This chapter is dedicated to sonofnight, without whose reviews this never would have been finished. Supportive readers like him are the reason we fanfic authors will continue to try long after our muses have abandoned us. Remember that next time you read a story you love.
Beta'd by AlsoSprachOdin
Time: 0348, 07 MARCH 2011
Location: Lower Orbit, Northern Hemisphere
Today, Superman decided, had definitely been one of his better days. In fact, it had been so good that he was breaking out into random bursts of humming. And, dare he say it; he might even have been bobbing his head a little when he'd foiled those bank robbers on 3rd and Monroe. Everything had just been going his way since mom had sent him that apple pie. Her pie had always made life better. It was an attested fact to which he swore and neither Clark Kent nor Superman had ever sworn falsely.
He'd been slogging through some drudge report about politics that he had to write without actually saying anything when his pie had arrived, and then, voila! It was blue skies and sunshine for the rest of the day. First, his floor manager, whom he secretly despised as an egotistical yuppie, had called in sick. After work, he'd stopped by at Sam's Dinner and been given a free, extra long chili cheese dog for a glowing comment on said Diner that he'd written and promptly forgot about. Superman adored chili cheese dogs, especially since his alien metabolism kept him in perfect health without doing anything. And to cap off the perfect day, Lois' exclusive interview with Bruce Wayne about the possibility of inter-world trading had been canceled due to some unforeseen emergency on Wayne's part. Clark silently thanked the Joker or whatever psychopath Arkham had currently misplaced and offered to take Lois out for a consolation drink with him and Jimmy Olsen. Wonder of wonders, she'd accepted!
"IiIiI've got sun-shine, I'vvve got rhy-thm, I'm-a'flying thru the clouds…"
Superman was on the third verse of his impromptu show-tune when he reached the Watchtower, apple pie leftovers vacuum sealed and safely tucked under his arm until they could be enjoyed during what was scheduled to be a short, easy time on monitor duty. It was then that he noticed his reception committee.
Superman glided to a graceful stop just inside the hangar bay and found himself before two young aliens. Or, he assumed they were aliens. One was a short, little green man (boy) with elfin ears and wearing a black and purple jump suite. The other was an exotic beauty with red hair, scintillating green eyes and what looked like some sort of heavy armor.
"What's up Sup's?" The little green man greeted him cheerfully. Superman gave a jaunty salute while he searched his memory for a matching face.
"Let's see, small, green, elf ears, kinda looks like a lawn gnome...tall, waif-like, orange with green eyes and red hair…shoot, I know I've seen these two kids somewhere…
Superman recognized the stylized T on their communicators. The Man of Steel flashed his famous smile and tried to stall for time. He really didn't want to ask their names. It gave the impression that he was too high and mighty to remember them. Besides, he was a reporter. It was his job to remember these things.
"Oh, hey, uh, it's good to see you so shortly after the big meeting. I don't remember hearing that we would be working with the Titans anytime soon."
"Krypton's ghost, what were their names? Green Boy and Star Light? No, the green kid's a shape-shifter. Mighty Morphin' Man and Star Prancer? No, that doesn't sound right either."
"Yea, it was kind of sort of supposed to be a secret. Bat-Breath hired us to help out with the Justice League's security," the green kid cheerfully answered. "Hey, ah, you're not going to tell him I said that, right?"
Superman chuckled and held up his hand in pledge. "Scout's Honor," he said. Superman understood the desire to stay off Batman's bad side. Not that he really had much of a good side.
"Beast Boy, we really must begin," the red haired beauty spoke up, "I am very worried about friend Raven."
"Beast Boy and Star Dancer; got it."
"Worried about what?" Superman asked, genuinely concerned at his fellow alien's obvious worry. "Maybe I can help."
Beast Boy waved him off, "Nah, thanks though. Basically, we attacked the Watchtower and kicked everyone butt's, but Raven's been captured by Batman. But we'll get take care of that later." Beast Boy's small, wiry frame suddenly exploded into the towering figure of Superman's arch nemesis, Darkseid.
"Now surrender before we are forced to subdue you." Green Darkseid's eyes burned with a very familiar red light which blended sinisterly with the twin green flames of Star Dancer's own eyes.
"You've got to be kidding me," Superman deadpanned.
The Man of Steel had just enough time to throw his pie to safety before he was knocked back into orbit by a double-fisted punch.
As Batman inched along cramped maintenance corridors, he couldn't decide whether he was proud, mortally embarrassed, thrilled, or just really pissed off. Batman had expected Robin's mutinous attack, even planned on it. However, even he had not planned on the sheer audacity of the Titans. Instead of ambushing isolated League members away from home, beginning with him and Hawk Girl as the weakest, they'd kicked down the League's front door and come in with guns blazing, not even bothering to use their status as allies to their advantage. It was ludicrous, suicidal and so far it was working brilliantly. The Titans had somehow snuck past the Watchtower's sensors, neutralized Hawk Girl, Green Lantern, the Flash, and taken over the Watchtower's defenses so fast that he had been completely helpless to do anything.
Impossible…at least without inside information.
He had a suspicion about where they'd gotten a hold of their information. If he was right, which he usually was, then he had double the reason to feel as he did.
As Batman made his way further into the heart of the station, the entire floor rocked. The station's exterior defenses had been activated.
Life has often been acknowledged as a cyclical thing, whether it be in the seasons, life and death, or cultures. It would make sense, then that entertainment also follow such a pattern. Indeed, it already had, with the spirit of the 70's in America having become widely popular throughout the global mainstream. Funky afros, classic Cadillacs and of course…
-Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive-
"BOOYA, take that Big Blue, take THAT."
-Go, go, go shorty-
The immense Monitor room was pitch black, save for the flashing lights which had been synched to a pirated mash-up of Stayin' Alive and In Da Club.
-Stayin' ALIIIIIIIVE!" "We gona party like it's your birthday-
Fittingly enough, it was the two most colorfully costumed Titans organizing the mad discotheque. As Starfire and Darkseid/Beast Boy were going hand to laser beams with the Man of Steel, Robin and Cyborg were gleefully at work throwing the Watchtower's formidable defense system into the mix. While safety concerns sadly meant they were unable to avail themselves of some of the station's most potent systems (the anti-matter accelerator, the Schwarzchild disrupter, the synchronicity generator, etc.) they were still left with some of the best weapons that the galaxy had ever seen.
"Dude, if you hit the 'S', I'll make you a whole new set of exploding birderangs," Cyborg challenged as he brought the axial rail guns online for a volley shot, "but if I hit it first, you have to put some chrome dials on my baby."
-It's your birthday-
Robin grinned wickedly and moved closer to his own screen so that he was practically hunched over.
"Tch, anyone hit the chest…now the crotch shot…" a blue white beam of ultra-dense neutronium particles flashed through the void and narrowly missed the Man of Steel's crimson over-briefs, "now that takes skill."
"Oh, you are so on."
-We gon' party like it's your birthday-
"Resistance is futile, stand down or be annihilated."
Beams of death sizzled through the space he'd occupied only a moment before as Superman rolled passed an armored fist aimed at his gut.
"Yes, surrender so we can tie you up and be friends again."
Superman found his options to be rather depressing to say the least. He'd tried talking a while ago, but his only reply had been a wave of particle beams from the Watchtower and some really bad puns from the fake-Darkseid and his beautiful berserker of a partner. Fighting Darkseid was bad enough: having Darkseid plus someone who, in terms of abilities, was his and Diana's armor clad love child was migraine big enough to cripple even Brainiac.
The problem, Superman reflected while dodging another one of fake-Darkseid's punches only to be kicked over the head by Star Dancer, was that between the two of them and the Watchtower's defenses, they had him completely maxed out. There was no lethality involved, but then, there wasn't any in a heavy weight boxing match either. Only, instead of facing one heavy weight boxer, he was facing two very nimble, experienced welter weights and every time he got close to cornering one or the other, an 800lb gorilla named Watchtower AeroSpace Defense System MK V would reach into the ring and flick him in the gonads. Seriously, whoever was manning those particle beams had to be aiming because he'd been hit in the crotch six times. Of course, as soon as he recovered from the inevitable end-over-end tailspin brought on by the particle's momentum, the two boxers would then be right back to slapping him in the face.
Needless to say, Superman was nearing the end of his rope. So when Diana's voice suddenly came over the communicator, he nearly broke down and wept in relief.
"Superman, what in Hera's name is going on? Are those laser flashes?"
Superman's fist caught the meteor fake-Darkseid's threw just in time.
"Yes, yes they are! Listen Diana," Superman blasted fake-Darkseid with his own laser vision even as Star Dancer grabbed him from behind. "Batman put them up to attack us as some sort of twisted training exercise." With a grunt, Superman broke free of Star Dancer's hold, turned around and grabbed her. He then shot putted her so hard into fake-Darkseid that the two started to reenter the atmosphere before they began to recover. The volume of fire from the Watchtower immediately redoubled.
"About time: how long have I been saying we need more realistic sparing?" Diana sounded far too satisfied considering it wasn't her that the Titans were aiming for.
"So what's the plan?"
Superman was about to respond when the communicator suddenly screeched into his ear. Wincing in pain, Superman was about to pull device from his ear when the screech was abruptly replaced by…
-My flow, my show brought me the doe.-
-That brought me all my fancy things-
-My crib, my cars my pools, my jewels-
-Life going nowhere, somebody help me.-
-Somebody help me, yea.-
"Diana!" Superman tried in vain to make himself heard over the communicator, but it was no use. Wonder Woman, seeing the futility of trying to communicate through space, simply waved back and sent her jet careening towards the Watchtower.
-Life going nowhere, somebody help me, yea-
Superman grit his teeth in frustration and was about to follow her when Star Dancer decked him on the side of his head and into Beast Boy's/fake-Darkseid's waiting arms.
As the two training villains played space volleyball his body, Superman couldn't help but mourn how quickly his perfect day had ended. Didn't he deserve a break or two after all he'd done?
-And you should love it, way more then you hate it.
Nigga you Mad? I thought you'd be happy I made it-
As another particle blast slammed into his chest and knocked the air out of him, Superman decided it was time to take the kid gloves off.
-Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive!-
"Man, this sucks."
"I know, I know, tell me about it…"
Cyborg and Robin watched as the hatch to Wonder Woman's not quite so invisible jet flew towards the hangar bay. It galled both of the heroes to let the divine princess fly into their commandeered fortress without firing a shot, but as brutal as their little "scenario" was turning out to be, it was still ostensibly a training exercise. They couldn't risk spacing Wonder Woman, because for all her strength she was incapable of surviving for extended periods in a vacuum. Besides, they'd taken liberties of their own when they'd basically assumed that Raven would not be harmed.
"So what's the plan, Robin?" Cyborg asked as he set off loose a volley of micro-detonator laced SWARM missiles, forcing Superman into Robin's own sights.
"You're on Monitor duty. I'm gonna go play hide and seek." Robin said as he stood up from his own seat at the labyrinthine computer and made his way out of the hardened doors and into the long corridors of the Watchtower. Cyborg watched him go for a moment before turning back to the enormous screen in front of him and entering a series of commands in a flurry of keystrokes. They'd for planned for something like this to happen. Not the exact scenario, but you couldn't waste time being too precise. As the team's premier techy, it was Cyborg's job stay in the control room and make the station's formidable defense systems work for them. He wasn't complaining. It was like one giant videogame.
Leaning over the controls a bit more, Cyborg keyed the in commands to turn the exterior defenses over to the on-board AI while he himself took over the interior to monitor Robin's progress and, if possible, beat him to the punch of knocking out Batman and Wonder Woman
The screen in front of him filled with the HD image of Robin calmly trotting down towards the center lift. A few more keystrokes and a dozen alternate displays came up, one of which included Wonder Woman exiting her invisible jet, which was extremely weird because bits of her just sort of materialized into being as she climbed out of the cockpit. Cyborg was disappointed to see that the Amazon hadn't worn her trademarked outfit, instead opting for a form fitting, though still very bland flight suit. His disappointment was short lived. In one smooth motion, the stunning Amazon single handedly ripped her drab flight suite off to reveal her trademark (and very revealing) outfit of red, white, blue and polished gold.
Cyborg punched a steel fist into the air and whooped loudly and joyously. Then he triple checked is inbuilt sensory recorder was working properly. Then he realized he remembered he still had a job to do.
"Sorry I have to do this to ya' bebe," Cyborg apologized to the air as he activated the bay turrets. The mythical Amazon was immediately showered with burning energy beams from all direction as a no less than five auto-slaved laser turrets popped out from their various hiding places and began blasting away at her. The first salvo caught her completely off guard, knocking the warrior princess off her jet and on to the hangar floor where two of the automated turrets could still pepper her body indiscriminately. Wonder Woman wasn't down for long however as one of the turrets firing on her melted in bright flash. The gods-blessed warrior had brought her famous gauntlets into play and had reflected the beams back on to their source. Her blood up, Wonder Woman almost disappeared into a blur as she flew into the nearest doorway, knocking down the closed door and an offending turret along with the way with brute force. Cyborg laughed in appreciation even as he prepared to upgrade the attack on the mighty hero.
"Hahaha, BOOOYAH, come on girl, show me watcha' got!"
The next five minutes were spent in a brutal ballet as Cyborg and Wonder Woman danced and fought one another through the stations defenses. A demented maestro before his orchestra of gangsta rappers and killer robots, Cyborg threw obstacle after obstacle at the rampaging Amazon, starting first with the stationary defenses and then with swarms of semi-sentient drones, all to the tune of "Stayin' Alive/In Da Club", which was now being piped throughout the entire station's communicator system. The half-machine genius wasn't so much trying to stop her as he was trying to tire her out and draw her away from the control room. She got awfully close, but once he figured out he needed place his heaviest defenses where he wanted her to go, things got a whole lot easier. No matter what he threw at her, whether it was alternating gravity points, electrocuting doors, sonic bursts that shook the entire station, Wonder Woman burned through it with a merciless abandon that Cyborg couldn't help but gape in awe at. So he cheered her on even as while leading her deeper into the station and further into his traps, further away from him.
"Heh, girl's probably enjoying this just as much as we are."
Cyborg was just about to arm another swarm of robots when a small alert sounded. Frowning in annoyance at having been distracted from Wonder Woman's beautiful rampage, he thumbed his way over to the proper display to see what the Monitor was fussing about. He was glad he had. The next screen showed Batman in a mad dash down the central maintenance line heading towards what looked like the main reactor.
"Oh, no you don't," Cyborg scowled as he rapidly punched in a new set of commands. The fruit of his efforts was soon apparent. Gravity inside the hallway suddenly reversed itself, sending Batman flying up towards the main ceiling.
"Ooo, that had to hurt," Cyborg mock-winced as Batman lay on the ceiling, obviously stunned.
Batman "fell" back in a fluttering of black Kevlar to kiss the immaculate metal floor with a reverberating BOOM.
"Na,na,na,na,na BATMAN, ooohhh, I'm so going to die young," Cyborg happily mused as he allowed himself one final click. A few more commands, typed out almost reluctantly, and the rooms gravity was tripled, effectively locking the prone form of the Dark Knight to the floor he'd become so intimately acquainted with. Next came a locked door and the complete and utter scrambling of any circuit within breathing distance of the great escape artist. Almost as an afterthought, Cyborg charged the walls with enough juice to make even the most insane inmate at Arkham think twice. And just to add insult to injury…
-Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin
-And we're stayin' alive, stayin alive-
-We gon'party like it's your birthday-
-We gon'sip Barcardi like it's your birthday--
"That's for the mind-screw Bats." Impossible though it might have been, Batman seemed to glare right up at him through the security cameras. Then again, he probably knew exactly where every single one of them was. Cyborg just grinned. "Try not to take it too personally and be sure avoid any sudden movements…"
Batman made an attempt to stand up, using his arms to push off his bent knee. He succeeded for a second, but his make-out session had left him pretty woozy. As soon as the older hero managed to get fully upright, he flopped right back down in a decidedly ungraceful spread eagle. Cyborg's smile brightened up a few megawatts as he turned the station's multitude of electronic eyes back towards the Wonder Woman. He was definitely saving a recording of all this in his personal hard drive.
"Yep, I am so dead."
-Go, go, go-
-Go, go, go shorty-
Robin's feet naturally followed the rhythm that pulsed through the station's loudspeakers as he made his way through the Watchtower at a brisk jog, taking the most direct route to the reactor and Wonder Woman. The Amazon was steadily grinding her way through the station's interior defenses with the most probable intent of manually shutting down the reactor; pretty impressive considering the Titans had barely toned down the interior defenses at all from their default setting of Instant Death. Thanks to the schematics of the Watchtower Cyborg and Beast Boy had pilfered from the Bat Cave, they knew there was a hidden shutdown switch near the reactor core. Unlike the usual shutdown, this one would bypass all of the Monitor's restraints that ensured a gradual cool-down, causing the station to instantly become little more than another hunk of space junk.
-It's your birthday-
-We gon' party like it's yo birthday-
Robin's passage towards the reactor was brought to a stumbling halt as small, but extremely violent explosion blew through the T-intersection in front of him followed. The roar of the explosion was followed by an Amazonian war cry and a rain of robotic limbs flying through a shower of sparks. Robin watched in frozen interest as a 1.2 ton MK IV Hunter Killer robot inched itself along the steel deck, legs shorn to a heap of wires and audio speakers blaring useless warnings.
A vision of feminine perfection wrapped in black hair and flawless porcelain skin floated into view, settling down lightly by the dying machine's side.
"Retrograde, retrograde, retrograde -"
The manmade executioner was easily held over the demi-goddess' golden crowned head-
"HERA, GRANT ME: VICTORY!!!"
-and promptly snapped like a dry twig over her knee.
As the white and fire hydrant red boot ground the remains of the MK IV's cybernetic head into scrap metal against the unyielding deck, Robin suddenly realized his jaw was hanging open and that he was standing in the middle of the hallway.
Wonder Woman turned from the piece of sparking scrap metal at her feet and looked at Robin.
Robin looked at Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman smiled, widely.
Robin did not smile.
Throwing the Boy Wonder a dazzling smile and a playful wave, the Themescaran native flew off towards the reactor. It took several more seconds for Robin's brain to catch up with all its misfiring neurons, but eventually he managed to snap his jaw shut and set off after the Amazon at a dead sprint. Robin also noticed that Cyborg seemed to be yelling at him.
"…the hell you think you're doing?! You need to stop her before she shuts down the reactor and we're all-"
-You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub-
-Look mami I got the X if you into taking drugs-
Oh, and the music was still playing.
"I know, I know!" Robin snapped back as he bypassed a fifteen foot ladder entirely by taking a blind leap down a maintenance shaft. Stealth abandoned, his legs pumping and lungs gasping for breath, Robin made short work of the distance to the main power plant. When Robin did burst into the main reactor chamber, he experienced a feeling of vertigo so intense that he nearly face planted then and there. Located at the very heart of the Watchtower, the reactor chamber was a massive hollow sphere devoid of gravity. The walls were littered with openings leading off into the rest of the tower and the projections of energy capacitors of various sizes; some seemingly no different from an average family's fuze box and others as big as the transformers in Jump City's own power plants. All of them were attached to the sides of the sphere by metal struts like steel jungle huts in a rain forest, leaving a several feet to a few inches of space between their bottoms and the chambers sides. On opposite poles of the sphere, two great steel pylons jutted inwards towards the center like inverted towers where they stopped just feet from touching one another. In the small space between the two pylons floated a crystal the size of a softball. Spinning in an invisible blur, the crystal crackled and flashed like a small pulsar at irregular intervals as it took in energy and magnified it a thousand times over.
Robin had emerged in the side of this massive sphere. As he looked "up" out of the hallway and at the reactor, he saw Wonder Woman flying ducking and weaving through the air, steel bracelets glinting as she deflected the red laser beams of five separate Guardian hover drones. The basketball sized spheres were equipped with powerful thrusters and shielding technology, and an individually unique AI possessed with the vicious cunning of any living predator. But as formidable as the Guardians were, even they were unable to do more than hold Themescara's immortal ambassador in a temporary standoff. Robin twisted a dial on his belt and activated the magnetic grip on the soles of his boots, allowing him to move effectively, if not normally, along the sides of the sphere and another metal surface despite the lack of any artificial gravity. Stepping behind and under one of the larger transformers, Robin observed the Guardian drones and Wonder Woman in their deadly dance and formulated a plan.
"Oh %#x&!" Cyborg's angry voice momentarily distracted Robin from the display above him. Thumbing his communicator, he asked what was wrong.
"Sup's nearly took BB's head off with a punch. Look, dude, I'm not going to be able to direct the interior defenses any more. I gotta focus outside."
"I copy that, Robin out." Batman's former protégé release the switch on the communicator and looked back up in time to see Wonder Woman smash one of the five Guardians to bits only to get drilled into the wall by four simultaneous laser blasts. Robin took the moment to take out a handful of electrodiscs and dash out on to the open side walls. Cyborg's over-watching eye would be missed, but here in the reactor chamber with the near-sentient guardians, there wasn't much he could add in terms of actual defense. Better the giant hero lend his technical know-how and Gamestation honed reflexes to the fight against earth's mightiest hero while Robin concentrated on defeating Wonder Woman.
As Wonder Woman threw a six-hundred some pound plate at one of the nimble drones, crushing it instantly and sending the lethal pieces of scrap pinging through the weightless reactor chamber like giant pinballs, Robin contemplated crawling back to his hiding place and staying there for a very long time. He thanked his lucky stars that the reactor itself was heavily shielded and incapable of being destroyed by even a direct blow from Wonder Woman…at least, in theory.
Dashing along the side walls, Robin managed to get parallel to where Wonder Woman spun in the air like a human gyroscope as she used a lassoed Guardian drone as an impromptu morning star to try and smash at the other remaining two. As soon as Robin was standing directly under her left side, he pocketed the electrodiscs then deactivated his boots and leapt into the air at the same time, sending him in a flying football tackle straight towards the Amazonian. Passing a hair's breadth under Wonder Woman's involuntary bludgeon, Robin smashed headlong into the berserk demi-god. Taken by surprise, Wonder Woman lost her grip on her enchanted lasso. The captured drone smashed into the wall before it shakily righted itself and rejoined its fellow defenders in synchronized formation. Wonder Woman herself was sent into a brief tumble by his momentum before she righted herself. Robin took the opportunity to latch on to her back like a deranged spider monkey, tucking into her as tightly as he could to prevent her from grabbing him. Despite this, Wonder Woman curled inward and nearly succeeded in grabbing him by his own over-gelled hair. Robin was only saved when the Guardian drones, acting in perfect synch with one another, flew forward in formation and blasted Wonder Woman in the face. Their aim with their laser weapons was so precise that Robin's gloves weren't even singed while Wonder Woman was sent reeling. Letting go, Robin shot a grapnel upwards and towed himself back to the walls where he activated his boots. Again taking out his electrodiscs, Robin began flicking them at Wonder Woman while he weaved through the various transformers, capacitors and cables attached to the wall. The first two missed and crumpled harmlessly against the armored walls. The third, however, smashed against her exposed stomach and exploded in a crackling wave of electricity. Wonder Woman's hair stood on end and her entire body convulsed. While it didn't cause any true harm, the Guardians were able to take advantage of the distraction by widening their formation with Wonder Woman triangulated in the center. More red beams lanced through the chamber and struck the wounded Amazon with unerring accuracy.
Robin was about to call off the drones and declare himself the victor out of fear for Wonder Woman's safety when she let out an inarticulate roar and began to fly straight towards him. Robin looked on with wide eyes as the female warrior shrugged off the perfectly aimed laser blasts from the Guardians and plowed straight towards him. Robin might have been as close to fearless as you can get without being insane, but he still had a strong desire to live long enough to collect his social security. Turning tail, Robin darted behind a medium sized capacitor and headed for the nearest door. He was almost there when an immense flash of red and a wave of heat to his back alerted him to the impending collision. With instincts born from hundreds of brutal hand to hand fights in the streets of Gotham and Jump City, Robin spun and whipped his halfway extended staff out like a cane. The neo-titanium staff crackled with electricity as it swept through the air. Aiming for the head, Robin's strike was enough to give even Wonder Woman pause.
…if it had hit her.
Displaying the full extent of her centuries of training, Wonder Woman dove under the strike into a forward handspring. Using her strength and powers of flight to halt her forward momentum, she completed the hand spring and vaulted heels first over Robin, twisting as she did so. As Wonder Woman shot past the unbalanced hero, she let one hand fly out and literally clotheslined Robin in the face. She didn't let go, however, but instead held on to him as the two slammed into the ground. Robin's vision rushed to black even as air around the two began to burn red.
Diana barely managed to toss the unconscious Robin aside before she was hit full on by the remaining Guardians' attack. The Guardians were far too precise to cause fatal harm to a friendly, but the protection of the Watchtower's vital system was the highest and only priority in their existence. They had no problem injuring Robin if they believed they could take out Diana in the process.
Diana didn't begrudge him the save though; as far as she was concerned, they were even. The last few weeks of inactivity and boredom had had her chomping at the bit. Once, Wally had halfway suggested to her that they tell the Arkham guards to take a holiday and let the inmates get a five minute head start. It might have made for a massive PR mess when the demons confined in those dark cells were loosed, but would be interesting. Thankfully for Gotham's citizens, the Teen Titans had gone in to the Justice League's own home and pulled this crazed stunt.
The lasers continued to crisscross in front of her, forcing her to dodge again and again in a direction away from the reactor. The Guardians had evidently resolved that if they couldn't kill her out right then they would force her away from their sacred garrison. When she was again hit the back by a flanking Guardian while blocking the other two, Diana settled for indulging the traitorous drones for a moment. Taking aim, Diana sent a body-sized piece of charred scrap metal whizzing through the air at the two Guardians nearest to her. They dodged it easily, but it gave her the time she needed to bolt past the third drone and into a nearby hallway. Seamlessly flowing with the changing scenario, the trio darted forward into the entry of the walkway where she'd taken shelter. The three began leap-froging down her hallway just as Diana turned a far corner and escaped their direct line of fire. Diana allowed herself a deep breath and forced herself to think. The drones were smart. They'd round the corner and tag team her from different angles if she stayed. Divinely blessed or not, she couldn't take much more of that kind of abuse.
"Come on, think, think!" she muttered. Diana's impromptu tactical planning session was interrupted when a tri-laser attack caused the wall directly across from her to erupt into a shower of sparks. The light show left her temporarily dazzled.
Ah, screw it.
Half blinded, Diana half leapt, half flew forward at the exact same time her mechanical scourges rounded the corner. They returned fire instantly, but they were so close that Diana caught most of the blasts on her indestructible gauntlets. Launching herself into a crazed flip-spin-kick-twist-thing that would have had her combat instructors gasp in shame, Diana managed to smash one of the Guardian drones over the top with a crimson heel. She completed her wild gyrations in time to ram her fists through both of the remaining red-eyed pests as the lethal acrobatics ended with her in an unstable fighters stance, red faced with fly away hair and fists poised to take on any and all comers.
"Hufff….hufff….huff…well," Diana blew an errant strand out of her eyes as she surveyed the results of her rampage. Ceiling spattered with black lubricant, floor partially carbonated from lasers, holes punched through armored plating….not too bad.
Even the music had stopped.
Tired, but thoroughly pleased with herself, Diana flew back into the glowing reactor chamber where she began to search for the manual override switch. The hard fought warrior found this more difficult than she'd hoped as it had never been something she'd needed to use before and therefore had little motivation to remember where it lay. Thankfully, it was easily noticeable, even while she was in mid-flight, with a large red handle surrounded by black and yellow markings. Grateful to have completed her task, Diana easily floated down to the side of the reactor wall where the switch protruded. She was just about to deactivate the reactor and thus all Titans' appropriated firepower when she felt more than saw a massive wave of energized air pressure. She didn't even get to finish swearing by Hera before she was blown fifty feet sideways and once again into the armored wall of the chamber.
With still-bleary eyes, Diana looked up from where she lay in a crumpled heap as Cyborg came striding fully into the chamber. The Titan's arms were had both transfigured themselves so that he no longer had hands, but instead sported two long barreled cannons. His shoulders had somehow sprouted what appeared to be rocket launchers and his body glowed and thrummed like a tweaked out sports car running black lights and pumping the bass.
"Hey Bebe'," Twin barrels leveled on her face. "What's shaking?"
"Hey bebe', what's shakin?"
Dark eyes crackling with adrenaline and quivering battle lust, teeth set in a barely concealed snarl, Wonder Woman looked like she was only seconds away from ignoring the two bigger-than-your-head guns pointed directly at her head and see if she snatch off his head.
...maybe not the best intro line he could've said….
Ye' GODS she looked pissed.
"I've just got to say, that was one of the coolest things I've ever seen! Nearly crash-landing your jet, hoping out, smashing your way through an entire space station then taking on Fearless Leader and three class IV military A.I.'s. I've gotta say, I can see why…er…yea…"
She really did look pissed.
Cyborg quietly wept that he might as well have taken any future autographs and thrown them in an atomic shredder, but he had a role to play. Neural controls wired into his very cerebral cortex conveyed precise power settings for the sonic cannons mounted in his forearms. The glowing aural artillery hummed with suppressed energy as Cyborg's telemetry put his fellow hero squarely in his sights.
The cannons' hum peaked and the electric blue glowed near-white in preparation.
Wonder Woman smiled.
Cyborg knewsomething bad was coming, could smell it, feel himself about to get the shaft, but the sonic waves were already leaving his arms and Cyborg had no time to brace himself as Wonder Woman slammed her fist into the armor plated floor, causing a section of plating to pop up and take the burst of sound energy for her. The shockwave ripped down the hallway, busting light bulbs and warping any protruding metal components too small to withstand the residual force. Cyborg's balance had been thrown forward when he'd brought out the long-barreled cannons and he was slow in his reaction as Diana grabbed her ad-hoc shield and charged forward, catching Cyborg fully on his massive chest. Cyborg was slammed against the side wall, unable to fire his cannons or missiles because of Wonder Woman's proximity. However, being the (half) human Swiss Army knife that he was, Cyborg naturally had a few more tricks up his metaphorical sleeves. Reacting instantly to his mental command, his main power circuits were rerouted to his exterior, sending several megavolts of electricity arching through Wonder Woman's body. As with the sound attacks, it wasn't powerful enough to do any real harm, but it would cause a few moments worth of involuntary muscular contraction; that was all Cyborg needed.
The Titan hit Wonder Woman with a straight kick to the mid section, his massive armored boot sending her tumbling to the ground. Cyborg took aim and unleashed a single burst aimed squarely at her head. The sonic wave would have been enough to incapacitate her for several hours if it had hit her full on, but Wonder Woman was already rolling away and then bounding up to spring forward. Several missiles sailed past her left ear as she juked back into close quarters, her drunken movements betraying the damage done to her vestibular system.
Cyborg shook off a quick haymaker before taking two brutal hooks to straight to the head in rapid succession. No stars twinkled in front of his vision, but there was a brief flash of static as Wonder Woman followed her last hook with a successive elbow to the face. Dazed, but mind still clear due to his circuitry, Cyborg gave the warrior princess a head butt fit to shatter steel before launching all of his remaining missiles in one, giant salvo. The air around the two combatants erupted into a blazing inferno that died out as soon as it had begun as the station's fire suppression systems instantly sprang into action, dousing the flames under an explosion of carbon-dioxide foam. Both fighters stagger then fall against the walls, mutually charred and stunned by the blast. Cyborg was the first to recover though, his systems of balance being unaffected by the multiple concussions that had rocked the two and the one who relied less on oxygen, which had either been eaten up by the fire, pushed out by the concussions or displaced by the fire systems.
Cyborg's right cannon rearranged itself back into a fist in time for Cyborg to smash Wonder Woman over the top of the head with a clumsy, but still very effective, hammer blow. This was followed by another quick sonic blast from his remaining cannon. Needless to say, the aim was much more accurate. The shot might have been fixed on 50%, yet it was enough at that range to induce a fit of uncontrolled vomiting that had the Amazon curled up in a fetal position, completely paralyzed. Heaving from the exertion, Cyborg leveled his weapon at the incapacitated woman.
"Good night, princess."
Cyborg blinked. His sonic cannon wasn't supposed to make that sound. Cyborg looked at the still dry-heaving Wonder Woman….there hadn't been white-blue wave of a visible sonic boom either. He looked at his cannon.
His cannon was gone.
His arm was gone.
Wonder Woman hadn't moved, but apparently his arm had.
"Looking for something?" asked a very stern, very angry voice off to Cyborg's right. The Titan slowly turned his head and found Superman standing in the middle of the ruined hallway, arms crossed over his expansive chest, his arm dangling from one massive hand with sparking wires trailing out like so many severed tendons.
"Your little game is over, boy," Superman said as he let the severed limb fall to ground with a dull thunk and advanced towards Cyborg, who had brought up his remaining cannon. Superman didn't even flinch.
"Go ahead, see where that gets you," the last Kryptonian dared as he calmly strode towards the younger hero, implacable eyes burning a murderous crimson. Cyborg was just about to find out exactly where firing at the world's most indestructible man would get him when Superman disappeared in a blur of neon green, blue and crimson.
"We are not done yet!"
Cyborg watched as the two hit the already damaged wall, smashed through it like it was nothing more than cardboard and barreled into an adjacent storage room. Superman hit the floor with Starfire on top of him, the air exploding out of his lungs under the force of the supercharged blow. Starfire didn't give him a chance to recover as she punched him square in the nose with one of her glowing fists, causing the steel floor under them to buckle before she grabbed a hold of his cape, spun him around like an Olympian at the hammer throw, and launched him into an empty equipment rack. She followed with a long, unrelenting eye blast, causing the Man of Steel to cry out in pain as the destructive energy continued to pour on to him. Nothing on earth could have withstood the awful pounding she put the reporter from Kansas through, but Kal-El was no son of earth for all that he had adopted her as his home. Superman countered with his own laser vision. That awful crimson exploded outward, fueled by his anger, and began to slowly match, and then overtake the Tameranian's green light. The two stood locked in a heated battle, the world's first truly lethal stare-off, with sweat pouring down Starfire's face and neck in little rivulets and Superman's jaw clenched in a ferocious snarl.
The battle looked lost for Starfire, whose own energies were being steadily overwhelmed by the Krypotonian's. Cyborg remained paralyzed, unsure of whether it would be more dangerous to shove his friend out of the way, fire his own blast and hope it didn't react, or run up and clock Superman over the top of his head. Starfire might well have been defeated if Beast Boy had not at last made his entrance.
In her rush to follow Superman and come to Cyborg's aid, Starfire had outstripped her shape-shifting companion. Feeling utterly drained from his fight with Superman and no longer possessing his jet pack, which had been destroyed by a rogue blast from the Watchtower, Beast Boy did his best to make his way towards the tower as a primitive space farer that propelled itself by methane gas expulsion. By the time he landed in the docking bay, Starfire had already slammed Superman into the wall and was busy rearranging his face. Knowing full well that it would take forever to go through all the corridors, even in his favorite cheetah or peregrine falcon forms, Beast Boy pulled out all the stops and brought out a different morph, an old morph, one he'd never tried before, never dared try before.
Taking a deep breath, he pictured the thing in his mind's eye: massive, formless body of tar and shifting eyes; impossible terror chanting forgotten things.
And as the acidic, alien thoughts of humanity's oldest predator crept into his brain, squirming and writhing against his control and sanity even as he held them at bay with his training. Beast Boy, now fully morphed, slipped through the nearest ventilation duct in a flash and descended through the station faster than thought.
And as the crimson light moved to swallow the last of the viridian, Beast Boy appeared. Superman, his concentration set fully on the two foes before him, was completely taken by surprise when the formless horror of Beast Boy's morph engulfed him from above. Badly startled, Superman immediately used his powers of flight to burst out of the creature, though his movement was strangely slow, like moving through oil or gelatin and when he emerged from the writhing biologic mass, covered in blackish tar, he could feel the foreign sensation of pain. Spinning in air, Superman unleashed a full force laser blast straight into the thing's center mass. The angry fire of his eyes struck true, but instead of causing it to burst into flames, to cringe, scream, something, the red light simply suffused itself through the gelatinous mass and died out; swallowed whole.
The nightmare flowed through the air after him, twisting and splitting into three different tentacles covered with swarming eyes that appeared then disappeared within the mass. Again and again Superman dodged its attempts to capture him, but it was becoming difficult. The monstrosity had quickly spread itself to encompass the entire room. It lined the sides of the walls, the floor and the ceiling as it reached for him again and again like a poisonous amoeba. Superman's predicament became even more dire when Starfire returned to the fray. The female Titan's armor had been scorched and rent in various places by Superman's assault and her ashen and bloodied face betrayed the gulf in their strength, but for all her wounds she was still a Tameranian warrior. For all their innocence, they were a people born and bred for the strife of war. Starfire would never quit, never stop until either her or her opponent broke. If the savage, broken grin on her face was any tell, then she was quite sure it would not be her that would give first.
Tameranian and Kryptonian met in the air, viridian again intertwining with crimson against stygian backdrop of Beast Boy's blasphemous form. The two airborne heroes' dance wove itself through the space in the massive storage chamber, the two striking one another all the while avoiding Beast Boy's increasingly frustrated and violent attempts to grab something, anything. Starfire fought with the fluid grace of warrior born and trained. Her moves all of her limbs in flowing circles and combined them with the deadly neon of her own fire. Superman fought with all the grace of a street brawler, using mostly his fists, each blow like a mace that threatened to smash through all defenses through brute strength alone. Starfire quickly grew desperate despite her superior ability to evade and strike and came in for a clinch, hoping to go for an aerial equivalent of jiu-jitsu. It was at this point, when both combatants were striving against one another in the air, that Beast Boy caught them. Gathering himself again into one, concentrated mass on the ceiling, he let himself fall like a single, great drop of water to engulf the two heroes.
Both Starfire and Superman found themselves powerless, unable to move or hit anything of substance as they strove against Beast Boy's gelatinous corpus. A great pressure engulfed them as did a sensation of being gnawed on like bone. To their horror, they could feel and even see their life's blood seeping from their skin as if they were sponges soaked dye and set in clear water. The dye will go out into the water through diffusion alone. Here it was the same thing, only they had giant hands to wring them out so as to make the process go that much faster.
It was just when they both despaired of escaping that a concussion caused their gelatinous prison to tremble. A second, much more powerful concussion followed and the two found themselves flung falling to the floor as bits and pieces of the nightmare that was Beast Boy rained down around them. Superman and Starfire kneeled together, temporarily united as they watched the thing that had just tried to eat them alive pull itself back together much like beads of mercury.
The electronically magnified command echoed off the walls, causing both Starfire and Superman to clamp their hands over their ears in pain. The roiling mass that now sat fully reconsolidated on the floor also responded by halting its swift advance towards the recovering heroes. Eyeing each other and Beast Boy's transformed state with distrust, the two alien heroes turned their eyes to where Cyborg stood dinged and battered near the impromptu entrance their war had created.
"Uhmm…" with the attention suddenly turned on him, Cyborg seemed unsure of himself. "I declare the training exercise over….please."
Superman cocked an ooze covered eyebrow and let the red light die from his eyes while Starfire dropped the jagged piece of metal she'd been holding as a weapon.
Beast Boy just kind of gurgled.
"I can't believe he stuffed Raven in a broom closet…" Beast Boy, newly returned to his original state, looked as if he couldn't decide whether to be horrified or awed. The remaining heroes of Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy, Superman and a very shaky Wonder Woman had hobbled down the long corridors in order to collect their various teammates.
"Are you absolutely, positively, sure he did that?" Beast Boy still seemed to consider this a complete impossibility on the order of the sky being declared yellow and the Cubs winning the World Series. "I mean, this is Raven we're talking about. She doesn't let anyone touch her and there's no way anyone could be stupid enough to throw the daughter of the Supreme Evil Overlord into a broom closet…right?"
Superman merely made a scoffing noise in his throat as he readjusted the unconscious Robin on his shoulder. "Batman is the very definition of a masochist asshole. He's also got some kind of instinctive urge to piss off women that he knows can kill him." Wonder Woman nodded sagely at this as she walked up to one of the nearby closets labeled "JANITOR".
"This one, Kal?" she asked.
Superman nodded in affirmative. Seeing his affirmation, Wonder Woman easily ripped off the locked door. She managed to find the light switch without any fumbling. When she did flick on the lights, there was a sort of chocked gasp from the two conscious male Titans as they beheld an unconscious Raven trussed upside down like some sort of fly a spider had caught and left suspended for a late night's snack.
"I hope Bats has friends in hell," Beast Boy declared in a sort of muted awe, "because it looks like he's going to get a free ride there very, very soon."
Cyborg was likewise amazed. "Dude…"
Wonder Woman strode forward, her gait only betraying the pounding she'd just endured to the most practiced of eyes. Forgoing any additional examination, Wonder Woman casually snapped Batman's line clean in two with her bare hands and caught the unconscious Titan. With a gentleness that surprised her former adversaries, the Amazonian warrior laid Raven down on to the steel deck, making sure to support her neck and head. Kneeling besides the dark girl, she produced two small injectors that resembled Epipens which she slowly, but firmly thrust against the flesh of Raven's left thigh.
The effect was instantaneous. Her hands clenched involuntarily at her side and with a deep, sucking breath, Raven came to full consciousness. Her eyes fluttered first from Wonder Woman, to Superman and the unconscious Robin, then to the worried looking Cyborg and a flabbergasted Beast Boy.
"I take it we lost," she said, somehow making a toneless statement a question without using inflection.
Beast Boy and Cyborg looked at one another, but it was Superman who answered her. "No," he said with small, hearty chuckle, "I think we'll have to say you won."
"Hn," Raven obviously had a differing opinion on the matter.
"So, Rae, how are you feeling? 'Cause we're going to be needing those magical healing powers."
Raven turned towards Beast Boy and though she made no response, the demon psychic visibly drew a calming breath and lifted herself off the floor through telekinesis. Her eyes lazily opened to reveal their glowing depths of white and the assembled heroes immediately felt their weariness fall off of them and their wounds stitching themselves closed. Robin moaned from his spot on Superman's broad shoulder as he was welcomed back to the land of the living with to the tune of thousand pink elephants tap dancing in his skull.
"OHhHhHhmmm…." Robin winced pathetically as he tried to touch his still very swollen face, "Anyone get the license plate on that truck?"
Superman grinned in painful empathy as he set the still woozy Boy Wonder carefully back on his own two feet. "Believe me, no truck has anything on Wonder Woman."
"Flatterer." Wonder Woman looked distinctly pleased at the comparison.
Once all the assembled heroes were fully conscious and (mostly) healed, Raven reverted to her soul form and moved all of the heroes, conscious and unconscious into the Monitor room. With another surge of her demonic psi-powers, Raven returned all of the remaining Justice League members to consciousness and relatively full health. With a quiet breath of exhaustion, Raven took a seat in the Monitor chair as the newly recovered Justice League members picked themselves up off the floor.
"Someone," Green Lantern declared as he picked himself up off the floor, "has a lot of explaining to do." He shot a very suspicious glare at Batman who was quietly dusting himself off. Batman spared Green Lantern a quick grunt of dismissal as he made sure all of his limbs were still intact and capable of their full range of motion.
Robin was ready for the unspoken accusation and immediately made to refute the charge that the Titans had been irresponsible, but Batman held up a single gloved hand to forestall him. The action stopped the Boy Wonder in his tracks, like a hawk that is suddenly blinkered will stand absolutely still. His hands clenched angrily at his sides.
"I told…" Batman paused in mid-speech, his cowl hiding any signs of conflict that might have appeared, "asked…the Titans to attack the Justice League after the December conference." Batman shifted his monochrome gaze from Robin to sweep the members of the Justice League. "I had said that I would be testing the readiness of the League in order to prepare for the additional risk the new members will present."
"You mean you hired kids (Batman ignored Raven telepathically putting a gag over Beast Boy's protests) to attack the single most powerful space station in the entire quadrant and engage in potentially lethal, armed conflict with trained meta-humans warriors? Are you insane?!"
"They won, didn't they?" Hawk Girl stated with a shrug of indifference.
"They were still in danger." The Martian Manhunter's comment did not sit well with the Titans despite the neutral tone in which it was delivered. Cyborg leered at the alien psychic and might have pointed an armored fist in his face if the arm he hadn't raised hadn't been the one Superman ripped off.
"And when are we not?" Cyborg asked as he hastily lowered the severed appendage. "Or, do you consider Brother Blood, Slade, Trigon and about six-hundred other psychotic freaks kid stuff?"
J'onn said nothing in reply, but instead narrowed his empty orange eyes slightly.
"Don't even try it," Raven said. The dark empath's eyes were glowing white with the exertion of her power and her voice lost its dull monotone at the distant hint of a threat in her voice. "Elementary area calming aura or not, no one influences their minds without their consent."
"Enough," Batman growled. Beast Boy and Cyborg both looked at him with barely contained rebellion, the brutal skirmish with the League clearly having removed their fear of the legendary vigilante. Batman plowed on regardless, undeterred by the sudden change in attitude. "The Titans were given a task and they did it well. You," he said, addressing the other members of the League, "were caught completely unawares and defeated in hand-to-hand combat. If they had had no rules of engagement and they'd used more of the knowledge available to them, you would have been destroyed." Batman turned and looked directly at Cyborg and Beast Boy. "I knew what was coming and I was still beaten..." he looked over at Superman, who unashamedly gaping. "Something you want to say, Boy Scout?"
Superman continued to stare at the Dark Knight for another long second. Then he started laughing. Everyone else could only stare at between the Trinity's two male members as Batman's taught jawline betrayed his inner desire to mock the Kryptonian's childishness. Superman's quiet chuckle only grew louder into a deep guffaw.
"I'll be in Gotham. Repair crews will be here within the hour."
"Well…" Superman continued as Batman swept out of the room, "hehe…Miss Roth, are you positive you destroyed Trigon?" Raven's passive mien showed genuine confusion at Superman's remark. Aware that everyone was still staring at him, Superman gave the group of perplexed heroes an abashed smile that shone with the aw-shucks Midwestern spirit his alter ego was famous for, "because if Batman's arguing for his own loss, then the end of the world must indeed be nigh."
Starfire nodded sagaciously, "Yes, he is indeed something of a bad fruit cake."
"Egg: it's "bad egg", Starfire," Raven muttered.
"'Fruit cake' is actually pretty good," Wonder Woman nodded towards her fellow warrior princess as the rest of the group looked at her in shock. "He actually practices being one." Now the others really were paying close attention as Wonder Woman recounted a story of when she'd walked in on Batman rehearsing for a certain ball that required he play the male gigolo. The tension that had existed between the two groups evaporated into laughter as the various Justice League members dredged up every story they could of where the infamous Dark Knight was caught in compromising situations. There were less than handful, but those they had were much embellished and the story tellers soon turned on one another. When the repair crews arrived fifteen minutes later, the Monitor room was ringing with the laughter of earth's greatest heroes.
All, but two: one who was gone and the other was lost in contemplation over what the words just spoken might portend.
The Cave was pitch black when the Batwing slid in like a vengeful wraith returned from a night of haunting the dreams of men. After coming to a full rest, the top slid open to allow Batman to leap down from the high cockpit. Only, this time he did not leap. Climbing laboriously down the steel ladder that automatically extended to ground from the fuselage, the Dark slowly made his way to the ground and then on to the armor room.
Large, Nomex covered digits reached blindly and found the light out of old habit without the sight. Slowly, Batman began to dissemble the armored puzzle that made his armor, that made him, Him. First came the breast plate, then the arms, followed by the belt and then on down he went, dropping the outer shell, revealing the pale and disfigured flesh of Bruce Wayne.
"Business trip go alright?" asked a sonorous feminine voice.
Bruce Wayne exhaled painfully as he slowly removed the cowl. A large, bloody weal lay on the back of his head, angrily poking through his black hair. Raven's healing had been less thorough than perhaps it could have been. He sat down on a nearby stainless steel chair, hunched over the cowl he'd just painstakingly removed. A set of soft and supple hands that nevertheless possessed the calluses of hard labor set upon his shoulders and began kneading them firmly.
"I don't know…I don't think so…somehow I still can't say anything kind to him."
The silence returned as the rough massage continued, slower and affectionate in its pace. Bruce might well have been lulled to sleep right there on the chair, but the hands that hands that had been applying the rough caress ceased their ministrations.
"I'm sure you'll get it right, eventually. Aren't you supposed to be smart?" She teased.
"I never said it," Bruce replied without inflection.
"Well you better get some inspiration: he called last night. I thought he'd never stop beating around the bush, but he eventually invited you over."
"He did?" Perhaps his insane stunt had accomplished something after all.
"Yes," Ariel said as she leaned over his shoulder to brush her slightly chapped lips against his jaw line. "It was very indirect and adorably awkward." Pulling her lips away, Ariel gently swept a hand through his midnight hair, her nails comfortably scratching against his dry scalp.
"Perhaps you need to take one more business trip this week? I hear the west coast is supposed to be beautiful this time of year."
"Yes," he affirmed, though which was unknown.
1) Holy crap…I'm done…I mean, this whole story is only a glorified chapter of Reconciliations with Darkness, but still…I tell ya', the muse has been BRUTAL on this story. Thank you for your patience and I dallied around in other fandoms and generally did my best to imitate a slug. This series has been quite the journey for me and as I read this and all my old chapters, it amazes me how much I've changed since I first began TTvsJLA about a year ago.
2) In case you're completely lost as to who the woman is, she's Ariel Wayne, Bruce's new wife. Again, this story serves as potentially independent chapter of Reconciliations with Darkness, the glorious angst-fest that spawned this whole mess and the story which I shall be finishing up in one remaining chapter.
3) If you interested in hearing the 50 Cent/Beejees mash-up, search YouTube for oufd0bP2SLk or just stick that in the URL.