Author's Notes: This was a long time coming. My sincerest apologies! The fact is I've been engrossed on putting my website together after having neglected that project for a year. Lol. Now, it's well underway. It will be up soon and I'm quite excited! I'd also like to blame this delay on the Harry Potter mania. I am so sorry I got caught up in it, but I simply couldn't get away. Now I have to make up for it big time, I know. So here's this, and then my other story, too, has been updated.
Standard disclaimers apply.
PATH TO TAMARAN
Chapter Fourteen: Titan Tactics
Karras would not look at her.
He sat as still as stone, opposite hers and Robin's on the vast round table. The twitching of his fists was the only sign that he was struggling at all.
Starfire tried not to let the size of the room and the ticking time bomb that was Karras unnerve her. She looked at Robin, hoping his presence would calm her.
Robin wasn't showing any emotion at all. That only helped a little bit. When Robin showed no emotion, it simply meant he could still manage to control it, but it also meant he was nonetheless suppressing them. He wasn't relaxed. She had to wonder if he would be able to maintain his cool.
She fiddled momentarily with the computer stylus clipped on the side of her seat. "Karras, will you tell all this to your King?"
He raised his gaze sharply. "What sort of stupid question is that? Of course I will. If Xyannis is plotting to take over Vega, then he must know."
Starfire rolled her eyes, frowning. "That is yet to be proven, Karras, which is why I ask. Perhaps spare your father some pain until it is certain—"
"His Majesty would not appreciate me 'sparing him of pain' if he finds out I kept this from him."
"I am merely suggesting—"
"You of all people should know how rulers put little importance on sentiment. Your father is, after all, the model of ruthlessness particularly when it comes to his daughters."
Starfire could not even explain how aggravating his words to her were.
"Hey!" snapped Robin, his eyes narrowing to slits. "That was completely uncalled for. You deal with your father and let Starfire deal with hers."
Karras turned his gaze away from them, jaw clenching. He took a few deep breaths. "I… I apologize."
Again, Starfire found herself thrown off by Karras's relative congeniality.
"I know little about your relationship with your father," said Karras. "But my father does care for his children, and for his daughter to be so poisoned by your father's daughter as if they were equally wronged by their parents… I am sorry if my words are harsh, but that is how I feel."
Starfire felt Robin tense beside her and she immediately placed a hand on his arm to restrain him from saying anything. Yes, Karras's words were harsh, but maybe because she envied him the affection his father showed him.
"Understood," she said. "But in fairness, I must tell you that Xyannis was poisoned long before she met Blackfire. Blackfire nurtured it, perhaps having seen it in Xyannis in the first place. I am not saying Blackfire and Xyannis share the same principles, for I am certain, at least, that Blackfire's motives are far more selfish—"
Karras glared at her. "Xyannis is not selfish in the least! Whatever her reasons, they are good reasons. Blackfire is misleading her!"
Starfire glared back. She understood the importance of loyalty to one's sister. She had, after all, believed in Blackfire for so long. But there was a limit to justifying the wrongdoings of your siblings; a point when denying the truth brought pain, or worse, danger. "Do not close your eyes to her faults, Karras! I am the only person other than you who understandsthe goodness in Xyannis. She took the burden of suffering for me in Gordane whenever she thought I could not carry it, so do not speak to me as if I do not know her! But no matter how you look at it, her involvement with Blackfire in her quest to strengthen the unity of Vegan Realms against those like the Gordanians and Citadellians shows a flaw in her character. If Xyannis were really more concerned about uniting the realms, then she would have gone back to Kalapatt, ascended her throne and worked to unite the realms from there. It is slow work, and she would only have as much power as the other realms are willing to grant her, but it is the right way, and it can work, but no, she did not do it that way. Instead, she allied herself with Blackfire. I do not know what Blackfire told her, or offered her, but to trust Blackfire instead of King Tharras in 'uniting the realms' bodes badly. Besides, it is ridiculous to think that Blackfire is 'misleading' Xyannis. Xyannis is not a woman who can be convinced of something she does not believe in."
The fury in his gaze lessened, as if the vicious swipe she had dealt him drained his anger away, but the stubborn set to his chin showed that she had not quailed him in the least. "It would seem that our lives run more parallel than I ever thought it would, princess."
She hated to admit it, but he was right. "It is entirely possible that we can put a stop to Blackfire and Xyannis's plans from this part of the galaxy. We have no way to confirm whether they already have networks in or around Vega, but at least Blackfire and Xyannis are within our reach."
Karras nodded. "Yes. We can very well try to cut them from here."
"But can you? Defy your sister, I mean?"
"I can ask you the same question, princess."
"I have fought Blackfire before. I have defied her and sent her to jail in the Centari system. You have not proven that you can remove your affection for Xyannis to do the right thing."
Karras scoffed. "Neither can you, come to that."
Starfire frowned. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"You care for Xyannis as much as I, you sentimental twit. Do not lecture me about 'removing affection'. If you were any good at removing affection, you would have caught Xyannis the last time you met her. Or am I wrong?"
She hated it when he made sense. She really did. And it was worse because he had already managed to aggravate her in many other ways and that she had gotten herself into this particular argument in the first place. In her frustration, she grabbed the stylus from her seat, got to her feet and chucked the stylus at him. It hit him square on the face, nicking his eye. He cried out, his offended eye squeezed shut.
He got up, hand to his face. "What in the underworld is wrong with you? You stupid brat, do you see what you have done? You could have taken my eye out!"
"You would have deserved it!"
"For what? Winning an argument? I swear to X'Hal, woman, I pity Robin who has to put up with you!"
Starfire reddened, though she stubbornly kept her glare on him.
There was a sigh. It was Robin. "Are you two finished or do I have to tell you both to stand in the corner?"
She had almost forgotten he was there. She looked at him shamefacedly and noted with surprise how relaxed he suddenly seemed. His earlier tension seemed to have dissipated, and she realized a moment later that it was because she was fighting with Karras again. It made her redden even more.
She looked back at Karras. "Fine then. You have made your point, but it is not for me to decide whether you may help us or not. Permission is for Robin to give."
Robin crossed his arms over his chest, cocking a smile. "Oh? Could've sworn you had complete control over the situation."
Starfire wondered if it could be more embarrassing.
Robin rose to his feet. It was a sign that the meeting was coming to a close. "I'll let Galfore decide whether you should come with us or not, Karras. He's your captain. He would know you better. I'll speak to him later. In the meantime, you and I… we gotta talk."
Starfire was utterly surprised by Robin's words. Karras didn't look like he had expected it either.
"Robin," Starfire warned. She and Karras fighting was one thing; Robin and Karras fighting was another.
Robin cocked a smile. "I'll be nice. You have a meeting to attend with Raven, right? Go grab a quick lunch so you can get to it already."
She shot him another suspicious stare.
Robin met her gaze with mild amusement. "You trust me, Starfire?"
She blinked. "Of course I do!"
"Then do as I ask."
"Why, Starfire," said Karras with an infuriating grin. "I didn't know you cared so much for my welfare. Don't worry. I can hold me own against your s'lor."
Starfire scowled, her aggravation for Karras rising anew. "You know what, Robin? Do whatever you want with Karras. He deserves what is coming to him!" She stormed out of the conference room.
She could have sworn she heard someone chuckling, and it didn't sound like it was Karras.
Flying with Raven over the waters of the bay was always a silent experience. While Starfire would be most eager to engage Raven in casual but enjoyable conversation, Raven was never one to encourage it. So if Starfire happened to tell her that the day was wonderful, Raven's response would likely be along the lines of, "Yeah, wonderful," as if she didn't agree at all. Raven had, since the accident with Cinderblock, been more distant than usual, which was a shame, since Starfire believed they had made so much progress in their bonds of friendship before that. Even when Raven had helped her get through her sightlessness, there was that familiar wall that had suddenly reappeared, as if it had never disappeared at all. But in spite of all that, Starfire had not felt deterred, not even when Raven's scathing remarks were directed at her.
Starfire had learned not to take Raven's curt and sarcastic responses personally; at least not all the time. Besides, when it came down to it, Raven was relatively kinder to her than she was with everyone else.
Downtown Jump City was still quite a while ahead and Starfire couldn't help flashing Raven a bright smile.
Raven raised her eyebrow. "What?"
"I have not had the opportunity to talk to you and the others about your feelings for my people. I have discussed with Robin his feelings for them extensively, but the rest of you I have horribly neglected."
"Don't worry about it. We're fine."
"Oh, I know you are fine, but I am asking you anyway: How has the arrival of my people affected you?"
Raven's eyebrow arched again. "Do I look like I get affected by anything?"
"Sometimes. But you do not care, this time?"
For a moment, Raven didn't respond, and Starfire was willing to leave it at that, but to Starfire's surprise, Raven did have something to say about it.
"Your people have been… interesting. They aren't as alien as I thought they would be."
"You like them, then?"
"Let's… not get ahead of ourselves."
Starfire giggled. It was hard to tell whether Raven did actually like anybody beyond the Titan circle, but Starfire believed Raven could like more people than she was willing to admit. "Well, you seem to think Karras particularly funny."
"I suppose he is. His sense of humor is just evil enough to amuse me."
"And you like that Taryia is quiet?"
"I appreciate that she would rather listen than speak."
"He's observing us. He's determining whether we're worthy of his princess."
Starfire reddened at the slightly unfavorable assessment. "He does not mean to do that."
"I know. He likes us, anyway, but he keeps watch, nonetheless. I also noticed that he lets his lieutenants interact with you as freely as possible. He wants to see how you would handle them, particularly Karras who resents the indirect authority you have over him."
Starfire scoffed. "Indirect authority indeed."
Raven shrugged. "He answers to his captain but his captain answers to you. You don't think he takes that into consideration? He does, but it doesn't mean he has to like it."
"He has made that quite evident."
Raven smiled ever so slightly. "I'm no soothsayer, but I have a feeling he will never completely like you. If he ever does, he'll hate himself for it."
"Humph. That is his problem."
Raven chuckled. "Because you're sooolikeable, aren't you?"
The sarcasm was palpable, but Starfire did not take offense. It actually made Starfire laugh and blush just a little. Raven could be nice, but she wouldn't be Raven if she didn't make you feel the slightest bit disparaged.
Raven and Starfire arrived in the Jump City Prison facility just in time for their appointment with Warden Gabe Turner and Federal Agent Therese Rodriguez, the woman handling the case involving Maxwell Victoria.
The warden received them in his office, offering them seats while Agent Rodriguez hovered in the background. She was offered a seat same as them but she preferred to stand, keeping her gaze glued on the Titans. No amount of Starfire's bright smiling won the Agent over, but at least Warden Turner was more at ease.
Agent Rodriguez implied she was wary of them by her actions, though her hard hazel eyes showed no fear. She was a tall woman who looked iron-willed and uncompromising in her crisp, quality pants suit. Her blazer was unbuttoned so they could see the gun strapped to her body. Somehow, it felt more like she was flashing them with her firearm. It seemed she wanted them to know she was packing, but in spite of all that, her facial expression was one of calm. She was not outwardly threatened by them, but she wasn't going to like them, either. Her frizzy brown hair was tamed into a neat braid, and her pretty, petite-featured face was hardened by the incensed look in her eyes. It was clear she didn't want to be there, but Robin had, in his brilliant way, managed to compel her to make an appearance. Perhaps it was that which incensed her the most.
Warden Turner, probably reading Agent Rodriguez's actions the same way Starfire and Raven did, seemed world weary enough to let it go with a barely discernable sigh. His thick white hair was trimmed neatly in a gentleman's classic cut. His broad shoulders, meeting on a thick, muscular neck, seemed stouter wrapped in his dark, navy blue suit. He wasn't as lean as he probably used to be, but there was still a lot of strength in his limbs, even calmly seated in his desk.
Introductions done, Raven and Starfire explained their situation to them in the broadest of terms and told them of their plans to remedy it.
"It's a fairly straightforward proposal," said Raven, handing Warden Turner and Agent Rodriguez twenty-page manuscripts, each in a leather portfolio. The teal-colored portfolio had the Titan insignia embossed on the cover. Inside the pocket of the portfolio was a data disk containing information Warden Turner and Agent Rodriguez would find relevant. "It lets you in on everything, 100, from start to finish. We can't stress enough that you'll have total involvement as far as information goes, and in any instance you feel that we have lost control of the situation, your authorities becomes absolute."
Warden Turner scanned the pages of the proposal, brows knotted. "This is a highly irregular request. I can tell you straight out that the Board of Corrections will never agree to it. I'm not sure if I agree to it myself. Even if you take full responsibility for anything that may go wrong, it's I who has to answer for it to the Higher Government."
"Higher Government nothing," said Agent Rodriguez. She casually set aside the portfolio in a nearby table as if it were unimportant. "I disapprove of this from the onset."
"But it is a matter of planetary security," said Starfire. "Surely you would consider it worth the risk."
Agent Rodriguez chuckled, arching an amused eyebrow in Starfire's direction. "Surely?" She said it as if it was the stupidest thing she'd ever heard.
Starfire bit back a sigh.
Warden Turner shook his head. "From what you've told me, you are asking authorities like us to help you on the basis of speculation. What proof do you have that Maxwell Victoria and his employers are endangering Earth? No offense, Starfire, but I have more to fear from the Tamaranians parked over our forests and the Justice League hovering out there in space than I do with these supposed enemies of yours."
Starfire could not entirely blame the warden for his fears. As benevolent as the Justice League have been, acting within the parameters of international law, the fact remained that the league was composed of a group of powerful beings capable of overrunning the Earth with their strength. As for the "parked" mother ship of her people; as Raven remarked, it looked frightening enough hovering quiescent over the trees.
She looked at Agent Rodriguez and saw no friend. She would have to refer to the man behind the desk. "But Warden… you trust us, do you not? You trust the Titans?"
He smiled wanly. "You've done this city boundless good, putting away the super baddies, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but in a situation where a giant sludge creature rampages through the streets, law enforcers don't exactly have a choice but to let the powerful Titans take care of it. If we had the means, we would take care of it ourselves and not let meddling teenagers take the sails from us." He was speaking lightly, and perhaps he was teasing a bit, but it was half meant.
This was something Robin had tried to explain to her before; about how the government did not entirely appreciate their help. He told her it wasn't necessarily because the government felt usurped of their authority, but it was because groups such as the Justice League and the Titans rattled the structure that was meant to keep order, fragile as order was by itself.
"When the super villains are gone, we will become the threat," said Robin. "And while a lot of us would step down; admit that the fight's over, there will be a few who aren't going to go quietly. The government's fears aren't entirely without basis, but the fact is, it complicates matters, whether we realize it or not."
Sitting face to face with Warden Turner and feeling Agent Rodriguez's animosity, Starfire understood Robin's words a bit better.
"But there is Maxwell Victoria himself!" saud Starfire.
Agent Rodriguez shot her a glare. "Maxwell Victoria is charged with kidnapping, Murder One felony, arson, destruction of government and private property and attempting to aid the escape of a highly dangerous prisoner. He is yet to be cited for other illegal activities, all of which will require proof that we do not have. For the meantime, the present case against him is strong thanks to the evidence you gave us." She did not sound thankful at all, but she was a principled enough woman to give credit where it was due, however grudgingly she gave it. "It's likely that Victoria will be put away for life; that's one criminal off the streets. Everyday, we find criminals who slip right through our fingers, so when we do get a solid hold on one, we make sure he has no chance of getting away. We do not take the capture and incarceration of criminals lightly."
Raven nodded. "We understand that, but it doesn't change the fact that Maxwell Victoria is working for someone far more dangerous than ten of him put together and that we feel we have an obligation to eliminate that threat. You work with the District Attorney's office all the time, don't you, Agent Rodriguez?"
She frowned. "And what does that have to do with any of this?"
"Nothing, really, but you know how it is to catch a crook and have him cut a deal with the DA so that you can bag the Big Boss he's working for. Some of them still get jail time for their cooperation, some of them get their sentences considerably lessened, but there are that elite few who gain total immunity for testifying against the mob in court…"
Agent Rodriguez, surprisingly, did not seem to take offense. There was a mild disgust in her expression, but it showed only by the slight curling of her lips. "It isn't my favorite part of the job, but we do what we have to do to get to the gut of organized crime. Working from the inside-out makes us more effective as law enforcers, in the long run. Those deals were necessary."
"We're not questioning your commitment to putting the criminals away, Agent Rodriguez. I'm merely pointing out that you, of all people, would understand how we sometimes have to use the little guy to get to the big guy. Victoria has admitted to working for someone, hasn't he? And you're still trying to find the scientists he supposedly kidnapped, if they aren't already dead."
She frowned. "How did you know that?"
Starfire tried not to look so guilty for Raven. Their surveillance of the prison was not knowledge they wished to share with the warden or anyone else, but Raven didn't seem the least bit rattled. Starfire let Raven do the talking.
"I didn't," said Raven. "I just assumed from what I knew of his case; you confirmed it just now."
The agent seemed thoroughly displeased about being out-smarted. "Even so, we don't need to go to the extremes you're proposing to find out who he's working for."
Raven scoffed. "Oh? You think tracing the source of the money in his bank accounts is going to be enough? The numbers may lead you to someone, or something, but I promise you, they're not the ones you want. They're still answering to someone else far more dangerous, and we already know who it is. We have the means of finding them more quickly than you do and we might even be able to find your missing scientists; all you have to do is approve of our plans. Warden Turner, Agent Rodriguez, time is of the essence in this matter. We don't know how long before Victoria loses his importance. It's taken long enough as it is. Everything you need to know is in that proposal."
They were both silent for a moment.
Warden Turner laid the portfolio on his desk. "Then I'll need time to read this."
"Of course. You both do. We'll give you a couple of hours and we'll come back to talk about it further."
He chuckled. "Just two hours?"
"Let me explain something to you kids," said Agent Rodriguez in a clipped tone. "Unlike you, we have procedures to abide by and—"
"Your bureaucracy is a flaw in your system, not in ours," said Raven, equaling the agent's tone. "Your problem, not mine. We just want to get the job done. If red tape is your excuse, let us know now and we'll tell our leader, Robin. He'll find a way to take care of it. Right now, we don't care what they think. It's your full cooperation that's essential. If we can convince you, I know for a fact that you will do everything you can to convince them, which is why we spoke to you and not your superiors."
Warden Turner merely sighed, but Agent Rodriguez flared at the nostrils in indignation. She did not want getting talked down to by a teenager, even a super one.
Starfire spoke before the Agent said something they would all regret. She didn't want to undermine Raven's words, which were full of sense, so words to appease wouldn't do. She took a more aggressive stance, supporting Raven, but she expressed it in a gentler tone. "With all due respect, Agent Rodriguez, you realize that we could have done this without your consent. It would be more difficult for us, yes; more complicated, but we are determined, and we would find a way. Our commitment to this is absolute, but be that as it may, that would have put us in your bad graces forever. It is the same reason the Justice League continues to work within the parameters of international law. When it comes down to it, none of us want to antagonize the governments anymore than we already have, albeit unintentionally. We want to work with the law, Agent Rodriguez. It would be best for all of us that way, but make no mistake… when it comes to preserving the safety of the people of this planet we are willing to make sacrifices to the goodwill of your authorities. We will do what we have to."
Agent Rodriguez's jaw remained set and ready to fight, but she said nothing.
Warden Turner rose from his desk. "Three hours, at least. After Agent Rodriguez and I go over this, we'd like to have time to discuss it between the two of us before we take it to our respective superiors."
Starfire was willing to give the three hours, but Raven was relentless.
"Two and half," she said, turning to leave the office. "Three if you give us clearance to visit and question Victoria. I've made it clear that we don't like bureaucracy. If you can't decide in three hours, we'll go ahead and do this without you. You know we can. Then you can tell us to go to hell after we've saved the planet."
Raven's straightforward, brutal approach was not popular, but it got them what they wanted.
Warden Turner issued them clearance. They would present it to the Visit Clerk and they would spend some time with Victoria while Warden Turner and Agent Rodriguez debated the merits of their proposal.
Warden Turner's clearance allowed Starfire and Raven to visit Victoria at his cell. While he remained behind bars, it was still a much better setting than meeting with him at the visiting area, where they would be separated by glass and a ridiculous telephone they'd have to speak into.
Victoria's cell was located in an isolated section of the prison. He wasn't convicted for his crimes yet, but the crimes for which he was being charged were grave enough and the evidence against him strong enough to warrant him detainment until they proved his innocence.
He had no cellmate to harass him and there weren't any neighbors to taunt him. Nevertheless, he looked a little worn at the edges; thinner.
Starfire had watched him in his cell when they gave him his meals. He hardly touched his food.
When Victoria saw them beyond the bars, his eyes widened and he paled considerably. He didn't move from his corner.
The guard who brought them there left, telling them to give a holler when they were through.
When the guard was gone, Starfire and Raven stepped closer to the bars. Victoria flinched.
"Feeling claustrophobic yet, Victoria?" asked Raven. "Are the walls closing in?"
Starfire let the fire in her eyes glow. The green light bounced off Victoria's pallid skin.
He visibly pressed back further in his cell. "What do you want from me?"
"Same thing that everyone's been asking from you: the truth," said Raven.
"I ain't talking without a lawyer."
Raven sneered. "We're not the police, Victoria. We can damn well ask you whatever we want and do whatever we want. And if you want to save yourself from the death penalty, maybe even lessen your sentence, you'll answer our questions."
Victoria's wary eyes narrowed. "What do you mean by that? Are you cutting me a deal?"
"Nothing official at this point, you understand. As I've said, we're not the police, and we sure as hell aren't the DA, but answer our questions truthfully and maybe you'll have a future worth living after all this is done. We'll tell the authorities not to slap you with international treason, a charge that would earn you a definite death-sentence if they find you guilty of it. And maybe, if you help us enough, we can help you cut a deal with the DA to lessen whatever sentence you're up for. Believe me when I say that we are expediting the process to capture your bosses, and they're not going to cover your ass, Victoria. When your superiors are caught, you're going to be on your own, and who do you think will testify on your behalf?"
He scowled. "I already told you! She told me my research was not meant to be used on Earth! So I don't know shit about treason!"
"Who will believe you, Victoria?" asked Starfire in a dangerously calm tone. "Why would they believe you? You are a compulsive gambler who deals with the worse people in Bludhaven. You kidnapped your own friends, caused the death of several innocent people and you took money from a galactic fugitive to create weapons of mass destruction. You have no credibility. If you want to be acquitted of treason, you will need testimony from credible witnesses like us."
"Look, I just needed the money. Do you understand me? If I didn't pay off all those sharks I owed money to, they would have killed me, slowly. And I'm a scientist, for Christ's sake! I just wanted to do my research; apply them! What did you expect me to do?"
"Refused them!" hissed Starfire.
Victoria's face screwed into an angry grimace. "Maybe it's easy for a big-shot superhero like you to refuse them, but you don't know the life I lived! You don't know what pushed me to do the things I did! And now you want me to swallow charges of treason. Well, that's just one more delightful thing to add to my screwed up life, isn't it?"
"Then there is something you must see," said Raven, her tone clipped. She threw out a line of black power, taking Victoria in its embrace.
Victoria began to scream as Raven dragged him helplessly from his corner and towards the bars.
The guards came rushing back in, demanding that Raven let go of the prisoner.
Starfire whipped her glowing gaze at the guards. "Stop! She won't hurt him! Let her work!" Though for the life of her, she knew deep down that she could not be certain about that. She had seen Raven turn Dr. Light to a blubbering lunatic, and Robin told tales of Raven reducing Cinderblock into a crumbled pile of dust. She wasn't sure what Raven was capable of. But just now, she had to believe Raven would not harm Victoria; he was—at least—too important.
"I'm going to show you just how bad a life can get, Victoria," growled Raven.
When Victoria was close enough, she made a grab for his wrist, and to Starfire's utter shock, Raven made a grab for her wrist as well.
Starfire felt something slip into her consciousness. Like a hand stroking her emotions and catching glimpses of memories from those emotions. Her eyes saw the past in fast review, unearthing images she had long forgotten were there. There was no pain, or discomfort, but it was unlike anything she had ever felt before. It was unfamiliar, and therefore a little bit frightening, and amidst her already present doubts, she had to tell herself—desperately convince herself—that this was Raven. She had to trust Raven; Raven would not harm her.
The emotions and the memories that accompanied it, flashing so quickly, sapped her of strength.
Raven's grip was gone and she fell to the floor on her knees, weakened by the rush. Beyond the bars, Victoria fell beside her, sobbing and pale.
"They'll be fine," said Raven to the shocked guards. "Just bring us some chocolate and they'll be fine."
Starfire looked up, breathing deeply to regain her strength. She supposed Raven's dark gaze commanded more trust than her words could, on their own. The guards scampered away, half-frightened by Raven's bottomless eyes.
When the guards were gone, Starfire shot Raven a questioning look. "What… what in the world was that?"
"Emotions carry memories, too," said Raven, crouching beside her and lending her support. "And it enhances my powers of regression."
Starfire tried to wrack her brain for what regression meant. "Th-That is how you were able to confirm it was Slade in the monastery, yes?"
Raven nodded. "Yes. It also how I caught on to Terra quicker than the rest of you. I saw images from her emotions. With you, it happens a lot; spontaneously. You feel things passionately, so you're more open. I never probe into your emotions, but you project them like a yell. I can't help but hear them. Most times, you have memories attached to your emotions; I see those too."
Starfire looked into Raven's impassive eyes. "You… you have known of my past all this time?"
"Not everything. Some of it. I know about the slavery, and a few other scattered things. Most of them don't make sense to me, but the slavery… I thought it would be good for Victoria to understand that some people have gone through worse than he has, but that those people still chose a better path than he did. Helps that I shot him with an extra dose of shame and guilt. Nevertheless, I'm very sorry if you felt violated…"
Starfire swallowed the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. Did she feel violated? Not really. Perhaps it was because it was Raven. Any other empath and Starfire would be outraged beyond belief. She shook her head. "N-No. It is alright. If it will help turn him—"
"I hope it does. I'd be ten times sorrier if I did what I did and it came to nothing."
Victoria crumpled on the cell floor on his side, burying his face in his hands as he wallowed in his grief.
One of the prison guards came back with some chocolate bars from the vending machine. Raven gave one to Starfire and the other to Victoria.
"Eat it," Raven ordered him after the guard left. "You'll feel better."
Sniffling and catching his breath, Victoria pushed himself off the floor and sat up, peeling the wrap from the bar. He looked warily at Starfire and then at Raven before shoving some chocolate in his mouth. Frightening as the experience for him might have been, it was surprising how he did not scurry back to the corner of his cell. He leaned against the bars, sitting as close to them as the cell bars permitted. If Starfire hadn't known better, it was almost as if Victoria considered them old friends. Perhaps getting shaken to the core did that.
Raven said nothing as she let Victoria compose himself. Starfire took the time to recover a bit.
Starfire understood that whatever dosage of shame and guilt Raven gave Victoria would wane quickly enough, but his memory of it would be potent enough to continue to work its venom on him. They would know in a while how much it affected Victoria.
Several minutes later, he finally spoke.
"What do you want to know?" he asked in a nasal tone. His nose was still stuffy from the crying.
Starfire was surprised at how quickly Raven's plan had worked.
Raven did not bat an eyelash, as if she had been sure of her plan's efficacy all along. "Does Blackfire still need you?"
Woefully, he nodded. "I have access codes for the manufacturing data. I've encrypted everything and they can get the best hacker in the planet and still be unable to crack it. They need me to give them the access codes to complete the work."
"How do you know they haven't cracked the code anyway?"
"Even if they did, I kept key elements off the readable data. It's in here," he tapped his head. "I promised them I'd give them the key elements via data transmission for the final stages of manufacturing when I was somewhere safe and away from them. I have to watch my ass somehow, you know."
"Do you still need to go back up there?"
Victoria seemed reluctant to answer at first, but he did. "Yes. There's still some stuff to do before they can get to the final stages."
"Why haven't they tried to get you out of prison, then?"
"They try not to call attention to their operations, so if they can get me back without having to blow up buildings, they'll do it that way. Xyannis tried to get me out on bail the first time, but something got screwed up. And now I'm here in Jump City where it would be very difficult for them to get to me. In any case, I wasn't really needed up there for the interim."
Starfire found the strength to be active in the discussion. "How do you contact them from Earth?"
"I'm not sure how it works. I can either call a number and leave a message or send a message via computer. The message gets to them somehow. I left them a message by phone about being denied bail, but they haven't responded. Maybe they'll be more restless in the next week. I'm due up there soon, so whatever the cost, they have to get me out of here."
Starfire exchanged glances with Raven.
"Do you think we should just wait for them to come?" Starfire asked.
Raven shook her head. "No. Better to have them arrive when we're expecting them. We have to be in complete control of this situation if we want this to work."
Starfire turned to Victoria. "How do they contact you?"
"They have no way of contacting me by phone, but by computer, I have access to a secure network where they can tell me what to do next while I'm here on Earth. You understand that I have no access to a computer around here."
"Do you work alone?" asked Raven. "Are you their only contact on Earth?"
"As far as I know."
Now that Raven brought it up, Starfire had to wonder.
"Maxwell," said Raven. The use of his first name was somewhat surprising to Starfire, but Victoria didn't seem to find it odd. Perhaps Raven was exploiting the "bonding" scenario; putting Victoria more at ease with them. It was a good strategy. "Would you be willing to admit to a bunch of federal suits that your employer paid you to build weapons of mass destruction for her?"
He frowned. "And incriminate myself? Are you nuts?"
"No, but they'll ask you about it soon. What I want to know is: What are you going to tell them?"
"Nothing. I'll tell them nothing. I've admitted to the kidnapping, just so I don't get convicted of Murder One for Greenwald and Welles, but I've got Murder One felony charges on me anyway for all those other people who died. A lot of good that did me… now you tell me I can be charged with treason. Frankly, at this point, I can get the Death Penalty with or without charges of treason. Even if I don't get the chair, I'd get life imprisonment, so what's the point? I might as well be dead."
"Your future is bleak, indeed," said Starfire. "And perhaps there is very little we can do to improve your situation. You have done terrible things, Victoria. You must realize that you have to account for them, somehow. Whatever you get, you deserve, but if indeed you are spared the death penalty and are given a life sentence, you will be given a chance to atone for what you have done. With your help, we can get back Greenwald and Welles so they can live their lives. You will be able to save millions of people from getting killed by the weapons you helped build. You will live and let go of regret just so you can endure."
Victoria sighed. "You're appealing to my conscience? You're perkier than they say you are."
She pretended she didn't hear him. "You have made weapons for my sister. She tells you they are not for Earth. Even if that is true, it still means she will use it on others. How different is Earth from other inhabited planets? You have seen my past. You met the people who made me, through my memories. You know, through me, that those people do not deserve to die any more than the people here on Earth do. I realize that my sister may have convinced you of how deserving they are of death. Her powers of persuasion are great, and she can charm anyone to do what she wants them to, but you have seen what I have seen. Do they deserve to die?"
"Your father does," he said, without question.
That caught Starfire, her stomach knotting at his words.
"But not the others," he continued softly. "Not the others…"
Starfire felt a measure of relief, however disturbing his words were. "Will you try to make it right?"
"I've never done anything for anyone else in my life."
"Perhaps it is time you did."
He looked away, staring at nothing in particular. He ate the last of his chocolate. "Maybe you're right."
Starfire met eyes with Raven. Raven nodded.
They kept Victoria company for a long while, speaking to him about things not relating to his case. They asked him about his personal life; listened to his troubles.
Starfire could tell no one had cared before. No one had bothered to ask him about him. He was twisted inside; scarred beyond recognition, perhaps even more than she was. After all, she had suffered her slavery for a cause she could be proud of. She had endured because she had to, for the people she loved. What cause did Victoria have to fight for? Who did he have to live for? There was no cause, and there was nobody. He had nothing but his suffering, and it lasted him fourteen years. Starfire was not sure she could have endured it any better than he did if they had switched situations.
Whatever punishment he received, he indeed deserved, but he was not beyond redemption. His eyes were not made of evil. And contrary to what he said, he did have a conscience considerable enough to merit him a chance to live, even if it was within a cage. Perhaps four decades in prison could undo what the past fourteen years have wrought.
He talked openly about himself, and they stayed with him until the Warden called them back into his office.
Raven and Starfire met with Warden Turner and Agent Rodriguez again. They'd only had time to read the proposal, but they had to admit everything was sound except for the taxpayer-repercussion factor.
"The people will kick up a fuss when they find out this is a Titan stunt," said the Warden. "All those guards on overtime, probably even a SWAT team… choppers, police cars. If only for that, I don't know if my superiors would go for this."
"And I'd have a hard time convincing my bosses that this is for the sake of Planetary Security," said Agent Rodriguez.
"We realize the difficulties involved when it comes to getting your superiors to go with this," said Raven. "But if you ask Maxwell Victoria about what his employer paid him to do, they might change their minds. Match his testimony with the evidence you have at present from the toy company incident and the Plasmus incident, you might find enough to convince your superiors."
Warden Turner and Agent Rodriguez exchanged glances. The agent nodded.
"You'll have our answer tonight," said Warden Turner. "We'll contact you at your tower."
Raven nodded. "Good enough."
The left the prison facility, their task done to the best of their abilities.
Now, it was just a matter of waiting.
Starfire left Raven at the garage with Cyborg and Beast Boy when they got back to the tower. They were working on a pulse generator, and Cyborg was configuring it for a specific purpose. He needed extra help, mostly because Beast Boy wasn't exactly a dependable mechanic. Raven's help was most welcome, especially since Raven and Cyborg had worked together on such things before. Starfire would have stayed if she hadn't been slightly anxious about what Robin and Karras had talked about.
While she wasn't entirely keen about the two being chummy, she didn't want them to be enemies, either. She never would have thought Robin capable of unfounded animosity for someone, especially on account of her, but after having seen him so angry earlier, she wasn't quite so sure anymore.
When she arrived at the multi-purpose level, Robin was typing intently in his workstation while Galfore and Karras stood in the background, discussing something with lowered voices.
Starfire wondered if Galfore had been told about her keeping Xyannis a secret from Karras. She wasn't worried about Galfore getting angry, though. He wouldn't get angry at her for something like this. She was more worried about disappointing him. She never wanted to disappoint Galfore.
Whatever the situation, she would deal with it after she spoke to Robin. He would want a report of what happened in the correctional facility.
True enough, when she sat beside him, he stopped what he was doing. "How'd your meeting go?"
"As well as we can hope for," she replied. "We still cannot be sure if they will agree with the proposal, but I am optimistic. They will contact us later for their decision. We will be sure, then."
Robin nodded. "Did you talk to Victoria?"
"Yes. He was very responsive."
His eyebrow arched ever so slightly. He didn't ask what she meant by "responsive", exactly. All he cared about at that point was a favorable report. He could deal with the consequences, later. "Good work. If all goes according to plan, we just might pull this off. Did you happen to see Cyborg on your way up here?"
She nodded. "He was with Beast Boy. Raven stayed with them to help."
"Excellent. If Warden Turner and Agent Rodriguez give us permission tonight, we can head on out at midnight to install the pulse generator. I've been making arrangements with the Justice League not to interfere unless we send out a distress call and I managed to get that end of the red-tape covered."
Starfire began to wonder about this "red-tape". So far, she had heard it mentioned twice, today. "Robin, what is this tape that is red and why does it seem to be such a problem?"
He chuckled. "It's an expression for any official routine or procedure that's excessively complex and results in delay or inaction. Way back then, in England, thick legal documents were bound and tied by red cloth tape. If you wanted to find something in the documentation by reading through the thick pile, you literally had to cut through the 'red tape'."
Her eyes lit up in recognition. "In my planet, we have an expression for such a thing as well, but if you dare to subject the Grand Ruler to such a thing, it can warrant the offender a death sentence."
Robin winced. "That's one way to cut through it."
She grinned as innocently as she could, seeing that there was an opportunity to catch Robin off guard. "How did your meeting with Karras go?"
There was no change whatsoever to his facial expression. "Perfectly."
It was infuriating that nothing got past their fearless leader. She can never be as impassive as he was.
She frowned for a second before she managed to recompose himself. "What did you talk about with him, anyway?"
He shrugged, going back to work on his panel. "Guy stuff."
She bristled. "What is this 'guy' stuff? I do not know what it means."
"It means stuff that only guys can understand and my girlfriend can't."
Her eyes flashed. "I cannot understand?"
"Well… you and other girlfriends in general. Look, I've got work to do. I think Cyborg can use all the help he can get."
Starfire grit her teeth. "Are you dismissing me?"
Robin gestured to his computer monitor. "Star, we've got a planet to save, so… yeah, I am. Sorry."
"Fine," she hissed with deadly calm, rising from her seat.
He sighed but went back to work.
She couldn't believe he was going to let her walk out on him. She started to leave. He wasn't calling her back. It only made her madder. Naturally, she went right for Karras.
She clapped him on his shoulder.
He turned and she was completely astonished by the broad dark bruise surrounding his eye.
She blinked, and the concept of "guy stuff" became all too clear. "You look terrible."
He frowned. "Thank you."
Galfore smiled. "It is my understanding that you children have not been playing nice in the last few hours."
The blush that spread through Karras's face amidst the bruise confirmed to Starfire that he had told Galfore everything.
"I was under the impression that you were letting Karras do whatever he wanted," said Starfire. "Robin heard the commotion in the hallway through his door. I could only assume you heard everything as well."
"I was not in my room when the incident happened," said Galfore, chuckling. "I was up on the rooftop, continuing my training by myself. I sent Karras to my room to get something of his… all in all, let us just say I am pleased by how Robin handled the situation, even if I—ahem—might have handled it differently. He is turning out to be a worthy s'lor."
Galfore's words were a tad discomfiting. She tried to get her thoughts reorganized.
She looked at Karras. "Did Robin do that to you?"
Karras narrowed his gaze at her. "That question is irrelevant in light of what is happening right now."
That was answer enough for Starfire. She would deal with Robin later. "Indeed. So will working with Robin be a problem for you from hereon?"
"Why don't you let me worry about that," said Karras with an acidic smile. "Mmm 'k?"
"Karras, if any of this gets in the way of capturing Blackfire and Xyannis—"
"It will not. I do suggest, Starfire, that you defer to your captain the way I defer to mine. The mission, I think, will go more smoothly that way."
Starfire looked to Galfore for an answer, ignoring the way Karras rolled his eyes.
Galfore made a soothing gesture in Karras' direction. "Karras, go on ahead to the ship and try to see if you can begin coordinating with the unit. There is a lot to be done."
For a moment, Karras could only stare, but then he nodded. "Understood, captain." He left, holding Starfire's hostile glare with his own until he disappeared behind the closing elevator doors.
Galfore began to speak to Starfire in Tamaranian. "You are being difficult, poppet." He was smiling when he said it, but she did note the hint of reproach. It made her blush, and perhaps she did realize she was acting just a tad childish. The use of Galfore's favorite endearment "bumgorf" only made it more embarrassing.
She pouted, replying to Galfore in the same language. "Karras told you everything that happened?"
"Yes. He left nothing out. He told me how he treated you."
"It was not all his fault. It was a secret I should not have kept from him and his family."
Galfore chuckled. "Oh, believe me, Koriand'r, I understand that much. The wrong in this was more yours than his."
Starfire felt a tad betrayed. Was not Galfore supposed to be on her side? But on second thought, she realized that Galfore was being on her side; he was teaching her what was right by telling her where she went wrong. She looked at the floor, shamefaced. "I—I know that now. I will make amends…"
"Of course you will! You shall start by trusting Karras's ability to get his work done. I know you still think he got to where he was by some royal influence, but I would not have taken him into my unit if I believed it in the slightest. He is a good soldier. I am proud to be his captain."
She sighed, nodding. "And what else, Galfore? What would you have me do?"
He laughed again, draping an arm over her shoulders and shaking her affectionately. "That is all I will ask of you. The rest you will have to figure out by yourself. You are not nine years old anymore, Koriand'r. You have managed to get by on your own these last few years without me, so I have the utmost faith in your ability to do the right thing. I will always be your guardian, but my days of making you stand in the corner are over. You understand what I am telling you, Koriand'r?"
Starfire did, and she was surprised at the dull ache in her heart at hearing his words. She—in no way—felt that he was abandoning her. In fact, she was honored that he believed in her to be grown up enough to make her own adult decisions, but there was something about being someone's special "poppet" and then not being that anymore that made her tear up ever so slightly. She was no longer Galfore's little girl. It almost made her want to curl up on his lap with her stuffed purple wooknah.
It was funny how having Galfore back for just a few days had restored her instinct to turn to a parent-figure when things got a bit shaky, and perhaps in her own way, feeling that security again had made her want to extend the feeling for however long she could, but now she had to realize that with or without Galfore, she had, indeed, grown-up. It was time to accept it.
"I understand," she said, smiling with a slight quiver to her lip. "But Galfore… you will still give me advice when I need it, yes?"
"When you ask for it, I will give it."
She looked over her shoulder at Robin worriedly. "Do you think I should interfere with Robin and Karras's issues with each other?"
Galfore chuckled again. He patted her shoulder. "Poppet, do you remember how it was with the male wooknaharound the palace?"
Starfire nodded. Wooknahwere like the Earth dogs, except they were more of a dog-cat hybrid of sorts. Some of their many species in the planet were ideal for pets. The most expensive of the pet breeds, the one royal families like hers were expected to keep, was also the most exotic, and perhaps more instinctual than its more domesticated cousins.
She remembered the six male wooknahthey kept.
They were beautiful, and all of them were shamelessly spoiled. They were the most darling of animals, purring and rolling on their backs when they were with their humans, but amongst each other, especially when they reached puberty, they fought viciously for alpha rights. They never managed to kill each other, but only because their handlers always pulled them apart before they could. For this reason alone, their fights for alpha were often prolonged to months-long feuds. The alpha was usually decided within half a planetary revolution, or half a year, but the fight for beta would extend the fighting among underlings.
Starfire frowned. "Are you saying Robin and Karras are fighting for alpha?"
This made Galfore laughed. "Not really, but when the fights end, they would come to a decision; a decision they can both be comfortable with. It is the only way for them to settle their differences, after all."
"Not so ridiculous. It is, after all, how you seem to be settling things with Karras, or am I wrong?"
She opened her mouth to protest but stopped herself on time. She was in no place to deny him.
The moon was never quite so bright when you lived near a city. With the buildings and towers lit up at night, the city skyline made the stars and moon pale in comparison. But farther from the urban glare, where the only light was the pale glow of lunar illumination from above, the stars surrounding the moon were a spectacular display.
Starfire could not help but look up, momentarily distracted by the breathtaking star spangled night.
"Um… Stafire? Some help here?" It was Cyborg. He was carrying one end of the pulse generator while she carried the other. She was drooping on her end.
"I apologize!" she cried, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks.
In the distance, Raven and Beast Boy worked together to hollow out a crevice through the thick rock of the San Mateo fault-line.
"Problem?" came Robin's voice over Cyborg's radio.
Robin stayed at the tower to monitor the frequency emissions of the pulse generator once the machine was in operation. His direction and coordination with them would be done by audio. It would be sufficient enough to get their task done.
Cyborg grinned as he looked at Starfire above the pulse generator. "We're cool, aren't we, Star?"
She blushed even deeper, chuckling. "I have been daydreaming. I am sorry."
"Clear skies, brilliant moon, twinkling stars… what's not to daydream about?" said Cyborg, winking at her.
"What, indeed," said Robin over the radio. "Must—er—be pretty nice out there."
Starfire couldn't help but be mildly surprised by Robin's words. She had expected him to admonish her. Robin was not the kind of person to let minds wander when there was an important mission to be finished. As she looked at Cyborg, she could tell he was a bit surprised himself. They exchanged glances. Cyborg shrugged.
"It is very nice, Robin," said Starfire. "I wish you can see this… are you alright? You sound rather—"
"I'm fine. Anyway, Starfire, you can daydream all you want later," said Robin evenly. "Right now we have work to do."
That was the Robin she was looking for and she was inclined to believe that his slightly strange behavior can be attributed to all the stress he has had to deal with the past week. It did, however concern her that the reality was that Robin was quite good at handling stress.
Maybe not these days.
She stifled a sigh. So maybe he was a bit "out of whack" this week.
Starfire tried to regain her good mood and mostly succeeded. She smiled. "Of course. I shall focus from now on. I promise."
They hurried on with their task, getting the bulky pulse generator into the cavern and powering it to begin their adjustments. Cyborg attached the monitors to long wires that reached the mouth of the cavern. When the machine was secure within the cave, they moved the cleared rocks back into the cave, camouflaging the tampered landscape. The connected monitors remained outside, and with radio communication, Cyborg and Robin made adjustment to the readings.
When the machine was working the way it was supposed to, Cyborg hid the monitors from view. All the equipment should be virtually untraceable.
"The pulse generator's got its own cloaking device," explained Cyborg. "It should be invisible to any satellite imaging equipment they're using."
"Good," said Robin over the radio. "Stage one is complete and I just received the formal written authorization of Agent Rodriguez to proceed with the plan. I know they gave their spoken approval at dinner, but I'm more comfortable when things are written down."
Starfire gave Raven a thumbs down and a wink. "Boooo-YAH!"
Raven turned her thumb upward.
Robin continued. "Whatever Raven and Starfire did out there this afternoon, it worked. Congratulations, you two. You'll be on my good side in the next three days."
"That's the whole purpose of living, of course," muttered Raven. "To get on his good side."
Starfire giggled and nudged her to be quiet.
"That's not very fair to you," said Beast Boy to Starfire. "You're always on his good side, so telling you you'll be on his good side is a lame-o, redundant prize, don't you think? You should—like—get something else—"
"I can hear you, Beast Boy," said Robin.
"Well, it's true! You should give Starfire a MoPed. She'd really like that, won't you Star?"
Starfire tried to take it in stride as well as the others do when they were called to support at a moment's notice. "Oh, yes. I always dreamed of a MoPed."
"Rrright," said Robin. "I can practically see Beast Boy wink-winking and nudge-nudging you, Starfire."
Beast Boy looked affronted. "What'd I do?"
Cyborg chuckled. "Getting back to the mission… anything else you need for us to do, Rob?"
"Give me a second," he replied. There was a noticeable silence, like Robin had put them on hold.
They waited, and Starfire realized it was taking a bit too long for Robin to respond when she and the Titans begun to look at each other uncertainly, as if asking each other: "So, are we just supposed to stand here?"
Finally, after an extended number of minutes, Cyborg tapped on his radio again. "Er—Robin? You there, bro?"
Seconds later, Robin's voice came through the speaker again. "Yeah. So… I'm getting the munchies. Why don't you and the team get some pizza on your way back."
Cyborg, Raven and Starfire's eyebrows raised in unison, but Beast Boy found nothing wrong with it in the least.
"Whoohoo! You read my mind, Robin! You're the best leader, ever." Beast Boy turned in the direction of the car. "Titans, go!"
"Robin," said Raven, ignoring Beast Boy. "It's midnight. The pizza places are closed."
"Not the one in uptown Jump City."
Starfire shot a questioning glance at Raven and Cyborg. "You mean Raymond's?"
"Yeah, that one. You liked their pizza, didn't you, Starfire? You said you loved their pepperoni. Get that, then."
"Robin, what is going on?"
"Yeah, man," said Cyborg. "Are you smoking something over there?"
"Just get the pizza," said Robin tiredly. "Over and out."
The line went dead.
Cyborg, still looking a bit nonplussed, shrugged and began heading for the car. "You heard the man."
Raven followed him. "Star, your weirdness is rubbing off on him."
Starfire frowned. "My weirdness is not as weird as that."
"Dude has the munchies. It's perfectly normal," said Beast Boy.
Raven scoffed. "Yeah, if you're high on doobie."
"Please… where is doobie and how high up is it?"
Raven shot her a withering glance. Starfire decided not to insist on the point.
With Starfire carrying Cyborg, they flew out of the fault-line. It was going to be a long drive to Raymond's Pizza.
To be continued…
Author's note: I'm REALLY sorry this took so long. Thanks to follow.