flashlight. Long story, including me and my mom’s last attempt at bonding by going camping."

"Just shine it over this way, okay?"

Netic frowned, but didn’t say anything. She swung the flashlight over towards Drew-

"Wait! There!" Drew said. Netic held the flashlight on a cylinder about the size of a grill. It was ringed with rivets, and a small, sunken console was on the side- the bomb. Drew scurried over to it, and Netic followed, holding the flashlight over the bomb.

"Well, it hasn’t been activated yet," Drew said.

"That’s always a good thing," Netic mumbled.

Drew tried to remove part of the bomb’s surface. "Could you get some of these rivets out for me?" She said.

Netic took a quick inventory- only about thirty of the guns she had been holding onto were still in use. The other thugs, she sensed, had moved on to knives or brass knuckles- but the others could handle that. She let go of the unused guns, and focussed as much of her power as possible on the rivets of the bomb. It was like trying to lift a barbel after spraining a muscle- the rivets twisted out slowly, and Netic’s brain pounded from the effort. Were her powers permanently like this? Was this only temporary?

The rivets shot off, nearly hitting Drew, and almost causing Netic to black out from the pain inside her head. Drew gave her a reproachful look, and then pulled a panel off of the bomb, peered inside…

"What the hell?" She said. Netic moved closer, and shined the flashlight down into the bomb, revealing- nothing. Empty space.

"What is…" She started to say.

"A fake," Drew said. "A decoy. Of course he wouldn’t put the bomb under his feet- this guy probably wants to get out alive no matter who wins."


"So where’s the real bomb?" Netic asked.

"I don’t know, can you sense it anywhere?"

Netic tried to focus in on the bomb, but all she got was a glaring headache. "No," She said. "I, uh, I don’t feel it."

Drew sighed and they crawled back into the light. One of the thugs Violet had been fighting flew into the orchestra pit, crashing into a row of chairs and landing on the still unconcious Sixtus, just as the two girls were coming out.

"Please," The thug said, looking up at them with wide eyes. "Please. Arrest me, imprison me, send me to a third world country to give old women sponge baths- just get me away from her!"

"I’d recommend lying there until this all blows over." Netic said. "Because if you do come out…" She jerked her thumb towards Violet’s ragged cursing.

The thug nodded vigorously.

"Oh, and make sure he doesn’t get up." Drew said, waving her hand at Sixtus. The thug nodded again, and then pulled a tuba over his head, trying to hide.

Netic vaulted out of the orchestra pit, and then turned to give Drew a hand. "I guess we better-"

Drew’s head came out of the orchestra pit just in time to see the magnificent sight of DragonGirl, racing upwards. For a moment, she didn’t comprehend the tiny speck that was racing towards her serpentine form, trailing gray smoke-

BOOM!

Everyone in the theater turned to look as the missile hit DragonGirl square in the side, and erupted into a ball of flame. DragonGirl let out a bone-shaking roar of outrage and pain and then slowly, ever so slowly, turned over in the air, and crashed, nose first, into the ground. Her huge body cast a shadow over the theater as it fell, but it slowly began to shrink, and the scales slowly began to melt, to be replaced by skin. By the time her body fully hit the ground, DragonGirl was human again.

"I DID IT!!!!" Magic Finger crowed, pumping his fists in the air. His middle finger was smoking. "I DID IT!!! I finally killed one of you F***S!!!!!"

Xiao, crouched behind a chair, had a full view of DragonGirl’s body. There was a large, charred hole in her side, not half as big as it should have been, but enough. A line of blood had traced itself across her cheek, from the corner of her mouth.

And meanwhile, Magic Finger cheered and rollicked like he was at a frat party.

"How badly do you want to defeat him?" Fred whispered to her.

"You wouldn’t believe," Xiao growled.

"Then let me help," Fred said. "Let me enhance your powers- just like the old days, eh?"

Xiao knew it was bad to let Fred have any sort of power, much less any control over her body. She knew that any deal she made with Fred was never exactly what it seemed, that there was always something extra in it for him. She knew this, and yet…

And yet…

"Okay." Xiao said, and that was all it took. Her shadow immediately disappeared and suddenly she felt charged. Every cell in her body was electrified, every molecule seemed to be jolting in an extreme rush of ecstasy and power! It was sex, drugs and money, all roled into one. It was the limit, the extreme ultimate! She felt like a god!

Xiao leapt to her feet. "Hey, Finger! Let’s finish this."

Magic Finger looked back at her and sneered. "Almost forgot about you. Thanks for reminding me."

Xiao’s legs tingled, and before Magic Finger even had a chance to lift his hand she was in the air. She extended one foot at lightning speed and it smacked into Magic Finger’s chest. He wheezed and stumbled back, as Xiao landed gracefully.

"You’re getting slow there Magic Finger. And do you realize how dirty your name sounds if you really think about it?"

"You-" Magic Finger whipped his hand towards her, all five fingers extended. He stopped an inch in front of her face and said, "Bang."

All five fingers erupted in machine gun fire. Xiao suddenly felt herself dodging- leaping and ducking and sidestepping at a speed she’d only ever seen Superdude reach. She felt the bullets whizzing by her, and she was close enough to smell the heat coming from Magic Finger’s finger tips.

With a growl, Magic Finger stopped, and retracted all of his fingers except his pinky and thumb. Liquid jets of yellow fire sprang from them, and Xiao thought, Up. And just like that she was in the air, flipping up and between the two streams.

Magic Finger snapped his wrist around, and the jets of fire were coming at her again. Without even thinking about it this time, Xiao changed directions in midair- simply bounced out of the way of the nearest fire jet as if she had propelled herself off of a wall. She brought the side of her left foot crashing into Magic Finger’s cheek, flipped herself over so that she was falling upside down, landed on her palms, pushed, and slammed both feet into his face. Magic Finger turned his head quick enough to avoid a broken nose, but his head snapped around, and he fell back.

"You…"

He raised his hand, middle finger extended, but Xiao didn’t even give him a chance to use whatever new weapon this was. She leapt, landed squarely on his head, and proceeded (God knows why) to do an Irish step dance.

"OW! OW! OW!" Magic Finger cried. He stumbled and fell backwards, landing flat on the carpet. Xiao had propelled herself off of his head as he fell, and landed, slamming her feet down on both of his wrists, pinning his hands down.

"You!" Magic Finger gasped. "You are dead!"

"What, you don’t want to play anymore?" Xiao asked. "After all of that ranting and yee-haing you’re going to give up now?"

"Kill you!" Magic Finger roared. "I’m going to shoot you, then burn you, then blow you up! The second I get up you are DEAD!"

"Yeah, well-" Xiao’s tongue went limp mid-sentence. She felt something, something icy and black running through her electrified body. Something-

A hand closing on her brain…

Xiao grinned with lips that we no longer under her control, showing teeth. "This is more like it." Fred said in her voice.


"Fred!" Xiao snapped, from the small corner of her mind that she’d been shoved in. "What are you doing? Let me go!"

"Not quite yet," Fred said out loud. Magic Finger looked up at her/him quizzically, and then his eyes flashed in recognition.

"The demon," He said. "I’m talking to the demon now, right?"

Fred nodded Xiao’s head. "But of course. You know what’s interesting? We’re in the exact opposite positions that we were the last time we met- you’re the prisoner, and now you’re in my power."

"Fred, what’s going on? Why are you doing this?" Xiao demanded silently.

"As I’ve been telling you all night…" Fred said, looking down at Magic Finger. His grin became shark-like.

"…I’m hungry."

**********************************************

X-Raytor and Cara were about a yard from the miniature wooden staircase and the backstage door, when three thugs, who had been hiding under the stairs since DragonGirl’s first attack, rushed out.

"End of th’ line, skinny." One of the thugs said, leering at X-Raytor.

"Could you guys, like, go back to cowering under the stairs? We’re trying to do something here." X-Raytor said.

"We weren’t cowering!" Another thug said. "We was, uh, lyin’ in wait! Yeah, that’s it!"

"Which is why you wet yourself." Cara said, pointing.

The thug jumped, and covered the dark stain on the front of his trousers. "I didn’t wet myself! I, uh, I spilled my drink!"

"Ignore them," The first thug snapped. "We’ll just let Goat handle the little shvantz."

The third, and largest, of the thugs stepped forwards. There was a chain hanging around his neck, and attached to it, metal letters spelling "GOAT." Goat sneered, and rubbed his knuckles into his palm.

X-Raytor paused for a moment, and then said, "Uh… ha! Is this the best you can do? I fight giant penguins and guys with uzis for fingers! I’m A-list, baby!"

Goat swaggered forwards. "Swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, brandish’d by man that’s of woman born. For was it not said that no man of woman born shall harm Goat? I bear a charmed life!"

X-Raytor clenched his fist and stood tall. "Despair thy charm; and let the angel whom thou still hast serv’d tell thee, Macd- er, X-Raytor was from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d!"

Goat started back, but then glared. "Acursed be that tongue that tells me so! But get thee back;" He shifted his mocking gaze in the general vicinity of Superdude and DragonGirl’s bodies, back in the main part of the theater. "My soul is too much charg’d with blood of thine already."

Rage leapt up from deep inside X-Raytor, and his fists trembled. "I have no words, my voice is in my sword- er, my laser vision, thou bloodier villain than terms can give thee out!"

"Um, you know, we did an episode about Macbeth," Cara said. "I know you guys are quoting it."

Goat gave her a dirty look, and that gave X-Raytor enough time to dash forwards and punch the big man right in the stomach. Goat barely noticed, and swiped one massive hand down at X-Raytor, narrowly missing him. X-Raytor rolled between Goat’s legs, and came up on one knee. He whipped his head around, and a pair of lasers lanced from his eyes, plowing through the side of Goat’s left knee.

Goat yelped in pain, and fell on his face with a ground-shaking thud.

The other two thugs exchanged looks, and then ran towards the theater. Cara, in true Tri-Leader fashion, innocently stuck her foot out as they ran by, causing them to trip and fall over each other. She pulled a roll of duck tape from her dress (don’t ask from where, exactly), and bound their hands. She tossed the roll to X-Raytor, and he did the same to Goat.

"Hey, um, why do you have duck tape?" X-Raytor asked hesitantly, while visions of Tails danced in his head.

"Don’t you know?" Cara said. "We’re on Orange Alert."

They both looked at the camera/reader, indicating that they’d said something ironic/satirical. X-Raytor wasn’t exactly sure what they were looking at, seeing how he, not being an actor, didn’t understand the concept of a "beat," but oh well.

"Well, thanks anyway," He said, tossing the roll back to her. "Now let’s finish this."

They raced up the stair case- which, X-Raytor noted, was really very small- only about seven wooden steps, in fact- and paused in front of the door. It was much stronger than he had first thought, X-Raytor knew that just by looking at it. He thought for a moment, and then snapped his fingers. "I’ve got it! Now, they’ll probably have some sort of power dampener thing on the door, disallowing me from blasting it open with my eyes. It’s probably bullet proof as well, so we can’t shoot it. What we have to do is sneak out the back way, take a taxi down to the train station, catch the R5 to 42nd Street, and from there take another taxi to the Sampson’s Trucks lot, where we will commandeer a bulldozer, and then drive it back here, sneak it in through the ceiling… and knock the door down! What do you think?"

Cara blinked. "Um, that’s nice and all, but why don’t you try, you know, opening it first?"

X-Raytor paused, and then leaned over, checked the space between the door and the wall and saw that it was, in fact, unlocked.

"Well, I guess that would work too…" He said. X-Raytor reached over and softly touched the bar he would have to push to open the door. Once he was sure it was working fine, he jumped up, grabbing onto the top of the doorway with his fingers.


"Stand back," He warned Cara, and once she had gone down onto the steps, he swung himself backwards as hard as he could, and as he arced back towards the door, brough his feet up-

WHAM!

X-Raytor’s feet nailed the door and it swung open. He kept his feet steady, just in time to hit the two guards on the other side of the door square in their chests. He springboarded off of them, flipped, and landed on his feet in the doorway.

"Hi, I’m here to sign up for the wet T-shirt contest!" X-Raytor said. He glanced back at Cara to see if, by some remote chance, she was interested in signing up for the wet T-shirt contest as well, when the guards- two large men in business suits, reached into their suit jackets.

"Keep it in your pants, Shorty." X-Raytor said, zapping one of the guard’s hands with a low power laser. The man gasped and grabbed his hand in pain. His pistol fell from his suit jacket and onto the floor.

"Holy mother of-" The second guard said, pulling his pistol all the way out.

"You too, slappy." X-Raytor said, and gave him a low powered laser to the hand as well. When the second gun had clattered to the floor, X-Raytor leapt up and knocked the two men’s heads together. They stumbled back, dizzy, and X-Raytor delivered another pair of non-lethal lasers to their foreheads, knocking them out.

X-Raytor stepped over the two guards and scanned the room. It looked a lot like the actual backstage must have- walls only half painted, rafters visibly lining the ceiling- but it was clearly an entirely different room. The "Backstage" sign on the door, after all, had been a decoy. X-Raytor knew that much already.

"It’s clear," He said, and Cara walked quickly through the doorway, looking around edgily. Against the far wall was a stack of TV screens, each tuned in to a different angle of the theater. X-Raytor walked up to it and saw the others, still fighting, while the number of thugs around Violet was falling very quickly. He was surprised that she hadn’t knocked them all out by now- they must have been elite thugs or something. He could also see the unconcious forms of She-Man, Loudmouth, the Silencer, and John, Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuuum!) Deborah Thompson and the camera man were still crouched behind their seats, filming the battle. X-Raytor could have sworn that he saw Deborah holding a cement cat. The Head Honcho was still on stage, but not looking even half as cocky anymore.

He turned away before he could focus on the Superdude or DragonGirl or Paper Kut.

"So…" Cara said. "What do we do?"

"I’m going to find the guy behind this," He pretended to dust off his costume. "And settle this with him."

"And, um, how will you find out who that is?"

"Easy," X-Raytor said, turning towards a dark hallway on the other side of the room. "There’s only one guy I could possibly be. Only one guy who could arrange all of this for the Head Honcho, get every detail right, even manage to get the Oscars moved to this city. Only one guy who could make sure nobody leaned against hologram walls." He stopped at the entrance of the hallway and looked back at her. "You should stay here. Get those two pistols, if you feel like you need them. I’ll be back soon."

He faded into the darkness. For what seemed like a long time, X-Raytor walked in silence, his feet barely making any sound on the wooden floor. And then, at the end of the hallway, he saw a faint glow. As he got closer, he could hear tiny noises as well, drowned out almost completely by the hum of electronics. He paused at thee end of the hallway, just outside of the new room, and then turned into the doorway.

This room was not much different from the first one, but much smaller. There was even a pile of TV screens against the far wall, still showing the grim, static-sprinkled pictures of the waning battle. But unlike in the main room, there was a man watching the screens, a single man, hunched over in his chair.

"Enjoying the show?" X-Raytor asked casually. The man jumped up and whipped around, knocking his chair over. His eyes, just as X-Raytor had imagined, were wide with fear.

It was Tony.

**********************************************

Fred smiled, and it was the first time all night that Xiao had seen Magic Finger afraid.

"You’re a very evil man, Magic Finger, aren’t you?" Fred said. "I remember when the Justice League first fought you, when you were involved in that Columbian drug cartel. You killed your boss, right? Your boss and anyone loyal to him. And, if memory serves me, you killed their families too, by, excuse the pun, your own hand. And that’s just the beginning,"

Fred sucked in air with Xiao’s mouth and let out a contented sigh. "Yes, so very, very evil. You can’t even appreciate how powerful you’re going to make me!"

Magic Finger’s brain seized up- it always did under stress. Usually, in a situation like this, the answer would present itself as easily as "Punch the Little F***er" or "Blow the Little Snot’s Head Off" or something like that. But now…

"Wh-what exactly are you going to do to me?"

"Do?" Fred repeated. "Well, if you really want to know- I’m going to use my demon powers to drill nice and deep into your soul, and then, while you’re writhing in a pain that makes anything physical feel like a hug, then I’m going to suck your life force out and absorb it. And then maybe I’ll kick your withered carcass a few times."

"Fred, don’t." Xiao said, with the slightest hint of a plea.

"Shut up, slave," Fred growled silently. "Now, with no further adieu, let’s get right to eating, shall we?"

Magic Finger’s eyes widened, and he frantically tried to aim his fingers- when WHAM!, Raven nailed Fred/Xiao from the side, carrying him/her off of Magic Finger, and throwing them to the ground.

"Er, sorry about that Xiao," Raven said. "Uh, if you’re still in there…"

"Idiot!" Fred snapped, and kicked Raven in the stomach with both feet, sending her flying.

"Gah! Crap! Sorry!" Xiao said, even though Raven wouldn’t hear her.

"Don’t interrupt me again." Fred snapped, and turned back to Magic Finger, who was climbing onto his hands and knees. "Oh, no you don’t, you-"

Raven tackled Xiao/Fred into a half-ruined row of seats, and-

Bullets! Raven ducked as another burst of fire flew over her head. She turned around to see Magic Finger, on his knees, aiming his middle finger at her. Raven back flipped over the next burst, and landed behind Magic Finger. She concentrated on her molecules, let them slider further apart and then, when she was completely intangible, shoved her hand into Magic Finger’s head.

"I’d recommend lowering the finger," She warned. "I materialize, you die."

Magic Finger slowly lowered his hand. Raven was about to give another order when her vision blurred… as a hand passed through her own insubstantial head.

"Two can play at this dreary game, my dear." Said a voice from behind her.

Fred.

"You materalize, you die too. Now, please remove your hand from Mr. Finger’s head."

Reluctantly, Raven pulled her hand out of Magic Finger’s head. Fred pulled Xiao’s hand out as well, and Raven immediately became solid again. Before she could attack, though, Fred grabbed the back of her armor with pure demon strength, hefted her up, and tossed her as hard as possible. She landed with a crash a few rows down.

"Now, where were we?" Fred said. He turned back to Magic Finger- and took a bullet in the shoulder.

Fred/Xiao stumbled back, Xiao’s blood coming out in dark streaks.

"Good work, ‘Evil King’ Fred!" Xiao snapped.

Fred didn’t respond, but, suddenly, Xiao felt her shoulder begin to reform. The blood coursed back into the hole and the ripped flesh swirled and swirled around, until, finally, the wound was covered. A bullet dropped to the ground, still dark and wet with blood. As Xiao watched in amazement, her costume grew over the hole the bullet had made in it and- voila! She was healed.

"Wow."

"And I’ll be able to do much better than that," Fred said. "Once I’ve absorbed our good friend Magic Finger."

"Like hell!" Magic Finger said, and raised his hand again. This time, though, Fred brought Xiao’s foot up swiftly, the tip of her boot smashing into Magic Finger’s fingers. The supervillain cursed and grasped his fingers.

"That hurt." He snarled, and raised his hand again. Fred smiled nonchalantly down at it.

Something clicked, and Magic Finger’s hand exploded. For a moment, he didn’t quite comprehend it, and he stared at the black blood coursing from the ragged stump which had been a third of his palm. From the stump, Xiao could see metal protruding- the real source of Magic Finger’s weapons. And it was then that it seemed to hit him:

"Ooooooooh Chr- Chriiiiiiiiist!" He wailed, and doubled over, clutching the bloody stump, gurgling in pain.

Oh my, did I knock something out of whack when I kicked you?" Fred asked with mock concern. "How inconsiderate of me! Here, let me take all of that pain away from you."

Magic Finger looked up at him, his face a mask of absolute agony. "W… gkk… why?"

Fred sighed. "How many times do I have to tell you people? I’m-"

"Let me guess…" A voice said, as the metal part of a theater chair came crashing down on Fred/Xiao’s head. He/she stood stunned for a moment, and then fell forwards.

"… ‘You’re hungry.’" Raven said, dropping the piece of chair. She nudged Xiao’s unconscious form with her foot, and then moved over to the badly bleeding Magic Finger.

"Oh please… uk… oh-guhh- oh please… help me." He managed.

"I should just leave you like this," Raven snapped. "Leave you bleeding on the floor, just like DragonGirl."

Magic Finger’s eyes widened once through the pain. "N-no… please, I- uuuuh- I- please?"

Raven tore off a large part of Magic Finger’s sleeve and bound his bleeding arm with it. Then, once she was sure she had stopped the flow of blood, she none-too-gently knocked him out before he could grovel anymore. She was about to turn and try to wake up Xiao, but that’s when something started to happen onstage…

**********************************************

Tony Norgate flew through the wall of TVs, and they fell around him- screens shattering, backs breaking open as their electronic innards spilled out. There was broken glass in his leg, he could feel it, but-

X-Raytor reached down and hauled Tony up again. In his grasp, the bastard looked so small, so timid and weak. X-Raytor almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

He hurled Tony at the nearest wall, and watched in satisfaction as he smacked into it and slid down.

"P-please," Tony moaned from on the ground. "I d-didn’t d-do anything! I sw-swear!"

"Shut up!" X-Raytor snapped, kicking him in the ribs. He stepped back, and watched as Tony tried to struggle to his feet.

"Head of protocal," X-Raytor spat. "You little bastard- you were the detail man, weren’t you? You fixed everything up for your boss, huh? Trashed the Kodak Theater, suggested they move the show here, made sure no one leaned against the holograms. I wouldn’t be surprised if you helped the architects add in those two extra wings!"

"I-it wasn’t my f-fault!" Tony said as he got to his feet. "Th-the Head H-Honcho, he m-made me! He thr-threatened m-me…"

"Shut up!" X-Raytor raged, and punched Tony in the side of the head, sending him into a half-stumble, half-escape.

"You pathetic little zero," X-Raytor hissed as he walked steadily behind Tony. Tony tried to put his chair between them, but X-Raytor batted it aside. "You worthless little nothing!"

Tony tried to break into a run, but X-Raytor reached out and grabbed him by the back of his tuxedo. He spun him around and held him by the collar. There was blood running down Tony’s cheek, onto his bow tie, and his black hair was a mess.

"You little s***!" X-Raytor practically screamed. "Why shouldn’t I just kill you, huh? Why the f*** shouldn’t I snap your f***ing neck?!"

"I-"

"Two Justice Leaguers, two good people, died tonight because of you! Two of them, and maybe more before this is over. And what are you? What are you?!" Before Tony could respond, X-Raytor drew back and punched him in the face as hard as possible, sending the small man sprawling to the floor.

"NOTHING!" X-Raytor roared. "You’re NOTHING! Nobody! And because of you, two of us are dead, you worthless little S***!!!

"Please…" Tony said from on the floor, sobbing now. "Please, j-just leave m-me alone…"

"Get up." X-Raytor said, his voice low.

"P-please…"

"GET UP!" X-Raytor bellowed, and kicked Tony right below his eye. Tony howled in pain, but obeyed and quickly stood up. X-Raytor immediately grabbed him by the collar and drove him back into the nearest corner.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you!" X-Raytor snapped. "One good reason!"

"I d-didn’t-"

"Wrong answer!" X-Raytor said, and backhanded Tony. "Now, you sniveling little s***, answer my question!"

"Fine! Fine! You’re right! It’s all my fault!" Tony screamed. "I set it all up and everything! I- I wanted the money. I w-w-w-wanted to be somebody!"

"You… you wanted to be somebody?" X-Raytor repeated slowly.

"I-it wasn’t personal, I-I swear," Tony sobbed. "Please, please don’t kill me! I d-don’t want t-to die!"

And just like that, Tony lost his last shred of calm. "I DON’T WANT TO DIE! I DON’T WANT TO DIE!" He shrieked. His hands flailed out, grasping at X-Raytor, groping, feebly hitting him.

"I! DON’T! WANT! TO! DIE!"

Tony’s hands clamped onto X-Raytor’s mask, and in desperation he pulled- and X-Raytor’s mask slid easily off of his head, leaving his face bare, exposed.

My face…

X-Raytor’s eyes, now naked in the room, grew as big as Tony’s. Tony looked slowly from the mask, to X-Raytor’s face, back to the mask…

And everything that had been bottled up, not just from today, not just from this morning, but everything from the past four years, came spilling out.

He saw Cara. He saw Cara and their entire, awkward meeting. Too nervous too tense nothing right to say what was he doing? Had it really been this long? Had it-

He saw Neary- Pinzz. He saw the social, the togas, the musical numbers, the streaking- all of it flashing through his mind in dark, but hot red, bursts.

He saw the agents. M.O.R.P.H.Z. They knew- they knew everything. They knew what he was, what he’d done- but of course of course of course of c- watching him? Watching him, knowing him, knowing everything, messages and messages within circles within circles within-

Stop it! X-Raytor raged at himself, but it was like screaming at a flash flood.

He saw the Green Penguin. Uncle Bubba, mutant, hug, snow ball, blood, blood is thicker than- blood, green, "chocolate is harmful to-" penguins "-are aqua-", alive, dead, coming, gone, into the river, killed his uncle, killed his- but would it be better if he were ali-

Stop! Stop it stop it STOP IT! Get a grip, damn it!

And then, of course, he saw the Justice League. Superdude bleeding and DragonGirl, dead, all of them, dead. Oreo Avenger and Raven and Violet Princess and Rosma and Xiao and Studmuffin and OMEGA and Eric and Isomorphix and Neomatrix and Scarlett and Scarlett and Scarlett and where was Scarlett Fyre, and Crystal Freeze and Midnight Chatter and Twisk and Netic and Drew and-and-and Super Shibes-and- and Firehop- and-and- and the Shocker and

And- he- and-and-his name-and-and-and Insipid Justice and-and-

Andandandandandandandandand AND the unpronouncable name, the name they didn’t say, the name they weren’t- they didn’t- She Who Must Not Be Named, she- she-she-she-

Please, He begged himself. Please, please stop. You have to-

Night. Asphalt, wet with rain. Red lights, silence. Why?

And then. And then.

Just let it come. He told himself. This is what you have to face. Just let it come, man.

"That girl." She- "that girl." Still alive. Still human? Called her a girl- "that- what? "That girl."

No. No. He needed to say her name.

Ebony.

Ebony DeSantos. House in ashes, framed photograph, broken, charred- green? "It’s okay. It’s okay. We don’t have to now. We can just, you know, sit here. Okay? James?" All his fault, all his fault, oh all all all-

You were right! You were right and I’m sorry and I loved you! I did! I j- I couldn’t handle what happened. But you were right, okay? YOU WERE RIGHT!

And everything was swirling around him, images and smells and sounds and emotions, all swirling, whipping past him, too fast, much too fast and, at the same time, agonizingly slow.

Cara. Neary. She Who Must Not Be Named. Ebony.

He turned to jelly. He felt elated and aching and ashamed all at once.

The Green Penguin. M.O.R.P.H.Z. Dr. Lansky. Paper Kut. Magic Finger. The Head Honcho. Tony.

He turned to stone. His blood was molten but his muscles were paper. He was so enraged, so weak, so energized by the hatred that he could barely move he was so strong so weak and he couldn’t even keep it up.

He loved them all. He hated them all. He wanted to kiss Magic Finger and roast Neary. He wanted to lose himself completely in Cara, and gut Dr. Lansky. He wanted to embrace them all, former/current loves and enemies alike, and then crush them. He wanted to break his heart and then build it up again with their blood, make it rock, make it crystal, make it steel, make it… make it a door. A passage. Gaping, inviting, exposing, foreboding. Build it up again, make a tower and become a-

Man.

It was all his fault. Everything had always been his fault, and no matter how much other people screwed up his life by hating (or loving) him, he screwed it up even more. He was human. He was superhuman. He was a worm.

John.

James.

X-Raytor.

X-Raytor…

And he remembered- he remembered, two years ago, going to church with Scarlett, pretending to be a boyfriend to make some guy on the choir jealous or something. He never went to church, but he remembered going along with Scarlett’s sit-com-esque plan, wanting to go along with it for whatever reason, and he remembered, remembered the choir singing:

And I will breathe in

That mighty wind of justice,

I’ll know my name,

And rise up singing.

And a name was what gave power, and a name was what gave nothing, and therein lies the sweet spunkie’s game, I’ll give you a go at guessin’ my name, and he would know his name, and he would rise up and know and know and know his name.

JohnJamesEbonyNearyCaraOreoAvengerRavenVioletPrincessScarlettFyreRosmaGalakXiaoDragonGirlCrystalFreezeTwiskNeticDrewStudmuffinEric
OMEGASuperdudeMidnightChatterIsomorphixNeomatrixSuperShibesFirehopShockerInsipidJusticeMorganWallRuskeyGreenPenguinPaperKutMagic
FingerSheManFerretLoudMouthSilencerJohnLordofDarkness(DumDumDuuuuuum)BoPowersHeadHonchoTony-

X-Raytor. His name was X-Raytor.

And suddenly he was back, back in the room, still exchanging shocked looks with Tony. But now, now it was different, X-Raytor was different. Because now, he had faced it. He had acknowledged it. He had seen everything that made his life the irreversible nightmare it was, and there were tears streaming down his face.

So many people to love. So many people to hate. How was he suppposed to live like ths?

Tony. The insistent voice called in the back of his head.

Yes. Tony. Tony the worm. Tony the murderer.

Tony, who had taken his mask. Tony, whose eyes were roaming all over his naked face, undoubtedly absorbing every detail, every curve, every bruise and blemish. He was, after all, the detail man.

He knew his face. He knew his identity, his secret. X-Raytor was exposed, naked before Tony, just like all of those girls, more than he could ever count, just- just like Ebony. Bare, vulnerable, opened. How many, how many besides her had been mutated? How many were still human? And if they were- if she was- did they ache with helpless rage when they found out why, when they found out how powerless they had been? Did they feel the same impotent (impotent), self-hating rage that he did now? Had they wanted to kill him, to beat him, to tear his searching eyes out and smash them so that he’d never, ever be able to look at them- at him- exposed and helpless ever again?

So many people to love. So many people to hate. And there was only one thing left to do.

X-Raytor fired a pair of lasers at point blank range into Tony Norgate’s face. His face, the front of his skull and two-thirds of his brain were vaporized before he had a chance to scream. What remained of his head- which looked, to X-Raytor, revoltingly similar to an almost-hollowed out pumpkin- was dark and red.

Tony’s body fell to the floor.

X-Raytor looked down, almost not comprehending. And then he doubled over and threw up all over the floor. He vomited until there was nothing left and then dry heaved for the next thirty seconds.

"Oh God," He moaned, coughing. "God!"

X-Raytor gingerly picked up his mask and slid it down over his face. There. Hidden again, no longer exposed. But the mask felt so cheap now, so fake now that his real face had been uncovered.

He tried to shove everything that happened into the back of his mind, and some things- somethings he had been suppressing for a long time, and they went down easily. Others kept looming off to the side, waiting. And Tony Norgate was still dead on the floor.

But his head was clearer now, and he felt like himself again. His own depressed, angry, weak, but oh-so-sexy self.

X-Raytor stood, and turned around. It was then that he saw Cara standing at the entrance of the room, her eyes wide with horror and disgust. X-Raytor froze inside. Had she seen him? Had she seen him shoot Tony after beating him senseless? Or had she just walked in now?

X-Raytor looked from her to the body, and then down at his own suit. There were spots of Tony’s blood all over the white X on his chest.

"This," He finally said. "Is what’s bad about being a super hero."

**********************************************

Violet Princess twisted the last thug’s already broken nose, and threw him on the floor. He started to get up but she made a fist, extended her middle finger half way, and rammed the knuckle into the back of his neck, just behind and underneath his ear. The man fell flat and stayed there.

Dusting her purple skirt off, she finally turned and faced the Head Honcho. Surprisingly, the sleaze hadn’t run off, even though his thugs were losing very, very badly. But he sure as hell wasn’t smirking anymore.

"Just you and me now, you low-cocked, dinkless wonder!" She said, grinning hellishly.

The Head Honcho calmly stuck out his hand and knocked the podium aside. It went down easily- there was a lot more muscle under that tuxedo than he was showing. He clenched his fists and looked at her levelly.

"Fine. You want to do this, let’s do it."

Violet bunched the muscles in her legs and leapt onto the stage, landing a foot in front of the Head Honcho. He took a step back with his right foot, and then brought it forwards again. He clasped his arms behind his back and locked eyes with her.

"You think you’re a tough guy?" Violet snapped. "I’ll show you how tough you are, you spineless sack of-"

She swung at his aggravatingly calm face, and about an inch away her fist stopped. And, suddenly, it was like someone had opened a cap in her hand and poured acid into it- a burning, and wildly, painfully thrilling sensation raged down her arm, through her veins, up until-

Violet gasped, and pulled her hand away. Her entire right arm was numb, with the exception of her wrist which screamed with blue agony.

"Force field belt," The Head Honcho said. "Really, you should have been expecting that."

"Well," Violet said, trying to ignore the aching in her arm. "Thanks for enlightening me."

She reached inside and called on the power that the majikal jinni had given her years ago, and focussed on the Head Honcho’s belt. The belt seemed to become a purple haze and then, with an almighty poof!, it turned into… Richard Simmons! Naked! And wrapped around the Head Honcho’s waist!

The Head Honcho shrieked and tore the terrifying aerobics instructor off and threw him onto the stage floor. It hit the ground- a belt once again.

Just as the Head Honcho realized it had been an illusion, Violet tackled him, dragging them both to the floor.

"Conceited bastard!" She yelled, and decked him. The Head Honcho’s head snapped to the side, and he tried frantically to get up. Violet Princess shoved him back down and punched him again.

"Get off me! Off!" The Head Honcho roared.

"How dare you look like Brad!" Violet said. "You don’t have the manhood to be Brad! You don’t even have the manhood to be John!"

"Whoa, hey, that’s a little harsh…" The Head Honcho said.

"So’s this." Violet rammed her fist into his perfectly formed nose, smashing it. Blood began to trickle from his nostrils.

Violet grinned and it was a maniacal, predatory grin. Her purple hair was dishevelled, hanging all over her face. Her eyes were slitted with cruel, vengeful pleasure.

"Lying piece of crap!" She raged, and punched him again. "I’m going to feed you your spleen, you f***! I’m going to tear off what little manhood you have and feed it to the rats while you watch! Who’s suave now, ‘Brad’? Who’s suave NOW?!"

"I’m warning-" The Head Honcho turned his head to the side and spit out blood. "I’m warning you- get off me."

"Not a chance, sunshine," Violet said, raising her fist agajn.

"Have it your way then." He said, and it was then that Violet felt the blunt metal poke into her stomach…

The shot echoed in her head for the next thirty seconds, and then she half stood, hands out on either side, looking down-

I got-

"You weak pig," She said, and everything sounded very fuzzy and strange. What was-? "You can’t even fight an unarmed girl? You need a gun?"

And then it occurred to her- I’m bleeding- and her right hand feebly moved to cover the messy, leaking hole in her stomach… she dropped onto her side, her legs rolling casually off of the Head Honcho. She watched, eyes unable to close, as he stood up, dusted himself off. The sound was fading, her eyesight itself was fading out, but she couldn’t go yet, no, no, she still had to- she had-

The Head Honcho reached into his breast pocket and produced the detonator. He winked at Violet Princess, and then placed his thumb over the red button.

Violet was slipping, and God, she didn’t want to, she wanted to hang on for as long as she could- but there was only one thing that she could do now. She called on as much power as she could muster and focused it as she never had before, every cell screaming to form and mold not just an illusion, but real, hard matter, out of thin air. She felt the molecules in the amphitheater air grow closer together, bonds snap on between them, and with the hand of her mind, she formed it, smoothing curves and flattening and bending. Everything was fading much, much faster now- rushed by the effort.

And then, suddenly, she let go.

An iron anvil- an actual, solid iron anvil, not an illusion- dropped on the Head Honcho’s head with a satisfyingly wet sound. His face registered shock for a moment, and then the detonator slipped from his fingers and he dropped.

Violet watched him it the floor, and the anvil slam down after him, and she forced her face muscles to produce one last smile. Her eyes slowly slid closed, and didn’t open.

The amphitheater was dead silent. The remaining Justice Leaguers and thugs alike stood, unmoving, not saying a word. The silence was only broken when X-Raytor burst through the door at the back of the right wing, Cara in tow. He saw the strange cease fire and walked slowly back to the theater. Anyone who saw him knew exactly when he looked at the stage, because he stopped dead, staring.

For what seemed like an eternity, no one moved, no one spoke, no one breathed. And then, suddenly, X-Raytor dropped. He fell on his butt, hard, and stayed there.

"Oh Christ," Rosma said. Violet’s blood had pooled around her by now, reflecting the stage lights.

"I-it’s over." Midnight Chatter said. And then, with more finality, "It’s over."

"Now hold on a second there, shorty," Someone said. The Justice Leaguers turned, wearily, to look at the tall, bald thug who had spoken. "You think we’re just gonna let you haul us off to jail now?"

The other thugs murmured in agreement, and stepped up behind the bald man. More than a few of them had retrieved their rifles. Netic moaned and held her head and the thugs grinned. They leveled their guns.

"Looks like we win after all," The bald man said.

"Then do it already," X-Raytor snapped. He stood up, stalked past the other Justice Leaguers, and stopped in front of the nearest thug. He grabbed the barrel of the man’s rifle and shoved it into his forehead. "Come on, do it. Do it!"

Cara’s eyes were wide, and words caught in Oreo Avenger’s throat. Why stop him, after all? What difference would it make.

"Listen to the man," The bald thug said, sneering. "Kill him. Kill ‘em all."

BOOM!

A chunk of the ceiling of the Norton Amphitheater exploded, and both sides scattered as the debris rained down. Everyone except X-Raytor who had wrenched the rifle from the thug’s hand and then smashed it into the man’s face, knocking him down to join the pile of unconscious and/or dead(?) thugs on the floor. A chunk of plaster hit his shoulder and X-Raytor let the rifle drop. "Sorry," He muttered to the unconscious man, and turned slowly to join the others. A piece of metal support beam smashed into the ground where he had been a moment before.

"What the hell is this?" Raven demanded.

There was another explosion, and another enormous hole was ripped into the ceiling. Finally, another explosion, directly in the center of the previous two, and the space between them collapsed, creating one, giant hole.

Police helicopters sank into the theater, propellers stirring up the debris, causing previously unconscious thugs to wake and scatter. Followed by the police helicopters were two large army choppers, each one with its side doors open, revealing dozens of troops.

Standing in the door of the first of the two choppers was Isomorphix.

The helicopters set down on top of the debris, and the propellers slowed until they were only a dull roar. Isomorphix hopped from his about a foot from the ground, katana drawn. The soldiers dropped from behind him and spread out all over the theater, surrounding the thugs.

"We were just about to surrender, I swear!" The bald man said as he put his hands on his head.

Police surrounded each of the unconscious super villains, taking precautions to block off the source of each ones powers, or take away their weapons. Military paramedics tended to Magic Finger’s hand and She-Man’s leg.

"Looks like the cavalry’s here!" Midnight Chatter said. No one smiled.

Suddenly, Crystal’s eyes popped open, and she opened her mouth to say something-

Everyone in the theater stopped as the Head Honcho struggled to his feet. There was blood running down his forehead and the dazed look on his face was proof enough of the damage Violet’s anvil had caused. He stumbled forwards, despite the orders from the military and police to surrender, and his hand closed greedily over something on the floor. He stood up quickly and held the detonator aloft for everyone to see. His thumb arced over the button-

A single gun shot rang out, and a red hole appeared in the Head Honcho’s chest. He looked down at it, mouth open in disbelief, and then another shot caught him in the midsection. He looked up at the theater, like he wanted to make sure that they all saw it too. Then, with a final gasp of confusion, he fell to his knees, and then onto his face.

It hadn’t been one of the police, or one of the soldiers, or the Justice Leaguers or even one of the thugs.

It was Bo Powers.

Somehow, despite his size, Bo Powers had remained hidden through the entire battle, presumably down in his first row seats. Now he stood, his tuxedo rumpled, a smoking pistol in his hand. He holstered it, and then turned calmly back to the police.

"He had a bomb." Bo explained. "I had to."

"We’ve located the bomb," Isomorphix said. A demolition crew should be over right now to defuse it."

"Iso!" Rosma yelled running up to him. "Holy- where were you? Thank you! Christ- how did you do all of this?"

"I have my ways," Isomorphix said cryptically, as he sheathed his katana.

"Did you get the Super Model Clones?" Eric asked.

Isomorphix nodded. "We needed to bring in the entire female population of the police force, but we were able to subdue them. In the meantime, I see you handled this all pretty well by yourselves."

"Not really," Oreo Avenger said, running a hand wearily through her hair. "Three of us died. And then some."

"Three…?" Isomorphix said. "Who?"

"Superdude. Dragon Girl. Violet." Crystal said. She didn’t look up the entire time, she just kept staring at her hand, at her hand…

"Violet." Isomorphix repeated, and he looked up at the stage.

"You saved our butts, man," Eric said. "And you got the police to actually do something. Nice job."

"Yeah, great job, Iso," X-Raytor spat. He was sitting on the back of one of the few unharmed chairs. His arms were folded over his chest. "You sure took your time getting here, huh?"

"I’ve been unconscious on the back lawn for a while." Isomorphix said levelly. "Perhaps I would have been up earlier if one of you had taken notice of that."

X-Raytor was up, and shoved Midnight Chatter away as he tried to get between the two. "You know what Iso? You think you’re such a f***ing hard ass- if you had been here a few minutes earlier, Violet would still be alive. Not that you care anyway- you know how much she liked you, don’t you? And you just turned your nose up at her, you arrogant son of a bitch!"

"Enough." Isomorphix snapped, and X-Raytor sagged. Isomorphix sighed. "There’s enough blame to go around."

"Yeah," X-Raytor said. "I-listen. Sorry. You saved our asses, man."

"I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier." Isomorphix said.

"Not your fault man,"

"Hmm."

X-Raytor sighed and rubbed his hand over his face- his mask. "Um, listen, I really need to, like, go sit by myself for a second. Could you guys make sure no one, like…" He trailed off.

"Sure," Raven said. X-Raytor nodded, and walked down to the orchestra pit. He waited until the soldiers had hauled Sixtus and the other thug out, and then sat down, feet dangling over the edge.

"I’ll go… you know…" Cara said, and then walked over to X-Raytor.

"He’s just upset," Rosma said to Isomorphix, and she barely noticed that her cheeks were wet. "You know he- he doesn’t really deal with this stuff well. And he, well, you know, he had sort of a… thing… for, um, for her."

Isomorphix didn’t meet Rosma’s eyes. "I know."

**********************************************

Xiao sat up with a splitting headache, but the knowledge that she was free more than made up for it. With the help of two soldiers, she got to her feet. She thanked them, turned to walk over to the other Justice Leaguers when she heard Fred say: "He was my kill."

"Cry about it," Xiao said. "You think I care right now?"

"She stole him from me," Fred insisted. "They stole him from me."

"Listen, Fred," Xiao snapped. "You used me to almost suck the life force out of a man. I am not going to pity you!"

"Never talk to me like that again," Fred growled. "I am your master! I am your king! I-"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re the Grand High Poobah Lord of Darkness (Dum Dum Duuuuum!), blah blah blah. Raven knows about this- you know that- so now they’ll know to watch out for it, to prevent you from doing it again."

"Again?" Fred repeated and laughed coldly. "You think they’re going to just accept this? You think they’re going to just let you go?"

"Of course," Xiao said. "It’s not like I actually did kill anybody."

"Not tonight you didn’t." Fred said, and Xiao felt something cold run up her spine. She caught a flash, a scream-

Without another word, Xiao turned and walked back towards the others. Fred hung back for a moment, hands bent into grudging claws, and then he followed fluidly after her.

**********************************************

At the orchestra pit, Cara stood next to X-Raytor, as he swung his legs back and forth, back and forth.

"Are you going to be okay?" She asked.

X-Raytor stopped swinging for a moment, and then looked up at her. His triangular eye pieces seemed almost helpless. He looked back at the theater, where the others were talking to Isomorphix, Xiao hanging back, where the super villains (minus John- who had somehow slipped away in the chaos) were led off in handcuffs or- in Magic Finger and She-Man’s case- on stretchers. Oreo Avenger stood, looking down at Paper Kut’s body as the military paramedics threw a sheet over him, and put him on a stretcher of his own. Superdude and DragonGirl got the same treatment. Recovering thugs covered every inch of the floor, all being carefully watched over by soldiers. Some thugs did not stand up- and they wouldn’t. X-Raytor saw a team of soldiers and cops going into the "Backstage" door. He wondered what they would think when they saw Tony.

"You know what," He said. "I really don’t know."

Cara was silent for a moment, and then said, "Listen, they’re going to be worried, back on set. I need to get over there and let them know I’m all right. Are you going to be okay for tonight?"

X-Raytor was silent for a moment, and then answered "Yeah."

"Okay," She said, paused, and then said, "Okay then. I’ll, um, I’ll… you know."

"Yeah," X-Raytor said, looking back down into the orchestra pit. "Goodnight."

Cara bit her lip. "Goodnight." She said, and then hurried out of the theater. X-Raytor clasped his hands together and stared into them.

"I don’t know," He said.

**********************************************

The Justice Leaguers stood around, not saying or doing much, all lost in thought. Even Eric and Midnight Chatter and Pinzz were silent. A man in a military uniform walked up and saluted Isomorphix. Isomorphix returned the salute. "Lieutenant-Colonel Larsen- how goes it?"

Lieutenant-Colonel Larsen shrugged. "About as good as it could be, I guess. We’re still having a hell of a time keeping the press from swarming the place, but the area is secure." He jerked his thumb over towards Deborah Walters and her camera man, who were talking with a soldier. "They’re probably gonna get an Emmy for this."

"I guess," Twisk said, and then swallowed. "I guess this is really big."

Lieutenant-Colonel Larsen shook his head. "Like you wouldn’t believe. All of the big wigs are here- Captain Olston and Major Collins are here and General Doubleday should be arriving any minute- they said Berenson was even on call to be here!"

"Did they find the bomb?" Drew asked quickly.

Larsen looked down. "The bomb has been successfully diffused, but, well, my boys found something else back there. One of yours, actually."

X-Raytor, who had been walking back from the orchestra pit went rigid. "What?"

"The, uh, the guy… OMEGA, that’s it. He- they found his body. It looks like he- they said his head was…" Larsen ran a hand over his forehead. "I’m sorry, this is just- I can’t believe anyone would do this. Here."

Up on stage, X-Raytor saw a pair of paramedics load the Head Honcho’s body on a stretcher, Bo Powers hovering nearby. They rolled the stretcher out of the building.

"What’s the, um, what’s the casualty count so far?" Crystal asked.

Lieutenant-Colonel Larsen cleared his throat. "Eighty-two enemy troops are confirmed dead, as well as two civilians up on the balcony. Plus, um, plus the four fatalities in your group. And the giant squirrel…"

"Paper Kut." Oreo Avenger said softly.

"Yes. And the ringleader, as you saw. Oh! And a man with the driver’s license and ID of the head of protocol here was found in some sort of bunker back stage. They say his face is really a mess and no one knows what happened…"

X-Raytor looked down at the carpet.

"So that’s…" Pinzz did the math quickly in her head. "Ninety one? About there?"

"Yes, ma’am." Larsen said.

"Huh. Out of a thousand something, that ain’t half bad."

X-Raytor and the others were silent.

"Well, I need to go conduct this clean up," Larsen said. "Thank you all, for all you’ve done."

"Thank you, Lieutenant-Colonel," Isomorphix said, and saluted. Larsen returned the salute and left.

"Come on!" Pinzz said. "Cut the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ crap! We won, damn it!"

The others were silent as Pinzz looked at each of them expectantly, and even a bit accusingly. Finally, X-Raytor looked up and met her gaze. He held it for a moment, and then spoke two words:

"Did we?"

**********************************************

The man, who bore a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt, threw the red-stained jacket from his tuxedo onto the floor, and stomped on it.

"God DAMN IT!" The Head Honcho raged. His anger was amplified, Bo Powers thought, by the soft yellow light of the office. That and the two "bullet holes" in his chest.

"It was all planned out! All of it! I should have won!" He tore off his tie, and threw it on the ground as well.

"I really am sorry, boss." Bo Powers said.

The Head Honcho stopped his temper tantrum and gave Bo a poisonous look. "Oh, I’m sure you are. I bet you just loved getting to shoot me, huh? Forget the fact that I might not have been wearing my bullet-proof vest. Or have the blood packets in the lining of my shirt."

"I know you better than that, boss," Bo said cordially, but he was, really, annoyed by his boss’ carping. Bo had saved his ass- pretending to kill him so that their hired paramedics could get him out of the building.

The Head Honcho rubbed the large lump on his head. "The only good thing that comes from this is that the authorities now think I’m dead. That and we took out four Justice League members."

"Four?" Bo Powers repeated.

The Head Honcho shrugged. "OMEGA blew himself up in the back halls."

"Oh."

"And not just that," The Head Honcho’s face contorted with rage and pain again. "And not just that, but we lost Tony! Tony! Our best bridge to award shows, and our only connection to the Academy."

"With all due respect, boss, you do have other operatives…"

"With all due respect, huh?" The Head Honcho snapped. "Don’t suck up to me, Bo, it doesn’t become you. Although it really should now- after all I’ve done for you… to fail me like that!"

"I saved you!" Bo exclaimed.

"Did I say I wanted to be saved?" The Head Honcho snapped. "You don’t do anything until I give you the order, do you understand? You belong to me, tubby, and the next time you royally f*** things up, like you did tonight, you will pray that you had just become a lawyer. Anything that doesn’t work efficiently should be scrapped. Remember that, Bo."

The Head Honcho turned to leave the room, walked across the carpet to the large double doors. Bo’s hands were trembling, and suddenly he snatched the pistol in his hand, aimed it at the back of the Head Honcho’s head, and pulled on the trigger slightly, so very, very slightly…

No.

Bo let his hand drop and, full of self-conscious anger, set the pistol quietly on the table. The Head Honcho, not seeing any of this, made a final video check that the hallways were safe.

"Goodnight, Bo," he said gruffly, pushing the door open and walking out.

Bo glared at sat down at his desk. The shadows pooled on the pistol. He looked at it for a very long time…

**********************************************

The Justice Leaguers got back to the Hall late that night. Isomorphix joined them in the limo, but four places were uncomfortably left open- reserved for people who wouldn’t be going home with them again. The ride was silent, and after the limo had pulled away, they stood on the lawn, no one looking at anyone else.

It was Twisk who finally spoke. "We need help."

Raven glanced over at her, but no one else responded.

"We all need some serious f***ing therapy," Twisk said, and her voice almost broke.

"I just want to go away," X-Raytor muttered.

There was another long pause. And then Raven said. "I’m going to go lie in my bed until I pass out."

"I’m going to go inside, cry, and then eat until I pass out," Oreo Avenger said.

"Can I join you?"

"Sure."

"I think," Midnight Chatter said, "I think I’ll go find Scarlett." He turned and walked towards the hangar. By the time he pulled down the road in the Justice Van, the others had already gone inside.

**********************************************

And Midnight Chatter did, indeed, find Scarlett.

**********************************************

X-Raytor locked the door to his room, and flicked the lights on. He rocked back on his heels, let his back touch the door, and then slid down until he was in a sitting position. Everything hurt- there was this knot in his stomach that kept turning over and over and he wanted to just tear it out, but he couldn’t. The pain wasn’t something you could escape from. And he knew that even if he did tear his stomach out, the hole would look just like the gaping remains of Tony Norgate’s head, red and dark and red…

He squeezed his eyes together, but nothing came out. He’d been out of tears or a while now. Out of tears. Yeah, just like that Rolling Stones song…

I won’t cry when you say goodbye,

I’m out of tears.

I won’t die when you wave goodbye,

I’m out of tears,

Out of tears.

Yeah, just like that. He couldn’t let the tears out, the pain out, the love out. It was all trapped inside him- no. No- he was trapped inside with it. But it wasn’t like there was no way out, no way to escape. There was one very good, very definite way to get out.

And in the first moment of clarity all night, X-Raytor knew what to do.

He got up and walked into the hallway. No one bothered him as he walked casually up to the bathroom, and locked himself inside. X-Raytor stopped in front of the mirror and looked directly into his mask, directly into the aggressive, triangular-eye pieces. He stared for a long time and then, his hand shaking, he reached up and pulled the mask off. He looked at himself for the first time in a long time- really looked at himself. His shoddily cut brown hair, his hooded blue eyes, the thin, pale line that was his mouth.

And Cara and Neary and Ebony and Tony and the Green Penguin and Violet and Superdude and DragonGirl and OMEGA… they all stared back out at him, from the blackness of his pupils. The tiny reflections of the dead Justice Leaguers nodded smugly.

X-Raytor shifted and he felt the bruises all over his body. They stung when he moved, and each sting was glorious- almost sacramental in the exquisite reality of pain. More people were dead because of him than he could ever count. More people were living in hell because of him than he ever wanted to know.

…And he remembered finding the rat, trapped in his uncle’s basement, trapped and already half dead. He remembered bringing it to Uncle Bubba, and he had looked him straight in the eye and told him that everything, even rats, deserved to fly just once. And he remembered how Uncle Bubba had led him up onto the roof of his huge house, and Uncle Bubba had murmured a little prayer and then hurled the dying rat off the roof. He remembered the way it had opened up when it hit the driveway, a mere foot away from his uncle’s sports car. He remembered the red and Uncle Bubba gigglng and agreeing to keep it "their little secret." And…

X-Raytor didn’t put the mask back on. He clutched it in his fist, and walked back to his room. Again he closed the door, again he locked it.

But this time he walked to the window. There was still a large hole in it, from where the one M.O.R.P.H.Z. agent, Ruskey, had shot it. The cool night air wafted in, and X-Raytor’s exposed face felt chilly.

The window was right in front of him…

A rat, twisting and dying and falling all at the same time. A penguin, hurtling over the top of a bridge and down to the water far below.

The window was right in front of him…

Warm hands on his naked shoulders, as a depthless feeling of embarrassment and vulnerability and self-hatred boiled in his chest. And there was a house and it was in ruins and the smoke was green.

The window was…

A girl with brown hair in a silver dress. A girl with black hair and a green- green? - shirt. A girl covered in blue. A girl standing on the ceiling and smirking. Blood on the amphitheater floor. A voice is saying- singing- "There’s a murderer at the matinee. There are dead men in the aisles."

The window…

And the asphalt is wet and there’s a red light reflecting off of it and no one knows what to do because the party, the glamour of show business and being a hero has just been flushed in a pool of blood.

The window.

"X-Raytor!"

X-Raytor whirled around, and as he did, realized how close he was to the window. He took a few steps back, and looked up again. Raven was standing at the door, becoming solid again.

"Why didn’t you answer when I knocked?" She demanded. "And- Christ! Put your mask back on!"

X-Raytor remembered and stumbled forwards, groping for his mask on the floor. He pulled it on, almost savagely, and turned again.

"What is it?" He asked. Can’t you see I’m trying to kill myself here?

"It’s- Midnight Chatter called," Raven said. There was a shrill note of hysteria in her voice. "He- he called from Scarlett’s hotel room…"

Ten minutes later, the remaining Justice Leaguers had piled into the Justice Jet (the new one- since the old one had been destroyed at Albuquerque), and were rocketing off towards the city.

"And he didn’t say what was wrong?" X-Raytor demanded as he strapped himself in. He felt a familiar, fearful sensation, the worry that Violet Princess might be driving- but, but no. He’d never have to worry about that again, huh?

"Nothing," Oreo Avenger said. She had taken the call. "He just said to get over there immediately."

"There is no way this night can get any worse," Eric mumbled.

Something occurred to X-Raytor- with Studmuffin off trying to find Dr. Livingston or whatever, and with Superdude and OMEGA… without them, he, Eric, Isomorphix and Midnight Chatter were the only male members left on the Justice League. Surrounded by girls. And as much as it revolted him, and as much as he wanted to put a bullet in his own head for doing it, the thought really turned X-Raytor on.

The Justice Jet arrived at the hotel in a solid three minutes, and they hastily set it on auto-pilot, to fly around the city for a while until they got back. When they burst into the lobby, Midnight Chatter was already waiting, hands in his pockets.

"You guys took too long," He said. "I didn’t want to leave her alone."

And even as wasted and depressed as he was, X-Raytor couldn’t help but feel a chill at Midnight Chatter’s disconnected monotone.

"Where is she?" Xiao asked after a moment. Midnight Chatter gestured for them to follow and walked towards the stairs. X-Raytor glanced over at the receptionist, who seemed stunned at the sight of a dozen people in costumes walking into the lobby in the middle of the night.

They walked up twenty flights of stairs- grueling, aggravating work- but no one said anything. Usually, X-Raytor would have asked why they didn’t just take the f***ing elevator, but his mind and heart were too full for him to even think about it. What were they going to find up there?

When they finally reached the twentieth floor, Midnight Chatter opened the door into the hallway, and led them down the hall, to the third door on the right. Midnight Chatter slid the keycard through the slot, and pushed the door open. The Justice Leaguers crowded in behind him- Drew shutting the door once they were all in- and followed him to the main area of the room.

"Oh Christ…" Someone said.

Scarlett was lying in bed, the blankets up to her chin- like she’d just been tucked in. The mini-bar had been smashed open, and an empty prescription bottle lay on the floor. X-Raytor didn’t even need to look closely at it to know- they were sleeping pills.

Midnight Chatter walked forwards and sat down heavily on the end of the bed. Scarlett- Scarlett’s body- didn’t seem to be disturbed.

"Oh no," X-Raytor moaned. "Oh God, not five of us. Five of us can’t be dead, not in the same night…"

Isomorphix unsheathed his katana and slammed it into the nearest wall with a loud thud. No one else said a word.

X-Raytor moved forwards, over to the wide open window, and looked down. Twenty stories was a long, long way up. He had always wondered- if you fell, or jumped, did you black out before you hit the ground? Were you too far gone to care by the time you hit the street?

"Hey, look at this," Oreo Avenger said. She walked over to the trashed mini-bar, and picked up a single sheet of paper. "I-it’s from Scarlett."

Silence. X-Raytor looked down at the lights moving far below. Finally, Midnight Chatter looked up and said, "Read it."

Oreo Avenger cleared her throat, stood under the nearest light, and began to read:

" ‘Dear Justice League/Recipient/Whoever You Are,’

" ‘I never really understood why people wrote notes like this. I mean, it’s sort of obvious what happened. But I can see now that the purpose of these things isn’t to inform how it happened, but why. No, I must have understood that at some point. Nothing’s really all that clear now, so bear with me.’

" ‘So, now we know what the question to answer is: why. So, how do I answer it? If I were really able to express how much of a hell my life has become, I don’t think I’d be planning to kill myself right now. I know that being a super hero was a big part of it. I know that killing my boyfriend had some part in it too. But, really, I’m just sick and tired of everything. My life has become this big, meaningless circle. I fight crime and I go on dates and then I go out shopping, and nothing ever has any meaning, and I just can’t feel anything anymore. Even as I write this, I know it’s not exactly right, but it’s the closest I can put down to how I feel.’

" ‘But I’m also sick of pitying myself too. So I just want to let you all know that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everyone whose lives I’ve ruined or failed to save as a super hero, and a person in general. I’m sorry to everyone I’ve ever hurt, and everyone who is going to be hurt by this. And I know, I know, there are plenty of you out there who love me, especially on the Justice League, and if there was any possible way for me to get out of this trap I would but believe me when I say I can’t. I’m so sorry for hurting you all, but there’s no other way.’

" ‘I do want to say one thing, though, to all of my friends, and even those of you who I wasn’t really friends with- I don’t think it’s possible to be happy in our job, and I know that just doing it is enough to send anyone over the edge. But, please, I want you all to be stronger than me. I want you all to find some way to save yourselves, save your own lives, so that you don’t end up like this. Like me. Please, please, try to hold onto every wonderful moment you get, and take in all of the beauty that we ignore every day. And when things get desperate and dark and hopeless, I pray that you will all have the strength to find a better way than this to work things out.’

" ‘I think I’ve written enough now, and I’m almost out of paper, so I think I’ll start wrapping things up. Please, remember what I said, and never take any of this for granted. Love and hate and laugh and cry and FEEL until you can’t feel any more. I want you all to be happy, because I cannot be happy. I want you all to have hope, because I have none. And I want you all to live, because I just can’t anymore. I love you all.’

" ‘Scarlett Fyre.’"

A tear splattered on the note, and Oreo Avenger wiped at her eyes. Midnight Chatter’s face was buried in his hands, and Pinzz had activated her suit in a desperate attempt to not cry. Isomorphix just looked lost. The note had hit hard- not a dry eye in the building and all that. All with the exception of X-Raytor. The cold night air touched him, and down below a taxi honked. There were people on the sidewalks. In the distance, he could see the Justice Jet, still circling on auto-pilot.

"Oh, wait," Oreo Avenger said. "There’s one last thing on the back." She turned the paper over, frowned, and began to read:

" ‘P.S.: Oh, and the main reason I’m doing this is because Neomatrix forced me to! Forced me! He said that if I didn’t take the pills, he’d kill Ewan McGregor! I had not choice! Neomatrix is the one who killed me- Neomatrix!!!! That’s N-E-O-M-A-T-R-I-X.’"

Silence. A sorrowful version of the classic "what the f***?!" silence.

Suddenly, Pinzz’s suit disappeared. "Neomatrix." She growled.

Oreo Avenger looked up. "What?"

"I told you that freak was trouble!" Pinzz snapped. "And look- he didn’t show up all night! And he always did want to get back at Scarlett for having us blow up his ship."

"Oh, give me a break," Rosma said. "That… whatever the hell that was… she didn’t mean that."

"But there’s no-"

"What? Proof?" Pinzz said. "He was missing all night! He has a motive, he probably has a lame-ass alibi- and we’ve got a testimony right in the letter!"

"Pinzz…" Rosma said, but then stopped. Everything was silent again.

X-Raytor almost wanted to agree with Pinzz, almost wanted to believe that the post script was true, and not some byproduct of Scarlett’s overly-stressed mind. After all, if Neomatrix had killed her, then he wouldn’t have to believe that Scarlett had killed herself by herself. He didn’t want to believe that she was as weak as to do what- what-

What I almost did a few minutes ago.

That was it. That was exactly it. If Scarlett- with her (seemingly) only slightly messed up life couldn’t deal with living anymore- how was he supposed to?

X-Raytor- who had mutated his parents, family, ex-girlfriend and half of the good looking girls at school? X-Raytor, who had to fight and possibly kill is own irradiated uncle? X-Raytor, who had blown a man’s face off for discovering his identity- an identity with no family or friends to back it up, an identity that, really, didn’t have to be kept a secret? X-Raytor, who lusted and slobbered and was a complete, irresponsible slave to his overactive libido, who fell in deep, true love with just about every girl he hung out with for two minutes? X-Raytor, who had lost so much, mostly by his own hands, just to have all of his mistakes rear up and haunt him on one day, on the same day he lost five of the people closest to him, and two of the many, many girls he had fallen for, but had never really acted on?

So many people to love. So many people to hate. Which had Scarlett run out of? Both, maybe?

How was he supposed to live? How was he supposed to face his trials if even someone as alive as Scarlett couldn’t?

And he remembered the end of the letter, the end of the suicide note:

"I want you all to be happy, because I cannot be happy. I want you all to have hope, because I have none. And I want you all to live…"

X-Raytor’s heart was beating harder, and with every beat, there was a glorious, burning release of pain and sorrow. He felt like his chest was on fire, and he loved it.

"And I want you all to live."

And X-Raytor felt himself crack inside, and pain and sorrow and loss poured out from his heart and he was liberated.

"Um, X-y?" Raven said. "What, um, what are you doing?"

X-Raytor stepped forwards, reached out into the cool night air- and pulled the windows closed. He latched them, and turned around to face the others. And his black, nearly featureless mask, was wet with long-suppressed tears.

"I’m doing what Scarlett would have wanted," X-Raytor said. "I’m living."

So many people to love. So many people to hate. And only one lifetime to do it all in.

Maybe X-Raytor would be sticking around for a while longer.

**********************************************

CNN: Breaking News.


"And our top story tonight, of course, is the terrorist attack on the 75th Academy Awards ceremony at the Norton Amphitheater, perpetrated by a man in the guise of Brad Pitt. The attack was foiled by the renowned crime fighting organization, the Justice League, who, according to witnesses, were the main targets of the attack. In the fray, four Justice League members were killed, as well as the famous criminal William Joseph Shujumi, alias ‘Paper Kut,’ eighty-two terrorist troops, and the head of protocol Tony Norgate. The master mind behind the attack- alias the ‘Head Honcho’- was also reportedly shot dead by leading citizen Bo Powers, but the body is, of yet, unaccounted for.

"Shortly before the attack began, Justice League member ‘X-Raytor’ gave an interview with an associate of Deborah Walters. In response to criticism of the Justice League, he said: ‘All we want to do… is to use these powers we have to protect normal people like you. I mean, none of us asked for these powers, you know. We could have just made the choice to go around pillaging the city- I could be burning open bank vaults with my pupils right now. But we chose… to use our powers defend the innocent, punish injustice, and all of that. And while it would be nice to get a bit more gratitude, that’s not why I’m doing this in the first place…. I think the main message we’re sending out is that there are powerful people who care about the weak and defenseless. There is a force of good in humanity. And that’s what putting on this costume is all about.’

"Now, we will take you on location for a more detailed account of tonight’s extraordinary events…"