Author's Other Note: So I got this all ready to go, wrote the below note, preformed my ritual final read, and decided I didn't like it. So I went through, despite my summer physics class and family trip, and reworked it a bit. Better late and satisfactory than quick and lousy, right? So, from the expensive Internet connection of Scheveningen, Holland, I give you Chapter 19!
Author's Note: I was going to go ahead and finish it up here, but then a couple things happened. First, it ended up being too long for me to tack any sort of well-done conclusion onto the end and still have less than 15 pages. Second, Starfire and Cyborg have been rather neglected and I didn't want to distract from their moments of expression any more than I'd already done. And third, 20 is just such a nice number. You've got the only even prime, 2, and that wonderful base of the metric system 10. You can double the lower factor and half the higher one and get the next set of factors until the consecutive 4, and 5 (1,2,4,5,10,20). It's just a very nice number. Besides, this guy has just been sitting on my hard drive for months while my Internet connection played hard-to-get. It's still playing hard-to-get, but for the moment I've got the system figured out. So I finished him up and popped him on-line before conditions could change. So here we go, not a lot of action, but it's not all about the action, is it. I hope there is enjoyment! Already working on the final.
Disclaimer: Still don't own anything but the story and Zinara, if you call that ownership. No profit is being made nor copyright infringement intended. Have a lovely day.
"The most important thing is that she's insecure. She's not sure how this is going to end and that's something we can use," Robin finished, curling his hand into a fist on the counter top for emphasis. He'd intended to be dramatic. He'd hoped his speech would rally the troops somehow. Create some kind of motivation or sense of urgency. Maybe push them into action as his briefings tended to do. He'd failed. Much to his dissatisfaction, nothing of the sort happened. Starfire sat across from him, elbows resting on her knees, chin held in her hands. Her eyes were downcast. Cyborg was leaning against the wall next to her, staring straight ahead, jaw jutting forward just slightly as anger smoldered in his eyes. Raven just looked passive, standing at the end of the counter with her arms folded. She hadn't said a word the entire time he'd been explaining his talk with Zinara and continued to remain silent, her face shadowed by her hood. Robin deflated somewhat. "Aaaand that's all I learned," he prodded, encouraging some kind of response out of his teammates.
"It is sad," muttered Starfire, not looking up. "This is all just sad." There was a moment of pained silence.
"No," said Cyborg, frowning deeply. "No, this is just messed up."
"Cyborg, her father-"
"Betrayed her and died. So did mine." Starfire gave him a shocked, hurt look, but he just met her gaze coldly, angry beyond words. "You think I volunteered for this?" He gestured to his metallic body and scoffed. "Don't kid yourself. Thousands of people have crap fathers and thousands suffer for it. That doesn't make you a psycho. That doesn't give you delusions of grandeur or make you think it's okay to destroy the world order as we know it." Starfire's face changed, hardening as she gave him a fierce look.
"Your world order has caused this person terrible pain for no reason other than the fact that she is different! Zinara has every right to be angry." Cyborg let out a bitter laugh.
"Oh, I get it. You get to judge because there's no discrimination on Tameran. Everyone's just hunkey-dorey, is that it?"
"That is not what I meant to-"
"Well here on Earth things aren't perfect yet; life sucks for most people. Everyone is judged more for what they look like than who they are. Zinara can join the freakin' club! So you sit around and write depressing poetry or you do something about it. You go out every day and try to make it better!"
"That is all Zinara wants! She is willing to die for it. She plans to sacrifice her life to make a better world for everyone. How can we fault her for that?"
"Star, she's not being noble or self-sacrificing, whatever she tells herself. It's a cowards way out." Starfire opened her mouth to protest, but Cyborg straightened and held up his hand, silencing her with a glare. "She's going to make this radical change and die before anyone has time to react. It may seem like martyrdom, but all she's doing is dodging the consequences. No matter what happens, no matter if her plan works or kills everyone, she'll never have to face the repercussions of her actions. She doesn't want to change the world; she wants to leave a dent. It's a cowards way out." There was another sustained silence as the two Titans watched each other. "Doesn't matter any way," Cyborg scoffed with a shrug.
"I think it matters a great deal."
"Even if the siren was the most noble, well intentioned, divine savior since Jesus, which she's not, it wouldn't change the outcome. Matter cannot be created nor destroyed; it can only be rearranged. Same with energy. First Law of Thermodynamics. The universe and everything in it tends towards disorder and either the system or the surroundings must increase in chaos for any reaction to occur. Second Law of Thermodynamics. Even if this whole creating two self sustaining worlds from one were possible, both would die any way." Cyborg looked right at Starfire, his eyes like ice. She shrank from his gaze.
"Each planet requires X conditions to function, X amount of order, and the two new ones will need the same environment as the original. Even if they both survived the physical shock of being torn in half and somehow the thousands of ecosystems which were smashed to pieces by the division of the biosphere patched themselves back together, it wouldn't stay that way for long. The world has a certain carrying capacity of life it can support. Without the restrictions of the other half, populations could very easily and very quickly exceed their resources without realizing it. Some will even start off critically overpopulated and there will be no chance to fix it. It'd be like if you threw a party for a hundred people, then realized you only had party favors for fifty. Except the odd fifty out would probably die.
And that's assuming life survives at all when after you've cut into the Earth's core and spilled its insides all over the place. Or after the orbit is thrown off and it either cooks or freezes or crashes into the moon or whatever happens when you put two planets where one should go. Assuming preservation of atmosphere, which is also unlikely. Not to mention the environmental chaos caused by the reorientation of the magnetic poles. I could go on, but I think I've made my point."
"Zinara doesn't know anything about modern science or energy or any of this," said Robin slowly. "She doesn't have any idea what she's doing."
"But the Half-Heart is magical," protested Starfire, trying her best to remain somewhat optimistic.
"Magic doesn't change science. Not this kind of science at any rate," snapped Cyborg. "What are you arguing, anyway? That we should just let it happen?"
"No! No, I merely…" She was no scholar or logician; she couldn't always tell you the difference between justice and vengeance or mistakes and manipulation. But Starfire knew good from evil. Zinara may have done bad, may plan bad things, but she was not herself bad and neither were her reasons. Starfire's nature pulled her to compassion. She would not so easily give up the fight for this girl's character. After all, Beast Boy thought she had a point.
The tower gave another violent shake and the lights went out entirely. Cyborg swore and deployed the light on his right shoulder. It illuminated the circle of agitated faces and he almost apologized. Then he stopped and frowned. His best friend had been turned into an animal puppet, his Tower twisted beyond recognition, and his world pushed to the brink of ending. By some little teen who was having a century long existential crisis. And there was so little he could do about it. He had a right- and obligation, to be angry.
"What happened," asked Robin, glancing around as if to say 'I will kill the first person to say the lights went out.'
"Generator only makes enough energy for one tower," said Cyborg edgily, shrugging his shoulders and sending shadows dancing across the walls. "Now we've got two. Whatever power we have left on this side has been routed to keep the defense systems active."
"Starfire, we understand where you're coming from," said Robin soothingly, giving Cyborg a sharp look. He snorted, folding his arms and looking the other way pointedly. "This isn't Slade or the Evil League of Evil we're dealing with. She's just a girl who got the short end of a stick. She's like us in a lot of ways. That doesn't justify what she's planning to do. Even if she doesn't want to hurt any one, she will. Ignorant or not, we have to stop her."
"Yes, I understand. But after?"
"There will not be an after," said Raven coolly, speaking up for the first time and causing everyone to jump. "Not for her anyway." She had a cruel twist to her lips that sent shivers down even Cyborg's spine.
"Raven," protested Starfire as she got up. "You cannot possibly be suggesting-"
"I'm not suggesting anything. This is simply the way things are. Cyborg's right, the Half-Heart is a real object operating within our real universe. Granted, it has abilities that are quite outside the realm of 'naturally possible,' but energy has to come from somewhere. Zinara plans to use her 'being'- her life- to power this little pet project of hers."
"So what, she's gonna kill herself?"
"She will sacrifice herself."
"I don't care what you call it, she's going to die. That's not something we can stop or change. She's making a trade: her life and body for the power to divide. She can choose where to direct that power, but the trade will be made regardless. And she'll take Beast Boy and most of the world population with her if we don't do something about it."
"Raven slow down a bit," said Robin hastily, holding up his hands as if to try and calm a raging mare, though Raven was quite still and controlled in her appearance. "Fill us in." The smile fell from her lips and she gave Robin a long, hard stare. "We all need to be on the same page."
"We can't all be on the same page," she snapped. Robin met her eyes expectantly and she set her jaw in self-restraint. "We don't have time to be on the same page. It's already started again. The moment she reemerged into our reality the process began again. The Half-Heart is charging and the world is ending and you need to evacuate the city before it falls into the ocean. What Zinara told you can be useful to all of us, but what Beast Boy told me-"
Robin took two steps to her side and put a solitary, secure hand on her shoulder. Raven didn't pull away, but she didn't relax either. There was a short pause during which his eyes avidly searched for hers and she stubbornly avoided him, then:
"She's killing him Robin." Her voice was soft, hardly a breath above a whisper, her eyes downcast. Nothing about her suggested anything beyond mild discomfort, but beneath the controlled projection there was a woman in pain. Robin could feel her shaking with fear and rage. "Not physically, but the longer that thing he's become stays in control, the harder it is for him to come back. The place where one exists isn't meant to hold two." Violet orbs flickered up to a masked face, brows knit, lips parted slightly. Then, as if she was remembering what had led to their current situation, her face began to reshape. Teeth came together in a snarl as wrath made pleading eyes frigid. "So forgive me if I am just a little anxious to get this all over and done with." Robin responded in turn.
"I know you Raven; if you thought you could get it "over and done with" on your own, you would have. I would have done the same thing. As it is we both know better and I'm telling you that if we want to avert this crisis, we all need as much information as we can. So explain first, then give orders." Raven narrowed her eyes at him and snorted. She wasn't used to Robin being so terse, at least, not to her. A mirthless smile tugged at her lips for a moment then was forgotten.
"Zinara is unique. Her mixed blood gives her powers from both halves and she's mastered them well. The siren's song pulls people in while her human empathy allows her to manipulate them. It's not a direct form of control, like Brother Blood, but she can get inside your head, inside your memories, and be very persuasive. The link is powerful and enduring. It's also limited to one person and that person can choose to resist her if he or she has the desire."
"So Beast Boy is willingly helping her to destroy humanity as we know? Sorry Rae, I'm not buying that."
"It doesn't matter whether you believe it or not," she snapped. "It's the truth. It's where the Half-Heart ties in."
"And where did you get this information? Zinara's been sayin' Beast Boy chose this the whole time interspersed between the whole 'humans are evil' thing. Doesn't make it any more true."
"Cyborg, be quiet. Beast Boy's the one who told me all of this." If nothing else, that shocked everyone into silence and Raven continued, speaking quickly. "We all have a dark side, a place where we keep all of our secrets, bitterness, and pain hidden. And in that place we all wonder if any of it is even worth it. We wish we could just go to sleep forever because when you're asleep the world can't hurt you. When you're asleep everything goes away…" She paused for a moment, like she was remembering something sad.
"The Half Heart doesn't just split objects, it splits personalities. They share a body and are aware of each other, but when it comes to thoughts and actions each is an individual. That's the real irony of it all; maybe you can break apart a rock or split a log, but what is essentially one like a person or a planet can never become two. Zinara is aware of its abilities, but not their extent nor aftereffects. She'd never even experimented with it until Beast Boy." Cyborg ground his teeth and breathed angrily through his nose. He was ignored.
"Once she discovered its function she brought it back to her birthplace in Naples and immediately set about trying to make a better world. Like most things magical, the stone requires payment and this offering is what initiates the process. So on the banks of the Mediterranean, on the hill where she was raised, Zinara offered herself and the world began to split. When this attempt to use the Half Heart was interrupted, it merged with her until the process could be completed.
The Greek gods, as they are known, recognized the potential catastrophe and stopped her before anything more than a major earthquake could occur. It claimed her life that day, and in return responds to her thoughts and her will… and it will only work if she is alive. They couldn't kill her due to Dionysus' promise and they couldn't risk her trying again, so they broke the Half Heart, hiding most in a temple by the sea and leaving the rest in her chest. Hence, the half-heart. As both punishment for her actions and insurance against a reoccurrence, they set her adrift in a lavish cell from which she could never hope to reclaim the stone."
"Guess they didn't count on us digging it up and poking it in a museum in the same city as the gullible changeling with crazy sensitive hearing and an annoying need to please."
"Trust me," said Raven bitterly. "It gets even better. The changes that are happening to the Tower are partially due to her desire to separate from us. Mostly, though, they're caused by the fact that when Beast Boy set her free, he made the Half Heart whole again. Not only could she crack the planet now, she's already started. The moment that piece of stone that was on display reunited with its twin through Best Boy, the process started again. The only one who can stop it now is Zinara herself."
"Meaning that the stone is charging in a way and, once it reaches capacity, she can either direct that energy outward through the world or inward through herself. Split the world, or split her own body. It's her choice and only she can make it."
Heavy breathing. People swallowing.
"Well…" said Robin, pressing his thumb and forefinger to his temple. "Crap."
"Crap? That's it? That's all you can say? While we've been sitting around debating whether or not the little bird with both the power and intent to destroy the world because she's PMS-ing is actually brazen enough to do it, she's already started! Every second is bringing us closer to the brink of imminent doom and you say crap! Wow, genius; I'm inspired by the poetry of it."
"Do not yell at Robin, he is doing his best! Even as you blow hot air into the room without meaning he is generating a plan that will save us all!"
"Yeah, you are absolutely right Starfire. I should just sit back and let our great leader make all the decisions and tell me what to do, because that's been working out so well! And you know, you've been a fat load of help yourself! As a matter of fact, you guys just seem to have this whole thing under control! I should probably just go order some pizza and see what's on the SyFy channel!"
"Cyborg, you need to calm down."
"No! I'm sick of being calm! I'm sick of sitting back and just letting this happen while you come up with a plan! Being calm is what got us in this mess to begin with! We were calm when we should have been freaking out! We were sensitive and lenient when we should have been sure he was safe. Do you even have any idea how bad this is? Do you even have the slightest notion of what we're dealing with?"
"Yeah, Cyborg, I was here for the exposition too. As a matter of fact, I actually gathered some of it myself."
"Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared; any child can tell you that now a' days. Zinara plans to use her mass to run this thing. So lets say she's 90 lbs. That's 40.823 kg which is about 3.67x1018 J. Convert to exajoules and you get 3.67 EJ. For perspective 1.41 EJ can shift the Earth's axis and alter the length of the day. She has about two and a half times the energy of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake stored in the atoms of her sad excuse for a body. That's not counting the energy in any of the Tower she takes with her… or Beast Boy. I know you don't know the science of it so don't even try and tell me you do. This is my world! My planet, my home. That green monster in there, that's my best friend! Or it used to be. Now I'm not even sure what he is, let alone who he is. You're our leader, right? Maybe you should have acted like it! You should have let me run more tests. You should have forced us all to work harder and figure out what was wrong. We should have stopped this when it was just dilated capillaries."
"As I recall," chided Robin coldly. "I was the one who was worried and wanted to hold him for observation while it was just dilated capillaries." His voice began to rise steadily with his temper. "I was the one who wanted to keep him safe in the Tower until we knew he was all right. But that was inhumane and cruel at the time. I was being unreasonable and paranoid. Doesn't look like paranoia any more does it?"
Cyborg's human eye widened like Robin had smacked him and he began to open his mouth to retaliate, but Raven cut him off harshly.
"Stop it, all of you! How does squabbling like petty children help anything? How does whose fault it is or what we should have done change the present? You're wasting Beast Boy's time with all your finger pointing." She swept a cruel gaze across each of their faces like an icy wind. "We're all on "the same page" now, I trust, which means the time for learning is over. It's time to act."
"And what would you suggest we do? Reason with her? Seal her back up and set her adrift again?"
"It's gone beyond that and we all know it!"
"Then what? Kill her?"
"If that's what it takes."
"You would have us murder a teenage girl for pursuing a dream? We are the 'good guys,' yes? We do not kill!"
"Her teenage dream is going to wipe the entire population and very likely the entire planet from existence! We didn't start this, but we have to finish it. That's why we'rethe Titans, not some fundraising social change group. We can't let some self-righteous ideal get in the way of our duty to protect this world and its people."
"Cy, our ideals are a big part of what separates us from your common vigilante. We can't just caste them aside whenever they're inconvenient. I'm as pissed as you, but-"
"I don't think you are, Rob. I don't think you're even one-tenth as pissed as I am right now."
"Quiet." Raven said coldly, her voice slicing the bickering like a blade through rope, dropping a net of tense silence. The rest of the Team looked at her like she'd just sprouted a tail and cat ears, surprised and almost fearful, but she didn't care. Her jaw was set, chin tilted down, dark, powerful eyes peering our from beneath deceptively delicate brows. "I'll do it. Whatever 'it' is, I'll do it. She can't be reasoned with by some messenger of humanity nor persuaded by arguments of compassion. She can't be killed by gods, humans, or foolish misconceptions. I represent none of those things. I'm half demon. Besides, we all know that I'm the only one she'll allow close enough to do any damage. And I'm the only one who can save Beast Boy, if he's still there to be saved. Don't bother to deny it. We all know it's true; let me go."
"Raven, you can't do this-"
"Don't think for one second that the rest of you would do anything but slow me down. That's all you've done so far," she snapped. Robin physically recoiled. This wasn't just some routine mission- it wasn't even a standard rescue. This wasn't about the city or even about power. It was personal; from the very beginning it had been personal. And now the strain was beginning to show. Raven let out a long sigh and looked away, closing her eyes.
"I'm the only one she trusts, the only one they'll both listen to. I'm a half-breed human, so is she. I have issues with my father, so does she. We've both been scorned for what we are, and we've both wished we could change, one way or the other. Zinara sees herself in me, she thinks I'm the only one who can empathize with her situation. She's probably right. She wants me to sanction her actions. She wants my approval. And she's willing to risk her entire mission for it, especially now you've made her doubt herself. She'll let me in, but only me."
Robin gave her a short, calculated look that lasted an eternity. Raven looked back with equal intensity. 'I have to do this,' he heard her whisper across his thoughts. 'It has to be me.' He snorted, his lips twisting ironically. "What do you want us to do?"
"Start evacuating the city. Whatever happens, Jump will be ground zero. We have to get the civilians out. Between the three of you and the drills we've been conducting it shouldn't take too long. We have an hour or so, but we've pushed it too close to the line anyway." The ensuing silence was taken as consent.
"What will you do?"
"I need to go. I can teleport through her barriers but the walls have rearranged. It'll take me a minute to find a safe place, but after that…"
Robin nodded. "Good luck." Raven returned the gesture with a sharp jerk of her chin and moved towards the door. She couldn't bring herself to meet either Starfire's terrified gaze or Cyborg's smoldering eyes. As she passed between them she paused, reaching out to grip Starfire's hand and clasp Cyborg's shoulder reassuringly. The movement was stiff, but well intentioned.
"I'll bring him back." Then, in a swirl of black energy, she was gone.