Chapter Nineteen: Falling Apart
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. Why do you keep asking?" Jacqueline insisted.
"I've hung around Raven long enough to know when somebody says 'I'm fine' it usually means the exact opposite," Beast Boy replied. "Plus you've been staring at that floor long enough to burn a hole through it."
For the first time in the past three hours, Jacqueline managed to pry her gaze away from the small speck of dirt between her feet long enough to cast a disheartened glance to her friend…before returning it right back to the floor. It had been a long ride back from France and aside from the constant churn of the plane's engines and the occasional bout of turbulence, there has been little noise in the passenger hold. Somebody could have at least given the pair a portable DVD player so they could have an in-flight movie.
Beast Boy knew his friend was depressed. Her hometown had been wrecked by a giant robot that also killed her father, she failed in her mission to stop whatever the Legion was up to in Europe, and her guitar was wrecked again. It was a major low-point in her career and the only thing preventing her from free-falling into a depression was her anger. While Beast Boy was glad that the cargo hold of the military plane provided a relatively quiet, private setting for them, it created an awful tension between them. He wanted to say more but he wasn't sure how without sounding like his usual goofball self.
"I am going to kill zose goddamn robots…" she muttered under her breath.
"Come on Jacq, don't start thinking like that. I've seen it a million times on TV – you get all focused on revenge and then the close friend gets killed in a dramatic third act climax."
"Doesn't zat zen galvanize ze hero's resolve to finish the job and save ze world?"
"Yeah…but I'm the loveable close friend that'd get killed! It's always the comic relief guy! And if I bit the dust who would make all the jokes that keep the tensions away and keep the team happily content despite the overwhelming dysfunction?"
"I zink somebody's been watching too many children's cartoons again," Jacqueline replied, cocking an eyebrow briefly before letting out a soft laugh.
"It was the only channel that wasn't in French…"
"Well don't worry mon amis," she reassured while patting him lightly on the head, "I have no intention of letting ze robots get you."
"Darn straight – you still owe me a moped ride. And I want 'eyes to the back of your skull' speed on it!"
Jacqueline laughed once again, shaking her head in disbelief at her friend's stalwart dedication to his favourite mode of transportation. She did look forward to that and to the time when all of this Legion business would finally be behind them. It would be a welcomed distraction as she felt she needed a really, really long vacation after this – a sentiment likely shared by all his comrades.
"Soooo…did they ever find out what the Legion stole?"
"Some sort of experimental generator," Jacqueline answered. "I get ze feeling zat ze Legion is building something big again; probably somezing with a big gun too."
"I'm sure we'll find out soon enough," Beast Boy said with a sigh. Hopefully it wasn't another giant robot but considering the Legions preference towards them he wouldn't be surprised.
"Zere's one zing zat's still bugging me," Jacqueline began. "Why ze hell am I still alive?"
"You better not be getting emo on me!"
"No, I mean…why has ze Legion been ignoring perfectly good opportunities to take us out? I know you said zat ze jets scared the colossus away but it would've taken it a second to just stomp on me. So why didn't it? You said yourself zat zey had opportunity to take out you, Cyborg, and basically everyone else. Zey must need us alive for some reason because zey could've killed us a half-dozen times over already."
"You think they're going to make evil robot clones of us again?" Beast Boy asked, not liking the prospect of having to go through that ordeal again.
"Zat'd be too convenient. I don't know why zey are but whatever ze reason it can't be good for us. I can't shake zis feeling zat zey're leading us like sheep to ze slaughter."
"Baa," bleated the green ram in protest.
"Indeed," she said with a nod, intertwining her fingers and resting her chin on them. "I got a bad feeling about zis."
Though nothing at all about the Legion instilled 'good feelings,' Beast Boy definitely agreed with Jacqueline. Things weren't adding up and even Beast Boy's poor arithmetic skills could tell that the final sum was going to be nothing but bad news for all of them. However, before the pair could speculate further on the nature of the Legion's plans, Beast Boy's communicator began to beep loudly. It wasn't the good kind of beeping either, not that any sort of beeping accompanied by a flashing red light have ever been associated with good things. The fact that it was the tower's new emergency distress signal that Cyborg had recently installed in made it all the more disconcerting.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Jacqueline shouted in disbelief.
"M-maybe it's just a test. You know…a drill."
"Warning: this is not a drill," the communicator conveniently chimed.
"Bastards won't even give me time to properly mourn," Jacqueline muttered bitterly under her breath as she undid her shoulder harness and headed for the front of the plane. Puzzled, Beast Boy followed suit. "Do we have enough fuel to reach Jump City?" she asked the pilot of the plane.
"We should have just enough. Change of plans I take it?" he replied.
"The bad kind I'm afraid," Jacq explained before turning to the co-pilot. "You – outta ze chair. I'm flying."
The co-pilot gave her a dumbfounded expression, switching glances between her and his pilot comrade. "What? You can't just tell me to-"
"Ignore him. He's new here," the pilot suddenly interrupted. "Get out of the chair rookie." Without a word, the co-pilot acquiesced and surrendered his chair over to Jacqueline, who wasted no time buckling in. "Try not to burn out the engines this time."
"No promises," she replied before looking back to Beast Boy. "You might want to strap yourself in little buddy."
"Um…why?" he queried.
"Cause I'm about to super-charge an airplane."
"She can't be serious," the co-pilot objected once more.
"She's serious," the other male occupants said in unison.
Beast Boy and the co-pilot rushed to get strapped down as Jacqueline began channeling her power into the aircraft. As the engines began to roar louder, the plane began to tremble in a most unsettling of fashions. Beast Boy's knowledge of avionics might have been limited only to 'planes go woosh' but he knew enough to know that planes didn't vibrate because somebody put espresso in the jet fuel. Only his trust in Jacqueline stood between his current sense of unease and full-blown screaming, arm-flailing, circle-running panic. That and the fact that standing up right now would probably throw him into the backend of the plane.
"Are we there yet?" Beast Boy shouted.
"We'll get zere when we get zere," was Jacqueline's response.
While it might have been the most anxiety-inducing plane ride he's ever been on and it brought air sickness to a whole new level, one couldn't argue with the results. It might have almost completely drained Jacqueline but the trip that would normally have taken a few hours was reduced to a mere fraction of that time. Everybody on the plane breathed a sigh of relief when the vibrations finally ceased and they could feel the plane slowly to its normal speeds. Just as Beast Boy finished unbuckling his safety harness, he saw a tired Jacqueline staggering out from the cockpit.
"I'll be fine…just a little tired. I told ze pilot…to slow ze plane down, drop altitude, and make a pass over ze tower," Jacqueline explained. It didn't take long for Beast Boy to figure out what her plan was.
"You're crazy," Beast Boy remarked.
"Yeah…but you love it," she chuckled coyly in response before heading over to a footlocker that had been stowed beneath one of the seats. Quickly scavenging through it, she took out a pistol and her father's old rapier, both mementos she took from home.
"Since when did I become the voice of reason around here?" he commented while watching his friend fastens her new weapons to her belt. "You sure you want to do this still?"
"My friends are in trouble," Jacqueline answered quietly. "It's time to stop treating this like a game and be serious."
Beast Boy never thought he'd see the day where Jacqueline would say that. While Robin often had his serious moments, Jacqueline was usual about as carefree as the green Titan. For her, being a hero was more than just a duty, it was a passion. Like him, being a hero was pretty much the only life she had ever known. But like that childlike sense of wonder, it was only a matter of time before her playful mindset would give way to the harsh realities of the profession. He just wished it hadn't had to come about like this…and so soon.
"We're opening the rear hatch, you two better stand back," the pilot called out from the front. A red warning light began to flash as hydraulics wailed with activity, pushing the rear hatch down and revealing the city landscape below. The roar of the wind drowned out all other noise, leaving Jacqueline to motion for Beast Boy to follow; However, she didn't wait long before jumping headlong out the back of the plane, no doubt shouting 'woo' all the while.
Since she clearly didn't bother with a parachute Beast Boy had to rush after her, morphing in a falcon so he could dive with enough velocity to catch up to her. Once he caught up, he swooped underneath her and shifted into a pterodactyl in order to scoop her up and begin a safe descent to the Titans Tower's rooftop.
"Cyborg, Raven - we've just arrived on the rooftop. What's the situation?" Jacqueline shouted into her communicator as she finally set foot on solid ground.
"I can't tell you how good it is to hear a friendly voice," Cyborg's voice replied over the communicator. "We got robots crawling all over the place. I'm pinned down in the garage and I can't reach Raven on the communicators."
"Do you know where she is?"
"In her room last time I saw her."
"What about Robin and Starfire?"
"Still in Gotham last I heard."
"Damn. Again wiz ze divide and conquer," Jacqueline cursed under her breath. "Okay, just stay alive. We're on our way."
"Don't have to tell me twice."
"Beast Boy," Jacqueline began as she turned to her friend, "You can reach ze garage ze quickest so you go and help out Cyborg. I'll go and find Raven."
"Just be careful," Beast Boy nodded before jumping over the railing to reach his friend on the ground floor. Without her guitar or any other means of flight, Jacqueline's only option charging down the rooftop stairwell and hoping her exhaustion didn't cause her to take an unfortunate tumble. She couldn't deny the fact that her own personal feelings for Raven were partly responsible for her sending Beast Boy off to save Cyborg and she just prayed that her friend was unharmed.
The fear of losing another person close to her was far better motivation than she would have thought possible; she practically flew down the stairs, hopping the railings several times over to hasten her trip.
Her first sight upon reaching the desired floor was not a positive one as she found a pair of Furies standing guard in the hallway. At least, though, it told her that she probably had the right floor for finding Raven. Opting for the 'shoot first, heroic speeches later' option, a charged blast from her laser pistol put a clean, golf ball-sized hole through the head of one of the robots, no doubt startling the other one.
"Enemy reinforcements," the robot shouted, likely into a communicator. "Strength unknown; send reinforcements to point A3." That was all the warning the machine would get off as Jacqueline's rapier quickly pierced the Fury's chest, skewering its power core.
"I only wish there a hell for you bastards to burn in," Jacqueline muttered angrily as she took the machine's head off with a second strike.
Sure enough, though, there was soon another pair of Furies rounding the corner and charging straight for her and firing a volley of metal javelins. Reacting quickly, Jacqueline dove backwards, firing laser bolts off as the metal missiles just narrowly passed over her. Well-aimed bolts of energy managed to fell the first of the Furies but the second one was able to close the gap, forcing Jacqueline to roll out of the way of its claws. Springing back to her feet, Jacqueline launched a counter-attack, exchanging thrusts and parries with the Fury. The Fury thought it had Jacqueline when it was able to lock her blade down with its claws but with a charge of her power and a flick of her wrist, her rapier was able to break from and shatter all of its claws in the process. Its brief, defenseless moment gave Jacqueline all the time she needed to puts its head on the receiving end of a laser bolt.
Hearing more metallic footsteps approaching, Jacqueline readied herself for more Furies or perhaps Spartans. What emerged from around the corner, though, were not the usual robotic warriors of the Legion but instead a trio of wolf-like robots, each one casting its amber gaze upon her.
"Well zat's new," she quipped, surprised but prepared to fight nonetheless.
Far down the corridor, beyond the sound of the nearby fighting, the door to Raven's room lay in the middle of the hallway, torn apart from its frame like wrapping paper. The interior was more akin to a war zone than somebody's living quarters as books and furniture laid strewn across the room. The bodies of fallen robots were scattered across the room, most in several pieces and one was even embedded in a large crater in the wall. Alas, the fighting had ceased within the bed chamber. Forced to her knees in the center of the room was Raven with a Fury standing behind her with one hand gripping the back of her head and the other keeping her arm wrenched into a most uncomfortable position. Two other Furies rummaged through the scattered books and broken shelves in search of something, while Artemis, General of the Legion, stood impatiently before the Titan.
"I know you have hidden it somewhere. Tell me where it is and I won't kill you," Artemis demanded.
"Like I'd believe a word from you," Raven simply answered in defiance.
"I will have Chrono's journal. Whether you live or die afterwards is entirely up to you."
"And you'll never find it so you might as well just give it up."
"While I would much enjoy taking the time to give you a thorough 'interrogation,' your friends seem to already be on their way. Rip it from her mind…and make sure it's painful."
"As you command," the Fury replied, unfurling a series of small wire-like tendrils from its hand.
Though the sounds of clashing metal and gunfire never reached the bed chamber, Raven's pained cry echoed through the entire floor, reaching Jacqueline's ear and prompting her to hasten her approach. Concern turned to panic at the thought of what might have happened and her arrival to find the trio of Furies standing overtop of Raven's unconscious body brought forth a hell-born fury from her. Artemis, however, was strangely absent.
"Get away from her!" Jacqueline shouted at the top of her lungs, charging headlong into the closest, stabbing it over and over until it didn't even twitch anymore.
"Quick, secure the exit," one of the Furies commanded the other before Jacqueline capitalized on its distraction by blasting a hole through its face.
Though she didn't know what exit the Fury was referring to, reaching wherever it was heading was likely not want Jacqueline wanted. Jacqueline hurled her rapier at the fleeing Fury, impaling it through the chest and sending it crashing into the nearby desk, which, thus far, had remained the only undestroyed piece of furniture. Such was not the case anymore, as the desk was crushed into splinters, along with most of the contents on the surface, including a hand-mirror that shattered into pieces when it landed against the machine's shoulder.
The robot's remains, though, were not her concern but her fallen teammate who was unresponsive when she tried to get her attention.
"Come on Raven, please say something…anything," Jacqueline whimpered, tapping Raven's cheek to try and rouse her. There was no response. She was still breathing but when Jacqueline checked the back of her neck, the obvious markings of a Legion's mind probe were still there. Panic turned into terror at the thought of her friend becoming a bed-ridden vegetable. "No…no no no. Not you too. I can't lose you as well…"
"We got here as fast as we could, what happened Beast Boy?" the hero formerly known as Robin said as he rushed into the waiting room outside the medical rooms.
"The Legion attacked while we were all…wait, what happened to you? Why aren't you all…Robin-y?" Beast Boy replied when he noticed that the Titan leader was not standing in his usual red and green uniform but instead dressed in casual attire with a gray leather coat, blue jeans, and sunglasses.
"Long story, I'll explain later. What happened here?" Dick repeated.
However, before Beast Boy could explain Starfire wandered into the room and looked past the pair to catch a glimpse of a familiar figure lying on a medical bed in the next room. "Raven!" Starfire exclaimed in panic before flying past the others.
That was all Dick needed to hear as he chased after his teammate. In the next room, he found Raven lying motionless on a medical bed. Dozens of sensors and probes were attached to her forehead and arms, each one picking up data and displaying it on a large screen filled so many numbers and twitching lines that he could barely make sense of it. Cyborg was still toiling away on the computers, making minute adjusts and pouring over all the data, while an almost traumatized Jacqueline sat silently in the corner, staring blankly at the ground. She was muttering something under her breath but it was all in French and barely even audible.
"How is she?" Dick asked. A thousand questions ran through his head but the only one that mattered was the one about his friend.
"Not good," was Cyborg's grim response, eliciting a horrified gasp from Starfire. "There's extensive damage to her brain, especially the central and frontal regions. Judging by the read-outs, though, and considering Raven's a bit more resilient being part-demon, there's a good chance she'll recover but…"
"There's…also a good chance that there will be major memory loss and personality discrepancies…and they could be permanent."
Once again, just when it seemed like the Titans were getting back on top of things the Legion pulled the rug out from under them. Dick's frustrations were understandable so it didn't surprise anybody when he vented his anger by putting his fist through the nearest computer monitor.
"Are you…okay?" Starfire asked cautiously.
"I think…I think I'm going to need a few bandages," Dick said softly.
"I will fetch you a kit of first aid."
"Thanks Star…" While Starfire headed over to one of the cabinets, Dick turned his attention back to Cyborg. "Do you have any idea what they are after this time?"
"Probably something that only Raven knew, which doesn't really narrow things down for us."
"Zey were looking for something in her room," Jacqueline spoke up, though her voice was dull and listless. "It looked ransacked…drawers and shelves emptied everywhere."
"Did they say anything?" Dick asked.
"One said 'secure the exit' but ze robot went for ze nearby desk instead. I'm not sure what zat meant."
"Um, this desk…it didn't happen to have a small, black handheld mirror on it?" Beast Boy asked warily.
"I believe I saw somezing like zat."
Cyborg and Beast Boy exchanged nervously glances, or at least Beast Boy did and it could be assumed that Cyborg was thinking the same thing. All eyes fell upon them until Dick finally asked, "Okay, what's with the mirror?"
"Well, it's not so much a mirror as it's…um," Cyborg began but began to trail off part-way through.
Beast Boy was quick to pick up, though, adding, "As it's a gateway into her noggin."
"A gateway?" Dick repeated.
"Into her mind?" Starfire added.
Beast Boy and Cyborg nodded in unison.
"You don't think one of them is actually in there…do you?"
"Are automatons even capable of such?"
"If they can and there is one in there, there's no telling what kind of damage they could do," Cyborg informed them. "Not to mention we might be able to figure out what they're looking for."
"Man, I was kinda hoping I'd never have to go back in there. That place is creepy," Beast Boy admitted reluctantly. However, he and everyone else on the team would go to hell and back for Raven, so braving the dangers of her mind paled in comparison. "I'll go get the mirror."
"Uh-oh…" Jacqueline peeped once more.
"Uh-oh? Uh-oh is bad. Very, very bad! Ixnay on the uh-oh! Please don't say that the mirror is in a million pieces."
"Okay, I won't say zat."
"Damn…" Cyborg groaned. "Now how do we follow them?"
"Perhaps I could be of some assistance," spoke an eerily familiar voice. All eyes turned to the doorway where there stood someone whom none of them ever thought they would see again. Clad in dark, tattered robes and runic metal armour was the dark former ruler of Daluram – Napharak Trnorbane. "After all, portals are my specialty."
"Didn't you disintegrate?"