"Justice League… that often seems a joke to me when they think no problem is beyond them.
"We who do not live in the sky with a floating space station can do more with human authority."
"That authority is you Maxie? Geniuses like you have been trying for that for years."
"I'm not Luthor. I don't intend to disgrace and divide the League."
"Then what do you intend to do with them because they aren't going to just step aside."
Lord knows that Grant is right about the League, but it appears the solution would have to begin with the man who had first come to his attention as someone who tends to be at times unhappy with the assignments or missions given to him by the League. The man known to the boxing world as the retired Ted 'Cat Man' Grant yet for many others he is known as the hand-to-hand fighter Wildcat. As Wildcat he also trained many of the heroines who were now members of the Justice League including the likes of Black Canary and one of their former agents, Huntress, to name a few.
"An organization rivalry has proven ineffective in the past because the League always manages to outmaneuver it so something far more subtle than the Legion will be necessary here. At the same time, those like you will be necessary to the plan too. The means to this end are within my reach."
"Pit them against each other all you like, but if you expect me to kill then I'm out of this match-up."
"Intractable problems require irregular solutions so either way the era of costumed agents will end as both sides of the coin cancel each other out."
Grant in that moment saw working for Lord would be worse than feeding the addiction that he got from the underground fight clubs like Roulette's Metabrawl. He was looking for action, for a good scrap, but the instant the prospect of killing came into play that was a sign for departure. He did walk out of that meeting alive and then no one heard from him again until his body was found on the sidewalk several stories down from his apartment. Ted Grant died after being smashed through glass doors and shoved off a balcony by Clayface.
Lord made sure Grant would never expose him, but in reality Grant did more to expose his erstwhile 'employer' in death than he might have ever done in life.
Captain Nathaniel Adams dreamed from childhood of being a pilot yet it is the wake of the rockets and missiles that he starts to dream of space travel. Somewhere along the way the pilot finds that his pursuit of flight and space brings him to the Colorado Springs Air Force Academy. It is here that he meets John Allen Carter and Clifford Zmeck. The trio kept a friendly rivalry through their years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
All three took part in the rigorous training selection for the Mars Mission, but of course it is during this time that Nathan had grown closer to a voluptuous redhead named Betty Souci. Her philosophical and political leanings were naturally bound to clash with the principles and protocols of being an Air Force pilot yet put aside what they did for a living and one could find they did love each other. All that however would be torn apart with the 'death' of Captain Adams and the 'birth' of Captain Atom.
John Carter went to Mars, but he did not return from Mars. The Invaders that decimated the Martians save for one turn their sights to Earth and begin their infiltration through the crew of the Archimedes. The infiltration reaches its peak within two years and during that time covert efforts undertaken by various doppelgangers reduces Earth's capabilities to resist invasion yet at the same time there is widespread sentiment for global nuclear arms reduction.
Clifford Zmeck spent untold years between the twin shadows of his former rivals. One had gone to Mars and the other had become Captain Atom. Both events made him bitter at least until a Doctor Magnus had come to him with a proposition that would make him an equal or even surpass Captain Atom. Zmeck took it and in time he would be remade as Major Force
His transformation would be short lived when he find his suspicions about the one called Wraith.
Even with cell doors to separate the two men, there is no mistaking his smugness
"There is no past, no present, and no future except to those who are linear like us. Time is mutable certainly and the agents you deem the source of humanity's near annihilation are similarly the ones others call heroes who 'save' it without often asking what they are saving."
Eve and Lucas Eden, twin siblings, had their lives torn apart with the death of their mother. Eve represses memories surrounding the cause of her death whereas Lucas constantly persists what he believes to be the true cause of her death. It is in fact the true cause yet nobody believes him for a long time.
His stepfather Lawrence denies it for his own selfish motivations whereas his twin sister denies it becomes the truth of it scares her too much to face it. Lucas' years at the psychiatric hospital in Maine are a hard to bury secret for Senator Lawrence Schneider. As for Eve, she would in time come to realize the truth and distance herself from her stepfather in her search for her brother even after it's insisted that he committed suicide. The twins' reunion find them at first on opposite sides of a new conspiracy that targets all costumes though in particular any who retain ties to the Justice League.
She already had taken more than a few risks to save Atom even when the latter refused to leave Betty to die under a pile of rubble in a building that was going to explode and if he had stayed more people would have died instead of just Betty when the bombs went off. Betty accepted the sacrifice with the same kind of dignity that Eve's mother wore in her final days.
It is clear that Lord facing the 'failure' of his plan cannot reconcile his mentality with his reality.
"They survive everything even their own narrowly averted annihilation, but what makes them worthy?"
"Like some questions, it is without an answer yet what makes you right to judge them at all?"
Consciousness buries those answers so that when we sleep, when we dream, the answers assume disguises we spend our lives trying to unmask only to learn the answers are more elusive than a 'good' night's sleep to a human who yearns for the nameless.
Huntress watches this conversation between her lover and the man that by all points is the mastermind behind all the troubles they had faced in the past several months yet as she heard Question speak she realizes he more than anyone was desperate to stop Lord.
It is only in her nightmares that she relives him being shot or her parents being slain as she watches from inside the closet. Sometimes it seems like a better idea to retire from this while she can still walk away yet the last time she spoke of that possibility she instead found cause to stay when Question was taken by Cadmus. She never felt quite as driven as she did that night and never more broken did she feel as she saw him shot. She had also seen Barbara, Dinah, and Oliver shot only seconds before him whereas he took bullets meant for her. Scarecrow's fear gas made her worst case scenario mentally real at least until she broke free of it yet as for who to fully blame for the whole run that would stick to Lord.
"Whatever you might have learned from those journals written by David Clinton, that future doesn't exist anymore, another future is always taking its place, and in the end, nothing ever ends so we go on."
"So sure of humanity's survival despite the odds… why Cadmus feared you so back then, I'll never accept or understand. You have seen like others what your 'allies' are capable of doing. So why continue to support them? Help them?"
"Not that you wouldn't understand, you just wouldn't accept my answers."
The trial that followed Lord's arrest as expected took months to sift through given the system and no amount of influence welded by the disgraced Senator Schneider would make the trial easier. The joint ventures between the corporations were seen for what they really were, but it was agreed by most it was not the principle that was wrong, just the hands that the projects were left that was the mistake. Hindsight doesn't help, it is just a way of assigning the blame to someone or something, but who was going to take responsibility for what Lord and his Inner Circle did in the past several months?
More than half the people on the Watchtower II died during the station's destruction and those that did survive were freely given the option to leave their positions. Many took that option only because they just wanted to go home, be with others, if only to go back to their own lives where they wouldn't be caught up in the League's troubles. The League on the other hand couldn't simply walk away from what happen even with the losses between the separate hits and the loss of another Watchtower. They did what they always do… face the problems head on… because there is no other way.
Nothing about Lord's plan made sense, no matter how much anyone would want it to, it never did and never would, but that's not a surprise to Question. The Illuminati broke ties with Lord at some point after they found he was the one marking the costumes, but why they never went after him themselves is something of a mystery to Question. However who is to say they didn't try to shut him down, but given the number of alliances he made, both corporate and contractual, maybe that's why whoever they sent never got near him. It is just as likely that they left stopping him to the League, they don't want to draw attention to themselves plus they usually never went out of their way to help, not publicly anyway.
They are everywhere so nobody could truly know who is and isn't an Illuminatus.
If their organization is so vast then what prevents them from intervening yet continuing to push the same threads as they have always done in the millennia past?
It is a question without an answer for even if an Illuminatus were to tell why, what would make it worth believing, because obfuscation is how they operate as a whole, but even that could be a misconception worth maintaining on their part. He had met three of their number face to face and one of the three, Lord, is now likely to be sentenced to death for an array of crimes including murder since it was his weapon that blew up the Watchtower.
The only way out of that would be an outrageous technicality.
He could beat the system, but would they allow it?
Question hopes not, but Victor Sage has other places to be today such as a wedding in California. He sprays the aerosol over the mask and peels it off. He knows he is not alone in here and that it is not Helena sneaking up on him, she is waiting for him at the Metro Tower since they are traveling with others out to Queen's summer place in California for the occasion. He turns around to find that the Illuminati had found him once more.
Nobody moves, nobody speaks, so who would break the silence, somebody had to or did it really have to be done?
"I am certain your silence means you either don't know what to say or you are wondering what would happen if I spoke first," says Whisper.
"I didn't expect to encounter you again after Montenegro or let alone be allowed to live with knowledge of your organization's existence," remarks Vic.
"We are aware that you have been following our plural deception for years and that you have known about the magic bullet. The one said to be forged by our mystics."
"So with all that I know you let me live, why?"
"Any explanation given won't answer your question."
"I guess I should have not expected you to try."
"It is because the question is not why… but who."
"You are saying because who I am… you let me live."
Expectations are left behind like masks taken off.
"Your skepticism is expected."
"Your honesty is unprecedented."
"You also wonder what will happen to Lord."
"After all that happen who wouldn't?"
"He won't beat the system."
"What makes you so sure of that?"
Familiarity lurks behind every corner and window – so history is full of repeat variations.
"This is not the first time we have had a renegade."
"So why didn't you stop him?"
"We tried, we failed, but no amount of setbacks ever stops you."
"You let setbacks stop you?"
"Not exactly, but his agents were irritatingly adept at diverting us."
"Diversions were his calling card. Nobody would believe him about the Illuminati."
They value their anonymity as much as I do or used to at times, but with Helena I find less cause to hide from myself. We both have pasts full of things that we cannot forget and things we struggle to keep still.
"He kept expecting us more than he was expecting you at every turn. Aside from your occasional direct moves you tend to be as subtle as we are if not more so. It is harder to track one man than an organization such as ours, but the same cannot be said for the League due its image."
"So how could you or any in your organization be so in the dark as to not expect the weapon used to destroy the Watchtower or the existence of the OMAC Project?"
"We believed the League had dismantled the precursor, the Binary Fusion Gun, but Luthor being Luthor still had hidden away a substantial stash Lord found either through Mercy or someone else. He used all the resources available to him without going through us or Cadmus."
If the Illuminati could infiltrate Cadmus, they can infiltrate anyone, but Whisper is also rumored to be involved with both Intergang and the Society. So where do her true allegiances stand?
"So he was your inside man in Cadmus?"
"Yes and we sought to keep an eye on Cadmus' corporate alliances including Lexcorp despite Luthor's disappearance last year when handing off the Anti-Life Equation to the resurrected Darkseid."
"How did you know that Darkseid was dead in the first or that he had even been killed?"
"I don't think it is necessary to remind you who you are dealing with Sage."
"I tend to ask questions even when I believe I already know the answers."
"So how do you think we know?"
My memory recall is nearly photographic, not quite up to Luthor's par, but enough to prove that I don't forget what I have read or seen too quickly.
"A conclusion based on the fact that of all Superman's Rogues – Brainiac and Darkseid had not been seen since the original roster agreed to help Darkseid against Brainiac. It was a ruse played for the sake of luring Superman into a trap, but Darkseid double crossed Brainiac."
"In the end, Superman left Darkseid to die along with that version of Brainiac. Another version however remained under wraps inside Luthor until the showdown between Cadmus and the League, but that version was vibrated out of existence by Flash using a power he had not previously used."
"It nearly led to his death."
"The other six pulled him back from the Speed Force - I can tell you there were no dry eyes."
"Such an act moves even an Illuminatus?"
Whisper makes no comment. She didn't have to, because many were moved by witnessing that event whether they were literally there or watching from elsewhere. He could remember those moments with such clearness that he would not forget the look on their faces when Flash 'died'. He could scarcely imagine what his own face might shown if he had not had the mask on at that particular moment too.
"I wouldn't suggest keeping your Inamorata waiting for much longer… you know how she reacts when she suspects you are in danger," reminds Whisper.
He knows she is right about Helena when it comes to him.
"Please remember Gemma's last words to you."
She slips away and Vic doesn't bother to follow because she would leave no trace of her passage. It reminds him of that night he rarely thought about in many years yet recent events brought him back to that moment where he felt his first brush with love and loss towards a woman who was not his mother. The circumstances of his 'reunion' with this woman are tragically bittersweet. Try as he may to remember her clearly before that night, he scarcely can, which only proves the sharpness of 'bad' memories.
"Leave her alone!"
The attacker notices him so drops her on the steps and runs off. He looks between her limp form and his receding silhouette. He wonders should he pursue the attacker or stay with her. The attacker's footfalls grow more distant and her breathing becomes shallow. Charlie kneels next to her and wraps his trench coat around her.
"Who… who… are... you…you?"
She stutters as he tries to apply pressure to her wound to stem the bleeding, her blood loss already is much. Her lip is also bleeding yet not as much as the wound that is lower and runs deeper.
"Gemma… don't you recognize me?"
She strains to make out his face yet it is half hidden by the poor lighting descending from the dimming street lamp. Something about his voice is familiar to her.
He weakly smiles when she says his name.
"Yes it is Charlie. Don't try to move, you lost a lot of blood after you were shot at close range."
"Is he gone? I don't want him hurting you too. You were always too good to me."
"You were… you are…."
"Feelings always seem to pass right through you like you were not there."
"I felt… I feel…"
He didn't always have to say it all with words since Gemma seem to share his mother's body language reading ability, which is an exceeding rare quality to find in anyone especially so in someone who struggles constantly with the intensity of their own feelings.
"Save your strength."
"I don't need it."
He couldn't tell if she felt like her life was slipping away from her or she was just putting on a brave front to persuade him that her condition isn't as it looks to him.
"You'll need it for more than mere survival."
"Words are unnecessary for your meaning..."
"Have to say it anyway for you to be..."
"Say it for me to be?"
"Say it for you to be human."
He didn't think he should risk moving her. She would die and all he could do is watch her.
"Don't ever change, Charlie."
Those were her last words to him. He didn't know whether to cry or scream when her eyes flutter shut for the last time. His echoes are a mangling of both.
She seem so peaceful for one who was hurt by a violently inflicted injury, he couldn't explain it to himself or to anyone else who sought to talk to him about it afterward except maybe his mother. She knows his silence isn't intentional or isolating, but watching someone die like that is never easy to live with.
As the Question, he found the man responsible for the wound that killed her after frequenting the various nightclubs that Gemma worked at in the past few years. Many of her co-workers held such respect for her yet felt she could have gone elsewhere for work. Someone like her didn't belong among them and ultimately someone sought to seize her for himself alone. This decision took her life from her and finally left him near death because Charlie didn't take kindly to Gemma's death in the months that followed that moment where she said those words about him not changing.
It was those words that kept him from killing the man that killed her yet it brought him closer to knowing what having another's life in his hands feels like.
"I didn't kill her. She was still alive when that guy showed up. He coulda saved her if he wanted."
"Yes, you shot her, she was still breathing and bleeding when found by that man."
"So he did nothing for her just like the rest aware of her presence."
"The wound was too severe to risk moving her so he just sat there as you ran from your decision."
"I ran because I hurt her and he saw me. So why stay?"
"Take responsibility, not cast blame!"
"So what are you going to do?"
Her killer is shifting from taunting to goading as the rain pelts them both.
"You got nothing on me!"
"I don't but he does… part of him doesn't care if you should be the eye for the eye yet another part thinks the system should take care of you… if it still works… seems impossible to tell."
"Then toss me to the cops… and they arrest you too for beating me up!"
He needed to her save her, but he could not. He wanted to kill him yet he spared him because of her. He didn't bother telling her murderer this.
"Have it your way."
The Question knocks the man out and leaves him tied up to a fire hydrant outside Hub City Police Central. Her killer was given a life sentence with no prospects for parole. He didn't know if he could call it justice yet he hopes that he did uphold her last words. Charlie gradually becomes Vic at least until both are memories to the faceless Question and in time the man seems superfluous to hero principles. It is only stays a conviction until Question is drawn towards Huntress whilst in his search for Cadmus.
Further onslaught of memory flashbacks only brings him back to why being human held such gravity to everything that happen between him and Huntress… between him and Helena… everything that is love.
His earpiece comlink chirps a few seconds later.
"Vic – I'm waiting on you babydoll," reminds Helena.
"I'm on my way – no need to tell me twice," responds Vic.
Both Helena and Vic could see plenty of familiar faces in the crowd, but the Batclan were strangely absent despite the fact that Dinah invited them. Whatever the delay, one hopes… maybe prays that some might show if only to assuage doubts and fears surrounding Batman's prolonged absences from the Metro Tower, but as they well knew, Batman is Batman.
"You're sure you're feeling alright?" Vic softly asks.
"Guess something I ate the other night disagreed with me," Helena quickly answers.
She squeezes his hand and heads off to join the bridesmaids who have been waiting for her. As for Vic, he wonders if Oliver will be ready for marrying up at last.
He could hear Oliver talking to Roy behind the doors ahead of him. Ever so subtly he steps through to find himself also in the presence of Wally West, John Stewart, King Faraday, Clark Kent, and a few others that he rarely saw out of costume.
Meanwhile Helena enters to find Dinah still getting into her wedding gown while the bridesmaid stand ready to help prepare the Maid of Honor who did not expect such an all out setup to prepare her from the biggest wedding she had ever been to. What matters more is he is here and these are her friends – of that she can be certain if nothing else. Somehow for now it feels like all she needs in her life.
She feels nauseous again so she bolts for the bathroom.
"Are you okay?" murmurs Dinah lowly.
"This is the second time I have thrown up today," groans Helena.
"You feel up to the ceremony?" continues Dinah quietly.
"I'll be fine – you have anything in these cabinets for this sort of thing?"
"You better let me look for you… the others will get you ready while I'll look for something."
Diana had the shoes on standby. Shayera temporarily tied back Helena's hair. Beatriz starts on the makeup, which is something Helena hardly wears at all yet for a wedding she would allow it. Mari due to her fashion connections had gotten the best of the best for wedding fashion, which means the dresses and the suits were the finest available to someone like Mari McCabe. Together Mari and Dinah help Helena into her dress since she feels a bit woozy on balance after taking the upset stomach liquid capsules. After she has the dress on Diana helps her with the shoes.
Beatriz leads the way with Wally on her arm and Roy follows up with Tora. The third coupling is Dick and Babs who has been able to walk without the crutches for several weeks now. Diana comes up after them with King. Nobody is going into talk about her infrequent appearances with Bruce Wayne and as for Bruce – he unofficially sent Dick in his place to represent him at the wedding as a gesture that not all the corporate partnerships made in the past year were a part of the conspiracy against the Justice League. Zatanna and Jason had made the trip from England for the wedding. It seems the latest rumors in the League place Zatanna as the current love interest of Jason Blood, but few outside the League are privy to Blood's alter-ego. As for Shayera, she had come with Carter Hall, they were friends, it is an understood association plus she had taken him to Fate after his experience with the mind altering helmet put on him by the Mad Hatter.
Something that got a rather unexpected interest is the sighting of Helena Bertinelli – daughter of the long deceased crime boss Franco Bertinelli – in several years, but many know that Helena keeps a low profile and prefers to leave the past out of the frame. However the past as always is not far from her mind, but there is equal interest in the mysterious red head that she is tightly holding onto. He is even more a mystery than she, but this is a mystery that she needs – can accept – because she loves him. Something similar could be said for him – at least among those who have come to know him, see him more like she sees him, but to the rest they are just an unexpected couple at a rich man's wedding.
Vic takes his place next to Oliver while Helena stands to the other side and winks at Vic. He can feel a smile forming on his face. Others could pass judgment on them yet this couple would not pass it on each other as their partnership had come from following the other into their mistakes. Their partnership quickly became more than that because he had known or suspected that she would be the one to come for him when Luthor turned him over to Captain Atom and the Cadmus Security Forces. Whatever made him step through that doorway and endure Moon's 'sessions' seems even now like him refusing to be broken any further than going after Luthor alone left him yet on a deeper level something within him refuse to give in or give up because of her.
The last couple to appear at the end is Captain Atom wearing a tuxedo and Eve Eden wearing a gown like all the other bridesmaids. Dinah made an insistence that they come even though they had not been part of the original wedding plan made before the New Years Eve Shootout.
All look up the aisle to Dinah Lance now resplendent in her custom wedding gown as she clearly can be seen wearing sheer white nylons, which is a color opposite to her typical grayish black ones worn with her Black Canary attire. However in order to divert attention from her resembling Black Canary, she appears to have gone the darker route with her hair at least for this afternoon. She is arm in arm with Jamie Reyes though one can imagine she would have wanted Ted alive to walk her down the aisle or even her own father, but both men are gone from her life.
It is a beautiful arrangement to have the wedding in the air conditioned ballroom situated atop Oliver's coastal California residence.
Jamie soon separates from her as she goes to stand beside her future husband after all this waiting. Cheers and tears can be heard throughout after the couple read their vows then slip the wedding bands on. They head back towards the limo meant to take them on their way to the first of many stops on the world tour of a honeymoon.
Captain Atom and Nightshade take flight once more towards the moon even though it won't be visible to this part of Earth for several more hours. It is not the destination, it is the journey, but then such things are a matter of interpretation.
It is time to move along for even Vic Sage yet as usual Helena Bertinelli is not far behind. So together they too drive off into the sunset with the unknowable future ahead of them.
"Vic… who is Gemma?" asks Helena.
All the same, some times we find that future often makes us all confront the past by degrees.
"She was at first a friend of mine a long time ago... back before the Question and before Vic Sage. Like I told you months my birth name was Charles Victor Szasz and for many years I did answer to Charlie."
"So she first knew you when you were Charlie?"
"Yes and she had treated me better than most of the other kids, but it was still in the days when they still got jumpy at the mention of Soviets and other words associated with Mother's home country."
"She sounds wonderful."
"She was… yet she was also more than that too."
Vic relates his story about the night that Gemma died while he was left to watch her pass away. Shortly thereafter he pulls off the road and into a secluded yet shady spot along the coast.
"Her last words to me were simply her telling me not to change, but in many ways I feel like I haven't kept my unspoken promise to her at least until our lives became tangled together."
"You are still him in all the ways that matter. "
He knew that she knew about the black box.
"When were you planning to ask me?"
"No time like the present."
She laughs softly then opens the box to reveal a platinum ring and her lips meet his after she slides the ring onto her left hand's ring finger.
A/N 1: Flashbacks galore (Then/Now Contrast) and done in a sort of Watchmen style. Also Illuminati Returns to pay Question another visit.
A/N 2: Dinah and Oliver marry at last while Vic finally proposes to Helena.
A/N 3: The Gemma Flashback is modeled around dialogue from Halo Legends segment Ghost. One might ask you got the idea from Halo, but as a writer I follow the muse's tangent without question (no pun).
A/N 4: This is not an End or an Epilogue... it just simply is.