The Powers That Be
Summary: A life-altering experience challenges Batman to deal with possibilities and opportunities he never considered before. The rest of the League must judge for themselves the meaning of these occurrences.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Justice League or any of the DC Characters. No profit is gained by this fiction.
AN: I have to admit, I don't have all the details of all the characters committed to memory. If I get something wrong, forgive me.
Chapter 1: All Glory is Fleeting
'Damn it, Clark!' The Dark Knight cursed under his breath.
Streaking through the sky faster than sound, the pilot of the mystifying black jet fought hard to maintain control of the craft and keep his wits at the same time. The hull was penetrated. He was loosing fuel and trailing smoke. Lights flashed and sirens blared all around the cockpit. At this speed, ejection would be next to suicide, but he had few other choices.
The g-forces exerted on his chest by the corkscrew trajectory made it hard to talk, hard to think. Fighting hard against the controls, one hand fumbled its way through the shaking cockpit to the ejection seat lever. The consoles before him were rattling and flashing incomprehensibly. He couldn't focus on any of his indications. The horizon through the cracked Plexiglas canopy was spinning at a sickening rate and he fought hard against vertigo to control his craft and arrest his descent. He was losing that fight.
'J'onn, can we risk a teleport?' he mentally projected to his colleague aboard the orbiting Watchtower.
'I don't think we can,' the Martian replied within his head. 'You're moving too fast. The system can't get a lock on you at that speed. Can you slow down?'
'If I could slow down,' Batman's exhausted brain thought, 'I would have done so by now and ejected!'
The battle that raged on was well behind him now, over the horizon. His colleagues would surely finish the battle without him. The League would win the day, but it seems that only six of them would be around for the victory. Their adversaries were potent, there was no doubt about that, and injuries were sure to be suffered by at least some of the heroes. But a fatality… that wasn't something that was even remotely in his head when the fighting began.
Dozens of military-grade airborne automatons, armed and utterly dangerous, had been hijacked by some unknown hacker group. That was the official line from LuthorCorp, the manufacturer of the devices. Within an hour of the hijacking, the press liaisons for the company had issued statements that clearly were drafted to illustrate their innocents and that they were doing everything in their power to help local authorities rectify the situation. Conveniently, the command codes and manual override equipment that could have been used to instantly defuse the situation were missing.
Designed for aerial combat as well as long-range bombing and precision targeting, the robots were heavily armored and well programmed to evade and destroy any perceived or programmed threat. The defense contract had specifically been written to include only the kinds of technology consistent with countless LuthorCorp patents, making it virtually impossible for any other defense contractor to build them to spec. Effectively, LuthorCorp was destined to build these devices and thus, the company had the liberty to implement many unusual systems.
When the CEO of Wayne Enterprises had learned of the development of such devices as well as the exclusive contract for LuthorCorp, he had kept a close eye on their progress. Sources and spies kept a constant stream of information about the project flowing into the corporate offices and Bruce Wayne made sure that the pertinent data also found its way to the powerful computers of the Batcave and the Watchtower.
Many of the devices, weapons and systems that were built into the robots were commonplace for military-grade equipment. Armor and armor-piercing projectiles were nothing out of the ordinary for such military products. Even advanced, state-of-the-art electromagnetic pulse generators had their place in combat weaponry. But when different quantities and grades of a strange material labeled "K-stone" showed up on some inventory sheets, Bruce Wayne contacted Batman, who infiltrated some LuthorCorp databases and deciphered the true nature of that material.
Of course, the elusive description of K-stone turned out to be Kryptonite. LuthorCorp had secured many varying types of the substance, mostly green, but red and blue were also used in minute quantities. When this precious tid-bit of information was 'leaked' to the press, a persistent little sparkplug of a reporter from the Daily Planet cornered some high-ranking officials at LuthorCorp about its use. Their canned response citing random molecular properties and the way the substance was supposedly used for tracking systems and protective shielding seemed to placate most of the average reporters. Lois Lane, however was not an average reporter. She kept digging.
Naturally, the Justice League was keeping a close eye on the transport and delivery of the first batch of these fully functional Automated/Controlled Combat or Reconnaissance Devices (ACCORDS). Lex Luthor was conveniently engaged in a high-profile business meeting in Tokyo (which Batman had described as an alibi) when an unidentified group of armed mercenaries attacked the convoy, activated the ACCORDS and programmed them for their own goals. Nearly half of the ACCORDS were aligned in a coordinated attack on a Federal Reserve building outside of Metropolis. The rest were guarding the attack or, in a few cases, programmed to cause peripheral damage to other buildings and areas in order to keep the local authorities and emergency responders busy. However when destruction and mayhem commenced, the Justice League was ready.
The battle began within minutes of the when the first rogue ACCORD attack took place. The plot against the Federal Reserve was quickly foiled and the mercenary group was forced to reprogram their hijacked weapons to attack the heroes directly. The armed hijackers were also prepared to wage their own attacks on the ground using conventional weapons against unarmed civilians. The two-front battle (one in the air with the ACCORDS, one on the ground with the gunmen) was one of the most spectacular battles caught by modern journalism. The feats of the League were captured for the world to see and every reporter worth their salt was trying to get as close to the action as possible.
Because of the danger of Kryptonite, Batman had all but commanded Superman to stay out of the battle. For the most part, he did, circling attentively around the engagement in an attempt to minimize collateral damage. He was even forbidden to attempt to take out the mercenaries on the ground for fear of exposure. Flash was more than enough of an opponent for the most part. He had disarmed most of the suspects and captured quite a few before too long. The rest of the League had a fair challenge taking care of the powerful airborne menace. Out of the 36 ACCORDS, 28 were summarily disabled or destroyed. It was a tricky encounter and the League had to use a strong defensive stance and pick their offensive strikes carefully. However, thanks to the team effort and the coordination by Batman in his armored fighter, they were clearly winning the day. So far, none of them had anything more than detectable amounts of Kryptonite, but it didn't hurt to be careful.
For the most part, Superman's considerable talents weren't required. Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Hawk Girl and Batman were on the aerial assault, with support from Flash on the ground and Superman keeping a safe distance. The Batjet had taken minimal damage. Green Lantern was slightly injured but his ring still had plenty of energy. Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman were relatively unscathed. Flash was tired, but recovering with a smile in front of the press.
When a rogue ACCORD attacked a nearby school building, Superman and Flash came to the rescue. The ACCORD was destroyed, but the school was on fire and there were children trapped. Superman was able to put out the fire while Flash ensured the safety of all the occupants of the damaged building. Upon resuming his vigilant orbit, Superman immediately found Hawkgirl was unaware that she had been targeted by two of the remaining ACCORDS behind her.
Shouting for her attention as he blazed through the clear blue sky, Superman slammed one of the metal devices into the other and seemed to have saved his teammate. It was at that time that 3 more ACCORDS had appeared from seemingly nowhere. Tracking them through the monitors of his jet, Batman noticed there was something different about these devices. The added bulk to their frame made the airborne detective suspect something.
Those devices were kept out of the battle until this time… for some reason, they hadn't engaged until now…Superman is engaged now… They've targeted Superman… those extra panels on those ACCORDS… Kryptonite! It's a TRAP!
In a deadly move, Batman threw on the afterburners of his midnight jet and engaged Superman's adversaries. Missiles took out two, but the third evaded his attack and countered with a barrage of armor-piercing rounds. His starboard wing was clipped and part of the tail. The jet screamed out uncontrollably towards the horizon, trailing smoke in a barrel roll.
'I told him to stay out of it!' Batman was seething as he fought the controls. He had long-since cut the engines and they were winding down, slowing the craft, but he was on a ballistic trajectory towards the open sea. Losing altitude quickly, still too fast to eject, he fought to cease the rolling and pull the nose of his aircraft up. Climbing would reduce velocity and afford him a safe escape. It was no use. The view out of his canopy alternated from the clear sky to the whitecaps on the gray and navy waves that blurred by as his jet rolled over and over. The altimeter spun mercilessly down towards zero and Batman's eventual violent demise.
As the great man grinded his teeth and strained his muscles against the controls, it seemed that he had to acknowledge the inevitable; he was going to die saving Superman. The flash of clarity and finality of it all raced through his brain in a split second. He was about to die and he'd leave behind slim remnants of a dysfunctional family, a legacy of pain and emotional impotence, and many more questions and painful resolutions to those that he dared care for. He thought that he had his life arranged – danger was always hand-in-hand with the mission. He had faced death before and he believed that he had planned for closure if that grim fate became reality. Now he wasn't so sure. Something nagged him that he could have done more… should have done more.
This wasn't supposed to happen. We should have been able to take out those damn androids without a casualty. What did I do wrong? Why didn't Clark stay out of it? Why can't that stupid farm boy just do the smart thing instead of always trying to do the right thing? All those powers… I have none of those powers and I had to save him?! Dick wouldn't have to live with an unresolved conflict with his estranged, dead step-father. Tim would have a mentor to take him all the way to adulthood instead of one to bury. Diana… what could have been? No! This PROOVES that a relationship could end in nothing but pain… And Clark, damn it Clark. You shouldn't have to live with the guilt of me dying to save your sorry…
With those final thoughts, Batman's body lurched forward against the five-point harness keeping his body securely in the pilot seat. His head snapped forward and his helmet cracked against the panels in front of him, wrenching his neck painfully. The violence of the severe momentum shift tossed his limbs around the tight cockpit, smashing his hands against the consoles. When it was over, he was inverted, able to sit up and take in all that was around him.
That was no crash.
Looking up through the spider web lines of broken Plexiglas at the ocean waves just meters away from his face, Batman was quick to realize that his decent had been arrested and his life spared. Painfully turning his head as far as he could, he caught a glimpse of a golden shining line around the bulk of his jet, just in front of the fragmented tail. Slowly the craft was lifted into the air and turned over. The whine of the jets had all but died and when his gloved hand hit the master kill switch, all the electronic noise and flashing ceased. The dead calm of the aircraft was almost surreal as the plane rolled over to see the dark hero's savior.
"Hey," The smiling face of his beloved Diana spoke to him through smoky air.
The warm flush of relief and sudden halt of adrenaline made the would-be victim smile. For a brief and knowing second, the two locked eyes. To anybody else, it would seem that one hero had come to the aid of another in the heat of battle. To them, there was sweet significance in the rescue. Maybe she was just coming to a colleague's aid – maybe it was something a little more. He had claimed so many times before that favoritism wouldn't do in a skirmish, this time he didn't seem to mind so much. Regaining his mantle, Batman's face returned to stone.
"It's about time," he said mockingly.
"You're welcome," she said half to herself.
"Let's go," he commanded. "We've got work to do."
Smiling, understanding that little blurb was about as close as she was going to get to a "Thank you", Wonder Woman hoisted the jet into a more comfortable grip and she carried the smoking hulk to shore. Placing it gently on the asphalt of a parking lot near the scene of the battle, they were quickly joined by their victorious teammates.
"Are you alright?" Superman asked sincerely, putting his hand on Batman's shoulder. The look in his eyes betrayed the guilt and gratitude the massive hero felt. Whatever animosity Batman had felt before vanished in the face of honesty. How could anybody stay mad at Superman? He still wouldn't let it show, however.
"Luthor's going to have a lot of questions to answer before today is done," Lantern proclaimed for all.
"He won't be touched by this," Batman prophesied. "He's in Tokyo. The robots were clearly hi-jacked and reprogrammed by people outside of the military and LuthorCorp. This will slide off him like oil."
"What about the Kryptonite?" Flash injected. "How can he claim that he didn't have his sights on Superman when we confront him with the ones that had Kryptonite weapons?"
The electronic, crackling voice of J'onn J'onz answered for all through the com link; "He won't have to. The only traces of Kryptonite detected within your area are consistent with LuthorCorp's claim that the substance is used in small amounts for armor shielding and tracking devices. There is no evidence that any Kryptonite was included in the design to be used as a weapon."
The 6 heroes exchanged concerned and frustrated glances. Either they had misplaced their mistrust in Lex Luthor, or he had managed to cover his actions too well once again. Letting out a sigh, Superman took to the air.
"Let's go," he ordered. "We've got a lot of cleaning up to do."
After the wrecked shells of the ACCORDS were gathered and piled by the half dozen trucks of the original convoy, Superman and Batman stayed on sight to work with the authorities and military to complete the effort. Wonder Woman served as the official spokesperson for the League with the reporters and military officials. The others returned to the Watchtower to rest, recover or be reassigned.
The Press was being kept at bay by a military contingent as LuthorCorp scientists began inspecting the wreckages. Video cameras were whizzing away and camera flashes sparkled like glitter from behind the wall of soldiers. Every reporter was calling for their turn to ask their questions of Green Lantern, the LuthorCorp Press agent or the military liaison. One warm female voice called out to Superman. She had some topical questions that she could have asked Wonder Woman, but Lois was simply trying to get his attention. He gladly obliged with a smile and a sly wave.
Many of the suspects had escaped, and from the few that had been captured, precious little was learned. Contained in the back of the ACCORD transport trucks until proper police vehicles were available, Batman and Superman were interrogating the captives one by one. After some relatively unfruitful questioning, they had the 4th suspect bound in the back of one of the semi trailers. The man was silent as a tomb for a few minutes, then nothing but sarcasm left his mouth for a few minutes after that. Trying to up the ante, Batman had started using his glare a little more intensely and Superman continued his attempts to appeal to some hidden, underlying good within the criminal to come clean. They unintentionally played the "good cop / bad cop" routine so naturally and so well that it almost looked like they had rehearsed it.
After a near perfect verbal assault and a disturbingly detailed description of unworldly physical violence, Superman had to pull Batman away for a brief private conference. Because Batman's anger was still somewhat elevated, Superman was having a difficult time subduing his friend. Batman had just started to brush off the latest chastisement, when he turned to see that the suspect had freed himself from his improvised bonds.
Within seconds of this escape, the hijacker had opened a hidden compartment in the floor of the truck and produced a bulky weapon. Batman had enough time to unsheathe a bat-a-rang, but his line of fire was instantly blocked by the large red and blue mass of Superman. The leader of the Justice League had calmly placed himself between danger & his friend and steeled himself for whatever came out of that thing that was about to be fired. There was going to be no way in hell Batman would find himself in danger again on account of Superman. Taking a firm step forward, flexing his chest and bracing for impact, there was a ferocious blaze of light and the huge man felt incapacitating pain as his burning body flew limp and all but lifeless through the scorched trailer.
Helplessly, Batman was blasted out the doors by the impact of Superman's flying hulk. The brunt of the exposure to the pulse weapon was absorbed by the Kryptonian that landed on the Dark Knight, knocking the breath completely out of his chest. When Batman finally figured out how to inhale again he was rewarded with the stench of burning uniform, hair and flesh. With one free hand, he desperately tried to cover his mouth and nose with a corner of his cape that wasn't smoldering. He couldn't seem to get enough air in his lungs to find the strength to twist his way out from under Clark's seemingly lifeless corpse. With what little he could muster, he managed to struggle to freedom.
Batman crawled a few feet to find some fresh air. Still down on all fours, head hanging, couching and gagging, eyes watering, he turned his head to register what had become of his colleague. A quick-thinking police officer had managed to get a fire extinguisher out of his squad car and put out the fire on Superman's chest and another had begun douse the burning semi trailer. Superman's exposed skin was charred and torn. Batman struggled, coughing, to his friend's side once again, tears stinging his eyes and fluid running from his nose. He shouted at Superman to respond. In a vain search, his hand instinctively flew to his utility belt, but he didn't know what for. He had nothing stashed away to revive a fallen god.
Shouting and shaking Superman's body, Batman paused as he saw one of the most remarkable things he'd seen in his long years as a crime fighter. Right before his very eyes, the charred flesh on Superman's body began to heal. The flakey black layers of burned skin shed and blew away like autumn leaves in the breeze, exposing clean, soft flesh. The big man's eyelashes and eyebrows grew back within seconds. The fresh pink skin of his chest closed shut around the gaping wounds that just moments before shown unnaturally-colored muscled tissue and hot alien blood. It wasn't long before the stoic handsome face of his friend showed signs of life and contorted in pain. His eyes and mouth flew open in shock and surprise as he drew in an enormous breath. Coughing upon exhaling, he tried to cover his mouth.
Damn near dies and he still has the manners to cover his mouth when he coughs!
With a sigh, Superman focused his eyes and turned to Batman. Taking a second to recognize his friend, he managed a weak smile.
"You idiot," Batman said quietly. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"Returning a favor," was the soft reply.
Superman breathed deeply a few more seconds, allowing his amazing physiology to completely regenerate. With his strength recovering, Batman was able to stand up and look around the scene. Whatever was left of the poor bastard that had fired that weapon was plastered like red and black stucco throughout the inside of the remaining portions of the trailer. He obviously had no idea what that weapon was or what it was supposed to do. What was even more noteworthy; whatever that weapon was, it was now in pieces strewn all across the parking lot.
"Well, I guess he won't be doing that again," Batman half smiled, turning back towards Superman. His half smile dropped into a stone cold look of horror. The scars on Superman's chest had stopped healing. Superman's wide eyes were glassy and rolling in search of sight, his breathing rough and labored.
"Superman!" Batman said dropping to his knee once again. Upon getting no signs of cognizance; "J'onn, Batman! Emergency teleport!"
In a rolling blue flash the two men were gone.