JUSTICE LEAGUE

41

IHOP and Death
 

Raven grabbed the Cheetos Pinzz had left on the table and ran upstairs. She had some business to attend to.

"Hi, Holden? Yeah. How're you doing? Good. Oh, packing for Texas. I see. Hey, I noticed that one of your brother's movies is coming out soon. He's a shameless whore, you say? Pity. Listen, Holden, you've seen the papers and all, right? And Lansky's book? Yes. No, the bit about Lourdes isn't true. Well, not completely. But anyway, here's the reason why I'm calling you; I think we need to do something about Lansky. What do you mean it doesn't concern you? You're all over page 57, in the chapter about superhero wannabes, section 4, smart wannabes. Yeah, he talks a bit about other kids, but it's mostly just you and Drew. Yes, I know that rhymes. No, it wasn't intentional. Found the page? Stop yelling. Calm down! Okay, good. So you read it, right? Yeah, he is a terrible phony. Look, Lansky's a jerk...most of his patients are mentioned at some point or another in this book, because he wants to show off how fabulous he is in treating cases. Well, I'm thinking that you and I and the rest of the Justice League aren't the only ones who are angry about this. And I also think that since Lansky was trying to be so wonderful, he probably stretched the truth a few times. And yes, Lourdes was one of those times. Okay, yeah, I'm lying. But that doesn't change it. What am I thinking? Well, I think if we pull together enough people, someone will have dirt on Lansky...."

***

Scarlett woke up on Oreo's couch, still exhausted. "Oreo?" she called out. She sat up slowly and rubbed her side; the couch did not sleep well. And her dress was wrinkled beyond belief--she should've taken three minutes during the Oreo Outfits 'O Disguise spree to find herself another dress to wear besides the one she'd been dragged down to that police station in.

"Oreo?" Oreo should have been back a few hours after her; Scarlett had tried to stay up, but that lasted all of ten minutes before she fell asleep. And what the freak was going on with all of this? Who'd want to impersonate Oreo? Why?

"Oreo?" Scarlett called out again, her voice a little more on edge now. She knew who her impersonator in the bank had been. It had to be Saph. Which was just great--Saph had gone and dyed her hair chestnut brown now, too. She was a perfect likeness of Scarlett in that photograph.

"Well, at least she won't know what to do about the split ends and damage all that dye will do to her hair," Scarlett muttered. Small comfort.

Every time. Ever since high school--no, wait, jr. high--Saph always did stuff like this.

"Damn it, I liked being a brunette."

Maybe she could cut her hair. Saph had looked good a few years back in that short wig she'd had to wear for that college theatre production...but no. Scarlett hadn't had a haircut since she was three, when she gave herself one courtesy of her new child-safe scissors.

Her grandmother had cried for hours.

No. A haircut was not the way to go. Ever. She'd just have to figure out something else.

Scarlett stood up from the couch and slipped on her heels. "Oreo? Come on, it was a shoulder wound. You can still talk." She walked over to Oreo's bedroom, and cautiously opened the door. "Oreo?"

The bed was still made.

"Okay, she should've been back by now. What time is it?" Scarlett glanced around the apartment, but didn't see a clock. She couldn't remember what she'd done with her watch, either, so she turned on the TV. "The Weather Channel'll have it."

She flipped past a couple of news channels with rioting unhappy people. "People need to get over it," she said to no one in particular. "I mean, look, I finally talked things out with that Dr. Lansky guy before this crazy Oreo-impersonator fiasco. Not that he helped," she made sure she noted to herself. "But at least I realized how stupid I sounded after a couple of hours' worth of sessions with the guy. Whatever those people are angry about, whining about it's not going to help."

And then she found the Weather Channel. Local 8 on the 8's. 10:08 in the morning, February...wait a second.

That's supposed to be tomorrow.


"Well, crap. Crap. I slept an entire freaking day away? No wonder Oreo's not here. Crap."

******En Route to IHOP******

”Off the Florida Keeeeys”

"Dude! Someone's calling me!" Jo Surf beamed as his cell phone rang. He fumbled to pull it off the clasp on his swim trunks, trying to be careful not to scrape Barbara Ann on the ground as he did this.

”That's where you want to go to get away from it all...”

"Anyone else find his ring of choice slightly ironic?"

Jo finally answered the phone; he motioned for the others to go on ahead, but they hung back.

"Taylor! Dude! Yeah, I'm with the Justice Dudes. No, not the Dudes 'O Justice, aren't they Irish? And not superheros? Awesome band. But Taylor, man, I'm with the Justice Dudes. Yeah, the Justice League. Whatever. Righteous Wing Dude, he was my roomie, even, until they gave me this killer closet for a room." Jo gave Right Wing Man a thumbs-up.

"So how's the 409? Cool. I was going to--what? Dude. That's not coo--no, of course not. Man, look, I told you, we're not--no, wait, dude. I thought you said you didn't car--" The line went dead, and Jo looked up at the others.

"Best bud totally bailed on me. Looks like I'm really a Justice Dude now."

***

George? George White? Ari kept repeating the name over and over to herself. How could he do this? How could Ty...George... pretend to…

Xiao was crammed into the Justice Van between Pinzz and Twisk. They were headed to IHOP, she knew- but that was about it. Even since she'd heard...she'd been in a daze. Lost in her own mind. Some of the shock was wearing off, and she was feeling again.

She started feeling mostly angry. Who the hell does he think he is?! That he can just waltz in and, and! she stopped, too upset to continue. Disbelief washed away her anger. I...I can't believe this. Typho was just a cover? Created by some journalist to get dirt on the Justice League? And then she thought: Typho can write??

Ari shook her head, and stared at her hands. Denial surfaced. This can't be real. I must have passed out during the Social, or all those venomous spider bites from the island are doing something funny to me. Typho can't really be...he couldn't...I ...

The van jerked as they hit a bump, ripping Ari from her mind.

"Hey! Watch where the #@!% you're going!" Pinzz yelled at Crystal.

"Why don't you drive then?!" Crystal retorted angrily.

Why?! Ari's knuckles turned white as she clenched her hands tightly. Spying, okay... but why'd he have to drag me into it? Why'd he lie to me? Why did he bother to trick me? Why not just do his job?

"Just #$%@ bring it!" Pinzz said, shaking a fist.

Crystal glared at her in the rearview mirror. "I will when we get to IHOP!"

He made me believe that he loved me, Ari thought bitterly. ...Why?

"I'd like to see that!!" Pinzz challenged.

"Stop it," Ari said suddenly, monotonously.

"She started it," Crystal skulked.

"Stop it," Ari reiterated in the same dull tone. "The van."

"What for??" Crystal actually twisted to look at Ari-"We're nowhere near-"

"Watch it!" Twisk warned, grabbing the seat in front of her and holding on for dear life as the van swerved dangerously.

"Stop the van," Ari insisted.

"We're almost to IH-"

"Stop. The. Damn. Van. Now!" The tone of her voice surprised Crystal.

"Uhh...Okay then..." Crystal said, looking at her in the mirror. She pulled off the road and nearly plunged them into the ditch. Ari climbed over Twisk, opened the door, got out, and slammed it shut. "We'll, uh, see you around then..."

Ari stared blankly as the van drove off, and then started walking along the road.

She needed time to think about...George.

***

Rosma noted the clearing in the woods and set the autopilot on the Justice Jet to land. She’d left earlier that morning, before sunrise, after Studmuffin’s call the previous night. He’d said not to hurry, that he’d be fine for the night. She was a little annoyed that he’d left town without a way home, but she’d taken the Jet to get him anyway.

At least, she considered, she didn’t have to go to that ridiculous Fortress of whatever Roseidous lived in. And at least she wasn’t back at the Hall. Let everyone else deal with the news, the Sentinel, Dr. Lansky’s book, the people. Let everyone else worry about it. Oreo could take care of herself, too, now that she and Scarlett were working together, doing who knew what. She didn’t need any of them.

Twenty minutes later, after a shortcut through the woods, Rosma found herself staring at a group of cabins in need of repair. The door seemed to be barely attached to the one directly in front of her. In fact, it looked like it had been hit by a bulldozer or something.

Just as she approached it to knock, it flew open. Rosma immediately turned invisible. No telling what would come of there. These people employed a giant penguin, for goodness’ sake. Best to be cautious. But, instead of an animal, a girl rushed out, carrying a towel and a travel shower bag.

Rosma sighed. Roses couldn’t even bother to install bathrooms in the cabins? That was certainly no way to take over the world. Uncivilized.

She turned towards the other cabins, prepared to look for Studmuffin, when the door opened again. Studmuffin also left Roses’ cabin, carrying a towel. Rosma narrowed her eyes. No hurry, huh? Wait until morning? Hmm…

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

He jumped and looked around, startled. When he realized who it was, he relaxed. “Rosma, that’s not fair. I can’t see you.”

“I know.”

He gave up without trying. “To answer your question, I was just going to take a shower. What are you doing?”

“Looking for you. And Roses is taking a shower.”

“They do have more than one.”

“Oh? Like they have more than one bed in each cabin?”

“Um…yeah? Do you have a problem?”

“Nope.”

“Well…good,” he took a few steps down the path towards the showers, but hesitated. “You’re not following me, are you?”

“Would it matter if I did?”

He shrugged. “I suppose not.”

“No, Studmuffin, I’m not following you.”

“Right. I’ll be back in a few minutes. There’s cereal in the kitchen. If you stay invisible, maybe Murry won’t attack you.”

***

Rosma headed in the direction of the larger cabin. But before she got there, she noticed that the last smaller cabin had a sign reading “office.” She detoured and went inside. To her left were three desks in a line. The one in the middle had various electronic parts, some strange tools, and a stack of papers and drawings under a normal desk lamp. The desk furthest from the door held a lamp in the shape of a naked woman, a comb, a brush, some hair gel, fuzzy dice, an empty plate, a handheld mirror, monopoly pieces, fingerpaint, a woman’s hair clip, an unidentifiable remote control, and an empty shoebox. The desk closest to her was spotless, aside from a stapler and a lamp with no shade.

Behind the desks, a row of bookshelves and file cabinets seemed to be organized in alphabetical order. To the right, a table for six took up all the room, obviously for meetings. The bulletin board on the wall behind it had several bright pieces of paper pinned to it. One list read:

1. Meeting with Al-2pm-discuss money for trip.
2. Make Oreos
3. Order new door
4. Make reservations
5. Take Over World

A neon pink notice told Tyrael that Holli had his favorite hat, should he like to reclaim it. Another list was a set of phone numbers to the Moonbase, Al’s cell phone, the Fortress, Vinnie, Vic, and the Pizza Shop. The Pizza Shop number was crossed off and “Hawaii Number” written underneath it. However, “Hawaii Number” was also crossed off, and the original number written below it again. Apparently, the Pizza Shop wasn’t so successful in Hawaii.

Rosma wandered over to the middle desk and picked up an electrical….thing….with multi-colored wires.

“What are you doing?”

Rosma spun around, still holding the object. It seemed to float in the air, as she was still invisible.

“Rosma, I’m not stupid,” Roses said from the doorway. “I mean, I know all of the league’s powers and I knew someone was coming to get him. Put it down, if you don’t mind.”

Rosma appeared in the center of the room. “What is it, anyway?”

“It’s Ann’s. And I asked you to put it down.”

“Fine,” Rosma frowned and set it back on the desk. “It’s not like I was stealing it. I wouldn’t need anything from you.”

“That explains why you were sneaking around my office?” Roses raised an eyebrow.

“Just looking.”

“I’m sure.” Roses gestured for Rosma to go outside. “I’d ask you to have a seat or to join some of us in the kitchen for breakfast, but you’ll have to be leaving now, of course. You must be busy.”

“I think not. Studmuffin already invited me to have breakfast here.” Rosma marched down the front steps of the cabin and crossed her arms impatiently. “I believe I’ll take him up on his offer. We’re staying.”

“Even as family, he is my guest and was in no position to invite you to stay. You should know that.”

“He told me to stay invisible, too.” Rosma disappeared and her voice faded in the direction of the kitchen “And the skull won’t bother me while I eat.”

“Okay, go ahead then.” Roses just shook her head and went inside the office. Some people just didn’t like to be told what to do. Obviously, that wasn’t something she had time for. Everyone would listen to her eventually. Even Rosma.

Five minutes later, Studmuffin met a very angry Rosma hurrying down the path.

“Didn’t like what they were serving for…” she grabbed his arm and dragged him along with her. “…okay, guess not.”

“We are leaving. Right now.”

“No breakfast?”

“No.”

“Oh. Did you talk to Roses?”

“Don’t go there,” Rosma crashed through a small bush into the woods. “Do you know what that…that…that…bitch did?”

“Um…what?”

“She has florescent lighting installed in the kitchen! She knew that was my weakness! She was telling me that I couldn’t stay just to make me want to go inside! That skull saw me the second I walked in. And he’s annoying.”

“Yeah, she’s smart like that,” Studmuffin nodded.

Rosma smacked his shoulder. “Don’t side with her! And you could have warned me! Didn’t you know?”

“Well, no. We had dinner in her cabin last night.”

“I see. So you…” Rosma’s next sentence was cut off when she tripped over a tree root and landed on her face.

Studmuffin helped her up, wisely trying not to laugh.

“I HATE THE WOODS!!!” Rosma yelled.

“Let’s go then, city girl.”

Rosma stared at him. “Are you teasing me?”

“Er…yes? Sorry?”

“No, its just….that’s unusual,” she started off again. “You seem to be in a much better mood. What did they do to you?”

“Nothing. Really.”

***

Rosma set the autopilot again for the city. It was a two-hour flight across the country back to the Hall of Justice. She sat back and turned to Studmuffin, in the co-pilot’s seat.

“So why were you there?”

“I was caught by those reporters and Roseidous got me out. So I went with him. That’s all.”

“Why on earth was he in the city looking for you? You aren’t really cousins, are you?”

Studmuffin shrugged. “In case you didn’t notice, all of them are insane. We decided a long time ago that we looked so much alike, we had to be related. I have no idea why he was really looking for me. He probably just decided to do it as an excuse to use the spaceship. But it doesn’t matter, does it?”

“No, probably not,” she glanced out the window at the rivers winding across the landscapes below.

“Thanks for coming to get me,” he told her.

“You’re welcome.”

“No, really. I wasn’t sure that anyone would. I haven’t been the best person to be around since I got back.”

“Studmuffin, we all know there’s a reason you’re acting this way. And we know that you can’t tell us, whatever it is. We’ll just have to accept that. It’s not like we don’t care anymore, because we do. I care, at least.”

They lapsed into silence, just staring out at the clouds.

Finally, Studmuffin took a deep breath. “Rosma?”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“What happened. Where I’ve been. What’s going on. I’ll tell you everything. Only….you really can’t tell anyone else. I mean it. Not even Oreo. You’ll understand why it has to be a secret after you hear it.”

“Hmph. Don’t worry about telling Oreo. We had a fight last time I saw her.”

“Rosma, promise me.”

Rosma was surprised by the serious tone in his voice. She’d never heard him sound like that before. “Yes. Yes, of course I promise. I won’t tell anyone. Until you say I can.”

“Okay then. I suppose it all started back when Jarhead attacked the Hall. Remember that? I was sharing my blanket with you and we were watching TV. Yeah, so after you tried to fight him…”

***

The Jet safely parked in the hangar, Rosma and Studmuffin crept down the hallway towards the kitchen. There were voices coming from that direction.

“Well?” Rosma asked, pausing at the door.

“You look like you’ve been crying,” he said. “They’ll ask questions.”

“I don’t look any worse than you,” she said. “But I don’t think they’ll ask questions at all. Have you heard about the book? Or the article Typho wrote?”

“What book? Typho can write?”

“Oh dear. I suppose you’ll hear about it now. Come on.” She took his hand and pushed open the door.

“You can’t burn the eggs and then expect to get them unstuck from the pan!”

“I’m going to IHOP, too!”

***

“Hurry up, X-y! They’re going to leave before we get there!”

“Just hold on a second,” X-Raytor said. “God, it’s not like all breakfast will disappear from the face of the Earth.”

“Well, you know, as long as you’re cooking it…”

“I just need to make a call, okay? I’ll be out in a second.”

X-Raytor closed the door to his room and locked it. He picked up his cell phone, sitting on his bedside table, and flipped through his contact list. He came to the name he wanted and hit “SEND.” A number appeared on the screen-(213) 555-0410.

It rang once. Twice. Started a third-

“Hello?”

“Hey, Cara?” X-Raytor said. “It’s-it’s James.”

“Oh, James, hey!”

“Hey, Cara,”

“What’s up? How are you doing?”

“Pretty good, I guess,” X-Raytor said, sitting down on his bed. “What’s new with you?”

“I’m auditioning now,” she said. “That is my life right now-auditioning. There’s, like, no theater things going on now, and I missed auditions for what the drama group is doing, so I’ve been auditioning fo TV shows left and right.”

“Any of those shows filming out East?” He asked, suggestively waggling his eyebrows, even if she couldn’t see it. She’d assume he was doing it anywhere.

“Nope, sorry. All in LA. And I need to, seriously. Last semester… ugh. I’m almost glad So Weird got canned.”

“Oh, yeah, I heard about that,” X-Raytor said. “I’m really sorry. Did you get my e-mail?”

“Yeah, thanks,” she said. “It was fun being back and seeing everyone and all… but, really, last semester was a bitch. My one professor? Hates me. Seriously. I think he got cut from one too many high school plays…”

“Sounds fun,” X-Raytor said. “See, this is why I never went to college. From what I’ve seen, college professors are complete @$$hole snobs.”

“Some of them,” Cara said. “And, my friend, my friend Lisa, she’s a classics major, and she said that if she translates something, her professor can take it and publish it as his own with, like, a one line acknowledgment, and she gets exactly crap. But there are a lot of good ones too. Besides, didn’t you not go to college because you were running around in spandex?”

“Right, that was a factor too…” X-Raytor said.

There was a long silence.

“Hey,” Cara said. “I’ve been watching the news…”

“Oh, great,” X-Raytor said.

“Yeah. So, like, are you okay? I mean, this can’t be easy, and…”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m getting through,” X-Raytor said. “It’s really not that bad-just a lot of really loud people.”

“Well, listen, if you ever want to talk about it…”

“I know,” X-Raytor said. “And, believe me, I probably will.”

“Just drop me a line.”

“Thanks.” X-Raytor said.

“No problem,” Cara said.

“Really.”

Another long silence.

“So, what’s up?” Cara asked.

“Um, well, nothing, really…”

“Okay. Just call up to talk?”

“Ye-well, okay, there is something else. Sort of.”

“What’s up?”

“Well, you know,” X-Raytor said. “The Oscars are tomorrow night.”

“Oh, yeah,” Cara said. Pause. “Yeah.”

“They’re having them sort of early this year, huh?”

“Yeah. Earlier than last year, I guess.”

Another pause. “Billy Crystal’s hosting.” X-Raytor said.

“Ah.” Cara said.

“I think you were right about that pattern thing.”

She laughed. “Yeah, the Crystal-Goldberg conspiracy.”

X-Raytor laughed too, and then was silent for a moment. “Are you going to watch it?”

A long pause on Cara’s end. “No.”

“Yeah, me neither,” X-Raytor said.

Silence.

“Well, listen,” X-Raytor said. “I need to go to breakfast now before Rosma kills me. Good luck on your auditions.”

“Hey, thanks,” she said. “I’ll tell you the second I hear something.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

“And, James?”

“Yeah?”

“Listen,” she said. “I know that you guys are going through a lot of crap over there, but just-it’s all just noise, okay? What other people say… that’s just the way they see it. Don’t let it, like, get to you, okay?”

“Okay,” X-Raytor said.

“Promise?”

“… Promise.”

“Okay,” she said. “Go eat breakfast.”

“I will,” he said. “Later.”

“Bye.”

X-Raytor hit the “END” button, and then put his phone back on the night stand. He ran a hand over his masked face and then stood up.

God, I hope it’s a good day…

***

“Are you coming?” X-Y asked as he passed through the kitchen. Violet looked up from the table, startled.

“Where?”

“To breakfast.”

“Oh, um.” she bit her lip and looked down at the clothes she was wearing. “I think I’ll pass. Toast is good for me.” Violet reached over and grabbed a piece of semi-burnt toast off a plate. She didn’t hear X-Y and the others leave.

Violet buttered the toast and set it on a clean plate. She grabbed a cup from the sink and filled it with water before taking her meal and heading outside to the back yard. Though the yard may have been a mess, it was slightly better than being confined to the house. Violet sat down on the concrete stoop and munched on a piece of toast.

“Get up,” a voice commanded.

Violet turned around and jumped. The plate broke when it hit the edge of a step.

“Get away from me! You’re not real,” she pleaded.

The faceless figure grinned.

“Look around you, filth. Then tell me I am not real.” Violet pressed her eyes closed, but the figure grabbed her roughly by her arm and pulled her to her feet. He forced her to open her eyes.

“Look at what you’ve done. I am more real than you ever were.” Before her eyes, the ruined Justice yard became the battle torn village of her nightmares. Corpses lined the bloodstained earth; homes lay in shambles. The figure breathed heavily in Violet’s ear. “Filth,” he repeated and threw her to the ground. She landed hard on one arm, and a sharp pain shot through her shoulder.

The man laughed, and Violet groaned. She pulled her knees in to her chest and tried to hold back the sobs.

***

It was the cold that finally woke Swift up. Her filched newspaper had been, appropriately enough, filched again, leaving her face open to the few fine snowflakes that managed to filter through the tree branches. She lay there for a moment, just listening to the stillness. It was probably 5 or 6 AM, and not even the dog-walkers or the joggers had begun their daily routines.

Finally, Swift realized just how cold it was and sat up, hugging her worn pink trench coat around her body. The huge leather, fur-lined coat was probably her most prized possession. She had, using the copious amounts of cash her "profession" allotted her, rented a room in a fairly unsavory part of the city, but used it for little more than storing what she couldn’t carry around and sleeping when her relatively stunted sense of temperature decided it was much too cold to spend the night roaming the streets. Swift didn’t sleep much, didn't like the feeling she was missing any moment of city life. No matter how long she wandered, she never grew tired of watching.

Getting up, she noticed the newspaper on the ground, not having been reclaimed as she'd first thought. The wind tossed the pages about, Justice League faces flickering back and forth, merging into each other like a picture exposed too many times. The afterimage stuck with Swift as she turned away, stuffing her hands deep into her pockets and warming her fingers. Something sad, something symbolic and poetic tried to form in her mind, but she ignored it and hunched her shoulders. Not her problem.

With the City as quiet as it was, Swift felt it was important to find some activity. The shops and streets were all dim, except for the gas stations and the greasy diners with neon "OPEN 24 HOURS" signs and heavy-eyed patrons half-asleep on the counter next to steaming coffee cups. She passed them quickly, feet shushing through a half-inch of powder and sliding over glazed ice. The bus stops were sparsely populated; the subway station just rumbling to life, accepting and spitting out a few business-suited clones with suspiciously identical suitcases.

Swift kept walking. Minutes passed and the people increased; ten minutes, a half hour. The sidewalk began to fill. Swift began to flicker in and out of sight at random, knowing it was a risk and barely caring. The business types were the most enjoyable to try and rattle; their eyes went wide and something close to life could actually be detected in their faces, but only for the barest of seconds. They quickly attributed the disappearance of a curious girl-child to their lack of morning coffee and slogged on, coughing steam.

It was, ironically enough, the homeless people she had to be careful around. Thomas the Wino did not doubt his bleary sight when Swift was suddenly where she had not been before. Thomas the Wino loudly commented upon Swift's sudden appearance ("WHAT THE HELL?! WHERE THE HELL DID YOU COME FROM? ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE DAMN --") until she threw $20 at him and he scurried off to the nearest liquor store.

The homeless people (Economically disadvantaged persons? Was that what they were called now?) were a pretty common disruption when it came to Swift's clap-on-clap-off routine. She didn’t mind much. She couldn't use all of the money she stole, so she considered it convenient to give it to someone who needed the extra cash.

More time passed, and as Swift passed an increasingly-cheerful Thomas she realized she was walking in circles -- and becoming ferociously hungry at that. An IHOP shone brightly not too far away, and she headed towards it, stepping up her dazed pace and staying visible for the time being.

Sliding into a seat a few minutes later, she reflected on how pleasant being warm was. And picking up the menu, how much more pleasant warm food would be. Life did not get much better than warm pancakes on a cold morning.

***

“Table for,” Pinzz paused to count, “Seven and a half.” Pinzz reached for one of those beepers that tell you that your table is ready.

“Excuse me,” the hostess said, sharply. “you’ll have to wait your turn.” She nodded towards an elderly couple that had just entered.

“We were here first.”

“I’m sorry. You’ll have to wait your turn.” The hostess repeated and pointed to the wooden bench that ran along the wall.

“Let the child go, dear,” the old woman said with a smile. Her hands fumbled with the sunglasses she wore. The old man at her side held her closer.

“Dear, I don’t think-“

“Nonsense, if they were here first, then by all means they should be served first.”

“Thank you, Missus. That was really nice of you! You know, you remind me of my grandmother, she has white hair just like yours. But she doesn’t wear sunglasses; she thinks they’re silly. I don’t see why. You look fine in them. Hey, are you blind? There use to be a kid on my street who was-“

“Enough,” Twisk said as she clamped her hand over MC’s mouth. The old woman laughed.

“What a charming young man! I hope you all enjoy your breakfast.”

The hostess cleared her throat. “This way.” She led the group to a table towards the back of the restaurant and dropped several menus on the table. “If they cost me my job…”she mumbled and left to return to the front of the restaurant.

“Jeez, what a bitch,” Pinzz said as she sat down and flipped through a menu.

“People are looking at us,” Drew said. “Where’s Jo?”

“-And you will not set foot into this restaurant until you put on a shirt and get rid of that stupid piece of cardboard!” The manager had pulled Jo to the side as the old woman had spoken to them.

“Oh no…” Twisk groaned.

“Look, I made a hat out of my napkin!” Eric announced.

"Lady, dude, don't talk about Barbara Ann that way. That's radically uncool." Jo said to the manager. He held his surfboard close to his chest.

“Hey Jo! Look at this!” Eric said. He headed to the front and showed Jo the paper hat.

“Please tell me he’s not doing this,” Twisk let her head drop onto the table.

“Oh, he is.” Eric, down to his socks, handed Jo the hat. The funny thing was, no one noticed, save a gaping girl in a bright pink trenchcoat.

“Duuude, this is radical! I didn’t know you knew origami!”

“Try it on!” And Jo did.

“Young man, I-what was I saying?” The manager asked.

The blind woman spoke up, “You were just saying that these lovely young boys should go join their friends at their table.”

“Oh yes. And don’t play with our napkins!” she added, sternly. Eric grinned and returned to his seat. Jo took a place beside him. The other JLers shifted theirs away.

“So,” Midnight said, “Does this place have two-two-twos?”

***

Mmmm, pancakes. Big and fluffy with just a little bit of butter and absolutely drowning in syrup. Maple syrup, mind you, the real stuff, none of that fruity fruit stuff the yuppies were so fond of. Nothing else mattered but the fact that Swift’s fork was happily carving off a big, gooey, steaming, maple-dripping semicircle section of doughy goodness and bringing it to her lips -

Until she noticed a peculiar hush fall on the restaurant patrons, followed by an angry buzz of talk. Glancing up, she saw seven faces she recognized all too well -- though they were probably the last ones on earth she wanted to see. Justice Leaguers. And promptly choked on her previously delicious bite of pancake.

Most everyone was too busy muttering at the superheroes to notice one coughing, sputtering Swift. Until, that was, she realized she couldn’t cough anymore and the JLers she was so cautiously watching (as they got into an argument with the hostess) were fading in and out of her rapidly deoxygenated sight.

This can’t be good, she thought, slightly dismayed, as the table came rushing up to meet her face.

***

A reporter, wearing his Sad Face. “A robbery turned tragic today when the infamous Oreo Avenger attempted to rob an armored car an ended up killing Doctor Harold Evans, son of Senator Henry Evans.”

An armored truck, overturned, surrounded by police tape.

“I heard all this noise coming from behind the bank there.” A man, deliberately bald, smiled at the camera. “Wasn’t no explosion or nothing, just like a car accident that sound, like a squeal, then a thump, then all these cops, they start running around. It was crazy!”

A middle-aged man, trying to quiet a crying baby. “I saw Oreo Avenger! And she was trying to rip off an armored car, which really-she’s supposed to be one of the good guys! And there she is, beating the living crap out of this poor guard, just slapping him. Slapping him! Then all these cops come out of nowhere and pointing their guns and screaming and yelling.”

A woman in an outfit too young for her body. “The cops yelled at her to stop, and she just took off running across the rooftop of that restaurant over there, swearing at the cops in some weird language. And that’s when the cops started firing. One of the bullets must’ve hit that bag she carries around, cause it started smoking and she held it in her hands like she didn’t know what to do with it. So she finally lobs it and it lands right on the head of this guy with a cane. He had the most surprised look on his face. Well, for as long as he had a face.”

The reporter again. “Official word from Senator Evans’s office says that the senator does not believe his son’s murder is politically motivated, and he will do everything in his power to bring this criminal to justice. The Justice League was unable to be reached for comment.

“Police officials are asking anyone with legitimate information on the woman who calls herself Oreo Avenger to please come forward. Doctor Evans is survived by his two daughters.”

***

Ari trudged around the city for a while, feeling lost. She paused every now and then to resurface from her thoughts and get her bearings, but for the most part, she just went wherever her feet took her. She had no particular place to go.

Well. There was one place she wouldn't mind going to. The Sentinel. She wanted to barge into that place and demand to see George White, but she knew that even if he was there, the chance of her getting to see him would be slim. And what would she say, anyway? 'Hey, I'm really p.o. that you turned out to be an undercover journalist, and that everything was just an act?' Oh yeah, great. And then what?

Wait for George to laugh? Kick her out? Mock her? Humor her? Tell her she had imagined everything, that she was a fool? That a prestigious writer like himself wouldn't be caught dead messing with a superhero that didn't have superpowers? Sighing, she sat down on a hard, rusty bench.

She started running over scenarios of what would happen if she ran into T...George. Mr. White....Whatever his name was.

Ari nervously opened a wooden door with a fogged glass window and shut it behind her. George (who was wearing a business outfit which looked surprisingly similar to Typho's Tuxedo Mask costume) was sitting at a desk writing something and looked up.

"Why hello," he said, with a vaguely British accent. "What can I do for you?"

"Er, I was uh, wondering, you know, what you were doing and thinking because you know, uh," Ari babbled, thinking:
I sound like Midnight, "Um."

"Oh, about that," George stood, smoothing his tux/business suit, "You seriously can't be considering that I-"

Ari blushed. "Well, I, uh, had thought that, um, maybe, you know. Even though you kinda just..whatever..and all..."

"Ridiculous," George laughed. "Why would I be interested in you?"

"Well..." Ari paused, then opens her mouth to respond-


"Hey! Watch it!" A bundle of clothing croaked from the sidewalk. Ari jumped up, surprised, and then realized the bundle of clothing was actually a human being. Or, at least, it looked like a human being.

"Er...." Ari backed up.

"Thash my bench!" The Mound shook a rag at her. Uh... maybe it was a hand. "Getchur own!"

"Alrighty then," Ari said, backing away again, not wanting to turn around and have It behind her.

"Loushy kidsh," the Mound grumbled, and it shifted slightly.

"I'm glad to meet you too," she muttered, walking away.

She wandered through several small stores, but wasn't really looking at the things they had in stock. Eventually she meandered into a chain clothing store. Browsing through the numerous fashionable items, Ari looked up and saw a poster of a model. He was wearing a large amount of fake looking rings, which, not surprisingly, reminded her of Typho.

Ari threw open a door that had a small plaque on it, reading George White. George (who basically looked exactly like Typho minus the goofy fur jacket, pants, and gold) was standing with his back turned, and when he heard her come in, he spun around to meet her.

"Oh, Ari," he said, his eyes wide, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"You think saying that is going to make everything all right?" She demanded, approaching his desk angrily. "Well I'll tell you what, it doesn't change the fact that you just ran that story about us in the paper, that you betrayed us--me!"

"I was just doing my job," George plead, reaching out with his hand to touch her, "I never meant to hurt you."

Ari glared at him, eyes burning. "I bet you didn't, you sli-"

"Please," George said, shaking his head, "Please forgive me, Ari, I-"


"Excuse me, Miss, can I help you?" A handsome clerk asked her, disturbing her thoughts.

"What?" Ari asked, startled. "I, uh, no, I was just looking."

"I see," the clerk said, eyeballing her in that creepy way overly helpful clerks have. "Well, if you need anything--anything at all, just ask."

"Uh, okay," Ari said. "Um. Thanks."

"No problem." The clerk gave a small head bob, and then stalked off to help another unsuspecting customer.

Yikes, Ari thought. She shook her head and left the clothing store. Never going there again.

Outside the clothing store, she realized she was thirsty, and that by fortuitous chance she actually had money. She headed into a small cafe that was open, and sat on a stool at a counter. After a short while, a waitress in a polka dot uniform approached her.

"Just something to drink, please," Ari requested.

"What'd ya like? We got Coke products, Sprite, Pepsi products, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry ice cream floats," the waitress recited a long list of beverages. Ari's brain fogged over at about the tenth item.

"I'll just have a coke," she finally said, interrupting the woman's long-winded list.

"Alright, be back in a minute," she said, turning, and then yelled to someone, "I NEED ONE MEDIUM COKE!"

As Ari stared at the checkered pattern on the counter, her mind drifted off.

Ari again burst into George's office. This time he was wearing blue jeans and a tidy t-shirt, and was bent over, going through a drawer of a filing cabinet.

"George," Ari called, quietly shutting the door behind herself.

"Ari?" George straightened and did a half turn. His eyes widened in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"You must know why," Ari said, coming closer.

"I can guess," George smiled, shutting the drawer and giving her his full attention. "I wouldn't have thought you'd be in such a good mood though."

"George," Ari repeated, circling him, looking him up and down. "I'm not sure if I like him better than Typho or not."

"They're very different," George admitted, putting his hands in his pockets. "Though there are some similarities."

"Such as?" Ari smiled flirtatiously.

He laughed, and sat on the edge of his desk. His face became serious. "I suppose you want to know why I did what I did?"

Her smile faded as she waited for an answer.

He was silent, considering, and then said, "I just went in there to do my job, Ari. I didn't realize I was going to meet you. That I would.." He stopped and frowned, then continued, "That I would develop some feelings for you. In the end I had to deliver anyway. I couldn't turn out nothing, and, well.."

"Your story was more important than me," Ari said stiffly, leaning against the filing cabinet, searching his eyes.

"At the time it seemed like a good idea, and, well, I got nervous," George said carefully. "But I really do l-"


"Here's your order, that'll be a dollar ten." The polka dotted waitress sat a glass down in front of Ari and dropped a straw in it. "Enjoy."

Ari dug out her money and laid it on the counter, and took a sip from her straw. Things weren't looking quite as bad, she decided. There was still hope...

***

Through the bedroom window in the Apartment of Solitude, Oreo Avenger flew. First and most important, she needed a disguise. Something loose enough to go over her costume. Hunting clothes. Her father’s murderer was out there.

An old black trench coat covered everything, including her Oreo satchel. Speaking of which…

She dumped its contents out on her bed. A pile, larger than the bag suggested, fell on the bed. A couple old Oreos rolled to the floor. She wouldn’t need any of that in her hunt.

“Oreo, is that you?”

Scarlett. Oreo didn’t want to deal with her right now. She jumped for the open window-too late.

“Where were you?” Scarlett stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. “How’s your shoulder?”

“Home,” Oreo said, pushing past Scarlett. “My shoulder’s fine.”

“Oh?” Scarlett followed Oreo to the kitchen. A TV chattered in the background. “Hey, what happened to your hair?”

Oreo shook her head and felt the waist-long strands brush her back. She’d woken this afternoon almost smothered in new hair. It still hadn’t stopped growing completely.

“Side effect,” Oreo said. With a rattle of silverware, she slammed open a drawer. “I can’t find the knives.”

“I like it.”

“There they are.” Oreo took the drawer and dumped the contents in her bag.

“Wait, why do you need knives?”

“Because I’m all out of Oreos,” she said, as if that should be obvious.

“I thought you could just, I don’t know, make them magically appear in that satchel of yours.”

Oreo tossed a knife from hand to hand. “Not anymore.” She hadn’t been able to, not since Chuckles stole her powers away. With the help of her dad, she got her flight back, but her Oreo powers never returned.

“I’m off,” Oreo said, walking to the nearest window.

“Wait, where are you going?” Scarlett placed herself between Oreo and the window. “Have you forgotten you’re a fugitive?”

“Haven’t you seen the news?!” Oreo yelled, suddenly furious with Scarlett. “That girl put on my costume and murdered someone today! All because I’ve been moping around this apartment and sleeping and not out there putting that freak in jail!”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Like hell it isn’t! My dad is dead because I was too stupid to do my job and take down that imposter the moment she showed up!”

“Oh,” Scarlett said. She pushed her hair away from her face. “I didn’t know your last name was Evans.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the whole point of a secret identity.” Oreo tried to shove Scarlett aside. “Now let me go!”

Scarlett crossed her arms, standing firm. “So you’re just going to go out there and wait for her to do something stupid?”

“Pretty much.”

“Wasn’t that the kind of plan that got you shot?”

Oreo glared at Scarlett. She was about to reply when her name on TV caught her ear.

“Oh look,” Oreo said. “She’s doing something stupid right now.”

“…Bank, where she gotten into yet another stand-off with the police. Our very own Deborah Walters is trapped inside…”

Faster than a speeding bullet, Oreo crashed out the window. She knew where her father’s murderer hid.

***

Scarlett watched Oreo fly out of the Apartment of Solitude.

“Okay, that does it. I don’t care if I do get snagged for questioning all over again, I’ve got to get some answers. What I wouldn’t give to have Hamlet back here if I could.” She sighed, wishing for the hundredth time that she could feel okay about ditching Hamlet the way she had, or that she would never have had to.

Elsewhere…

Hamlet watched the airplane fly Saph and Horatio out of the airport, back to the States.

“Meow.” He sighed, wishing for the hundredth time that he could feel okay about ditching the Saph lead the way he just had, or that he would never have had to. Even if he had discovered where Ewan was now.

There was just something about Saph that made Hamlet even more uneasy than ever. But right now, he had someone else to focus on. Ewan was in Africa, filming his newest movie. And Hamlet was after Ewan.

“Flight 916, one-way from London to Djbouti now boarding. All passengers for flight 916, London to Djbouti, now boarding.”

Hamlet glanced at the line to board the plane. Aside from himself, there were only three other passengers, one of which seemed to be an Eskimo, oddly enough. But even Eskimos have to go someplace for vacations, don’t they? Hamlet jumped from his seat and went to go board the plane.

Back in the City

“Scarlett!”

“Phabio!” Scarlett replied, a fake smile plastered on her face. “So tell me, what has my sister got you hiding from me now?”

“What? I don’t know what you’re-“

“Come on. I know you’re still friends with both of us. And you always liked her better, even if it was me who-“

“I guess I do owe you an explanation, at the very least,” Phabio said, cutting her off.

“Yeah, I’d say so. So what’s the grand scheme behind her implicating me in these bogus Oreo Avenger crime-sprees?”

“That? That I don’t know anythin-ahh!” he cried as Scarlett grabbed him by his shirt collar. To anyone who didn’t know what was going on, they looked oddly like a strange pose for the cover of a romance novel.

“Tell. Me. What. You. Know.”

“I don’t know anything!”

“Nothing? You swear?”

“Not about the crime spree!”

Scarlett let go of Phabio’s shirt collar and stepped back. “Okay, fine. What do you know, then?”

Phabio hung his head low, avoiding Scarlett’s eyes. “Saph…she…Saph wants you dead. She told me she’s going to kill you.”

Scarlett stared back at Phabio for a moment, then threw her head back and laughed. “Is that all?” she roared, still laughing.

Phabio looked extremely confused. “Scarlett?”

“She’s been saying that since we were teenagers, Phabio. She’s always wanted me gone, ever since we found out we were twins. Heck, even before, probably.” Scarlett stopped laughing abruptly. “But you know that.”

“Uh...”

“My question is, did she tell you anything about whatever her new plans are for killing me?”

“No.”

“Not that you’d tell me anyways, huh?”

“I…I wouldn-“

Scarlett smiled again, this one purposefully fake. Sardonic. “It’s fine, Phabio. I didn’t expect our agreement to last forever.”

“But-“

“It was fun while it lasted, Phabio. Goodbye.” With that, she walked out.

Walked back in. “No. No, wait, just one second,” she said. “It was fun for you. Not for me. But whatever; it’s over now.” She slammed the door.

***

Scarlett neared the Hall of Justice, but when she noticed the paparazzi outside, she decided the front door wouldn’t be the best way to go inside. She made her way around to the back entrance, treading as carefully as she could through the mounds of dirt and muddy slosh that the Justice Yard still was after the last battle. Scarlett made a mental note to call the landscapers as soon as she had a free moment.

As she rounded a tree and approached the back door, she heard crying. She looked over at where the sound was coming from.

“Violet?”

***

It was the babbling of a brook.

The gurgling water seemed distant at first - laced with an almost ethereal quality found in dreams. Slowly, the sound became sharper, coming into focus.

A thin arc of light appeared as the man slowly opened his eyes. He shut them quickly in contrast, squinting at the offending brightness. After rubbing the pain from his eyes, the man opened them once again.

He was lying in a mat of leaves at the foot of a tree. His clothes were wet from behind, and there were a few puddles of water left in the more shallow depressions around him. A raven cawed from the branches above, taking flight. A creek gushed on some distance to his left. Woodland. None of it seemed familiar.

“Where am I?” he spoke. The voice came out rash, his throat dry. Slowly, he tried to pick himself up, but his arm gave out beneath him and he promptly fell back to the ground with a painful groan.

It feels like I’ve been run over a train, he winced mentally.

He lay there for a few moments without further thought, watching his breath take form in the frigid air. The trees around him rose like skyscrapers, the coniferous pine needles sifting whatever light escaped from the wispy winter clouds above. The initial pain was beginning to ebb away.

Again, he took another good look around from his vantage point on the ground. He had no memory of this place.

Where am I? How did I get here?

He couldn’t seem to remember what he was doing here, or how he even got here. Wherever here was. And why did his body ache so much?

Maybe if I just backtracked, I could -

His train of thought suddenly stopped midway as a dawning realization came over him. It was as if the mild nuisance nagging on the back of his mind suddenly became an all-encompassing dilemma.

He didn’t know where he was coming from. In fact, he couldn’t remember anything from before he woke. He didn’t know where he lived or what he did.

He couldn’t even remember his own name.


***

The Justice Jet
Geauga County Airspace

“The concept of uber-mensch as what one would call a ‘superiority complex’ is, beyond any ambiguity, the furtive inferiority complex of the author. For example, take chapter 22 section six…”

X-Raytor turned to look out the window in an attempt to mask Right-Wing Man’s endless critique with the scenery. Ever since the cammo-clad superhero had finished Dr. Lansky’s book, Man and the Super Man, it seemed as if he just had to let everyone know how he felt about it. It was, no doubt, his Divine Duty to spread the Truth among his fellow Defenders of Justice.

Rosma was in the pilot’s seat flying the Jet. Or at least pretending to fly it - the Jet itself was on autopilot. It just provided a good excuse to ignore Right-Wing Man.

Studmuffin was in the co-pilot’s chair, not saying much of anything. No surprise there.

Raven was in a seat in the far corner making calls on the cell phone. What she was up to was anyone’s guess.

And so that left X-Raytor with Right-Wing Man.

“…for unscrupulously casting such an implication.”

“Uh-huh.” X-Raytor muttered, far more interested in the upcoming coastline than the lecture.

The Richard Simmons Memorial Bridge was right below them now, connecting the City with mainland. An assortment of vehicles lined its length, ferrying people from one end to the other. Usually, the sight of the suspension bridge would have invoked jokes about the late aerobics instructor. But now, looking at the overpass only brought back foul memories.

The Green Penguin grabbed X-Raytor, scooped him up in a giant hug. He could feel his ribs cracking from the force…

Oreos nailed the Green Penguin in the chest, in the mid-section. It growled in agony and stumbled back. Then it turned its evil, yellow eyes on X-Raytor. It panted, growled, hissed, and finally let out one, final word.

"JOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNN!!!!"

That was the first time… when he had just discovered the Green Penguin’s true identity. When he had thought the waves had consumed his Uncle Bubba whole.

"That's all we needed to know." Agent Ruskey said. "We think that, as you said, Bubba, the Green Penguin, is dead, but Colonel Sampson has some suspicions..."

"What sort of suspicions?" X-Raytor asked, looking up.

Agent Ruskey shrugged. "Well, penguins are aqua-"

He had been wrong.

The Green Penguin stood at the edge of the center support, on the side over the river. In the prehensile tip of one wing, he held Cara around the back of her neck. She was pale and shaking and tears were streaming down her face, but she was alive…

Bubba thrashed his wing to the side- and threw Cara off the bridge.

“NO!!” X-Raytor screamed.


The scene through the glass window of the Justice Jet came back to him, the Richard Simmons Memorial Bridge having passed by. Below, the towering skyscrapers of Central City loomed to the right.

X-Raytor let out a long sigh. Uncle Bubba was dead now. He had seen the M.O.R.P.H.Z. agents take away what was left of the Green Penguin’s lifeless form. It didn’t make him feel any better, though. And yet…

“…our servitude! That evil, in all its forms, shall be quashed under the Heel of Justice!”

Right-Wing Man had not paused to take a breath since he began his review, but did so now, thinking intently.

“Unless, of course, it is an implication that we, as superheroes, are above petty crime. Yes! That perhaps we, as the Chosen Defenders of Justice, should rise up to fully realize our Destinies! To serve the People by meeting challenges on a grander scale!”

Right-Wing Man’s words were familiar. Far too familiar. His next few sentences began to fade away as memories bubbled up to replace them…

He walked immediately into a large living room, with a couch and a few wooden chairs arranged in a loose circle…

“I mean, no offense,” she said. “But there’s all of us here, and you think the best we can do is fight crime? I mean, dude, there’s so much more that we could, and should, be doing.”

“I mean, like, if we’re this big group, we’re not just gonna be fighting petty crooks or anything, right? I mean, whatever we do, it’s gotta be big.”

X-Raytor’s consciousness suddenly came back to the Jet.

“No. We’re not ‘too good’ for petty crime. This is the best way we can help anyone,” he insisted.

Right-Wing Man was taken a bit aback. “But…”

“I said NO!”

Right-Wing Man looked at him quizzically.

Raven, who had put away the cell phone for a moment, moved to intervene.

“Um, Mattias…”

“Right-Wing Man. Mattias is my mortal name.” He nodded.

“Uh, yeah, Right-Wing Man. I don’t think X-y’s in a really good mood right now. I was wondering if you could help me out with some… uh… political questions I had?”

Right-Wing Man’s eyes brightened at that.

“Anything for a lady in need.”

Raven stole a knowing glance towards X-Raytor before ushering Right-Wing Man into a seat next to hers. RWM hadn’t been around as long as she had. He wouldn’t understand. None of the new comers really did. Those that had joined before the 2003 Oscars had already formed a sort of bond with the rest of the League; as such events are capable of doing. But if Raven’s guess was correct, this particular worry stemmed back even further than that - to the very first years of the League.

X-Raytor peered out of the window once more. Below, a small patch of cleared earth lay smack in the middle of the congested buildings of Central City. He winced internally. He knew this particular place as well: the grounds of the former Norton Amphitheater.

Looking at it only brought back thoughts of Cara.

Cara. Neary. Her.

Scarlett. Violet. Superdude.OMEGA.DragonGirl.

X-Raytor visibly shook his head.

He had learned how to move on, but something just seemed to be nagging at him ever since he phoned Cara back at the Hall. What had gotten into him?

He just hoped it was a side effect of his empty stomach.

****

Second and Moonn
Central City, The City

Ari had been walking around for a bit after leaving the small café. The coke fizzed in her stomach and she wondered if perhaps she should have gotten a bite to eat along with it.

She turned around the block, wandering aimlessly. It was somewhat of a release… able to walk around without anyone watching over her shoulder. Like Fred. She had always felt powerless when Fred had been around. Knowing that if he got the chance, he could catch her by surprise. There were some times when she couldn’t remember what she had been doing the night before. Those were always scary thoughts.

But now, he was gone. And though at first it seemed like there was an emptiness that couldn’t quite be filled, Ari was beginning to feel glad she had been rid of the demon. It was all well and good when he was the funny, ranting Fred… but deep down, she knew he was truly evil at heart. Given the chance, he would enslave the entire human race and turn the planet in his own, personal hell.

Ari took a deep breath of the frosty air. It was invigorating. She felt more in command of herself than ever before. Perhaps she would go to confront George.

Changing direction, she strode purposefully towards The Sentinel building. It was hard to miss, the logo imprinted across the tall high-rise. She would walk right in, and -

“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” cried a man in a black business suit as his briefcase fell to the pavement.

“Oh, uh, sorry about that!” Ari said quickly, not having seen the man.

“Hey… wait a second, you’re one of those Justice people, aren’t you?”

“Uhh…”

“Yeah!” piped up another voice behind her. It was a kid, probably in his late teens like her. He wore loose-fitting jeans, a baggy shirt, and a sideways-placed cap.

“You’re what’s-her-name… Xiao!”

Two more people walking by paused to look.

Ari suddenly felt uncomfortable. She didn’t like the direction this was going.

“Uh, you know, you’re right! And look, whaddya know? There’s a meeting I’ve got to get to back at the Hall! Bye!”

Quickly, she escaped into an alley.

Yeesh. Can’t a person walk down the street anymore?



***

International House Of Pancakes
Deerfield Heights, The City

“This isn’t bad. Not as good as Friendly’s, but not bad at all,” Drew commented, taking another bite of her syrupy pancake.

A fork dug itself into a hash brown on its own accord and lifted in midair.

“What do you mean, ‘not bad,’ it’s great!” Netic countered, taking her own bite.

The disgruntled waitress had served them just a minute ago, and everyone was happily digging into their meals. They had, however, made sure to force Eric into his boxers and stick him in the corner of the booth for extra measure. Midnight and Jo flanked him on both sides, since the girls refused to sit next to him.

“Uhh… maybe you shouldn’t do that, Netic.”

Netic looked up at Twisk. “Huh?”

“That,” Twisk continued, pointing at the hovering fork. “Everyone’s, like, looking at us funny.”

“F*** that,” Pinzz growled.

“Guys… don’t you dare start this crap again. I just want to eat my damned breakfast!!”

Crystal was getting agitated. First her eggs get burned, now this? Couldn’t they just let her enjoy her warm fluffy goodness in peace?!

Pinzz looked at her crossly. Crystal challenged her gaze with a glare of her own.

Both girls had an attitude, and weren’t afraid to show it. Pinzz always seemed to be more cynical and more often so, but that didn’t mean Crystal wouldn’t resort to the same when she felt she had to.

“You know, maybe they’re just looking at us because they like us. We are like celebrities, after all. And that blind woman was really nice. Blind people usually are nice. Kind of like that blind guy I was talking about ear… uh… ahem.”

Midnight stopped his chattering as both girls turned from each other to glower at him.

By now, an awkward silence had fallen over the restaurant, save for the soft hush of whispering that was barely audible over the background music. The Leaguers were about to return uncomfortably to their meals when -

THUD!

A clattering sound followed the loud slam as a fork dropped to the ground. The restaurant was suddenly alive again in chatter and talk.

Pinzz looked over her shoulder.

A gathering number of people were surrounding the table behind their booth.

“Someone help! She’s not breathing!”

The Leaguers exchanged glances, as if coming to a collective decision. They suddenly got up, and rushed over to see what the commotion was.

“I think she choked on her pancake!” one of the patrons cried.

Sprawled on the floor under the table was a girl in a bright pink, fuzzy long coat.

“Someone call 911! Does anyone know the Heimlich maneuver?”

“Maybe they do,” someone sneered, pointing towards the JL members that had gathered behind the onlookers.

A number of people turned around expectantly at the superheroes, few with a look of outright hostility on their faces.

Twisk looked around worriedly at her teammates. She certainly didn’t know how to perform the maneuver. Wasn’t that supposed to be Superhero 101 or something?

“Uh…” Crystal stammered.

Netic, Drew, and Eric just looked lost.

“Well, there was this class once back in high school where they taught the Heimlich, but…” Midnight started.

The looks on several more patrons’ faces went sour.

Jo tried to comment, “Uh, dudes, I think I…”

“No, just shut up.” Pinzz hissed.

One of the diners from the back slipped through, and pulled the unconscious girl into a bear hug from behind.

“Dude, look, I used to be a life-gau-“

“Shuut. Uuup.” Crystal echoed in a singsong voice.

“But - “

“I think what Pinzz and Crystal are trying to say,” Eric whispered in Jo’s ear, “is that we don’t need any more attention drawn to ourselves.”

Jo let out an exasperated sigh.

Suddenly, there was coughing and sputtering. The girl choked up the lodged food and was gasping for breath. The man who had saved her settled her down carefully, checking to see if she was all right.

The man who had jeered at them earlier suddenly spoke up again.

“Some superheroes you are! You can’t even save a choking girl!”

Mutters of agreement rose from a few others.

“Go back to where you came from!”

“Yeah, we don’t need your kind protecting us!”

‘I think I’m going to go pack our breakfast…” Eric said quietly.

Drew nodded.

“What you whippersnappers need is a paddling!” said a balding old man with a cane. “Why, I remember in my day…”

Suddenly, Swift, who just gained consciousness, snapped her eyes open. Startled by the circle of people surrounding her, she camouflaged herself and quickly slipped out from the center of the gaggle before reappearing.

The man who had been kneeling beside her jerked back in awe.

“You… you’re one of them, aren’t you?”

Everyone suddenly turned to look at Swift, who looked helplessly back at the JLers. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, a loud roaring noise came from outside. Everyone, superhuman and human alike, turned to peer out the large glass windows.

“Oh no,” Crystal muttered.

Hovering just above the IHOP was the Justice Jet. Coming down slowly, the ramp lowered with X-Raytor behind. A number of diners filtered out the door to get a better look, and a number of people from the surrounding area were beginning to approach to see what the commotion was.

“Hey, everybody!” X-Raytor said with a smile.

“Well, if it isn’t the Just-us League,” someone from the gathering crowd outside the IHOP said.

“Too good for normal transportation like the rest of us?” someone else jeered.

“Wow, tough crowd,” X-Raytor muttered. There seemed to be a lot of that lately.

“It’s about to get tougher,” Raven commented from behind. “Look.”

Heading towards the rapidly massing crowd was an unmistakable figure with orange hair.

“Oh crap,” X-Raytor said. “Why her??”

Morgan Westfall, with a group of lackeys following close behind, came to a stop before the rest of the crowd.

“I can’t believe you’d show your faces in public,” she sneered. Then, turning to the rest of the crowd: “Did you all see the news? That Oreo Avenger freak finally killed someone today! Left two poor girls orphaned, too! Looks like the Just-us League has a bad habit of churning out criminals!”

The last reference got the crowd especially riled up, and an angry buzz filled the air.

Inside the IHOP, Pinzz told the others, “I think this is our cue to get outta here.”

No one argued with her.

“You better come with us blinky girl, or else you might get on the wrong side of about a hundred angry people,” she said to Swift, who only nodded. Snatching up the bagged food and leaving their pay on the table, the Leaguers made their way outside.

“I suggest we leave before this crowd turns into a lynch mob,” Rosma called from the cockpit.

“Yeah… yeah, I think you’re right,” X-Raytor said, and then feverously motioned for Pinzz and the others to get on board. Pinzz stretched her fingers out, latching onto the Jet and swinging over the crowd onto the extended ramp. Netic grabbed a hold of Drew, and magnetically attracted herself over. Crystal created a bridge of ice and Eric, Midnight, Twisk, Jo, and Swift followed over.

“So, did you bring me any breakfast?” X-Raytor asked. Pinzz shoved a paper bag into his hands.

“Awww, I knew you loved me.”

She only gave him a glowering stare before storming past.

“Careful, X-y, or she’ll let her anger out on you,” Twisk commented, moving by as well.

“Who’s the new girl?” Raven asked, jutting a thumb at Swift.

“Wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time?” Eric supplied.

“I’m getting us out of here,” Rosma said.

“What about the Justice Van?”

“Don’t worry, no one knows it’s ours. Remember, we took those side panels with the emblems off for a reason. We’ll just pick it up later.”

The ramp closed and the Jet began to turn away as two police cruisers pulled up to see what the entire hubbub was about.

Why did I have a feeling today wasn’t going to be a good day? X-Raytor thought.