It all started with a rerun of Friends.
Well, actually, it all started with a Martian invasion of Man's World leading to my becoming Wonder Woman and the formation of the Justice League. My present predicament however, started off with an episode of the show Friends. At least from my perspective.
Up until that point, my life was actually going rather well. Superman and I had just helped defeat an extraterrestrial child who'd somehow wound up on earth with a perfectly volatile mix of great power and a tendency for temper tantrums. After that debacle though, there really weren't that many problems of Justice League variety, giving me and all of the other senior members something of a break.
So I became very acquainted with the word leisure, and found that I liked it immensely. And despite the fact that Man's World entertainment is often laughable, offensive, or both, I cultivated a regular habit of curling up on my couch and watching television instead of sparring with Superman or Black Canary as I usually did.
The doorbell rang right when Ross was about start an argument with Rachel. Frowning, I turned the television off with the remote control, got up, and went to the door. Odd, I thought as I opened the door. I didn't get very many visitors at all.
And I had certainly never had a visitor like this before. She was an Amazon. Even if she had not looked familiar, I would have known it. The posture, the bearing, the lean, muscular body. Human women spent thousands of dollars to try to look like that, and I doubted if any had ever succeeded.
I stared at her. Tall and willowy, with reddish hair pulled back into a severe ponytail. Her attire was perfectly normal for Themyscera, but I had a feeling that ancient Greek armor wasn't exactly the pinnacle of fashion in Man's World.
I was saved from an awkward moment of silent confusion by the other woman, who began speaking almost immediately. "Princess Diana," she greeted me, bowing her head slightly in deference. Nevertheless, I felt the woman's profound insincerity. It was noticeable in the way she said my name, as if it were causing a bad taste in the back of her mouth.
"Hello," I replied. The woman smirked as I said the words. "Do you want to come in?" The last thing I needed was for my neighbors to see a woman dressed like that standing on my porch when it wasn't Halloween.
"No, I will be gone soon," said the woman. "My name is Artemis, by the way."
I recognized the name. Artemis was one of the fiercest warriors on the entire island, at least when I had last visited. I vaguely remembered supervising one of her sparring matches with another Amazon. She'd been aggressive to the point of brutal. I wondered what she was doing here in Gateway City at my door.
"What do you need?" I asked. To the point, since I really wanted to get back to my show.
"Your armor," replied Artemis. I definitely was not imagining the smirk.
"I need you to hand over your armor as well as your gauntlets," repeated Artemis. "You are hereby relieved of them and your title as Emissary to Man's World."
I was shocked, wondering who had put this woman up to such a joke. "Ah. Well I'm afraid that's impossible," I told her. "I am confused as to why you would even ask such a thing."
"You certainly are confused if you think this is a request," Artemis clipped back. "The armor now."
I forced myself to smile. "No, Artemis. You may not have the armor, and frankly I'm surprised that you think I'd even consider it." My smile became tight-lipped. "You should go home now." I started to close the door, only to be stopped by Artemis, who grasped the edge and held it there. She was strong. Strong enough that I would probably end up breaking the door if I tried to overpower her. I let go.
"I will gladly return to Themyiscera," Artemis said, "once you comply with Hippolyta's orders."
"Wha-How dare you invoke my mother's name in this?" I could feel my fists clenching almost involuntarily. If Artemis thought it was funny to even dare suggest that my own mother would-"
Then Artemis did something unexpected. She produced a parchment scroll from a satchel at her waist and handed it to me. "Read."
Eyes narrowed, I snatched the document from Artemis's hand, seeing the seal of my mother almost immediately whatever the document said, it was said with her consent.
Which is why it hurt worse than a thousand javelins when I saw the contents of the edict. My mother had tried some to gloss over what she was saying, but she was still striping me of everything that had come to define who I was, namely my tenure as Wonder Woman. No grievances were listed, merely the cold fact that for whatever reason, my mother had decided that exile was not enough and I needed to be deprived of my identity as well.
"This-this is outrageous," I breathed as I scanned the document.
"And perfectly legitimate as well. If you wish, you can come back to Themyiscera with me and hear it from your mother's own lips," suggested Artemis.
I only heard the first part though, because by the time she'd finished her sentence, I was already airborne.
It didn't take me long at all to reach the island of my birth. Had I actually been paying attention to the time elapsed, I probably would have found I was traveling fast enough to make Flash proud. Urgency does that to you, and for me, it was the need to find out if this was true. Part of me said it was impossible. After all that I had accomplished, it simply did not make sense for my mother to suddenly take away my title and duties.
And there was something else nagging in the back of my head. Since when could Artemis, or any other Amazon (with few exceptions), fly? I didn't know, but the evidence was right beside me as Artemis easily kept pace with me on our way to the island.
The instant it came into view, I felt a throb of homesickness that almost made it hard to breathe. I had thought that over time, the pain of my exile would diminish but the raw longing came back with a vengeance, just at the sight of the paradise I had known for most of my life.
When I descended down, there were two guards waiting for me. I recognized them from my mother's palace, but their eyes seemed to glaze over when they reached mine.
Then their eyes reached my attire, which consisted of an oversized black T-shirt and some biking shorts. I probably couldn't have done a better job of choosing un-Amazonian clothing if I'd tried. Their eyes certainly reflected that anyway. I tried to cover my embarrassment with the same businesslike expression I used in the League.
"I must speak with my mother," I told them, still ignoring Artemis. I braced myself for a conflict-it certainly wouldn't have been the most unusual thing to happen that day, but the two guards merely nodded in compliance.
"Very well," said the lead Amazonian. "I take it you know the way."
"I haven't been in exile that long," I retorted, brushing past them both. I knew that bringing up the exile would have an effect, especially since I had only become an exile because of actions taken to save Themyiscera. Sure enough, guilt flashed across the woman's face, no doubt as she remembered what it was like being turned into stone by Faust.
"Touché," whispered Artemis, falling into stride beside me.
It was a childish reaction that only made Artemis's smile grow. "Perhaps I'm supposed to feel a twinge of guilt myself. Or gratitude, for your heroic rescue. Why, if it wasn't for the mighty Princess Diana, I'd still be stuck as a stone statue."
"Its true," I muttered.
"Perhaps. I honestly don't care. You polluted Amazon soil with men, a sin that outweighs even your 'heroism'. And look at you. Your speech, your dress . . .Gods, you've become just like them." She did nothing to hide the disgust in her voice, and I wondered if hers was a sentiment shared by the rest of my Amazonian sisters.
"Here we are," Artemis announced a moment later, nodding to the temple that loomed ahead of us.
"I suppose you're going to follow me in."
"Not necessary. It shouldn't take long for your mother to confirm what I've told you."
I glared at the woman who had turned my life upside down in less than a day, then started up the steps. I could see my mother, regal and poised as always, sitting on her throne, surrounded by the royal Amazonian guards. Once again, I felt the acute inadequacy of my appearance. I knew I looked like a harried, stressed-out woman who had just been rousted from a state of relaxation and flown halfway around the world, never mind that that was what had really happened.
"Diana," my mother called out as I approached. "Its good to see you, my daughter." She wore a smile, but that was it. The true smile didn't reach her eyes, and I knew at that moment that something was wrong. That Artemis had been telling the truth. I gulped, trying to push down the intense feeling of betrayal that threatened to consume me.
"Tell me it's not true."
To my mother's credit, she didn't try to lie to me. "A lot of things have happened here on Themyiscera since you've been-"
"Tell me it's not true," I repeated, louder this time.
My mother averted her gaze to the floor. "I'm afraid I can't," she said.
I just stared at her, not knowing what else to do. My entire body felt numb ad detached, as if I were watching it happen to me from elsewhere.
"It was necessary," my mother continued, rising from her seat to come stand in front of me.
"To take my title, my armor . . .that's necessary?" I couldn't even begin to stop the bitterness creeping into my voice.
"Yes," said my mother. "It was." A sad expression crossed her face. "Things have changed in the time you've been gone. There was an attempted coup. Many of the Amazons attempted to overthrow me, supplant me with a queen of their own."
"What! Why would they do that?"
"Dissatisfaction, unrest, Amazons are not immune to the social ills of other societies. Regardless, the rebellion was suppressed, but only after certain agreements were made with the separatist clans. It was that or be entrenched in more warfare and violence and bloodshed. They wanted something. If not the queenship, then a consolation prize. One of their own-as Ambassador to Man's World, with the sanction of the gods themselves as well as Themyiscera."
I just stared at her, absorbing the significance of what she was saying. I wasn't just being fired, I was being replaced. It wasn't a great leap of logic either to figure out who that replacement was supposed to be either.
"Artemis," I gasped thinking of the red-haired warrior waiting outside.
My mother nodded. "Yes, she is the one who will take over all of your duties and responsibilities as Wonder Woman."
I was already shaking my head, backing away from my mother. "You would not have authorized this," I said, "not unless you already had doubts about what I was doing. You might as well tell me. Why did you lose faith in me?'
Hippolyta sighed. "Not just me," she corrected. "Many of the Amazons, on both sides of the conflict. What you're doing outside of Themyiscera, its wonderful. But look at you. Your lifestyle, your activities . . .your dress, even your speech and accent. it all reeks of influence from Man's World. It has changed you when the situation should be the other way around. Not to mention cavorting around with that multi-billionaire, Bruce Wayne.
"I did not cavort with anyone!" I snapped, anger replacing the hurt I was feeling. "If you are referring to that one dance-." I stopped, pointing a finger at her. "And how would you know about any of that? Its not like you get a damn newspaper at your doorstep! Have you lost so much trust that you've resorted to spying on me?"
"Your conduct recently has caused many to already doubt your suitability for this position. You get involved in all of the petty wars and fights of the Men when you should be rising above that and showing them the road to creating a peaceful society," my mother said, completely ignoring the question.
"Like ours?" I retorted angrily. "Like Themyiscera? Oh yes, we're such a peaceful society what with our civil wars and all!"
My mother did not respond. She couldn't, I knew. There as nothing to say to that. No justification, just an unforgiving edict that I had no choice but to abide by.
"I guess you could say that conversation didn't go so well," remarked Artemis once I emerged form the temple. I slugged her. Hard enough to spin her three hundred and sixty degrees like a demented ballerina before dropping to the ground.
"Yeah," I said, rubbing my fist. "You could say that."
"No one strikes me with impunity," growled Artemis as she rose to her feet. "Not even a so-called Wonder Woman."
"You're lucky to be breathing," I snapped back. "Traitor. I know you were part of the group of insurrectionists who tried to overthrow my mother."
"Maybe I am. And maybe what you know about the entire situation could fit on a pinhead. Perhaps in Man's World, you're allowed to simply attack others without reprisal, but I can assure you that's not the case here."
"You will never truly be Wonder Woman,"
"I already am. I have the powers, the sanction, and the armor. I took the liberty of having some of my operatives search your home while we were here. Its safely on its way here to its rightful owner. Me." She leveled her gaze. "Now leave. I believe your reprieve from exile has run out."
As I walked through the cities, through the island of my birth, I couldn't help but see it in a more critical light. While I once would have assumed camaraderie with any of my fellow Amazons simply because of the bond of Amazonian sisterhood, I now could not help but view every one with a suspicious eye. Had she been one of the rebel Amazons who had attempted to betray my mother? I would wonder. It was a sickening feeling, not being able to trust a fellow Amazon. If our society couldn't even remain a cohesive, functioning unit, how could I expect to be able to achieve the same for any others?
Reaching the edge of the island, I gave my former home one last, longing look before flying off, my thoughts so muddled that I hardly even noticed the fact that I wasn't traveling anywhere near as fast as I should have been able to. I reached home some time later, attributing my physical exhaustion to stress. Certainly it couldn't have been the flying-that was one of my easier powers to use and a trip to Themyscera shouldn't have caused that kind of fatigue.
Friends wasn't on anymore, and I didn't really care. All I wanted to really do was curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep, but neither tears nor sleep would come for a very long time.
"This had better be important, Superman," I muttered as I entered the JL Watchtower's conference room. His priority alert had been tagged urgent, which was the only reason I was in a satellite orbiting the earth instead of down in Gotham, trying to avert the latest crime wave.
"Stop being such a grouch and sit down," said Superman, an unusual expression of worry constraining his features. He wasn't even looking at me though, but rather past me. I turned to see Diana.
Or at least someone who wore Diana's costume. The attire was right, but the face, while beautiful, was a bit more severe than Diana's. The eyes, unlike Diana's deep blue, were a predatory green. Her hair was also different. Pulled back and into a ponytail.
I did a double take. "Who are you?" I growled.
The woman looked taken aback for a brief moment complements of my patented BatStare. She composed herself quickly however and managed to avoid eye contact. "My name is Artemis," she answered. "I have been assigned by Queen Hippolyta to take over all of the responsibilities and duties of the old Wonder Woman."
"The old Wonder Woman?" I murmured, half to myself. I whirled on Clark. "Surely you don't-"
"Her story checks out," interrupted Clark. "I know, I can hardly believe it myself. But J'onn's already scanned her mind and every telepath we have has confirmed her truthfulness."
"That doesn't mean we have to accept her into the League!"
"Your League needs an Amazon," said Artemis, obviously unhappy at being talked about as if she weren't in the room. "I have all of the powers and abilities of the former Wonder Woman, and I do take my commission quite seriously. Surely you wouldn't turn down a member of my immense power simply for personal reasons."
I ignored her. "What does Diana have to say about all of this?" I asked Clark.
The League's founding member tossed a small, round media disk. "She sent this just a while ago. See for yourself."
I neatly caught the disk and slid it into one of my utility belt's many compartments. "This whole thing stinks," I said frankly.
Clark looked nervously between myself and Artemis. "There's no need to start alienating Artemis before she even gains official membership," he said. "Trust me, I'm going to get enough grief over this from Flash and the other League Vets once they find out."
"Me, you, and J'onn. I haven't had time to contact Flash or Lantern, much less any of the newcomers to JLU."
I nodded, then turned back to Artemis, who regarded me with a cold, predatory stare so unlike Diana's that I felt a fresh surge of disbelief. I glared unflinchingly right back at her. "I wouldn't get too comfortable," I said. "If I were you."
Artemis' chin went up in pure defiance. "You don't intimidate me," she replied.
I gave her another BatStare, for the road, and then turned around, cape trailing me like a cloak of darkness. Getting into a verbal bout with her would have been pointless as well as elementary. That did not mean, however, that I had accepted this sudden change in the JL roster. Not by a long shot.
Some time later, back in the Batcave, I pored over Diana's transmission for the seventh time, my trained eyes searching in vain for any hint of foul play. I saw none. No hint of coercion, or an imposter, or any of the abnormalities I had hoped for.
The transmission message wasn't very long-maybe seven minutes in length. Diana was not dressed in her uniform, but rather in a simple black T-shirt. She obviously hadn't given any attention to her physical appearance, as was evidenced by her mussed hair and red-rimmed eyes. She'd been crying earlier.
My heart sank as I watched one of the League's most noble members concede defeat. She gave no reasons for why she could no longer continue as Wonder Woman, simply saying that it was a strictly Amazonian affair and no one should interfere. She went on to say that she did not wish for anyone from the League to contact her and she would be leaving for parts unknown. Last but not least, she touched on Artemis. It was obvious from her body language that she had no more love for her replacement than I did, but her instructions were nevertheless to accept Artemis as the new Wonder Woman, no questions asked.
"Sir," said Alfred, coming up behind me. "May I remind you that tomorrow, you have several contracts to sign and a merger to-"
"I know," I said, cutting him off with a wave of my hand.
"Its 3:00 in the morning."
"I know," I lied. "This . . .is just really important."
Alfred knew when back down. "Very well sir. I shall see you in the morning then."
"Good night, Alfred."
"Good night, Master Bruce."
I turned back to the Batcave's large monitor, finally giving up on the task of finding foul play. "Computer," I said, "Give me all satellite surveillance footage of 5674 N. N. Goodwin Lane, Gateway City USA."
In a matter of seconds, I had footage from a dozen different government and private satellites, all of it of Diana Prince's home. It didn't take long to find what I was looking for. Out of the driveway came her civilian identity's car. The task of determining where it was going was a more difficult task since there was no convenient GPS or any other system I could access.
What shocked me was her destination. I had thought if Diana didn't return to Themyscera she might go to another country or at least a far different part of the country. Then I realized how simple, yet effective her deception was. She'd said she was going far away, so why would anyone think to look for her in, say . . .Gotham?
By now, I thought, Artemis is probably up in the Watchtower. I wondered how they would react to her. Would they welcome her with open arms? Forget all about me since they had their replacement? I didn't think so, but then again I never would have imagined that my own mother would deliver such a stinging betrayal. Great judge of character I was.
But that wasn't even the worst of my problems. As I sat in one of Gotham city's dingiest motel rooms, counting cracks in the ceiling, all of my thoughts kept coming back to what I knew to be true, but couldn't accept.
My powers were gone. My strength, my speed, everything. My exhaustion flying back from Themyscera-it had been more than simple exhaustion. Within a matter of hours, all my powers had deserted me. It was like suddenly going half blind and half deaf. One of the most miserable experiences in my life.
I had said I was going far away. But I wasn't. I was maybe a ten-minute drive from my own base of operations, Gateway City. I was in Gotham and I still didn't know why. Why not Metropolis or some other city? I didn't even know why I had run in the first place or what I was running from.
But regardless of what I was running from, even I couldn't kid myself about who I was running to. Gotham was the Batman's territory. Undisputed. And sooner or later, our paths would cross. He was the only veteran member of the League with no superpowers whatsoever, and certainly could do nothing to help my situation at home.
It was raining outside. A thunderstorm, with lightning and everything. It was the lightning that illuminated Batman's form for a brief moment and caused me to jump back in shock.
"Batman," I said, surprised, despite my secret hopes that I would see him anyway. I trailed off with that one word. I could have asked a million questions, like how he'd found me or how he'd managed to get into my room, but I didn't. I just watched him step out of the shadows.
"Wonder Woman," he said. I usually preferred it when he called me by my given name, but in this case I made an exception. I smiled inside that he still thought of me as Wonder Woman, even if I didn't."
"What are you doing here?" I asked after a moment of silence between us. Once again, a nearby bolt of lightning illuminated his visage, sending involuntary shivers down my spine.
"I could ask you the same," replied Batman. "You are aware this is Gotham."
"Did you come here to try to talk me out of resigning from the League?" I asked, "Because J'onn already beat you to it."
"I want to know what happened," said Batman. "Why is someone else wearing your armor and carrying your title and position in the Justice League.
"Its a long story," I said.
Batman didn't look the slightest bit put off. "I have time," he said.
And so I told him. Everything. Once I started it was like breaking a dam, the flow couldn't be stopped. I started with the episode of Friends, since that seemed most logical, and went on to Artemis's arrival, my subsequent trip to Themyiscera, and my confrontation with my mother. "After that," I said, "I just went home. Well, my civilian home anyway."
"So what are you doing in Gotham?" Batman pressed.
"I don't know, OK. I-I don't know a lot of things."
Batman continued to regard me silently for a moment. "Do you know what you're going to do now?" he asked.
I laughed, even though there was nothing funny in the slightest about my situation. "What can I do? No way I'm going back to Themyiscera, and the one thing I want most is to help Man's World, but now that's Artemis's job. So I guess there's nothing for me to do."
Batman looked at me disapprovingly. "This isn't like you, Diana," he told me. "Neither was the message you sent. You're reveling in your own self pity, and it's affecting your logic. No one is telling you that you can't stay in the League except for you."
"Yeah," I scoffed. "That would work. We could have two Wonder Woman's, except one of them can pick up a tank and the other can barely lift double her body weight. Without my powers, there's just no place in the League for me." I knew as soon as the words left my mouth that it was the wrong thing to say, especially to Batman, who had no powers. "Listen," I said, forcing my demeanor to soften and placing a hand on Batman's arm. "I didn't mean that you have to have powers to-"
"No offense taken," Batman said, cutting me off. "You were one of the most powerful members of the League, and I certainly can't imagine what its like to have that kind of power taken away. What I can do is help you."
"Help me do what?"
"Find a purpose for your life. A path to take. You came to our world out of a desire to help mankind, and while you may not be able to function in that same capacity, you can still work towards that goal, with or without powers."
"You mean like you?"
"No, not necessarily. You said that one thing your mother faulted you on was not publicly taking more peaceful actions to promote peace. I could give you a job at Wayne Enterprises in our foreign relations department or something doing exactly that."
"Bruce-" I began, almost unconsciously reverting to his actual name. He cut me off with a wave of his hand however.
"Just think about it," he said. "If you agree, contact Bruce Wayne and he'll have you in your own office doing what you want to do in no time." He tossed me a card, which I caught in one deft motion. At least I still had some reflex left. "That's the number to call."
I looked at the card, then back at Batman, still just barely aware that my hand remained on his arm. "Why are you doing this for me?" I asked sincerely. "I don't know if I want you to go through all of this trouble on my behalf.
His expression didn't change. "Its no trouble, and you can trust that I never make an offer I haven't fully considered from every angle. I would strongly suggest that you accept." I tried to read something . . .anything in his features that would give a less cryptic explanation for his sudden desire to help me, but his features remained as impassive and indecipherable as ever.
I let my hand drop and read the business card, noting Bruce Wayne's private number and e-mail. "Thank you," I said while glancing up. I had just finished the 'you' when I realized that Batman had completely vanished, as if he'd never been in the room at all. I smiled. Some things never changed.