JUSTICE LEAGUE

30

Right Wing Man and Mischief
 

Mattias Hydros, almost finished on his path through Justice Woods, stepped from the SUV, applying The Club to the oversize frame of its steering wheel. Who knew what monsters or minorities hid beneath wilderness’ dark embrace? Yes, the dark wood, as known by his ancestors, forever symbolized, the place of monsters. He was prepared to face them, face anyone, one on one, one on two, or one on three. If struggle was not what man lived for, where were we? And if a man he was not, what was he? "So why did I lock the SUV?" he thought, remembering that he’d not need it after his success here. It was his right protecting his property, but really, why bother? Well, he reasoned further, those assorted creatures of the darkness shouldn’t just receive their ill-gotten gains without a struggle as well.

There was a gust of wind through the battle-ground, causing his cape to flap martially. Old Glory’s waves defy the darkness and salute the brave. That’s why he loved the wind, that’s why he made the costume way it was. That star-sheathed cloak and he and (he believed) the Justice League exemplified Truth, Justice, and the American Way. The Justice League, too, stood against the darkness. Truth, Justice, and the American Way, he reminded himself, walking down the path. The holiest to him was Truth - not the vulgar earthly truth of facts and figures, who did what and when and how to whom; but higher, spiritual Truth, of symbolic significance, of myths we relive again and again, of the human nature and condition outside of mere psychology, of the reverence for holy power and the holy realm regardless of their mere “existence”, of a pursuit of immaterial and heroic goals. His ideals were as a gas, levitating on their own without relying on the vulgar earth for basis. He thought to himself: the higher must not rest upon the lower! - And though he was blessed with strength, virile strength, only holy of the earthly things, he wished that fate had saw fit to bless him with flight, with the ability to suspend above merest fact, go flying and inspiring like as the flapping flag at his back.

He continued along the path; took a look, probably the last, at his old faithful steed and the beloved piles of books in the trunk. Sidhartha, Herman Hesse; the Iliad and Odyssey and ,especially, the Aeneid; Beowulf and Gilgamesh; everything of Tolkein's; Camus' old antebellum absurds; Coulter's Treason: these were magnificent works; proof high truth always would exceed the lower. People always, everywhere would express surprise at this; as if the Right hadn't forever exalted spiritual goals, hadn't always believed in unchanging human nature's changeless human duties. Literature showed across the millenia that human; the analysis perhaps sophisticated over the years but the subject, the same. Left-wingers weren't capable of understanding any kind of "literate fascist", the right would scold him for "postmodern garbage", and "moderates" were rarely cognizant of the texts he mentioned. But he relished the scorn, took it as another opportunity for the hero's struggle of defiance in the world. All he desired was fighting the good fight, and standing before and in the cheering spectacle. "Mattias... Mattias!" they would shout, or, he could picture himself in the crowd, aspiring arms reaching out, trying to touch the beloved leader; ecstatic with the thought.

He faded from the vision, looking at the woods. The forest had grown think with bramble and vine, and needed some thining. Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative, was it called? Yes, that was sense. For thousands of years the woods had culled themselves, letting the most healthy of the trees outstretch arms farther towards beloved sun. Lower and less noble green things would be offered up in fire to the fire in the sky; and like that disk of fire that circle wound forever until modern man had gotten the conception that no sapling expire should, that no one should offer a holocaust of wood... such is not a healthy forest. He could think of many such woods robbed of noble strong vitality by this, modernity's disease. Truly, the... well, he thought. Staring at a giant crater lying like a big beautiful kiss on the woods. These people understand forest management as well as I. More and more virtue seems to flow from these halls, and truly, the...

Well, here it was. Right-Wing Man rung on the doorbell, bursting with hope that he might join the famed hall of heroes, the earthly representation of Valhallan halls themselves.

"Go to Hell.", said the intercom.

The blankly spoken command resounded through Mattias’ head and tickled at the soft bits. Was it an invitation? Most assuredly. The path of the righteous is a path of coals - and here were people who understood it! Warriors who knew that life is pain, but relished it, sought it out, and poured every bit of sacred energy in to hand to hand combat with it! And what wit! “Go to - come to - Hell.” Ha! The frank recognition - so bluntly stated, so deadpan - that the halls of Valhalla were yet the halls of Hell! It was like Nietzsche’s comment on Dante - that “abandon all hope all ye who enter here” was a supremely liberatory phrase, since the inability to effect the future meant the liberty to live completely in the present (that’s what no one understood when he talked about the “Freedom of Fate”). The utterer over the intercom must truly have had as literary a soul as he!

He looked up, and felt like this, too, deserved a Dantean arch. “Abandon all hope...” was not a flawed phrase, and it was a message that had rung true through the depths of time, but a momentous moment like this almost required something new and spectacular and original. “Walk through here, these paths of coal, where the virtuous are burned and yet victorious!” No. Too didactic and self-consciously grandiose, with none of the ironic sense to measure up to the intercom’s riddle. “Give me your fattened, your shiftless, your pampered, your freedom-drenched masses longing for duty and purpose and meaning!” Or, more simply, “Work Makes You Free.” Or…

He realized that he was thinking in exclamation points, that his heart was beating faster than any drum should, almost ready to fly free of his chest from excitement and pride. He… well, why shouldn’t he be excited? Heaven, Hell… whatever the cosmetic omissions - archway, supernatural guardian - he knew what this was. This door was the great moment of transition in his life, this door was like Nietzsche’s other great arch, which to stand under was to touch eternity. This was to enter the afterlife, the after-life, the after-flesh, where Mattias Hydros and boyhood would pass away and Right-Wing Man and manhood would remain ascendant. He came here, he hoped not as a pilgrim, tourist, alien, but as one who had finally found one’s home after never knowing its existence. For he came here, like a native of Heaven, to pass judgement, one by one, upon all of mankind, and, like a native of Hell, to pass out the punishment, one by one, to the deserving. This is where the posturing would end and the career begin. This would be his third puberty and his second real one.

His second puberty - his first real one - had been almost two years ago to this date. He was not him, yet - he was fully boy, 15 years old, quiet and booksmart but without much else to say for him. He was as a reed blowing in the wind - but the wind changed. He was in biology lab when he heard the news, felt the intensity of confusion rip through him, and as he started to wake up, as the rest of the nation started to wake up, to re-realize the ancient virtues of honor and courage and veneration of the leader, put their faith once more after so many years of slumber into strength and spirituality, into soldiers and sacerdotes - he finally understood the nature of ancient Truth. He finally understood the nature of America as as sublime and holy as any ancient empire. His blood boiled at the thought of anyone destroying his people’s sacred edifices. The Towers had been dedicated to Capitalism, the Market, the religion and Godhead of America, and for that reason the due recipient of his dedications - although he understood that on a deeper level they were no different from the Greeks’ Athena’s Parthenon or the Aztecs’ towers of blood. Just the same (in a historical, earthly-fact sense, the Market was as man-made an object of worship as Athena - that wouldn’t change its sacred significance for him as an American). And just as the desecration of Athena’s temple cried out for the blood of Ajax, so the big gray cloud in New York, gathering up the angry likeness of a storm, called out for blood, and lots of it.

He remembered that it was about three weeks after the crime had taken place - he was walking home from school - and walking next to him was Jeff Akbar, a third generation immigrant, a quiet kid next to him in Algebra I. They sometimes exchanged answers on tests. And without thinking, without doubting, without warning, he shoved him… sent Akbar’s skin skidding across the pavement - he had no idea that he would skid 20 yards down the road. But he ran after him anyway, delivered one punch, two punch, three punch, and every bone in Jeff, he would later learn, was broken by that point. He knew that Akbar was, in the low-truth sense, innocent of any wrongdoing, as traumatized as he was by everything that happened - that wasn’t the point. He was acting out a microcosm of the larger conflict that was to become, of America’s complete vanquishing of its enemies - and so he would have done, if a crazed black man hadn’t stepped out of his house with a gun and shouted for him to stop. He had never fought in his life before then, had always been effeminate, had never before understood the sublime and spiritual joy of physical combat and virility and masculinity, but by the time he laid the second blow on his classmate he had such a hard-on that the black man thought he was going to rape the towelhead. Hydros ran away, took the coward’s way out when he should have taken the one-way Bullet Express to the heroic death - but he ran, and got home in time to wash himself and dispose of his clothes before his parents arrived. In a week’s time, he forwent all dates with destiny entirely and ran off and got married to her, donning the vestments of Right-Wing Man, slowly realizing what it meant - and this was the culmination of that. As for Jeff, he never spoke, because he couldn’t. If he had died, that would have been the day that he killed an Arab.

Wait a minute. Wasn’t there that one time on the beach and it was a really hot day, I mean, just suffocatingly oppressive and this Arab pulled out a knife and he shot him in part because he was confused about his mother’s death?

Oh, wait. His mother was still alive, so it couldn’t be that.

His hand gripped, absentmindedly, a knob. Was this…? Yes it was. Turn, thrust, and gaze upon these halls ye have waited for from beyond the womb. Or um… something.

***

Hamlet rose from his bed in the town’s only 5-star Hilton hotel…it reminded him of his days working for the Travel Channel, back when he was the pampered star of that “Best Hotels” show. Ah, how he missed those days…

But he had to focus. Had to find Horatio.

Then again, it wouldn’t hurt to try out the spa first--after all, his leg muscles ached from walking so far…

***

Scarlett entered the Hall of Justice through the back door; she would’ve just gone through the front, but she noticed some kid with a cape knocking on the door. And she did not feel like dealing with another new addition to the Justice League. Not right now at least.

After all, she’d just gone shopping. She had 9 new dresses, 16 new sexy red pairs of high heels, and some other stuff she’d bought on a whim. She didn’t know what she’d do if her grandfather ever took her credit card away. “Thank you, GranGran,” she’d said as she handed her Visa card to the lady at the checkout counter.

Visa. Everywhere she wanted to be…and some places she didn’t, she’d thought to herself as she passed by a rather disturbing store of hats. Not that she had anything against hats. They were always a good conversation filler. But for some reason she couldn’t put her finger on, that store gave her the SHIVERS.

It didn’t matter, though. She was in the Justice League Walk-In Closet, and she had lots of new clothes to hang up. There were racks of shoes to be filled.

Things were finally starting to be more normal.

On the outside, at least.

***

Oreo Avenger, X-Raytor, Eric, Typho, Netic, Rosma, Midnight Chatter, Xiao and Pinzz were strewn, much in the manner of cats, on the various articles of fluffy furniture similarly strewn throughout the room before the TV. Perfectly like cats, except for the lack of tails, and most of the hair, not quite as much purring, and bedecked in the kind of outfits a 6-year-old- or abnormally-cruel-13-year-old-girl might squeeze her cats into for Halloween. It was Friday night, after all, and they a new device had just come out of the research department. It was a modified form of TiVo that would record tomorrow’s broadcasts. Imagine the possibilities! Drew wanted to watch tomorrow’s news so that they could have the first jump on crime, and X-Raytor wanted to get the first jump on the next morning’s cartoons. So by a vote of 9-to-1:

“Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!” Gleefully cries the stout, superpowered man in red. “Merry May Day, Captain Capitalism!”

“You… you...” sputs out the Hero, him locked in one block of Feminazi-generated ice, his invisible hand in another. He writhes patriotically.

“Ho, ho, ho! You find yourself once again in a most precarious position, ‘Mon Capitan’. And once again in the last 5 minutes of the show. You certainly seem to have some bad habits, no? Ho ho ho. Any last words?” says Captain Communism, his stomach shaking not unlike a bowl full of jelly. Feminazi cackles along, in only the way a cartoon stereotype of the “bad dominant girl” can.

“Yes,” begins Captain Capitalism, a note of grit growing in his face, a glint of defiance showing in his eye, and turns away from his opponent, directly at the viewer. “I’d like to remind our viewers that not only will Sexxeriffic Tooth Paste make you a better person, it also will make your teeth the whitest and bestest-smelling… ever.” The Captain makes a wink, glints his teeth, and a sparkle sparkles across the screen, causing epileptic seizures throughout Japan and South Korea.

“Huh? What are you talking about?” Demands the villain, baring his teeth in attempted intimidation. “Besides, I use The Other Brand!” Stink lines rise from and flies fly about his yellow teeth.

“Let us give him another batch of last words! So that we can see him squirm, and give him more time for his last-minute miraculous escape!” Feminazi cheered on. “Not that I’m secretly in love with him or anything,” she muttered.

“Alright, then,” begins Captain Capitalism, as gritty and defiant as ever, “you’ve got your wish. I’d like to remind our fashion-conscious youth out there that the Captain Capitalism movie begins production November 1st and will be released December 1st, unless the author, I mean producer, feels like editing or something.” Then, with extra grit, he managed to get out, “Make sure that your parents get you all of the associated merchandise! Freedom depends on it!”

“Ahhh!” screams Captain Communism, pressing his hands against his ears. “Toothpaste plugs are shameless. But a self-aggrandizing NaNoWriMo plug…” he fumes. “THIS ENDS NOW!”

“AND SO IT DOES!” says Space Ghost from his desk. “Unless it’s a ‘To be continued…’… oh, wait! It is! So tune in next week, and keep eating your Capitalism-Os - the plannedly obsolescent cereal! Check out the special SpongeBob-X-Ships Crossover Special, coming after this commercial break!”


Somewhere in New Jersey, a fast-food employee was being reprimanded by his manager for sneaking a mini-television set into work.

But in Justice Hall, for now, the talk of the town was who Space Ghost’s secret love interest was.

“And I’m swearing here: whenever Scooby Doo is cancelled, that’s always the night that Johnny Quest subs in. I’m not saying there’s - Hey, who’s shorty?”

Hydros was perplexed for this to be the first thing he heard upon entering the worshipful Hall of Justice. He was a good height, a virtuous height, 6 feet and a couple inches extra - not short by any standard. Except… of course. Someone with such a commitment to masculine principles naturally feels shame at that. They were talking about superhero standards. Of course! He remembered reading that in the average comic, the hero is six heads tall, normals are five heads tall, and villains had a tendency to be a mere four heads tall! And were Beowulf or Aeneas or Odysseus ‘six feet and a couple inches’? No! They were veritable giants of men! And though he couldn’t determine spacially their heights, because of their reclining posture - oh, how much like most finely aristocratic of Romans! - he was certain that they towered over their lesser as well, if not strictly physically then morally. “Towering over…”… Mattias was in love with the thought - both of the dominator and the dominated. Uh, not in a sexual way, of course. As a male it was necessary for him to be the dominant factor, even if his personal feelings dictated otherwise, not that they did. It’s just that… nevermind, he was in the Justice League! How soon one can forget. The Elysian halls were here, and the gods themselves were to soon except him into their ranks. Ah! To walk among the gods themselves… to be hailed as a savior day in and day out… to have the throngs and multitudes shouting his name… to be embroiled in fatal combat with chaos every day, with only the fates in certain knowledge of whose fatality… ah, he has to snap back, snap back to the moment, the visual experience is getting nearly epileptic.

“I said, who are you?” Rozma.

“…,” he started, then regained his posture, sucking air into his chest and extending his shoulders: “I am Right-Wing Man, and I come to join the Justice League.”

Oreo Avenger strode up to him. “Do you have an employment application?”

The woman wore a tight brown shirt - hey, brown shirt, good fashion sense - with a strategically placed white oval. She made a smile at him - he thought, for a second, that I hope this is isn’t the ironic, rejectionary smile - but he swiftly regained his confidence and handed her a heavily margin-demarcated PDF printout from the Justice League Website - not that she could have known that then, since it was in an envelope.

She took it. “And I know it’s in here, but what’s your power?”

“Extraordinary strength.” He stated, surprised by his own bluntness. Usually he could talk lengthily on anything, let alone something like the holy value of strength that was near and dear to his heart. Certainly there was no one in this room who could surpass him in babbling! “And, uh, what’s your power?” He asked, similarly surprised by his own curiosity as well as lack of composure.

“I’m sorry, I should have been more polite. I’m Oreo Avenger. I fly and bake cookies. This is…”

Flight. Flight! That one thing that he had wished he possessed… the one thing he was angry at the fates for… the physical expression of the spiritual! And this woman was worthy enough to be the recipient of it! Oh, to be launched, from nether to aether, to be a thousand fireworks, to… and she knew a woman’s proper place, too! And that fashion sense, too - that white oval, so perfectly appointed by deign of geometry…

“…who, despite great potential, doesn’t do all that much of anything.” Oreo finished. “Are you staring at my chest?”

“Uh, no, not at all.” Mattias managed to get out, trying to regain his composure. He did that a lot in conversations, he just noticed, trying to regain his composure. He wandered why, perhaps it had… and then he tried to regain his composure once more. “I’m sorry if I accidentally violated your sense of privacy. It wasn’t my intention.” Now this was perplexing. Had he just apologized for looking at a woman? When to look at a woman was to exalt her in the highest possible way, when to be looked at, “gawked at” is the universal desire of all women (modernist lies be damned)? And wasn’t he a man? What perplexed him were not just the modernist lies and how he had just surrendered to them by what he had said (which was horrible enough - dishonesty as to principles is the first step down a very long, and very downward, path) but that he was actually feeling shame for the actual looking, as those very modernists would have him. Feeling doubly shamed, his eyes flickered off to the side, towards no one’s breasts at all. Oreo, of course, just took this as more evidence of dishonesty.

“Since we’re having some… management problems, I’ll need to deliberate this with my peers.” Eager to discontinue the conversation, she flashed a conciliatory smile at him, and silently gathered Xiao, Eric, Rosma, Midnight Chatter, and Pinzz together with her, some of whom not-so-silently complained about being brought away from their cartoons. X-Raytor complained rather not-so-silently about not appearing on the ad-hoc panel.

“Uh… we’d like… a senior member to stay here to make the applicant more comfortable. Or something.”

“You’re seriously making all of this as you go along, aren’t you?”

“Not not-so-quietly.” She hissed. “And yeah. It’s not like Studmuffin would have known what to do, anyway.”

The committee walked back for their deliberation, and passed around the application:

Name: Right-Wing Man

Artificial Name: Mattias Hydros

Sex: M

Age: 17

Superpower: Strength

Place of Residence: I imagine that this one is a trick question. Very well then: I stalk wherever evil lurks!

Contact: the best way to contact me is through the Right-Wing Man Signal, shone onto the Moon. Note: as of August 2003, no cities have installed a device to project this. Orange County, California, intended to do so but their state of bankruptcy makes this impossible. However, it is just a matter of time.

Do you have a theme song? Our budget’s been running tight the past couple of months and we’re eager to farm out any licensable material we can procure.

Who beats back shadows with an iron fist?
Who longs for his apocalypse?
Who for his country takes any risk?
Whose hair is blond and skin is white?

Right-Wing Man! - He’s quite well read
He quite defends the quite well fed
‘gainst blackest dreg and vicious Red!
He fights for life, he lives to fight!

Did you read the new New Frontiersman?
“Liberals Accused of Highest Treason!”
It’s High Truth; who needs a reason?
In your heart, you know he’s right!

So who’s knee-deep in erudition?
Who know the truth in superstition?
Who’s a friend to the king who looks like a monkey?
(It doesn’t fit the rhyme, but hey, it’s funny!)

So if you law abide and you skin is light
If you treason despise ‘gainst the side of bright
In your heart, you’ll know he’s Right
Wiiiinnnnngggg Maaaannnnn - that’s right!

“So,” asked X-Raytor, his eyes refocused on the sea pineapple’s exploits, “what’s up, shorty?”

***

So, last year, June of '01, I guess, we're getting ready to go on some arbitrary mission to scope out Bo Powers' cabin in the woods, and halfway through I find out, hey, we've got this new member named Crystal Freeze. And that's all well and good, I mean,we hadn't had a new member since, like, '99, and- and being two short, it wasn't like we didn't have the space. So that's fine. That's cool. And then, when I get home and learn, hey, this new guy, Midnight Chatter, is gonna be with us from now on, that's cool too. I mean, there was more important stuff- Bo Powers handing our butts to us, a giant green penguin trying to strangle me for, it would seem, no reason. So, yeah, no problems.

And then, a few weeks or months or whatever later, Twisk shows up. No, wait, it was weeks. She showed up during that whole grocery store deal- when I was locked up in a cell, watching porn and being no damn use at all, but, hey, what else is new? And by this time, I'm still moderately cool with new people. Even with Crystal freezing us every now and then, and Midnight Chatter... well, being Midnight Chatter. But then there was Neomatrix, even though he just sorta dropped in on us. And then Firehop and Netic joined within, like, a week of each other, and Firehop was only there for a few months anyway, and Netic has always been sorta stand off-ish... to make things short, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about new members at this point. Mostly because I was sharing a home with more people than I could count. Swear to God, I had to start keeping notes.

It just wasn't as simple as it used to be, like, back in late '99 or early 2000. There were only, like, what, a dozen or so of us then? And we all really got to know each other too- right now, I swear, I couldn't tell you Netic's middle name. I barely even remember her real name, but that's not so uncommon- we masked men (and women, I guess), we've got this thing about being eternally in character. Or maybe that's just me. Or maybe I'm just the only one who'll admit it.

Anyway, then Drew shows up. Oh, and there was that thing with Saph a few, what, months ago? But that doesn't count. But anyway, there was Drew, and after her, it just goes downhill. First, there's Super Shibes. I mean- does that need any other explanation? He was hairy, he was dirty, and he called himself a "shadeball." Oh, and he had half the girls as his dates to the Tri-Leader Prom. So, yeah, he pretty much summed up my complete nightmare vision of a new member. I thought, "Hey, it can't get any worse than shadiness!"

God, I was wrong. Five- sorry, sorry- four of us die, and, you know, okay, maybe we could use some new members. And who shows up? Typho. Typho, with the power of "being bad ass." Je. Sus. Christ. Oreo Avenger tells me about this, and I just stared at her for a whole damn minute, before saying "You have got to be f***ing with me." God, I wish she was.

... S***. That sounded really dirty, didn't it? I didn't mean it that way! Eh, not like anyone can hear this, anyway. ... Unless NeoMatrix or maybe MC with that whole PK thing, unless one of them is a telepath too... Uh, hello? Anyone there? No?

Okay, good. So, after Typho, I think, "Well, if anything good came from this, it's that we've hit the bottom of the barrel. It can't get any worse than this." When the hell am I going to learn to just keep my freaking mouth shut?

So now, we have... Right-Wing Man. Right-Wing Man. That just- that says it all. That's all you need to know: Right-Wing Man. What is he, like, fifteen? And he's Right-Wing Man?

But, you know what, I'm not saying it this time. I am fully convinced that it could get worse now. There is no bottom to this barrel. I mean, what next? Kilt Lad? The Avenging Chipmunk? Oprah Gal? F***ing Richard Simmons Man? I won't be surprised, I swear. The entire freaking Hall is this big old lunatic magnet. I mean, I've been through how many different types of rehab, and I've never seen people like this.

Well, you know, except when I look in the mirror.

"So, he's in?" X-Raytor asked.

"I guess so." Rosma said, frowning a little.

"Oy."

"Since when do we have an application process?" Eric whispered.

"Drew must have put it on the site," Raven said.

"He was looking at my boobs." Oreo said.

"The nerve!" X-Raytor said. "...I'm looking at your belly button, by the way."

"Uh huh."

"Where's he going to stay?" Xiao asked.

"He could share a room with Typho..." Rosma said. "Either that, or we could actually rebuild one of the empty rooms..."

"I think Typho will enjoy the company," X-Raytor said.

"So... it's decided?" Rosma said.'

"Would we even be able to make him leave?" X-Raytor asked.

"We're super heroes."

"Then why is Typho still here?"

"... Good point."

"Is this the Floor Lamp of Justice?" Right-Wing Man said from the other side of the room.

"And this, ladies and gentlemen," X-Raytor said. "Is why we lock our doors."

***

Rosma tied her hair back in a ponytail. She took off her silver cape and carefully folded it on her bed. She had already changed from her typical black dress into black pants and a black shirt. Not that creative, but the dress would get in the way. She got out the black face paint she’d borrowed from Scarlett (no one knew why Scarlett had it, but apparently the Walk In Closet had it all) and smeared it all over her face. After a final look in the mirror, she glanced at her watch, went into the hall, closed her door, and looked around. Satisfied that no one was there, she turned invisible.

“Wanna dance?” a voice whispered in her ear.

Rosma turned on her own tiny microphone and headed silently down the hall. “The music has rocks in it.”

“And the wizard’s staff has a knob on the end.”

“Om will be pleased.” Rosma paused at the intersection. To her right were the living room and kitchen. From the sounds of it, there were people in there watching TV. Or someone had forgotten to turn it off, which was more likely. To her left, down a shorter hallway, was the Garage of Justice. And straight ahead were the rest of the private rooms for the newer members of the League. Hers was on the side of the building with all of the other, older members. She moved as far to the left as she could.

“On my count…one, two, many!” the voice said.

And with that, Rosma commando-rolled across the intersection. Right into something. That something, it seemed, was another person.

“Ouch!” Oreo had commando-rolled around the corner at the same time, but unfortunately, she was on the left, too.

“I thought we said you were coming from the right!” Rosma, now visible, examined her right hand, which had seemingly been smashed by Oreo’s knee. “That’s why I was on this side.”

Oreo shrugged. “At least no one heard us.”

“Or saw us. Nice makeup.” Rosma gestured at the camouflage pattern Oreo had painted on her face. “Where’d you get those colors?”

“I sort of borrowed them from Violet’s stuff. Think she’d mind?”

“Nah. She’d probably help you put it on.”

“True.” Oreo climbed to her feet and helped pull Rosma up.

“So let’s go! Time’s wasting!”

“This is a very important mission, you know,” Oreo said. “It’s up to us to find out-“

Oreo’s sentence was cut off by X-Raytor, “Who ate all of the marshmallows out of my Lucky Charms?! Someone is going to be severely punished!”

“Move!” Oreo said, and dragged Roses into the nearest room, a closet, just as X-Raytor walked from the kitchen into the living room.

“I’m not kidding! I want my hearts, stars, horseshoes, clovers, blue moons, pots of gold, rainbows and red balloons back!”

“Oh, just go buy some more,” Raven’s voice answered him.

“Fine! I just might! But I’ll bet that Right-Wing Man ate them. You can’t trust new people around here!”

The two girls waited a few minutes, and then a door slammed. Oreo elbowed Rosma. “I think he’s in his room now. Turn invisible. Go see if it’s clear yet.”

“They can still see the door if I open it. I can’t walk through walls.”

“Go anyway.”

“Fine.” Rosma opened the door and peered out. Then she stepped out. “All clear.”

“Did you hear X-Raytor?” Oreo joined her.

“Yeah, someone stole his marshmallows.” Rosma grinned.

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

“I know. You meant that no one trusts this Right Wing Man. And Drew, if she really put that ad in the paper. She should know what sort of people that would attract. It would lead spies right to us. But really, we can’t trust anyone after the Saph Fyre thing. For all we know, Right Wing Man could be working for one of our enemies.”

“Yes.” Oreo nodded. “That’s why we’re on this spy mission. We’re gonna find out what Right Wing Man is up to.”

A few minutes later, they stood in front of the room Typho and Right Wing Man shared. Typho had written the words “Stay out. There’s no guard dog, but I’m bad to the bone” in permanent marker on the door. Because it was cool. Or so he said.

“You know the plan, right?” Oreo asked, whispering.

“Yes.” Rosma whispered back. “You’ll open the oven door and check on the cookies. But while the door is open, you can slip in the secret ingredient and no one will ever know. Then the secret ingredient can do its thing.”

Oreo paused. “Are we into this a little too much?”

Rosma shrugged. “It’s fun.”

“Reminds me of the time we snuck into your dad’s office and-what’s that face for?”

“You know I don’t remember that. And that I’m angry with my parents.”

“Yes, but that’s a good memory. We used to get in all kinds of trouble when we were growing up. Talking in code, secret plans, just like old times.”

“If you say so. Now, let’s get on with it.”

Rosma became invisible, and Oreo knocked on the boys’ door. Typho asked them to wait a minute, they heard a loud crash and the sound of something sliding across the floor, and then the door opened.

“Um…hi.”

“Hi, Typho.” Ann looked around the room. Right Wing Man was attempting to move some of Typho’s stuff off the second bed. “X-Raytor’s missing his Lucky Charms marshmallows. Have you seen them?”

“No.”

“What are you eating?”

“Nothing!”

“Right,” she gave him a suspicious look. “I’ll see you later, I guess.”

She left, closing the door behind her. What the boys didn’t know was that Rosma was inside. She moved into the corner and stood there, silently. Right Wing Man finally moved enough CD’s, including the newest by Fifty Cent, to have a place to sit.

“Was that makeup part of her costume?” he asked Typho.

“Not usually. She must be trying a new look. Makeovers are the shiznat these days. Camouflage is the “in” thing, too. I should know.”

“Oh. Does she always wear that brown shirt?”

“Yep.”

“Well, that’s good. I mean, brown is the perfect color.”

Rosma rolled her eyes. Boys. Typho reached over his own bed a flipped a switch. The lights overhead dimmed, the disco ball in the center of the ceiling started to spin, and strobe lights flashed.

“You don’t mind, do you? I sleep best this way. Reminds me of some of the parties I used to hang at.”

“…”

“Great! Oh, I forgot! My ice is under your pillow.”

“Your…what?”

“My ice! You know, my bling-bling! Hand it over!”

Right Wing Man cautiously reached under his pillow and pulled out a handful of gold chains. Fake gold chains. Some had imitation diamonds that formed the letter “T.” And others had dollar signs.

“Thanks, dawg.” Typho grabbed them all and shoved them under his pillow. “I don’t know about you, but I've got me a case of the mad munchies! Let’s hit the kitchen, yo!”

Rosma sighed when they closed the door. If Right Wing Man was a spy, he wasn’t going to learn any secrets from Typho any time soon. Still, it was best to check through his stuff. She opened the drawer in the nightstand next to his bed. Empty. His side of the closet. Empty. Under his bed. Typho’s socks, more CD’s, a fuzzy pink diary. Rosma debated with herself, and then opened the diary. ‘Yo diary, whazzup?! Man, these Justice chicks are hot!’ She slammed the book closed and threw it under his bed. That was enough.

“Okay, there’s nothing here,” she activated her microphone again.

“Nothing?” Oreo’s voice came back.

“Nope. He must have only brought the clothes he’s wearing.”

“Hmm. That’s very suspicious. We’ll have to keep an eye on him.”

“Yes,” Rosma agreed. “But now I’m out of here. I’m getting a headache from these lights.”

***

DumdumdummmmDumdumdum...dumdumdadadatdumdum..." Drew sang as she and Netic headed towards the rec room.

"Are you humming the Mission Impossible theme?" Netic asked.

"Maybe..." Drew grinned.

"Sometimes, I wonder if I should be worried about you." Netic rolled her eyes. "Why so happy all of the sudden?"

"Red button. Push. Yay."

"Freak."

"One to talk." Drew shrugged and snuck along the perimeter of the rec room. "Look for a silver box or something."

"Alright," Netic said. The two scanned the surface of the wall.

"What are you doing?"

"Ah!" Netic and Drew screamed and turned around.

"Eric, we didn't see you," Netic said.

"That's because I'm not wearing any clothes. It's camouflage."

"Oh, right." Drew said. Suddenly, she found a very interesting spot on the ceiling.

"Are you looking for something?" Erik asked.

"Yes, actually, a little silver box in the wall."

"Like that one?" Erik pointed to the said little box.

"How did you--" Netic began. "Never mind." She reached for the door of the box, when suddenly there was a loud crash.

***

The rusted gate complained audibly as it creaked open on its iron hinges. It had most likely seen the wrong side of too many rainy days. This was one of them.

A shadowy figure slipped through the entrance, black boots stepping through puddles forming in the mud where the grass had shied away from the earth. The trenchcoat-clad man walked through a myriad of headstones, finally coming to a stop before a quartet that lay below the umbrella of a tree.

Cherry blossom, from the looks of it.

Shifting his gaze from the leaves, Isomorphix looked down at the four sculpted slabs of rock, each keeping guard over their respective patch of soil. Despite the time of day, the sky was dark. Brooding gray rain clouds filled the heavens, silently bathing the ground below them. The rays of light that managed to filter through the ominous blanket, however, were more than sufficient to read the engraved tombs.

Adam Hehr.

P.R. Crew.

Debra Gillick.

Victoria Grahm.

Over far too short a time, he had come to know them as OMEGA, SuperDude, Dragon Girl, and the Violet Princess. Now, he acknowledged them as warriors. Iso gave a nod of the head to three of the graves, finally turning towards the fourth.

He stood for nearly a minute, the gentle shower soaking his clothes.


RIP
Victoria Grahm.
1982 - 2003
She will be missed.


A formal funeral had been held earlier. There was weeping, grief, and sorrow. Even newscasters covered the solemn event from a distance. Almost everyone from the Justice League had attended - almost. Studmuffin was missing, so no one was expecting him there. And Iso - well, they could all think he was a cold-hearted bastard if they wanted. He probably was, anyway. It didn’t matter. He preferred doing things his own way.

Still looking fixedly at the chiseled words, Isomorphix reached into his black long-coat and retrieved an item he had managed to procure back at the JL HQ. The circlet of silver gleamed brightly even with the lower levels of light.

I’m sorry…

An image flashed back through his mind. He was sitting in his room. She was in the doorway. Hiding a look of hurt.

That I couldn’t honor your wishes. That I couldn’t be what you wanted me to be.

He walked forward and bent down on one knee, placing her crown on the headstone.

But you have earned my respect. Rest in peace, Victoria Grahm.

Rising again, he gave a deep bow of the head towards the personification of what was once the Violet Princess.

Forgive me, but I must go now. I have work to do.

With that final thought, Iso turned about and walked out of the graveyard. The gate bade a creaky farewell as it closed shut behind the silhouette disappearing in the rain.

***

"I have my Lucky Charms!" X-Raytor crowed, running through the door with a Safeway bag.

"Good." said Raven. "Now give me my change."

"Let me switch to So Weird first..." X-Raytor reached for the remote.

"What?! No!" Raven dived for the coffee table. "It's Columbus day! There's a West Wing marathon! This is In The Shadow of Two Gunmen! Josh and Sam are eating hot dogs!"

"If you don't let me change the channel, you get no change!"

"Just tape it! I'll even let you watch it during The Midterms!"

"Which starts when?"

"In an hour and a half."

"Forget it!"

Just then, Iso swept in, looking depressed. And wet. Raven glanced up at him and X-Raytor swiped the remote.

"Hey!"

***

Oreo Avenger flew toward the source of the crash, passing over Drew and Netic as they too went to investigate the noise. It was Rosma; it had to be. She got caught and was throwing Typho around the room. She tried to decide if that was a bad thing or not.

Rounding a corner, she saw what caused all the racket. Drew installed a device that, when the doors to her lab were pushed too hard, dropped a cage over the victim. Right Wing Man was trapped inside, futilely trying to bend the bars.

“That won’t work,” Oreo Avenger said, landing. She glared at the wall. “I got caught in that thing last week. Finally had to turn myself into a ferret to get out. Ah ha!” She pushed a small blue button almost hidden in the pattern of the wallpaper. The cage disappeared into the ceiling. She turned to see Right Wing Man looking at her intently.

“Thanks,” he said.

They looked at each other for a long moment.

“I hear Drew coming. You might want to leave before she gets her. She’ touchy about people trying to get into her lab.” Oreo Avenger took off, hugging the ceiling to avoid being seen by the approaching Drew.

Strange how the new guy got caught near Drew’s lab. It could’ve been perfectly innocent; he got lost or was try to acquaint himself with his surroundings. He could’ve been motivated by simple curiosity. A closed, locked door was enough to make Oreo Avenger need to know what was on the other side. Or maybe he needed to borrow something. That’s how she was caged last week. She wanted to liberate the blender Drew borrowed from her after she stole it from Drew who took it from her. Still…

Oreo Avenger looked for Rosma. They needed to compare notes.

***

CHA-CLICK.

The sound was far too familiar. Though he was used to hearing it, it was becoming too frequent in recent months.

CHA-CLICK. CHA-CLICK.

Isomorphix didn't flinch as two more pistols cocked.

The area itself was familiar as well. He had been here before, not too long ago. Phil at the antique shop didn't have all the pieces to the puzzle, so...

Fat Tony looked a little anxious as his guests pointed their guns in Iso's direction.

"Yous ain't got no respect. Yous really gonna get it," one of the bodyguards spat. "Want me to waste 'em, boss?"

The young gangster seemed to be in the employ of a dark, tall figure that sat next to Fat Tony. The man was wearing a black business suit, polished black shoes, a gold ring on his right-hand middle finger, and had neatly gelled-back hair. He seemed to be more refined than the Italian Mobster who ran his operations under a seemingly typical nightclub.

"Allow me to remove this pest from your presence, Tony," the man stated calmly as he began to give a motion for the execution.

"No! No! I mean, wait!" blabbered Fat Tony. "This guy isn't an intruder, see. He's clean, see?"

The taller, darker man raised an eyebrow towards his host, who only gave him a shaky nod. For a while, things were quiet. A dead, unnatural quiet. The tension in the air was a physical thing as the guards - thugs, really - held their pistols aimed at the trenchcoat-clad man. The guns were held horizontal in classic 'gangster-style.'

Thirty whole seconds passed in silence before the strange man motioned for his boys to lower their weapons. Fat Tony visibly relaxed, letting out a short sigh.

It appears he values their lives greatly. They must be an important resource for him.

Isomorphix noted.

"Listen, Iso, compadre, I know what you want, but I don't got anything on me this time, all right? I mean it."

Isomorphix's eyes narrowed.

"No! I'm not lying, I'm serious, see? I just know the word on the street, see? I told you before, didn't I? I'm small-time now. I ain't got the real connections anymore. What you want is outta my league."

"I see," Iso replied monotonously after considering the gray-haired mobster. "Then I'm sorry I interrupted your meeting."

With that, the swordsman turned about and left for the stairs leading up to the club.

***

Outside was still wet from the morning rain. Isomorphix had been waiting for an hour on the roof of the building opposite to Tony's club before anyone came out. The supposed businessman and his entourage filed out just as a black limo pulled up in front of them.

NWZ-2734 Iso noted the license plate number. Good. Those were most likely the emissaries to Tony from a higher authority. And since those people who led me on a wild goose chase back when I tried to chase Roser had some connection to the underworld, I might find some answers with them. If I had disrupted their meeting, there would be little chance I'd have anything left to follow. Now if I can just track them...

Noting the wild goose chase brought an uncertainty back to Iso’s mind. His brain had played tricks with itself earlier. Whatever could do that… It didn’t matter. He’d find out soon. And this time he wouldn’t lose sight of his objective. Hopefully, Keghead wouldn’t fall out of the sky like last time.

Finding an emergency ladder, Iso quickly slid down using the sides, ignoring the rungs. The limo was pulling away. A white van sped by, traveling in the same direction as the limo. As it crossed the alley Isomorphix had been in, his figure had vanished.

***

Xiao ran into Typho in the common room (or possibly a room that just looked like the common room; Xiao was discovering more rooms nearly once a week. Or maybe she'd just forgotten.). He was staring intently at a framed picture of assorted wavy lines and dots.

"Ooooh a magic picture! Wow; a SAILBOAT!" Xiao exclaimed, after looking at it for a moment.

"Noo!!!!! I been staring at this shizzle photo for two days!" Typho fell to the ground, and started to pound it with a fist.

"What are you talking about?" Xiao asked, coming closer. "This is the first time I've ever seen this picture."

Typho stood up and brushed himself off with a many-ringed hand. "Yeah, you're right."

"Soooo. Um..." Xiao trailed off, wondering what to say. I'm so cheesy! And he's like, so.....gangsta! And I'm like, totally frozen here......SAY SOMETHING YOU IDIOT!!!!! "That Right-Wing Man sure is a....um..."

"Trippin'? A foo'? Tool? Poser?" Typho shot off a list of incomprehensible words. At least, Xiao thought they were words....

"Right! Umm... All of them...very...good suggestions..." Xiao stumbled over her words. "Well. I've got to um....take out the...er...wash my ha...give money to....er....I've gotta go." Xiao sped from the room, and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Well. That was close." Xiao panted.

***

Jack and Molly sit at the table for a moment, sipping their water. "Some people just need other ways of communicating. Like Zach. And some...some won't." Molly's gaze strays to a picture of Rick, hanging on the wall of the tour bus.

The screen faded to black, as the episode ended.

"Babel, eh?" asked Raven.

"Yep."

"Huh." She changed the channel back to Bravo, where a skinhead now mulled over his drink.

"Secret Service! Get your @#%$ hands in the air!" The credits began playing, and a second person wandered through the TV room. Right Wing Man.

"What's that?" he said, casting a suspicious glance at a picture of Janel Moloney.

"The West Wing." X-Raytor said, updating his So Weird omnibus.

RWM's eyes widened. "You watch this...this...trash?"

"Actually, I do, and that's four years of Best Drama trash to you, Mister."

RWM looked at the clock and grabbed the remote. "O'Reilly factor is coming on!"

"God bless TiVo." muttered Raven.

***

“Yeah,” assented Typho, “Kill Bill was a great movie. I mean, all those hot chicks and violence.” He paused a bit, and added “I can’t wait to see the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Mattias snorted. This guy was so uptight! He should, you know, just learn to slam like the typhoon, and then loosen up, like, um, the tide. Yeah. Typho’s thoughts, at that point, started to drift off into an imagined fight between Jessica Beal and Chiaki Kuriyama (over, presumably, himself).

“The first beauty of the film,” continued Mr.-I’m-too-stuck-up-to-read-car-magazines, “is in its total and beautifully violent inversion of not only gender but sex roles…” Blah blah blah blah blah.

“Wait a minute,” said Jessica, lowing momentarily the power on her chainsaw, “what if we both can have him?”

Ms Chiaki - not that Typho knew that that was the actress’ name, nor that in Japan family names are placed before personal names, nor that he would mentally (or otherwise) make use of the title “Ms” - dropped her mace. “Oh dear! I never thought!” she exclaimed, her lips speaking perfect, if inane, English and her nose replaced with Scarlett’s, not that, again, he was consciously aware that it was Scarlett’s nose which had been grafted onto Kuriyama’s otherwise unblemished countenance. “Oh no, a sudden breeze!”

“Hold on,” said Jessica, revving what Right-Wing Man would instantly identify as phallic symbol likewise unwittingly grafted by Typho’s libido onto imaginary forms of actresses acting out a play that existed under imaginary conditions. “I want him first!”

“No, bitch!” shouted Kuriyama. She started swinging her mace rhythmically enough and wide enough so to require a tumescent rocking of her fighting-stance legs. “If anything, we’ll both have to have him at once.”

Beal and Chiaki turned their eyes towards Typho and licked their lips predatorially. “…so, see? Every time a man attempts to initiate sex with one of the women in the universe of Kill Bill, it happens - symbolically and with respect to verisimilitude of the reversal of proper sex roles within that universe. Gogo makes it explicit - ‘or is it I who have penetrated you?’ - when she slaughters the drunk. Of course, the symbolic juxtaposition of the actual physicality of sex is not limited to penetration - it needs verisimilitude, of course, so if we take a look at the deaths of the three men we’re talking about, notice the surfeit of blood, even relative to the standard’s of the movie’s universe…” Gogo’s hand reached down and… @#%$ @#%$ @#%$ why did he have to have a roommate? He wished that he were alone so that he could be hospitable to his company. He decided that Gogo was going to go shopping with Beal so that she (Beal) could procure a proper education-enhancing outfit of her own and…

“…even more interesting to note - and this fits into the overall thematic ideal of Justice, preferably bloody as possible - is that all of the men are in effect punished for attempting to possess one not capable of giving proper consent - comatose, drunk, or young - and get their Just deserts. Those three pretty much cover it, right? Well, I theorize that if there were another iconic exemplar of a man attempting to gratify himself of one of them in an arena in which they were necessarily incapable of giving consent, they’d get just as beautiful a revenge, huh? Well, thanks for pulling me away from O’Reilly for that. G’night!”

That thought did indeed ensure that Typho did not go to sleep until late.

***

Scarlett hung her latest purchases on one of the racks in the Justice League Walk-In Closet, and as she did, she noticed a tiny button recessed into the wall. It was a red button, but since the walls in the closet were red, too, she'd never noticed it before.

"Huh. I wonder what it does?"

She thought about pushing it.

"Nah. Better not."

She continued hanging up dresses and putting away shoes for another ten minutes before she started to leave. She walked back to the button.

"It must be here for a reason," Scarlett mused. "I mean, we built this place. We must have put it there to do something." Then again, she reasoned, we did build this place, and sometimes logic wasn't the Justice League's forte. She walked away from the button, towards the door.

But curiosity got the better of her, and she came back and pressed the button.

Beeeeeep! Beeeeeep! Beep! The lights in the Justice League Walk-In Closet flickered briefly, but that was it.

"Odd." She shrugged.

The door to the Scarlett's Inner Sanctum flung open suddenly, and Eric, X-Raytor, and Midnight Chatter walked in surprisingly nonchalantly considering they were naked except for towels slung over their shoulders. Eric still had socks on, so he was, ironically, the most clothed of the three.

Scarlett's jaw dropped open, and she shut her eyes instinctively. "WHAT are you doing in here like this?!"

The three of them jumped in surprise. Midnight flung his towel from his shoulder and wrapped it around his waist.

"What are you doing in the guys' shower room, Scarlett?" X-Raytor asked with a slight leer.

"This isn't the guy's shower room! It's the closet!" she said, using her hands to cover her closed eyes for good measure.

Only then did the guys take at look at their puzzling surroundings.

"But...but...how'd we end up here?" Eric asked.

"I have no idea! Now, go back wherever you came from or put some clothes on for crying out loud!" Scarlett made a shooing motion with her hands.

The three of them shrugged and left. Scarlett lifted her eyes for a moment and snuck a glance. What they didn't know wouldn't hurt them, and besides, X-Raytor looked through everyone's clothes without remorse, Eric was already naked all the time, and she wasn't interested in Midnight anymore anyways.

She waited a few minutes to make sure the guys were far away from the door, and then left the Justice League Walk-In Closet.

She stopped in her tracks when she realized she was in the guy's bathroom.

Scarlett glanced back at the door to the Justice League Walk-In Closet.

"Uh-oh," she muttered under her breath. "Guess that button did a little more than I thought."

Scarlett carefully made her way to the door leading out of the boy's bathroom, and opened it. She met with a small staircase leading straight up to the ceiling and the three guys, and was vaguely reminded of the movie "Cube."

"Well, guys, I think I know where the button that rearranges the Hall of Justice is hidden," she announced.

"Well, care to do something about it?" Eric asked.

"Yeah, no offense to you guys, but you two really need to get showers. You smell awful."

"Thanks, X-y."

Scarlett turned and headed back towards the Justice League Walk-In Closet. "I'll take care of it!"

She went back and hit the button after closing the door to the closet. She opened the door, and saw the kitchen.

Pressed the button again. This time, it was the workout room.

And again. The study.

And again. The Kama Sutra roo--wait a sec. The WHAT room?

And again. The garage.

And again. Ah-hah! Finally. Back to normal.

Scarlett decided not to tell the others where the button was, just in case word got out to one of the newbies and chaos ensued.

...not that any of the Justice Leaguers were very good at stopping chaos from happening.

***

“A little higher, a little higher,” came a voice just ahead.

Isomorphix stood with his back pressed against the large crate and cautiously peered around the corner. The voice belonged to a young man appearing to be in his twenties dressed in jeans and a simple black t-shirt. He was making motions with his hands, his focus directed towards a medium-sized crane lifting similar crates from the pier to a cargo ship that was moored adjacent to it. A few other men - of similar age and clothing as the first - were also gathered around the shipment, preparing crates and performing manual labor. One of them stood apart from the rest, however. Observing the operation as if an inspector, the tall dark man wore a black business suit, polished black shoes, a gold ring on his right-hand middle finger, and had neatly gelled-back hair. It was him, no doubt about it.

Quickly throwing a glance to the right, and then upward, Iso made note of the status of those who weren’t in plain view. Armed thugs in ski masks patrolled the roofs of the storehouses and formed a shifting perimeter around the vessel loading its cargo. Each carried a submachine gun, a belt of ammunition, and a sidearm.

Not your typical merchants, Isomorphix mused mentally while scanning the rest of the piers.

Other than a few anchored vessels, they were empty - as was to be expected at 1:15 AM at the East Dock.

Darkness had consumed them earlier as the sun set upon Iso and his targets on the freeway. The ‘businessman’ had made multiple stops and Iso had been forced to hitch multiple rides (usually on the roofs of said vehicles) along the way. The final destination, not to his surprise, had been the East Dock. For some months now, some really big and important shipments had been made at the harbor. No qualms could be made about the illegality of their nature.

Exactly what was going on, he did not know. There was a great stirring in the underworld. Something was being set into motion. Something big. As much as Isomorphix wished to get back onto his old case, he knew he could not.

Until I establish the nature of these manipulating ‘voices,’ I can never be certain of my actions. I had been manipulated earlier… there had to be a reason these… things… wanted to keep me away from Studmuffin. In any case, psychic mind-controlling voices seem to be higher on the priority list to begin with.

He peered back around the side of the crate again. The men worked diligently - lifting, pushing, and pulling in one of the pools of intermittent light that lined the dark length of the dock.

However, it doesn’t seem I’m getting any closer to finding Studmuffin’s whereabouts, or anything else about these mind-controllers. Those abandoned laboratories and exothermic reaction experiments tell me little - and that theory only goes so far as the creatures that fought Studmuffin and I. Whoever they are, they seemed to have completely erased any signs of their influence.

Suddenly, one of the figures approached the eloquently dressed ‘businessman.’

“That’s the last of them. We’re ready to ship out.”

“Excellent. Tell the men to get on board. We leave immediately.”

Isomorphix considered his options. The trail had gone dead cold and he needed any clues he could get a hold of. He’d have to stow aboard now, or the ship would leave and so would his only lead. A small ship, armed guards, unknown destination, and unknown duration.

Iso frowned, yet took a step forward in preparation to make his move.

It’s either this, or I will have to go back to Antarctica and start over from scratch.

Isomorphix paused.

…What?

Antarctica?

Immediately, his body flooded with adrenaline, but he fought to keep a rational and logical train of thought. That last idea had not been his own.

Was it possible that he was being manipulated again? If so, to what end?

FLASH!

A white, glacial wasteland. Snow coming down hard. Ice-cold water washing up on a frozen shore.


What was…

FLASH!

Further inland. The scene was nearly obscured by gusts of wind carrying flowing sheets of white. A small figure could be made out in the snow. It was…


The scenes were gone as soon as they had come, and Iso’s vision reverted to the last of the crew boarding the now unmoored freighter. The tingling sensation in the back of his mind was gone, although chemical stimulant still coursed through his veins.

No mistake. They - whoever ‘they’ were - had influenced him again.

What does it mean?

Before they had wanted to keep him away from Studmuffin. They had covertly manipulated his thinking. This time, however, they openly gave him a suggestion. Playing the role of a messenger rather than a puppet master. Why? Did they wish to lead him off course? Was he even on course? Perhaps the ship was actually the key.

No, whoever they were, they were extremely coercive. They could have led him off any trail with far more finesse.

Or perhaps that’s exactly what they want me to think?

FLASH!

Studmuffin lay in the cold, unconscious. Snow had accumulated around him and his skin looked pale under his tattered costume as if he were suffering from hypothermia.


@#%$, Iso cursed mentally.

They had just shown him exactly what he wanted to see. It did make sense - Studmuffin was heading south, after all. And he knew that if they had wanted to lead him off course or get him out of the way, they could have just thrown Keghead onto him again.

This is either a trap, or this is exactly what they want me to do, Isomorphix reasoned as he turned away from the harbor.

But there really wasn’t any other choice. He’d just have to improvise when the substance hit the fan.

**********

It was nearly 2:00 AM when Isomorphix slipped into the Hall of Justice undetected.

There were faint lights and the sound of a commentator coming from the lounge followed by a “BOOYAH!”

“Knocked! Out!” Pinzz crowed. “That’s five bucks you owe me, Crystal.”

Crystal Freeze muttered something about lousy refs and handed over the cash.

There were four of them in the room watching a boxing game on TV - Pinzz, Crystal, Netic, and Twisk. They most likely had come back from a nighthawking shift. Iso quietly sneaked through.

Now the residence wing had come up and most of the doors were closed. A good majority of the League was asleep. Coming across Violet’s old room which had now been occupied by Typho, Iso noticed the door was open a crack. Inside, Typho sat at his desk and was writing something under a table lamp. It struck him as somewhat odd that Typho would be writing anything at all - it just didn’t seem to be the boy’s forte. Not giving it a second thought, the swordsman slipped past.

Finally, he arrived at his own quarters… only to find the door wide open and his laptop turned on.

“Time to go to the Sleazy Bar again, Annie. Just you wait, you’ll be the Bondage Queen in no time!” Raven whispered eerily to herself. “Heh. Heh! HehHehHeh!”

She was so engrossed her game of PM2 that she didn’t notice when Iso casually walked past the doorway. It looked like he would have to leave the classic note on the refrigerator. Accordingly, he made his way towards the kitchen.

Just as the entrance came into view, Iso stealthily reversed his position in mid-step and pressed his back against the wall adjacent to the doorway much in the same manner as he had done back at the dock. Cautiously, he peered around the edge.

The refrigerator door was open, illuminating the kitchen in its light. A pajama-clad Oreo Avenger was pouring herself a glass of milk from the carton. Accompanying it was a small bowl of Oreos.

The trenchcoat wearing man waited quietly - breathlessly - as he heard the fridge door shut and the light disappear. He watched carefully as Oreo emerged with her midnight snack. The superheroine turned to go back to her room - in the direction opposite to Iso. It helped that he was wearing a virtual cloak of black. It also helped that Oreo’s pupils had not yet completely re-adapted to the darkness. Quickly, the vigilante took his opportunity and moved into the kitchen.

Oreo Avenger turned around, almost as if she had heard something. Seeing nothing but blackness, she shrugged and continued to make her way back to her room.

Too close…

Not wasting any more time, Iso quickly jotted down his note for the rest of the League in case this mission would be his last.


I have taken the Justice Jet to find Studmuffin. I believe I know where he is, although I am not sure if I will succeed in my endeavor. There is a very good chance I’m walking into a trap. If I do not return within a week, assume that I have been captured or killed. Maintain constant vigilance.

- Isomorphix

P.S. C\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\sysrec.ini: 10AAB01100CAA011BC



The last portion was a code. He had no doubt that Drew would be able to figure it out. It held the contents of his investigations on his computer, so that someone could at least partially trace his work. There was no time to add any new details or go into specifics. And he was going to go alone; there was no point in endangering the entire group.

Iso stuck the note under a magnetic clip on the fridge and quickly made his way back through the Hall, towards the hangar. Raven was still glued to the screen. Typho was still, strangely enough, writing. Oreo and Rosma’s door was shut. The boxing match was now over, so Pinzz and the other three girls had started a card game. Twisk looked like she was about to fall asleep.

The meeting room was empty, the training room, the supercomputer/server room, the records room, the security room, and finally the hangar. Walking in, the prominent item on the grounds was immediately apparent: it was sleek, black, and long, standing on three wheels. The windows of the cockpit in front were like that of a raptor’s - sharp and dangerous. At the rear, the wings curved forward wickedly, joining at the rear to form the engine exhausts. It was truly a work of art to behold: the Justice Jet.

Isomorphix walked up the ramp that had descended from the plane’s belly, making his way to the cockpit. Sitting down in the pilot’s seat, he powered up the Jet and began the pre-flight sequence with ease. He was one of the few League members who could actually fly the Jet without others having to fear for their lives.

The Jet began to hum quietly as Iso turned to the onboard computer and pulled up a global map and GPS. Splitting the screen, he also pulled up a detailed map of the Antarctic. By now the Jet was sufficiently warmed up and the boarding ramp had pulled up into the belly of the aircraft.

Here I go, Isomorphix thought grimly.

Seeing that the hangar doors had opened, he pushed the lever forward and launched the Jet of Justice into the starry night sky.

***

Half asleep, Oreo Avenger opened the fridge, looking for breakfast. The hall clock chimed and she counted the rings. It wasn’t even noon yet. A note, stuck to the fridge with a Magnet of Justice, fluttered unnoticed to the floor.

She stood in front of the open fridge, letting the cold air wake her up. Something horrible about the fridge gradually came to her attention. There was no cheese. She looked behind the milk, under the green moldy thing, even in the cheese drawer where no one ever put cheese. Nothing. Not even a forgotten package of shredded stuff. This was not good. Not good at all.

She took a pen from her bag and a piece of paper from the floor. The paper already had writing on one side, so she flipped it over and used the back.

Went to store. Need cheese. Be back soon. ~OA

She magnetted it to the fridge and flew to the store.

***

Standing at the checkout with a cart full of cheese, Oreo Avenger stared at the headlines of the papers and magazines lining the checkout. The Inside View claimed “Chi Dance Quartet Responsible for Gigli” and “So Weird leads Children to the Occult!” while their competition stated “The Inside View Plagiarizes - plus, they smell” and “Bigfoot Seen in City’s Sewers” with a fuzzy photo of what could be Bigfoot or a close-up shot of someone’s nose. The Sentinel, the respectable paper of the bunch, proclaimed in big letters JUSTICE LEAGUE WELCOMES NEW MEMBER. A photo of Right-Wing Man standing in the Foyer of Justice accompanied the headline.

That’s odd Oreo Avenger thought. Right-Wing Man hadn’t been on as mission with them, and she didn’t remember anyone issuing a formal press release. And that photo, it was taken from inside the Hall. She tossed the paper in the cart with the cheese. Very odd indeed.