JUSTICE LEAGUE

52

Comings and Goings
 

"Holy crap." Raven mumbled, holding her head with one hand as she entered the checkout line.

"Headache?"

She turned around. "Yeah. I kinda bumped my head last night."

The young girl behind her raised her eyebrows. "Really? At the riots? Which side were you on?"

"I wasn't on either side. I wasn't even there. I just...I fell down."

"Uh-huh. I see. Well, either way, Katherine-that is your name, isn't it?-you should probably get that checked out. Concussions are nasty. Believe me, I once got one at newbie camp. No depth perception. Quite a story."

Raven had only comprehended about half of the sentence. "How do you know my name?"

"I keep up with the news."

"Talk to me outside." Raven frowned as she paid for the aspirin.

"Okay." The girl said, placated. Raven walked towards the door of the supermarket. She usually avoided the store, because of her brushes with the Evil Store Manager, and she was starting to suspect that an act of arson was in order.

The girl came out, carrying a newspaper and a bag of Smarties. She opened the bag, unwrapped a roll, and started eating.

"Who are you?" Raven said, opening the bottle of aspirin.

"Mmmm. Well, you see, we share the same name. I'm Katherine. You're Katherine, though you don't go by that much anymore."

"I didn't really like it." Raven said. She instantly regretted it-she couldn't start apologizing for things that weren't even this kid's business.

"It's an acquired taste." Katherine agreed. "So, is it true what Lansky says about you?"

"No." Raven's headache intensified. This was starting to scare her.

"I didn't think so. Although PM2 is a lot of fun. Heh."

"What do you want?"

"Nothing, really. Not from you, anyway. I just recognized you, and decided to talk." Katherine cocked her head to one side. "You look a bit pale. You really should get that headache checked out."

"There's not a lot of space in the hospitals. Not now."

"Yeah, sorry about that."

"What?"

"Nothing." Katherine smirked.

***

“I’m dying my hair again,” Violet announced as she walked into the room she shared with Scarlett. Kicking off her shoes, she set the bottle of purple dye down hard on her friend’s bedside table.

Scarlett looked up from the paper she was reading and let out a low laugh.

“What?”

“Do you want me to help?”

“Not if you’re going to laugh at me. The Violet Princess is supposed to have purple hair. I’ve had enough of this-this mousy brown color.”

“I think you’re taking it a little too seriously, Vi. Are you alright?” Scarlett pushed herself upright and let her legs dangle off the edge of her bed. Violet sat down beside her.

“I’m fine.” A pause. “I’m fine, right?”

“You’re asking me? Look at what happened last night. I don’t think anyone is fine. But for a group of not-fine people, you're doing pretty well.”

Violet fidgeted. She raked her fingers through her hair, letting out a curt cry when they caught on the frizzy tangles. The cry fell into an annoyed groan before she spoke again: “I keep screwing up. I should know better. It’s like…I’m not all here half the time. Why didn’t I see how injured that man was? I sat him down on a bench and he almost bled to death. My power works, and then it doesn’t. It’s like it’s tenfold since-but I can’t control it.”

“We’re all stressed. No one knows what is going to happen next.” Scarlett reached down and gave Violet’s hand a comforting squeeze. “It’s too bad that precognition of yours doesn’t work at the most opportune moments.”

Violet’s eyes widened. She yanked her hand away, a bit more forcefully than she intended. Scarlett looked hurt. “It hasn’t worked at all since-“ She let the sentence trail off. “Scarlett, am I the same person?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, am I still Violet? Did I change when I came back? Tell me something about myself.”

“Like what?”

“Anything-Tell me about my family, what I used to like.”

“Um, you were raised by your grandmother in upstate New York. You like logic games. You took dance lessons when you were 14 but got kicked out because you talked too much. You’re an only child. You listen to really crappy music.”

Violet mumbled something and leaned back against the wall.

“I guess your music isn’t that crappy…”

“No, not that. When did I tell you I was an only child?”

“It’s what’s on your file. When your grandmother died, you told us you had no one left.”

“I didn’t have anyone left, no one competent. But, Scarlett,” Violet bit her lip and looked down at her hands. Ringless, fingernails painted pink. Scarlett waited patiently for her to finish her thought. Finally, she tapped Violet’s arm lightly. Violet didn’t jump; she looked up at Scarlett and spoke, very slowly: “I have a sister.”

***

A red binder in hand, Drew plopped down on the floor of her lab. Open notebooks, newspapers, and a laptop were sprawled around her. Netic sat on a rolly-chair, using the other computer to surf the internet. The two of them were in the same clothes they wore yesterday, having spent the night on the couches in the far corner of the lab. Drew had woken up early and been at work ever since.

“This is insane,” Drew said. With one hand, she began typing vigorously on the laptop. The other leafed through pages of disorganized notes and images.

“What is?”

“I’m sitting here going through random newspapers and post it notes to organize a database that should have been created years ago.”

“No one had time.”

“Isomorphix kept a file-didn’t he leave it here? Or at least a backup.”

“He might have.”

“You’re helpful.”

“I try. Oh, here.” Netic pulled the blurb she had used last night out of her pocket and tossed it to Drew. “Are you going to work on better versions?”

“Later.” Drew waved her hand. “I haven’t worked on the database in a week-I have all this to do. I haven't even started on the EMP-generator!” Drew sat the binder in her lap and leafed through it, forcibly oblivious to Netic.

“Jeez, don’t be a martyr, Drew.” Netic rolled her eyes. “You love this stuff. What are you up to?”

“'Tricky Vic’ Hoenikker.” Drew handed Netic a folder filled with newspaper clippings. “I’m sorting through the villains at the award show.”

Netic quickly scanned the papers, not really paying attention to what she read. “Okay.”

Drew sighed. “If you want to be helpful, start typing.”

“Typing what?”

Grabbing the folder back, Drew returned to her work.

“I’m getting the ‘Drew is very close to killing the next person to talk to her' vibes, so I am gonna head out to the kitchen.”

Netic stood up and pushed the chair around to the desk. She began to leave when Drew grabbed the corner of her sleeve.

“Wait.”

“What?”

“Last night. Are y--”

“I was really shaken.” Netic shrugged. Something in Drew’s eyes faltered. Taking it to be grief for Neo-Llama, Netic gave her a small smile. “You’re a really good friend, Drew.”

***

"Sir, I'm afraid you can't come inside with that," the police officer told Jo.

"But it's Barbara Ann, dude! She always goes everywhere with me." Jo tried to walk inside for the sixth time, but the officer blocked him yet again.

"Not inside this station."

"I've been out here all night. I just need to get inside so I can bail out my friend."

The officer sighed. "Look, if you had a shirt on, it might be a whole 'nother story, but I can't let you in with no shirt and a surfboard."

"She's not just any surfboard, man. She's the most bodacious surfboard this side of the Pacific," he said, kissing the surfboard.

"But...we're on the Atlantic."

Jo looked away from the yellow surfboard. "Whatever, man, I'd still be a shark biscuit if I didn't have Barbara Ann."

"I...okay. I'm going to go inside, and I'll ask about your friend for you. Will that make you happy?"

The door to the police station swung open, and a naked man walked out. "Thanks for the help, Jo," he said as he stalked by.

"Eric! Dude! They let you out?" He ran to catch up with him.

Eric stopped, spinning on his heels to face Jo. "They ran out of room with all the rioters. Decided one night in jail was more than enough."

"Dude, I tried to get inside, but the cop was all 'Rarrr,' and I was all 'Dude, for the love of Kokomo and California surfer girls, let me in,' but he wouldn't," Jo said.

"Surfer girls?" Eric snorted.

"What's wrong with surfer girls? They're all so tan, in French bikinis. I been all around this great world and I've seen all kinda girls. I wish they all could be California girls."

"Jo, I heard you talking to your grandmother."

Jo went so pale his tan seemed to wash right off. "Dude, I just told her that to get her off my back."

"And that's why you avoid the girls? Why you hang out with the guys? All the time?"

"Dude--"

"You could have girls all over you, man. Violet and Drew are always watching you. Crystal, too. People has you listed as the hottest new superhero this year. GQ ranked you Most Eligible Superhero #5 in their August issue. X-Raytor got #6."

"Dude."

"He'd flip shit if he knew you beat him. He doesn't care about that kind of stuff, but he'd still flip shit."

"Dude, you need new reading material. Where'd you find that stuff?"

"Right Wing Man's trash can."

Jo blinked. "Right Wing Man? His trash can?"

"Yeah. Well, GQ at least. I found People in Studmuffin's room."

"Could be Rosma's, then."

Eric looked thoughtful. "So that's who keeps going into his room at all hours of the night."

Jo nodded.

"Do you think they...?"

Jo nodded again.

Eric shuddered. "That's...that's all they do, then."

"We all have issues, man," Jo said, shrugging. "You, me, Right Wing Man. All us guys."

"I know, Jo."

"But I swear I'm not...you know," Jo said, stroking Barbara Ann. "I'm straight as a board."

Eric raised an eyebrow.

"Really. I just...after Lylah, it hasn't been easy. To trust."

"Yeah," Eric said, nodding. "C'mon. Let's get back to the Hall."

***

"Two days!" Detective Quick raged. "I leave the City for two days to tie up a suicide investigation and everything goes to hell."

"Sir, you've got a call on line five," one of the desk officers said.

"I'll take it in my office." He walked inside and slammed the door shut. Picking up the phone, he punched the receive button. "Detective Quick."

"This is Lylah Dixon. I spoke with you yesterday night concerning the death of Phabio."

"Yes, Miss Dixon. I was about to file the case closed, but if you have new information it's welcome," Detective Quick said, sitting down in his chair.

"No, no, I was just wondering if you knew whether there would be a memorial service. I haven't been able to reach anyone, and the paper's only got stuff about the riots. No obits."

"Sure, sure," he fumbled around on his desk for yesterday's paper that had been left on his desk by one of the underlings. Flipping through it, he found the obits. "It's gonna be at St. Michael's, four o'clock this afternoon."

"Thank you very much, Detective Quick. I'll let you get back to your work."

"Of course, Miss Dixon." He hung up, and started doing the paperwork to close the case. "Another suicide," he muttered. "Too many people who can't cope with a few damn problems."

***

Jo and Eric sauntered into the JL kitchen. "Tell me there's food in the fridge," Eric demanded as Netic and Julian turned to give the both of them dirty looks for interrupting them. "I'm starving."

"I'm not sticking around here to watch you eat like a pig," Netic said, and left.

"What the--what--" Julian started to say. "Do all you dumbf*cks have to get in the way?"

Jo whistled. "Hey, Julian--" he paused. "Eric, I feel a song coming on."

"A song?"

Julian stared at Jo like he was speaking Prussian. "A song?"

"Hey, Julian! HEY, JULIAN!
Hey, I've been watching you.
Every little thing you do.
Every time I see you pass
By my homeroom class
Makes my heart beat fast.
I've tried to page you twice
But I see you roll your eyes
Wish I could make you real
But your lips are sealed. --That ain't no big deal!

Cuz I know you really want me.
I hear your friends talk about me.
So why you trying to do without me.
When you got me
Where you want me?

HEY JULIAN!
I think you're fine.
You really blow my mind
Maybe some day you and me can run away.
I just want you to know.
I wanna be your Romeo.
HEY JULIAN!

Guy you got me on my knees.
Beggin' please, baby please.
Got my best DJ on the radio waves sayin',
"Hey Julian, what are you doin' to me?"

Too far to turn around
So I'm gonna stand my ground
Gimme just a little bit of hope
A smile or a glance
Give me one more chance

Cause I know you really want me.
I hear your friends talk about me.
So why you tryin' to do without me.
When you got me where you want me

HEY JULIAN!
I think you're fine
you really blow my mind
Maybe(maybe) someday(someday) you and me can run away
I just want you to know.
I wanna be your Romeo
HEY JULIAN!
HEY JULIAN!

I know you really want me.
I hear your friends talk about me.
So why you tryin' to do without me.
When you got me. Where you want me.

If you want us to stay forever
For us to hang together
So-hear-me-when I-say
Hey(Hey hey hey Hey) JULIAN!!!

HEY JULIAN
I think your fine
you really blow my mind
maybe someday
you and me can run away
I just want you to know
I wanna be your Romeo
Hey JULIAN!
HEY JULIAN!!!!!!"

Jo finished, and Julian gave him a look that meant, at its vaguest, "What the f**k?" and ran out of the kitchen like the hounds of Hades were after him.

"I didn't know you could sing like that," Eric said, shutting the fridge. "You know, without a guitar."

"Dude, neither did I."

***

The amnesiac stumbled into a dark street, even darker than the one he'd been in earlier. Ahead, a bright light glowed in the early morning haze. A bright neon violet light, to be exact. The words "TRIANGLE LOUNGE" glowed back at the amnesiac.

Inexplicably drawn to the violet glow, he walked up to the storefront. On the window, written in blue paint, were the words "Karaoke 'Til the Break of Day."

Something about the word "karaoke" made the amnesiac feel warm inside. This, this was it. He was sure of it. He would find answers inside. He walked inside.

***

"Hamlet! This isn't funny!" Ewan McGregor snapped in the darkness. "You need to untie me."

"Meeeeeeeyow. Meow."

"Yes, I swear!"

"Meoow," Hamlet acquiesced, realizing Ewan really hadn't done anything. "Myoow."

"Save the apologies for later--just get the bloody knife and untie me!"

"Meeow," Hamlet said, darting out of the room to get his Swiss Army knife. As he bounded down the hallway, however, a pair of hands scooped him up.

***

"No woman, no cry!" sang the amnesiac, invigorating what had been a half-asleep audience. Now, however, everyone was holding hands in a symbol of Rastfarian solidarity, or staring at the amnesiac in bewilderment as they sipped at genuine arabica Jamaican coffee.

***

Hamlet couldn't fight back. Something about the hands holding him was keeping him passive, almost numb, but at the same time, a tingling was washing over him. The captor had one hand over his eyes, so he couldn't even see who it was.

Bzzzzzzz! He felt a strange rubbing along his back. He shivered from the cold as air rushed over it. The hand moved to pick him up by the scruff of his neck, and as he was lifted up, he saw tuffs of black fur accumulating below him. Bzzzzzzz! With each rub of the buzzing device, he felt lighter and more fur fell below.

A few seconds later, it clicked. He had no idea why, but someone was shaving him.

***

As the amnesiac walked out of the Triangle Lounge, he felt lighter, as though a heavy burden had been lifted.

"Maybe we all just need a little more Bob Marley in our lives," he pondered. He was no closer to discovering who he was, but now he knew one thing: Bob Marley was a way of life.

***

“What?” Scarlett asked, unsure if she had heard correctly.

“I have a twin sister.”

Scarlett threw her head back and sighed. There may have been laughter hidden in the breath, but Violet did not hear it. “Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t someone up there laughing as he writes our lives. That’s unbelievable.”

“X-Y knows. He promised to keep it a secret, but it ended up turning into a joke-my evil twin cousin, the Violent Princess, and all that.”

“I believe you. Why did you keep it a secret, though? From us?”

“Liability. It’s perfect, isn’t it? She’s not even under the name Graham. The hospital lists her with my grandmother’s name.” Violet shrugged.

“The hospital?”

“You prepared for a long story?”

“Humor me.”

“When we were 18, we went to this party. It was winter; Emory drove Grandmother’s minivan there. We’re high school seniors, we were having fun, and we got wasted. I conked out on Melanie’s couch, but Emory needed to get home and study. She had this huge test tomorrow in Psych. We figured she’d be fine, she only had a couple beers.” Violet paused. She laughed a little. “She wrapped the van around a telephone pole. Luckily, no one else was injured-but Em was pretty banged up. Really banged up. She was conscious when the paramedics got to her. They said she was talking about this creature she saw in the street. Then she fell unconscious, went into shock, whatever it’s called. She closed her eyes. And she didn’t wake up.

“Grandmother left money in her will to take care of her on the wish that her name be legally changed to Ryan. Emory Ryan. So, I used to visit her, before, you know. Whenever I could. But, since I got back, she hasn’t even crossed my mind.”

“You’ve been under a lot of stress.”

“You don’t just forget about your sister.”

"Yeah." Scarlett looked away for a second, then she looked back at Violet. "What are you going to do?"

“If she woke up, I have to-will you do me a favor?”

“Anything.”

“I’d rather the others not know. It’s not really something they need to know.”

“Okay.”

Violet slid off Scarlett’s bed and walked to the bedroom door. She paused, turned around, and grabbed the bottle of hair-dye before disappearing into the corridor of the Justice Mansion.

***

At promptly two o’clock, Boyd Billeh rang the doorbell at the Gate of Justice. The speaker above the bell buzzed to life.

“Name?”

“Boyd Billeh, of Domaghan and Billeh.” He looked directly at the cherub statue as he talked. The lens of a security camera glinted from its eyes.

Wit ha soft snick, a door opened in the seemingly solid wall next to the massive gate. Stepping through the door, Boyd found himself in a forest with a narrow footpath ahead. The driveway seen from the gate curved sharply and ended in a copse of trees. A decoy driveway.

The sun filtered through the latticed branches, sparking unexpectedly on the pavement. The walk was pleasant at first, the birds trilling Boyd’s progress along the twists and turns. Gradually the birds stopped singing, the trees blotted out the sun, and Boyd got that peculiar prickling sensation between his shoulder blades that meant something watched.

A crack and Boyd whirled around, heart pounding. A squirrel dropped its acorn and dashed up the nearest tree. The animal berated Boyd from the safety of an overhead branch until the human walked away.

He shouldn’t be so jumpy. The Justice League…they were famous, true, but Boyd had represented the infamous before. When Governor Smoot was caught in that motel with a vat of noodles and an underage goat, Boyd managed to pull a re-election out of the mess. And he should’ve got a medal for handling that business with the Dibbler Sausage Company.

The Justice League, though, they were an entirely different type of beast. No one mentioned it anymore, but there were still questions about Tony Norgate’s death. Boyd couldn’t turn away this challenge, though. The Justice League badly needed a new image, and Boyd was just the person to do it.

He took the afternoon paper out of his briefcase. Flipping though, the headlines sprang out at him. RIOT: Anti-Justice League Protest Goes Wrong. Neomorpher Dead. Where Is Margo Westfall? Mayor Williams Publicly Thanks Justice League. Oreo Avenger Unmasked. Death Toll Reaches 37. Clean-Up Efforts Continue.

The trees ended abruptly. Boyd blinked in the sudden sunlight. He hadn’t expected the Hall of Justice, headquarters to the country’s top superhero organization, to look so…tacky. The building itself was impressive enough, all white stone and Corinthian columns, but someone had planted legions of flamingoes on the left of the circle drive. And on the right, an army of garden gnomes. In the grassy center of the drive, the flamingoes and the gnomes used the wreckage of what looked like a fountain as a battleground. The flamingoes currently held the upper hand, but the gnomes were surely planning something.

Boyd knocked on the door. It opened almost immediately.

“Hello,” the woman said.

“Hello,” Boyd said. Silver cloak, black dress, “You must be Rosma Galek. I’m-“

“Boyd,” she said, forehead wrinkling. “Boyd Billeh. I…I know you.”

“Really? I don’t believe we’ve ever met before.”

“Mr. Billeh!” a voice behind Miss Galek said.

Rosma Galek stepped aside to reveal the only member of the League he personally knew.

“Miss Avenger,” he said.

“Everyone’s already in the kitchen,” she said, leading the way. “Most of us just woke up. Thank you for coming on such short notice.”

“I expected to hear from you after last night.”

Nobody took notice as they entered the kitchen. A circle of bleary-eyed superheroes surrounded the coffeepot. A brown-haired woman in a red dress-Scarlett Fyre Boyd thought-tapped her foot until the coffeemaker indicated it was done. Everyone was in costume (or, in Eric’s case, lack of), making it easier for Boyd to identify each person. Oreo waited for everyone to get settled before speaking.

“Attention everyone! This is Mister Boyd Billeh of the Domaghan and Billeh Agency. He’s a PR guy. He’s got some great ideas to improve our image.”

“What a waste of time.”

Oreo glared at the speaker. Pinzz, Boyd thought, noticing her shiny blue suit.

Scarlett slammed her coffee cup down. “Did you enjoy the riot last night? Because I could do without that in my life!”

“This is just a first meeting,” Oreo said. “Listen to his plans. If we don’t like them, we don’t have to do them. Mr. Billeh, if you’d start.” She flew to the top of the fridge, leaving Boyd the center of attention.

“Thank you,” he said. “As the largest privately-funded crime fighting organization in the world-“

“What about the Freedom Force?” Studmuffin interrupted. “In England.”

“They broke up when one of them turned terrorist,” Rosma said.

“They were ripped apart,” Boyd corrected. “When people found out what Dalfer did to that school, a mob marched on the Force’s headquarters. Some of them are still in the hospital.” Boyd cleared his throat. “Last night was a warning. People’s fear is only going to get worse. Right now the average citizen sees you as menacing figures in capes and masks, a step away from destroying them. Many would rather be robbed than helped by the Justice League.

“It’s time to change that. Transform you from monsters into people. People fear what they don’t know, so let the community get to know you. Volunteer at soup kitchens, help repair buildings after supervillain attacks, and, of course-“

“This is crap!” All heads turned to Pinzz. Next to her, Crystal leapt to her feet. “So now we have to do even more for the stupid people in the city? We only save their sorry lives every day!”

“God, Crystal,” Pinzz rolled her eyes. “Don’t you ever just stop and think for a minute?”

“I seem to remember you being none to happy about Mr. Billeh’s presence.”

“I’m listening, aren’t I?”

“I can’t believe you. Do you ever choke on your own hypocrisy?” Crystal leaned on the table and frost spidered out from her resting hand.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Pinzz was standing now, eye to eye with Crystal. Boyd noticed a subtle shift in the other superheroes, as each one readied him or herself in case it came to violence.

“Volunteering at a soup kitchen?” Crystal spat. “We’re the most powerful people in the city, but now we’re supposed to suck up to those idiots out there?”

“Don’t say it,” Pinzz said.

“Why not? You’ve said it often enough! We’re better than them!” Crystal spread her arms wide. “Everyone’s thinking it! We could rule this town, Pinzz, but we’re stuck kow-towing to all those sad little people and their sad little lives. I’m sick of it. Y’all can do your Boy Scout thing. I’m out of here.” Crystal stalked to the door and looked back. “You coming?”

Pinzz looked away.

“Crystal’s right.” Twisk said. “Don’t we do enough?”

“Twisk…” Oreo started.

“Neomorpher died last night!” Twisk yelled. “I didn’t like him, but he deserved better! Well, I’m not going out like that!” She joined Crystal at the door. “I quit.”

The two of them left, slamming the door behind them.

“Am I the only one who found that incredibly hot?” Studmuffin asked.

A blast of water shook the kitchen door, immediately cracking to ice.

“I’m guessing they don’t want to be followed,” Raven said.

“Son of a…I’ll melt the door,” Scarlett said. She stood nose to the door and sang.

“I’m just a girl who can’t say no,” she sang.

“So,” Oreo said. “You were saying something about community service?”

Boyd cleared his throat, eyes darting from Scarlett (who’d added choreography) to Oreo. “Yes. As I was saying, the community service will be accompanied by a media blitz. Talk shows, interviews, that kind of-is she supposed to do that?”

Scarlett collapsed, smoke pouring from her mouth. Swift held a glass of water to her lips before anyone saw her move.

“I’d, um, I’d like to call a press conference later today,” Boyd said. “Any questions?”

***