JUSTICE LEAGUE

44

Fire and Fighting
 

Raven was happy to be far, far away from Shark Week. Guilty pleasure, pssh. Someday, everyone will realize the importance of Peter Gallagher's eyebrows and the perils of being rich, white, and attractive! EVERYONE!

Including me.


Holden parked the car (somewhat illegally), and both of them got out. They walked up the stairs into the asylum, and approached the desk. Raven spoke first.

"We're on a mission from God."

Popping her gum, the clerk replied, "Delusions, up the hallway, third door to your right."

***

Ari rolled to her feet, feeling suddenly quite serious. She glared at the bottle, capped it, and wandered off towards her room for some "deeper meditation". All the while some guy was rambling on about how sharks are just gentle giants of the deep. Or maybe that was whales. And Twisk staring with rapt concentration. Must be a water thing.

She was horribly surprised when someone tapped her on the shoulder as she made her way down the hall.

"Yahhhhh!" Ari cried, horribly surprised by the sudden rapping, tapping, of someone on her cha....shoulder...

"Ahhhh!" He cried, leaping back. Okay, not leaping, kind of hopping.

"Who are you?! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!" Ari asked, flattening against the wall.

"I'm Julian," he said, recovering after a long silence, and extending a hand. Ari regarded it suspiciously, then shook. Vigorously....

"My name's Xiao! AKA Ari! AKA...oh wait. I only have one aka." She shook her head. And his hand. "Uhh..... don't tell anyone my secret identity!"

"What's your secret identity?" Julian- or the guy who claimed to be Julian- struggled to get out of her grip, but Ari kept shaking.

Her eyes widened. "Wouldn't YOU like to know!"

"I guess."

"You know. I just discovered one of the greatest substances known to mankind!" Ari rambled, ignoring him. "FLAVORED WATER! It's great! Try some!" She proffered the bottle, but Julian shook his head. Ari realized she'd been cutting off his circulation with her handshake of doom, and let go, sheepishly. "Weeellll anyway. Um. So. New?"

"Yeah," He said, rubbing his hand.

"Ahhh! Well! You'll love it here! Except for the constant death threats, the fear of losing one of your friends, the horrible violence, and the prospect of being turned into Mr. Bean by one of Oreo's...Oreos..." She frowned. "...Wait a second. What are the perks?"

Julian shrugged. "Saving the world?"

Ari shrugged. "Eh..Ah well, I suppose the housing's nice enough. Well, see ya later!" She waved, and then wandered off to her room.

"Alright..." Julian looked a little afraid at the prospect of seeing her later.

She found her door after a short search (had someone messed with that button-thingy that switched the hallways again??). It had a small, okay large, square of duct tape covering a place where Fred had, awhile ago, gotten angry and decided to take out an innocent door.

The inside was pretty clean, as Ari was a slight neat freak. There were no pictures, but a couple posters. One had a picture of a city and said "Follow the Flock You Posers" with "C13" scribbled on it, and another was a plain black that said "The Band With Rocks In" in purple script. There was a small vase that had contained a couple flowers, but was now empty. A dresser filled with her clothing, some leftover junk for Llamamatrix to eat (where had he gone anyway?), and then there was a fairly bare corner. She decided it was time to decorate. After all, with Fred gone, now she didn't have to worry about him throwing hissy fits and breaking any of her stuff.

Pretty cool deal.

Except where was she going to find any stuff to decorate with????? With the exception of the junk, and stealing things from others---ah, BORROWING from others--.....Hmm. Quite a dilemma. How in the heck was she to going to avoid thinking about yesterday with G--.... when there was nothing to do?!

Hmmm.

She collapsed on the bed, and stared at the empty space, willing it to fill. Nothing happened. Ari waited again.....Still nothing.

...........

Stupid stubborn corner. She'd straighten it out yet!!

***

As Jo drove back to the Hall of Justice with all of Swift's stuff loaded into the back of his yellow X-Terra, he mulled over the past weeks. His carefree life had taken a 180 degree spin. Or 540 degrees. Or 900 degrees. Not 1260 degrees, though; he couldn't do that kind of spin without using his powers...then again, his powers were exactly why he was were he was now, so...

"Dude, Barbara Ann! 1260 degrees! Cowabunganess!" he called up through the open moon roof. He'd strapped Barbara Ann up top so the trip was like a roller coaster ride. She was riding the road with him. She'd been through everything with him.

School. Surfing. Moving. Backwoods. Surfing. Family. The shack. Friends. Surfing.

Lylah.

Outside the X-Terra, the sky began to cloud over. Everything had gone to hell after Lylah left him a year and half ago. He was aimless without her. He did crazy stuff.

He'd done...he'd done what he'd done.

There was no changing the past, even if his family wouldn't speak to him. Idiot Mormons. At least he still had Uncle Peter and Aunt Eva--they were groovy.

"I am what I am," he said softly. "Dude."

Now it was getting dark, and the wind picked up as a roll of thunder buckled the clouds. Jo switched on the headlights, even though it was the middle of the day. He'd be at the Hall of Justice in five minutes, and tonight, now that he'd picked up a flashlight at Wal-Mart, he was going to do something besides argue over the television. He'd patrol, or something. Be heroic.

Whatever that meant nowadays.

Maybe he could get Scarlett or Violet to come along with him (the others were just a little intimidating...or annoying). Or that Ari girl; she seemed kind of lonely with just that llama for company since that street guy had screwed everyone over. And the llama didn't talk.

"One-sided convos don't jive so well, do they, Barbara Ann?"

At the Ruins of Scarlett's Cottage

"That's it," Scarlett snapped to no one as she tripped yet again. "I am investing in a pair of sexy red sneakers."

She had taken the Van of Justice on a slight detour back to where her cottage had once stood. It was time for her to deal with some things. The Hall of Justice was getting crazy again, and the newbies kept wandering into the Justice League Walk-In Closet. Not that it was off-limits, or even hers (technically everyone had a full wall for their clothes, but Scarlett had convinced X-Raytor, Eric, NeoMatrix (AKA: Llama Boy), and Midnight Chatter that she needed the space more than they did.

She needed a lot more space, though.

***

The next afternoon, Drew and Netic had snuck out of the house to do a bit of shopping. Or rather, Drew was doing the shopping, and Netic had been dragged along. Whining. They were both in jeans and tee-shirts, neither wanting to be recognized as superheroes. In fact, Drew had gone a step further and pulled a base-ball cap over her head. Netic called her paranoid, then laughed at how much she looked like a boy when her hair was tucked under the hat. Drew fumed and told Netic that she looked like a Matrix reject when she wore that hideous overcoat. This promptly resulted in silence as the two rode their bikes into town.

Yes. They owned bikes. Every household as a rule, must own at least two bikes.

“I just want to pick up some memory sticks,” Drew said. It was as much of an apology as Netic would get. Netic waved her hand and the front of Drew’s bike lifted off the ground. Drew flailed. “Stop! This isn’t funny, Kam!” Netic laughed, and the bike fell back down. Drew lost control, and went careening into a hedge.

“Sorry,” Netic shrugged. She hopped off her bike and walked back to help Drew to her feet. “There’s an Office Depot over there.” She pointed. Drew fixed her clothes sent a glare in Netic’s general direction.

“I think there’s a bike rack over to the side of the building.”

“If I take care of the bikes, will you forgive me?”

“No.” Drew smirked. “But I’ll meet you at the front of the store.”

Minutes later, Drew stood with her arms crossed waiting for Netic.

“What took you so long?”

“The bike rack was full...so I had to move some.”

“You didn’t.”

“Okay. If you say so. Let’s get that memory stick.”

Drew sighed. “I need at least 20 gigs, can you remember that?”

“I’m not sure, but I think so. Oh, please, Adrianna, enlighten me with you computer savvyness!”

“Shut up,” Drew said. She grabbed Netic’s hand and pulled her to the first aisle. “Start here.”

“Found it!”

“What?” Netic held up a plastic box that did, indeed, contain a memory stick. She shoved it into Drew’s hand and took another one off the shelf. Slightly confused, Drew headed towards the checkout.

“Can I help you?” the cashier asked mechanically.

“We want these.” Netic put the merchandise on the counter. The cashier checked the prices and tapped away on his computer.

“What the hell?” he exclaimed, banging the monitor. The screen went fuzzy, black, as if a magnet were being held up to it. “Stupid computer.” He mumbled and picked up the phone near the register. “Blake, the checkout computer is acting up.” He looked back at Drew and netic. “Here, I’ll help you at the next register. Follow me.” He said, walking to the checkout desk a few feet away. The same thing occurred. The clerk picked up the phone once more. “Blake, quite eating your donuts and get out here!”

“What? What?” A tall, balding man called as he exited a room labeled ‘Manager: Blake Pearson.’

“Look at this.” The clerk turned the monitor around so that Blake could see the swirls of black and gray. Netic’s eyes widened, she stepped behind Drew.

“Looks like a magnet was held up to it,” Blake remarked. Suddenly, he screwed up his eyes and looked at Netic. They popped wide open when he finally recognized her. “You! You’re doing this! Out of my store, now!”

“No way!” Drew yelled. “Not until I buy my memory sticks!”

“You’re one of them, too! Jeff, call the police. These freaks are trying to sabotage our store!”

“But they’re just buying---“ The manager marched to the desk and pushed the clerk away. He picked up the phone and began dialing, but Drew slammed it down.

“We’re not freaks! I just wanted to buy these!” She held the memory sticks to the managers face before slamming them down onto the counter.

“You little bitch! I oughtta-“

“You oughtta what? You loser. Look at you, you’re thirty-something and you’re managing an Office Depot? You tell me who’s the freak. I bet you spend your time playing dungeons and dragons while you fantasize about girls from your high school!”

Blake’s eyes were raging. He raced around the desk and threw Drew against the wall. She yelped, suddenly regretting her comments…

Netic cussed and sent the defective monitor sailing toward the managers head. He ducked, but the monitor he the fire alarm and the ringing wailed throughout the store. The Manager backed away, giving Drew enough time to escape his grasp. She and Netic bolted from the store as they heard sirens only blocks away.

They ran for what felt like an hour. Finally, Netic grabbed Drew’s arm and pulled her into an alleyway.

“What-are-we gonna-do?” Drew asked between gasps.

“Do you have-your phone?” Netic responded. She didn’t wait for a reponse and took the phone as Drew pulled it from the case on her belt. Netic dialed the number to the hall. “Hello? Who is this? …Get X-Raytor or Rosma-someone!…. Fine-I’ll talk to Pinzz. Pinzz? …Shut up, we’re in some deep @#%$…I don’t know-where we are…”

“It’s probably-on the news,” Drew remarked wryly. She slumped down against the brick wall.

“Pinzz? Check the news…Don’t yell at me!…Pinzz, please-send someone-to get us.”

***

“What are you doing on the floor?” Midnight Chatter asked.

Oreo Avenger would’ve shrugged, but that took too much energy.

“I can’t move,” she said.

She’d tried a few times, because tile wasn’t very comfortable, but the fire that sustained her since she beat up the fake Oreo burned out, leaving nothing but ashes.

“…thrown from his horse and broke his back and now he can’t move anything under his neck, which is a shame because he used to make these movies and-Gah! You broke your back! First step…don’t move the victim. Step two, call for help.”

“No!” Oreo sat up. “Look! I’m okay!”

Midnight peered at her. “Are you sure? Because sometimes the victim is in shock-“

“I’m fine.”

“-and they can do things like lift cars off babies. Although you might be able to lift a car when you’re not in shock. It’s too bad you broke your back.”

“I’m fine,” Oreo repeated.

“You’re bleeding!”

“What?” Oreo looked down and, sure enough, blood oozed out of a broken scab on her arm.

“Don’t panic! DON’T PANIC! I know what to do! Step one is to make the victim comfortable! Are you comfortable?!”

“Stop calling me the victim! I’m fine.”

Midnight slammed through the cupboards.

“What are you doing?”

“First aid kit! I need the first aid kit!”

Oreo pointed at the red-crossed box near the sink.

“Okay now, let me see your arm.” He sat on the floor by Oreo and fumbled open the kit. “Cotton balls…antiseptic…this is going to sting a bit.” He thrust a soaked cotton ball at her general arm area.

“Midnight?”

“Yes?”

“That’s not my arm.”

Midnight Chatter opened his eyes, face turning red. “Oh.”

“So you can move your hand now.”

“Yes. Right. Okay.” Midnight cleared his throat. “So this time I won’t close my eyes.”

“Good idea.”

He gently dabbed the scrapes. “You need to hold still,” he said.

“But it stings!”

Midnight grabbed her hand. “It’ll be over soon. Just think happy thoughts, like kitties or pancakes or finally killing Doctor Lucky…”

Oreo stopped listening to his words. Her arm kept trying to twitch away, almost of it’s own volition. She squeezed Midnight’s hand.

“…and then I’ll wrap this around and you’re done!” He gave her arm back to her.

“Thanks.” Oreo looked down at the bandage, knowing if she looked at Midnight she wouldn’t be able to say what she wanted to say. “Have you…did you…” She gave up trying to articulate her thoughts and so spewed out the first thing that came to her mind. “Did you know that mosquitoes reproduce in stagnant water?”

“I did know that. Did you know that only female mosquitoes drink blood?”

“She needs it for reproduction,” Oreo said. She looked at Midnight. “The male drinks plant…juice…”

Without meaning to, she leaned toward him, and he leaned closer to her, and she pursed her lips and closed her eyes and waited for their mouths to meet.

And opened them again. She lay in a bed, machines whirring and buzzing around her, the air thick with the smell of disinfectant. The infirmary. It was just a dream. Bugerit.

Oreo sat up and stretched. A nearby machine went from red to green. She felt…not precisely happy, but also not depressed and angry. Content, like after a good night’s sleep.

The night before, or maybe it was the day, weren’t bright in Oreo’s memory. They seemed like a bad dream, unable to exist in the sunshine. Oreo ran a hand through her hair. That part wasn’t a dream. She looked through the drawers until she found a scalpel. She sliced the remaining long hair off. She’d have someone make it pretty later. Assuming she hadn’t slept through some kind of Justice League apocalypse.

Oreo flew out of the infirmary to the rec room. For once, no one was battling over the remote.

“What’s going on?” Oreo asked.

Rosma, X-Raytor, Scarlett, Violet, Right-Wing Man, Twisk, and some new people she didn’t recognize sprawled around the TV.

“Netic and Drew had an incident while shopping,” Right-Wing Man said. He looked at her, then looked again.

“It’s a hospital gown,” Oreo said.

“…can see in the security tape, the attack seems largely unprovoked, although anti-powers groups are already claiming the two Justice League members provoked the manager off-camera.”

“Where are they?” Oreo asked.

“Pinzz and Crystal went out to find them,” Twisk said.

“Oh great,” Oreo said, flopping down on a nearby chair. “We’re going to need to hold a press conference after this.”

***

"Screw this," Scarlett said, standing up. "I'm sick of sitting around doing nothing. Besides. Pinzz? Crystal? Who made that call?"

"Pinzz," X-Raytor said, still staring at the TV. At least, she thought he was--it was hard to tell with him wearing that mask.

"Typical Pinzz," Scarlett scowled. "Don't ask anyone else to help, no, no, that'd be too freaking democratic, wouldn't it? God only knows who the two of them will piss off."

"Who's she talking to?" Twisk asked Violet.

"I think herself."

Scarlett paced a couple of steps, then turned to face the others on the couch. "I'm gonna go make sure Pinzz and Crystal don't end up screwing us over more than we already are. And someone's got to get Drew and Netic--what kind of idiots take the Justice Moped for something like this?"

"Well, you weren't back with the Van of Justice yet," Rosma pointed out.

"Llama Boy would've been more useful than the moped."

"No one knew where he was."

Scarlett scowled again. "I'm going. Any of you coming with?"

***

Swift stood - practically jumped up - at the offer of getting out. Watching TiVo all day wasn't her thing, but she was afraid to explore the place after the sim-room and the Oreo incidents. The Justice Hall was not a safe place to wander alone, but wandering alone was Swift's favorite activity. After all, her endless pockets weren't that endless.

"I'll go." She volunteered, then swallowed and looked around at the rest of the JLers. "Please."

* * *

Careful that her long coat didn’t get caught as she closed the van door, Swift thought aloud as she did the seat buckle. "Wait, where are we supposed to find those two? They won't be at that store."

"We look for destruction and Pinzz should be there." Scarlett replied gravely. Swift noticed that she had an unusually tight grip on the steering wheel; her knuckles were a bloodless white.

"Is this usual? Rescuing Justice Leaguers from angry mobs?"

"No. Well, yes, since that slimey bastard printed the story on us." Cue knuckles turning whiter, if that was possible.

"But not the rest of the time?"

Scarlett looked over at Swift. "Usually we're rescuing the normal people."

"Ah."

Swift didn't pry anymore; it definitely wasn't the time. They rode in silence, until they simultaneously spotted a moderately sized business building with smoke pouring out the windows. A mob had gathered around it, screaming, and the police didn't seem to be doing much to control them. They were watching the building carefully, though, as the smoke increased and flames became visible, guns drawn.

"Holy s$#@." Swift whispered.

"Yeah."

***

"A burning building," Scarlett said, surveying the scene. "Just great."

A teenage girl watching the flames eyeballed Scarlett. "Hey, isn't that the pyro?" she asked loudly, pointing straight at Scarlett. Several other onlookers turned.

"It is the pyro! The Just-Us pyro!"

"F***," Scarlett muttered. "Swift? Get the Van of Justice out of here. We were stupid to bring it to begin with."

"What abou--"

"I'll get Drew and Netic. We need Twisk. Or Jo. Or Crystal."

Swift nodded, and took off. Scarlett turned to look at the building again. The girl was still there.

A sneer passed over her face. "The pyro did it!" She kept her finger pointed at Scarlett. "She started the fire!"

"I wasn't even here!" Scarlett protested. This was turning ugly fast.

"Sure you were! You were just invisible!" a man with a pitchfork yelled.

"I can't turn invisi--"

"It was her!" cried the girl.

A scream came from the building. Drew and Netic!

"I'm going in."

"We'll be waiting!" yelled the pitchfork guy.

Scarlett ran towards the building. "Great and wonderful that I can start fires," she muttered as she ran inside, "if could stop them, now that would be something." The air was thick with smoke and floating ash. "Drew! Netic!"

Nothing. Scarlett dashed for the stairs. "Aaaaeeeeeeiiiiii!" came a scream from a couple floors up. A blast of heat nearly knocked her to the ground, but she ran on. She made it to the third floor before the next scream. "Netic! Drew!"

"We're trapped!" came a shout from behind a door at the far end of the floor. Scarlett started to run for it, but didn't get far. Her dress had begun to go up in flames.

"Stop, drop, and ROLL!" she screamed as she fell to the floor trying to beat out the flames.

It didn't help that she fell into a puddle of what had to be gasoline.

"Aaaaarrrrgh!" Her hair was on fire, she couldn't breathe, and her skin was beginning to melt off.

I look a lot like the guy in Return of the King before he jumped off the cliff.

Focus, Scarlett. Focus or you're toast.


Thick, brown skin began to emerge from her melting flesh. Her flaming hair seemed to disappear.

And she got big.

A minute later, Scarlett was a full-grown hippopotamus. The floor creaked under her 2 and half ton body. She knelt down low to the ground and inhaled deeply; she wouldn't need another breath for 10 minutes, and she planned to be well out of the building in half that time.

The hippo was not happy about fire, but the thick skin was a lot better for a fire than human skin. Scarlett eyed the door Drew and Netic were trapped behind.

She charged, busting through the door and sending timbers flying.

"Scarlett?"

< Hurry up, before this place collapses! > Scarlett yelled. They both scrambled onto her back, and she started to turn to get out. There wasn't really much room to turn around, though.

CREEEEEEEEEAK. snapsnapsnapSNAP!

"Scarlett? How much do you weig--ahhhhhhhhh!!!" Netic screamed as the floor came out from underneath them.

< Ahhhhhhhhhh !>

"Ahhhhhhhhhhh!" They all screamed in unison.

***

"I'm telling you, WE'RE NOT DELUSIONAL!" Raven yelled. "Well, maybe he is, a little. But I'm not! And I'll vouch that he's sane right now!" She looked over at her companion. Holden stared back and screamed "I SWEAR I DIDN'T DRINK THE PUNCH!"

"Great vote of confidence there." Raven mumbled. "Um...I'm a superhero! From the Justice-" She stopped, marveling at her own stupidity. A superhero was not currently a good thing to be. Luckily, her ordinary appearance (she'd left the body armor at home) meant that the only response that the nurses gave was more whispering about how delusional the pair was.

"Hmm. I always wondered if the Evil Manager was the only one this worked on."

***

They arrived at the padded cell ("101") and entered.

"LIESA! YAGO!" yelled Raven, her attempts at escape momentarily forgotten. "Good to see you again!" Liesa paused from babbling and gave a friendly wave. Yago looked up, his eyes wide with sleep deprivation, and screamed "GREAT ONE! YOU WILL CALL ME GREAT ONE!"

Raven blinked. "As you wish...uh...Great One."

"Much better." Yago smiled, falling over. Liesa looked over at his prone body.

"Much better." she parroted back, imitating Yago's voice. Raven laughed as the nurses left.

***

Swift was essentially dumb-struck as she was commanded to drive the Justice Van - minus anything resembling a license or even a permit - and further command other Justice League Members to return with her to save the day. She felt horrible watching Scarlett run into the flames. She was fast. She should have stopped her and gone herself. Damnit. Too late now she thought, watching Scarlett charge inside, and threw the van into what she hoped was reverse.

"R" means "reverse", right? No! Maybe "R" means "right"! Oh, no…

But "R" meant reverse, and short of nearly killing several on-lookers Swift managed to turn the van around and hit the street. Speeding, of course, because anything less than 75 was out of the question for her first time driving. The cops, however, thought differently.

Red and blue lights struggling to keep up with the van finally caught Swift's attention, but she wrinkled her nose and slammed on the gas again. This was more important. This was a matter of life and death.

Of course, when they started shooting at her tires, Swift got a bit nervous. And that's when she spied the little red button.

It was unobtrusive enough, tucked to the side of the steering wheel she was valiently clinging to (Maybe that's why she kept drifting into different lanes and getting honked at. Or was the van always this difficult to steer? Was that why Scarlett's knuckles were the same shade Swift's were now?) but tempting all the same. "Do not press this button!!" read the tiny white script underneath.

Another shot sounded, and the back window was out. Swift hunched down, ignoring the road (and entirely not seeing the small fluffy white dog about to be eaten by her wheels) and staring at the little red button.

"Oh, what the hell." She muttered, and punched it.

The van seemed to slow down - or was time slowing? - for a fraction of a second, before bucking forward in a whirlwind of black smoke from the tires. The smell was think and rancid but it kept Swift awake as she hurtled down the road at what seemed like Mach 5, the flashing lights lost far in the distance as she raced back to the Hall of Justice.

Stopping was another adventure, but she gave up and left it running as she darted inside faster than the eye could see and did the only reasonable thing under the circumstances - screamed at the top of her lungs.

"TWISK!!"

No answer.

She blinked into the rec room, where the TV happily shone on the faces of some of the JLers. Lunging forward, she slammed it off and glared at the inhabitants. "Scarlett, Drew, and Netic wound up in a burning building surrounded by an anti-Justice mob. Twisk and anyone else who cares to help, we need to move."

Several members jumped up immediately, and the questions began to fly. Swift ignored them, slipping out of the group and running back to the van, taking five precious seconds to toss her belongings onto the lawn to make room for everyone. It was a pitiful pile of three boxes - an entire life in three boxes. Ugh. she thought, and hopped back in the driver's seat.

When everyone was in and she was tearing down the driveway, she looked in the mirror. "Who installed the little red button?"

"What little red button?" Twisk asked suspiciously.

"This one." Swift answered, and punched it again.

***

"Easter's coming." Raven commented.

Holden snorted. "I hate Easter. People always ask me how I celebrated it, and when I tell them I didn't, they go 'Oh. I always assumed you were a Catholic.' And then I have to explain to them-"

"Easter?" asked Yago. "That's when...Santa comes out of his hole, sees his shadow, and declares that there's still six weeks of school. Right?"

"Absolutely, Great One." Raven said.

"Hey, Liesa?" asked Holden as Liesa started dealing cards. "You see Dr. Lansky a lot, don't you?"

Liesa nodded.

Holden reached into her backpack, pulling out a tape recorder. "Have you heard anything...anything he might've said, that could be counted as...illegal?"

Liesa began thinking, but before she could speak into the tape recorder, the door burst open, and in came Dr. Lansky.

"Aha! CARDS! I knew it!" he exploded. "Hand over that pack of Bicycles if you know what's good for you! And DON'T TRY TO STAB ME, OR ELSE!"

Liesa rolled her eyes and gave him the cards. Lansky's eyes focused on Raven, still clutching 5 cards.

"RAVEN! You are the one responsible for this health risk, aren't you?!"

"No, honestly, we just wanted to play a game of draw poker-" Raven began.

"Don't lie, STRUMPET!" shouted Lansky, and faster than anyone's eyes could track, he pulled out a knife, grabbed Raven, and put it to her throat, grabbing the cards in the process.

"HOLY S***!" Holden yelled.

"HOLDEN? HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE?!"

Holden realized that Dr. Lansky hadn't noticed him until now. "Dude, you're nuts." Holden muttered.

"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" Lansky screamed.

"Nothing. Give her to me." Holden said, struggling to keep panic out of his voice.

Lansky looked at him suspiciously. "You didn't bring the cards."

"No, I didn't."

"Aha! Thus, you have no reason to want her except...." Lansky gripped the knife more tightly and a drop of blood beaded on Raven's neck. "YOU are just trying to kidnap what I have rightfully stolen!"

Holden blinked.

"OOH, SNAP! You are stunned and flabbergasted by my witty turn of speech! None of your witty retorts can match up to that!" Lansky paused a moment, and by now, the drop of blood had turned into a steady trickle, running off Raven's neck and staining the linoleum red. She was finding it harder to focus on becoming intangible to walk out of Lansky's stranglehold. "But just to be fair, Holden...I will give you a chance to test your pitiful wits against mine."

And just after Lansky said this, three things happened in quick succession:

-Yago screamed "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" and leaped onto Lansky's back.

-Raven amassed enough strength to walk through Lansky's arms, and collapsed onto the floor as she did.

-Holden blinked again and said, "Um...eat dirt?"

And through it all, the tape recorder ran.

***

Ari was just starting to arrange her Snape-Bob Marley-Llama sculpture in the empty space when she heard the distinctive sound of someone yelling, and several doors slamming.

She poked her head out her door in time to see everyone leaving. "Gah! Wait for me!" Ari cried after them, leaving the room, but alas, she was too late. The others had left without her.

"Darn....Where's Fred Jr.??!!" Ari began searching for the lost llama frantically. She needed a mode of transportation, and fast!

The world's twentieth greatest mathematician was found, curled under a stray table, in a remote room, chewing on some sort of....doll...

"Crap," Ari muttered, grabbing what she recognized as a miniature PM2 statue. "That can't be good..." She pocketed the thing after wiping it clean on the tablecloth, and then dragged him out from under the table. "Okay, Fred Jr., we have to catch the others! There's something up, and I don't want to miss it--superpowers or not."

"Blaaaa!" Fred Junior protested, attempting to dig his heels into the tile, but not succeeding. Ari pulled him out the door, and with difficulty, climbed up on him.

"LLAMA AWAY!" She cried, attempting to make him move.

.....Instead, he sat down, and began eating grass. "Ahhh! Stupid...ratsofrasten...." Ari muttered under her breath. "C'mon Fred Jr., we don't have time for this...What if I can help the others? I'm sure with your superior..uh...senses...you can follow their trail and get us where the trouble is!"

Fred (Junior) merely blinked, and then spat his mouthful of grass out.

"I'll give you a cookie!" Ari said, thinking of Ann's oreos.

No response.

"Extra carrots!"

Ditto.

"THAT'S IT! GET YOUR LLAMA REAR IN GEAR, OR I'LL LET PINZZ AND TWISK HAVE THEIR WAY WITH YOU!" Ari growled, whacking the llama upside the head (albeit rather softly).

The llama's ears popped up, eyes widened. He stood quickly, and started to trot. Or whatever it is llamas do that's between a run and a walking pace.

"Alright, this is it!" Ari said, nearly falling off. She realized she was going to regret this if it were a long ride- Fred Junior bounced with every step, and she wasn't exactly used to riding horses let alone the more rare hoofed mammals.

It wasn't exactly a pleasant experience.

But at least she was doing something.....Instead of moping in her room, and hearing about it later from the others.....

That is, if Fred Jr. even knew where the heck he was going...

Maybe this wasn't the best of ideas..... Ari thought. What was in that water, anyway???

***

It was suddenly very, very dark.

“Scarlett? Drew?” Netic called. She pushed herself to her feet and grabbed onto something. “Ahh!” She screamed and pulled her hand back. It was a metal pole, and it was very, very hot.

“Ow,” Drew said, rubbing her head. She attempted to roll onto her back, but found herself blocked by something warm and squishy. She poked it. “Scarlett, I hope that’s you and not something else to make this situation even more unfortunate.”

The warm and squishy thing suddenly began to shrink. “It’s me,” Scarlett said, her voice slightly gurgly sounding.

“We fell into the basement,” Netic called. “I think this pipe leads to the water heater.”

There was a cracking noise, and a crash as a red-hot piece of wood fell through the hole in the ceiling and crashed onto the concrete floor. The burning embers lit up the room as Netic was pointing out the pipe. Beside her was a stairwell. Scarlett and drew crossed the room to join Netic.

“How did you two end up here?” Scarlett asked, quickly. Her eyes were beginning to water.

Drew coughed, a cough which sounded an awful lot like ‘Lori was absolutely adamant about including a burning building’ but was actually due the increasing amount of smoke in the building. Netic answered instead, “We lost the police cars, but an angry mob found us instead. We came in here to hide.”

“How’d the fire start?” The two girls shrugged. Drew coughed again and pulled her shirt over her mouth and nose. Netic and Scarlett did the same. The eldest of the group, Scarlett took charge and led the young girls up the stairwell.

Suddenly, there was another crash. The three heroines were thrown backwards as a support beam came crashing down, blocking their way.

Drew let out a few choice words.

“Can we climb up the elevator shaft?” Netic asked, in between heavy coughing.

“You’re not supposed to use the elevator during a fire, the power could short and the cords could break or something.”

Netic focused on a metal pipe and it began dragging across the floor. Satisfied, Scarlett headed towards the lift, Drew and Netic close behind her. The basement was suddenly very much lighter as the fire began creeping down the stairs. Netic used her powers and the elevator doors peeled forward, exposing the empty shaft.

“What do we do if the shaft fills with smoke?” Drew asked.

“We climb faster and hope it doesn’t,” Scarlett answered, glancing at the fire-consumed stairwell. She looked back at the two teenagers. “Let’s do it.”

***

As Scarlett looked back through the flames, she noticed something else.

< Or we could just take the stairs. >

"Good idea." The three heroines raced up and out of the basement, practically flying out the front door of the building.

KABOOOOOOOOM!

The building was gone--collapsed into a smouldering crumble. They had escaped just in time.

"Whoa, dude! A hippo?" Jo and Swift ran up to the three girls. Well, two girls and hippo.

***

"FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!" Holden yelled to Yago and Lansky, still tousling on the floor. He turned and knelt by Raven. Blood was still spurting from her neck.

"Okay," he said. "Um...you apply pressure right? Wait! Or do you pinch off the vein? Goddammit. Okay. Okay. What would Allie do?"

Meanwhile, Liesa, who had been walking the perimeter of the room since Lansky took her cards, ambled happily into the fray, snatching the keys hanging out of Lansky's pocket.

"No! Hey! Give that back, you crazy bitch!"

Liesa shook her head and clucked her tongue at Lansky's remark. "Silly rabbit. Trix are for kids." She saw the cards, still clutched in Lansky's hands as he tried to land a blow on Yago (who was screaming "YOU DO NOT IGNORE THE ONE! YOU DO NOT IGNORE YOUR GOD!!!!!") and stole those as well. Then she picked up the tape recorder, and handed it to Holden, who looked at it with confusion. She walked to the door, unlocked it, pushed it open with a shoulder. She gestured at Holden, and he understood, looked down at Raven, and he took her in his arms and carried her down to the funeral home in her lace. Except he didn't, because this writer is not Stephen King, despite what you may have heard.

But he did pick her up, and he did carry her out, taking her to the car. Liesa turned and spoke.

"Good luck, Great One. To the pain?" she asked.

"I will consider it, mortal." said Yago.

Liesa smiled, because that was as close to yes as anyone would ever get from him. Then she pointed to Lansky and addressed him. "ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US!" she yelled, and she propped the door open with one shoe, so that Yago could escape when he trounced Lansky, and skipped (yes, skipped) cheerfully down the hallway to release the rest of the patients.

The Zaphod Beeblebrox Memorial Asylum seemed to explode with freed patients. Within minutes, the floor was covered in Cheez-It crumbs, and the wall was covered in spray-painted proclamations of Richard Simmons's eternal life.

***

< Yeah, yeah, a hippo, > Scarlett replied.

“That’s Scarlett?” Swift eyed the hippo warily. The other onlookers were eyeing Scarlett similarly.

“Yeah, it’s her.”

“How’d the building catch fire?”

“No idea,” Drew said. “We just ran inside to get away from everyone; it must have already been on fire.”

“Then someone shoved us into that room and bolted it shut.”

< Wait. Someone locked you in there? >

Netic frowned. “You think we locked ourselves into a burning building on purpose?”

< I don’t know. > Stupider things have happened, Scarlett thought. < Jo, can you do something about the fire? >

“I dunno, Scarlett. It’s a pretty gnarly fire, but I’ll try. ” Jo looked up at the sky, focused; his knuckles went white as his grip on Barbara Ann tightened. Clouds started to form overhead, and soon, droplets of rain started to fall. In seconds, the droplets were more like buckets, and the building sizzled, hot steam rising through the deluge as the rain put the fire out.

“Hey, what is that guy doing?” cried the same girl from earlier. Scarlett scanned the crowd, but even with the hippo’s eyesight, she couldn’t make out the girl’s face; she was wearing a dark blue cloak with the hood up. “He’s one of them, too!”

Jo let go of Barbara Ann, and the surfboard clattered to the ground. He wasn’t gasping for breath or anything, but he was white as sheet.

“Is he okay?”

“I thought he was like all-powerful or something.”

“I’m good, dudes. Pocket storms are just a little harder to control.” He picked Barbara Ann back up, his color flushing back. "And it's just weather I can control, not anything else."

“What’s the surfboard for?” the pitchfork guy had screwed up his courage once again and was waving it wildly, but not yet daring to actually approach them. Scarlett was a little intimidating.

Not too far off, sirens began to wail. “Yo, dudes…I think we’d better get out of here.”

“Good idea,” Swift said as the pitchfork guy started to advance.

< Ya’ll take the Van of Justice and go. >

“What about you?” Netic asked, opening the door.

< I won’t exactly fit in there. I’ll catch up. > she assured them. The others climbed into the Van of Justice, Jo at the wheel, and they peeled out before the pitchfork guy could reach them. He tossed the pitchfork at the van, denting the side.

“Dude, that was not cool!” Jo hollered back, but kept on driving.

“Yeah, don’t you know how high car insurance is for superheroes?” Drew yelled, but soon they were out of hearing, and Scarlett was left to face the crowd. She searched the faces again, but that girl had disappeared; Scarlett shrugged it off and headed for an alleyway to demorph in.

***

Fifteen minutes later, a red-tailed hawk flew into an open window in the Justice League Walk-In Closet.

“Aack!” cried Eric, startled.

< Eric! What are you doing in here? >

“I was, uh...”

< No, better question. What are you doing in my sundress and red high-heeled sandals? >

“I was, uh…I lost a bet! Don’t kill me! Please!”

< A bet? With who? >

“X-Raytor.”

< What were ya’ll betting? No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. >

Eric glanced at the mirror uncomfortably. X-Raytor was wrong. Red was definitely not his color.

< What I do want is for you to get the freak out of my clothes and out of this closet, > Scarlett said.

“I can do that!” Eric shimmied out of the clothes and kicked off the sandals and flew for the door.

< And tell X-Raytor to get his butt in here and explain what he was thinking! > The door shut as Eric left.

Scarlett demorphed as fast as she could, feather patterns melting quickly into her skin, talons going from hard, dry yellow to soft pale skin. She wriggled her toes when she was done and found some new clothes and shoes to wear, stopping to kick the sundress to one side of the closet. That would be getting washed before she even thought about wearing it again.

There was a knock on the door. “Scarlett?”

“X-y? Get in here.” The door opened, and X-Raytor strode in. “Do you mind telling me why I found Eric in here wearing my clothes?”

He seemed to think for a moment. “Actually, I do mind.”

Scarlett stared back at him, not sure what to say to that at first. “Fine. I probably don’t want to know anyways. Just don’t let it happen again, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am!” X-Raytor said in mock-salute. He turned to leave.

“Wait,” Scarlett said.

“What?”

“Here." She tossed him the sundress. “I'm not paying the dry-cleaning bill for this.”

“Sure thing,” he said, both of them knowing Eric would be the one paying. If the dress ever made it back.

As he shut the door behind him, Scarlett turned back to the mirror, her mind full of questions. Who had locked Drew and Netic in the burning building? Who was that girl in the cloak? What on earth was that guy doing running around the city with a pitchfork? What kind of sick bet had X-Raytor and Eric made?

She wanted Hamlet back here so badly. She reached for her cell phone, but stopped. He'd moved on. She'd have to keep getting by without him.

***

Hamlet pulled the cord on his parachute; for a second nothing happened. He wondered if it was as broken as the now-crashing bi-plane, but then it jerked open, white fabric billowing out and catching the air, almost stopping him in mid-air.

Down he went, into the jungles of the Congo, hoping he ran into the familiar Azandes and not the Musseronges; it'd been years, but either way the tribes would remember him; you don't come across too many black housecats in the jungles of the Congo. And Hamlet knew better than to take Musseronge death threats lightly...