Author: HeyBats PM
With Kara and J'onn out of the League, the Inner Council invites Galatea to redeem herself by serving as Diana's Apprentice.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama - Chapters: 10 - Words: 51,140 - Reviews: 94 - Favs: 48 - Follows: 39 - Updated: 04-25-10 - Published: 06-05-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2975420
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 10 – Resolution?
Nightwing produced a small penlight from his waistband as he stooped down on one knee to check on his teammate lying on the ground. He was about to discuss the possible escape options available to them when he felt the distinct vibration of three explosions rock the adjacent tunnel. Dust and dirt rained down on them as the ceiling shook from the explosions, but none of the pieces were large enough to cause any damage.
"Sounds like we found Ruin…are you done screwing around?" he asked, reaching down to pull his larger colleague to his feet.
"You call a good decoy strategy 'screwing around'?" Batman replied with a grunt.
"Castle Omega?" Dick chortled. "'Castle' for a position switch like in chess, I assumed Omega meant to be used only as a last resort. How long have you and Superman been waiting to use that one?"
"He borrowed my old uniform when Brainiac's nanites took me down a few years ago. Seemed only right to return the favor."
"Pretty quick change when the lights went out," Dick observed with a smirk. "Must be a little unsettling having a guy take off your uniform and re-dress you at hyper speed."
"You're on thin ice, Nightwing," Batman noted dryly. "Did you find the pressure switch to open this door?"
"Thought I found it after you started going for the Academy Award by swooning to the presumed effects of the kryptonite, but I was wrong. By the way, how did you know the kryptonite was embedded in the door?"
"I didn't. I just assumed Ruin would have some type of kryptonite trap in every tunnel, so if he sprung it on me then it would give Superman a chance to find Tea before it was too late. I assume those explosions we felt mean that Superman has located Ruin. Let's find that by-pass so we can find out what's going on."
Diana opened her eyes, wincing in pain as even the dim light remaining from the one working bulb overhead seemed to fry her already overloaded optic nerves. She took a deep breath to steady herself, slowly opening her right eye to see if she could stand the stimulus. Satisfied that she wasn't going to pass out, Diana eased her left eye open in an attempt to get her bearings. The chamber was definitely empty, so she rolled on her side then slowly eased herself off the two crates on which she was laying.
"Bruce?" she hissed quietly into the gloom of the tunnel, surprised that she couldn't find the Dark Knight anywhere nearby. Gingerly, she stepped back the way they had come originally, heading toward a soft green light glowing at the end of the tunnel. She sucked in a breath when she spied Batman in the distance kneeling over John Stewart, his gloves removed so he could check for a pulse from the Emerald Avenger. John appeared to be unconscious. Diana was puzzled to hear the green bed of plasma on which he was laying making soft mechanical sounds every few seconds.
As she stepped closer, the sound of her footsteps bounced off the tunnel walls. Batman heard her and nodded with confidence when he'd located the carotid artery. "Pulse is weak, but it looks like the ring protected him from the attack."
"What was it?" Diana asked, sidling up next to Batman to look down on their prone teammate.
"Nanites by the looks of it," He replied, but suddenly the voice wasn't Batman's.
Diana shook her head again to clear the cobwebs, certain that she was confused by the sudden change in voices. "How can you tell?"
"X-Ray vision can pinpoint down to .000001 Nanometers," he replied with a shrug.
"Bruce, since when have you developed x-ray vision?" Diana responded automatically, then she put her hands to her mouth and her eyes opened wide with embarrassment when she realized her mistake. "Clark, when did you switch uniforms with Bruce?"
"A few minutes ago," he replied sheepishly, pulling off the cowl. "Long enough to find out about you two, anyway."
"That wasn't meant for your ears," Diana stammered and felt her face burn with embarrassment. She took in a long breath and blew it out to compose herself. "How long is John going to be out?"
"A few more minutes by the looks of it," Superman replied. "The machine that the ring constructed is purging his bloodstream nanite by nanite. We should be…" He was interrupted by the sound of an explosion down the hall. Pieces of the ceiling rained down around them. Diana stepped forward to protect John Stewart from the falling debris, but the ring must have sensed the foreign objects raining down, supplying a new energy bubble which entirely protected the Lantern.
"There's not much more we can do to help him," Superman observed. "Batman and Nightwing must have found Ruin."
"Didn't they head down that tunnel?" Diana asked, pointing perpendicular to the direction from where the sounds of the battle were emanating.
Superman focused his vision down the tunnel. "I can't see them, but there is a lead-lined doorway closed up about one hundred meters from here."
"Did Ruin embed it with kryptonite?"
"Probably. I can't really tell as every door is lined with lead."
"Let's not take that chance," Diana observed as she lifted into the air, calling over her shoulder as she flew down the tunnel. "You go after Ruin, I'll find Batman and Nightwing."
Ruin swept the room with the modified infra-red optical scanner he'd designed for this type of battle. Despite the heavy smoke still lingering from Green Arrow's grenade, Ruin was able to penetrate the gloom and lock onto the nearest heat source. He tried to raise his favored left hand to blast his opponent, but the broken servos groaned in protest, locking up as soon as his arm was waist high.
Ruin cursed under his breath then fell back towards Tea's bed. He wasted valuable seconds keying a diagnostic/repair sequence with his right hand into built in keypad fixed to his left wrist. The software started a diagnostic/repair routine which notified him it was attempting to either repair the damage or bypass non-critical systems on the heads up display mounted inside his helmet. Satisfied that his left arm would begin working again in a few moments, he returned his attention to the Arrow's location, still masked in the smoke.
Not wanting to make the same mistake twice and allow his quarry to get within shooting distance, Ruin raised his right hand and selected the most powerful blast of plasma available on his heads up display. The system requested a delay to draw power from his suit's reserves as the on-going repair mode sucked up an enormous amount of power from his reserves, which stood at sixty percent according to his computer. He cursed at the momentary delay, glad to remember that at least he had taken a few moments to swap out some of his depleted power cells after his initial topside firefight with Batman, but the complete recharge had been interrupted when Superman had started pounding down the perimeter security systems. Ruin waited impatiently for the weapons charge-up, grunting with surprise when a salvo of arrows cut through the gloom in his direction. Ruin changed to a defensive mode and locked onto three arrows flying in his direction, fired and connected on all three. He laughed with delight when one of the deflected arrows managed to knock out the red lights overhead, plunging the room into darkness.
"Mistake!" he taunted as his infrared targeting system locked onto the Green Arrow. He triggered a plasma volley as soon as his heads up display confirmed the target lock. "You don't have infrared to see in the dark!"
"But I do!" a familiar voice boomed out from behind him. Ruin turned too late to avoid Batman's surprisingly airborne charge. Given the size and weight of his armor, Ruin had expected Batman, as a known non-meta, to bounce harmlessly off him, so he was shocked when Batman's lowered shoulder sent him bouncing backwards into the equipment bay a few feet away from Tea's wheeled bed.
"New powers I take it?" Ruin muttered, bewildered by the strength and abilities of his newest foe. "Borrow some of my steroids to power up for awhile? Or perhaps you're experimenting with gene splicing using the Ultimen's DNA to power your flight?"
"Not hardly, Professor," Superman's voice replied from the unfamiliar suit of the Dark Knight as he cornered Ruin near Tea's bed. "But I did borrow my teammate's uniform."
Ruin realized his opponent wasn't wearing the cowl, and then recognized the familiar facial features of the Kryptonian. Ruin nodded appreciatively, understanding the guile behind the change in uniforms. He quickly circled behind Tea, turning on the standard light switch mounted on the wall behind him to negate Superman's advantage in the dark over that of his own equipment.
"Sound tactics. But ultimately useless as I still hold a hostage," Ruin observed as he aimed his left emitter at Tea. He selected Kryptonite with his heads up display as he locked the target. The emitter glowed with a menacing green which Superman recognized and feared. "One more step and I will kill her. And don't try to utilize your speed. My targeting system will adapt to any phase-shift to adjust for your speed. She will be dead before you cross the room."
"You can't escape, Ruin," Superman replied, freezing his stride when he realized Tea's predicament. Green Arrow had emerged from behind the pile of trashed equipment, supporting The Question under one shoulder. "Question. Arrow. Are you okay?"
"I could do without the company of this psycho, but otherwise I'm just peachy," The Question replied. "I'll live. Where is Power Girl?"
"I'm over here," she replied. Still strapped to the bed, there was an obvious, helpless frustration evident in her voice.
"Are you hurt?" Green Arrow asked.
"I'm fine," she replied with a frustrated sigh, then looked back over at Superman. "On the other hand, if you want to burn a hole right through his head, don't wait for me to join the party."
"That may be a bit excessive," Superman replied. He turned his gaze back to Ruin. "What do you propose? How about a trade? Me for her?"
"How about both of you?" Ruin replied, toggling keypad on his wrist. "I should thank you for coming so close. My systems haven't been able to get a lock onto your comm. links until now."
Tea watched Superman's face go suddenly blank as the mind control software emanating from Ruin's comm. link took over control of Superman's synapses. His posture and body language changed completely from its previously aggressive stance to that of a passive robot awaiting a command.
Tea screamed as she realized what Ruin had done. "Arrow. Question. RUN!"
"I can't believe the World's Greatest Detective can't locate a simple door release," Dick muttered under his breath as he ran his fingers through the open seams and crevices on the right side of the blast door. "Are you sure Ruin would have built a backup?"
"Focus," Batman growled from the opposite side of the chamber. "All of the Cadmus facilities had them. It was the only way I could break into their headquarters."
Dick was about to tell Batman where he could stick his focus when the blast door started to groan. He leaned forward to place his ear against the door when he was suddenly pulled away from the door with a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"Get back," Batman yelled, pulling him down the tunnel.
The door continued to groan and a bulge appeared in the middle. The metal fatigue was evident as radiating cracks soon appeared in the blast door as tell-tale signs the door was ready to give way. The bulge blistered inward towards their position until a rendering crack tore an opening through the doorway. Two feminine hands appeared a moment later through the crack then pressed outwards until the hole was big enough for both of them to step through.
"Having trouble with the door?" Diana asked with a cheery smile as she stepped through the crack, nodding toward the open corridor behind her.
Batman and Nightwing exchanged quick glances. "Not a single word," Batman muttered.
"Exactly how strong is she?" Nightwing asked, his eyes bulging in amazement that the 16-inch thick door had been torn apart like tissue paper.
"Strong enough," Batman replied, then he turned to face Diana as she stepped back to allow them to walk through the opening. "What is the situation?"
"Nice to see you too, Bruce," Diana replied with a sigh. "Lantern's down due to a nanite attack, but recovering. Superman went to take care of Ruin."
"Is that what we heard?" Nightwing asked as they started sprinting down the tunnel.
"We heard a firefight before I came to get you," Diana replied as she sped away from them. "Maybe Tea turned the tables on Ruin."
Ruin snorted with derision as the Green Arrow and the Question flung themselves back over the pile of equipment in the corner, trying to find some cover. Ruin volleyed two unaimed blasts over their heads to make sure they stayed down as he strode over to peer into Superman's vacant eyes. Ruin debated his next move for a split-second, but his decision was made for him as his sensors picked up a high-speed, incoming object.
Wonder Woman appeared out of the darkness a moment later, landing behind Superman.
"You got him?" Diana asked Superman, but she was confused why he hadn't started stripping Ruin's armor away from him.
"More like he's got you," Ruin replied, keying in an attack command on his control pad.
Superman turned to face Diana, but his features were vacant of any familiar expression. Diana recognized the same symptoms that she herself had experienced during the meta-brawls, barely slipping the punch that suddenly whistled past her ear. She crushed her own earpiece with one hand to avoid becoming Ruin's second pawn while using the other to accelerate Superman's momentum towards her, simultaneously bringing her knee up into Superman's unprotected abdomen. He staggered long enough for Diana to try to put him in a headlock, desperately trying to gain a position where she could remove his earpiece. Superman fought the hold by arching his back and throwing her over his shoulder and down onto the ground with a suplex that sent a tremor through the room.
Diana lay prone on the floor, groaning in pain as Superman gathered his momentum downward to deliver a killing punch to her sternum, but she anticipated the attack and kicked her feet into his stomach while using his momentum to propel him over her head into the opposite wall with a crash.
In her periphery, Diana spied Batman and Nightwing slipping into the tunnel, making their way toward the Question and Green Arrow, who were still trying to ride the battle out from behind their limited cover. Superman was slow to get off the floor, so Diana took the opportunity to press an attack against Ruin. She'd nearly reached him when both emitters mounted on either side of him fired. Diana parried the attack with both of her bracelets, but she was surprised when the beams kept firing, widening the path of their energy blasts by the moment until they threatened to overwhelm the width of her bracelets. She stole a quick look at Superman. He appeared to be stirring, so she knew there was only a moment to score some damage against Ruin. She sidestepped to her right to shift the beams direction, pivoted under, blocking both beams with her left bracelet for a split-second before expertly reflecting the closest incoming beam with her right bracelet back into its emitter.
Ruin grunted in surprise as his heads up display flashed a fail message for his left emitter and some related systems. He took a step back to regain his footing, stepping away from Tea as he sought to redirect his attack against the Amazon. She flew toward Ruin moment later to complete the attack but Superman intercepted her in mid-air, landing a punch that pushed her across the room into the rock wall with a shattering crash.
Batman knelt down next to Green Arrow and surveyed the situation as Superman landed another punch on Wonder Woman. Nightwing produced a bandage from his belt to try to make a battlefield shoulder sling for the Question's injured left shoulder.
"Everyone remove their comm. links?" He rasped. They all nodded an assent.
"Diana's not going to be able to hold him off forever," Batman observed, turning to Green Arrow. "You still carry that Quantum Arrow in your quiver?"
"Sure. But what good is it going to do Diana?" The Arrow replied. "It can't hurt him."
"Fire it at Power Girl," Batman replied as he volleyed two exploding batarangs at Ruin to distract him from intercepting the arrow. "It might help all of us."
"You're crazy," Green arrow said in astonishment as he realized the magnitude of what his teammate was suggesting, then shrugged his shoulders with resignation. He notched and sighted the Quantum Arrow on Tea's prone figure across the room. "Better hope this works."
The Quantum Arrow's warhead went active as soon as the tail flights cleared the bow. The yellow energy warhead glowed hot as it flew across the room, landing with a thud in the bedding beneath Tea. Green Arrow cringed as he waited for an explosion, but nothing happened as the warhead fizzled out in the bed.
"Power Girl, can you hear me?" Batman whispered a moment later as he watched Diana and Superman bounce each other off the walls.
Tea's head popped up, bewildered that she could suddenly hear him. She nodded affirmatively as Ruin stalked his way back towards her. Nightwing launched a volley of exploding Birdarangs that distracted Ruin. He seemed unable to make a decision whether to finish them off or remove Power Girl to a different location.
"See if your heat vision can take out Ruin's keypad," Batman whispered. "Or any part of his armor for that matter."
"How can Power Girl hear you?" Green Arrow asked as he volleyed another flight of arrows towards Ruin. "I thought she was powerless under those red sunlamps."
"Her body is like a solar cell for yellow light energy," Batman replied as he produced a grapple from behind his belt. "She absorbed the energy from your Quantum Arrow like a sponge."
"Where are you going?" The Question asked as a set of heat beams suddenly emanated from Tea's position, slicing into Ruin's armor at his shoulder joint.
"I'm going to free Tea, then go after Ruin," Batman replied. "Cover me, then you three get Tea as far away from here as you can."
Batman fired his grapple into the ceiling above Ruin, toggling the retraction button at its maximum speed to pull him into the air from his covered position. Ruin stood perpendicular to him, still trying to ascertain the origin of the energy beams. Ruin's helmet tracked the location of the beams back to their source. Batman could see his opponent visibly agitated when Ruin realized that Power Girl was shorting out his defensive shields by slicing open his circuits with her heat vision.
Batman brought both feet into Ruin's head with his full force, but the weight of Ruin's armor meant that it was only a glancing blow. Batman landed on the floor next to Tea, rolling over on his shoulder to bleed away the momentum. He finally arrested his slide on the other side of Tea's bed, staying behind cover until Green Arrow and Nightwing began a fresh assault on Ruin with their own weapons. As soon as Ruin turned to face the oncoming threats, Tea renewed her own attack on his vulnerable joints. Ruin danced with frustration as he was outflanked by his enemies.
Batman reached up with an edged batarang to start slicing off her restraints. He hoped to remove Tea from the battle, but Superman's punch on Diana's jaw made him realize that he had to change his tactics.
"Can you help her?" Batman asked, nodding toward Diana. "She can't go toe to toe with him for much longer."
"I don't know if I can help much seeing I wasn't strong enough to remove these restraints," Power Girl replied doubtfully. "Shouldn't I keep attacking Ruin?"
"Target your heat vision on Superman's comm. link," Batman said gravely. "If you run out of power, get yourself as far away from here as you can."
"What are you going to do?" She asked, striding toward the corner where Superman and Wonder Woman were exchanging blows.
"Keep Ruin as far away from you as I can."
"That makes two of us," Nightwing chimed in as he touched down next to Tea. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek then glanced at his outfit molded to her taut frame. "Nice uniform."
"Thanks," she murmured, then kissed him hard on the lips. "My boyfriend gave it to me."
"You must be joking," Ruin taunted as Nightwing, Green Arrow and Batman converged upon his position in the middle of the room. "Not a single metahuman among you, yet you are going to take me on?"
Ruin didn't bother to wait for a reply from his opponents, launching a salvo of energy beams from his remaining weapons emitter at Batman and Nightwing. They effortlessly flipped, dodged and rolled to evade his energy blasts while the Green Arrow launched another warhead tipped arrow towards the panel on his left arm. Ruin blocked the arrow effortlessly, but he was tiring from this battle. His damaged armor and rapidly depleting energy reserves were at the forefront of his concerns. Ruin spied Power Girl on her feet, stalking Superman from behind as Diana attacked him from the front. Ruin could see by the height and narrow width of the beams that Galatea was targeting Superman's comm. link with her heat vision. Realizing the gravity of the situation if Superman returned to fight with his League teammates, Ruin locked his emitter on her chest, cycling the energy blast down to stun as he didn't want to kill her.
Ruin fired at Power Girl but he didn't see if the blast had connected with its target as a proximity warning light flashed on his heads up display that one of his opponents had flanked him. Ruin tried to turn around to keep his opponent off the more vulnerable armor on his back, but a small change in weight told him he was too late.
"And Black Canary still thinks a buzz-saw arrow is self-indulgent," Green Arrow muttered as his sliced through the exposed mesh-weave shoulder joints which Tea had earlier exploited with her heat vision.
Ruin screamed in frustration as a number of system failure warning lights flashed on his heads up display. He reached behind him with his left arm to pull Green Arrow off his back but Batman launched a bolo which wrapped around his neck and arm, pinning his arm against his helmet. Ruin brought his right arm up and managed to finally throw Green Arrow off his back, knocking him out against the ceiling. The Emerald Archer crumpled to the floor, unconscious. Ruin looked for another target, but Nightwing had anticipated Ruin's counterattack, launching another bolo which tied Ruin's right arm to his helmet.
Ruin screamed in frustration at being hog-tied so easily, and commanded the suit with an emergency override to send additional power to the servos and actuators which moved the hydraulics in his armor. The mechanisms groaned in protest as they exceed one-hundred twenty-five percent of their designed limits before finally snapping the cables. Another wave of exploding batarangs arrived a moment later. Ruin knocked down the incoming wave with another flurry of blasts from his emitter, but the system power cells were running below twenty percent.
Setting the defensive system on automatic to block any incoming batarangs, Ruin furiously looked for Galatea to see if he'd knocked her out with that last blast. Instead, Wonder Woman suddenly appeared in his view screen, streaking toward him with a pissed off snarl. Behind her, Superman was groaning on the floor. Smoke curled from his ear where Tea had finally fried his comm. link, but Superman was still conscious. Diana pressed her attack against Ruin, throwing a right cross that barely connected as Ruin's defensive systems reacted quickly enough to back him away. He ducked under the next punch and unleashed a snapshot from his weapons emitter which caught her squarely in the chest. Diana back-flipped twice before slamming into the opposite wall, landing on the floor with a loud thump.
Ruin scanned the room visually, and then switched to his infrared vision. He finally located Galatea's heat signature as she was crouching behind a mangled blast door. Ruin walked to her hidden position, unleashing another series of unaimed shots at Batman and Nightwing, who scattered around the room looking for cover. Ruin threw the door out of the way and found Tea. She was desperately looking for another avenue of escape but he had boxed her into the corner. Ruin extended his hand out to hers. Tea's eyes flashed with energy as she tried to power up another blast of her heat vision, but there was nothing left.
"Leave me alone, you freak!" she screamed.
"Time to go, Galatea." Ruin chided gently, grabbing her hand and pulling her in close. He started toward the open doorway, but Batman and Nightwing descended from their grapple lines, blocking his exit. Ruin debated about taking another series of shots at them, but his reduced power levels left him with dwindling options. He diverted some of his auxiliary power into his defensive systems in case they attacked, but Batman and Nightwing seemed content to delay his departure long enough for one of their super-powered teammates to take him down. As a precaution, he cycled his emitter to shoot a blast of kryptonite as it locked onto Galatea's figure.
"Even if you get past us, you can't win, Ruin." Batman intoned as he and his teammate reached into their uniforms for another set of weapons. "We'll hunt you and track you into whatever hole you crawl into the next time until you are out of options."
"I don't have to get past you to get away," Ruin replied, toggling his keypad again. "There are places even you in the Justice League are afraid to follow."
Behind Ruin, Superman and Wonder Woman were groggily making their way onto their feet. "Hamilton, what are you talking a…" Superman stammered, his eyes widening with alarm as he recognized the new energy signature pouring forth from the emitter.
"You should recognize it, Kal-El," Ruin gloated as the Phantom Zone doorway appeared next to Ruin and Galatea. "After all, your father invented it."
Nightwing stood with a birdarang ready in his hand, frozen as he waited for some direction from Batman. "What is it?" Nightwing whispered.
"The Phantom Zone," Batman replied. "Stay put or you might get sucked into the dimensional gravity well."
"A wise precaution, Batman," Ruin replied as he stepped forward toward the gateway, dragging Galatea along with him toward the dimensional rip. The emitter on his shoulder stopped fueling the opening to the gateway, however the dimensional rip remained open, waiting for something to pass through it before resealing.
Nightwing shifted forward as if to make a grab for her, but Tea waved off his attack with a shake of her head. "Don't do it, Dick. I'm not worth it."
"Of course you're worth it," Dick replied calmly as he launched a birdarang at the control panel on Ruin's wrist while simultaneously firing a grapple line at Tea. Ruin deflected the birdarang with the back of his arm then launched himself and Galatea into the dimensional rip. As the grapple wrapped around her waist, Dick set his feet and pulled hard on the cable. The weight of Ruin and Tea, along with the dimensional pull of the Phantom Zone, started to drag all of them into the porthole. Batman dove for Nightwing's legs, desperately trying to anchor his son from slipping into the trans-dimensional gateway. Diana sensed it would be a losing battle and did the same for Batman, wrapping herself around his legs to further anchor their position.
Ruin and Galatea spun around facing back towards Nightwing as the final inches of the grapple line paid out. Ruin's body was almost completely pulled into the Phantom Zone, however Ruin had firmly wrapped his arms around Tea, intent on pulling her in with him. They were suspended in the dimensional doorway as the grapple line kept them anchored in their own dimension, preventing the porthole from closing. Ruin seemed to sense this as his emitter swiveled on its gimble to target lock on Nightwing's grapple line, but Superman anticipated the blast and fried the emitter with his heat vision. Superman hoped that blasting the emitter would cause the gateway to collapse, but it remained open, waiting for something to pass through it.
Galatea squirmed with all of her might to escape from Ruin, but the hydraulic locks fueling his grip were too strong. "Don't let go!" She pleaded to Dick, a tear of frustration visible on her cheek as she fought to free herself. "I want to stay with you!"
Diana started pulling harder on Batman's legs; in turn he looped a grapple line through Dick's belt to secure their teammate. It seemed that they actually gained a few inches in the tug of war between the dimensions. Superman unleashed another volley of heat vision at Ruin, successfully cutting away through the anchor bolts which kept Ruin's helmet fixed to his suit. The helmet disappeared into the Phantom Zone, revealing Hamilton's haggard face. Despite his psychotic expression, he seemed to sense he was fighting a losing battle.
Unfortunately for Tea, Hamilton had one last card to play.
"You can have her body," Hamilton muttered as he keyed in one last sequence into his battered control panel. "But you can't have her mind. That part of her belongs to me. By the way, thank you for not removing her original neural inhibitor. It saved me the trouble of having to insert my own."
"Don't do it, Hamilton!" Superman yelled, but Tea's sudden scream of agony told him it was too late. Blood suddenly trickled from her nose, a moment later she went limp in Ruin's grip. Hamilton gazed upon Galatea with evident sorrow, then released his grip on her and fell away into the Phantom Zone. Superman rushed toward the gateway to retrieve him, but the interdimensional rip sealed itself as soon as it had consumed Ruin. The gateway vanished and Superman flew through thin air as Galatea's body collapsed to the floor underneath him.
Nightwing was at her side a moment later, kneeling on the ground. Gently, he turned over Galatea's body. Her eyes were open, but the spark of life was rapidly fading away. Nightwing pulled off his glove and ran his hand over her cheek, hoping against hope that the damage wasn't irreparable.
Galatea stared up at Nightwing, a small smile appearing in the corner of her mouth. Blood was pouring from her nose. He tried to wipe it away, but there was too much for him to stem the flow. All he could do was cradle her in his arms.
"Don't leave me," he whispered as he could see her eyes focus on a point on the ceiling above him.
"I'm already there," she replied, her eyes going completely vacant as she whispered the last word.
Superman put his hand on Nightwing's shoulder as he used his x-ray vision to scan Galatea's brain. "She's gone, Dick. Ruin did something to her neural inhibitor. Must have caused an aneurysm. "
"But she's still has a pulse!" Dick protested. "How can you be so sure?"
"I can see the damage," Superman replied with a hitch in his voice. "It's pretty bad."
"We have to stop the bleeding! How can we stop the bleeding?" Nightwing asked frantically.
"I can cauterize the artery, but she's already bled out too much already," Superman replied, staring intently at Galatea's injury. "I can stop it, but there's a good chance that I'll just make it worse."
"Do it!" Nightwing commanded. "It's better than the alternative."
Superman looked around to see if any of his teammates understood the gravity of what Nightwing was asking him to do. Batman nodded imperceptibly, enough for Superman to know that he thought it was worth the effort. Superman bent down, then moved her head to the best angle possible, then slowly burned a tiny hole into her temporal lobe with his heat vision until he cauterized the artery that was causing her brain to bleed to death. The smell of the hot dura mater was almost too much to bear, but he finished cauterizing the injury to the best of his abilities.
Superman stood up, sighing at the gravity of what he'd just done. "She'll live, but I don't know whether she's going to have any higher brain functions."
"Maybe Zatanna, or Doctor Fate can help her heal?" Diana asked, but there was no real hope in her suggestion.
"Let's get everyone back to the Watchtower," Batman commanded, but the quaver in his voice belied his own pain over Tea's injury. He put his hand on Dick's shoulder, who was now cradling Galatea's limp body in his arms. "We'll see if the EKG shows any sign of promise."
Superman walked out of the Monitor Womb, having finished a quick debriefing session with Mr. Terrific, who the Inner Council had unanimously picked a week before to join their ranks as the newest voting member. He strode to the commissary, deciding that he needed a quick bite before returning to Metropolis. He exchanged brief but polite greetings with a number of regular and auxiliary members who'd supplemented the ranks of the League since its original formation five years before.
He was looking forward to stretching out on his couch and watching the Mets host the Dodgers. Lois was coming over. She'd grown up in Brooklyn and was an avid Dodgers fan like her father. Even though they'd relocated to Los Angeles years before, she was surprisingly vociferous in her support of 'the Bums' as she called them.
At the buffet, Superman filled his plate with chicken marsala and a greek salad. He scanned the room, looking for other members of the Inner Council. None of them had really ever discussed how they always sat apart from the rest of the Leaguers. It wasn't a conscious choice, but they'd formed such a powerful bond during the formative years of the League that was a hard habit to break. He sighed with regret when he realized he'd have to find an empty table or join one of the associate members whom he barely knew. The empty tables looked preferable to the choices available when Superman spied Green Arrow out of the corner of his eye sitting with Black Canary. The Arrow nodded an invitation at the empty seat at their table. Superman nodded and strode over to their table, but Black Canary was on her feet as he arrived at the table.
"Don't get up on account of me!" Superman protested.
"It's time I made my way home. Besides, I've got a run in my stockings," Dinah Lance pouted, showing a small tear down her fishnet stockings. "Cleaning the rest of that Tweaker Gang out of Bludhaven has been a pain."
"Thanks for the extra patrols in Bludhaven," he nodded appreciatively. "I know Nightwing has needed the help."
"That's why we have the League," Dinah replied, a look of compassion for Nightwing's situation evident on her face. "I feel so bad for him. For both of them, actually."
"It's been tough on all of us," Superman admitted. Dinah kissed Ollie tenderly on the lips, waved a quick goodbye to Superman, then she spun on her heels. Superman sat down at the table across from Green Arrow.
"You're a lucky man, Ollie." Superman noted with a raised eyeblrow they watched Dinah turn the corner out of the commissary into the connecting corridor.
"Thanks, but it's hard to remember that sometimes." Green Arrow replied.
"I know what you mean," Superman commiserated. "As much good as the League has done these past five years, there are sometimes feel like its more of a curse than a blessing."
"You can't be serious. A curse?" Ollie asked, taken aback. "How so?"
Superman paused to find the right words for what he was thinking. "What happened to Tea occurred because I was brainwashed by Darkseid years ago. My invasion of Earth with his Parademons was the reason Hamilton joined Cadmus. In fact, it was the reason Cadmus was formed in the first place."
"Cadmus existed in some form or another long before you went rogue," The Question observed with a whisper over Superman's shoulder. Superman turned around to face his conspiracy-loving colleague, taking a quick peek at Q's injured shoulder with his x-ray vision. Most of the damage appeared to be healing up nicely, though his arm was still in a sling. Q sat down next to Superman, sloshing a few drops of coffee on the table in the process. "Since the time of the Pharoahs, there has always been a secret society lurking in the shadows, waiting to exploit any opportunity to increase their power."
Superman looked at The Question dubiously, but the Arrow nodded in support of his teammate. "Q's right, Clark. You can't blame your brainwashed invasion as the reason Hamilton became Ruin. I think Hamilton already had one foot over the edge when he joined Cadmus. He was just looking for a reason to jump."
Superman shook his head dismissively. "I never saw any evidence of that during all that time I worked with him."
"So maybe you're not as good at reading people as you'd like to be," The Question observed. "But even a telepath would have had a hard time figuring out what made Hamilton tick. From what I saw at the end, he was a classic paranoid schizophrenic."
"Whatever he turned into, Tea still paid the price for it," Superman noted with a heavy sigh. "Kara almost died during my invasion, then I really did lose her to some fifth generation time-traveling Brainiac. Now Power Girl pays the price for my sins again. I know what you're both trying to say. I appreciate it, I really do, but sometimes I feel like the price of wearing this cape is too high."
He pushed his plate away with the food still untouched. Talking about Tea ruined his appetite.
"Where are you off to?" Green Arrow asked.
"To the Fortress. Maybe there's something in the medical database that I missed."
Batman sat at his console in the Batcave, entering the last pieces of evidence of an unsolved murder which had occurred two weeks before in Gotham around the same time the League had been battling Ruin. The victim, a twenty year-old female, had two priors for drug possession, so all the evidence pointed to a standard drug-deal gone wrong, but Batman wasn't convinced it was so routine.
"What are you working on?" Diana's voice floated out of the dark expanses of the Cave. She emerged from the gloom a moment later, wearing one of his robes that she'd made her own. Not that he minded as he took in the way black silk molded to her curves.
"A murder down in the Haight district," he replied, nodding to the gruesome photos displayed on the overhead monitor.
"You take them all personally, don't you?" Diana asked, nodding in sudden understanding of what had fueled the Dark Knight's obsession for so many years.
"It's hard not to," He admitted. "No one deserves to have their life taken away by someone else's hand."
"You don't handle loss very well. You haven't been sleeping well since we lost Galatea," Diana noted with concern. She pulled his cowl back and ran her fingers gingerly through his hair, massaging his scalp gently to help ease his pain.
Bruce looked into her eyes and noticed the slight puffiness and red that rimmed the bright blue iris. "I'm not the only one, Princess. You've been crying again."
Diana stiffened but didn't pull her hands away. "Amazons are warriors trained to deal with death. We are told not mourn a death, only celebrate their life."
She was the world's worst liar and he knew it irked her pride that she couldn't help shedding tears over Galatea. "Yes, but she was your first apprentice. You trained her and spent a lot of time with her. It's only natural that you feel the loss."
She closed her eyes briefly and he knew she was controlling more tears that wanted to fall. She opened them and said with a raised eyebrow, "I guess it is no worse than not sleeping." She laid her had on his cheek.
"Sleep is overrated anyway," Batman replied with a grunt, putting his own hand over hers.
"Have you talked to Dick?" Diana asked. "How is he doing?"
"He's transported up to the Watchtower after every shift in Bludhaven for the past two weeks," Batman replied with a grunt. "He's in it for the long haul, though. He spends his free time reading the Aubrey/Maturin series to her from her bedside. It's a twenty-book series, so it's going to take awhile."
"Do you think it will help?" Diana asked. "The EKG showed no brain activity at all."
"It can't hurt," Batman sighed. "She lost a lot of blood and had a brain bleed. But then again, comas are pretty tricky. Plus she is Kryptonian so who knows if the differences in her physiology will make a difference. Maybe the yellow radiation lamps will help. There are recorded cases of patients emerging from comas like hers who remembered every bedside visit. All we can do is wait and hope she comes out of it."
"Arrow told me that Kal is going through the Kryptonian database looking for something that might help."
"The one who might have been able to help her unfortunately is lost forever in the Phantom Zone," Bruce said in a cold voice. Too bad psychos like Ruin always seemed to turn up like a bad penny.
"Do you have any faith in her recovery, honestly?" Diana asked as she sat down on his lap, nestling her head in the crook of his neck. Bruce turned his head and gave her a soft kiss on the lips.
"I don't need to have any faith as long as I have you, Princess." Batman replied as he lifted his head and toggled a switch on the keyboard, which showed Dick reading to Galatea from the Watchtower infirmary. "But Dick is convinced she's going to pull through, so maybe his faith is enough for all of us."
Suffocating, merciless fog. Thoughts clouded, jumbled, incoherent. Somewhere in the mist she heard a male voice intone… "'God knows I should do the same again, said Jack, leaning on the helm to close her, the keen spray stinging his tired, reddened eyes. But I feel I need the whole sea to clean me'. That's the end of Chapter three, Tea. I'm going to get some sleep now. I will see you tomorrow."
She tried to focus on the voice, but the fog rolled in again, unrelenting in its grip.