Chapter 6: Upward Trend
Technically, having the news on while she graded didn't help her concentration, but Helena liked the background noise. It filled up the silence when it was just her in the apartment. When Vic was there, he made little quiet noises that indicated that she wasn't alone. At the moment he was off interviewing somebody for a story, so the news it was.
Helena frowned at the stack of quizzes. She was using way too much red pen. Tomorrow, she and her students were going to be having a Chat.
"…And our top story of the night. Authorities in France have arrested former Justice Lord, John Stewart, better known as the Green Lantern." Helena's head snapped up, the depressing quizzes instantly forgotten. There was John Stewart being lead across the screen by the French police in handcuffs. He had long hair and a full beard, but it was definitely him. "Interpol is crediting Stewart's capture to the excellent work of local police and a series of tips they received recently which they say may have originated from the Phoenix Corps." Damn it. Nobody was supposed to know that."Stewart is being held in a high security center until he can be moved to the same facility as the other former Justice Lords to await sentence. Stewart's damaged power ring has not been recovered." Double damn it. That might be a problem.
But they had caught him – that was the important thing. In the end, the Justice League's Green Lantern's tips had paid off. It had taken Oracle and Question a while to track down his exact location, but they had done it. Green Lantern was finally caught.
"Space heater, no!"
"I'm sorry, but there's nothing else I can do." Pat sat back on his heels and began putting away the tools he normally used on his STRIPE armor. "It's dead. Some of this wiring has actually melted and shorted out most of the components."
"But it's almost October!" Courtney (Stargirl) moaned. "We're going to freeze!"
Helena was inclined to agree. The base was a huge, draughty warehouse. They didn't have proper heating – just a system that kept it just warm enough that icicles didn't form. Originally, they'd had two space heaters. The first had coughed its last at the beginning of the previous March. Now fall was closing in fast, and they had none. They were doomed.
They really needed to do something about their horrific cash flow problem.
"I think we still have a small camping heater in our garage," offered Kara, who was crouched next to Courtney.
"So," Dick was leaning against the back of the couch next to Gar with his arms folded and using his TV anchor voice, "if you had to come up with one word to describe how dead that space heater is, Gar, what would it be?"
"You two are being supremely unhelpful," grumped Courtney.
"We could always find a couple of oil drums to burn garbage in," Gar suggested. The worst of it was, he was only half joking.
"That would set off the sprinkler system," Helena sighed. "We'll just have to dip into the conference table fund to help pay for a new space heater."
"Damn it, at this rate we are never going to get a new table." Dick's mouth twisted to one side.
They really needed a source of income before the Phoenix Corps simply imploded from lack of funds.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Helena looked up from the floorplan that she had been going over with Lee and Question.
"Dude, are we being invaded?" asked Gar, hanging his head over the edge of the split level. "Why is somebody trying to use the door?"
"Good question." Ollie rolled off the couch to his feet and reached for his bow.
"Shall I get it?" Nightwing asked as he finished securing his mask in place.
"Nah." Huntress pressed down the edges of her own mask. "You got the door last time. It's my turn." She strode across the floor, pulling her mini-crossbow out of its holster on her thigh. Question, Crimson Avenger, and Green Arrow were hot on her heels with Gar (as a wolf), Nightwing, Black Canary, and Vigilante not far behind. Huntress tried to check the peephole, but the flap over it had rusted shut. Damn it. Oh well. She slid back all the bolts and then eased the door open, making sure that her crossbow lead. "What the hell?!"
A man was kneeling in front of the door with his fingers laced behind his bowed head. He was dressed in civilian clothing.
Gar shifted back into human form,
"Uh, did we order a hostage?"
Before anyone could comment further the man spoke,
Huntress hadn't caught any of that.
"Hal Jordan." Hal lifted his head and gave her a winning grin that was at least ninety percent bravado. His hands were still behind his head.
"And what brings you here, Mr. Jordan?"
"This." He held up two plastic baggies. They contained two very familiar looking green rings. "I just wanted to let you guys know that I have Stewart's ring – you don't have to worry about it causing any further problems. It's damaged beyond repair as it is."
"You're a Green Lantern?" asked Question in an icy neutral voice.
"I was in deep space with a sentient spaceship when- when it happened. Stewart sent in a recommendation that I might be at risk and required supervision and retraining that he couldn't provide. The Guardians believed him out of hand, because I've always been… kinda unruly compared to Stewart. And then after the mess with the Lords they were even less inclined to send me home. I only just got to come back to Earth." Hal slowly started to ease to his feet, his hands in the air now. Nobody tried to stop him. "Anyway, I'm not here to hurt anybody or cause trouble. I just wanted to tell you myself what happened. I won't bother you further, but if you're ever short a hand or, hell, in need of a pilot, let me know. As far as I'm concerned, the Green Lantern Corps owes this world a lot."
Helena and Vic didn't go to see a lot of movies in theaters. Movies were expensive. But both Helena and Vic had a weakness for spy thrillers. Helena liked the action and ridiculous explosions. She was pretty sure that Vic liked them because he identified with the overly paranoid main characters too much and there was always a conspiracy. Whatever the reason, there was a new Mission Improbable movie out, and they were splurging. Helena had even bought popcorn. (No butter, though – Vic had an entire speech prepared and ready to go about what went into movie theater butter.) Vic didn't have his arm draped over her shoulders, but he did have his shoulder pressed into hers.
Helena popped a few more kernels in her mouth as another trailer started. Some guy was running in a panic down side alleys, his heavy breathing loud in the quiet. He looked like some sleazy mobster type. Only brief glimpses of the edges of his pursuer were being shown. Somebody wearing dark colors. Finally the panicked man was cornered in an abandoned warehouse, surrounded by shadows.
Helena reached for more popcorn.
"Who the hell are you?!" wailed the man on the screen.
"That… is the question." There was the popping of a match being lit in the shadows and-
The popcorn slid, unnoticed, from Helena's numb fingers because there was a man on the screen with no face! No face and a fedora! The jawline was wrong and the skin tone was a shade or two darker, but THAT WAS Q! THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE Q! HOLY SHIT, WHY WAS Q IN THIS MOVIE?! WHAT THE EVER LOVING HELL WAS GOING ON?!
On screen the cornered man let out a shriek of pure terror at the sight before him, and Helena was fairly surprised that she wasn't screaming right along with him. She watched, slack jawed as the trailer continued. There were explosions, some witty one-liners, and action. There was a woman who was obviously supposed to be Huntress. Nightwing, Black Canary, and Green Arrow were there, too, and… was that a very male Oracle? Finally, the title burned across the screen. The Phoenix Corps. It was followed by one last brief clip.
The Huntress stand-in was hanging off the ladder of a fire escape and extending one gloved hand to the Question standing on the ground below her.
"What do you say, doll? Wanna save the world?"
The final titles ran across the screen. Coming this summer. #UnitedWeStand
The entire theater burst into excited whispers – there were even a few cheers.
Helena gaped at the screen as another trailer started playing. Finally she leaned over and hissed in Vic's ear,
"Did you know about this?!"
Vic shook his head slowly, his jaw still hanging open.
A little over two hours later Helena and Vic were sitting in Vic's car and staring into the middle distance. Helena thought that the movie they'd seen had been good, but she wasn't entirely sure. She hadn't exactly been able to focus.
"So… we could sue them for this right?"
Vic nodded, but he appeared to be lost in thought.
"Yes, we could…." His eyes were unfocused.
"You have another idea?"
"What is it?"
"Ask for a percentage of the profits – movie and merchandise. If they say no, then we sue them. Ollie knows some lawyers."
"…Our electric bill could be covered for years." Helena's mind could barely even grasp the beauty of the idea. "Wait. Does this mean we need a PR agent?"
"Maybe. But first we have to get the studio to agree."
It was truly wonderful what teleporters could let you get away with as long as you planned it right. Like totally skipping front desk security theoretically. Huntress had wanted to just saunter in the front doors and enjoy the general panic and chaos that would cause, but Q had said no. Then he'd rethought his decision, because skipping security was technically illegal, and they didn't want someone to turn around and sue them for breaking and entering. That wasn't a precedent anybody wanted to set. So instead they were using the wonders of the teleporters to put them down just outside the studio – around a corner so that hopefully nobody would notice their arrival. Question and Huntress were doing this because, well, Q was theoretically in charge so it was technically his job and Huntress was the one who generally went places with him. Green Arrow, Black Canary, Vigilante, and Shining Knight were all on standby just in case. In case of what, Huntress wasn't sure. The studio wasn't being run by the mafia or anything – Q had already checked.
Being out during the daytime in costume was… weird. It felt sort of like showing up to work in pajamas but inverted.
Huntress craned her head back to look at the façade of the building.
"This is the studio who bought the rights to that sci-fi series, right?"
"No, thinking of somebody else."
Walking in the front doors in full costume caused surprisingly little reaction. There was a massive poster for the Phoenix Corps movie in the front lobby. Huntress paused in front of it for a moment. Those were some ridiculous poses their doppelgangers were doing.
Question had the brim of his hat pulled down and his trench coat collar up, so that it was less obvious to the casual observer that he didn't have a face. The reaction of that guy in the movie trailer was a fairly standard first time response to meeting Question unexpectedly.
The receptionist barely glanced up at them before looking back down at her computer.
"I'm sorry. No one is allowed in without a prior appointment, and we are not giving tours of the studio at this time. Thank you for your enthusiasm." The words sounded like they had already been repeated many times.
"Oh, we're not here for a tour." Huntress leaned one arm on the tall desk and picked casually at her nails through her gloves. "We're here to chat with your bosses about a few fun vocab words like libel and slander and misappropriation." Huntress grinned a grin that was all teeth.
"Please inform Steve Ditko and Henry Nesmith that Question and Huntress from the Phoenix Corps are here to see them," Question stated, "and that if they don't make time to see us now, the next action that we take will be legal."
"Listen," the receptionist began, "I don't know what kind of game you're trying to pu-" She came to a full stop as Q tipped his hat back a bit, and she got her first proper look at his lack of face. Her jaw dropped.
"Ya know, Q, I don't think she believes us."
"I believe you're right." Question raised one hand to his communicator. "Oracle, our audience requires some convincing. Please send Green Arrow and Black Canary to our location."
In a flash of light, the number of Phoenix Corps members in the lobby rose from two to four. Everyone was gaping at them now. Huntress was fairly certain that somebody was taking pictures with their phone.
"Having problems?" asked Green Arrow. "Huh. Nice poster." He turned to Black Canary. "Can you actually twist like that?"
Black Canary shrugged in a way that seemed to imply, yes, obviously she could.
"I'll, uh- I'll just, uh- I'll, um- yeaaah." The receptionist scrabbled desperately for her phone.
Kara's jaw nearly fell off when she appeared on the teleporter pad. Helena didn't blame her. After all, Gar was dancing on the conference table. And they did have the music cranked up pretty loud.
"What the hell's going on?" shouted Kara, trying to make herself heard over the noise.
"Spontaneous dance party!" Dick shouted back as he slid by.
"WE FINALLY HAVE FUNDS!" everyone roared together in delight.
"There are so many zeroes!" Courtney crowed gleefully. She caught Kara's hands and dragged her over to join everyone. "This is something worth celebrating!"
Everyone was dancing in one form or another. Even Vic. Though, admittedly, very badly. He had absolutely no rhythm. Helena didn't care. Finally, finally it felt like things were really going their way.
Just because they had funds now didn't mean they were going to start getting fancy. They bought new space heaters, a conference table, two more computer terminals, a fridge, and a better coffee maker. All the rest of their lovely new funds were being saved to pay for their electricity bills – current and future –, any potential teleporter repairs, medical bills, and to ensure that every single member of the Corps had a Kevlar chest plate and any other safety equipment they needed. While everyone thought that the Phoenix Corps movie was probably going to be the best unintentional comedy of the summer, the general agreement was also that it would most likely bomb and take the Corps' new-found income with it. After all, who would go see such a ridiculous movie even if it had impressive special effects? Having funds was lovely, but they wouldn't last forever, so they were budgeting accordingly.
Finding a decent PR agent turned out to be much simpler than anyone had expected, because Gar had one on speed dial. Literally.
Michael "Call me Booster" Carter had the eye patch of a soap opera villain and the overly shiny grin of a used car salesman and yet somehow managed to be a very genuine and straightforward person. According to Gar, anyway. Huntress eyed the man doubtfully.
"Are you sure he's not an ex-supervillain?" she hissed to Question out of the side of her mouth. Q turned his head to look at her. The cant of his shoulders indicated that he thought that she was being ridiculous.
"Not ex-supervillain – ex-vigilante. Formerly Booster Gold."
Booster's beam ratcheted up in intensity several notches.
"You've actually heard of me! And you got the name right!"
Question tugged the brim of his hat and gave a little shrug.
"I do my research."
"All you had to do was ask me," Gar pointed out. "I could have told you that."
"Yes, but you wouldn't have told me that he's also not originally from this time period."
"He's what?!" yelped Gar, turning to glare accusingly at Booster.
"You really are as good as they said you were!" Booster looked positively thrilled.
"That's beside the point." Gar gave him a hard poke in the side. "Why didn't you tell me that you were from the future?!"
"Because… you aren't supposed to know?"
"Does Ted know?"
"Of course, Ted knows. He's known me since before Skeets got destroyed, and he's my roommate. How could he not know?"
"I lived with you guys for months, and I never knew!"
"It's not really something I'm supposed to be telling people," Booster shrugged. He twiddled the gold ring he wore uncomfortably. On its circular face it had a golden L and starburst on a black background. A large crack ran through the center of the circle.
The sudden thud was what caught Helena's attention. She was in the middle of her customary class-is-over-for-the-day faceplant on their bed. She'd been lying like that for a good five minutes and hadn't even bothered to kick her shoes off yet. The unexpected noise, however, sent an abrupt jolt of adrenaline slicing through the fog of 'ugh, teenagers' and jumpstarted her brain back into high alert. Helena was upright and moving in less than five seconds with the nearest improvised weapon in hand. The noise sounded like it had come from the living room. The only thing that Helena found in the living room, however, was Vic.
He was sitting on the couch with a dazed expression on his face and a rapidly wrinkling piece of paper in his hand. A miraculously unbroken mug lay on the ground, dribbling tea across the carpet. Helena supposed that that was where the thud had come from.
"What is it?" she asked, because nothing good could come from Vic looking that shell-shocked. Wordlessly, Vic handed over the piece of paper. Helena took it from him. It turned out to actually be two pieces of paper, a formal letter and what looked like a bank statement. Helena skimmed the letter first.
In light of new information, it has come to our attention that-
"They un-froze it." Vic's voice was slightly faint and detached.
"Pardon?" Helena looked up from the letter.
"They un-froze my bank account," Vic repeated, sounding just as numb as before.
"Your bank-" Helena stopped, the words barely leaving her lips. A remembered conversation flashed through her mind,
I lost everything – even my savings. Wayne had my accounts frozen.
She looked back down at the formal bank letterhead. Flipped over to look at the account statement. Helena sat down heavily on the couch next to Vic.
"It's just- I just-" Vic leaned forward and gripped his head between his hands. Helena curled an arm around his shoulders. She could hear the words he wasn't saying.
It's too good to be true. When's the other shoe going to drop?
Huntress woke slowly. Her head buzzed. Her ears rang. Her body ached. Pain stabbed through her right side with each breath in a way that suggested at least cracked ribs. She could taste concrete dust in the air. Everything was dark.
What the hell had happened?
She remembered Nightwing asking her and Q to help him with an investigation in Bloodhaven. Something about black market antiquities and human trafficking. They'd been following up on a tip about a warehouse near the docks… alerted Nightwing's police contacts that they'd found the missing girls….
Bomb. Oh god, there had been a bomb.
"Q?" Huntress called. Her voice was barely a croak. "'Wing?"
No response. The beginnings of panic clawed at her throat.
Slowly, painfully, she eased her hand up to her communicator. Please, let it still be working.
"Oracle? O, are you there?" She tried to ignore the quaver in her voice.
"Huntress? Oh, th-k god!" Hearing Barbara's voice was like sunlight breaking through the clouds even if it was crackly and slightly broken. "How badly are you hurt?"
"Busted some of my ribs," Huntress mumbled. "Probably got a concussion, too."
"Okay. I need you - hang tight -nd stay as still as pos-ble. Rescue crews are work- on digging you out. There's too much interference for - to use the teleporters."
"What about Q and 'Wing?"
The silence stretched out a little too long.
"I haven't heard from them, ye-. -'ll let you -w as soon as I do."
Huntress's heart clenched.
She wasn't sure how long she was trapped in the silent blackness. It could have been hours or minutes or months. Time was meaningless. Her communicator hissed and popped unhappily in her ear for a while and then went quiet. Where was Oracle? Why wasn't anyone telling her anything? Oh, god. What if they were dead? What if Q and 'Wing were dead, and Oracle was waiting until after the rescue crew found her to tell her? They had been on the far side of the warehouse from her making sure they hadn't missed any of the girls. They had been closer to the blast. Huntress's mind painted out a horrifying future for her in vivid detail. An empty future without a Conspiracy Board cluttering the study or the radio tuned to an inane pop music station or Whatever We Have in the Fridge Stir Fry or cups of tea appearing by her elbow when she was having a bad day. No spontaneous afternoon naps with Vic on the couch. No sympathetic ear after a rough day with her students. No more kissing Vic on the cheek in public just to see that bashful grin and his face turn red. No more- No more-
Huntress's hands were starting to shake, small, violent tremors that she barely even noticed. It felt like her chest was filling with ice that crackled and creaked with every breath that she took. Her mind was caught in an endless, unescapable litany of no-mores.
Something overhead shifted. A trickle of dust feathered across her face. She coughed.
"I think I hear something. Stand back!" a faint voice shouted.
The inky blackness was suddenly replaced by blinding brightness and a silhouetted figure. A figure who was effortlessly holding up the massive slab of concrete that Huntress had been trapped beneath.
"I found her!" the figure called over their shoulder. The slab of concrete was delicately placed to one side and then the person was carefully picking their way over to her side. "Huntress? Are you still awake?"
Huntress knew that voice.
Kara leaned over her. She was wearing one of Black Canary's spare half masks and a large, shapeless blue sweatshirt with the hood pulled up to help hide her blonde hair. Huntress gaped up at her.
"You took off your necklace," she mumbled.
Kara bit her lip and nodded.
"Yeah – Gar's holding onto it for me. Everything's a lot lighter and more delicate than I remember." Gentle hands checked Huntress's neck. "Can you sit up?"
"Yeah." Her head felt a bit woozy and her chest still ached with imagined cold as Kara helped her up, but nothing too bad. "Have you found the others, yet?" Her voice didn't crack, but it was a close thing.
"Nightwing is on his way to the hospital. He broke his leg, but other than that he's in pretty good shape. We haven't dug out Q, yet, but he's awake and talking. Oracle tried to contact you, but you weren't responding. We were worried."
"My communicator must have died," Huntress muttered, dazed with relief as Kara helped her slowly ease to her feet. "What about the girls?"
"Bumps and scratches and mild shock – they all made it out of the building before it blew." Kara paused and added, "If anybody up top asks any questions, Stargirl has been calling me 'Spark.'" Her mouth pulled down a touch at one corner unhappily.
"Are you okay?" The answer was obviously no, but it was the best Huntress's foggy brain could come up with. Kara had taken off her necklace. It was staggering and unexpected.
"Well, it's better than her first suggestion. What kind of stupid name is 'Powergirl,' anyway?" Kara tried to deflect, but her heart obviously wasn't in it. When they had almost reached the lip of the rubble Huntress had been trapped in, she finally murmured, "I'm not, but… this is… important. More important than me. It's the right thing to do."
Huntress squeezed her shoulder. She wanted to say something, something supportive and encouraging, but she couldn't find the words. Then they were free of the debris and paramedics were swarming them like very helpful sharks. Kara quickly flitted away to help Stargirl and STRIPE, who were assisting the relief crews. In a matter of moments, Huntress found herself perched on the back of an ambulance and wrapped up in a shock blank. She'd taken off her left glove so that the cuts she hadn't noticed on her arm could be bandaged. After a while, she pulled the broken communicator out of her ear. She still felt numb and cold, but that was just the shock, she was pretty sure.
"Got him!" The excited cry rose into the air.
Kara and a firefighter were helping Question out of the broken remains of the warehouse. He was coated in dust and grime, his fedora was missing, and the right sleeve of his trench coat and the suit jacket underneath were torn almost clean off. His right arm hung limply at his side, and he was limping heavily, but Huntress didn't care. He was okay. He was okay.
Forgetting her shock blanket and the paramedic's firm orders to take is easy, Huntress raced forward, weaving between pieces of masonry and relief crew members. She slowed right before she reached Q and caught him up in a desperate hug, mindful of his right arm and her cracked ribs. Q returned the hug with one arm, his shoulders slumping in relief. They were both shaking.
Cracked ribs were a pain in the ass. The only thing you could do for them was take pain medication. Doctors didn't even wrap them anymore for whatever reason. Helena winced as she shifted in her chair. At least she didn't have her arm in a sling and a couple of broken fingers like Vic or crutches like Dick. All three of them would be off the street for a while, and all three of them were starting to go stir crazy after just a couple of days. Helena was so bored that she'd offered to help edit Kara's latest paper. Normally she got enough of that sort of thing from her students. Helena kept shooting longing glances at where Dinah and Ted were sparring.
Kara was sitting across the table from her, buried in a medical textbook. Occasionally one of her hands drifted up to touch the kryptonite pendant around her neck as if to check that it was still really there.
"Hey, Kara." Courtney slid into the seat next to Kara and seemed to hesitate for a moment. Then she set a lidded, white, cardboard box next to Kara's textbook. It was about four inches square and an inch tall. "I, uh, made this for you."
Kara blinked at the box and picked it up.
"Thank you." She lifted the lid. A large pendant on a heavy chain sat nestled in cotton wool. The pendant itself appeared to be made of tarnished silver and was decorated with facetted blue gems and odd swirling symbols. It looked, for lack of a better word, occult. Kara picked it up and watched it twist back and forth in the light.
Courtney knotted her fingers together and looked down at the table.
"I thought, well, if you ever needed to be Spark again, that you could wear that so that people will think that you're using a power source like me instead of being a metahuman. I mean, you don't have to say that you're not a meta, but people are really good at jumping to conclusions. And that way people are less likely to think that your powers seem, you know, familiar, and you can help people without putting yourself in danger…." Courtney trailed off and ducked her head lower.
Kara continued to stare at the pendant a few moments longer. Then she abruptly turned and wrapped her arms around Courtney in a tight hug, the pendant still in one hand.
Helena smiled to herself and went back to her editing.
Sometimes gestures spoke so much better than words.
"They want to talk to you," Barbara sighed. "They're not willing to discuss terms with anybody else."
The stiff straightness of Question's back indicated that he was scowling under his mask. His arms were folded and his shoulders were tight. His right arm was still in a sling even though his fingers had already healed.
"Terrible idea. Not a diplomat."
"Yes, but you're our leader."
"Still a terrible idea."
"Unfortunately, we already decided on this ages ago," Helena pointed out from the beanbag she was currently flopped on.
"Aye, but I do not think that anyone truly believed that Atlantis would be heard from again," Sir Justin countered. He had out his whetstone and was examining his sword for any nicks or imperfections. Helena had been under the impression that magical swords couldn't get dull, but Sir Justin claimed he found the routine relaxing.
"It doesn't change the fact that their king requested to speak with our leader specifically," Barbara sighed. "Nobody is happy about this. Several countries are all for turning the Atlantians into sushi."
"I ain't rightly sure that we should stop them," grumbled Vigilante. "They're all a bunch o' lily livered cowards."
"Blowing up our aquatic neighbors will not improve the situation." It always impressed Helena just how unflappable Sir Justin could be. Then again, the man was practically older than dirt. Little tended to surprise him anymore.
Huntress eyed Arthur Curry distrustfully. She was just glad that he hadn't insisted on meeting with Question in Atlantis. Instead they were meeting on "neutral ground," which was a nice way of saying that they were borrowing some currently-unused warehouse or other by the harbor. The Phoenix Corps had provided a table and some chairs, all of which needed to be returned to the Base once this meeting was over. The warehouse was, if nothing else, private – even if it did still smell faintly of fish. Huntress sat to Q's right and Crimson Avenger sat to his left. Both of them were prepared to shoot Curry if he made one wrong move towards Q, diplomacy be damned.
"You wanted to speak with me?" asked Question finally, after the silence had stretched out for several awkward, agonizing minutes.
Curry let out a short, sharp breath and made an obvious and unsuccessful attempt at relaxing his features.
"This once I think it would be better if I abandoned diplomacy and cut straight to the chase." He sounded almost anxious, but Huntress wasn't prepared to be even remotely sympathetic, yet.
Question folded his arms,
"By all means."
Curry leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table,
"Are any of your members familiar enough with the former Lord Batman's technology that they would be able to find and dismantle something he had built without setting it off?"
"Pardon?" Question's arms went from rigidly folded to involuntarily slack with surprise. Huntress and Crimson Avenger exchanged a startled glance behind Q's head.
"Do you know how many would die if crude oil were released anywhere in Atlantis? Lord Batman did. If the city's shield were up when it happened, my entire city would be poisoned in less than an hour. If the shield were down, the effects would not be as quick but the devastation would stretch for miles." Curry wasn't looking directly at Question any more but at a distant point somewhere over Q's left shoulder. His eyes were tired and haunted. "Five years of good behavior and no contact with the surface world," Curry scowled. "Those were their terms. Five years and then they would contact me to… renegotiate." He practically spat the word, and his scowl deepened. "It has now been almost six years." His eyes refocused on the trio of Phoenix Corps members in front of him. "I won't let my people be held hostage any longer."
When Helena looked up from her book, Dick was leaning his elbows on the railing of the Base's split level, head hanging. She returned the novel she had borrowed from the Corps' "library" to its shelf and then went to lean next to him.
"Worried about Atlantis?" she finally asked.
Dick shook his head, not looking at her.
"Not really. I'm just playing eyes and ears for Babs. Pat's doing the delicate mechanical part."
"It's deactivated, right?"
"If he's telling the truth, yeah."
"Right." Sometimes truth seemed like such a fragile, nebulous thing.
"Just when I think that there's nothing else I could find out about what he did that would…." Dick trailed off with a tiny, helpless shrug and seemed disinclined to continue.
Helena put a hand on his shoulder. What else was there to say?
The most recent addition to the poker night tradition was pizza. It didn't always happen but sometimes if everyone was in the right mood and hungry, they'd all chip in and send one or two members to pick them up. Tonight was one of those nights. Kara and Sir Justin had been sent to obtain the pizzas. Everyone was waiting patiently for their return. Vic had agreed to be the dealer, and then been made to repeatedly promise not to stack the deck.
"How do you even know how to stack a deck?" asked Pat. He and Courtney were fairly new to poker night.
"From Hub City," Vic shrugged. He riffled the cards in his hands and made them dance between his fingers.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Pat picked up a pretzel and popped it in his mouth.
Vic squinted at him. "I'm from Hub City," he repeated slowly. "I was pretty much born knowing how to cheat at cards. It's practically in our genetic memory."
Helena grinned and leaned back in her chair. Despite Vic's promises, she knew that she'd still end up with a suspiciously excellent hand at some point.
"He WHAT?!" Barbara's screech from her workstation snapped the casual atmosphere like a toothpick. "No! He can't- It's poker night! Nobody's- Fuck!" Barbara pushed back from her computer terminal and yanked off her headset. "Masks on! Everybody, masks on!"
Nobody stopped to ask questions. The base briefly descended into madness. In a matter of seconds everyone who could suit up, had suited up, and Barbara had wheeled herself as far away from the teleporter pad as possible into a more shadowy section of the base.
There was a flash of teleporter light, and the number of people in the room increased by three. On one side stood Kara looking flustered and wide-eyed. One the other side stood Sir Justin looking furious and uncharacteristically belligerent. And in the middle stood a blond young man in a black "Pizzario's: Gotham's Best Pizza" t-shirt. His hair was short and gelled, his eyes blue, and a wide black band with an odd metallic center piece wrapped snugly around his right wrist. Huntress was more interested in the kid's t-shirt than his jewelry, though. Sir Justin had ahold of him by one arm and the back of the neck.
"Oh my god, what the hell?!" groaned Stargirl. "Please, tell me you did not just kidnap one of the employees of the best pizza place in Gotham!"
"I wish I could," mumbled Kara, "but then I would be lying." She turned to Sir Justin. "For the last time! His name is Mark, he's in Art History 1020 with me, and he is not some sort of threat!"
Sir Justin bared his teeth and practically snarled,
"Nay. His name is not Mark; it is Mordred." Sir Justin shook the young man by the back of his neck. "I know not what glamour you have cast upon yourself, child, but you do not fool me. I have known your face for a thousand years, and mere aging will not make me forget it!"
"It's not a glamour, you jackass!" snapped the young man. Huntress's jaw nearly dropped, because his accent was almost exactly the same as Sir Justin's. He raised his right wrist and shook his bracelet in Sir Justin's face. "Whatever this is broke Mother's spell! You're lucky that I need your help and like Kara, otherwise I would have screamed for help and had you arrested!"
Silence stretched out as every single vigilante in the base gaped at the young man who was, apparently, Mordred. Mordred, for his part, folded his arms and scowled at Sir Justin.
"What do you mean by 'need your help'?" asked Question finally.
Mordred stared at him levelly for a moment, and then tilted his head slightly.
"Not all of the magic users are dead, and I need your help to bring them back."
A/N: Thank you all for your patience, and thank you so much everyone who reviewed! No matter how long it takes me, I promise that there will be a seventh chapter. I'm not mean enough to just end it on a cliffhanger.
"Cadaverific" belongs to TeamFourStar. "Small Gods" and "Guards! Guards!" by Terry Pratchett were the two novels referenced in the last chapter.
Hey, ElphabaCanFigureSkate and Aviendha Aviendha Aviendha! I haven't forgotten about either of your prize fics. They're both in progress. I will post them as soon as they are done and notify you.
Impatient for the next chapter? Check out the side stories:
Dying Embers - What happened to Zatanna when the Lords rose
Only Ashes Remain - Vic Sage confronts Bruce Wayne as the Justice Lords rise to power
A Single Spark - How Ollie and Dinah met
Rekindling the Flame - How Gar met Booster and Beetle