"Do you want to boss me around, too?" - Jonathon
After his fight with Kelly, Encore didn't return to the tower with the other Titans. He instead went down to the abandoned subway tunnels beneath Jump City. He knew that hidden somewhere down in the vast, dark network of intersecting tunnels was the base of the Undergrounders. He quickly found the original lair from when he had been an Undergrounder himself, but not it was just an empty, cavernous substation. Slade was the careful sort. Because of the subway trains he could constantly move the base. They would be impossible to find.
That didn't stop Encore from trying. He hadn't forgot Paingirl and Lostgirl - he still felt guilty for unwittingly placing them into Slade's bondage - but at that moment Kelly was first and foremost in his thoughts. The drawing she had planted on him was stored safely away beneath his poncho, but he could still see it clearly in his mind's eye. Encore and Artemis were fighting with a show of hatred on their faces while, above them in the ghostly haze, was the image of Jonny and Kelly sharing a kiss. Encore couldn't help but feel like he and Kelly were locked into some kind of modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Encore instantly disliked that idea.
Encore didn't know much about the story, but he did know one thing: Juliet died at the end.
Encore didn't know what he was doing. Even if by some miracle he did find the Undergrounders' base, what then? He knew he couldn't take on Slade one on one - the past had taught him that - and that was before accounting for the rest of the group and whatever Sladebots happened to be around. Kelly would be unable to help him for fear of Slade activating the nanoprobes inside her. What would start as a rescue would quickly turn into a slaughter. Perhaps, if he did find it, he could call in the other Titans, though that presented problems of its own. How would he explain how he knew to look in the subway system to begin with?
The cowboy sighed and continued his trek. He held a fireball over his head to push back the inky darkness. The unsteady flickering it gave off somehow made the blackness around him feel alive. Though he didn't personally see them, the skittering of rats could be heard and, from somewhere far away, there was the dripdripdripping of water splashing lethargically.
"You have no idea where you're going, do you?" A woman's voice said from behind him.
Encore whirled around. He brightened the fireball and held it up higher. Out of the darkness stepped a lithe, confident woman in a blue and yellow bodysuit and half-mask. A wealth of white hair fell down her back and a silver rapier glimmered in the light on her hip.
Encore ripped the laser pistol from the holster on his own hip and pointed it at her with his free hand. "Who are you?" He demanded.
The woman was unperturbed. "I'm the Ravager." She said. The red slits of her mask glanced at Encore's gun. "Is that really neccesary? If I wanted to kill you, you'd already be dead."
Encore realized that was most likely true. He reholstered his pistol, though he did make a point of keeping his hand on it.
"You're trained better than this." Ravager went on. "You never once looked behind you. That's foolish and I know you're not a fool. You're much too trusting. That's what got you in this mess to begin with."
Encore squinted suspiciously at her from behind his shades. "I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt." He said it slowly. "The name's Encore, by the way."
"That's too bad." Ravager said. "Personally, I liked 'Maverick' better."
Encore breathed in sharply. "How do you-"
"I've been following your ever since you attack on the Gemini Building." Ravager told him. "Don't worry: I have no interest in exposing your secret. It's just Slade I'm after. I thought maybe you would lead me to him, but you have no idea where you're going, do you?"
"I'm afraid not. What do you want with Slade?" Encore asked.
"I want to kill him." Ravager suggestively put her hand on the hilt of her rapier to drive the point home.
Encore frowned at her. "You know I can't let you do that." He said.
"Why? Because of some ambigious moral code of being a hero? Face it, Encore: A dead Slade would solve all your problems, wouldn't it?" Ravager said.
Encore hesitated at that, but then he shook his head. "That don't make it right."
Ravager saw no need to argue and shrugged. She reached into a pouch on her belt and handed him a cell phone.
"What's this for?" Encore asked.
"If you find Slade before I do, you can use this to contact me." Ravager said. "I have allies that feel the same way I do. Trust me, you'll need our help."
Encore nodded slowly. He looked at the stranger before him; so confident and cool yet so angry and vindictive just below the surface. He could already see her hatred of Slade shaped her every thought. It seemed like such a sad way to live.
"What's your name?" He asked her quietly.
"I already told you."
"No, I mean your real name."
Ravager put a hand on her hip. "Do you really think I'm going to tell you that?"
"Telling me your first name ain't going to give away your identity." Encore pointed out. "My name's Jonny. Now it's your turn."
Ravager was silent. For a moment Encore thought she wouldn't say anything at all, but then she finally answered. "Rose," she said. "My name is Rose."
"That's a pretty name, Rose."
The exposed part of Ravager's face hardened. "My father named me." She said from between grit teeth. "It's not pretty. Good luck with your hunt." She turned and walked away until the darkness at the edge of Encore's light swallowed her up.
Crystal had been in Jump City for a week now and she had been unable to find Jonny. The new device she had created was helping, but it wasn't quite enough. What had once been her laptop computer had been converted into a CPU bracer attached to her wrist and a headset with a microphone and an LCD screen situated over her left eye. With it she was able to hack into any nearby computer networks and sipher through its information. She called it a MPC: Mobile Personal Computer. It helped her track down the phone booth Jonny had used to call home and the internet cafe where he sent her an email. She asked everyone around if they had seen him and showed a photo of him, but she had no luck. Some told her they had seen him with a dark-skinned girl, but no one could tell her where they had gone. Crystal had plenty of brains and tech savvy, but she was no investigator. She decided it might be time to find some professional help.
The bell rang out over the front door of the lobby of the Hunter Detective Agency. Crystal held open the door with one hand and pushed in a stroller carrying a sleeping Melody with the other. She winced at the sound of the bell and peeked under the hood of the stroller, but the baby was still asleep. She looked up and saw Jonathon - Holly's timid assistant - sitting behind a desk. His face was creased with concentration as he scribbled in a notebook between picking up heavy textbooks and poring through them. So engrossed he was in his work he hadn't heard Crystal come in. She quietly walked over and peeked over his shoulder.
"I think your theory would make more sense if you explained that the third variable could be both x or y." She told him.
Jonathon jumped at the sound of her voice, but then her words sank in. "No," he said. "That would only make sense if-" He stopped and his eyes grew wide. "W-wow! That's brilliant! Why didn't I think of that? I'm going to get an A for sure now!"
Crystal smiled at him modestly. "I'm glad I could help. Is the investigator in?"
Jonathon, still preoccupied by the new idea planted in his brain, answered without thinking. "No, Ms. Hunter is out getting her nails done-ack!" He gulped when he realized what he said. "I mean - no! - she's, uh, tracking down a lead on a case! An important case!" He deflated when Crystal's amused look told him she didn't believe him for a second. "That's what I was supposed to tell you, at least." He sighed.
"I'll be sure to tell her that." Crystal said. "Will she be back soon?"
"She should be." Jonathon nodded. "You can wait up in her office if you want."
Crystal looked at the staircase and then at the stroller Melody was in. "Do you mind if I leave the baby with you?" She asked.
"Hm? Baby?" Jonathon looked at the stroller for the first time. "Oh, r-right. Well..."
"She's asleep." Crystal said. "She won't be a bother. Just call me if she wakes up!" She bounded up the stairs before he could object.
Jonathon sighed again and looked at the baby. "Do you want to boss me around, too?" He asked.
Melody answered by letting out a tired sigh and putting her thumb in her mouth.
Holly's office was much like any Crystal had seen in film noir detective flicks, only messier and more contemporary. There was a toy basketball hoop over a plastic trashcan filled with crumpled paper, some file cabinets along the walls and a desk set up in front of the windows. On the desk was a laptop computer, still half open. Crystal looked at it speculatively and then looked around quickly to make sure the coast was clear. Then she typed into the wrist keypad of her MPC and hacked into it. The LCD screen on her face lit up and her left eye twitched as she took in the information.
Crystal realized right off that something was off about the internet connection. She peeked under the desk at the connection wires and saw the problem. She stood back up and explored the computer's contents. There were several useful - and illegal - search and information programs that Crystal copied and downloaded to her MPC. One such program was a digital database for official government files. Crystal opened a search prompt and typed in 'Jonny Johnson'. There was thankfully nothing recent - no arrest records or death certificates - only a copy of his adoption papers. Most of it seemed in order, but a few lines jumped out at her.
Adopters: Roy and Marie Johnson
New Name: Jonny Johnson
Original Name: Laurent Maubbison
Biological Father: Unknown
Biological Mother: Mortuana Maubbison
The name 'Mortuana Maubbison' was linked and, when Crystal clicked on it, an address and contact information popped up. A note said it was updated twelve years ago. Crystal frowned thoughtfully. That was certainly interesting, but it was for another time. That wouldn't help her find her brother now.
She clicked off her MPC and looked over the desk instead. She picked up a file that had been left out and leafed through it. The heading read 'Tournament Suspects' and it was filled with high-quality pictures of several different people Crystal didn't recognize, most of them masked. She saw pictures of Aquagirl and Rorrim and Thomas Austin and others like Dracon and Spark and Danny Chase. Then she flipped to the next picture and froze.
The photo was of a young man in shades and a cowboy hat. He wore a poncho and had long black hair Crystal knew immediately was fake. She ran her hand over the familiar chinline and the breth of his nose and the shape of his lips.
It was then she heard Holly coming up the steps, but it was too late to hide the fact she was snooping. Crystal was still holding the file when Holly came in and saw her.
"Hey!" Holly said. "What do you think you're doing? This isn't self-serve, you know!"
"This man," Crystal held up the picture to her and pointed at it. "Who is he?"
Holly folded her arms across her chest. "Why should I tell you?" She asked.
"Because I know there's a bug-tap on your internet connection. Answer the question and I'll tell you where all your secrets are going." Crystal said.
"Look for yourself."
Holly kept one suspicious eye on Crystal, but she bent over and looked under the desk.
"Damnit!" She cursed. "I thought you were bluffing."
"The guy in the picture." Crystal tapped it. "Who is he?"
"Some gunslinger that goes by the name 'Encore'." Holly said. "He's the newest Teen Titan."
"Encore," Crystal repeated to herself. "Yeah, that sounds like him."
"Your turn now."
"Right." Crystal flipped over the picture, picked up a pen on the desk and jotted down a couple of lines. "This is the address. Thanks for your help." She handed it to Holly and then made her way downstairs.
Holly looked at the address and recognized it right away.
"The Verilli Estate," She growled.
"Nice nails, by the way!" Crystal's voice ghosted up to her.
Holly barely heard her.
It wouldn't be easy. Maria knew that. She wouldn't be able to use the supercomputer inside her room at the Verilli Estate. It was monitored constantly. She would have to disconnect her personal laptop from the mainframe, do the deed and connect it again before anyone noticed it missing. She would only have a short amount of time to wirelessly hack into the Titans Tower communication server and send Reba a secret message.
Technology and time was against her. It would be like trying to move a mountain with a spoon. Still, she had to try. The tap on the Hunter Detective Agency internet not only revealed that Reba was Aquagirl, but the fact she was suffering from amnesia. Not only did Maria miss her, but she knew her friend was in danger. If Verilli found out Reba was still alive she would never see him coming.
Maria took in a deep breath. She disconnected from the Verilli mainframe and sent an amplified wireless connection through cyberspace. She typetypetyped in a flurry. A three-dimensional representation of the city grid appeared on her screen. A purple streak that represented her connection blurred across the screen and slammed into the green and black grid of Titans Tower. Instantly dozens of red pixelized padlocks appeared, each one with a smug, anime representation of Cyborg's face. Maria typed even faster, her face creased with concentration. A bead of sweat crept down her face. One by one the padlocks turned green and the Cyborg faces looked at her in open-mouthed shock. Maria broke the last lock and smiled. She hit the enter key and sent her message.
A beat. She squinted at the screen. Her smile disappeared.
"No, no, no, no!" Maria quickly pulled back her connection and rejoined it with the Verilli mainframe. She hadn't hacked into the communications server of Titans Tower.
She had hacked into its defensive systems.
Maryse Gemini sat cross-legged on a deep, soft couch and daintily balanced a glass of wine on the tips of her long fingers as she rewatched the TBEP News broadcast special on Team Gemini. She smiled in self-satisfaction and took a sip as the broadcast ended and several talking heads discussed the new team.
"Ms. Gemini didn't come right out and say it - she's a classy lady - but she's right! The Teen Titans - for as much good as they've done - are just amateur kids. Who supervises them? Commissioner Walker? Are we to go to him for answers when they screw up? WIth Team Gemini, Ms. Gemini is offering up herself as an overseer and a figurehead. It's nice to see vigilantes that actually have to answer to someone!"
"Please, Vincent. You talk about 'the good they've done' as if they just rescued a cat from a tree! They've saved the entire city more times than I can count! They have absolutely made the city a better place to live in; a safer place!"
"The Titans are at fault for most of these disasters! We were invaded by alien monsters because they were chasing after Starfire! For all we know she is still some kind of alien criminal on the run from celestial law!"
"Surely the Green Lanterns-"
"Has everyone forgotton the time Robin became a criminal and Slade's apprentice? Why wasn't he prosecuted? And then that dreadful month when the terrorist Slade took over the city was because one of the Titans themselves turned traitor. Who's to say that can't happen again? The terrorist that called himself Brother Blood - no relation with the Church of Blood, of course - used Cyborg's own tech to create a tidal wave that threatened to demolish the whole city. Not to mention the supernatural episode that literally brought hell on earth! And who was responsible for that? The demon father of the Titan Raven! How many times are we going to allow these Titans to endanger us?"
"I'm not ready to throw our local heroes under the bus yet! Just today they confronted Slade's new terrorist group - The Undergrounders - during a robbery in the Tech District."
"Which they failed to stop! The technology was stolen and the thieves got away! All they accomplished was tearing up a mile of street that will take a year to fix and no telling how much money! At least if it was Team Gemini, Gemini Industries would foot the bill!"
"Is this about money now, Vincent? That's a dangerous road to-"
"It's about responsibility! The sooner the Teen Titans realize-"
Maryse's viewing of the show was interrupted by her ringing cell phone. She briefly glanced at it's face and then flicked it open. "What is it Raskov?" She answered it.
"I've been discreetly monitoring the computer network of Titans Tower ever since the tournament." Dr. Pytor Raskov's Russian accent said from the other end of the line. "In hopes of once again putting the robotic manisfestation of Project 21; Codename: Indigo under my control. I'm afraid she now wears a mobile firewall to prevent such a thing from happening again. Pity."
"Get to the point, Raskov."
"Right. Well, it seems someone - someone quite brilliant and much more talented than I in such things - has hacked his or her way into the Titans Tower defensive systems. It's quite strange, though. The moment the connection broke through it severed the contact. There was no time for any mischief, unfortunately. Why would someone break into Fort Knox and not take any gold?"
"Honestly, I don't care. This is much too good an opportunity to pass up." Maryse said. "Can't you piggyback that connection and gain access to their system yourself?"
"It's not as simple as that, Ms. Gemini, but its entirely possible I could get access, yes. For a small window of time, of course. The vestiges of the connection won't last forever."
"We'll make do with what time we have. Ooh, this is just too perfect." Maryse grinned slyly. "Here is what you're going to do..."
The newscast was also showing in the main room of Titans Tower. Robin stood brooding before the television while Raven and Aquagirl sat nearby, locked in a game of chess. Aquagirl had greatly improved her play in the last week and, while she had yet to win, she was now able to force Raven to think long and hard about each move. Aquagirl watched the news as her friend pondered.
"Is all of that true?" Aquagirl asked Robin. "I mean about you working for Slade and Raven's dad and the alien invasion and stuff?"
"Technically it is." Robin's voice was flat. "It's also true Lex Luthor is a high-standing businessman who donates millions to charity each year. You would think that a news network broadcasting twenty four hours a day would have time for a little context."
"Context doesn't get ratings." Raven hummed with a shrug. She moved her queen to take Aquagirl's knight.
"You don't sound very worried." Robin said suspiciously. "Maryse Gemini pulls off a single publicity stunt and has the whole city at our throats."
"Those idiots on television don't represent the city." Raven said it without anger or even irritation. "The people are still with us."
"At least we know the purpose of the metahuman tournament now. Gemini was recruiting." Robin said.
In a flash the power suddenly went out and the tower went dark. With none of the electronics in the tower running, the resulting silence was oppressive.
"Raven?" Aquagirl groped in the darkness. "Is that you?"
"Yes, though I would appreciate if you grabbed me a little higher." Raven replied.
"What? Oh! Heh-hehee. Sorry."
The power returned as suddenly as it had left. Robin, Raven and Aquagirl squinted against the comparative brightness.
"Okay," Aquagirl said. "What just happened?"
Before anyone could reply, a siren blared out a shrill note and red emergency lights flashed and strobed throughout the tower.
"Defensive measures have been activated." The feminine, electronic voice of the main computer said. "Initializing total lockdown and internal purge."
There was a clanging as if a million pots and pans were being banged together as thick sheets of steel slammed down over every window and exit. Titans Tower stopped being a home and became a prison.
Robin went over to the computer and typed with his gloved hands. He frowned as his masked eyes studied the screen. "It's no good." He reported. "I'm locked out of the system."
"So what now?" Aquagirl asked.
"I wish Cyborg was here." Robin muttered to himself as he thought. He raised his head to address Aquagirl and Raven again. "We're trapped in the tower until we can disable the lockdown. The main power source of the tower comes in through the sublevel. If we can work our way down to the basement it might be possible to turn off the power to circumvent the security. There's a problem, though."
"And that would be...?" Raven asked.
The main doors of the main room were blown in by a hail of laser fire. In the hallway beyond dozens of robots with spider-like legs scurried towards them.
"That," Robin said.
"Oh," Raven and Aquagirl mumbled together.