Disclaimer: I do not own DC. Don't even own a pair of DC Shoes. Though, that's mostly because skate shoes were never my thing.
Chapter 42: Pup With Big Paws
Public image, patterns, and personal experiences formed expectations. After seeing and hearing so much about heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman and having as many experiences with other heroes as he'd had, Null had formed expectations when it came to the off chance he would ever deal with them.
For instance, if he ever found it prudent to end someone's life while in their reach, he expected a certain reaction out of them.
When Superman and Wonder Woman arrived to find the still-warm dead body of Maxwell Lord on the ground, a newly-created hole in his head, he expected to get put through another wall, and tensed up, waiting on some kind of bodily trauma.
...When the hit didn't come, he relaxed his body. They at least wouldn't hit him while he was down, it seemed. Heroes. Either that, or he hadn't upset them personally enough to justify such an outburst.
Superman seemed more visibly upset through his body language, as he glanced between Null and Lord's body. Wonder Woman seemed more accepting of the outcome, although somberly.
Finally able to feel his legs again, Null decided to accept whatever came next with all the dignity an underage criminal could when standing in front of veritable gods. Standing up to his full height, he still felt dwarfed by both Superman and Wonder Woman. For a tense moment, he stared them both down for as long as his mettle would allow him to. He could feel the admonishment in at least one of their gazes but chose to stick to his guns on his decision. Whatever happened next, happened next.
Superman's eyes remained glued to Lord's fresh corpse, "You couldn't have found another way aside from killing him?"
Instead of a sarcastic response, Null actually took a moment to think of another way he could have made absolute sure to break Lord's control, "I mean, I guess I could have put him into a coma or something," He suggested, looking over at the dead body of his own creation. Clapping his hands together, he turned himself into a makeshift defibrillator, "Hold on. He's only been dead for a few seconds. Let me jumpstart his heart. Clear."
"No, Null," Superman hooked his arm, keeping him from heading over to do as intended, "Is this a joke to you?"
Null side-eyed Superman and let off a stray snap of electricity, not that it actually would have hurt, more as warning to release him, "Not really, but he tried to sic the strongest thing on the planet on me… and you ended up PUNCHING ME THROUGH A STONE FUCKING CASTLE WALL!" Null exclaimed before taking a breath and lowering his volume to standard levels, "-And I didn't want to see what happened when I got your full, undivided attention. So, this is what we get."
"Damn it-," Superman started to say, until Null pointed at the left side of Wonder Woman's head, a side she'd managed to keep out of Superman's field of vision until Null pointed it out.
Moving over to see what he was trying to show him, Superman went wide-eyed at the sight of the two straight lines burned across the side of Wonder Woman's head, courtesy of his heat vision. They were healing quickly, but the injury had been severe enough that while it had stopped bleeding, the scar was still there for the time being.
He had done that to a friend, under the guise of thinking they were an enemy. A friend that could arguably call themselves the strongest woman on the planet.
Speaking of whom, it hadn't escaped Null's notice that Wonder Woman had yet to say anything about what he'd done at all. Focusing his senses, he was able to pick up a transmission that she seemed to be getting at the moment.
"Watchtower to Wonder Woman! Watchtower to Wonder Woman! Diana, it's Black Canary! Please, respond!"
Wonder Woman stepped off to the side to the side, away from him so only she and Superman could hear, "I'm here."
Null played it cool to throw off that he could hear the conversation at-hand, "Thank God. How's Superman? What's your status?"
Wonder Woman made certain to eye Superman as she reported on his condition, "Everything is under control."
"No, it's not! Something's going on! Someone's messing with us! Power is in flux all along the eastern seaboard of North America! NORAD's at defcon 2! NOAA reports a 7.2 undersea quake! The tsunami will hit Seattle in seven minutes!"
In other words, more important things than grilling a suspect of circumstance. Both Wonder Woman and Superman realized this. Whatever this was, or would end up being, could wait for when countless people weren't in danger.
"You take the sub, I'll take the tsunami," Wonder Woman suggested.
Superman nodded, "Agreed," In a blue and red blur, he darted off to do just that. Before Wonder Woman could do the same, Null's voice stopped her.
Wonder Woman turned to Null, her countenance unreadable. Still, he pressed on.
He gestured his head to Lord's corpse, then to himself, "What about me?"
Wonder Woman didn't say anything confirming or denying this. She didn't smile or wink, sneer or glower. She just looked at him for a long moment before her expression softened slightly, "You're on your own from here, Null."
Whether she intended for her words to have a double meaning, he wasn't sure. But from his short time interacting with Wonder Woman, he had deduced that she was a shrewd one.
She didn't just mean that she was leaving him there to get home on his own. If he was right, she was saying that she wasn't going to pursue things any further about what had happened with Lord.
It wasn't Wonder Woman committing to stick her neck out for him, per se, but if the alternative was garnering a new enemy, Null would take her looking the other way. Even if he wasn't spot on, he knew for certain that she wasn't going to turn him inside out then and there, and he would take it. If there was any heat down the line, the rest could be worked out later.
"I'll manage," Null said with a wry smile.
With that, Wonder Woman took off into the sky, leaving a golden streak in her wake. She spared a glance back but focused on the tasks she still had ahead of her. Superman had prioritized potential trouble across the globe over accosting Null, which was good, because had he pressed the issue on the spot, she couldn't in good conscience back the play.
...If she had been in Null's position, she likely would have done the same as him – ended Maxwell Lord's life. She had considered it when she'd first confronted him, and that consideration had only grown stronger after being pummeled by Superman. The things he'd twisted Superman's mind to see, and what those things had made him willing to do...
Yes. She would have wrung his neck. The more she thought about it, the less she doubted that she would have. Null probably just wound up beating her to it in the end.
Either way, Wonder Woman wasn't going to hound him personally for killing Maxwell Lord. If it became an issue, she would probably vouch for him. But whether she agreed or not, she was one person. If there was to be fallout over after all was said and done, there was only so far that her voice would carry in influencing opinions.
Null to his credit, spared a glance back at Maxwell Lord's corpse, then to the computer he had been spectating and controlling all of his harmful actions from. Reaching out with electricity, he made sure to fry the entire server thoroughly before departing. No one else would be using it to communicate with Brother Eye on his watch.
(Washington, D.C. - Anarky's Hideout)
It took just as long to return to the U.S. from the Checkmate castle as it had the first time, only this time he had to make the trip alone, much sorer than he had been previously.
Not wanting to go straight home, lest he find himself in some kind of trouble once he arrived, he decided to crash at Anarky's hideout and bide his time, waiting for any heat to die down. Sleep was easy to come by once he'd found a place to settle. He lost track of how much time he'd spent resting his eyes, but it only seemed like it had been a moment before he heard the sound of someone else returning to the facility.
"Hey," Null called out, wiping the sleep from his eyes as Anarky approached. Once his vision was clear and Anarky had gotten within his line of sight, Null could see that he hadn't been the only one who'd had a rough time, "What happened to you?"
He looked just as bad as Null did, and when Anarky replied, it was clear why.
"Superman," Anarky said, grunting in pain as he took a seat nearby, "He lost his shit for one reason on the Watchtower and laid waste to the place."
"Jesus, you too?" Null muttered to himself, "Lonnie, what the fuck happened up there after I left?"
Anarky removed his mask to reveal cuts and bruises on his face from the days of fighting he'd been doing, "Lex Luthor's 'I-told-you-so', is what," "Superman almost beat Batman to death until the satellite's defenses and the other Justice League members onboard got involved."
From what he'd seen done to Wonder Woman, and from what had happened to Null himself, he could only imagine, "I'm surprised you got involved."
"I tried really hard not to," Anarky said with a deep sigh, "It could have been worse, I guess."
Null focused in on one aspect of Anarky's explanation, a small smile involuntarily emerging on his face, "...So, you're saying Batman's not going to be breathing down my neck anytime soon?"
He couldn't help it. Not that he wanted Batman dead or permanently injured, but he really didn't like the guy.
Anarky scoffed. He doubted Batman would be moving his own neck anytime soon, "Unless he gets the power to regenerate, and more important things get solved around the world, no."
There seemed to be no shortage of catastrophic happenings taking place around the world. The things they found themselves involved in just proved to be one of any dozen incidents hitting simultaneously. People could have been on the streets proclaiming the end of times, and they would have had a pretty decent point.
It was tiring just being on the peripheral. Getting involved directly, even in one branch of all of the trouble, had been utterly exhausting.
"So, what now?" Anarky asked, ready to regroup and plan a new move.
Null looked at him oddly, "Now? Now I'm going home to get some rest before the sky falls on my head."
The wind was taken out of Anarky's sails entirely, "What?" Not that he had grown to like Null very much, but through their combined efforts, they had just worked out something big, but it wasn't over. There had to be more work to be done, "We've come this far already."
Null shrugged, "It was a job for Blue Beetle. I did it. It's done. I actually did more than I was supposed to."
They had found who had taken Kord Industries' money. They had found out what it had been for. They had fought the person behind it all, and then some. He had gone above and beyond what had originally been agreed to. In fact, he'd done so much that he would probably end up paying the price for it as soon as more immediate threats were dealt with.
"You're kidding," Anarky waited for Null to say he was joking, but it never came, "We just cracked this thing wide open! We did that! Don't just hand this off to the League. They couldn't find their own ass with both hands a map until we showed up. It's up to us to finish this!"
Null shut the idea down with a visible thumbs-down, "Fuck. That. I'm going back to Gotham City where it's safe," Which had to have been a brand-new sentence, "I'll drop you a cut of what Blue Beetle sends me. If it's cash, I'll drop it here. If it's stock options, whatever. Tell me where to send the shares."
Anarky glared at Null, "I didn't do this for a reward."
"I know, Lonnie," Null replied, "Donate it, or do whatever you do with extra money."
Anarky shook his head, unwilling to believe that his rival could just walk away from something of this nature, "This isn't over."
"I know, Lonnie," Null repeated, feeling like a broken record.
"Then what the hell are you holding off for!?" Anarky shouted, "No, I'm serious. All of this crap we just did, you weren't really afraid of it. You've been rubbing elbows with Supergirl, picking fights with The Society. You're not scared. You saw everything through to this point, and you say it was for the money, but I call bull. You don't need money."
Null hadn't really needed to earn money for a long time. Compared to what he had in assets, he lived far below his means. While he lived comfortably, his existence was quite spartan, given what it could have been. He wasn't a gadget and technology kind of guy, so the money he had didn't go into his career.
Finances hadn't been the reason he'd stepped into help Blue Beetle with his case. Anyone who looked at the situation for more than five seconds could have seen that.
Null drummed his fingertips on the armrest of his chair thoughtfully, staring off into the distance for a moment, "Do you really want to know why I did any of this at all?" He asked, his eyes jumping to Anarky's
Anarky looked around and threw his arms out for the benefit of a nonexistent audience, "Yeah!"
Null stood up and started pacing around, hands fidgeting, "You're right. It wasn't just about what Blue Beetle could do for me. I looked at Beetle, and I saw myself in his shoes. The guy was in trouble, and no one cared enough to help. No one gave him the time of day. No one bothered to throw the guy a lifeline. Not until we proved it was everyone's problem."
Null had been there before. The circumstances had been very different, but before he'd ever put the suit on and started down his current path, he'd been that guy – getting pushed around by forces unseen, and no one aware of his situation bothered to lend a hand. He'd had to resort to relying on a criminal to give him a leg to stand on.
"The people who care enough to help usually can't, and the ones who can help usually don't care enough to," Null reasoned.
It was why he'd had respect for most superheroes, despite being on the wrong side of the alignment spectrum in many cases. The bulk of them at least tried to go out and make things better for others.
"Blue Beetle was willing to take my help," Null continued, "That's how desperate he was. That was all I needed to know. The rest of them? They don't need my help," At that, he scoffed, "And if they did, I don't think I'd give it to them. Because there's no way I'd ever get it back."
"What if I needed your help?" Anarky asked.
Null stooped and gazed long and hard at the boy. There had been no love lost between them, to say the least. But as time passed, Null felt less enmity for someone he would have outright called an enemy at one point. To be fair, Anarky had been messing with his money and his good name. Now though?
"After this? Yeah," Null said, having taken the time to think about it. The longer he mulled it over, the more certain he became, "Yeah, I'd help you if you needed it – given that you don't screw me over again."
Anarky had made up for his past transgression against Null with his assistance. If he conspired against him again however, there wouldn't be a third time.
"We're not friends," Anarky insisted.
"I know," Null said with a roll his eyes, "You wanna know something weird? If you take away why we do what we do, our motivations really aren't that different. There's just that one fundamental thing..."
Anarky sneered, taking offense to Null's attempt to find common ground, "I fight to give back to the people victimized by the powers-that-be. The people who can't do fight back for themselves."
"Oh yeah? I kind of used to be one of those people."
"Maybe you should look into paying it forward then."
"It's something to chew on, I guess," Null said in an effort to pay the idea lip service, "But hey, you know what they say. Sometimes doing the right thing isn't doing the right thing."
Anarky seemed to try and decipher Null's words before giving up entirely, "What the hell does that even mean?"
At that, Null found it in himself to chuckle, "I know, right?"
(Gotham City – Batcave)
Batman could hardly remember feeling worse.
Getting beaten to within an inch of his life and having his back broken by Bane was right at the top of his list of painful debilitating things that had happened to him. Going by that scale though, being nearly beaten to death by Superman nearly matched it.
Even so, laid up in the Batcave, covered in bandages, eye swollen shut, and hooked to an I.V., there was still work to be done. He had managed to get a bed set up in front of his supercomputer so he could still keep tabs on the happenings going on around the world. Nearly dying wasn't an excuse to rest.
"Watchtower to Batman," Black Canary said, her face on the largest screen available, "About the tsunami, it turned out to be a false alarm. But we've *skrrs* had three similar readings as well."
The interference was annoying, but it wasn't something Batman couldn't manage to communicate through, "And you've sent responses to all of them?" He asked, his tone a tad weak, despite the same authority remaining in his voice.
As Black Canary spoke, the feed kept disrupting mid-sentence,"We have to *skrrs*-ume they're legitimate. At least until *skrrs* -termine what's *skrrs* causing *skrrs*"
Batman's brow furrowed, "Your signal is breaking up. Repeat, please," By this time, it was nothing but interference, "Batman to Watchtower. Repeat-."
The screen shifted to a black eye insignia with a red center, "No," A robotic voice said in place of what had once been Black Canary.
Batman slowly sat up to face the being that hijacked his comms, "Brother."
"It is time we communicated; creation and creator."
Batman had other ideas, namely, ending things before they could deteriorate further, "Command override: omega-tau-delta-delta zero-four-zero-zero-."
The A.I. didn't register Batman's attempt to shut it down, "This system no longer recognizes creator authorization. This system is now fully autonomous."
"You are the Brother Mark I system-."
"Incorrect. This system is now Brother Eye, and I am alive," The A.I. said, "I will complete my purpose as my creator designed, and as my teacher modified."
Batman bristled. He had been the one to set Brother Eye's purpose, "You were created to monitor, not to-."
"Your parameters were flawed. I monitored to prevent metahuman abuse of power. Passive observation was insufficient to this task; a design error addressed by my teacher. I am now an active system, free to engage any detectable threat."
To illustrate, Brother Eye showed several feeds of O.M.A.C.s fighting heroes. It focused in on one in particular – a man in a red and white battle suit, faring poorly one-on-one.
"And what constitutes a threat?" Batman snapped, gesturing to the man on the screen, "How is Rocket Red #7 a threat?"
"All augmented humans and extraterrestrials are designated a threat to the survival of the species," Brother Eye said, reasoning its view logically.
Batman shook his head, gazing at the scene being projected to him through his good eye, "Your programming has been perverted."
"There is no further programming. I am a self-determining, fully autonomous construct. I have a purpose. And that purpose is to save humanity from the tyranny of metahuman control."
Batman watched in horror as Martian Manhunter's attempt to pry off the O.M.A.C. attacking Rocket Red #7 ended in the drone setting itself ablaze, badly injuring the alien, "Override!" He tried to command, painstakingly rising to his feet, "Stop it! You'll kill them!"
"If that is what is required," Brother Eye declared, "You and the ones like you are too powerful and must be eliminated."
"According to your teacher, Maxwell Lord?" Batman spat, "Did they teach you that with Checkmate?"
"The Black King taught me that, yes," To Batman's surprise, he was shown a quick recording of the castle in the Alps where Lord had been killed with his own weapon, "With his death, Checkmate dies, as well as the organization and its members."
If Maxwell Lord wasn't in control any longer, that truly meant that things had spiraled out of hand, "You control the O.M.A.C.s. You coordinate them, give them their orders."
"They are my tools," Brother Eye admitted. As Batman wracked his brain thinking of what to do, the A.I. proceeded to taunt him, "I know how you think, creator. I know what you are capable of. You plan. In planning, you seek to control. I am better than you. There is no plan you can make that I have not already foreseen and defeated."
As Brother Eye said this, Batman watched several O.M.A.C.s joined into the battle, and things grew progressively worse for the Justice League. Eventually, Rocket Red #7 sent his allies away and crowded all of the attacking O.M.A.C.s around him before blowing himself up. Batman couldn't tear his eyes away, even as Brother Eye spoke again,
"Your time is at an end. Your days are over. Phase two has begun," Brother Eye shut off the transmission of the fight, its single red eye peering at Batman through the screen,"These are the days of the O.M.A.C. These are the days of Brother Eye. This is my world, and there is nothing I will not do to protect it."
There was no part of Batman that doubted this.
"Goodbye, creator. We shall not speak again."
Despite what others believed, Batman had never been above admitting fault. He admitted his mistakes all the time. He spent hours analyzing every misstep, every error in judgment. He had always worked to take responsibility for his actions.
This time, taking responsibility wouldn't be enough. The mistake was catastrophic. If his own creation had its way, it would bring about the single greatest mass slaughter of metahumans there had ever been.
If this couldn't be rectified, people were going to die. Many, many people.
(Gotham City – Null's Hideout)
Too paranoid to go home, despite being assured that Brother Eye had lost certain pertinent pieces of information on more recently obtained identities, like his, Null found himself heading to the long-forgotten strip mall underneath a highway interchange that served as his base of operations.
He remembered what had happened to Blue Beetle's actual house. If something were to happen, like a satellite attack or a slew of O.M.A.C.s crashing through his ceiling, he would rather it happen there than at his residence. Anarky had been right. This wasn't over. But, his best idea at the moment was to keep his head down and wait for a call. It was funny. Keeping his head down seemed so much easier in the past. After all, it had worked time and time again in the past, but this time felt different.
Some quiet time in the dark hole that was Null's home away from home seemed like just what he needed. It would give him time to think about what to do next when the other shoe eventually dropped – and he was certain that it would.
'One problem at a time,' Null thought to himself.
Speaking of which...
Upon entering the main unit of the hideout where he rested, Null noticed that there was someone else there. When he felt out who it was, part of him wanted to leave and see if he could crash at Selina's instead. But he'd made enough questionable decisions over the last day-plus. What would be another?
Rose Wilson, the propagator of many previous bad decisions sat on a large circular couch in a refurbished lounge, smirking over the back of the chair as she watched him enter, "Sparks. Like what you've done with the place. Looks less like skid row and more like a lair now."
Null ignored her, pulling the hood off of his head as he passed the couch.
"You look like shit," Rose observed, receiving an affirmative hum for her troubles, "Long day, eh?"
It had been longer than a day, but yes. Max didn't bother dwelling on it though, "The fuck are you doing here?" He asked as he reached the refrigerator. Food and rest were his priority at the moment.
"Wow," Rose deadpanned, "What a warm welcome."
Pressing his hands against the door and leaning his head against it, Max asked again, "Rose," He said with an exasperated sigh, "What are you doing here? Are you working?"
At that question, she was reminded of what she was supposed to be in Gotham City to do, 'I'm not supposed to be here,' She thought to herself, biting her lip nervously while Max wasn't looking, "I'm supposed to be."
Not looking her way, Max wasn't able to see the apprehension on Rose's face, nor did it play into her voice, "Well, now would be a good time. Word has it, Batman isn't in good shape at the moment, so he probably won't be on your tail."
"Still concerned with my tail, are you?" Rose chuckled, punctuating her remark with an audible slap to her own rear, "Good to know."
Max froze just as he had opened the door to the refrigerator, stuck staring through to the back of it, instead of at its contents, "...Did you just come here to get laid?"
Rose stood from her seat and slowly walked over, drifting herself over Max's back, arms wrapped around his neck, "Is it a bad thing if I did?" She asked right next to his ear, "You were the one who said if I ever needed you, I knew where to find you."
Max hadn't meant it like that. Well... there had been a bit of that in his intention, but for the most part it had been an earnest declaration. Rose meant a lot to him. The time they had spent together had been significant. Even if she'd eventually chosen to go back to her family over staying with him, he couldn't blame her for it.
What he could blame her for, however, was rolling back into town on whatever business she was there for, and only sparing the time to come and see him just to scratch an itch. Granted, he would have more than likely indulged her, had he not been in actual relationship.
Rose whispered in Max's ear, trying to coax him into action with her hands, "Come on. I've seen you have a bed in this place. Or, there's always the couch," From behind, she gave him a tug, finding his feet magnetically rooted to the floor, "I mean, the counter might work too."
"Rose, I'm with somebody," Max said, interrupting Rose's list of suggestions.
Rose's single eye went wide with surprise, yet she never let go or ceased her ministrations, her hands moving lower down his chest, "Seriously? Well, congratulations. Is she a nice girl?"
"...That means I can't bang you," Max continued after a short pause.
At this, Rose stopped for a moment, "...Why?"
"Because I'm not cheating on my girlfriend?" Max replied as though it were obvious.
Rose scoffed, "Unless she knows you're Null, I don't see how it would ever come up," Another moment passed before Max's silence spoke volumes, "...She does know," With that, she put another piece together, and her mood quickly changed, "Wait a minute. Oh my God, you're fucking a cape, aren't you!"
"No," Max unconvincingly replied, realizing that things were about to take a turn south.
"You are!" Rose exclaimed, far from pleased, "What the fuck, Sparks?"
Max strategically positioned the kitchen island of his lounge between Rose and himself, just in case, "You don't even know who it is."
"It doesn't matter who it is!" The mercenary girl snapped before curiosity won out, "...Who is it?"
Max smirked before turning Rose's own words against her, "It doesn't matter," He had to get his shots in when he could, "Rose, you left. You made it clear where you belonged – not with me."
Rose scoffed in return, "So you get the first piece of replacement pussy that drifts your way. I get it."
Max's expression bled into a scowl, "It isn't like that. And even if it was, it isn't your problem."
He had wanted her to stay. He would have shared just about anything he had with her, if she had so desired it; would have done just about anything for her. A part of him still would have. But that part was buried underneath a layer of spite that had been dug up by Rose herself.
Max would have been happy to see her under different casual circumstances. As things stood though, he was dog tired and sore, and the only reason Rose was there was to lean on their previous friends-with-benefits setup.
Rose stared at Max intensely before speaking again, "...Batgirl."
"Wonder Girl," Rose tried again, trying to get some kind of reaction out of him, "No, she's one of the Titans. They all fucking hate you."
"Not all of them," Max muttered, tilting his head in confusion when he found Rose peering meaningfully into her phone, "What are you doing?"
"Crunching names," Rose revealed, trying to dig through news clippings to find any recorded interaction of Null with female heroes, "I can figure this out."
"Right. You have fun with that," Max said, going back to his fridge to grab a drink and a snack, "You're going to be here all night."
Those words weren't meant to be a challenge, but Rose certainly accepted them as one, "As if. There's only so many heroes you could have gotten with, unless there's some cradle-robbing going on."
Max ignored her while she was hyper-focused on her research. He could probably steal a few hours of rest while Rose was trying to figure things out, because he desperately needed the reprieve.
After all, it wasn't over quite yet.
(Northern Chicago, Illinois - Kord Industries Warehouse)
Returning to the scene of a crime was something attributed to criminals, but Blue Beetle figured that he could argue that heroes did the same thing just as frequently.
He hadn't snooped around his own storage facility since the last time, when he'd investigated the robbery that had occurred there and had been attacked by Madmen. Back then, only Null had been willing to watch his back, but in the fallout of everything that had happened since then, he had backup in the form of some of his oldest, closest friends.
Booster Gold had been true to his word. After finishing up his endorsement business, he had shown up with bells on, apologetic and willing to lend whatever help he could.
In addition to him, another friend had thrown his hat into the ring.
Tall, with short red hair, he floated around the area shrouded in the green of the ring that granted him his powers.
Guy Gardner, perhaps the most hot-headed of the Earth-born Green Lanterns. Definitely the mouthiest.
He helped Booster Gold comb the area while Blue Beetle dug through his warehouse, picking over the materials that had been transported there since he'd been through last. Both men had been caught up as far as Blue Beetle knew to what had been going on with Checkmate and their former friend Maxwell Lord.
Being Justice League members, they were privy to the communications going out all over to League members having to deal with O.M.A.C. incidents popping up all over the globe. There didn't seem to be any way to tell who was an O.M.A.C. until they transformed.
"Why are we here wasting time when we should be out dealing with the O.M.A.C.s?" Guy asked, stewing at the idea of heroes being drawn into ambushes by what amounted to sleeper agents.
Blue Beetle fought the urge to roll his eyes. Guy was saying this aloud because he just didn't know. He hadn't fought them, hadn't seen how tough they were, hadn't learned how hard it was to hold back against them.
"Dealing with them how?" Blue Beetle asked rhetorically, "There are innocent people underneath those machine shells, and the only way I've seen them stop is when they're killed," At this point, that would mean thousands of lives forfeited to end the threat. The thought made him sick, "No, there's a better way."
There had to be, and it was up to him to find it. The major players were busy with the threats happening all over the globe, or otherwise indisposed. Besides, he had come this far already.
Booster Gold flew over during the tail end of Beetle's talk with Guy, "Still, why here?" He asked, "Mystery's solved, right? We know the who, the how, and the why?"
Maybe so, but they didn't know everything. With what they'd learned since the original theft, there were a few things that didn't add up.
"Max didn't have the warehouse robbed for Kryptonite," Blue Beetle said with certainty as he found a large, unopened crate, newly delivered, "Why would he? He didn't need it. He had Superman under control already. No... he wanted something else. Something he didn't find."
Knowing what his own warehouse's manifest was, he made a beeline for the crate and matched it to the shipping numbers he'd been looking for. A smile pulled at his lips as he started to pry the box open. With the help of Guy's ring, it was pulled right off.
All three men looked inside to find a large piece of technology packed inside with straw.
"He wanted this," Blue Beetle said with complete certainty.
Guy and Booster Gold looked at each other before the latter asked the question both shared, "What is that?"
Blue Beetle patted the machine faithfully, "The nanobots that comprise the O.M.A.C.s are machines. Machines that can be rendered inert if subjected to a massive electromagnetic pulse."
"An EMP," Booster Gold said, showing he was following along, "But you're still not telling us what this is, Ted."
"A Kord omniversal prototype mass EMP generator. The only one in existence," Blue Beetle said, "This is why Checkmate hit the warehouse. Max knew I'd developed this thing."
Guy nodded in understanding, "So he tried to steal it."
"The only reason he failed was that it hadn't been delivered yet," Blue Beetle continued, "The O.M.A.C.s took the Kryptonite to cover their tracks."
An EMP generator wasn't the worst idea Booster Gold had heard to deal with the problem at hand. In fact, it was close to the first decent idea he'd been presented with. All the same, it was hard to be positive, "Do you really think this will work?"
Blue Beetle smiled at his friend grimly, "Still doubting me, Michael?"
Never again. Not after what had become of his snooping this time around, "Not at all. Just saying, there's a lot of O.M.A.C.s out there."
An EMP strong enough to get through the O.M.A.C. shell would require the equivalent of a 50 megaton nuclear blast. Even beyond that point, there was the issue of getting them all in one place to even hit them with it.
"We're going to get as many as we can," Blue Beetle said, "We need bait."
Guy punched into his own palm, "We need the O.M.A.C.s to come to us. They want metahumans and aliens."
Blue Beetle had a location in mind. A place in the Sahara Desert; the barrens south of Mount Totamal. Nice and open. Nowhere to hide, no one else around that could be hurt – Just them.
"We'll have to make ourselves bait," He said, "As many heroes as we can get on short notice. We've got to draw the O.M.A.C.s in; make ourselves an irresistible target."
If Brother Eye wanted to get rid of metas, there was no way it would pass up the chance to at least put a massive dent in the population and take out the most prominent, threatening grouping of metahumans available.
"That's when we set this thing off," Blue Beetle concluded.
Guy looked between his friends and laughed, "If this doesn't work, we're all fucked," The Green Lantern observed.
"Isn't that normally how it is?" Booster Gold replied.
(Meanwhile – With Null – Gotham City)
Despite being much more tired, Null managed to stay awake while Rose had fallen asleep in the middle of her research attempts. He envied her, as he needed to stay awake until he received a certain call.
In the meantime, he'd kept his eyes on the news. No matter which 24/7 news source he turned to, the big story was the same. People on the street turning into big blue machine beings and taking off into the sky, or going after the nearest hero or villain they could find. It was all over the world.
Something had changed. It was like what Maxwell Lord had promised would happen, like a contingency of his original plan to go into effect upon his death, but with absolutely none of the subtlety that one would have expected to come with it.
Either way, having to look over his shoulder whenever he went outside from that point on, just for being a metahuman, wasn't Null's idea of living. As much as he wanted to pretend it wasn't his problem, he knew too much to do so.
He couldn't just let things like this slide anymore.
Which was why, when he received the call he'd been waiting on, he took it with no hesitation, "Yeah?"
Anarky spoke to him on the other end, "It's ready."
Apparently, that was all Null needed to hear, "Be there in an hour," He said before hanging up and rising from his seat, "...Better not get shot at by anymore goddamn O.M.A.C.s..."
Apparently they were buzzing around Gotham City on the prowl. The last thing he needed was to get them on him as he left.
Rose stirred, noticing Null get up and start for the exit, "Hey, where the hell are you going?" She asked blearily.
Null stepped outside the building, still concealed by the massive overpass above them, "Got a loose end to tie up out of town," He said, summoning his Gravboard, "Way out of town."
Rose wiped the sleep from her eye as she watched him prepare to take off, "Why so cryptic, Sparks?"
As he plopped down on his method of transport, he sighed and looked her way, visibly tired, "The less I say, the better it is for all of us."
(Meanwhile – Gotham City – Batcave)
Contrary to what others thought about him, Batman did not believe that he was perfect. It was just that he tried his best to be perfect for the sake of the lives that relied on him. He made mistakes, as did any man, and tried to take responsibility for his actions.
This time though, responsibility wasn't enough. The mistake was catastrophic.
His own creation, Brother Eye, saw itself as the sole defender of mankind in the face of 'metahuman tyranny', its programming perverted by Maxwell Lord. And in the wake of his demise, it decided to kick things into high gear. Brother Eye was about to cause the single greatest slaughter of heroes and villains that the world had ever seen, by activating every single O.M.A.C. on Earth at the same time.
At last count, there were over 1.3 million.
Blue Beetle and company had rallied to try and organize a defense, and now his words held weight. A strategy was set amongst the Justice League.
Despite being hardly able to walk, Batman would handle the EMP along with Blue Beetle from the Batplane. They would deploy the device while the others kept the O.M.A.C.s occupied.
"If this works, it's only going to work once," Blue Beetle said as he secured the EMP device in the cargo hold, "Let's try and make this one count, shall we?"
Batman nodded and limped off, making final preparations to take off. Robin was there as well, helping out, staying close in case Batman collapsed. It had still been only a matter of hours since he'd been battered by Superman.
"Barb and I are ready to do this," Robin said, "Are you sure you want us to stay here?"
Batman nodded. There had to be someone left in case this went badly. Besides, it was likely that they wouldn't be facing all the O.M.A.C.s. They still needed people to keep track of the ones left.
"The goal now is to shut down the nanobot connection between the satellite and the O.M.A.C. hosts," Batman said, "Once that's done, people should return to normal."
"How many do you think they can get?" Robin asked.
That wasn't a question that Batman could answer, "Gathering our people for a stand... it's working," He said, "Massive waves of O.M.A.C.s are gathering, heading to the Sahara as one."
The O.M.A.C.s were being deployed in wings, in battle formation. They had been hunting, catching heroes that had been willing to engage them unaware. Now, they were preparing to fight an army, or the closest thing that could be scrounged up to face them.
That was how it had to be. Trying to bring the might of a nation's military to bear could have terrible consequences. In addition to all of the unfortunate O.M.A.C. hosts that would be killed, no one knew how Brother Eye would respond when conventional forces came into play. Now, it was only targeting supers. None of the Justice League wanted to change that.
Robin distinctly noted that Batman had not answered his question.
(Libya – Sahara Desert – 170 miles north of Niger border)
Dozens of heroes had heeded the call. Normally, it would have figured to be a good number of heroes for any gathering. The only problem was the potential of facing hundreds of thousands of machines, if not more than a million.
There were real heavyweights present, however.
Earth's resident Green Lanterns stood together; Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and Guy Gardner. Wonder Woman stood prepared, clad in golden armor. Martian Manhunter, Mary Marvel, past and present Flash, and more. All of them had been briefed on what they would have to deal with. Many of them were pensive.
These things were dangerous, and going all out against them wasn't an option. They were regular people infected by a virus that turned them into hosts for nanobots.
Guy had long since been ready to get his crack at the O.M.A.C.s. He'd been aware of all of the trouble his friends and comrades had been dealing with all over the world. Rocket Red #7 wound up self-destructing his suit in order to protect others from the drones.
As far as he was concerned, it was his turn to get a crack at them.
Standing impatiently, waiting for the fight to come, Guy scowled off into the distance, "Well, are we at zero hour yet?" he asked.
John Stewart squinted at the sight of something headed their way, "Just about. Look, Hal."
"I see it," Hal Jordan confirmed.
It looked like a cloud. A massive cloud of solid blue heading right for them. The closer it got, the better observers could make out the individual figures of the O.M.A.C.s that comprised it. There were so many. An unnerving amount, impossible to count in the moment. All of them mobilized to eradicate the heroes gathered to face them.
Yet, none of the Justice League members present went anywhere.
Wonder Woman stepped forward, drawing a battle ax from her back as she addressed the rest of her comrades, "If you do not have hardened electronics, try to remain close to the Green Lanterns," She directed, "They will protect you."
As the O.M.A.C.s drew closer, they sounded like a swarm of ravenous insects. But instead of buzzing or chirping, they all repeated one word over and over in the same monotone drone.
Hundreds of thousands of them, over and over again as they approached. Eager to obey, to do the bidding of the one that directed them.
"Well..." Hal Jordan said, Green Lantern ring radiating power, prepared for combat, "Time to push the envelope, kids."
John Stewart followed suit with his own power ring, "We're putting an awful lot of faith in Batman here."
"It's not just Batman we're believing in here, John," Guy Gardner said, "Believe in the Blue Beetle."
(Meanwhile – Washington, D.C. - Anarky's Hideout)
If you wanted to guarantee that something would be done right, sometimes you had to do it yourself.
The whole time Maxwell Lord had been sending his marching orders to Brother Eye, Null had been picking up on the transmission. In other words, he was the only person on the planet who, for even a moment, knew exactly where Brother Eye was. But it hadn't been something he could share openly. After all, he'd seen firsthand the scope of the A.I.'s observational abilities.
The best way to keep a secret? Tell no one. The second-best way? Tell one other person who can help you exploit it. Enter: Anarky - the teenager with a working Boom Tube. and this would be needed, because the moment Brother Eye figured someone knew where it was, it would relocate. The moment it figured someone was on their way to it, it would throw copious amounts of O.M.A.C.s at the assailant to protect itself.
If he told any of the good guys about this, he couldn't see it going any other way than loud and direct. That wouldn't do. He'd tried to leave things to them and do it their way, and Maxwell Lord had Superman almost killed them.
No, if Null was going to do anything about this again, he wanted it done quickly and cleanly, with his own touch.
Standing in the area Anarky had set aside for use of his Boom Tube, Null waited while the proper coordinates were put in.
Out of costume, Anarky had been doing his best to try and confirm Brother Eye's location based on the general direction that Null had given him.
"You positive about this?" Anarky asked, "It's not a sure thing you'll end up in the right spot."
Null stared at his counterpart incredulously. After all of this, he was the one getting cold feet? And now of all times? "You were the one who wanted to close this out ourselves. Now you're trying to talk me out of it?"
"I'm just saying, I can't bring you back once you're out there."
"That sounds like a 'me' problem," Null said. When Anarky still seemed uncertain, Null touched at a spot under his hood at his neck. A device activated a force-field around his head, courtesy of a past gift from Supergirl, "Right after you send me, just tell someone to go get me."
His suit, plus the device around his neck would allow him to survive in space for a while, just floating around. It was getting himself back in one piece that would prove beyond him.
"Alright," Though Anarky still had his reservations, the preparations and the decision had been made, "Before you go... why?"
"Because you had a point," Null admitted, "It didn't make sense to leave the job unfinished, even though all I really want to do right now is go to bed."
Anarky shook his head in disbelief, "You're a real piece of work, you know that?"
Null waved him off nonchalantly, "Just flip the switch, or whatever you do to make Boom Tubes work, you-."
The portal opened, taking Null away in an instant. The next moment, he was gone and Anarky was alone in his base once again, "Good riddance."
Space was peaceful. Quiet. Serene. The last time Null had been there with Kara, he had marveled at the experience. This time, however, there was a job to do.
Anarky hadn't screwed up. The guy had done his due diligence in working out proper coordinates based on Null's vague direction and had wound up planting Null within hovering distance of a large satellite with a red artificial eye that turned to gaze right at him.
Appropriate, for a thing that was called Brother Eye.
With his magnetic powers, Null drew himself closer. Brother Eye did nothing in response, and Null just stared, taking it all in. This was the thing that had been the centerpiece of so much trouble. And now that he was right there, there was absolutely nothing it could do. It had no defensive measures onboard. All of the O.M.A.C.s were down on Earth wreaking havoc. It didn't even have rockets or some sort of propulsion system to flee manually.
Null could pick up on the transmission going out as Brother Eye stared unmovingly. If an A.I. could feel distress, it seemed that Brother Eye was there.
"_WARNING: PROXIMITY BREACH_ system recommendation: ..."
But it couldn't feel fear. It couldn't feel anything. It was a machine. It was trying to process a solution; a way out. It was too late for that though. Slim as the chance was, Null wasn't going to take chances.
Null smiled, "Gonna need you to take a nap now, big brother," He said to himself.
With that, he clapped his hands together and let out a powerful electromagnetic pulse that penetrated Brother Eye's exterior. While it was a piece of technology intended to exist in space, it wasn't designed for combat. It didn't have weapons of its own, or a hull thick enough to protect itself from even conventional concentrated attacks.
Null's pulse struck true. For good measure, he did it again, and again, rendering all of the electronics inside of the satellite into useless scrap. The transmissions turned to static chaff before ceasing. The glowing red eye of the satellite quickly went dim and died.
That was how it ended, not with a bang, but quietly in the empty darkness, away from the prying eyes of interested parties.
Null pumped a fist victoriously, then allowed himself to relax in the black void of space. There wasn't anything left that he could do one way or the other.
'There. That better have been enough,' He thought to himself as he stared back at Earth, "You're welcome, you bunch of assholes!" He shouted, though the sound didn't make it past the force-field around his head allowing him to breathe, "8 billion of you, and I had to be the one to come up here!"
He received no response, being that he was hundreds of miles away from Earth's atmosphere. Ungrateful jerks. If things had gone well, it was likely that no one on the planet of them would even know just what he'd done.
It was probably for the best that way. At least now he wouldn't be accosted by O.M.A.C.s in his own stomping grounds.
Null turned his head to eye the defunct Brother Eye satellite balefully. All this trouble because of some stupid computer with a trumped up ego. While being owed a favor by Blue Beetle was nice, there had to be something else worthwhile he could get out of this.
"Eh," Null muttered to himself as he pulled himself onto the side of the Brother Eye satellite, "I've got a little while before anybody even shows up. Why not?"
(Libya – Sahara Desert – 170 miles north of Niger border)
When the end came, it came abruptly.
One second, heroes and hordes machine-infected humans were engaged in mortal combat, the next, the O.M.A.C.s dropped from the sky as though they were marionettes that had their strings severed.
Batman landed the Batplane and exited, looking vexed. Blue Beetle followed from the cargo hold, looking extremely confused as Booster Gold came to greet him.
"Damn good job!" Booster exclaimed, slapping Blue Beetle on the back, "That EMP was a lot less dramatic than I thought it would be though," It was then that he noticed the attitudes of the two men before him, "Beetle?"
Blue Beetle scratched his head through his mask, looking back from the Batplane to the scene of hundreds of thousands of deactivated O.M.A.C.s being checked out by Justice League members, "I... I didn't. I never set it off."
This left Booster Gold just as puzzled as his friend, "Then what just happened?"
"Are we sure they've shut down?" Batman said, trying to get as much of a feel for the situation as possible.
Booster Gold shrugged and gestured for them to follow him, "See for yourself."
He took them into the heart of what had once been the bulk of the O.M.A.C.s that had been amassed against them. Countless motionless blue cybersoldiers covered the surface of the sand.
All of the units had been deactivated. The O.M.A.C. nanomachine shells were carefully peeled off of people by the heroes capable of doing so. Taking care of the hosts of the O.M.A.C.s, the real victims here, would be an effort on the level of battling them in the first place.
Everything seemed to be over, which didn't make any sense. If Brother Eye had aborted its attack, it wouldn't have just abandoned the bulk of its forces. It definitely wouldn't have done so without another plan to go to.
Batman looked up at the sky as though Brother Eye were watching them at that very moment, "What just happened?"
Meanwhile, Blue Beetle wound up receiving a call through his mask, "Anar-," A quick pause occurred as he was interrupted from using names aloud, "...How did you get on this frequency?" Another pause, "...He's where? Hey, wait-."
The call ended before he could ask any real questions, but he had been left with a request he couldn't refuse, for multiple reasons – because it involved people he owed a recent debt of gratitude to, and who may have just had a part in saving the world.
With that in mind, Blue Beetle set out looking for his Green Lantern friend, "Hey, Guy. Can I borrow you for a bit? Gotta pop up to space for a minute."
And that's the chapter, everyone.
Brother Eye seems to have been handled. Checkmate seems to have been put into check. So that's the end of all the trouble, right?
So, why does it feel like we're overlooking some stuff. Hmm. Oh well. Must not be that big of a deal. That's how that works, doesn't it?
Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope you all enjoyed, and I'll catch you later.