JUSTICE LEAGUE

34

Preparations
 

"Big O!" Roger Smith yelled, raising his watch to his mouth. "Show time!"

On the TV screen, the ground began to shake as a giant robot rose from beneath the asphalt of Paradigm City.

"What is this, anyway?" X-Raytor asked.

He, Midnight Chatter, Typho, and the always-pensive Right Wing Man were in one of the Justice Yacht's private lounges. It wasn't as big as the main lounge, and it definitely didn't have that big Baby Grand piano, but it had a few couches and a TV. One of Midnight Chatter's anime DVDs was in the player.

"It's Big O!" Midnight Chatter said.

“Yeah, I know,” X-Raytor said. “I picked up on that. But what is it? The giant robot and the amnesia and the tomatoes and everything- what does it all mean?”

Midnight Chatter frowned. “Uh… Paradigm City is New York?”

“It’s obvious,” Right Wing Man said. “When Roger Smith pilots the Big O, he is acting as an instrument of God. After all, the Big O- and all giant robots- are referred to as Megadeuses. Although, it really should be Megadei… but anyway. He is acting as an instrument of God to defend the city against the evil forces threatening to overtake it, and even set themselves up as gods. Note that when Roger enters the Big O robot, a monitor reads: ‘Cast in the name of God, ye not guilty.’ Meaning that Roger’s God has found him worthy to be a Defender of Good in the city.”

Right Wing Man paused, thoughtfully. “Then again, the motto of the Military Police is ‘God and State.’ By leaving the Military Police, Roger is, in effect, abdicating his duties to the State. Unless he is, in the vein of our own work, trying to enact the will of the State through more renegade means… Perhaps the State is even at fault here, since Alex Rosewater- who fancies himself a god- is the most powerful man in the city. I amend that- not as much at fault as misguided. But it’s inarguable that Roger is following the will of God…”

X-Raytor blinked at looked at Midnight Chatter.

Midnight Chatter shrugged. “I thought it was just about giant robots blowing each other up…”

Right Wing Man snorted. “Yeah, and Fooly Coolly is all about a kid with giant robots growing out of his head.”

Midnight Chatter stared. “It’s not?”

“Yo, dawgs,” Typho said. “Are y’all gonna be at the Big Mack Daddy JL Booty Fest?”

“No, I’m going to skip whatever pool party Studmuffin is planning,” X-Raytor said. “Marco Polo is just no fun with you people.”

“Naw, naw, son!” Typho said. “I mean the dance!”

“Oh.” X-Raytor said. The Justice League Social was not a particularly thrilling subject. Especially considering last year’s social, and the entire Pinzz debacle. He’d spent the past few days avoiding Pinzz, because he knew even passing her in the hall would be as uncomfortable as all hell. Even worse would be if she actually asked him out. That was last thing he needed. Besides, he liked the memories he had…

At the same time, X-Raytor was, simply put, lonely. As much as he was loathe to admit it, he missed high school. He missed actually having a girlfriend. He missed sex too, yeah, but he seriously missed the whole dating thing in general. Sure, he’d had dates while in the Justice League- Pinzz/Neary to the last social, and Oreo Avenger to that Tri-Leader prom. And then there had been Cara…

But he was, in that respect, alone. He missed having a girlfriend, he missed going on dates, he missed Cara. He even missed Sticky Spectre.

“I just got asked out earlier,” Right Wing Man said. X-Raytor stiffened. Right Wing Boy had a date?!

“Who asked you?” Midnight Chatter asked.

“Raven,” Right Wing Man said. “Tell me, does she seem to be a… conventional woman?”

“Conventional how?” X-Raytor asked, feeling slightly relieved for some unexplainable reason.

“I got myself a date with Ms. Supafine herself, Xiao!” Typho said. “I was all like, ‘Hey girl, you lookin’ fine,’ and she was all like, ‘Oh Typho, you’re such a manly man! Will you take me to the dance?’”

“Netic asked me,” Midnight Chatter said. There was a pause.

“And?” Typho asked.

“And what?” Midnight Chatter asked, puzzled.

“What did you say, man?” Typho asked.

“Oh, I said yes,” Midnight Chatter said.

“Awesome!” Typho exulted. “Yo, X-Raytor, how ‘bout you?”

“I, uh-“ X-Raytor started to say. Just then, the door to the lounge opened and Scarlett walked in.

“Uh, hi,” she said. “X-Raytor, can I talk to you for a second?”

“Hold that thought,” X-Raytor said to Typho, and stood up.

When he had followed Scarlett out into the hallway, she asked, “So, do you have a date to the social yet?”

X-Raytor blinked. “Uh… no?”

“Well, listen,” Scarlett said. “Do you want to go with me? As friends?”

“Hmm,” X-Raytor said. “I’m wondering, Scarlett, do you remember last year?”

Scarlett rolled her eyes. “Could we please not…”

“I seem to remember,” X-Raytor said. “That, although it was a Sadie Hawkins dance, you wanted me to ask you.”

“Uh huh.” Scarlett said.

“And then, you ended up going with Midnight Chatter- who, as I recall, you asked.”

“Yeah.”

“And after that, after turning me down just because I didn’t want to break the rules of the dance, you want me to go with you now?!”

Scarlett nodded. “Um… pretty much.”

“Well,” X-Raytor said. “Then what did you think I’d say?”

Scarlett shrugged.

“YES!!!!” X-Raytor screamed. “YES!!!!”

“Great!” Scarlett said.

“I knew you’d stopped denying it eventually!” X-Raytor said.

“We’re going as friends, X-y,” Scarlett said.

“And, you know, there’s a little after party going on back in my cabin,” X-Raytor said. “I can make sure Midnight Chatter conveniently loses his keys…”

“As friends, X-y.” Scarlett said.

“Fine, fine,” X-Raytor said. “But, remember, you have to dance with me!”

“That’s sort of the point…”

“And what are you going as, anyway?” X-Raytor asked.

“Not sure yet. What about you?”

“I don’t know,” X-Raytor said. “Maybe just as myself…”

“You better not,” Scarlett said. “If I’m in a costume, you’re in a costume.”

“Fine, fine, whatever,” X-Raytor said. “I’ll figure something out.”

“Okay, great,” Scarlett said.

“Great.” X-Raytor said.

There was a long, somewhat uncomfortable silence.

“Well, uh, I have to get back to the… thing.” X-Raytor said.

“Yeah, uh, me too,” Scarlett said.

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

“Later.”

X-Raytor walked back into the private lounge and closed the door behind him. “Where were we?”

***

The scene over the railing was striking.

The seemingly endless ocean stretched out in all directions. It was a wide-open space… far more open than anyone could imagine. On a ship in the vast breadth of the sea, one could truly see how small and insignificant they were against the mighty backdrop. It was almost as if it were a void… the expanse of the water below and the sky overhead, only meeting at a thin, unperceivable line that was the horizon. Two infinities that met at nothing. All around, it was the same scene. No left or right. No backward or forward. Just the waves and the heavens.

Isomorphix had been staring out at the emptiness for some time now. The open sea was a good environment for thinking. Of which he had been doing too much of, recently.

Abandoned accelerated, mass exothermic reaction experiments.

Biological heat generation via irradiation.

The Seekers. Studmuffin. Chi. Heat.


Iso’s mind filed through all the data he had gathered in his investigations prior to the events in Antarctica. With all the information he had scrounged up so far, he could only make one conclusion: everything had to do with the melting of the southern icecap.

It made sense. Like he had suspected earlier while running from Keghead, the Seekers did not have much in terms of chi blasts. Their powers, while great, did not encompass much of the desired energy output to generate temperatures of that magnitude. Studmuffin, however, did.

The memory was still vivid in Iso’s mind. The power-up. Ball of energy in-hand. Light pouring through eyes and mouth alike. Electricity snapping. The smell of ozone. And finally the violent blast and subsequent shockwave that decimated a sizable portion of the forest. Nothing should have survived that. Jarhead did.

At the time Iso had been fleeing back to the Hall of Justice with the monstrosity in hot pursuit, he had suspected the need for heat was ultimately for that reason: that the Seekers seemed to feed off of it. While that still held true, it was obviously not the goal. That became apparent when he had found the Seekers dead and Studmuffin heading back south - preparing to blow up the Antarctic with even more firepower than Isomorphix thought the chi-master ever had.

But why? And who?

Harder to answer, those were.

‘Why’ wasn’t as relevant in terms of consequence. Intriguing, yes. Important in tactical analysis, even. But in terms of the end result… well, there was more than one outcome that would result from such action. Costal cities would be gone and worldwide havoc would ensue, for starters.

‘Who’ was far more important in that regard. And the only thing Isomorphix could ascertain was that whoever they were, they were a force to be reckoned with. Secret labs, using thugs, creatures such as the seekers, and supposed mind-controlling telepathy…

Perhaps another group of super-powered individuals or individual?

Who knew?

If anyone did, it was probably Studmuffin. But it didn’t look like he would be talking to anyone anytime soon.

The swordsman looked up over the railed confines of the yacht yet again.

Gold and orange reflections of the retreating sun danced and played upon the waves as they calmly lapped across the surface of the water.

Was it that late already?

Drew must have asked me to play that game of ‘Go Fish’ about four hours ago. It has been quite a while, Iso thought.

He paused for a moment.

“Heh.”

He could remember playing a round of the useless card game with Violet Princess. But that was a long time ago and she was dead now. Iso wondered what had possessed him to play that rubbish in the first place. Even if he had some spare time, he could have used it to train or surely something far more efficient…

Shrugging off the thought, he shifted his view towards the bridge of the vessel. The glare of the dying afternoon was heavy upon the glass, but Iso could make out a figure at the helm.

Captain Davy Seabiscuit. Another unknown variable.

I suppose I’ll have to keep tabs on the good captain.

Paranoia wasn’t necessarily a bad thing - especially when warranted. With the JL… and especially with Iso… it almost always was. He’d check up on Seabiscuit later.

The sea had nearly swallowed the sun whole now, and the stars began to speckle against the black canvas of the night.

The others were planning to decorate tonight. They’re probably already doing so. Isomorphix recalled from the meeting.

He had to take such things into account, being the ‘security’ and all.

Perhaps I’ll go take a look.

***

A third search through her suitcase yielded the same results as the two previous searches: no skirt. Her entire costume rested on the acquisition of a single blue skirt…maybe a red one, in a pinch. Oreo Avenger sighed. Thinking of it, she didn’t think she even owned a skirt. Skirts were something she had gladly left behind when she became Oreo Avenger.

“Rosma!” she called, walking onto the deck.

Rosma looked up from her reclined position, a fruity drink in one hand, a book in the other. This was their private deck, a small balcony-type area directly off the master cabin. For once Rosma wasn’t attempting to organize or clean. She flipped on a nearby table lamp to illuminate her book in the gathering dark.

“Oreo!” she called back.

“Do you have a skirt I could borrow? A blue one, kind of short?”

Rosma shook her head. “All I have are long black dresses.”

Oreo thought a moment. “No, that won’t work.” She went back into their cabin.

“You could ask Scarlett!” Rosma called after her. “She brought half the Walk-In Closet with her.”

Oreo Avenger made an annoyed noise in her throat. Scarlett was the last person she wanted to ask for help. She’d probably just yell at Oreo--Scarlett seemed to enjoy doing that.

Although…Oreo had blindsided Scarlett with the costume party idea. The social was Scarlett’s thing, and Oreo should’ve told her about the costume party idea before the meeting. But she hadn’t thought of it then! Well, she couldn’t change that now. The past was the past. All she could do was ask Scarlett to loan her a skirt and apologize, in precisely that order.

Oreo gritted her teeth and made her way to Scarlett’s cabin. This was not going to be pleasant. She knocked.

A face popped through the door. “Cwah!” Raven said.

“Hey,” Oreo said. “Is Scarlett here?”

Raven withdrew her face and a few seconds later, the door opened. The room was small, made smaller by a dark red curtain hanging down the center.

“She’s over there.” Raven pointed past the curtain. “So are you going to the decorating thing later?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

The curtain schwooshed aside, revealing a glaring Scarlett. Raven looked at Scarlett, then Oreo, then back at Scarlett.

“I…um…need to be away from here right now.” She walked out through the wall.

The two superheroines locked eyes. Oreo looked away first.

“I was wondering if, um, if I could borrow a skirt for my costume.”

Scarlett looked her up and down. “I doubt you’d fit in any of my clothes,” she replied shortly. “Besides, I only wear dresses.”

Oreo stared fixedly at her feet. “Okay. Well. I’m…I’m sorry for ruining your meeting yesterday and everything else. It’s just…sorry.” Oreo left the room before she said something she’d regret.

At least that was over with. Maybe now the two of them could stop bickering over everything. Of course, Oreo still had the problem of her costume. Maybe one of the other girls had packed a skirt. Or one of the boys. She might have to just change her costume. Now that was a terrible thought.

The combination of a wandering mind and a corner brought Oreo Avenger smacking into someone heading in the other direction. She tumbled backwards, catching herself in the air before she hit the ground.

“Sorry!”

“It’s okay,” Midnight Chatter said. “I wasn’t watching where I was going, which can only lead to sorry. Earlier today I was walking along and-“

“Okay,” Oreo interrupted. “So, do you have a date for the social?”

Midnight Chatter smiled. “Yep!”

Oreo Avenger blinked. “Oh. Okay, then.” She walked as quickly as possible away from him. “I’ll see you around, then.”

Who could’ve asked Midnight Chatter to be her date? He wasn’t supposed to be going with anyone. Not that Oreo wanted to take him herself, of course. It’s just that if he didn’t have a date and she didn’t have a date, then they wouldn’t have a date together and… Oreo shook her head. She was being an idiot. Of course Midnight had a date. Girls outnumbered the guys on this ship. But who?

Scarlett. He had smiled when he said he had a date, and that had to mean Scarlett. So much for Scarlett’s claims that she was over him.

Oreo Avenger abruptly reversed directions. If Scarlett didn’t have a skirt she could borrow, well, Oreo would just make one herself. That was a very long curtain hanging down the center of Scarlett’s room, and all Oreo needed was a short skirt. She dug in her satchel for a pair of scissors. It would only take a moment.

***

Oreo Avenger shut the door behind her, and Scarlett flopped back on her bed. Great. Oreo had apologized, and Scarlett hadn’t even had the decency to accept the apology.

“I guess I’ll have a side order of guilt to go along with everything else,” Scarlett said to herself. And she really hadn’t meant to be so mean. "I doubt you’d fit in any of my clothes” ? Gah.

And the lie-of course she had a skirt. A couple, in fact. Sure, they were in a drawer in Iso’s cabin(probably right next to some kind of secret compartment filled with Bob Marley CDs), but it would have taken, like, two minutes to go get them.

Scarlett sighed. She needed to get over this petty argument with Oreo. They were both adults, after all. Yeah, Scarlett thought to herself. I’ll go get the skirts and let her borrow them. Then maybe we can both move past this. She ran to go get them.

Five minutes later…

Scarlett bumped into Midnight Chatter in the hall. It was an awkward moment, just as awkward as every other time they’d run into each other since Scarlett had “returned from the dead.” But Scarlett needed to find Oreo.

“Have you seen Oreo?”

“Oreo? She just bumped into me and headed back that way,” Midnight said, pointing. “Speaking of ways, I was listening to that old song “The Way” the other day when it came on the radio. My cousin who worked for a radio station once--"

“Thanks, Midnight,” Scarlett said. She walked down the hallway Midnight had pointed to, past Right Wing Man and Typho’s cabin, past Nectic and Drew’s cabin, past her and Raven’s cabi-Scarlett stopped.

The door was wide open, and she’d left it shut. She went to shut it again, scanning the room as she did so just to make sure Raven hadn't returned already and left the door open for whatever reason of her own.

Wait. Where was the curtain? Then Scarlett noticed Oreo doing something, her back to the cabin door.

“Oreo! I’m sorry, I was wrong. I have two skirts with me. Which one do you wa-" Scarlett’s voice caught in her throat when she saw what Oreo had in her hands.

Scissors. And her red curtain. The red Moulin Rouge curtain Eli had given to her right before she had left for Scotland. The last time they had--

“Scarlett! I was just, uh-"

“WHAT the F*CK are you doing to my curtain?!” Scarlett roared.

“Uh…cutting off enough to make a skirt with? It’s a long curtain. Half of it was on the floor anyways,” Oreo explained, holding up a strip of fabric at least a yard in length. “So you’ve still got your divider and stuff.”

“Oh…my…” Scarlett stood there for a long moment, her anger rendering her incapable of doing anything more than glare at Oreo. To Oreo, it was longer than eternity. Finally though, Scarlett spoke.

“Here!” She threw both the skirts at Oreo with every bit of strength she had; Oreo dropped the curtain halves as she reached to catch the clothing. Scarlett screamed, then seemed to gain a modicum of self-control. “Take your damn skirts and your f*cking scissors and get the F*CK out. NOW!”

Oreo stood there, frozen in fear. She’d never heard Scarlett like this. Ever.

Scarlett didn’t wait for Oreo to recover; she grabbed her roughly by the shoulders and shoved her out of the cabin into the hallway wall, then slammed the door shut. She didn't care if she'd hurt Oreo or not, except that right now, she really wanted to hurt her.

Scarlett was shaking, she was so angry. She kicked the foot of her bed with such force the heel of her sexy red shoes came off, and she lost her footing and collapsed to the floor next to her bed. After a few moments, Scarlett reached over, still shaking, and picked up the severed curtain. She wrapped the larger portion of the curtain around her like a blanket and hugged the smaller piece to her cheek, half as a pillow, half to catch the tears she had begun to cry all over again.

***

Second deck, down the center, towards the right. Isomorphix recalled.

That’s where the dance floor was. And that’s where everyone would be decorating since the main event of the social - the Sadie Hawkins dance - would be held there.

Useless waste of time, Iso commented mentally as he made his way down the stairs to the lower decks. Just like last time.

Like last time… Last time Violet had asked him to the occasion. He had refused… though not in so many words. That was odd; as usually he would flat-out say “no.” Well, at least this time around people would be smart enough to know he didn’t attend such ridiculous parties.

Making his way past the living room to the second stairwell, he noticed that the popcorn, drinks, and other food items littered in front of the wide-screen TV had been abandoned just recently. As he descended down the second identical set of stairs, he could hear what first seemed as muffled sounds becoming clear and distinct voices. Reaching the bottom of the steps, he turned the corner to see…

The dance floor. Everyone had already arrived. A quarter of the dance hall was already full of streamers hanging from every corner and adorning the walls. Typho and Right-Wing Man were working on getting the colorful ribbons appended to the bulkheads whilst Pinzz sat in a chair barking orders.

“No, no, no, you morons! That’s way off! Down, that way! No, not that… Oh, do NOT make me have to get up.”

Not too far off was a table with heaps of un-inflated balloons. Midnight Chatter was finally making good use of his big mouth and was blowing them up along with Eric who struggled to keep up. They passed them on to Twisk and Crystal who were doing the hanging.

A foldout ladder stood in the middle of the room with X-Raytor at the very top trying, without much success, to get a large disco ball affixed to the ceiling. Raven stood below, desperately trying to hold the wobbling ladder steady.

“X-y, stop fidgeting! You’re going to fall!”

“Hey, this isn’t as easy as it looks!” cried the masked man from above.

Over to the side, Drew was setting up the stereo system and speakers. Netic stood by her, offering company.

“If I can get these frequencies to overlap, this sound system will be totally killer,” Drew was explaining, then adding matter-of-factly: “1mm screwdriver.”

Netic reached out with her hand, attracting the requested tool from the toolbox several feet away.

Oreo Avenger was setting up the drinks / snacks table on one side of the room while Scarlett Fyre was setting up the circular tables for sitting on the other side. They didn’t look too pleased, and the expression on their faces became even more venomous when their gazes chanced over each other.

Huh.

Isomorphix noted it and moved on with his scan of the vicinity.

Finally there were Studmuffin and Rosma, sitting in chairs not too far from Pinzz’s. It looked as if Rosma was trying to talk to Studmuffin, but not managing to get much. Actually, Iso was surprised she managed to get him on the yacht, much less have him attend the decorating event.

Well, if anyone has any chance of talking to him…

Just then, Typho seemed to notice Isomorphix’s presence in the dance hall.

“Yo, G! Where you been? And wazzat with the black, bro? I mean, I know a brotha’s gotta keep it real, but -“

Pinzz cut him off, telling him to get back to work. Scarlett managed to look away from Oreo’s back long enough to notice Iso. She frowned.

“You’re not going to wear that to the social, are you?”

Iso just looked back at her challenging stare with cold nonchalance.

“Well, if Netic can be Trinity, he could always be Neo,” Drew commented with a smirk from across the room.

“Forshizzle! All you need is some shades, holmes!” Typho said, drawing a pair of sunglasses from his pocket. He also drew a roll of streamer to his head from Pinzz.

Iso was about to comment on the situation when a loud crash came from the center of the room. X-Raytor lay on the floor next to a toppled ladder, holding the disco ball above his head.

“It’s okay! I’m alright!” he declared.

Pinzz muttered something about the ball being more valuable than his worthless carcass.

Iso sighed mentally. It was going to be a long night.

***

Ten minutes earlier...

Scarlett made her way carefully down the stairs, one hand gripping the handrail tightly, the other arm holding a box full of streamers, balloons, masks, and other party decorations. Stairs were the one thing that had always given her problems, or at least, going down stairs was a problem. Sexy red heels were meant for looking sexy, not for practicality. It was frustrating, but such was life. Sacrifices had to be made for the sake of appearances. Like Iso not letting any of us know he likes Bob Marley. It would hurt his reputation so much if I was able to find something solid to base my suspicions on. Alas, Scarlett had yet to find any hard evidence.

And of course, her current adherence to the standards of appearance she had set for herself didn't mean that as Scarlett went slowly downstairs that she didn't think about the days back when it didn't matter. How long had it been since she'd run around in sneakers, or even...barefoot? A lifetime...

The damage Oreo had done to the curtain was irreparable; Scarlett had finally forced herself to accept what had happened as a sign that she needed to move on. You have to get on with your life, Eli would have said. It was what he had said before.

Scarlett shrugged it off. Moving on. She finally reached the bottom of the steps and headed in the direction of the dance hall. Oreo's costume idea was a good one; after all, masquerade themed decorations are pretty easy and fun to put up.

It was just then that Scarlett reached the dance hall and saw what was going on.

Half the decorations were already up. Decorations that were not masquerade-themed like Scarlett had been planning and had set her heart on once she had admitted to herself that she did, indeed, like Oreo's idea. The box of decorations dropped loudly to the floor.

Oreo turned from her directing of the others and broke into a smile. "Scarlett! How do you like the decorations? Disco!"

It had not occurred to Oreo that orchestrating the decoration of the dance hall was something Scarlett had wanted to do; Oreo was just trying to be helpful.

"Wonderful," Scarlett said through gritted teeth. "Spec-freaking-tacular." She bit her bottom lip. Oreo was taking this away from her, too?

Stupid to get so upset about this, Scarlett.

Oreo frowned. "You don't like it?"

"I thought we'd go with a masquerade theme. You know. With the whole costume idea of yours and all. Disco doesn't exactly--"

"We needed an excuse for the disco ball!"

"You know what? Never mind. Forget it. I'm just going to go set up the tables and chairs and leave so you can do the rest, Oreo."

"But--"

"You can have it!" Scarlett screamed, then took off in the direction of the tables and chairs, biting her lip so hard it started to bleed.

As she set up the first table, she took a deep breath to gain some self-composure so she didn't break down in front of everyone. A stupid thing to be upset over. The social was tomorrow evening, and she and X-Raytor still hadn't come up with costumes. She had to focus on that.

***

X-Raytor had been about to hang up the disco ball when Scarlett went ballistic. If Crystal hadn't iced the ladder to the floor, he was sure he would have fallen again.

And now he stood, arms extending the disco ball towards the ceiling hook, gaping. The room was dead silent- everyone was staring at the doorway.

Then Pinzz said, "Okay, X-y, what did you do to get her riled up?"

"This is my fault," Oreo said. "I hijacked the social from her, and then- then I cut her curtains, which was really stupid, I know that, I was being really stupid, and I wish I could take it back, but... ugh."

"Why did you cut her curtains?" Midnight Chatter asked.

Pinzz snorted. "The formal idea was lame anyway."

"I wasn't thinking," Oreo said. "I was just so- it was stupid."

"I don't know why I even thought this would be a good idea," Rosma said. "I didn't even like this stupid yacht, I don't know what ever made me think..."

X-Raytor thought for a moment, and then quickly hung the disco ball, and hurried down the ladder.

"I've been thinking," he said, when he reached the floor.

"Mark your calendars," Pinzz muttered.

"I've been thinking," X-Raytor said. "And something's come to my attention."

He paused.

"Girls are stupid."

No one said anything, and before anyone could react, X-Raytor had begun to pace back and forth, saying:

"See, we're on a cruise, a nice cruise in the- well, in the relatively cold Atlantic, since it's freaking January, but aside from that- we're on a nice cruise, and while we're on said nice cruise, we're trying to prepare for a very nice costume party. Which is a fun idea, even though I think it's a little redundant because we play dress-up for a living...

"But anyway. It seems that, despite all of this goodness and fun and relative light-heartedness, there is some trouble between our dear friends Oreo Avenger and Scarlett Fyre. Why? Well, I'm sure you all know. Well, maybe not you, Midnight, because you're as oblivious as s***, but everyone else.

"And the aforementioned reason for this trouble- which I will not state specifically, because A) it's embarassing, and B) if you need me to spell it out for you, you must be blind, Midnight Chatter- the reason for this trouble is, quite possibly, one of the stupidest things that's caused internal enmity in this group since, hmmm, 1999. This is high school bulls***. Get the f*** over it, and grow the f*** up. God, you know a situation's hopeless when I'm the mature one.

"But, anyway, back to my original point: girls are stupid. Now, why, you may ask, do I say this? Well, the fact that Oreo and Scarlett are even in this little fight is stupid to begin with, and Scarlett getting angry, obviously because of some jealousy borne out of the aforementioned root of the problem, is stupider still. BUt even worse, after she comes in here and, for no reason at all, flips s***, what do the rest of you do? Blame yourselves. Unless you're Pinzz, in which case you try to be of as little help to the situation as possible. But the rest of you blame yourselves- from Oreo, who almost sort of is justified in blaming herself, to Rosma, who is blaming herself for reasons that are still unbeknownst to me.

"Listen, I've hung out with myself for twenty-two years, and I've learned something- when someone acts like a complete schmuck, it's usually their fault. In other words, when Scarlett comes in here and flips out because she doesn't like the freaking disco ball, then that's her own f***ing problem- her's, not mine, and certainly not yours. Incidentally, I happen to be taking her to the formal, so I guess it is sort of my problem, and in a few minutes I'm going to go hang out with her and see what's up, but that's aside from the point.

"So here's the deal: stop whining, stop bitching, stop fighting and acting like you're in f***ing sophomore year. We're supposed to be the greatest crime fighting team in the world, remember? So start acting like it. And Midnight- get a f***ing clue by the time I get back."

X-Raytor looked at Oreo Avenger, and he wanted to-

But he didn't, didn't say anything, and turned away. He walked to the door, and then stopped and turned around. "Oh, and one more thing- Captain Seabiscuit was born in Annapolis, he loves The West Wing, and he sucks at poker. What more do you need to know? I, at least, think he's an okay guy."

And with that he left. There was silence for a few moments, and then X-Raytor's head appeared in the doorway again.

"Oh, and, you know, there's a reason that I put my Eminem stuff with Iso's luggage- because I think that you're all too goddamn afraid of getting your heads cut off to dig around in it. I think I'm going to go back to just hiding it with my stuff, like I do with my blink albums- I know you guys are too scared to look around in there."

And he left again. And reappeared a few moments later.

"And, really, I don't see what the big problem with Bob Marley is. He was a talented performer and musician, as well as a great social activist, and just a cool guy all around. You guys really don't have to be such scaredy cats about liking him, so stop hiding your stashes under my bed! Now, if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to go hang out with Scarlett and hope that she doesn't incinerate me when I knock on the door. And in the mean time- finish decorating! Jesus Christ!!"

And, for a final time, he left. There was a long silence.

Midnight Chatter looked around. "Was he talking to us?"

"Er, I think so," Xiao said, confused. "Hey! Wait a second. Captain Seabikk- I mean, Seabiscuit, likes West Wing?"

Typho looked at her. "Why you hatin' West Wing? WING'S THE SHIZZLE!"

"Er... maybe in some weird, twisted alternate reality where people are allowed to download free music without persecution, David Bowie stops wearing eyeliner, and Bio Dome and Payback were never conceived." Xiao said.

"Well, I for one think X-Raytor had a good point," Drew said. There was a brief silence.

"I thought pirates were supposed to be good at cards," Twisk mused. "Er, and yeah. This whole MC-Oreo-Scarlett triangle...is...um, you know."

***

It would be safe to say, he thought, That Twisk's comment tightened a few sphincters.

You may be wondering- "Who thought that? Isn't X-Raytor out of the room?"

Well, yes, he is. But I really wanted to use that line. So let's just attribute it to... Iso, sounds like something he'd say anyway.

Ahem.

"Triangle?" Midnight Chatter asked.

"What triangle?!" Oreo said loudly. "I know of no triangle! And certainly no triangle involving me, you, and Scarlett!!"

Midnight Chatter exhaled. "Whew, okay. For a second there, I thought I'd missed something."

"And even if there was," Oreo said. "That would be between you and Scarlett, because I am, without a doubt, over you. Not that I was ever under you..."

Silence.

Oreo looked stricken. "Not that way! I mean, not that I ever had a thing for you! But if I did, I would be over it now. Yeah."

At this point in time, Midnight Chatter was looking at the disco ball, which was quite shiny and round. Oreo's hastey denial was entirely lost on him.

"Yo." Typho said.

Everyone looked at him.

"...Well?" Netic asked.

Typho blinked. "Well what?"

"Why'd you say 'yo'?"

"Oh, yo, no reason."

"Um, okay."

"Word."

"Word?"

"Bizznatch."

"Bizz- you're just doing this to confuse me, aren't you?"

Typho laughed. "Naw, Magneta, I'm just playin' wit ya."

" 'Magneta'?!"

"Like Mag-ne-to, yo! Baddest mutha this side of, uh..."

"Nebraska?" Raven supplied.

"Are we going to finish decorating or not?" Rosma asked.

"Might as well," Oreo said, picking up her box of decorations. "And, hey, if X-Raytor flips out like that again- I say we wrap him in streamers and use him as a pinata."

"Ooooooh, looks like he hit someone's nerves," Pinzz said.

Oreo rolled her eyes. "Oh, shut up Neary. Now, someone help me with these balloons..."

And so, one thing happened after another, and the decorating was completed without further incident. Everyone went to bed.

***

“Eric! You can’t do this!”

“Watch me.”

“No, I’m serious! You could kill someone. You don’t want that on your conscience, believe me. You’ve got to calm down.”

“You’re not my father, Clark. Now shut up and get out of the way!” Eric grabbed Clark and threw him, sending him flying into the air and crashing down on top of a car.


Scarlett smiled faintly as she watched one of her favorite Smallville episodes in the lounge while everyone else finished up decorating. Smallville was a recent addition to the few TV shows she got wrapped up in, and someone had brought a copy of the first season DVD collection on board.

“Maybe my life’s not so bad,” she remarked to herself. “At least crap like this doesn’t happen anymore.”

“So, you’re a fan, too?”

Scarlett turned to where the voice had come from. X-Raytor was standing a few feet behind her, at the entrance to the lounge.

“Finished decorating already? ” Scarlett asked, turning back to the TV screen.

“No. Well, they might have finished by now because it took me an hour to find you here, but they weren’t done when I left, no.”

Part of her wanted to be left alone…but part of her hoped he would stay anyways.There was a long pause. Finally, X-Raytor shut the door to the lounge and sat at the far end of the couch Scarlett was already sitting on. “Scarlett, what’s going on?”

“Nothing.”

“So what happened in the ballroom a little while ago, that was nothing?”

Scarlett shot a glowering look at him and turned up the volume.

”-sorry. Nothing appears to be what it seems lately,” Lex apologized to Clark.

“You gonna stop snooping around my back now?”

“Listen, I had no right to question your honesty. All I can do is plead temporary insanity and hope we can find a way to put this behind us.”

“Only temporar-“


Abruptly, Scarlett muted the TV and darted her eyes in X-Raytor’s direction, not that she could really tell if he was making eye contact or not what with those sunglasses of his. She opened her mouth, and paused for a moment.

“It’s just…it’s complicated,” Scarlett started to say.

“Ah.”

“I mean, so much has happened with all of us. And you’d think that this…you’d think these little things wouldn’t matter. It’s little, petty crap. Stupid things. They shouldn’t matter, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“But it’s like the little things are all we’ve got left. I mean, that’s not exactly it, but sometimes it feels like it is. And Saph’s still out there, and Hamlet’s not here anymore, and the social, it’s this one thing I had before, well…I’m not even making sense, am I?”

“Yeah…uh, I mean, no! Er..well, you’re making sense,” X-Raytor assured her. Scarlett raised an eyebrow, but continued.

“And the thing with Oreo and Midnight. It doesn’t make sense except on some twisted level. I don’t care about him anymore..well, I care about him because he’s a Justice Leaguer and stuff, but not like I used to think I did. And there was always something of an age thing. Oreo doesn’t even like him, she swears, and I believe her, mostly. It’s just…I know it’s not logical, but it’s still bothering me. It’s just…I can’t stand that it was Oreo.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah. You can say it. I’m a bitch.”

“You’re a bitch,” X-Raytor said. Scarlett reached over and smacked him.

“Hey! You said I could say it!”

“I didn’t say there wouldn’t be consequences,” Scarlett said with a sideways grin.

“Since when did I agree to become a punching bag? Jesus.”

“Sorry…it helped, though,” she assured him.

“It better have.”

Scarlett started to say something else, but paused instead. Stared at X-Raytor. “If I told you something, would you swear not to tell anyone else?”

“Um…yeah.”

“You swear?”

“Jeez, yes. I swear.”

Scarlett kept looking at him, but she couldn’t. Some things you kept to yourself. “Never mind.”

“What?”

“Hey, the social’s tomorrow night…we’re still going together, right? Even though I just went all psycho-PMSing-queen-bitch out there?”

“Do you still want to go? I could just stop by your cabin to pick you up and we could just never show at the social,” X-Raytor suggested.

“Oh, we’re going to the social. But we’ve got like a day to come up with decent costumes.”

“Have you figured out what you’re going as yet?” X-Raytor asked.

“Well, I was thinking maybe we could come up with something together.”

There was another pause, the third so far in this conversation between the two Justice Leaguers.

“Oh.”

“Oh?”

“Well, I thought about going as Spider-Man.”

“But you were Spider-Man for Halloween.”

“So?”

“For three years running, X-y. Half the time I swear you’re like this huge Spider-Man rip-off that no one seems to notice.”

“Ah. Well, what do you think we should go as then?”

“Sunny and Cher?”

“Gaaah…what about Adam and Eve?”

“Only if it’s post-fig leaf era. We could be Lucy and Ricky Ricardo,” Scarlett suggested.

“Ax.”

“Actually, Pinzz and Crystal are doing that.”

“Really? Are they going together, too?”

“Yeah.”

“So that’s what Right Wing Man meant about people going to the social as ‘unnatural’ creations…”

Scarlett smothered a laugh. “I have a feeling he wasn’t referring to Ax, X-y.”

“What, then?”

“He’s Right Wing Man, for Christ’s sake, X-Raytor. He has issues with this being a Sadie Hawkins social.” Scarlett shook her head. “What about Fi and Clone Boy from So Weird?”

“NO!”

“Okay! Batman and Catwoman.”

“Aren’t Batman and Robin the more logical pair there?”

“True. Well, what do you suggest then.”

“M&Ms.”

“M&Ms?”

“With and without nuts.”

And thus the fourth pause of the conversation came into being.

“No.”

“Well, what else is there?” X-Raytor asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Mina Harker and Dorian Grey?”

“DEAR GOD, MAN, NO! THE HORROR! THE HORROR!!!”

“Okay, fine.”

They both stared at Clark and Lana on Smallville as they tried to think of something.

“It’s like it’s right there in front of us, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait!” They both cried in unison. “Smallville!”

“Hah!” said Scarlett.

“I get to be badass Clark Kent! You can be Lana!”

“But…I like Chloe. Lana’s kind of boring.”

“Not in Nicodemus!”

“Ooo….hey, wait a second. She’s like a slut in that!”

“And I’m not seeing a problem with that.”

Scarlett sighed. “Heck, why not? It’ll be fun, right?”

“Of course it will be…of course, it could be more fun if we skipped the social altogether…”

Scarlett shook her head. “Nope, X-y. We’re going to the social.” She reached for the remote control. “Want to finish watching this episode? I’m gonna have to skip ahead and watch Nicodemus, too, if you want to watch that one.”

“Sure. Hey! Your costume could just be what she’s wearing in the pool scene. It’s red, so I’m sure you’ve got somethin-OWIE!” X-Raytor said as Scarlett smacked him again.

“Just watch.” Scarlett turned off the mute.

”-don’t want it to hold you back.”

”Sometimes letting go is the only way to move forward.”


***