JUSTICE LEAGUE

55

Goodbye to Hollywood
 

"Room 320: third floor, take the first elevators down that hallway up, make a left, and go straight. You'll find it."

"Er..thanks. I guess," Xiao muttered, turning from the help desk. The hospital was huge, and "the first elevators down that hallway" was not exactly the most helpful set of directions that could have been given.

Let's hurry this up, slave. I don't have time for this frivolous visit.

Whatever you're planning will just have to wait, Fred! This is family, it's important...


Xiao glanced at a painting of happy children on the wall. She hadn’t made it to the hospital the day before, having been distracted by Fred, but here she was now. Fred fell silent as she walked uncertainly down a seemingly never-ending hall. At last she spotted a row of elevators, and quickened her pace. Fortunately, just as she arrived, one of them dinged open and after a pair of busily conversing aides stepped off she was able to slip on and ride up to the third floor.

They rode in silence up, waiting. A chime ticked off the floors. The elevator seemed unnaturally slow.

Which way was it again? Right? She asked Fred once the doors dinged open again. Both ways looked exactly the same. Doors stretching on, with the occasional wheelchaired patient being helped into a room, or briskly walking nurse wheeling a heavily ladened cart breaking the sterile emptiness.

It was left, Fred corrected, impatiently.

Xiao ignored his tone and began walking again, counting off the brass numbers that hung on each door. 306. 308. 310...

I have something important planned today, that is, if your busy schedule can allow it.

Like what? She asked, only mildly paying attention. Fred was silent, and she let it drop. 316. 318....

"320," Xiao read aloud, and, after taking a deep breath, took hold of the door knob and entered the room.

It was a double-patient room, but only one of the beds was occupied. In it, a young man was sleeping, inert. IVs and tubes bristled from his arms and face. Three people were huddled around the bed.

Xiao shut the door quietly behind her and cleared her throat, not wanting to startle her parents, or her sister. Remember, slave. Keep this quick. Fred ordered.

"Ann Marie! You made it!" Her mother left her son's side and embraced her daughter, a little stiffly, but Xiao figured it was the thought that counted.

"Yeah, I did." She smiled, weakly, trying to ignore her mother. "Not exactly the kind of reunion I had in mind..."

"Hi," her sister, Ginger, said a little coldly, looking up from their brother, Luke. Her father didn't respond at all.

"Hi," Xiao returned, and followed her mother back to the bed. "What happened?"

"He was found in the Metro Park a few days ago. They only just identified him, and called us right away." Her mother looked like she had been crying, and was about to start again.

"In Metro Park? What was he doing there during the riots?" Xiao asked, shocked.

"He was out with Craig and Justin again," Ginger informed her. "They'd been drinking."

"Ginger!" Xiao's mother cried.

"Well, they were," she scowled. "Just because he got hurt isn't any reason to-"

"You mean, Craig and Justin as in the-"

"Exactly."

Xiao suddenly experienced a sinking feeling. Craig and Justin were the guys who ran around in the wee hours of the morning spray painting obscene messages about superheroes on any surface they could find after drinking an even more obscene amount of beer. They thought they were extremely badass because of this.

...You'd think they'd be a little smarter than to involve themselves in the riots.

...then again, Craig and Justin weren't the brightest bulbs in the Christmas tree, as their after-hours activities can attest.

There was something else that was bothering Xiao. If her brother had been in Metro Park then...that meant....

"How...how did they find him?" She asked, desperately. "What do the doctors think happened to him? He's not going to die is he?"

Luke might have been a bit dim, and a total jerk, but he was her brother for God's sake. And if what she thought had happened to him had... then...

Her father spoke up for the first time. "They don't know what's wrong with him. He has a pulse, and is breathing, but he won't wake up. Besides a broken ankle, there's no sign that anything is wrong with him."

"Oh..." Xiao felt weak suddenly. During her imprisonment, she may have killed her own brother. There was a special news bulletin for you, right there.

Correction, not killed. Turned him into a vegetable! Her brother was a freakin' soulless shell!

"What's wrong Ann Marie?" Her mother steadied her, and helped her to the bathroom as she swayed suddenly.

Xiao shut herself in the bathroom and was sick. She leaned heavily against the sink, trying to get a grip on herself. How could this have happened? How couldn't she have noticed his face during the fighting? When the cops and paramedics were dragging people away?? That he had attacked and...and..destroyed her brother! She washed her face and hands, and dried herself with a towel that was hanging up, and then stood, listlessly, staring at herself in the mirror.

"I did this..." She whispered. At that thought, she almost felt sick again, but recovered.

"Ann Marie? Are you alright?" Her mother rapped on the door.

"I'm-" She cleared her throat and started over. "I'll be out in a minute." Maybe...

***

“I need to get out of here,” Violet announced to no one in particular. “You,” she pointed at Iso, her eyes burning, “I can’t, just, Argh!” And with that, Violet stormed from the room. If it wasn’t-maybe she should have helped. She could have. But they weren’t her secrets. And she was angry. How dare he? She laughed sharply: it was his own fault. He could stand a little while thinking he was Studmuffin’s cross-dressing admirer. It served him right. Violet had other things to do. More important things. When she felt better-if she forgave him-then she might help. Until then, Iso could prance around in Scarlett’s gowns, for all she cared.

“You’re a psycho over him. No wonder-“

Violet whirled around. “No wonder what?” she demanded of Pinzz. The other superhero leaned against the wall, her arms folded across her chest. “Well?”

“No one likes being around you. You’re either bawling or pissed or freaking out over one of your illusions.”

“I’m not.”

“For what? A few days? And now you’re like the fricken’ royal feminazi of the Justice League.”

“Shut up.”

“Why should I? No one else has said anything to you. No one knows what to say. X-Raytor is afraid of you, ya know.”

“What are you, the Justice League psychiatrist?”

Pinzz laughed. “Hey, whatever. I’m just saying you should take a look in the mirror, Violet.”

“Why do you even care?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t. Get over him, get over yourself, before you put us all in danger. Or go home. Stop being a superhero and go home.”

Violet scoffed and turned away. She called over her shoulder, “You don’t know the half of it, Pinzz. And I am going home.”

“What?”

She turned around once more and looked directly at the blonde. She spoke very slowly, “I need to get out of here before my head explodes. I am going to take a bus to New York. And if you want to be of any help, you won’t tell anyone, especially not X-Y or Scarlett. Okay?”

Pinzz scowled. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Accepting that as the most affection Violet would receive from Pinzz, she escaped to the room she shared and shut the door behind her. Scarlett was still gone in LA, but Violet packed quickly. She threw clothes haphazardly into a knapsack, along with some money. Then she changed into a pair of plain jeans and a blouse. “I feel like I’m sixteen, again,” she mumbled, drudging through a drawer for a pair of sunglasses. Finding a pair, she put them on, then wound a scarf over her dark, purple hair.

A knock on the door. “Sh!t.”

To her surprise, Pinzz stood on the other side. She handed Violet a cell phone and walked away. Dumbfounded, Violet slipped the phone in her backpack, grabbed a jacket, and left the hall, her escape masked only by an illusion.

***

“I am very, very sorry,” Boyd Billeh said. “That was supposed to be… well, it wasn’t supposed to be that. He was just supposed to ask you about how the Justice League was like a family, and… well, if it makes you feel much better, your ratings were never particularly wonderful with Dr. Phil’s target audience anyway.”

“Let’s just go home,” Oreo muttered.

“No, wait! I’m hungry!” Midnight Chatter said. “Besides, we’re in Los Angeles! LA! Hollywood! You’re telling me that we’re just going to go home? Let’s have a night on the town!”

“Well, it’s true that everyone parties in LA, so that probably wouldn’t be too unusual,” Boyd said. “The tabloids rarely even cover that sort of thing out here. But, hm, super heroes? That might have a dimension of novelty, so… no.”

“Can we go to lunch, at least?”

Boyd looked at the others.

“I am hungry,” Rosma admitted.

“I used to live in LA, this is where my career started,” Studmuffin said. “There’s this restaurant down on Sunset Boulevard…”

“Well, all right,” Boyd said. “We’re not really on any sort of schedule and I can work off of my Blackberry. We might have to deal with some more paparazzi, but, uh…”

“I can maybe put up a boundary or something…” Studmuffin said.

“Is it true that Lindsay Lohan goes clubbing around here?” X-Raytor asked. “Because, you know, I could just change into my normal clothes, put on those sun glasses and…”

“No.”

“But…”

“No.”

“But she’s single again!”

“No.”

“Let’s just go to dinner,” Midnight said.

They had just begun to walk down the street, Studmuffin and Boyd leading the way, when X-Raytor stopped.

“X-y?” Scarlett asked, stopping just short of running into him. “Is there a reason why you’re-“

“Uh, hey, how about I catch up with you guys a little later?” He asked.

The others raised a collective eyebrow.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to start any trouble. I just… saw someone I recognize.”

***

“So, you joined the Justice League a few days ago?”

“Yeah, I signed up after my folks kicked me out. I’m- uh, well, I’m actually from another state, but, of course, I can’t tell you where that is, exactly.” Julian winked.

“And how did you get your powers?” The City Paper interviewer asked, crossing her legs.

Julian arched his eyebrows. “You realize that you’re asking me to tell you my secret identity, right?”

She shrugged, smiling coyly. “Thought I’d give it a try.”

Julian was, truthfully, having the greatest day of his life. Not only had he kicked ass on that lame-ass super villain wannabe, but now he was getting media attention all over the place (three interviews before this!), as well as getting to flirt with this City Paper reporter, who was, like, thirty-something.

I really don’t get what they’re always bitching about, he thought. This super hero thing is easy as hell. Maybe if they actually did their f***ing jobs instead of sitting around like retards they’d be where I am right now…

“And was this your first crime fighting act with the Justice League?”

“Well, no,” Julian said. “This is just, like, the first time I’ve been at the forefront. I’ve done a lot of things that haven’t been publicized or anything, you know? I mean, ah, that’s just what I do-I’m not all about this show business stuff. I just want to stand up for the little guy, even if it means I don’t get recognized.”

She gave him a look that had Julian almost convinced she was going to just jump onto his lap and start riding him. “Well, Mr. Quake, I’d have to say that you are officially a big-time super hero.”

Julian grinned; he liked the sound of that.

Big-time super hero…

***

“Hi, my name is X-Raytor. You may recognize me from my appearance in the EconoCleaner and Gluxitol advertisements, as well as being a member of the incredible Justice League! … Do you take credit cards?”

The somewhat-stunned cashier at the t-shirt hut nodded. She swiped his card, and dropped his new orange T-shirt in a bag.

“Thanks,” he said. “Uh, hey, do you know where I could buy some pants?”

***

When Julian returned to the Hall, he found Right Wing Man and Eric, already back and occupying their previous positions in front of the TV. They were watching some VH1 show about marginally famous people who make fun of stuff.

“Ha ha, that is so what the Seventies were like!” Said Eric, who had been born on July 23, 1983.

Julian, who had been hoping they’d still be watching the news and one of his awesome interviews, walked past them and into the kitchen. He turned on the mini-TV on the counter, and tuned it to Channel Five.

“And amidst all of the controversy, it seems that the Justice League has a new star,” the anchor said, before segueing into footage of Julian blasting the Masked Monkey into next week.

Perfect. Absolutely perfect. The only thing that could make this day any better would be if he got laid.

As they began to play Deborah Walters’ interview, Pinzz walked in from the kitchen’s back entrance.

“’Sup,” she said, opening the refrigerator.

“Have you seen the news today?” Julian asked, grinning broadly.

“What are they bitching about now?” She walked over from the fridge, carrying a Mountain Dew. As was usual around the Hall, she wasn’t wearing her costume, but instead a blue shirt that was cut too short, and jeans that hung too low. Julian was used to seeing her midsection (in fact, he practically had every detail of it memorized by now), but there was still that little rush of excitement.

“Huh,” she said, looking at the screen. “I guess you’re a celebrity now.”

“Yep,” Julian said. “Big-time super hero.”

“Well, don’t worry-I’m sure they’ll blame something horrible on you soon enough and call you a fascist whatever.”

Julian shrugged. “Yeah, well, I’m just enjoying it while it’s happening.”

“Huh. So, you fought the Masked Monkey?”

“Fought him? Man, I ripped his ass off!”

“Yeah, that’s kind of a rite of passage around here. I guess this means you’re really on the team now.”

What really shocked Julian was that he was actually able to maintain eye-contact now, something he had previously found impossible with Pinzz. This super hero deal was just working for him in all sorts of ways…

“Hey, uh, you know, it was my birthday, last month,” he said. “September 21.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, how old are you?”

“Eighteen.” He tried to put as much significance behind that as possible, without being too obvious. He waited for her to make some sort of sign, to…

“Cool. Guess we’re not your legal guardians anymore, then? Okay, then feel free to get yourself killed or pregnant or whatever.”

He laughed, but his heart sank a little. Why was she just joking?

“Um, hey, do you have any interviews today?”

Pinzz snorted. “What do you think? Apparently I don’t have a ‘good attitude,’ so no one wants me on their shows. Assholes.”

He tried to stop his gut from turning over, and went for it: “Well, uh, if you’re not doing anything tonight, maybe we should… hang out? I mean, you know, we could go to a bar or a club or something, just chill, and uh…”

Pinzz looked at him for a long time, like she was trying to decide whether he was joking or not. “Aren’t you and Netic an item or something?”

“Netic? No way. No, no, we’re, um, we’re just friends.”

“Uh huh… well, uh, I don’t know. I mean, now that you’re a big celebrity and all, I might end up on the front page of the tabloids after a wild night of clubbing. Just the price of fame, I guess.”

Julian was about to suggest something else (although he knew she was joking), when she said: “Yeah, um, I’ve gotta get back to what I was doing. I’ll talk to you later.”

She walked out of the kitchen with forced nonchalance.

Julian watched the doorway for a long time, and then looked back at the TV. For whatever reason, the screen was briefly replaced with a blurry square of light, but a quick wipe of the eyes fixed that.

***

In a new t-shirt and a pair of khakis, hair hastily combed and eyes hidden behind his special sun glasses, X-Raytor walked up to the two people at the bistro table.

“Hey, Cara,” he said.

Cara DeLizia, and the guy she was sitting across from, looked up.

“James!” She said. “I… what are you doing here?”

“We had a TV appearance today,” he said, still smiling affably. “Remember? I called you about it.”

“Oh,” she said. “Right. Right!”

X-Raytor nodded, and then tilted his chin slightly towards the other guy at the table.

“Oh, sorry, James, this is Ben, my fiancé,” she said. “Ben, this is James, one of my East Coast friends.”

“Hey,” Ben said, reaching up and shaking X-Raytor’s hand.

“Hey,” X-Raytor said.

Whew! Okay, and for a second there I thought there was something… Jiggawhatthe- FIANCÉ?!

“Fiancé?” He said. “Wow, that’s, uh… congratulations!”

“Thanks,” Ben said. Cara didn’t say anything, but sent him a worried look; a look that said: “You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?”

X-Raytor just grinned.

***

“Well, this is just weird,” Boyd said, sitting back down. “That’s the sixth call I’ve gotten from shows wanting to have Quake appear on them.”

“Quake?” Rosma repeated, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah. I guess he… I guess he stopped a bank robbery or something today, and he’s become this instant star.”

“Quake? The kid who wants to be called ‘Warhead’?”

“Hey, good publicity for individual members is good for the group,” Boyd said. “And I think that whole name thing is done with. He’s been calling himself Quake all day.”

“When’s X-y gonna get here?” Midnight Chatter asked. “There’s a word on this menu he’s going to find hilarious!”

Scarlett sighed. “Poop joke or sex joke?”

Midnight harrumphed. “Excuse me, madame, but my sense of humor, and that of my colleague Dr. X-Raytor, is not so base as to only encompass jokes about defecation and copulation!”

A long pause.

“… Poop joke.”

“Thought so.”

“Do you think this has anything to do with his favorite TV star?”

“Uch,” Rosma said. “I pity her.”

As the others talked, Studmuffin was far away, distracted by the voices in his own mind.

Kill them! Jarhead thundered. Kill the whole bloody lot of them and use their heads as candy dishes!!

Silence.

Was that supposed to be threatenin’, there, ey? Keghead asked.

It- it was threatening! You’re threatened, aren’t you, you bugger?

Um… I’ve got to admit, that wasn’t your best, Studmuffin said.

Well… well, then kill them and bugger their eye sockets until their brains turn to f***in’ porridge!

Now that’s just gross. Studmuffin mentally sighed. You are really losing your touch.

Am not!

Jughead laughed.

Dude, you didn’t have a touch to begin with, Studmuffin said, and Jughead’s laugh trailed off into a titter. Hey, I know, get one of the Jackson prisoners who was in solitary. I bet he can make some good threats.

Right-O, Jughead said. Oi! Crazy Jenkins! Get yer arse up ‘ere and threaten us, chap!

After a few moments, the familiar disembodied voice of Crazy Jenkins surfaced.

You’re a feces-parasite from your mother’s burst intestines!! He shouted.

Now, see? Mughead said. Zhat is just hurtful.

Y’know, since we’re ‘ere in bloomin’ ‘Ollywood, shouldn’t we go take in the soights, etcetera? Jughead asked.

Maybe after I eat, Studmuffin said. Oh, uh… what was I- right, right. I, uh, totally hate you guys. Totally.

***

“So,” Ben said, “are you a Maryland guy, or…?”

“No, I’m, uh, from the City,” X-Raytor said.

“Ah, okay.” Ben laughed. “Man, it’s pretty crazy over there now, huh?”

“… Yeah. You could say that.” Pause. “So, uh, how long have you guys been engaged?”

“Well, if you don’t count the time we broke up,” Ben said, grinning at Cara, “since… January.”

“Ah. Cool.”

“Um, James,” Cara said, “can I talk to you over there for a second?”

“Er, sure,” he said, and walked over to the corner of the bistro. A few moments later, Cara walked over, and stepped around the corner.

“Hey, Cara,” X-Raytor said. “I think you might have forgotten to tell me something.”

“Look, don’t do anything stupid, okay?” She said. “Don’t…”

“Stupid? Why would I do anything stupid? Though, uh, I have to wonder-whatever happened to that movie you said you were filming today?”

She sighed, and looked away, down the street. After a moment, X-Raytor said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I was just being stupid, I guess.”

“So… January?”

“Well, really, we were first engaged in January last year.”

“Last y- wait… we met in March 2003!”

“Yeah, I know, I know. We broke off the engagement for a little, and that’s when I was in the City and all…”

“And now you’re engaged again.”

“Yeah.”

“Hm. So, what’s he do for a living?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Serious question! Serious question, I swear.”

“He’s studying engineering,” she said. “We got to school…”

“Ah. Okay. I guess that’s a profession that doesn’t have a lot of tiki robots and giant penguins, huh?”

“James…”

“No, no, I’m not saying anything bad. Just, uh, I guess that’s the kind of, what was it, security you were looking for, right? No super powered monsters or anything?”

“Look, James, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about this before, but it’s just…”

“No, no, that’s okay, I’m fine with that,” he said. “What I’m not fine with is that you lied to me about today. I mean… why not just…”

“I don’t know. I… I don’t know, okay?”

“Well, I’m… I’m disappointed in you. What else can I say?”

Her eyebrows shot up, and again she looked down the street.

“So, when’s the wedding?” X-Raytor asked.

“You realize how much of an asshole you’re being right now, right?”

“Oh, me? I’m being an asshole. Because, of course, I lied about-“

“Will you just cut the crap already?” She snapped. “Admit it. You’re not pissed off about the lying at all, you’re pissed off that I’m engaged.”

X-Raytor’s jaw worked silently for a few moments, and then he said, “Wha- no! No, that’s not… I’m totally fine with…”

“James, please. I know you’re not.”

“Why shouldn’t I be fine with it? I mean, hey, it’s your life. If you want to marry a, um, what was he? Engineering student, right? If you want to marry an engineering stu-“

“You see? This is why I didn’t tell you,” she said. “Because I knew you would act like… like this. Because as much as you try to say you don’t, as much as you try to act like we’re just… you still have a thing for me. Don’t deny it. You drop hints all over the place, you call me and e-mail me all the time, and I can barely even mention another guy without-see? How could I tell you about this? I can’t! You have this thing for me, and you’ve got it so bad that I can’t even talk about other guys with you because I know it’ll hurt your feelings and you’ll get all jealous and defensive, even though we said that we’re just friends and there’s nothing else going on… see?! This is-I’ve been dealing with this for months now, trying to figure out the best way to break it to you, and that is just completely and totally unfair because it’s my wedding, and I shouldn’t have to ‘break it to’ anyone, especially not you! It’s my wedding. You’re just… you’re supposed to be happy for me. That’s…” She trailed off.

X-Raytor wanted to ooze down the nearest storm drain like the utter pile of slime that he was.

“I- I didn’t mean to…”

“I know you didn’t,” she said. “But… this is the way things are now. You’re going to have to deal with that, and get over me. You’re… you’re going to have to grow up a little, all right?”

He nodded, but it was more to end the conversation and get the hell out of there than anything.

“And, James? I’m… I’m not really sure if you should come to the wedding, unless you’re sure you’re going to… you know.”

“No, I know,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t affront you with my presence unless I’m on my very best behavior, okay?”

“James…”

“Well, you know what, it was nice talking to you and all, Cara, but I’ve got to go meet my friends for lunch. You, uh, give my regards to Ben, all right? And, uh, congratulations.”

With that, he turned and walked away. In his mind, he saw her call his name, run after him and embrace him, and the entire world fell down around them like a cheap, plywood set. And even when he reached the restaurant, after changing back into his costume, even though the only thing that embraced him was the wind, he was still on edge, waiting to hear her voice, calling him back.

***

Julian wandered the Hall, silent now that night had fallen. Some of the Justice Leaguers were asleep, and a few, including Pinzz and Right Wing Man, were out nighthawking. Julian hadn’t had the energy to put on a pair of blurbs and follow them.

Pinzz. That absolute and total bitch Pinzz. Sure, she was absolutely fine with dating X-Raytor years ago, but would she go out with Julian now? Julian, who was actually worthwhile and not a complete and total waste of life? Oh, hell no! Little Miss Prissy C**t was too good for that, apparently.

He was walking down the second floor hallway in the residence wing, running a hand across the wood-panel walls, when Netic stepped out of her room.

“Hey,” she said.

He looked up. “Hey.”

“I saw you on the news today,” she said. “Man, how did you become famous so fast?”

She was wearing a tank top and a pair of sweat pants; she’d obviously been in bed. Julian swept an eye over her, and it was then that the idea began to form in his head, emerging in time with his erection.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “It’s really… it’s just nuts. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, though. Hey, uh, are you busy?”

“Not really,” she said. “Why?”

“Well, I don’t know,” he said, stepping a little closer. “It’s just that I’m kind of bored, and if you’re not doing anything… we should hang out. You’re the most fun person to hang out with here anyway.”

She laughed. “Well, that’s a first.”

“Hey, don’t be too hard on yourself,” he said. “I really like you.”

He stepped forward again, a bit more quickly this time, and kissed her. She was surprised for a moment, but then began to kiss him back. Exactly the sign he was looking for.

He began to move backwards, towards her room. She pulled back for a moment.

“Hey…”

“I just-it’s kind of awkward out here in the hallway…”

“Well-“

He kissed her again, and pulled her into the room, a bit more forcefully this time. He closed the door with his foot, and they were in almost total darkness.

“Hey, hey, Julian,” she said. “I’m not… I don’t know if I want to, uh…”

“Oh, come on, we’re friends,” he said. “Besides, you took me to your room, right?”

He kissed her again, but this time she pulled away immediately. “Will you-hold on for a second! Christ!”

“Oh, don’t even,” he said. “Don’t even pretend that you haven’t been sending me signals this whole time. You can’t just bring me into your room and then-“

“I didn’t bring you in here, asshole!”

“Just come here,” he said, and dug his fingers into her arms, pulling her close again. He swept his foot out lightly, taking her left foot off the ground just enough for her to lose her balance slightly. He forced her down onto the floor, onto her back.

“Get off me,” she said, trying to stay calm.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, knocking away her hand as it came up to block his face. “Don’t you want to make it with a big-time super hero?”

He kissed her again, and then his mouth moved down to her chin, her neck…

Netic’s lip curled. “I said get off.”

The metal wastebasket next to her bed sailed through the air and collided audibly with Julian’s head. He yelped in pain and dropped onto his side. Netic was up and out of the room before he even figured out what had happened.

He brought a fist crashing down into the floor. “God damn it!!”

***

The Hall of Justice’s common room often served as a meeting room, since, while designing the building, Studmuffin had neglected to add a room for that particular purpose. And that night it was, indeed, used as a meeting room, though the meeting itself was unique.

Julian sat in a chair from the kitchen. The rest of the Justice League, every one who was not in LA, or absent for a special reason (Jo in Indonesia, Xiao at the hospital, Isomorphix in the infirmary)- which meant Pinzz, Right Wing Man, Eric, Raven, Swift, Claire, Drew, and Netic-sat facing him, the couches and La-Z-Boys turned around.

“This,” Pinzz said, “is a serious f***ing problem.”

“I-“ Julian began.

“Shut the f*** up,” she said. “We’ve put up with a lot of s*** in this Hall, especially from horny guys-Studmuffin and Midnight, and X-Raytor with his x-ray f***ing vision. But no one has ever been a big enough piece of dog s*** to assault someone.”

“I wasn’t-“

“Do you understand why you’re f***ing here, junior?! You tried to rape Netic. If you don’t want me to rip your nuts off right now, you had better not say another f***ing word.”

Julian closed his mouth.

“Now,” Pinzz said. “What the f*** were you thinking?”

He hesitated for a moment, wondering if she was just trying to get him to talk so she could castrate him, but finally he said: “I- I don’t know what came over me. I was… that’s not me, that’s not the kind of person I am.” He looked at Netic. “I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“Well, you did,” Pinzz said. “And let me tell you, I want to throw your ass out the f***ing door right now. I want you off of this team.”

“Hold on, now,” Right Wing Man said. “Surely his lapse wasn’t tha-”

“Do you like having testicles? Then shut the f*** up. Thank you.” She turned back to Julian. “However, as much as I want to kick you out, it is not in our best interests right now, with the current PR situation.”

“Bulls***!” Drew snapped.

“I’m just telling you what Boyd told me,” Pinzz said. “When the others get back-specifically, when X-y gets back, since he’s the one who dragged your worthless ass in here in the first place-we’re going to decide what to do with you, and I swear, right here and now, that your days on this team are numbered. But, for now, you get to stay. You’re sleeping on the couch. If you even get within three yards of Netic or any other girl in this building, I will personally beat your skull in. Got me?”

Julian nodded, eyes fixed firmly on the ground.

“Look at me,” Pinzz said.

He didn’t look up.

“Look at me, you piece of s***!!”

Julian looked up and, through some incredible willpower, maintained eye contact.

“I just want you to know that you disgust me more than almost any human being on the face of the planet, and that is saying one hell of a lot. Never talk to me, or any girl here, ever again.”

He looked down at the floor, and didn’t look up again until they had all left, and he was alone in the common room.

Dykes. All of them. They dressed like that, but then got all upset when they got a little attention from a man?

Well, sorry if I crashed your rug-munching party, Pinzz.

Rape. What a crock of s***.

He plopped down on the couch, and laid out flat. How was he supposed to sleep on this s***? Right Wing Man and Eric had been farting on it all day, and who knew what Netic and Drew did on it when no one else was there.

They’d all pay. Somehow, somehow they’d all pay. Once they let their guards down…

It was then that the phone rang. Julian let the machine get it. Silence after the beep, just the sound of a phone hanging up.

A few moments later, though, the phone rang again. Growling with annoyance, Julian sat up and answered.

“What?”

“Hi, can I speak to Quake?”

He closed his eyes, and tried to compose himself. Probably someone setting up another interview; he had to stay cool, couldn’t ruin his public image.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“Ah, excellent. Just the man I was looking for. Quake, I saw you on TV today, and I was pretty impressed by those powers. So, Mr. Quake, I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about the Cargo Hold incident.”

It took a moment for that to sink in. Julian’s eyes popped open.

“Um, what? I’m not sure what you’re…”

“Sure you do,” the caller said. “Julian.”

His eyes narrowed. “Who is this?”

“This is Detective David Price. You’ve probably seen me on TV.”

A cop. Great. “Well… what do you want with me?”

“Julian, I know that you blew up the Cargo Hold. I know who your intended target was. I know about your powers. I have all the evidence I need to put you away for life.”

“I… I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I… I mean, maybe I did something by accident but… but, I don’t even remember anything before the night I came to the Hall…”

“Sure. Though I have to wonder why you didn’t tell any of the interviewers that story?”

His heart was jack hammering against his rib cage. “Well… well then why haven’t you arrested me yet?”

“Well, I wanted to talk to you a little, find a few things out.”

Julian scoffed. “If I was really guilty of murder, and I knew that the cops were coming for me, what makes you think I wouldn’t just leave town?”

“Because you’re a big celebrity now, right? And even if you are innocent, any formal allegation I make will put a permanent dent in your career. This is the sort of thing that’ll still be in the tabloids when you’re thirty.”

Julian sighed. “All right. Fine. Where do you want to meet?”

“The Stockton Fish warehouse in east Dockland. You know where that is.”

“I can find it.”

“Good. You come alone and I’ll come alone. See you soon, Mr. Firestone.”

Julian heard him hang up, and then pressed the “off” button on his own phone. He leaned back into the couch, closing his eyes. Now what was he supposed to do?

The answer came immediately.

“Oh,” he said. “Right.”

***

“I can’t believe that… that…”

“F***er?” Rosma suggested.

“Worse!!” Boyd said.

“He’s gone,” Scarlett said. “The second we get back, his ass is off the team.”

X-Raytor heard this as he boarded the Justice Jet, but didn’t add anything of his own. He didn’t even want to think about Julian.

He plopped down next to Oreo Avenger. She rolled her head slightly to the side to look at him.

“How are you?”

“Miserable,” he said. “You?”

“Same.”

He sighed, and looked out the window as Rosma began to take off. The lights of LA glowed out in the distance, white and red.

“Say goodbye to Hollywood,” he mumbled, and, leaning his head back, he closed his eyes.

***

An SUV, red, white and blue, pulled up in front of the warehouse, and Detective David Price smiled. Here he was.

He was on the warehouse’s second level, his back seemingly to a pile of empty crates, but also a window. He faced the staircase that led up to this level. The staircase, made of plastic-coated wire mesh, shook and rang dully as someone ascended. A few moments later, Julian Firestone’s head popped into sight, like a dark, sullen groundhog-even moreso, because Price could see the terror in his eyes, the look of a very small rodent that was in the grips of a very large predator. He tried not to take any pleasure from that, but then he thought of the remains of the Cargo Hold, the six victims, and even more than that, the fame that was being showered on their killer… and he couldn’t deny it; it really was nice to see the kid scared.

“Julian,” Price said. “Glad you came.”

Julian wasn’t in his costume, but instead a sweatshirt, the hood pulled up over his head. “Yeah. Now, what do you want? Is this some kind of blackmail thing, or…”

Price laughed. “Blackmail? What do you think I am? I’m a cop, Julian. I know that doesn’t mean too much to a ‘super’ person like yourself, but I have a code I live by. This is slightly unorthodox, yeah, but I intend on doing just about everything tonight by the book.”

“I told you before,” Julian said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. And if I did blow something up… I- I don’t remember. I can’t remember anything before…”

“Well, whether you remember it or not, here’s one thing I can tell you for certain: it was not an accident. You went to the Cargo Hold that night with a very specific purpose.”

“And that was?” Julian prompted.

“To kill your father.”

“My father? Give me a break. I never met my dad. He ran out on my mom when I was still-“

“You hadn’t met him before, true,” Price said, “but you knew who he was.”

A long pause. Price could almost hear the gears turning in the kid’s head. “… Yes. My mom told me…”

“Well, I know your memory’s faulty, so how about we do a little Firestone family history, okay? In 1986, Rick Degen, your father, meets your mother, Beth Firestone, at Jack’s, just a little ways away from here. They drink, they talk, and they end up sleeping together. Now, to Degen, this is just another one-night stand, which, from what I’ve heard, he had every night of the week-“

Julian snorted. “ ‘One-night stand’? Don’t give me that bulls***. He raped my mother.”

“Huh. Well, we’ll get to that. Anyway, Degen sees this as just another one-night stand, but your mother… well, your mother sees it as a bit more than that. We have some records that show that she tracked him for a long time, trying to remind him of their deep and everlasting love, I guess. She hired a private detective at some point. She has you, and she’s no longer able to afford tracking Degen. Now, at some point, she comes down with Parkinson’s Disease. And while this is eating away at her mind, she starts to become obsessed with Degen-she even went down to Jack’s in January ’03, in a bathrobe, and said that Degen was ‘going to get it.’ But, see, she’s dying. She’s dying, and she won’t get the chance to pay Degen back for whatever she imagines he’s done to her. So she tells you, her only son, her sweet, angry, super-powered baby boy, that the daddy who ran out on him all those years ago also raped her…”

“Shut up,” Julian growled.

“… Knowing that you, junior, would carry out her vengeance for her. Which is exactly what you did at the Cargo Hold that night. You went there, waited until Degen left, and then confronted him. And then, bamm-o, you hit him with your exploding thingamajigger. Degen is killed instantly; the concussion crushes his bones. The explosion also sinks the Cargo Hold, killing five people inside, and injuring a ton more. You make a break for it, and seek safe haven with the Justice League, who, I guess, never puts two-and-two together.”

Either that, Price thought, or they just try to protect their own ‘kind,’ even if it does mean six people die.

“And this was all unconfirmed for a while, but then, hey! You were enough of a dumbass to get on TV, use your powers, and shout your real name. Good one. And lo and behold: I checked today and you never registered your powers or costume at City Hall. Hmm… why was that, do you think?”

“I- I didn’t know I had to,” Julian said. “And this is… you’re just making all of this up. You don’t have any proof that…”

“I have a motive: you thought Degen raped your mother, and you were angry at him for abandoning you. I’ve got means: an explosion with absolutely no fire or shrapnel, and you, one of Degen’s illegitimate kids, who just happens to be able to do that. Which gives me something else: a culprit. Now, all I need is a confession, which I’ll be getting in a few hours, after we go down to the station house.”

“And what makes you think I’m going anywhere?” Julian asked.

Price reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a tiny cylinder on a keychain, which pulsed neon green.

“Portable power dampener,” Price said. “Like the ones we have in prison ceilings, but it fits in your pocket. Now, if you were anything from a Level Eight up, this wouldn’t work s***, but the little glow I’m getting here shows me that it’s working fine.”

Julian nodded, and exhaled. “Fine. I wasn’t thinking of using my powers this time anyway.”

Before Price could respond, Julian had whipped a pistol from his jacket pocket. A bullet thudded into Price’s chest, and he had a moment of extreme pain, stumbling backwards, reaching for his own gun on reflex-

The second bullet killed him instantly. He dropped onto his back, blood pooling darkly on the floor. Julian walked over to him, and aimed the pistol at his forehead with a gloved hand.

“Bang,” he said, as the warehouse flashed white. He tossed the gun, bereft of three bullets, away, and then turned and headed quickly down the staircase. A few moments later, the SUV sped away, until the only sound was the echo of its engine, the distant rumble of night traffic, and the ocean, lapping against the docks.

***