The Batman knelt upon the roof top of an old warehouse as he trained his eyes upon the movements of a smuggling ring moving boxes of ammunition from a small cargo ship into a large van that had a logo advertising plumbing fixtures. Tonight was not about making any bust;he was studying the movements of the ring,and the middlemen. He wanted the higher ups,the bigger fish,and it meant tonight was just about letting them do business.
He heard a light sound behind him on the roof,and continued to look through his binoculars,but spoke aloud."What are you doing here?"
The sound of soft steps coming closer and a silky voice replied,"I got a bit bored and wanted to see if you needed a hand."
He glanced over his shoulder."I don't."
In the dim light of the moon,her slender leather clad frame moved almost sinuously. She leaned over the parapet and looked down at the men."Busy little bees,aren't they?"
"What do you want,Selina?"
She shrugged,"To thank you for not hauling me to jail and believing I had nothing to do with the thefts."
"The Penguin left a trail a blind man could follow. Still, you didn't help your case by being seen with the curator of the New York museum."
"It was just a date."
"Just a date. makes no mind to you he has the codes to the current exhibition of Faberge eggs?"
"Really,Batman,don't you think a girl may be truly interested in a person and not his treasure?"
"With you,I 'm never sure."
"What a suspicious rodent we are." She stretched luxuriously."How dull it is tonight. Are you intending to watch them for long again?"
"What's it to you?"
"Must you always answer a question with a question?"
Before he could retort,the JLA comlink vibrated at his side. He answered."Batman here."
It was J'onn's voice. And it was not like his normal, clinical tone. It was tinged with urgency and almost fear."We have a situation!We are besieged!"
"What do you mean,J'onn?"
"The Satellite...it has been infiltrated...Flash and Lantern are down...Someone is inside...I don't know who it ...Superman? !Stop!"
The Manhunter's voice was breaking up."Help!...We need...HELP!"
The sound of crashing objects and explosions was clear through the line. He could hear the telepath scream,"Fire!"
The line crackled and went dead.
Batman shouted,"J'onn!J'onn!Damn it!"
Selina cocked her head and mused,"That doesn't sound good."
Batman began to move swiftly towards the nearby roof top;Selina followed. He turned to glower at her."What do you think you are doing?"
"I'd say it was obvious. Following, of course."
"This isn't your fight,Selina."
"True,but sounds to me you may need some help. Especially if two...no...the Martian makes three...yes,if three of your friends are already down. And it sounds as if the Kryptonian is on some kind of rampage. I recall he went rogue a few years ago, taking out half of Metropolis and putting a lot of you in body casts..."
"We have reserves. I can contact them..."
"Do we have time for that?The Martian sounded petrified..."She paused and added astutely. "Superman is your friend. You must get to him quickly before he does real damage. Let's hope he hasn't snuffed anyone's wick yet..."
Batman's gloved hand raised and he shot a grappling hook to the opposite wall. Without a word,his arm curled about Catwoman's waist and he said gruffly,"Hold on!"
She let out an appreciative,"Oh my!" as they swung swiftly onto the next roof top,and he glided off into the darkness,wings outspread,to land heavily in an alley where a Batmobile was parked. Selina felt him push her towards the vehicle.
She looked at him ."I'm flattered you taking me for a ride and all but do you really think a car is the best way to get above the earth?"
"Just get in,"he advised impatiently and opened the door and waited for her to slide in.
She obliged,remarking,"It's only boredom and your good looks that's keeping me from telling you to "Bite me",Batman."
He started the engine."Curiosity is what's motivating you...you haven't a clue what I look like."
The batmobile lurched forward with a roar. She smiled and said,"Oh, I can tell you're a dish under all that darkness...Maybe one day I'll get a sneak peak."
"Curiosity killed the cat,my dear."
He drove out of the docks towards the open main road. Catwoman peered at the control panels;she said, running a taloned finger along the numerous buttons,"You forget I have nine lives to kill. My,what a lot of pretty lights and buttons!What does this do?"
He slapped her hand away from what looked to be a series of switches and red and yellow knobs."Hands off or I'll turf you out right now!"
She let out a little hiss. She glared at him."Why, you bad tempered,arrogant son of a..."
Batman caught her hand before it slapped at him."You were about to fiddle with the arsenal,you wildcat!Most likely would have blown us up!"
She relaxed at once,and retorted,"Well,you only had to say so!Not act like some ten year old boy whose toy I was about to steal. Honestly,you didn't have much playmates as a child, did you?You never learned to share!"
Batman looked at her for a second as if mollified. He then returned abruptly,"You talk too much!" He pulled on the accelerator and the car lurched to 100 mph along the road,its speed building progressively faster as it climbed up a curving road towards one of the bridges leading onto another junction. Catwoman had to lean back into the seat and brace herself.
She said scathingly,"Oh,very mature. Where the hell are we going?"
The car made a leap off the nearby exit ramming its way through the concrete barrier and sailed into the air. Catwoman shrieked,"Are you insane?I know you think you are a bat,but this is taking things too far..!."
Batman pressed a series of buttons and the car began to transform. The wheels turned up and inwards. The exhaust at the back rotated and faced down. Wings extended out from the sides. The sound of air being pressured inside made her start. She gasped and looked out the window. They were flying!
They were soaring above the city,heading towards the clouds. She eyed him almost suspiciously, "Where do you get the money to build these things?"
"I have very kind benefactors,"he said facetiously.
He was saved replying as they breached the earth's atmosphere. He said darkly,"We can't go straight into the satellite. He'll see us a mile away."
"So,how are you going to get in undetected?"
"We're going to the JLA moon base. There's a transporter there. We'll teleport in and hope he'll be engaged otherwise."
Catwoman watched in some awe as they hovered above the earth and the scarred terrain of the moon came into view. The JLA satellite was rotating slowly on the other side. She said,looking at him with a voice unlike her own purring drawl,"My god,the earth is beautiful!You are so privileged to see this all the time."
Batman returned,"As you are privileged to live on it. We're here."
Batman had codes to unlock the hanger of the moon base. The hanger was not large;it reflected the size of the base that was only used for improving the JLA communications network and harbouring a sentinel station and small lab. There was a transporter to get any leaguer to it swiftly if there was no need to send in any craft. Currently no one was there. Batman led his companion towards the transporter and together they teleported to the Satellite.
They appeared on the platform and simultaneously a huge explosion shook the satellite. Catwoman was throw against Batman. He steadied her and hurried towards one of the nearby computer stations. He had an electronic key and immediately began to type onto the keyboards.
Catwoman looked over his shoulder as he pulled up data and clicked to get to the core unit to see what was going on. Superman's signature appeared. He was recorded as having flown into the Satellite half an hour before,and was currently breaking his way towards the vault where all manner of confiscated treasure,technology or weaponry were stored. There were warnings on screens indicating that there were fires in the
monitor room,simulation area and half of the security defense systems were dismantled or damaged.
Batman muttered,"We can't use any audio-links. He'll know."
Catwoman said wryly," Well,where technology fails,stealth will win. Come on. Let's go creep up on the Tights."
They hurried out of the room and down the corridor. There were scorch marks on the walls,broken equipment and smoke billowing towards them. Batman peered around the entrance to the monitor room. The doors were punched in and the room was in semi darkness. Sparks emanated from various monitors as they burned and short circuited. Lying unmoving beneath a station was the Green Lantern. Batman rushed to him. He felt his neck and let out a relieved gasp. He was just unconscious,but from the bleeding cut on his temple and the awkward way his arm lay,he could see that John had had a run-in with Superman. He had no doubt the forearm was fractured. He would be out cold for a while.
Batman looked at Catwoman."We need to find Flash and the Manhunter...they could be seriously hurt...or..."
He did not go on but she knew what he meant. She said,"Let's split up."
"No...that's not a good idea. He'll have no hesitation in hurting you if he's mind controlled..."
She smiled,"Why,Batman,are you worried about me?That's so sweet but time is of the essence."She moved towards the door."I'll go this way. I'm sure you want to go towards the vault..."
She looked up at him."Yes?"
"Don't engage him if you come up against him...get out..."
She purred,"Nine lives,Handsome."
She was gone. Batman took the opposite direction. His hand opened a flap in his utility belt. He took out a ring with a green stone and looked at it,Clark had given it to him after Luthor had infected him with red kryptonite years ago..He could hear his words to him as if it were yesterday."I don't care what the circumstances are. You use it,Bruce. Stop me at any cost."
Batman headed for the vault. He was going past the simulation area when he heard screaming. It was J' burst in to see the telepath locked in a simulation where he was being surrounded by volcanoes and fire. Lava streams surrounded him. The heat and flames licked at him as he cowered atop in his own mind an atoll in a barren landscape. Batman used a batarang and sent it at the control panel of the simulation. It short-circuited and hissed. The Manhunter laid wheezing and gasping. Batman went to him.
"J'onn,it's not real!It was a program...It's me...Batman..."
J'onn looked up and saw that he was prostrate on the cold metal floor and his colleague was over him. He coughed and choked, "Bruce...it's Kal..He he...is heading for the vault...He was asking for Cronus' time traveling device..."
"Time travel and manipulation...",murmured Batman. Cronus was now locked away by the guardians. And any villain would give their right arm for the time traveling device. They had to stop that from happening!
Catwoman went past the infirmary and laboratory and halted. Through the glass window she saw the scarlet speedster on a bed and a worried looking Wonder Woman using a machine with a purple ray on the comatosed man. She entered,only to have Wonder Woman drop the ray on a nearby table and turn on her with flashing eyes.
The Amazon had her by the collar and shoved her up against a wall."You!What do you want?"
Catwoman let out an infuriated sound and used her free arms to elbow Diana in the ribs and somersault her way over the Flash and out of the Amazon's reach .Red-faced Selina snarled,"I'm not the enemy here,Wonderbra. I didn't go rogue and trash the place. Nor my colleagues."
Diana began to unroll her lasso."Today is a day for breaching our head-quarters, it seems, by all manner of scum. You don't belong here. How did you get here?"
"Batman brought me,you harpy."
The lasso went about her and Diana retorted,"Do you think I am so naive to believe that? Tell me, how did you get into the satellite?"
Catwoman growled,"Just what I said,you silly woman! I came with the Batman!"
Wonder Woman looked at her perplexed;but released her and said warily,"You owe me an explanation."
Selina folded her arms and said dryly,"Batman got the Martian's s.o.s. about Superman."
"Where is Batman?And what are you doing down here?"
"He's going after him. I was sent to find out if Flash was alive...I can see he is just barely...Superman pounded him quite a bit ..."
The fear in Wonder Woman's eyes was evident. She looked at the Flash."I am using a ray that helps rapid healing...I can't over task his body and Batman can't take Superman on his own...I've got to help...but I can't leave Flash..."
Catwoman looked at her shrewdly,"It's a worry,I know. That alien beef-cake can destroy the bat with one look...You'll be glad to know the Lantern is alive...Unconscious but alive..."
"Thank Hera!Gods,this is a nightmare!I don't know what is possessing Superman...He came in and attacked without warning. I was here in the lab doing some research when all hell broke loose. He got to Lantern,Flash,then J'onn...I don't even know if J'onn is alive. The telepathic link was broken..."
"I am here,Diana."
The women looked up to see the Manhunter on the threshold. He looked unsteady but came in and said,"I'll see to Flash. You are the one that can be of most help to Batman now. Superman is trying to break his way in to the vault. He wants Cronus' time device."
Wonder Woman held his hand and squeezed it."I've been giving him quick bursts of five minutes."
She turned to go. Catwoman followed. Diana looked at her with a frown."You ought to stay with the Manhunter. This is not like breaking into a museum or stealing diamonds."
Catwoman replied,"Meow,the perfect rose has thorns!But isn't that hitting below the belt for you,princess?"
"I call a spade when I see one."
"You ought to take it up with Batman. But wait,he's busy trying to stop your crazed friend Superman!Seems my respectability isn't what's in question here,Wonder Woman!"
Diana reddened but retorted,"You keep up if you can,Catwoman." She took to the air and flew ahead of her,leaving Selina to glare after her with an unimpressed snort."Show-off!"
She moved to follow,only to have the Manhunter stop her."Wait!"
Selina turned."Well,what is it,Kermit?"
"Here."He handed her something that looked like a transmitter that slotted behind her ear. "It is a link the league uses to communicate with each other. Take it...it may be of some use."
She accepted it."Thanks."
Batman was stealthily making his way down to the vault. Superman had already breached the doors and traps,by simply ripping his way through metal and seeking out every security detail with his supersight and destroying them with his heat vision. Batman crossed over the smashed doors,smoking and broken automated sentinels and snares. There was a long corridor leading towards the vault. The large circular door was punched in.
The vault was a very large area. It housed myriad artifacts,relics,and weapons from villains,numerous planets and worlds;some very dangerous others unique and wonderful in their concept and ability to help humanity,but all carrying risks of being exploited by evil minds for personal gain.
Batman himself with the Manhunter had helped set up the chamber and its security. He had ensured each article was either encapsulated, neutralized or dismantled. The time-device was in a glass case with an electro-magnetic aura about it.
Batman slipped into the vault into the first room and sneaked towards the third chamber where the piece laid. He could hear Superman trying to grasp it off its podium and snarling when a forcefield repelled him and sent him flying into a wall hanging with pieces from Thanagar. He heard the crash and the peered around the door to see the Kryptonian land in a heap and a pair of wings fall atop him as well as a large mace.
Superman stood up and frowned. He walked around the glass casing,using his super vision. He seemed to smile and instead of trying to grab it again,he looked up and announced,"I know you're there,Batman. I suggest you come and dismantle your little boobytrap!"
Before the Dark Knight could move,the Man of Steel,or the force controlling him,had reached the door and had grabbed the Batman and flung him hard against a table with disassembled rifles and lasers. Batman slid to the floor with a grunt.
Superman said icily,"I'm waiting,Batman. Undo the protective shield or else I'll tear your limbs off."
Batman reached for the green stone and Superman saw it. He moved swiftly,lifting an entire shelf upon him. The contents fell with a crash,burying the black uniform. He saw the Batman stirring .He said ironically,"Rodents are notorious for not dying."
He was about to go for him again,when he heard the sound behind him. A female voice cried,"Kal!Stop!"
Superman saw Wonder Woman fly in. She went for him and they crashed into a glass cabinet. The sound of splintering glass and the two heroes denting the wall could be heard. Superman grabbed her and threw her towards the door of the mid chamber. She crashed into the table that held the machine that imprisoned people into the phantom zone. It clattered to the floor. Superman was going for it. Diana unfurled her lasso,and before he could aim at her,the girdle of Gaea was released. It captured the machine and sent it flying.
She cried,"Kal!This isn't you!Stop this!"
He was oblivious to her plea. He picked up a strange looking staff weapon and fired at her. Diana ducked and weaved. She grabbed a globe from a velvet lined case and hurled it at him. It crashed at his feet and a vapour-like haze appeared and something that looked like a ghostly woman with a skeletal face and waving silver tresses took form. It opened its mouth and let out an eerie,agonizing shriek. Superman let out a groan and held his ears;glass shattered around him. Diana fell to her knees as well. Batman recognized Wonder Woman's tactic of letting the banshee out of her prison,directing a force that was magical at Superman,in order to weaken him. He pushed the shelving off himself and his hood was able to absorb the banshee's wails without his eardrum shattering. He produced the ring. He must get close to Superman now.
As he did,Catwoman was approaching the vault. She let out a hiss as the sound of a woman's ear splitting wails assailed her. She covered her ears and leaned against the outside wall of the vault. She activated her earpiece and cried,"Batman,can you hear me?What the hell is that racket?"
Batman's voice came back."Selina,where are you?"
"I'm outside the vault. Those screams are vibrating the entire floor...I can't come nearer..."
"The wails are keeping him weakened so I can get close to him...I...damn,he's going for the boomtube...Diana,stop him!"
Catwoman heard the wails cease. She lost no time in bolting into the vault. She traversed the first chamber,looking around in awe. Her eyes gleamed as she saw a pure gold scarab the size of a fist. And beside it a gold amulet with a large ruby eye. Both looked Egyptian. She went to them and purred,"What a beauties you are...You look so lonely in this sterile old..."
She was interrupted by a sound of someone being blown into the room with the force of a gale force wind. It was the Batman. He hit the very shelf she was studying and fell heavily at her feet.
Batman sat up and shook his head. She helped him to his feet."I take it the Tights is back in action?" He grimaced and held his right wrist gingerly.
He gritted,"He got rid of the banshee with the boomtube. Wonder Woman's facing him now..."
They could hear the thunderous sound of the two heroes fighting. Catwoman peered through a gaping hole in the wall to see the pair levitating in a room that looked as if a bomb went off. They were grappling,bodies twisting and limbs flailing as they bounced from wall to wall and crashed into the floor. The entire satellite seemed to shake.
Selina commented,"Seems to me that those two ought to get a room."
Batman's rasped,"We've got to help her. I'm going back in..."
"He'll make mince-meat out of you...and your wrist..."
"Listen to me,this ring is kryptonite. It weakens him. I need to get close to him...but he knows what I want to do..."
She looked at it and held her hand out."He doesn't know I am here..."
"No!I won't let you take the risk..."
She said,"Your are injured. Give it to me..."
"Come on,Handsome,why bring me along in the first place?"
He reluctantly handed over the ring. She turned to go;his left hand caught her arm."Careful."
Catwoman raised on tip toe and kissed his cheek."I will."
He had her pinned to the floor;his hands were curled about her neck. Diana gasped and her free hands clasped his wrists and she tried wrenching herself out of his hold. She could feel her head swim,and the cold expressionless face above her begin to blur.
But he only squeezed harder. Diana's hands began to slacken;her eyes began to roll over. Superman sensed her fading resistance and pulled a fist back. He was going for the final telling blow,when a whip cracked and curled about his fist and yanked it back.
Superman spun about and grasped the whip. Catwoman tutted,"Hasn't anyone ever told you it's not nice to hit a lady?"
His eyes glowed and he pulled the whip,yanking her to the floor. He stood up,leaving a semi-conscious Wonder Woman to face her. She felt him grab her by the collar and raise her off the floor."And it'll be your demise for trying to stop me."
Catwoman produced the kryptonite ring."I wouldn't be so sure,Blue-eyes!"
He dropped her at once as if scalded and fell to his knees.
Batman's voice ordered,"Keep him there!"He went to him and looked at the side of his neck.
"Just as I thought..."Using his uninjured hand he pulled out a small round disc shaped circuit embedded in flesh of Superman's nape. Superman let out a shuddering gasp and collapsed. Batman dropped the disc and crushed it with the heel of his boot.
He said sharply to Catwoman,"Selina!The ring!"
He held open the small case he had in his utility belt,and she dropped the ring inside. She asked,"What did you just destroy?"
"A piece of twenty fifth century technology. A mind control probe by Brainiac..."He broke off as Wonder Woman groaned. She sat up and held her throat. It was bruised and sore. She looked at Superman's unmoving figure and a look of fear crossed her face."Is he...?"
Batman helped her up."He's just unconscious from the effects of the kryptonite and Brainiac's probe...''
"Yes,it seems our scientist must want to time travel. We'll have to do some investigating when Superman recovers. In the mean time,I suggest we go to the infirmary. I don't need an x-ray to know my wrist is broken..."
Diana saw Catwoman over his shoulder. Batman explained,"We owe our lives to her. She stopped him with the kryptonite."
Wonder Woman said hoarsely,"Thank you..."
She inclined her head graciously."You're welcome."
Wonder Woman went to where Superman laid and hoisted him easily over her shoulders. She flew out with him.
Catwoman warned,"I won't be carrying you like that."
A reluctant smile tugged his lips. They followed Wonder Woman out.
Superman opened his eyes to find himself lying on a bed in the infirmary. He sat up at once and looked around. Lying unconscious in a bed across from him was the Flash. He had a sense of foreboding and dismay. He looked at the bandages about the Flash's torso and the bruising on his face and body. He let out an agonized groan and held his head. He did not need the Manhunter standing at the foot of his bed to say anything.
He knew he was responsible. Memory, a series of flashing images, assaulted him like a bad dream. He whispered,"How bad is he?"
J'onn replied,"He had six ribs broken. A shattered femur. A dislocated left shoulder. Various cuts and bruises. We've been giving him doses of the purple ray..."
"Kal,he's resting...I've given him sedatives for the pain and I estimate he'll make a full recovery..."
Superman looked distraught."Wally isn't the only one...John...Diana...Bruce...you..."
"The others are as well as can be...Lantern has a broken arm and some minor cuts and a splitting headache. Bruce sent him home. Bruce has a broken wrist .But he's not letting that stop him...He's waiting upstairs for you to go on the trail."
"Just some bruises...She's remained back .The satellite is in disrepair."
"You did not actually harm me. I was just subjected to my worst fear of fire in the simulation room,"he replied matter of fact.
Superman walked over to Wally and looked at him with remorse."I ought to have been more was it?"
"It was Brainiac, Kal..."
Superman looked grim."What did he want?"
"It seems he was after Cronus' time-device..."
"Time travel...that does not bode well."He turned."Where are they?"
"I think Bruce is in the monitor room. Diana may be helping the clean-up operations. We had Hawkgirl,Red Tornado,Steel,Green Arrow and the Atom come in to assist."
He turned to leave;he said softly,"Forgive me,J'onn."
J'onn replied,"There is nothing to forgive,my friend."
Superman entered the damaged monitor room to see Batman with his wrist in a sling checking the computers that were still in one piece. Beside him tapping her feet impatiently was the lithe figure of Catwoman. She was saying,"Why don't you let me port home myself?Why must I wait for you?"
"I can't risk letting you see our portals on earth,"he replied bluntly.
"Well,that's gratitude. After I risked my neck for you and your pals?The least you could do is show some faith in me!"
He lifted a gold scarab off the desk and waved it at her."How did this get in your pocket?"
She looked sheepish."It was lying on the floor. Come on,Handsome,one ought to be compensated for one's efforts..."
"The day you learn that service is more important than reward is the day I'll have faith in you...You'll wait for me to drop you off in the ship..."
She sank upon a chair and stretched."Well,a girl could only try...And you must admit,I'm a promising pupil..."
He gave her a glare."You are an opportunist."
"Wow. That's a step up!You called me a thief a few months ago!"
He did not even grace her with a reply. Partly because he was infuriated with himself for thinking she could change and because Superman had appeared thereby putting a halt to their discussion.
Selina said,"Blue-eyes is up."
Batman stood up and faced his friend. There was silence for a moment. Superman looked at his wrist."I..."
Batman shook his head."It wasn't you."
"We don't have time for self-pity,Superman .Are you ready to go find Brainiac?"
Superman looked bemusedly at Catwoman."She on our side now?"
Batman grimaced,"Far from it. I'll explain. We should leave soon."
"Sure...but I need to speak to Diana first. I'll meet you in Metropolis. Say on the roof of the Planet?"
"She's down in the vault. Take this scarab back." He handed the artifact over and beckoned to Catwoman."Come."
Catwoman did not move. She asked silkily,"Perhaps you could get me a leash and yourself a whistle."
"Selina..."he began warningly.
He took a deep breath and tried to say coolly,"Let's go. I've got to follow up a lead...Time is something we don't have..."
"Humph,it'd kill you to say please,wouldn't it?"
Superman left them and went to find Wonder Woman. As he traversed the satellite,he saw the damage he had done. He encountered Red Tornado and Steel welding and stabilizing the damaged infrastructure. Both gave him solicitous looks. Dr Palmer,the Atom was in the electrical network, making adjustments and diverting power from undamaged mains. Green Arrow was in the simulation-room looking at the burnt out equipment whilst communicating with the Atom via the comlink.
Superman could hear them as he flew past."Well,the big blue lunk head did a job on the satellite, didn't he?"
Dr Palmer replied,"Come on, Ollie,it wasn't his fault."
"Sure it wasn't."
"Anyone of us could have been a target."
"Come off it,Palmer. That's a fallacy if there ever was one. You are a big time villain and you want to infiltrate the JLA satellite. Who would you go after?Me?Plasticman?No. You'd go for the one who can shoot fire from the skies and is invulnerable to near every substance known on earth. You'd be targeting Superman. And the Boyscout should, more so than any of us ,be the most vigilant of all. But you know ole Clark. He's gotta be the trusting,born yesterday type. I bet he walked into this one."
Superman did not linger to hear more. He moved on to find Wonder Woman who was with Shyera. Both were trying to clean up the vault and store the many objects into containers as the two inner chambers were in need of reconstruction. Hawkgirl was in the first chamber and he handed over the scarab.
Shyera looked at it."I was looking for this...Are you okay?"
"What do you think?"He looked around at the damaged room.
She patted his arm."Don't be too hard on yourself. It wasn't your fault."
He said nothing. Wonder Woman's voice was heard from inside saying,"Shyera, the Thanagarian wings are scorched and wilted and the mace broken. Do you think we can get a replacement?"
Hawkgirl said quietly,"I'll take these things into storage..."She gently placed the scarab into a large metal chest already packed with objects and flew out.
Superman went into the third chamber and saw Wonder Woman moving amongst the wreckage and looking at what she could salvage. She looked at a burnt out flame-thrower and bazooka that belonged to the Metal Men and threw them in a pile for discarding. She bent and picked up an Atlantean trident and sighed. It was snapped into two and the prongs were bent. It was given to the League by the King of the Oceans as a thank you for helping rescue his son and heir.
"I can fix that."
She turned and saw him behind her."Kal..."
He took it out of her hand and with the ease of someone handling clay he used his heat vision to weld and bend the metal back into shape. He blew cold air upon it and said,"There. You won't have to dump it. Where do you want it?"
She said quietly,"It can go in that chest."
He put it down and looked at her. She had bruising still on her throat and he blurted out,"Diana,I'm sorry."
She nodded."I know. It wasn't your fault."
"Will everyone stop saying that?",he said exasperated.
She looked taken aback at his vehemence."But it wasn't...no one holds this against you. You were under Brainiac's control..."
"Look around you,Diana. Look at the vault. Look at the rest of the tower. Have you seen Wally upstairs?"
"It could have happened to anyone. He could have mind controlled anyone of us. You just happened to be the one to go to Washington..."
"Not everyone has the ability to destroy the satellite or kill with a look in seconds."
"Clark,it was NOT you...We also know you would never do that willingly. That you would have to be manipulated. That you would die before you hurt anyone. Yes,the thought of you going rogue is worrying but we can't live in fear of it. Is that what you want?For us to be scared of you?"
"Diana,I nearly killed Wally. I would have killed you."He grasped her arms."I can't risk those near me...whether it was my fault or not...I am dangerous."
She asked crossly,"What are you going to do?Penance?Brow beat yourself?Stop being Superman?"
He let her go,looking grave."No,I can't stop being Superman but until Brainiac is caught,I can't be near the League nor the Satellite.."
She backed away from him and demanded,"What are you saying?"
" I think I need to hand in my resignation..."
"But you and Bruce will catch Brainiac. I know you will. Why resign...?You'll just come back when its safe...",she replied impatiently.
He looked strangely at her."I've been thinking about it a while. I need timeout."
That piece of information only served to make her furious."But you started the League...you and Bruce...You are its acknowledged leader!You can't swagger out of here because you want to wallow in self-pity!."
His eyes reflected his surprise at her reaction however he said calmly,"Bruce or J'onn can easily take up that mantle."
"Have you told them this?"
"No but I'll announce it at the next weekly meeting. In the meantime,I wanted you to be the first to know and I want you to keep it to yourself."
"Oh,how very gracious of you."
He sighed. He could see she was not in a mood to listen him and he didn't have the time to indulge her."I've got to go. I'm meeting Bruce in Metropolis."
She turned her back on him and pretended to inspect the box at her feet."Yes,well, I wouldn't want to keep you!"
Superman silently turned and flew out. She turned and kicked at a broken shelving unit.
When Superman announced his decision to leave the League,to say it came as a shock was an understatement. Especially after Brainiac had been caught, his circuitry dismantled and scattered across the galaxy;Flash had,with the aid of the healing ray, made a full recovery and the Satellite was back to its full power. The latter was partly due to the fact that the League boasted some very wealthy members,who could afford to throw a billion here and there to purchase new equipment; and it also boasted some of the best scientific minds in the galaxy who could fix and upgrade the security systems. No one,except Wonder Woman, therefore expected Superman to drop this bombshell. There was a full five
minutes of protest and debate,which Superman listened to patiently then calmly and quietly repeated his intention.
Wally stood up and began passionately,"Clark,this is stupid!You can't just leave!You're the big cheese...he hat...the maestro...the..the glue...You can't go!"
Green Lantern looked at him gravely,"Yes,Clark. Wally's right. You are too much of an asset to lose..."
Hawkgirl asked,"Is this about what happened last week?Superman,you are taking this thing too personally. No one blames you for what happened."
Superman replied,"That's kind of you,Shyera but my mind's made up. I need the time away. Superman will still be saving the day,except it'll be on his own. Additionally, my job as a reporter has been suffering badly. I may be able to fly and punch a mountain apart but I need to eat and pay the rent. As for my being the glue,Wally,that's flattering but you have people here fully able to lead. The only problem I can foresee is that you're spoiled for choice."
Batman looked at him thoughtfully,"How long is this departure for?"
"Indefinitely. But if you need to call upon me for aid in dire circumstances,I won't hesitate to come. But your roster is so varied now...I doubt you'll need to call me often..."
Wally sank to his seat and looked miserable."So we won't be seeing you after today?"
"Of course,you will,Wally. Clark Kent is around and willing to see his friends out of uniform if they happen to come to Metropolis..."
"But who will I race with?"He sank miserably to his seat. Everyone looked sombre.
Wonder Woman spoke up abruptly."Kal,are you sure this is what you want to do?"
He looked at her warily,expecting her to join the chorus of naysayers. She had been very closed and standoff-ish since he told her and he found that silence worse than her upbraiding of him a week ago. He answered,"I am,Diana."
She looked at the others. Her voice was subdued."It's our loss but also our duty to support our friend's decision."
Superman shot her a look of gratitude.
Batman said abruptly,"Very well. If that's what you want."
He stood up."It is. I thank you for your understanding. I'll miss you all."
Wally looked around and demanded,"So that's it?He goes now?"
Superman patted his shoulder."You can come join me for a last cup of coffee in the galley before I go. I've got to pack up my stuff and hand in League property."
The next hour was spent taking his clothing and personal effects out of his locker,returning keys and any electronics and software he had borrowed and urging Batman to wipe his signature off any of the equipment in the Satellite. All hand,retinal and voice signatures were disengaged.
Batman said dryly,"You are certainly leaving no stone unturned. Guilt must be a heavy burden to bear."
Superman shot back."You of all people should know about guilt."
Batman tightened his lips. He said,"There. It's done. You've been wiped off the satellite's security system. You can't teleport nor enter unauthorized."
"Good. I'm off to change then grab a coffee. Coming?"
Batman shook his head."I've got some more stuff to do on the system."
"Well, I'll be seeing you. A man like you is always press-fodder. Maybe I might come and call in a favour and plague you for an interview..."
Batman half smiled."Maybe I might let you have one."
Superman put out his hand."See you around,Bruce."
Batman shook it ."You too,Clark."They parted with amicable nods.
Superman went to the galley as he promised and found Wally and Diana. Shyera and John had to go out on missions. J'onn was coordinating and monitoring their progress. Wally sat with his chin in his hand whilst Wonder Woman stared at a glass of juice glumly. They looked up to see their colleague walk in. He was not in uniform. He wore civilian clothes and his glasses. He looked almost strange and out of place. He poured himself a coffee and sat down with them.
"Stop looking as if someone died,Wally,"he said lightly.
"I'm sorry,Clark. This is a shock for me...I never thought you'd leave...Bruce,maybe...he's so caught up with Gotham...or Shyera...after what transpired with her and John...Even Diana...her mom has been wanting her home after all...But you..." Flash sighed.
Wonder Woman looked at him. The time for being angry had passed. She knew that now."Kal...I mean,Clark...you'll keep in touch?"
He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and passed her and Wally cards with his Planet contact."Call me anytime. If you can't get to me directly,ask for Lois Lane. She and I have been partnered up."
Diana blinked."Lois Lane?"
Wally said,"Oh,I know her. Star reporter. Got the dirt on Luthor and even scoops on Superman. Not bad looking either, if I recall correctly...You sniffing around that tree,Clark?"
"Wally,why must you be so uncouth?'',demanded Diana irritably.
"Hey,I just asked a simple question. He's a single man and she's attractive...Things can happened,you know..."
Clark said wryly,"She seems to have a partiality for Superman,not Clark."
Diana said bluntly,"She's a fool."
He shrugged."I'm not bothered."
Wonder Woman sighed."You're not?Thank Hera!"
Both Clark and Flash looked at her oddly. She reddened and said lamely,"She sounds shallow..."
Clark said,"Romance isn't an easy road for a superhero..."
Flash nodded."That's why I'm free,single and disengaged,buddy. The Flash has a lot of sugar to go around and it wouldn't be fair to my fans to deprive them of it prematurely..."
Clark and Diana rolled their eyes but smiled their first genuine smile in days. After another ten minutes of chatter,Clark rose."I need to get going. I'm keeping you guys from your work."
Flash rose,shook hands and pulled Clark to him and gave him a hug."Take care,Clark."
Flash looked from him to Diana and cleared his throat."Er,I'll go on ahead and see if J'onn needs me..."
He dashed out leaving the pair alone. They looked awkwardly at each other.
Wonder Woman said ,"Well,this is it!"
Clark nodded."Yeah I guess it is."
"We'll have our work cut out for us without you...Trying to keep Wally from driving the others up a wall...trying to keep Bruce from ordering everyone about...John and Shyera from not arguing...J'onn is very good...but won't put his foot down with the likes of Ollie and Plas and he doesn't see a joke whereas you can see the funny side of things!And ...you know how I tend to lose my temper now and again...!"She rambled on distractedly,"Barda and I don't always see eye to eye and next week you were supposed to accompany me to New Genesis. Now
if I'm lucky I'll get J'onn or maybe I can get out of it and get Canary to go in my stead...I am sure she'll make some excuse since she and Ollie are..."
Clark watched her;his eyes on her face. He was barely listening to her disjointed monologue. He abruptly reached out and captured her hands in his and said,"Goodbye,Diana."
He released her and quickly left. She stood alone staring at the empty galley. Something had happened that she did not quite understand. It wasn't hurt,anger nor disappointment. She felt bereft. And empty. She had lost the one person on the League that was as close to a kindred spirit as there ever could be for someone like her.
Author's note. This story isn't over. If interested to see what happens read THE PRINCESS AND THE REPORTER.