Disclaimer: I do not own DC. Why can't I own cool things? Give me a chance, world. I'm a jam-up guy.
Chapter 40: All-Seeing Eye
Losing his fortune, feeling his business slip away, and having his status as one of the lower superheroes on the international totem pole reinforced? All not a good time. But even after everything that had been happening, Blue Beetle had to admit, getting ditched by a teenage thief? Kind of a low point.
Those who knew him always said that his heart was in the right place, but it was his mind that kept messing him up. They thought Ted Kord was just a weird inventor that had ridden the dot-com craze to his millions and decided to spend his spare time dressing up like a bug. It used to bother him.
...Who was he kidding? It still bothered him.
It didn't matter though. He had to try. He had to keep moving forward. It wouldn't do him any good to quit. He was already on the verge of losing his material possessions. That, and he was too relentless to just let whatever conspiracy had roped him in go on without a fight.
However, he couldn't do it alone. That much had been made abundantly clear when Null had helped him fight off the Madmen, and again when he'd nearly died inside of his own burning home. But friends who weren't roped into monitoring and fighting The Society were in thin supply. Even less who would humor him even if they did feel like lending a hand.
Enter Michael Carter. a.k.a. Booster Gold.
After parting ways with Null, Ted was able to seek out and find his old friend in Miami, Florida. The exploits of Booster Gold had been fewer and further between as of late, so it took a little legwork.
He caught up with him walking the streets, both out of costume. Their catching up was a bit awkward at first, but they had been very close friends. Eventually, Ted had to dive into business. After all, he had sought Michael out for a reason.
Michael had heard the length and width of Ted's ongoing ordeal, and didn't know quite where to begin, "Jeez," He started, "That's rough. Seriously though, that's what you're into right now? All by yourself?"
When Michael put it that way, Ted couldn't help but admit that his circumstances sounded dire, "There's this kid. He's helping."
"A kid?" Michael repeated skeptically. Again, it did sound dire when someone put it that way.
"Null, the thief," Ted told him. He wasn't certain if Michael had heard of him or not. It didn't seem like the name rang any bells, "Anyway, he's... not a bad kid. Not really. But, I need more backup, Booster."
Michael ran a hand through his blonde hair, looking conflicted. Ted could see a 'no' coming then and there, "Ted... I've got this commercial shoot today. This could be my chance to get back on the map."
"I didn't know you were off of it," Ted remarked.
The man underneath the Booster Gold persona could only shrug his shoulders, "No one's been interested since I set the costume aside."
Granted, ever since they'd been firmly labeled second-stringers in the Justice League by news outlets and even their own allies, they hadn't had a hand in any real major happenings. As less and less had been expected of them, it made sense that Booster Gold, who actually relied on the glory of being a superhero to make a living through endorsements and appearances, would take a significant hit to his finances.
"I could really use your help, Booster," Ted said before reiterating his request, "I need you."
As much as Michael wanted to help a good friend, he hadn't ever been a millionaire. He didn't have a company to his name the way Ted had. He was a man from the future who'd come to the past to try and use hindsight to profit; to mixed results. Like it or not, Michael had to hustle for his money. And if he couldn't secure anything lucrative while he was in Miami, he would be hurting.
"I've got to think about the future, man. I need this," Michael reasoned before trying to smooth things over, "How about this? I'll hit you up just as soon as I'm done with this. But-."
Ted didn't need to hear anymore. This avenue for assistance was closed, "No... it's fine. Forget it," After all, it only left him in the same boat he'd already been in, "Take care of yourself, buddy. It's what you do best."
He tried to ignore the conflicted expression on Michael's face as he left him, but it was what it was by that point.
Onward from there.
So irritated was he, that he needed to take a walk to cool his head. As his mindset was, he would have been little good to himself in following the cold, sparse trail he was on.
…Counting on help from anyone at this point seemed to be off the table.
When he changed back into his Blue Beetle garb, he was so upset, he didn't bother calling for the Bug away from the general populace. He brought it down right in the middle of a city intersection. Not that he could blame anyone for rubbernecking, but it didn't do wonders for his mood.
"Alright, move along! Nothing to see here!" Blue Beetle paused to shout onlookers who stopped to stare at the strange aircraft hovering just above the street. He was more engrossed with his own feelings, however, "Guy comes from the 25th century and kept a mini-computer with all kinds of knowledge of the future, but does he help me? He does not. Thanks for nothing, Booster."
The Bug then took that opportune moment, just steps away from Blue Beetle reaching its hatch, to blow up.
(With Null - Washington D.C. - Anarky's Hideout)
If Null had to choose a way to describe how he felt about heeding Anarky's call, it would have had to have been 'less than enthused'. He could have always turned him down, of course, but the fact that Anarky had reached out to him at all meant that it might have behooved him to see just what he'd wanted.
He could spare a few hours, so with that in mind, he headed down to the nation's capital on his Gravboard.
Following what little direction he'd been given, Null was able to get on the right track. Anarky's hideout turned out to be an intricate system of tunnels beneath and connected to the Washington Monument, of all places. Because of his powers, Null didn't find it very troublesome to navigate the would-be labyrinth and avoid the traps within to reach the inner sanctum.
When he found the appropriate location, Null felt like he'd stepped into a bastardized version of the Batcave. Anarky certainly hadn't skimped on paying for technology, making Null wonder just how many major corporations he'd pilfered funds from in order to pay for it all.
"Man, if I knew how to hack..." Null muttered to himself, "How did he even get this place built?"
He didn't put it past Anarky to have moved some funds around while he was locked up to pay some contractors to work for him without knowing. That was, if he hadn't done so before getting sent to juvenile detention.
Anarky even had a garage with several tricked-out vehicles, which explained the train he'd had access to during their previous run-in back in Gotham City.
While Null took to exploring Anarky's hideout, the voice of the young man in question got his attention, "I'm surprised you came."
Anarky sat in front of a large supercomputer. He spun around in his chair to face Null properly, revealing that he had his face exposed, despite being in his suit.
Null just shrugged as he approached. Honestly, he figured that without Anarky having a lot of time to put something complex together, he could have simply demolished any trap Anarky might have set for him. It wasn't like Anarky had any allies he could rely on to ambush Null either. If it came down to a straight duel for revenge, Null fancied his chances of being the one to walk away in one piece.
"Did you escape today?" Null asked, "You hauled ass to get all the way here from Gotham County."
Anarky smirked, "Time is of the essence. I need your help," He rolled his eyes at the skeptical expression on the visible portion of "I know what it sounds like. But it's not like I have a lot of options. And this? This is big."
Null found his sense of what was important or not had been skewed heavily due to all of the events he'd been involved with recently, "When you say big, do you mean, 'change-the-way-we-all-live-forever', big?"
Anarky scoffed and swiveled back around in his chair, "No, I mean, 'if-we-fuck-this-up-we're-all-wiped-from-existence', big."
Anarky ignored Null's indignant shout and pulled up a few windows he'd been working in on his computer before his guest arrived, "Seriously. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't even be on this," Anarky admitted, "Following your footprints backwards over the last few months and tugging at the threads there took me down a few nasty rabbit holes."
Null looked up at the mounds of notes and images compiled on the screen in front of him, then stared at the back his former(?) foe incredulously, "...And you did all of this, and escaped in a day?" He asked, "How bored were you before I showed up?"
Very. But that was aside from the point.
Anarky ignored Null's entirely legitimate question to get his briefing on-track, "Let's backtrack. Starting with more recent events; in South America, you freed Firestorm," He pulled up classified images of the area in the aftermath of the hero's escape, "The Society were using him as a power source."
Null remembered it well, as it hadn't been that long ago, "Yeah, they had his nuclear ass charging that whole base. Boom tubes and all."
Anarky chuckled darkly, "You think they needed all of the power someone like Firestorm could generate for boom tubes?" He didn't bother letting Null ponder the question for long, "That facility was meant to do one thing - rip a hole in the fabric of reality."
As proof, he showed a series of schematics that Null couldn't make heads nor tails of.
"But... I stopped that," Null tried to reason, "So, we're good, right?"
"Not even a little bit," Anarky replied, bursting his bubble, "Whatever that place was built to reach, you kicked the can down the road. Whatever the Society built it for, they can do it again. It'll take some time though," He gestured with his hand for Null to come over and stand by him, "Anyway, that was just where I started. Wanna know where I ended up?"
"No. But I'm here, so go ahead," Null grumbled as he approached Anarky's side.
Anarky did as requested, "Remember when I mentioned Brother Eye? It's an A.I. orbiting the Earth to collect information on all of the heroes and villains," He eyed Null from the side to gauge his reaction, "It used to be Batman's."
"Of course, he fucking made it," Null sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, "...What do you mean, used to be?"
"I got a look at it," Anarky said, "Got kicked out in less than three minutes. But when I was in, it was clear he wasn't the one calling the shots. Someone else was. And it gets worse. It knew where I was, immediately."
Null immediately reacted, "And you called ME here and got me lumped in with you?" He exclaimed. An all-seeing A.I. built specifically to dig up every dirty little detail it could on the most clandestine, powerful individuals on Earth, and it had its attention on the guy right next to him? Not good, "That thing's totally watching this place!"
"You were already lumped in. It's been watching all metas," Anarky told him, "Brother Eye has you as an associate to lots of people it deems threats," He gestured to their surroundings, "It's a machine. If it knew exactly where we were right now, it would try to wipe us out as soon as it could."
And seeing as how they were still alive, they were either safe where they were, or a step ahead of Brother Eye for the time being.
Null let out a grunt. He wasn't satisfied, but he wasn't going to outright panic at the moment either, "I'm assuming you wouldn't have burned your one lifeline on me when you did if you didn't have a play in mind," He said.
Anarky stood and walked away from the computer, his hands folded behind his back, "When I first found someone locking me out of Brother Eye, I managed to grab a signal," He revealed, "It bounced off of three separate satellites before piggybacking off of an echelon ground station in Belgium. Then I traced it to destination in the Swiss Alps."
Null didn't need to know a lot about cybersecurity to read Anarky's tone and demeanor. It told him all he needed to understand, "Whoever this is knows what they're doing, Lonnie."
Anarky's fists tightened behind his back, "I know. But... I can't let this slide," He said, turning to reveal a determined expression on his face, "You know what I'm about. This is the kind of nameless, faceless, overlording bullshit I got into this to fight in the first place."
More than likely, yes. But to what end, neither of them had any inkling, "We don't even know what this is."
It was like being in the wilderness and finding a set of large tracks in the snow for an animal you couldn't identify. You knew it was big and bad, but what its exact nature was and what it was out to do, you couldn't tell.
It wasn't like that mattered to Anarky though. He lived for things like that; the overarching conspiracy that regular people would never be able to see. Fighting the fight no one else even knew to fight in the first place. That kind of stuff got him like nothing else.
"I can guarantee you it won't be anything good," Anarky said, "Even if you don't help, I'm going alone. But you were the one who turned me on to this to begin with, so..."
"-You figured I'd help," Null finished for him. Anarky didn't deny it, "I'll be honest, I am curious. And if this Brother Eye thing is as badass as you say..." His mind went wild with possibilities, 'If we can get our hands on it...'
But he couldn't. Not at the moment. He already had a prior commitment; one that actually had the chance to benefit him down the line.
It pained Null to back down, but he was a man of his word. It was just hard for him to give that word to just anyone, "I'm in the middle of helping Blue Beetle," He said, "I promised him when I finished here I'd get back in touch with him to give him a hand with his thing. It's not looking good though. The only lead he has is O.M.A.C." A thought from moments earlier drifted back into his mind, "...Do you think if we got a look at Brother Eye...?"
Anarky grinned widely, "Knowledge is power, Null. The truth is power," He pulled his mask over his head, adding the hat on top as the final touch, "If whatever's plaguing your new costumed pal has anything to do with superheroes, I'd bet that damned A.I. has it logged away."
Null paused in thought. Blue Beetle brought him on to help. But if he could solve the mystery himself, would Beetle see that as a good thing or a bad thing? Would it even matter one way or another? The terms of their verbal agreement would have been fulfilled.
Two birds, one stone. Null could get his hands on one valuable thing and use it to solve another problem that had the potential to pay further dividends down the line. That was a good enough reason for him.
(Gotham City - Undisclosed Location)
Getting set on fire was bad for one's complexion.
After fighting with Red Hood in Chinatown, Grant beat a hasty retreat to recover from the serious burns he'd suffered as a result of his target's complete lack of moral scruples in outright murdering his opponents. Given the opportunity, Red Hood would have finished him as violently as he could.
Playing back the confrontation and the resulting short fight in his mind, there was a lot to take away for the next time. And there would be a next time. After all, he was one of the contracts that the Ravager siblings had been called upon to fulfill.
Grant's thoughts were set aside when his younger half-sister walked into the room.
Rose spared Grant half a glance before it registered that he seemed to be in the process of suffering the worst case of sunburn she'd ever seen, "Jesus," She remarked, "You look like shit, Grant."
"Thank you, Rose," Grant replied sarcastically. It had been worse before his enhanced healing kicked in, "You're not gonna ask about what happened?"
Rose shrugged and pulled off her mask, "I assumed Red Hood had more bite than you thought," She said, taking off her equipemt and setting it aside.
Grant grinned. Red Hood had a lot of traits he could appreciate, "The fucker is Batman's prodigal son, after all. Kind of exciting, actually. You want to take your own crack at him?" He offered, willing to be fair and offer his sister a bit of sport.
Rose rolled her single eye as she plopped down on a couch next to Grant, stretching out as she did, "I'd rather we just take him out together and be done with it."
Grant nudged her, nearly pushing her off the couch as he did, "Ah, you're no fun. Besides, the job isn't done until Null is taken care of as well. That's what Black Mask wants, after all," At the topic of their second target, he made sure to study Rose's reaction closely, "You have a problem with that?"
Rose bristled at the implication, "Did I have one when we went after The Six?"
"We didn't end up killing The Six, did we?" He shot back. Rose didn't have an answer for him at that, "-Hence why Black Mask has a wild hair up his ass about ol' whats-his-face now. Where is he, anyway?"
That had, in fact, been what Rose had been up to while Grant attempted to take a shot at Red Hood. She'd been trying to get eyes on Null, "Beats me. No sign of him at his haunts. No sign of him doing anything in the city. Maybe he's out of town?"
Grant slumped down in the couch with a frustrated sigh, "Great. So even if we kill Red Hood now, we've still got to hang around this shithole until your ex turns up."
"You really like hammering that point don't you?" Rose grumbled, feeling her irritation grow.
Grant chuckled, doing nothing to deny his guilt, "What? That you used to fuck one of our targets? Yes! It's hilarious!" He admitted, caring little about possibly setting Rose off, "Did he tell you he loved you? Come on. You can tell me."
Rose hid a laugh by blowing some of her hair out of her face, "He's not that stupid," She said, "He's not stupid at all, actually."
Even if Rose tried to hide it, Grant could hear the measure of fondness she held for Null in her voice, "My offer from before still stands. I'll kill him so you don't have to deal with it."
Rose just nodded silently. Before, when she'd been confronted with trying to kill Null, she couldn't bring herself to even attack him. She more or less froze up. This time, it was a specific contract accepted on their behalf by their father. There would be no fog of battle to use as an excuse lose him in. And if they didn't get results, Deathstroke would be livid.
Yes... it was for the best if Grant was the one who did the deed when the time came. They just had to make sure they weren't outfitted with anything metal when it did.
(With Null – Somewhere in the Swiss Alps)
The signal Anarky managed to find led to an honest-to-goodness castle, nestled deep within the mountains overseas.
Using a Boom Tube to get close (Null had many questions as to how Anarky had ever been able to procure one of those), they were able to transport themselves to Europe, where they took Max's Gravboard the rest of the way, traveling low over the mountains to avoid being discovered.
Whoever lived there did not like company. That much was clear simply from the ten dozen armed guards that had been patrolling in the middle of the day. There was also the barbed wire atop walkways and walls, the copious amounts of security cameras, the large spotlights, and the armed drones hovering about.
Getting a glimpse of all of this through a pair of high-tech binoculars from a mountain peak a few miles away, Anarky glanced over at Null, who seemed to be deep in thought as he stared ahead at their destination. It was past midnight local time at that point.
"What are we waiting on?" Anarky asked as they kept themselves low and concealed in the dark.
Upon arriving, Null had wasted no time scouting. That had been the bulk of what they'd spent their time doing, moving all over the area, keeping their distance and out of sight while getting a 3D view of every side of the stronghold. From dealing with Null in the past, Anarky had expected a hastier approach. That Null had exercised the patience that he had up to that point was a hallmark of his training. Even though they didn't have all the time in the world to work, he was willing to take his time in order to plot out everything he could ahead of going in.
Null spared Anarky a momentary side glance before returning to his previous task, "Shift change is every eight hours," He said, "We're heading in ninety minutes before," Late enough for the crew currently out to start nodding off, early enough for the crew replacing them to not be ready to go yet, "So, what's the play here?"
Anarky scoffed, "You're the thief."
Null wanted to shove him off of the cliffside at that moment, "Of course I am. But I don't know what we're looking for. You're supposed to be coming with me, aren't you?"
"What?" Anarky asked, smirking at Null, "Think I'll leave you behind?"
Despite their previous animosity, Null couldn't say that he felt Anarky would, "No. You're a vindictive ass, but you're no backstabber."
"Would it really be considered backstabbing though?" Anarky continued, trying to needle Null into trusting him less, "You're the reason I was locked up for months, after all."
Null refused to take the emotional bait, "Again, not like you couldn't have broken out whenever you wanted," He'd used the time in juvie to write an anarchist book and steal money to fund his cause. If anything, losing to Null had been a boon for him. He'd gotten what basically amounted to a working vacation, "And yes, because if I get caught here, I'm dead and you know it. So, we wouldn't be even."
"When you put it that way..." Anarky said before explaining what they were after, "For whoever's got control of Brother Eye, they need a heavy-duty computer to handle all of the information the satellite is gathering and processing every second. When we find it, it should be obvious."
From there, it didn't matter what kind of security they had on it. If Null could get his hands on it, he could break into it.
When it came time to infiltrate, the duo didn't find it to be too difficult an issue. All Anarky had to do was follow Null's lead. Null, to his credit, made certain to beat a path that Anarky could actually keep up with, which meant he barely used his physical gifts to slip past barriers and over obstacles.
The cameras were easy to deal with. Null could tell what was in their field of vision, and there wasn't any real way to hide them from him, so he could identify and avoid all of them. The unmanned drones were different to deal with; harder to fool than human eyes, but easier to catch in a patrol pattern.
Speaking of the human guards, they all wore black from head to toe, with golden masks over their face. They were all armed with top-of-the-line submachine guns. Despite hanging around with Rose and Red Hood, Null didn't bother learning how to identify weapons on-sight outside of general classification.
None of this was to say that Anarky wasn't useful in his own right. Several times, due to technology built into his mask, he managed to identify laser tripwires set strategically at doors, windows, and even vents leading into the castle.
Eventually, their trek through the heavily guarded castle led them to a locked door with a crown on it. The lock was biometric, but Null simply shorted it out. A smile crossed his face as the door 'whooshed' open. Null gestured to the open doorway, resulting in silent, sarcastic clapping from Anarky as he sauntered his way inside.
There were no guards past that point. Anarky slid into a seat that sat in front of a large computer, much like the kind he told Null that they were after in the first place.
There were no windows leading outside, and the only way in or out was through the one door. Standing lookout for Null consisted of his attention drifting frantically between Anarky plugging away at the computer, and the door, on the chance that someone made their way inside.
After a while of Anarky browsing, Null got a bit uneasy with the complete lack of communication as to what was going on, "Well? Is this it, or what?
"Oh yeah," Anarky replied. He'd been distracted by the sheer glut of information at his fingertips, "This is definitely it. This is... Jesus."
"That good?" Null reacted to Anarky's bewilderment, "Why are you so surprised? You were the only who told me about how this worked."
Anarky slowly shook his head before responding, "Yeah, but getting a look at it that lasted longer than thirty seconds is something else altogether," He explained, "It's not just the sheer amount of information here. It's not just that they seem to know everything. It's that I don't understand why."
Names like Null's were on the list. Names of people who had no dog in any fight involving the Justice League, The Society, or whatever squabbling factions of heroes and villains around the world were there. Who would need to take all of this for themselves in the first place?
Anarky thought back, to everything he'd learned that had led him to stepping foot in the Alps to begin with, "I only told you part of the truth," He said to Null, "You were the one set me onto looking into all of this, but a massive part of what I dug up was given to me."
"By who?" Null asked.
Anarky shrugged, "Called himself Mockingbird. Told me to bring you in since you were knocking around it all anyway."
He didn't think too much about it. He got tips from all sorts of anonymous undercover supporters all over the world. It was one of the ways he picked and chose which new crusade to embark upon. When he looked into the information given to him and found the merit that it possessed, it was all systems go.
'That guy again,' Null thought to himself. He would smarten Anarky up later, as doing so in the moment would do neither of them any good, "So, where does that leave us now?"
At that moment, the lights came on in the room. Null's powers sprang to life in his hands, and Anarky leapt from his seat in alarm. Yet there was no one there but them. As they stood back-to-back, searching around for opposition, a quiet voice came over a speaker in the upper corner of the room.
"Who would have thought two kids like you would have been the ones to find this place," They heard a man say, "Oh please. Put the fangs away, boys. I could have had security swarm that room by now if I wanted to. Don't make this harder than it has to be."
Neither Null nor Anarky did so.
"Sorry," Null said, "I've got a habit of making things harder than they need to be."
"I'll admit. I had my money on someone else managing to make it this far," The man clicked his tongue pitifully, "Two pawns who crossed the field alive, and haven't put a name to what's in front of you."
Anarky scoffed, "I already figured out that this is Checkmate."
"Checkmate?" Null looked over his shoulder and mouthed in Anarky's direction.
"Government intelligence," Anarky spat distastefully. It was no secret how he felt about the many being controlled by the few, and the ones chartered with carrying out the directives of those few got no love from him.
The individual communicating with them seemed slimy and smug from the sound of his voice, "It is. And of all the pieces on the board, I'm king."
Anarky clenched his fists angrily, "Should have known. What else kind of a person would need all of this?" He asked before berating the voice, "So, what's the play, company man? Trying to kick off a new global war using the shiniest new toys at your disposal?"
"Quite the opposite, actually," The man speaking to the thief and the activist claimed, "Here's a question for you? How many metahumans are known to be on Earth at this moment?"
Null wasn't certain. There seemed to be a good number of heroes flying around, but that didn't necessarily mean they had powers, "I don't know. A couple thousand?"
"Roughly 1.3 million," The man said, stunning both boys with the sheer number, "That includes the little kids who can bend spoons, and the little old lady who keeps hitting at Powerball. So, say 99.5% of that is nuisance-level in power at most. But that other 0.5... that percent including you, Null. They're the ones that make the difference."
Null let out a loud laugh, "I make a difference? Are you serious? I spend my days puttering around Gotham City stealing shit. I don't even put a dent in how fucked up that city is. What kind of difference am I making?"
At that, several images played across the screen. Null's contributions in the fight against The Auctioneer. The aftermath of what he had done in the jungle with the Secret Six. And more. All of them more far-reaching than any petty theft in Gotham City.
"1.3 million metahumans," The man repeated, "One like you is capable of this. How about ten? Or twenty? How about a thousand more just as bold as you, with the same line of thinking as you."
A file of Superman, then of Wonder Woman opened on the screen. Then more well-known heroes and even villains followed.
"You're gods walking this world. You're the ones we have to watch out for, that we have to monitor." The screen cleared to reveal a man on the other end of a camera feed looking back at them, "You're the ones we have to stop."
Anarky started to snicker to himself, "Oh... this is rich," He said, "A metahuman trying to dictate policy against metas. That's fantastic," After getting his chuckles out, he gestured to the screen, "Null, allow me to introduce Maxwell Lord."
The man seemed amused at being identified, "So, you know me."
Anarky nodded, "I know the guy who used to manage the Justice League, back when it 20% hero work, 40% public relations, and 40% used car salesmen," He replied insultingly. Unfortunately, it wasn't taken as an insult.
"Not a bad way to hide in plain sight. I kept the League ineffectual for years. Why do you think so? And now? Heh, I could make Superman kill for me if I wanted to."
"That's a bold statement," Null declared. And it was a statement that he hoped Lord wouldn't try to confirm for him.
Anarky's eyes went wide due to something happening on the computer in front of him. He quickly got up from his seat and power-walked away from it as though it were radioactive, "Right. Time to go," He said, "What are the chances every gun in this place is pointed at that door from the other side?"
As he asked the question, an alarm started to sound out through the building.
Null scowled, his eyes glowing underneath his hood, "What are the chances that it matters?"
Brazenly, Null walked to the door. Anarky stayed close behind. When the door slid open, over a dozen automatic weapons awaited them, barrels pointed right at them. Null looked back at Anarky and gestured with his head for him to follow.
They were all wielding conventional firearms. Null could feel it. How unfortunate for them.
Barely regarding them as he walked through them, eventually one had the bright idea to open fire. With one trigger pulled, more followed, and bullets came flying and wrapping around Null and Anarky. Their trajectory had been distorted due to the strong magnetic field Null had thrown up around them.
Between Null's index and middle fingers, a bolt of electricity formed and jumped out at the nearest armed guard, impacting with his weapon. From there, it chained to one individual to the next, and so on, blowing up their guns in their hands.
Anyone not nursing injuries from redirected bullets or from nearly having their hands blown off rushed in to attack up close. Anarky pulled out a golden retractable baton and quickly battered anyone who got close. Juvenile detention hadn't dulled his fighting ability any.
Still, from the sheer numbers around them, he wound up taking a few digs for his trouble.
"You know, you can help!" Anarky remarked snarkily as he continued to do the heavy lifting of the close-range fighting. No one wanted to try their luck against the guy with electric powers first, "Anytime now!"
"I already did," Null said, taking the role of amused observer, "Why do you think nobody's shot you yet?" Still, they had to leave. Null took a deep breath and upon his sharp exhale, ironsand magnetically ejected out of the pores of his suit, forming into small projectiles as they did. It had the effect of turning Null into a localized shotgun.
Having covered his face during the barrage, Anarky lowered his arms to see the slew of defeated Checkmate agents surrounding them. He looked back at Null in time to see the ironsand pouring back into his suit, "New trick? I like it."
"Yeah, it's fantastic," Null crowed, pleased with his live-fire use of ironsand, "Still finding ways to use it, but I've found that throwing it in every direction really hard works pretty well."
The moment done, they continued on their way out of the castle, only to find their way barred by two more Checkmate agents, and the man they had confronted on the screen, Maxwell Lord.
Null stepped forward, cracking his knuckles, "Hi, new friend!" He greeted brightly, his tone belying the threat of his approach.
Lord didn't back up a step. Instead, he held up a receiver to his mouth and spoke into it, "O.M.A.C. Protocol. Null/Anarky recipient black side, blank B. Download."
The bodies of the Checkmate agents began to change as nanotechnology covered their bodies like armor. It only took a moment for the change to occur, transforming them into dark blue cyborgs with single orange glowing eyes, and a single fin starting at the top of their heads going down the back of their necks. Emblazoned on their chests was an insignia, an all-seeing eye of sorts.
'O.M.A.C.?' Null thought to himself, remembering the only real clue that Blue Beetle had been able to keep track of up until running into him. Both he and Anarky must have had the same thought, because they momentarily locked eyes.
Maxwell Lord smirked at the boys' reactions to his new trump card. Null had ceased in his advance out of wariness, "Kill them."
"Confirmed," Both cyborgs replied, levitating off of the ground as they floated towards the teenagers.
There was no time to process or speculate on what they'd just seen. Null acted first. Seeing what his brain equated to cyborgs, he felt the prudent first move was to blast them with electricity. Letting energy fly from his fingertips, he zapped both foes with as much as he could without charging it first. It seemed to work outright, stopping them dead in their tracks.
They didn't budge, until their monoeyes let off an orange glow and unleashed an energy blast against him. Covering up, Null also threw up a shield of ironsand in front of him to better protect himself. The force of the blast still sent him sliding across the floor.
Null jumped up as quickly as he could, prepared for his enemy to sweep back in and continue the attack. Another beam was fired from its glowing eye, one that Null jumped and rolled over to escape.
Whatever its nanotech shell was made of, it wasn't metal, because Null couldn't feel anything to grab onto magnetically.
With alarming speed and ferocity, it was back on him before he knew it. As he tried to fight back, Null's brain rapidly processed multiple observations every second.
It was obviously fast, frighteningly so, but it was significantly faster on foot than in flight. If Null could catch it in the air, he could manage to run circles around it with his own speed before it could react.
It had monstrous physical strength. Null couldn't overpower it, and clearly Anarky couldn't either. From the corner of his eye, he caught Anarky whacking his O.M.A.C. opponent across the head with his special baton before driving the point of it directly into the cyborg's chest, delivering a powerful shock to little effect.
So, that was a definite 'yes' on superhuman durability. The machine-infected man grabbed the staff and used it to toss Anarky aside. They could also transform parts of their body, such as arms, into weaponry.
Like a machine, the O.M.A.C.s had pinpoint aim, but there was something about it that was too accurate. As in, there was no margin for variables. When it blocked Null's punch, it tried to cut his arm off at the elbow in response. Had Null not avoided it, the slice would have been clean. But because it was such a precision move, when Null moved, it whiffed badly enough that Null had a wide-open counter available to him.
Null quickly covered the vulnerable O.M.A.C.'s head in ironsand and fortified it before giving it a hard, magnetic twist. Given its durability, he didn't know how much force he needed, so he gave it quite a bit of effort.
As the sound echoed out, the O.M.A.C. slumped lifelessly to the ground. Its nanotechnology shell faded away, leaving the dead Checkmate agent it had taken over behind.
Upon the demise of its comrade, the O.M.A.C. battling Anarky paused, clearly seeing Null as the more overt threat.
Maxwell Lord pursed his lips in annoyance, "There was a person in there, you know."
Null looked down at the deceased man at his feet. It wasn't the first time he'd taken a life. He'd done his share of that during the battle at the House of Secrets. But then, he hadn't been nearly as close to any dead body of his own creation as he currently was. The unnatural angle of the man's neck and the empty look in his eyes threw him off for a moment. He had to choke down the feeling at the back of his neck and focus on the task at hand.
Lord continued, not distressed at seeing one of his agents killed, "You know, the O.M.A.C.s being human under the shell was supposed to deter the heavier hitting heroes from going all out," He said matter-of-factly.
Null scoffed and tore his eyes away from the corpse. The man's cohorts had been trying to kill them before Lord turned him specifically into a brainless cyborg. He refused to feel too much remorse, "Gordian Knot, dude," Null said with a shrug.
He wasn't a hero. Why would he be expected to hold back against anyone trying to kill him? It wasn't like the O.M.A.C. was going to stop without serious damage being dealt to it, and he was more concerned with getting out in one piece than searching for a safer solution for the O.M.A.C. host.
Maxwell Lord looked down at his dead Checkmate agent and chuckled. Several more O.M.A.C. units crashed into the room, "Gordian knot. That's right," He said, "Straightforward solutions to complicated problems. You get it, even if you don't really get it. Get it?"
"Nnnnno..." Null drawled, stalling for time as he inconspicuously called for the Gravboard.
Undeterred in his mindset, Lord continued, "All I want to do is put Earth's destiny in the hands of humans, not people pretending to be human," His comment was directed at Null, "-In the hands of people like me. Even people like him," He finished, gesturing to Anarky.
"Shove it," Anarky snapped. There would be no common ground between him and a man like this.
Null felt his transport's approach before he saw it. Reaching out his hand, he latched onto Anarky's baton magnetically and pulled him in just as the Gravboard came crashing through the window. With his other hand, Null reached out to pull himself to the underside of the board as it flew right out of the castle. O.M.A.C. units responded by pursuing quickly.
Lord shook his head pitifully, as though Anarky's response disappointed him, "What a waste," He bemoaned.
Anarky really was the kind of person he could make into something special. He was the kind of person who refused to back down from something he believed in. His known activities over the years expressed as much. The clumsy, well-meaning aspirations of an idealistic child had slowly evolved over the years to the schemes of a young man with a goal.
No agency, no government manipulation, no intergalactic overlord, no superhero or villain could make him back down. Even the knowledge of what he was facing in the pervasive Brother Eye satellite didn't get him to change his tune.
Unfortunately, it was that same quality that made him a problem now. He was working hand-in-hand with a rising metahuman who was damn near the embodiment of Lord's worst fears. Null was a potential liability of the highest caliber. Plenty of power at his fingertips, a growing understanding of how to throw it around, and no sense of responsibility to use it in any way beneficial to his fellow man.
He did whatever he liked. How Null chose to use his ability was only as reliable as any other regular person dropped in his position could be counted on being. And that was what was frightening. All people had the capacity for great good or great evil. And you never learned if it was one or the other until it was too late.
When Null first surfaced, he'd been a nuisance. He'd eventually grown into something of a potential threat. What if tomorrow he started going down the road that would lead him to becoming a supervillain, capable of harming countless people? The only thing keeping him from doing so now were his own inhibitions.
Lord raised his communicator to his mouth, "This is a priority Black King command to all directorates. Set Brother Eye to autonomous control. Activate Project O.M.A.C."
It was time to save the world from itself.
Null had never been so glad to have an on-the-fly observation proven correct as he was when he and Anarky made their escape on the Gravboard. The O.M.A.C.s weren't exceptionally fast through the air. His board easily kept the two of them far ahead.
What had that been? One second, they'd been facing off with human government agents, then two of them turned into goddamn Power Rangers. And then more showed up! How many more were there? How were they made?
There were now more questions than answers swimming around in his brain, and no time to think about it because they were fleeing so fast.
He didn't know where he and Anarky could stop, but he knew he had the energy in him to power the board for as long as they needed to fly.
If Brother Eye could pull a repeat of what had happened at Blue Beetle's actual home, he wanted to keep moving as fast as they could without stopping for a moment. It was odd though. Despite how hard and fast his heart hammered inside of his chest, he didn't feel the same bone-rattling terror he would have if this had happened not too long ago.
That being said, he still nursed a healthy fear of his current circumstances.
"Well, that could have gone better!" Null loudly remarked, looking over his shoulder to make sure they weren't being chased by O.M.A.C.s... or by some kind of death laser from space.
Anarky grunted in discomfort, checking himself over for injuries, "Could have gone worse too!" He shouted back over the wind.
Not by much in Null's opinion, "What, as in we didn't die? Are you kidding? I can't go home!"
"No shit!" Anarky replied testily. Being unable to really damage or keep up with the O.M.A.C. unit he'd been pitted against, he'd gotten more of a thrashing than Null.
"No shit? We can't go anywhere now!" Null exclaimed, "Brother Eye knows who I am, which means Checkmate knows! You said it yourself! Lord knows who all of us are – he has stuff on everyone!"
Despite his ill mood, Anarky couldn't help but smirk, "You think he memorized anything on you or me?"
Probably not, given they more than likely hadn't figured into any major plan Lord had. But Null felt that was something that could easily be remedied, "Well, he sure as hell will after this! I would! And does he have to? He has a whole database!"
At that, Anarky was reminded of what had thrown him for a loop right before they left Lord's office and the computer within, "Yeah... about that. Most of that is gone now."
Null's head whipped around so fast to stare at him, Anarky swore he could hear the crack of his neck over the wind blowing past them, "...WHAT!?"
There were plenty of reasons for Maxwell Lord to be in a raw mood.
-Null and Anarky had infilitrated his compound and gotten a look at Brother Eye.
-Null and Anarky had escaped after getting a look at Brother Eye.
-His O.M.A.C.s that had been activated hadn't been able to stop them.
-And most importantly, all of the carefully gathered intel on every metahuman on Earth was GONE.
His plans needed to move forward. This was a kick in the rear to do just that, but not one he'd necessarily wanted. Lord liked control. He wanted to pick his ideal moment to put everything in motion, but if for the time being those stupid kids were running loose with the information they had, he needed to mitigate the amount of good that information could do.
That left Lord with plenty of work to do. He ordered his Checkmate agents to dispose of the dead body of their comrade and sanitize the scene. He wanted nothing for anymore intrepid, snooping do-gooders to find.
Retreating to his office, he pulled up the connection to Brother Eye and immediately set himself to work, "Run diagnostic mode."
On the screen, code flickered to life as prompts swept past, identifying that it was ready to receive orders on what to check.
"We've got a problem, my friend," Lord said, speaking to Brother Eye as though it were a person. There was a curl of a sneer to his lip, "Somehow, two punk kids hacked our little database and deleted all of our files. Years of work, all the known intelligence gathered on every so-called hero and villain in the world; gone. Our D.E.O. files, gone. Our S.T.A.R. Labs files, gone. Justice League files, gone," They would have to procure it all over again, which was doable, but would take time, "Oddly, the only files that remain are the O.M.A.C. elimination protocols."
No response. Of course. It was a machine.
"Begin outland interface," Lord commanded, "Voice mode. Execute."
The computer began to speak, communicating for the Brother Eye A.I., "Voice interface, active."
Checkmate's Black King nodded to himself, "Keystroke log query: did Anarky or Null erase our files?"
They didn't? Well, it made sense. They hadn't been there for long before he had confronted them. But that left another option. Someone inside of Checkmate, perhaps a Knight or another King or Queen who didn't like the way things were turning in his favor power-wise, "Did deletion occur as a result of internal activity. Did someone in the complex activate you?"
"Negative result. Access restricted to Lord, Maxwell, Black King."
That was reassuring, but also infuriating, because his question still hadn't been answered, "Then someone invaded the system and hacked the database. Who?"
"Negative result. Insufficient data."
Lord scowled at the lack of results he seemed to be getting from his 'all-seeing' Brother Eye, "Autonomous mode is active, correct?" He seethed.
"Then speculate," Lord demanded, "Who did this?"
There was a long pause before Brother Eye responded, "Creator."
Lord picked up the chair behind his desk and hurled it across the room in anger. He stormed around his office for a moment before slamming his hands on his desk. Flying off the handle wouldn't help. He needed to calm down and use his head.
"Damn it. Beetle must have told him he was on to us," Lord muttered before speaking up to the A.I., "Initiate damage control protocol. Set O.M.A.C. Project to 'monitor'. Instructions as follows: begin active surveillance on all known metahuman associates of Ted Kord, Maximillian Gabriel, and Lonnie Machin, a.k.a. Blue Beetle, Null, and Anarky."
This needed to be contained as best as possible until it was too late to respond to. By the time he was done, if everything was set, even if the entire Justice League mobilized against him, they wouldn't be able to stop him.
"Limit search to priority suspects, North America, full audio and visual taps. I want to know where their friends are, what they're doing, how much they've been told, and how much they believed," Lord said, "And keep that eye of yours on Batman in particular."
If Batman was on to him, he wanted to know it. He had to know what he knew. He had to be absolutely sure. He didn't want to have to kill Batman, after all.
...Not yet, anyway.
The teenager team-up is on!
Null and Anarky! Two dudes who do not like each other, but don't like the idea of what they're dealing with even more! The enemy of my enemy... or however that saying goes. I don't know. I prefer to use a rambling metaphor, like two students who don't like each other, but the teacher doesn't understand class dynamics and puts them together in a group project for 30% of their semester grade.
Next time; we learn more about the scope of what the world is dealing with. Plus, what the fuck is an O.M.A.C. unit? And what about Blue Beetle? How will he deal with the loss of his sweet ride? Oh, and the fact that something else exploded in his face again.