Power Play

You just know that President Lex has something truly nefarious planned.  This is it.  This story takes place immediately after "Graduation Day" and contains spoilers for that miniseries.  Nothing after that, and in particular the new Outsiders, Teen Titans and Superman/Batman series and JLA issues after #79, are in continuity for this story.  The story follows "Sunday Dinner at Wayne Manor" and "Another Sunday Dinner at Wayne Manor".

All characters are the property of DC Comics.  No money is being made on this story and no infringement of copyright is intended.

Prologue: Mourning

There was no other word for it; Themyscira was beautiful.  The sky was a deeper blue, the sunlight more luminous, the foliage more lush, the earth richer than in our World.  The breeze off the ocean had a fresher smell and cooled the heat of the day just the right amount, so that you were neither too warm nor too cold.  Here, believing in Diana's gods and goddesses seemed reasonable, for surely some power had blessed this place.  Seeing her home made a lot about Diana more understandable.  Had the circumstances been different, I would have been pleased and honored to be invited to here.  As it was, I felt honored but none of us were pleased.

She stood in front of the grave of her sister, grief etched into her bearing.  I stood back and watched her.  The hillside had been covered with the bright costumes of Earth's heroes, but now that the service was over the others slowly drifted away, until only the two of us were left.  I knew I should do something to comfort her, but what comfort could there be?  Donna was dead and nothing any of us could do could change that.  Still, I had to try.  I walked forward and put a hand on her shoulder.

"Diana."  I paused, not knowing what to say.

"She never knew," she stated dully.  "It was the most important thing in my life and I never told her."

She turned and looked at me with tormented eyes.  "She was my sister and I never told her that I loved you."

The past tense drove an icy spike of fear through my heart.  "I'm sorry," I told her, "I was wrong."

She didn't react.  I couldn't tell if she even heard me.  She turned back to the grave.  "Just go.  Please, just leave me alone."

I said the only thing I could think of.  "I love you."  Then I turned and walked away.

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Chapter 1: Plans and Stratagems

"So are we agreed that we need to intervene in the situation on D'K'Nor?" Superman asked, surveying the members of the JLA assembled around the meeting room table in the Watchtower.

I looked up from the laptop I had been working on.

"You know my views," I told him.

Superman sighed.  "You saw the evidence, Batman," he responded.  "Heck, you helped me correlate it.  Possible conquest is one thing.  Genocide is another."

I wanted to argue.  I wanted to tell him it wasn't worth the risk to Earth.  Not at this time.  And I thought of the scorn Diana would pour on such an attitude.  I glanced involuntarily at her empty seat.

And she would be right.  I sighed.

"Finish up as quickly as you can," I told him.  Superman looked surprised at my acquiescence.  "The Belle Reeve situation is heating up.  I need you all back as soon as possible."

"Belle Reeve?" asked Paul Booker, Major Disaster, one-time supervillain and present day member of the JLA.  "I spent some time there.  But I thought all the supervillain-types had been shifted over to the Slab."

"No.  The Slab," the federal government's top-security lock-up for the most dangerous beings on the planet, "is dangerously overcrowded, so they've reopened Belle Reeve, supposedly for the second-tier villains.  But some very dangerous cases have been shifted there and a number have then disappeared off the books.  Supposedly sent back to the Slab, except the Slab has no record of them either."

Booker looked disturbed.  "You think the Suicide Squad is back in business?" he asked.  The Suicide Squad was a top-secret government team intended for situations where the casualty rate was likely to be unacceptably high (hence the name) or 'plausible deniability' was important.  Its members had been supervillains recruited from prison by promises of reduced sentences or presidential clemency.  It had been under the control of Amanda Waller, Luthor's Secretary for Meta-Human Affairs.  While I sometimes disagreed with her goals and always with her methods, 'The Wall' had her own strict code of ethics and stuck to it.  Booker had been involved with the Suicide Squad at one point, I remembered.

"No," I said.  "The Suicide Squad imploded after their fight with the Jihad, a team of super-powered terrorists.  That battle was too public and Waller shut it down to avoid 'blow back'."

"Maybe they are reviving it under another name," Superman suggested, looking less than pleased at the thought.

"Maybe," I conceded, although I was certain it was nothing so benign.  I wasn't prepared to share my reasons with the rest of the JLA just yet, however.

"We had planned to take the same team as we used against the 'Peacemaker'," Superman said.  "But if you think there is an imminent threat, we could leave one of the team behind."

"Actually, I...." started Booker.

"No," I responded instantly.  "You are already short one member with Wonder Woman on bereavement leave.  If you're too weak, you risk being defeated.  I would rather you took Firestorm with you to make up for Diana's absence."  I turned to Firestorm and added, "If that's acceptable to you?"

Firestorm looked uncomfortable with the idea, so I pinned him with my gaze until he muttered, "Sure, okay."

"Good.  Then...."

"Uh, guys," Booker interrupted, looking embarrassed.  "I hate to do this, since I was one of the ones who argued for intervening, but I need to sit this one out."

His eyes flicked towards Dawn and my interest shot up.  Neither she nor her husband, Raven Manitou, seemed to notice, but I noticed that they were sitting well apart rather than side by side as they had in the past.  Booker continued, "I have some personal things I need to get straightened out.  Sorry."

Superman raised his eyebrows; Green Lantern clouded up; Faith looked annoyed.

"You'll be available if we need you locally?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah!  Sure!  Definitely!"

I said, "Perhaps Flash would cover for you this once."  Flash, who had been impatiently checking his watch, looked up in dismay.  But he grudgingly nodded.

"Are you sure, Batman?" Superman asked.  "That will leave you short-handed if a crisis breaks on Earth.  With the Titans and Young Justice disbanded, that doesn't leave you with a whole lot of backup."

"If necessary, we can call up J'onn, Plastic Man, Diana and the JLA reserves, not to mention the JSA.  And just because the Titans and Young Justice have disbanded, doesn't mean those heroes aren't still available.  Just get it done and get back as quickly as you can.  When this blows open, I suspect we will need the whole team to deal with it."

Superman nodded.  "Then everybody has one hour to get ready.  We'll meet back here at," he glanced at the clock, "1900 hours."

Everybody stood up.  I stepped over to Booker and clapped him on the shoulder.  He turned and I fixed him with my gaze.  "We may need you at a moment's notice.  Can we count on you?"

Booker squared his shoulders and puffed out his chest.  "Yes, sir!" he barked out.  For a moment, I thought he might salute.  I nodded and let him go.  As soon as he was out of the room, the Flash zipped over next to me while the Atom moved his miniature floating chair closer and Superman looked on.

"Linda will have my head," he complained, but without much force.  "Uh, you really think this is a good idea?  I don't think you can count on Major Dork.  'Personal matters'?  How flaky is that?"

"I don't know Flash.  How flaky is it to run through a $2 million windfall and end up deep in debt, sleeping with a married woman and with your psychotic ex-girlfriend thirsting for your blood?"

"Hey!" he objected.  "That's not fair.  I didn't know she was married!"

"The point is that you straightened out your life, but it took some time.  And you weren't under treatment for paranoid schizophrenia, with a reputation as a supervillain to live down and a bunch of dubious friends from a previous life to deal with."

"He's schizophrenic?" The Flash asked, thunderstruck.  "You let a schizophrenic into the League?"

"He's one of the most powerful beings on Earth and he's trying to reform.  Where would you want him?  Running loose unsupervised or in the League?"

"I never thought you were the type to just accept his word that he's reformed," muttered the Flash.

I sighed.  "I always hope they'll reform.  I just don't count on it.  And if he's going to be a problem, I prefer him under my eye.  I meant what I said, Wally," I told him, "I need this over and all of you back here.  This matter has Luthor's fingerprints all over it."  I surveyed their expressions.  I could see they got it.  We all knew Luthor was up to something and we all knew he wouldn't go down easy.

"And don't forget," I added, "I have Ray here."  I nodded at the Atom.  "People tend to underestimate what he can do."

The Flash and Superman nodded at that.  They knew what the Atom was capable of.

The Flash sighed.  He wasn't happy but he would go along, as I knew he would.  "Okay," he said.  "We'll do it your way.  As usual."

He grinned.  "In the meantime," he told us, "I have to mend fences with Linda."  He winked.  "Not everything can be done at superspeed, you know."  Then, with a swoosh!, he was gone.

In the meantime, the Atom had maneuvered his chair behind and above me and was looking at the laptop screen.  "DNA match?" he asked.

I should have closed the laptop.  Sloppy.  Not that I objected to the Atom knowing, but it was habit not to share information except on a need-to-know basis.  Then I reminded myself that that attitude had probably cost me the woman I loved.  The Atom was an ally and the more he knew of the situation, the more effective he would be.

"Yes," I told him.

"Why do it by hand?" he asked.  "Why not let the computer do the match?"

I sighed.  This was what answering questions got you: more questions.  "I started with a computer search; it came up with this match.  I wanted to double-check it, first because the sample had deteriorated and secondly because the person it matched is dead."

Both the Atom and Superman looked interested.  "Who did it match?" Ray asked.

I told them.  Clark's eyes widened.

"Exactly," I said.  "An agent of Oracle's collected a tissue sample from a holding cell, a very special holding cell, in Belle Reeve.  He had left a bit of skin there."  I cocked an eye at Clark.

"His heart stopped," Clark said.  "I heard it stop.  But he had mutated so far by then, who knows?"

"DNA can survive for a long time," Ray said.  "They've recovered it from graves a thousand years old.  Maybe that tissue had been there for years."  But I knew he didn't really buy that explanation.

"Oracle got suspicious because there was evidence that cell had been used recently.  And, according to the Metropolis Coroner's Office, his body was collected by S.T.A.R. Labs the day he 'died'."

"The same day?" Ray asked, surprised.  "Didn't they do an autopsy?"

"No record of one," I told him, "and S.T.A.R. Labs records end two days later.  They took some tissue samples and such and then, nothing.  I have someone who will be searching the place tonight, but I doubt she will find anything."

After a moment's silence, Clark said, "You know how his powers increased after his encounter with Strange Visitor?"

I nodded.

"Now I'm REALLY concerned about leaving you so short-handed.  Are you sure...."

"I agree with Batman on this," Ray interjected.  "With this guy loose, it's best to have the big boys out of the way, where he can't get at them."

"And the stronger you are, the quicker the invaders will fold.  Besides, this isn't something that raw power can fix.  We have to outsmart Luthor, not outfight him.  Speaking of which..." I pulled up a diagram on the laptop, "... follow this trajectory on leaving.  It minimizes your exposure to the HDC's Deep Space Monitoring Network.  We'll be jamming them the whole way.  That way, nobody should know you've left."

Ray and Clark both looked at me.  "Won't the fact that you're jamming them give us away?" Clark asked.

"I've been randomly jamming the network for months, for just that reason," I explained.  "Interestingly enough, no one's complained."

Clark blinked.  Ray asked, "And if an alien invasion just happened to hit while you were jamming our one way of spotting it in time to do something about it?"

"It's just one sector and I'm more concerned about threats nearer to home," I told him.  "Statistically, the chance of that happening is negligible."

Ray looked at me.  "If you've been doing it randomly then it will be a while before anyone notices anything if you DON'T DO IT after today."

Ray can be quite forceful when he chooses to be.  I grunted.  "I can give you a week," I told him.

"Then we will have this discussion again in a week."  He left.  That just left Clark and me.

"Don't say it, Clark."

"I have to, Bruce.  She's hurting and she needs you.  Go to her."

"No."

"Damn it, Bruce!  I love her too!"

I sighed.  He clearly wasn't going to leave this alone.  I spun my chair around to confront him.

He stared back at me.  "Not the same way, I admit," he said, "but she is one of my closest friends and I care about her.  A lot."

I raised an eyebrow.  He knew then.  Not surprising, since he could, without even trying, observe blood pressure, pupil dilation, muscle tension and all the little taletells that give a person away.

"Then you go comfort her."

"You think I haven't tried?  I'm not the one she needs."

I turned back to the laptop.  "Neither am I.  She made that abundantly clear."

He sighed in defeat and left.

I opened a dialog box to Oracle.  No video, which meant less bandwidth so it was more difficult to intercept and easier to encrypt.

Oracle

Here, Boss

Attached is DNA match for BR13

Yikes!  Him?

Affirmative.  Update contingency plans accordingly.  Also upgrade subject 8 to highest priority surveillance.  I planted a tracer on him before he left, but that is only good until he changes clothes.  I want him covered by then.  No gaps, no slip-ups.  Also upgrade subject 12 to category 2 surveillance.  Am particularly interested in any meetings.

Paranoid much, Boss?

Always.  Instruct the non-combatants to relocate to the designated secure locations within the next 24 hours.

Double Yikes!  You think he will strike while the bulk of the JLA is off world?

Since no one was there to see, I allowed myself a smile.  Oracle might be a league reservist these days, but nothing happened at the Watchtower that she didn't know about.

Affirmative.  Out.

That done, I opened my mind up to contact my second back-up.

'J'onn?'

'Here Batman.'

'Here is the latest information.'

I brought it to the front of my mind and he read it off.  Few people realize what an incredible mind he has.  He can absorb huge amounts of information, process it and instantly recall it as needed.  He is also easily the most powerful of us.  As a species, Martians are at least as far beyond us as we are beyond chimpanzees.  It would be very easy to fear him.  He is also one of the few people I call a friend.

'That's it.'

'Acknowledged.'

My natural preference was to end the 'conversation' right there.  But I reminded myself again that I had vowed to change.

'Sorry to keep interrupting your sabbatical.'

'Not at all, Batman.  I understand the importance of this.'

'How is it coming?'

'Very well.  My aversion to fire is considerably lessened.'

'That's good, J'onn.  That's very good.'

'Thank you.'

I wanted to say more, but I didn't know what to say or, more accurately, how to say it.  Some of this must have leaked across, because J'onn replied, 'I understand, Batman, I love you too.'

My shock clearly communicated itself to J'onn, for he gave the mental equivalent of a chuckle and added, 'In a purely platonic sense, of course.  I have to go.  Scorch is back for the next session.  I believe she is making progress as well, although more slowly.'

I shook my head and tried to gather my thoughts.  I considered J'onn a friend, but to say I loved him?  I had never even said that to Dick.  Considering what I feared was coming, that suddenly seemed a horrible omission.  I checked the time.  It was already dark in Gotham.  I should be starting my patrol in less than an hour and I had several errands still to run.  It would have to wait.  I double-checked that I had programmed things properly, shut down my laptop and headed for the teleporter tubes.

Author's Notes: This story, at least if it goes as I intend, is going to be long and spread over many chapters.  I will try to update it regularly, but the Real World does tend to interfere at times.  Major Disaster has been portrayed in strikingly different fashions over his career.  It has even been implied (in Suicide Squad) that there might be two of them – identical twins separated at birth, no doubt.  I like my explanation better.