This is a parody based on characters from DC's Justice League Unlimited. I neither own, nor claim them, and used them only to tell a story meant for amusement purposes only.
JLU: House of Medusa*
*This takes place before Brainiac reveals himself within Lex Luthor's body.
"Interesting name," Diana Prince, Princess of the Amazons smiled as she noted the logo over the door as Cynthia Bowler led her from the limo to the pristine private studio. Of course, just now, she was dressed like any other business woman on the street, though nothing hid the presence and person of the woman beneath that made even jaded pedestrians stop and gape as she passed.
"We thought it gave us a….unique flavor that helps us stand out among the rest of today's jaded art circles," the statuesque blonde told the heroine known as Wonder Woman who followed her into Medusa's Art and Sculpture. "Our founder, Davina Carter spent a summer in Greece during her internship, and has never quite forgotten the beautiful art and culture of the region. I have to warn you," Cynthia smiled back at her as they entered the businesslike lobby of the receiving hall. "She's also a big fan.
"That's why she decided to ask you, in particular, among your other League friends to pose for the series of statuary she wants to create to honor your selfless heroism."
"Well, I'd be the first to say it's our teamwork that makes us so effective. Alone, some of us could never manage the miracles we are credited with at times."
"I just knew you'd say that," the blonde smiled as she led Diana down a long hall toward the gallery.
"False modesty aside, it is the truth," Diana told her. "Sill, when I heard about your gallery's charitable foundation, and the work you do, I couldn't help nut agree to model for your artist. I just hope this won't take too long. I've other engagements to meet today, too," she smiled warmly.
"It won't take long at all. I assure you. I just thought you'd like to see some of Karter's finished efforts so you will be reassured that what you model will be more than tasteful."
"My, these are nice," Diana commented as they entered the public gallery where an array of statuary filled the floor from one side of the wide room to another. There were animals, heroic figures from current, and historical tales, and even a lifelike statue of a family that seemed to be enjoying a day in the park together.
"Karter is one of Davina's finds. He is trying to bring back a simple realism to art in general, and I have to say, he's almost fanatic about it.
"He simply cannot stand abstract, or modern art. He can be a bit fanatical about what is passed as art these days."
"I don't blame him," Diana said, letting slip some of her own prejudice as Cynthia now led her down another hall to a private studio filled with some half-finished works along the walls, as well as some odd devices and pedestals that made her frown.
"I thought I'd show you the means that helps Karter model some of his better work. He can cast life-sized images for some of his work in some of these revolutionary devices he's created. I brought you here early to fill you in, so you wouldn't be alarmed. You see, you stand here," Cynthia told her, climbing right into the open crystalline base that looked like an upside down diamond. "The top," she pointed up, "Is brought down after you're sprayed with a special mineral water to keep the casting material from sticking to you."
She stepped down as she continued speaking.
"All materials are nontoxic, and biodegradable, of course," Cynthia told her. "Karter, and Ms. Carter, oh, ah, no relation," she chuckled. "Anyway, they're both environmentalists, too. Moving on," she said as she now indicated the base of the pedestal. "Once the top is lowered," she pointed at the top of the strange crystal again that looked like the top of a large jewel. "Then you're sprayed with the casting material while inside the glass booth employed to keep it from going everywhere. Thirty minutes, and the cast is opened, and Karter can use the mold to frame the foundation of the artwork he is creating. From start to finish, it takes little less than an hour."
"It sounds quite different from what I expected."
"Oh, he uses old-fashioned methods, too," she told Diana as she gestured towards a rather lifelike torso rising out of the rough granite slowly taking shape as a centaur. "But he realizes your time, as that of your colleagues, is quite valuable, so he's elected to use the swifter process of casting a mold to serve as his primary model. Of course, he'll still have to fill in the details, and sculpt the actual finished product. See here. He's working on one of me," Cynthia showed her, gesturing to an image of a young woman that did look remarkably like her save for the addition of a mermaid's tail blossoming from the lounging woman's sandstone replica.
She blushed as she added, "It's a vanity piece I talked him into doing for me on commission. I thought it would make a nice gift for my fiancé."
"I'm sure he'll be delighted," Diana told her honestly as he noted the piece was tastefully modest though it hinted at the sensual with the clamshell breastplates covering the otherwise naked woman's human torso.
"So, I take it I'm to, ah, pose naked, then?"
"Well, it will be best, but I don't think it matters. Of course, Karter will add the details of your uniform on the finished product himself. After all, I doubt you'll want your uniform ruined."
"That's actualy no problem," Diana told her. "My uniform is possessed of its own magic. The process doesn't sound like it will be any trouble. I'm curious as to how you manage to breathe, though, while you're inside that device."
"Oh, that's simple. Before the top seals, you are fitted with a breathing tube leading to the outer casing, and other than a brief bit of claustrophobia, I had no problem at all modeling for my mold."
"Well, I suppose I can manage it well enough then," Diana told her as she eyed the half-finished works, and turned to Cynthia once more. "But as I said, I reserve the right to give the final approval before anything is presented to the charity auction. I do have a reputation to maintain," she told the blonde.
"Of course," she smiled. "I'm just sorry that Ms. Carter isn't in today, but I'm sure she'll be here the rest of the week if you'd like to drop by to check on Karter's progress. Usually," she went on, anticipating Diana's next question. "It takes about two to three weeks for Karter to finish a statue like the one he will be doing of you."
"Just in time for the New York Art Expo," Diana remarked with a knowing smile.
"I've little doubt that Karter will be pushing himself to make this the best he's ever done," she told her.
"Well, when shall we begin?"
"How about now," a reed-thin man asked as he came into the room wearing jeans, a worn tee, and a long, white lab coat that was weighted with chisels and a small hammer in its pockets, and his shaggy, brown hair all in disarray. Cyndi, you naughty child. Why didn't you come wake me when you arrived. I had to hear from my secretary that you had returned with our very special guest."
"I just wanted to show her the place, and explain things before I summoned you, sir. That way we wouldn't be wasting any of your time, either."
"Admirable. Next time, allow me to give the presentation, as I doubt you are as qualified to adequately explain my work."
"See what I mean," Cynthia murmured to Diana with a faint smile. "Temperamental."
"I'm sure I managed to glean the important aspects of what is expected, Mr. Karter."
"Just Karter, please," the man told her as he went to the controls near the crystalline base. "And since you understand, perhaps we can get to work since I doubt either of us has time to waste."
"Of course. If you'll give me just a moment to change," she said, and before he could comment on a woman's vaguarities, she had blurred into motion, coming to rest now colorfully clad as the Amazon warrior men called Wonder Woman.
"Interesting," Karter commented blandly as he gestured to the base. "Now, if you'll step up here? I have just the pose I envision in mind, so I'll guide you into that before we spray you down to ensure a proper mold. The girl did tell you we employ a modified mineral water to ensure the casting mold doesn't stick, or crack?"
"Yes, Karter," she smiled at him as she climbed into the strange jewel-like structure to stand where Cynthia had earlier. "She explained it would coat me, and then you'd lower the top to spray the casting material over me. You use regular plaster?"
"I prefer a more silicon-based spray that hardens more swiftly, and gives a better, and longer lasting mold," he told her smugly. "Plaster is for amateurs, and clumsy pretenders."
"I yield to your expertise," she said as he began to arrange her limbs until she stood with feet slightly spread, her hands on her hips, as if she were confronting a villain.
"As well you should. Now, chin up. Yes, just there. And look grim, but determined. A little more. Yes, yes. Perfect. Now, do not move. Not a muscle. This is the image I wish to preserve," he told her as he gestured for Cynthia to bring him the small, silver tank that had a spray nozzle attached.
"First, the coating of mineral oil, and then I will lower the top of the case until it is close enough to put your air tube in place. You must not move at all now. I must have perfect stillness," he told her.
Diana didn't say anything. She was used to temperamental artists. There was that fellow in Rome a few thousand years ago that had her standing in place for weeks at a time as he unerringly knew whenever she much as changed a finger. Karter, she mused, was not all that different.
She still couldn't help but feel the stuff he now sprayed her with was a bit unnecessary, though. Nothing in this world would stick to her, any more than it would to Superman, or the Flash. They all possessed either magics, or natural abilities that made anything slide right off their virtually invulnerable bodies.
"Now, I am lowering the top. I'll press the breathing tube into your nostrils in a moment, and you might notice a slight discomfort at first. Try not to flinch, or move. I must have this pose," the artist told her grimly as the faint whine of a pulley announced the top of the molding chamber was lowering.
She saw it begin to slide down over her head, and glanced up, and Karter almost ranted.
"No, no, no. Look straight ahead. Imagine, I don't know, some enemy. Whatever. But you must look straight ahead. Now, the breathing tubes," he announced, and pressed two small tubes into her nostrils that remained by benefit of two slightly rounded filters that lodged them in place. As he had said, it was slightly annoying at the start, but she had suffered far worse irritations in her time. She ignored them as the man now climbed out of the chamber, and guided the top of the jeweled case down to press into its complement on the dais. She heard a soft hydraulic click and hissing, as if the chamber were being hermetically sealed, and then the artist walked past muttering to himself.
Cynthia smiled, and gave her a thumb's up, earning a scolding of her own from the artist that shooed her back as he stood before the chamber's controls. She heard a soft spattering like rain, and then something began to rise around her ankles.
She resisted the urge to look down as something fell over her head even as a clear, viscous liquid rose up to her knees. By then, the flow had sped up considerably, and before she could even think to blink, the liquid was up to her hips. She heard a muted complaint from the artist, warning her, "Remember, do not move. Stare straight ahead."
She fought the urge to smile at him, and then the liquid passed her shoulders.
She was caught by surprise when it then rose up over her head in almost the next instant, and then she was staring through a blurred field of vision, and oddly enough, felt a surge of claustrophobia despite still being free enough to see and hear all going on around her. She supposed it was just a natural reaction. She recalled J'onn still had trouble with fire, though he was invulnerable enough to it when he focused his prodigious mental powers.
"Thirty minutes, princess," Karter told her now in that muted shout that just reached her ears. "Just stay put for thirty minutes, and we'll be through."
The man simply turned and left after that, and Cynthia drew up a chair to sit down in front of her, and simply watched her, smiling all the while. To a woman who had been granted immortal life by the gods, and had lived that life almost nonstop since that day, she felt unusually patient as she stood there feeling the casting mold congeal around her. After what felt like only a few minutes, she realized she couldn't blink even if she wanted, and that the substance was already set enough that even an experimental flexing of her muscles was nearly impossible.
Not that she was worried. There wasn't anything on Earth that could hold her if she released her god-fueled might. It just amazed her what the ingenuity of man could come up with at times. It also saddened her that so rarely did men use that ingenuity for the betterment of their own race.
Thoughts drifting, body immobilized, Diana wasn't too surprised to find herself dozing off. Maybe a short nap would help, she decided, and while her eyes wouldn't close, she still turned her attention inward as she adopted a meditative state that the Martian had taught her some time back.
"Thank you for coming by," Cynthia shouted as she looked up at the Amazon as she took flight, soaring into the air after leaping upwards from the sidewalk where people stopped to gape at the heroine as she departed the art studio.
Cynthia smiled, then turned to reenter her employer's studio, and returned to Karter's studio. "How is our star attraction doing," she asked Karter who was removing a small air tank from the breathing tubes that had led to the Amazon still encased in the silicon-like mold sprayed around her.
"By now, out cold," the little man tittered. "And by the time she recovers either her wits, or her will, the special casing surrounding her will be completely hardened, and she will be on her way to our special auction. And the rest of her life as a private exhibit."
Cynthia laughed as she ran her fingers lightly over the jeweled surface of the chamber. "Perfect. We'll make a fortune off this one, Karter. And the beauty of my plan, is that no one will even think to look for her here. Thanks to my hologram, everyone that might have noticed her arrival, also saw her fly away. And our people made very sure that no one outside of this room even knows I contacted her about this charitable affair," she snickered.
"She was remarkably easy to fool," Karter agreed. "It makes one wonder about the competence of her opponents when she is so easily beaten."
"I suspect, my friend," the woman smiled as she stared up at the beautiful woman's blank stare, that most of her opponents likely tried to match might for might. We used wit, and guile, and deception won the day. Do not doubt it. Physically, she might have been peerless. But appeal to her vanity, and the mighty princess came crashing down to her knees. So to speak," she snickered.
"One more hour, and then I'll remove the casing. We can ready her for transport after that."
"Good. I'm going to start working on our plan for the next one."
"Which do you think?" "Cynthia tapped a long, red nail against her chin for a moment. "I considered that. I want the winged alien. She's rarely in public any longer anyway, and no one will notice her absence for a while when she does go missing. Yes. We'll go for the Hawkgirl next. That will also give us time to decide who after her will fall, and how."
"Do you intend to use the same method on the Thanagarian," Karter asked as he studied the life readings from the controls on the chamber's base. As expected, they were strong and stable. Of course, they were dealing with a magical immortal.
"No, I think we might use another venue on the bird. I think she will look best in a chrome veneer, don't you," she asked.
"Yes," he smiled, thinking of the last statue he had created using that special metallic covering that made the image look as if it were carved from bright chrome metal. The twins kneeling back to back, touching at the feet, elbows, and heads had been a highlight for him at the time. They still lived inside their metallic shell, but he'd have to seal their breathing holes soon to cover the stench of their eventual death, because they had been only mortal, after all. Unlike the Amazon, they couldn't live forever in their current state. He likely doubted they'd be surviving another week. Not that it mattered.
He had joined Cynthia's Bowler's 'gallery' only for the chance to create his living masterpieces, which was a calling of his that had had him blacklisted in four countries, and wanted in nine others. Not under his current name, of course. But the enigmatic young woman who fronted the Davina Carter House of Medusa gave him the chance he had been seeking to try out new methods, and secure some of the most exclusive models on the planet.
He had looked forward to creating the jeweled display case that would forever hold the mythic Amazon for weeks as they planned and plotted how to best hold her. She was, at this point, the epitome of his life's work. Just then, he couldn't imagine doing better. But he had a league full of heroes and heroines to practice doing just that. They just had to plan. To move cautiously. And then all Wonder Woman's companions would eventually join her.
In one fashion, or another.
"I have a new system I want to try. It's a new way of coating the chrome sealer to a model," Karter told her a day later. "If it works on a test specimen, then I want to try using it on the Thanagarian woman."
"Why not just use the method we employed on the others," Cynthia frowned as she looked up from the paperwork she was reviewing on her more legitimate operations.
To date, there had not been any word on the Amazon going missing. By now, she was on her way to the winner of last night's auction, and a home in Germany. She had gone for almost twenty-four million. A new record even in their dealings. They could retire if they wished, but for her, as Karter, this business was not just about money. Far from it. Cynthia had her own agenda, and Karter was simply helping her achieve it.
"The immersion is messy, and could ruin her wings. That might make her balk at any rate. But I've devised a spray system that will catch her unawares, and cover her lightly, but thoroughly, and not damage the details of her wings, which will be a selling point, I should think," he told her.
"Very well. Let's get a model to test this system, and then we'll arrange a means of employing it."
"Good," the man smiled broadly. "I have just the girl. The little redhead you brought in last week. She's been a pain of late, the keeper was saying, so let's get her out of the way now."
"Ah, I did have another use for that one, but if you wish it, let's see how she turns out. We need to see how she'll take anyway, since we'll be having to catch the Thanagarian unawares. Let's test the entire method on the redhead once we settle on how to do it."
"Excellent," he grinned.
Diana was aware of movement, and little else.
Her wits seemed dulled, and she couldn't seem to move at all. Not even a twitch. Surely she was not still in the mold? Surely more than thirty minutes had passed. She realized it was odd that her sense of time, or her awareness of self was so distorted. Had she blundered into some trap after all? Surely not? She had been assured that the gallery was legitimate. She had had it checked out herself before she accepted Ms. Bowler's invitation.
She was aware of more muted voices, then a low chortling, and then the darkness was torn away from her eyes like a living curtain.
Or a drop cloth, she realized belatedly as she found herself staring at four men, one rather old, who stared back at her as she looked through the blurry mass of a translucent casing that surrounded her. She could breathe, but she couldn't move, and that told her she was still inside the casting mold after all.
She felt a grim determination rise in her as she attempted to summon all her strength, and tried to move to free herself of this hellish prison.
"Blessed goddess," she prayed in dismay, realizing she still couldn't move a single muscle. Whether lack of leverage, or some other agent, she was truly frozen in this now sparkling cocoon of jewel-like matter that held her captive.
"Welcome, Amazon," the old man cackled as the other men departed, one carrying the heavy drop cloth that had apparently been covering her until now. "At last, I have the revenge I long imagined. You likely don't remember me," the balding, withered creature in a dark suit blathered on as she stared at him, helpless to do otherwise.
"This is your home from now on. My sons, and their sons will keep you here in their mirrored chamber. Prisoner of your diamond-hard casing, and none the wiser in the world of your whereabouts. By now, you're wondering what happened to you. Why your telepathic friend hasn't found you? Maybe, you wonder, why is it you cannot seem to move at all? Aside from the obvious, you have been periodically breathing a specially filtered gas that paralyzes your will, as this special material I helped create paralyzes your shapely limbs. It is harder than diamond, and more unbreakable than reinforced titanium. I daresay even that accursed alien interloper would have trouble breaking through this substance. And even if he did, he would only destroy you in the process. You recall that special spray you subjected yourself so willingly to earlier," the old man cackled. "Well, it helped the diamond gel bond with you on a molecular level, my dear annoying heroine. By now, it's hardened around, on, and in you," he laughed again. "To break you out of this shell….would mean shattering you right along with the stuff," he boasted.
"And so, you are well and truly trapped. My own personal exhibit proving that no matter how long it takes, the Reich does triumph," he crowed as he gestured to the far wall where a Nazi flag hung over the top of one of the mirrors.
"And as to your League's telepaths? This room is specially shielded. No telepath, no alien, no one will ever find you here. You are well, and truly caught, my little fly," he sneered.
The endless row of mirrors lining the walls that gave her a complex array of reflections allowing her to see herself infinitely as she stood there in heroic stance, frozen for all time.
"Do you remember me, yet, woman," he paused to suck air into weak lungs.
"Well, you will not forget me. For even after I am gone, and my sons tend your glass coffin in memory of my final triumph, you will remember that it was Colonel Hans Buchendarht that finally brought you low, Amazon. From now, throughout your immortal life, you will know I am your master," he boasted as he limped out of the sealed chamber that she was starting to fear really might be her tomb. A tomb for a living corpse.
She would have wept if he could, but she couldn't even summon tears.
"Blessed gods of Olympus," she prayed in silence. "Help me, please. Mother," she called out in misery, hating the irony that she, a life formed from clay, was now as still as that clay though she yet lived.
She heard no answer to her cries. Her pleas. Around her, brilliant overhead lights lit the sparkling prisms of light that reflected endlessly around her, filling her eyes, and slowly driving her insane. She wondered just how long it might be before she went completely mad.
"And what is your name," Cynthia asked the young redhead taken during a routine acquisition of viable stock for her various enterprises. Her illegal ones.
"You're so clever," the green-eyed hellion that really was causing a lot of trouble, just as her artist had claimed. Her keeper had more than his usual number of bruises, and the girl had actually almost broken out more than three times this week. "You tell me."
"Hmmmm, could it be Gordon," she asked, holding up a copy of the Gotham City Gazette, its banner trumpeting: Commissioner's Daughter Missing: Joker Questioned.
Barbara only glared at the woman.
"They're two states away, and so far from the truth, you have little hope of rescue," she was told. "Although I don't doubt that madman will enjoy delaying, or sidetracking the investigation for his own ends," Cynthia smirked, referring to the Joker.
"Why are you doing this? Stealing women out of their homes, locking them up like this? It's….."
"Oh, please. Don't act as if the world is a fair, moral, or even just place. We both know that tragedy befalls thousands of innocents a day. It's just your turn," Cynthia shrugged.
"Unless," Barbara asked.
"I'm a sporting woman. I like a challenge. I suspect you do, too. For a librarian, you're pretty spry," she smirked, eyeing Barbara's nude body that was toned, and muscular despite her lithe, slender frame that supported surprisingly large breasts beneath the shapeless garb she had been wearing when they took her.
Of course, they hadn't realized she was that Barbara Gordon when they took her, either. Though it was too late to take her back once she woke, and began raising hell. Not that it mattered. Cynthia made sure her operatives, as her operation, remained untraceable.
"So, I'm going to present you with a special obstacle course. You run it, making it out of the room I put you in, and you live. It's that simple. Not only that. You go free."
"And the other girls?"
"They're not going anywhere, Barbie," Cynthia called her. "And frankly, I have to tell you, the odds are against you."
"Bring it on," she spat, and the two men standing on either side of her flinched even though she was now hobbled, and her hands were cuffed behind her back.
"Behave. Or you'll face the room just as you are," Cynthia warned her.
Barbara grimaced, but said nothing.
"Just get on with it," she told her, the determination in her expression more than eloquent.
"A shame," she told Karter as she watched her men escort the redhead down the hall to the special spraying room where a makeshift corridor had been set up in accordance to the artist's design. "She has the spirit that would have fit in well with another project I'm working on."
"Still, she's proving too hard to keep. This will ensure she doesn't cause any more trouble, or actually escape," Karter reminded her as they went to a console where they could monitor the special room that the woman was now being led inside.
The men carefully unchained her, one always holding a gun on her, and then they both backed out of the room, and locked the door behind them.
Through the cameras, the pair could both see what Barbara Gordon was seeing. A mazelike opening before her that led to a long, high-walled passage. There were dark shadows here and there along the corridor that bespoke of other turns. In fact, they were blinds that housed horizontal sprayers. At the end of the apparent passage was a door just visible by the slight half turn of the end of the corridor. Of course, the girl would never make that door. Even if she did, the door led only to his private studio where he would finish the statue she was soon due to become.
"When are you starting the spray?"
"That's the beauty of it," he smiled as Barbara stood there, studying the passage as if sensing something was wrong. "She starts it the moment she takes her first step into the corridor. A pressure plate will start the vertical sprays, and every time she nears the side walls, the horizontal will activate briefly to ensure a more thorough coating."
"So, you're not keeping this one alive?" "I doubt she'll survive long anyway. Not that it matters."
"Indeed," Cynthia nodded as a faint haze filled the images they watched as the redhead started a run through the corridor that immediately started the silver mist that clung to every inch of bare flesh the moment it struck.
She could just imagine her shrieking in dismay at the silvery fluid that was now coating her, and not dripping off, but hardening instantly where it touched her bare skin, or hair. She watched as the woman tried to duck the next horizontal sprayers only to land sprawling on the floor on both knees as she tried in vain to rise, one hand stuck to the floor as the other reached out in vain toward help that was not coming.
She remained there, frozen in place, as the rest of her body was covered by the continuous spray that fell over her body, saturating her completely until only a silver statue knelt on the floor just three feet from the door that wouldn't have spared her anyway.
"Impressive. I am surprised she made it so far," Karter told Cynthia as the misting spray began to fade.
"Which tells us we must add length, or volume to the trap, or the Thanagarian might conceivably escape, since she will be undoubtedly much more hardier than our Librarian."
"Yes, I was thinking that, too. Still, it's not a problem. And it's length, we need. Not volume. As I said, anything heavier, and the detail of her wings will be ruined."
"Of course. Of course. Well, go and finish up the redhead," he was told. "I have a shipment going to auction in the morning, and we might as well send her along with the legitimate artwork," she smirked. "It'll be a good blind."
In the end, they netted fifty thousand for the redhead now entitled ironically Prayer For Mercy. The rich man who bought the statue likely had no clue that for a little while longer, anyway, he had bought a living being that was truly begging mercy inside that stronger than steel cocoon that now enveloped her as yet living flesh. Karter had decided to leave the troublesome redhead breathing holes after he pondered her fate, deciding a bit of suffering was due her after her undue trouble that interfered with his work at times.
Diana was sure she was going mad by now.
The only faces she saw other than her own reflected around her were those of the old Nazi, and his smirking sons who would come in and leer at her. Now and then, other old men would come by to study her, and she could occasionally hear their arguing over whether she was the true Wonder Woman, or not. True, they would rant, she was not declared as 'missing,' but some of them couldn't believe she was the true heroine caught like a fly in amber.
It didn't stop them from voicing their opinion that they hoped she was the real one, so they could crow all the more to their surviving contemporaries. She wondered if those devious monsters had trapped others from the League, or if they had been thwarted, as she was sure they would be. Given time.
She just didn't feel much hope for herself whatever happened. She had no idea how much time had passed, or how much longer she could remain sane. Her thoughts were slipping more each 'day,' and the endless brightness was affecting her mind and will as much as the now occasional wisps of gas she could smell when they were pumped into her lungs.
Not that it mattered. She couldn't hold her breath. Couldn't stop the gas from filling her lungs that barely managed to draw enough air to keep her conscious. Even immortals had to breath, after all, and she had not been breathing normally for…..well, for some time.
She stared endlessly, trying to focus on something, anything, other than the hateful flag directly before her.
It was impossible, and she was sure she was going mad.
"You're kidding," Tim Drake grimaced as he stopped making jokes about the naked girly statue Bruce had brought to he Batcave after he had bought it and had it delivered to the mansion.
"No," the grim tone he associated with Bruce as Batman emanated from Bruce's lips as the man continued to hook up tubes and wires to parts of the statue. "I'm not. This is Barbara Gordon. She's alive inside this substance, whatever it is. It's not conventional metal, and it's not just a polymer, either. Whatever it is, it's far more advanced than even the most resilient acrylic alloys I've studied," he said as he used a respirator to pump fresh air directly into the girl's likely heavily laboring lungs.
He had also managed to use one nostril to place a feeding tube into her throat to give her liquid nutrients. Waste would be a problem, and her sealed orifices would make it a health issue in remarkably short time, but for now, he couldn't do anything about that.
Which was why he had summoned Superman from the Watchtower.
He had an idea, but it would take some care and cleverness if he was going to save Barbara Gordon, Batgirl, before it was too late. Meanwhile, he dared not say anything to anyone else for fear of revealing that he had recognized Barb the moment he had walked into that art gallery. He had not planned to attend, but thank God Bambi, or Beth, or whoever his date had been had dragged him inside on an impulse.
The coincidence of seeing her chrome face after her being missing over almost two weeks was no coincidence to the Dark Knight, and he had outbid four other hedonists to ensure he received the statue of the poignant heroine reaching out as if for help.
He had been secretly anxious as he hooked up the instruments that told him she still lived. He had been relieved. He had also been horrified.
And then he went to work.
"Bruce," a low bass drawled a moment later as a stray rush of air filled the cavern not known for breezes.
"Holy….Uh, hi, uhm, Superman," the young Robin smiled anxiously at the larger than life hero that stood before them.
"Robin," he addressed the young man even though he was in civilian garb.
"Get back to tracing the gallery's owners, and backers," Bruce snapped impatiently at him, knowing Tim's hacking skills rivaled his own at times.
"What's going on," Superman asked, his eyes taking in the chrome statue before him.
"It's Barbara. Tell me what those super-peepers of yours see," Bruce demanded as he checked the console monitoring her life signs again.
"Barbara," Superman gasped in horror, and then focused on the sculpture. "Dear God, it is. She's encased in that…."
"Whatever it is isn't the usual alloy or polymers associated with this fetish, or artwork."
Superman frowned at him.
"There's an undercurrent in society of people that fixate on immobility, and petrifaction. Who knows why. It's something to do with control issues. Barbara was investigating an underground slave ring with me in the area. Two weeks ago, she disappeared. I found her this afternoon at an art gallery in this condition."
"An art gallery," Superman murmured. "Diana asked me about an art gallery just before she disappeared."
"Right now, I'm more concerned with Barbara. She needs to get out of this covering, but until we can safely remove it, I'm hoping you can burn away enough of it with your heat vision to allow her to relieve herself without her bladder killing her."
"I understand. Maybe I can just vaporize….."
"Whoa," Tim shouted as Superman's heat vision reflected off her back, and struck the cave wall just over the supercomputer where he was working.
"That's never happened," the Kryptonian exclaimed, and moved to stand directly behind the alleged statue.
"Focus," Bruce scowled. "Her life depends on you."
"I know, Bruce," he said. "I'll try a tighter beam."
Kal-El's eyes narrowed as he tightened certain muscles just so, and generated the hottest, most powerful organic laser in the galaxy. He carefully cut through the metallic sheath covering the woman's nehter orifices, and then closed his eyes, stopping the powerful x-rays the press called his heat vision.
"That's as much as I dare risk anyway," he told Bruce who gave a faint nod as he noted the two small holes corresponding to Barbara's orifices. He also took note of the small droplet of gleaming metal that had fallen to the stone floor between her legs.
"What kind of metal is this," Superman asked as he turned away from the naked woman encased in metal as Bruce used a specimen tray, and forceps to claim the small, metal fragment.
"That is what I'm going to find out," he stated somberly as he stared at the metallic slag already hardening again.
"You might want to salve her exposed flesh, too. I'm afraid I might have scorched her. That's the hottest I've ever had to turn up my heat vision to melt something," he told Bruce a little anxiously.
"That' because this isn't just metal," he told Superman as he studied the sample under a special electron microscope even the best hospitals didn't have as yet.
"What? What do you mean?" "It's an alien alloy," he told him. "A living weave of nannites, and an incredibly dense alloy we've both seen before."
"Where," Superman demanded.
"It's Kryptonian," Bruce told him.
Superman could only gape.
"You….You're telling me someone out there not only has Kryptonian metals, but that they can use them to do something like this," he rasped in outrage.
"Obviously, they can, and they have," he told his comrade. "And that brings only one name to mind."
"Brainiac," Superman spat in contempt.
"Obviously. Using his typical tactic of deceit and subterfuge, he must be using this art gallery as a front to attack us one-by-one."
"Then he could have already trapped Diana…..like this?"
"I'm afraid it's more than possible. You contact J'onn, and have him start sweeping the planet for her. If she was sold as….as art, she could well have ended up anywhere."
"Or she could have ended up in Germany," Tim Drake announced with a smug grin.
Both heroes turned to face the youth smiling at them from the chair he swung to face them.
"I hacked the personal files of Davina Carter, the apparent head of Medusa Galleries Worldwide. She listed a jeweled statue sold to some German collector named Heinrich for over twenty-four million."
"Logic suggests something that valuable could only be a unique collectible," Bruce nodded at him. "Contact J'onn," he turned to Superman. "See about acquiring our missing friend. I'll continue to study this sample, and see if I can somehow unmake it."
"What this Heinrich's location," Superman asked Tim as he walked over to the computer to study the data.
"I'll send it to J'onzz now," Tim told him. "You should know, Heinrich is an alias……"
"For Hans Buchendarht. A former Gestapo colonel that slipped off the grid, and is wanted in connection to several terrorist bombings in Berlin, Frankfort, and Heidelberg. He was also instrumental in funding and advising the terrorist cell responsible for 9/11, as well as the recent attempt on the ISS."
Tim didn't even complain. He just looked at Superman, and shrugged.
A moment later, the Kryptonian was gone. Only a stray breeze betrayed his passing.
"Do you think you can save her," Tim asked as he glanced back to the apparent statue of his friend and companion.
"I'm going to do everything I can. And remember, she can probably hear every word you're saying."
"Oh, man. Even when I said…..?
"Hey, I hope you know I was just kidding around, Barbara," Tim addressed her. Naturally, the silver figure didn't react. Bruce did note the small bowl he had placed under her now had a few ounces of urine. That, at least, was a good sign.
"So, what is it you wish of me," Shayera asked as she followed the blonde executive down the long hall through the second floor of the stylish gallery. "I don't see how I can….."
"Ms. Hol, forgive me, but let me cut to the chase. I'm in the business of commissioning certain….ah, unique statues. One of your original League members. Now, for the most part, my lead sculptor can work from photographs, and as such handle most of the League. They're not bashful, after all, are they? You, however, have rarely presented a photograph worthy of such a guide, and my artist would like to see you in person. Perhaps convince you to model for him," she told her as she led her to a door that opened to another long corridor.
"I'm afraid I am not really interested in….."
"I was afraid of that, too. Just….speak to him," Cynthia Bowler asked as she gestured down the corridor to an open door lit by brighter lights. "He's in his studio, and if you'll just meet him, perhaps he can convince you where I obviously have not."
"Aren't you coming," Shayera asked, thinking the woman was a bit odd, but not able to quite put her finger on why.
"No, no, I don't want to disrupt Karter's work. He's a bit moody, and likes seeing only artists and his medium when at work. If he sees me, he takes it as an invasion of his creative sphere, and handles it poorly," she laughed softly. "Just see him. That's all I ask."
"Very well. But I don't see what good it will do," the winged woman sighed as she headed down the long corridor to the studio at the other end.
Twenty minutes later, Karter smiled gleefully up at the winged image of the chrome Thanagarian that stood before him as if about to take flight, her wings stretched partially outward as if about to unfurl, her fists curled up ominously, and in vain, against an enemy she could not resist.
"She's really quite beautiful," Karter smiled. "Considering."
"Yeah, she is," a snide voice remarked from behind them. "And if I were you, I'd get her out of there before I start doing bad things to bad people,"
Karter and Cynthia turned to find a tall, scarlet form standing before them. His eyes were narrowed ominously, but the pair only laughed.
"Get who out of what, Flash," Cynthia asked. "This is only our latest statue…."
"That just happens to have a League distress beacon on her belt that led me right to her," Flash demanded. "I doubt you included that on your statue. Not likely. Now, get her out of whatever you have her in, or I make you regret this about two seconds ago," the impulsive speedster told them.
"Frankly, I doubt even you can help her now," Karter crowed, abandoning his pretence at innocence. "You see, the only thing that can get her out of there is in a locked door that even you heroes can't penetrate," the man said snidely, glancing toward a panel at one end of the room.
"We'll see about that," the Flash spat, and sped up to all but blow his way through the door, since he never quite mastered that phasing through solid objects as smoothly like Barry and Jay. Still, he stopped on the other side, and threw up an arm just in time to protect his face from a blast of pale, green gas.
"What kind of attack….wassssss…..that," he muttered as he felt something now pouring down over his head, weighting him down, and forcing him to his knees.
"Stupid, boy," Karter cackled as he hit a switch that opened the smoldering panel, and looked down on the frozen, steel-reinforced latex that now covered the scarlet hero from head to toe. "Apparently you never heard of look before you leap. Or enter doors," he cackled as Cynthia smiled at the image of the helpless hero now looked like a molded, rubber statue.
Karter yelped as someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Guess you've never heard of super speed," Wally West asked as he glared at the jerk that had just tried to turn him into a life-sized love doll. That stuff was easier to vibrate out of than my own clothes," he snorted.
Karter went down with fifty well-placed fists in all the usual places before he could even blink. He then turned to Cynthia, and stood with hands on hips as he smiled cockily at her. "You going to give up, sweetheart? Or am I going to have to get rough?"
"Consider this," Cynthia asked. "You have no right to be here. No evidence of any wrongdoing. And you attacked my employee without provocation while he was just trying to defend himself. Trust me, vigilante. Before my lawyers are through, you'll be bogged down like never before if you do not leave. Immediately."
"Not going to happen," Flash spat. "I want Shayera out of that metal wrap, or whatever, and I want her out now."
Cynthia smiled thinly. "And if I say no, hero?"
"Then you get more trouble than even your lawyers can handle," a grim voice drawled from behind her.
"'Bout time you got here," Flash told the Batman without taking his eyes off the blonde. He had learned early in his career not to trust appearances. He had had his backside handed to him more than a few times learning that lesson. "I was running out of snappy patter."
"That's hard to believe," another voice drawled as a burst of green light appeared behind the darkly clad detective.
"We had to circumvent a few traps left along the way," the Batman told him as he eyed Cynthia. He then turned to Shayera, pulling out a small device that scanned the metallic sheath covering her.
"It's the same Kryptonian alloy," he told John Stewart, the current Green Lantern.
"Which means my ring will be as useless as it was with….Ms. Gordon," Lantern growled. "But I'm betting our hostess can tell us all about this stuff. And how to destabilize it, so it can be washed off."
"Unlikely," the blonde smiled vacantly, and just collapsed to the floor.
"What the devil," John and Wally both exclaimed as they went to her side.
"Don't bother. She's a simple android," the Batman snorted as he turned to the unconscious artist.
"How did you….? Why am I asking," Wally sighed as he glanced at the vigilante that unnerved even him at times.
"Let's just drag this sorry scum somewhere where we can ensure he gives us the answers we want," Stewart spat as he spared a glance for the groaning man starting to come around before he turned to join Batman at Shayera's side.
"I have the feeling he's just a dupe," the Gotham vigilante told him. "Karter, or James Carter Dupree, is wanted in nine countries for murder. His favored method involves petrifaction, or varying means of immobilization of his victims as supposed works of art. His backer was obviously just exploiting his fetish for his own goals."
None of them mentioned the Kryptonian super-computer by name. It was agreed not to name him at all until necessary so they didn't tip their hand if they could yet take the android by surprise. And hopefully put an end to him this time.
"So, maybe they have information around here that will tell us what we need to know," Wally decided, and disappeared even as he spoke.
"Wait," Batman shouted to no avail as the speedster left them behind in less than the blink of an eye.
"Sometimes," the vigilante growled as he made short work of cuffing the still unconscious artist whose face was showing signs of bruising.
"What about the android," John asked, nodding at Cynthia Bowler.
"She may lead us to the real boss in time. For now, you get Shayera back to the Watchtower. Superman knows what to do. He should be back from Germany by now."
He was. And John still couldn't believe his eyes to find Diana in the medical lab, surrounded by some form of diamond-hard matter that even Superman was having trouble denting with his fists. Of course, a quick telepathic alert from J'onn had stopped that approach even as he had started it. Diana had been unable to believe it when her two comrades had burst into her display room, and made short work of the two men that had been present at the time.
They had broken her out of the guarded display case, then teleported her to the Watchtower after arranging the arrest of the Nazi officer, and his rogue faction. Meanwhile, they were still running tests on her, and her prison, even as they had Barbara hooked up to another medical console, monitoring her vitals constantly.
Superman looked dangerously close to snapping when he spotted the winged statue that John brought into the medical bay by means of his ring. He quickly moved to hook up the encapsulated woman to life support, and monitors just as Barbara had been hooked up. He then moved carefully to open access to her bowels for waste removal as J'onn made mental contact with her, which was difficult at the best of times with the Thanagarian.
It was compounded by her claustrophobic panic caused by her imprisonment, but J'onn managed to calm her, and assure her that they were there to help her. They would free her. Just give them time. It was, even in his mind, a false assurance, for the Martian was beginning to fear the alloy might just be melded to their bodies, as the material that surrounded Diana. It was a most miserable end for anyone, if that were so, for it would mean there would never be free.
Meanwhile, blinded, barely able to breath without the help of the respirator, Shayera fought a pitched battle with her own phobias when J'onn's mental presence withdrew after briefly cracking the near impenetrable walls of her highly disciplined mind. Only that discipline now kept her from cracking up completely, and without pause.
When she had been contacted by the same woman Superman had told her was possibly involved in Diana's apparent disappearance, she had gone to visit her all the same with Wally as backup. Even she had not expected that clever trap set right in the open halls of the woman's own building though. She had not even had a chance before she was covered in the strange metallic sheen that hardened on contact, and left her immobilized even before she could think of taking flight.
She heard muted voices soon after she had been trapped, and some few since. She had been on a roller coaster of fear and confusion since, and it didn't seem to be getting even better. Even after the Martian telepath had informed her of the realities of her current circumstances.
She wanted to scream, but couldn't even do that.
She was just trapped. And there was nothing even her warrior's heart could do about it.
Karter sat in his cell, and laughed. That was his answer to any questions. Or demands. Any pleas.
He told them his art was eternal, and nothing could change that. Then he would laugh again. In the end, Spain took the man into custody on Interpol's authority. He was facing fourteen murder charges in that country alone. He wouldn't be escaping the law again.
Meanwhile, nothing found in the gallery's computer base could tell them how to manage the Kryptonian alloys being made and used by the artist. The few remaining samples were confiscated, and once exposed to the air, quickly solidified into solid masses. The diamond-like silicon matter was as much a mystery, for it presented properties as alien as the Kryptonian alloy, but gave them little in the way of how to defeat it.
The latex derivative used against the Flash was more terrestrial, and similar to the substance used on Karter's past victims. It was ordinary rubber, reinforced with ordinary steel mesh to form a sheath around the intended victim. Useless against any meta, it was more so against the Flash who could vibrate his body right through the porous stuff.
Unfortunately, an earlier experiment had already proven he couldn't penetrate the metal or the diamond matter, and regardless, his control of such phasing was already suspect. Still, it had been considered as a last resort if possible, only to be proven impossible. He had almost broken his hand trying to phase through the metal sample they had, and Wally had just felt the wrongness of the crystalline stuff, and not even tried it. It was as if it gave off its own vibrations, he told them, and countering it could cause him, and Diana both more trouble than they would want if he tried phasing through its alien structure.
Still, that gave the Batman one of his thoughtful moments, and he teleported back to his cave on yet another of his jaunts.
Meanwhile, they still had three helpless captives in their medical bay that no one was sure how to treat.
And all the while, the hunt for Davina Carter, and Brainiac, went on.
"Why do you weep, warrior?"
Diana started at the voice. It came from everywhere. It came from nowhere.
It was a voice she knew well.
"I asked you a question."
"Forgive me, my lord," she gathered her wits to reply. "I have been in much distress."
"Why do you not then free yourself?"
"I cannot," she almost whined, and hated herself for doing so.
"Of course you can. Do not the gifts of the gods themselves fill you, Amazon? Do not the very blessings of our eternal might fuel your heart and spirit? What are mortal constraints compared to such?"
"I have tried," she moaned again, and again hating the pleading in her own tone.
"No, you have not, or you would be free. Apparently, we have favored the wrong daughter of Themyscrya. Perhaps we should seek another champion," the voice suggested.
"No," she wailed in the confines of her tortured mind. "Do not abandon me!"
Only silence met her entreaty.
She gave a wordless howl, and felt a tremor go through her body as she bucked and heaved internally, seeking any means of leverage or resistance she could summon. A near thunderous crack sounded near her left ear, and she forgot the claims of the demented Nazi who tormented her even as she felt her right hand somehow curl tighter than it had been before.
She had moved! She had made herself move.
She gave a wordless cry of triumph as she focused on that loose hand, tightening it all the more, only to press it back into the space it vacated, and pushing with all the god-fueled might her powerful body could summon.
Another crack sounded less close to her ear this time, but no less thunderous, and she gave another wordless cry even as the medical bay opened, and two men stepped inside. Superman and John Stewart gaped as she gave a last cry of rage, misery, and elation, and somehow smashed both fists up and out through the fragmenting crystal that surrounded her.
"By the gods," she thundered in a voice too long unused. "I will be free," she shouted as she hammered at the residue of the fragmenting crystal now crumbling around her.
"Just as Batman thought," Superman smiled as he walked over, and caught her before she could sag to her knees.
"So much for being stuck inside," John grimaced as he studied the glittering rubble. "I'll go tell Bruce she's out. Although," he grimaced again. "He probably already knows that."
"By all the gods," Diana rasped, willing to let him catch her as the last of her adrenalin surge faded. "I thought…."
"We wouldn't have let that happen," Superman told her as he gently lowered her to a bunk near a med-station.
"I can only thank the gods for the my freedom," she rasped as she looked up at him. "I thought…."
"Bruce figured it out," he told her. "The crystal was an alien symbiont of some kind that was genetically harnessed to a silicon-based diamond dust. It gave off a certain frequency that rendered your nervous system inoperable. Bruce has been bombarding it with special frequencies trying to disrupt if for over a week now.
"We were pretty sure we had found the right frequency when one of your deities showed up."
"I know. I heard him taunting me. The jerk likes to play mind games."
"For shame, princess," Aries appeared as if on cue. "Is that how you show your gratitude."
"I'm more than thankful for the help of the gods, Aries. That doesn't mean I intend to dance to your tunes."
"Willful children," the ancient god snickered as he turned to Superman. "Still, I've done my good deed of the decade. And do I get any thanks? But what can you do," he shrugged before simply vanishing.
"Nice people you know," Superman glowered, never having liked the god, and liking him less every time they met.
"How are the others," she asked as she looked up at Superman, knowing if Aries had put in an appearance, there was a reason for it beyond merely helping her pull herself together to get out of that trap.
"J'onn told me what happened," she told him when he frowned at her.
"Still trapped. We haven't yet found a way to remove that Kryptonian alloy without killing them," he admitted.
"I wouldn't wish such a fate even on Shayera," she grimaced, recalling her dislike of the woman in the time following her apparent treachery during the Thanagarian invasion.
"J'onn is having trouble keeping her sane," he admitted as he stood before her. "Her mind has always been hard for him to reach, and now her claustrophobia is causing her to….well, I'm sure you could relate to what she's feeling."
"Yes, I could," she nodded. "But you said….Kryptonian alloy? As in Krypton?" "Yes."
"How is that possible? I thought….?"
"Brainiac," he told her curtly, cutting her off.
"Of course. Have you found him yet?" "He's still out there hiding somewhere. We don't know where. We cut off all the gallery's assets, and have shut down every branch office they were using. We haven't found Davina Carter herself, if she even exists, or Brainiac. We haven't found much more than more dupes, and a handful of prisoners. We certainly haven't found all the captives she was reported to have taken according to Ms. Gordon."
"So, he has another hiding place we've yet to locate," she nodded.
"Exactly," he told her. "Bruce is on it now. But he's got the usual problems in Gotham, on top of everything else. He did manage to set up that oscillating frequency generator that finally helped free you," she was told as he glanced at the machine that still set near the base of her former prison.
"You said that thing was a symbiont?" "Yes. It was actually alive."
"Was?" "Well, probably still is," he allowed. "Although, not in the way we consider life. I'll have Lantern dispose of it once he returns. I doubt we want to take any chances with that thing."
"I have certainly had enough of it," she told him earnestly with a shudder.
"I'm just glad you are all right, Diana," he told her earnestly. "And it gives me hope for the others. Now, I suggest you rest, and I'll see about getting you something to eat," he smiled. "You must be famished."
"Actually," the Amazon said as she rose to her feet to stand beside him as ever, as an equal. "I really need to hit something." she told him. "I think I will go to the gym. Then I'll eat. Then," she added in a cold voice he rarely heard her use. "You can tell me everything you have on the hunt for that android."
She was definitely feeling better, he realized.
"How is Barbara," Tim asked predictably as Bruce returned from patrol looking tired, grim, and determined.
In other words, looking the same as ever.
"No change," Batman replied somberly as he slowly shed his costume, and seemingly the persona of the Bat as he changed.
"What about the others," Tim asked as he glanced back at the search he was running on the computer.
"Diana managed to break out this afternoon. Shayera, however, remains as much a captive as Barbara," he stated grimly.
"Wonder Woman escaped? She's okay, then?"
"She's recovering. Even a being of her magical abilities was hard pressed to cope with what was done to her. Still, physically, she's doing well."
"It must be like being buried alive," Tim shuddered, and for a moment Bruce saw his fear, and arched a single brow.
"Not claustrophobic are you," he asked as he donned a robe before putting his uniform and equipment away.
"No, not really. I just know I don't think I could handle being stuck like that very long. I don't know how anyone could."
"Oddly enough," he remarked as he paused to study the scanning images on the supercomputer. "There is an entire subculture built around such fetishes. That, however, is a topic for another time. Even the Batman requires an occasional nap. Call me if an emergency call comes in. I'll be upstairs," he added needlessly as he headed for the lift that would carry him up to Wayne Manor, and the other life he lived beyond the shadowy confines of the Batcave.
"Will do, boss," Tim tossed off insolently.
Bruce let it go. Tim had his own flair and skills to bring to the mantle of Robin. He was not the first wear the name, but he hoped he did better than the last to do so. That poor kid had ended up suffering an ignoble end at a madman's hands.
He just hoped the same would not be said for Barb, or Shayera.
For what he had not told Tim was the League had managed to track over twenty statues of various mediums that were all once living beings. Once, because not one of those involuntary statues were living any longer. They had expired before they could be found. There were probably worse ends, he knew, but he couldn't imagine many just then.
"What a shame," the sleek, dark-haired woman all but purred as she stared at the television report of Wonder Woman's recent actions. "It seems the Amazon managed to escape her entombment after all."
"Are you so certain," one of her two companions asked gravely.
"Holding something back, Brian," she asked the lean, gaunt man that stood behind her and Vandal.
Her other guest, Vandal Savage, an immortal of some infamy, only smirked.
"Is that not the prerogatives of power, woman," the man drawled in what would seem insolence in another, but was merely a statement of fact for the man calling himself Brian just now. She wasn't sure who he was, but he suited her purposes, and with her android doppelganger now out of commission, she needed his assistance all the more just now for their plans to continue to fruition.
Brian has shown up not long after she first began crafting her plans after yet another defeat at the accursed Amazon's hands, and supplied a surprisingly degree of wealth and backing for her cause, provided he be allowed to dictate the timing and procedures of instigating her final plan. For he had a cause, too, and it coincidentally dovetailed rather nicely with hers.
Of course, it took little guesswork to realize that Brian Killian was not his name, anymore than Davina Carter was hers. The only one that dared use his true name was Vandal Savage, for what did that immortal creature have to fear from anyone. Time was the only thing he had, and he spent it as casually as he lived it.
He had been spurred to new and frenetic efforts to carve out his own empire here and there of late, simply because he enjoyed the challenge of dueling with beings that for once, actually had the power to match, or even oppose him. For one as old as he, it was a rarity, and while he would never admit his indifference with his long, endless life, he did carry the bored misery of one that knew he had no foreseeable end.
She knew, for she had met immortals before him.
Brian, she knew, was no immortal. But he did have power. And knowledge that could be considered unearthly, and perhaps even inhuman. His cunning trap, and clever materials put to inspired use by Karter proved that much.
Yet while at least one member of that meddling bunch calling themselves the 'Justice League' was still incapacitated, the one member Davina truly wanted neutralized was still up and around. It defied belief for she was certain no one could have broken out of that crystalline mass that Brian had concocted, and Karter had turned into a living work of art.
Yet there she was on the television screen, as vital and powerful as ever, and showing not one trace of weakness, or other debilitation. It was enough to infuriate her. And the gods knew she was already well past being furious.
"I swear, you just cannot devise an amusing end for that bitch," she muttered when Brian did not reply to her query.
"Are you so certain," Brian asked again, his arms now folded across his thin chest.
On the outside, at first glance, he was a scrawny, unassuming creature. Davina sensed the power in him, though. Just as she had intuited Vandal's power when first they met. Before she had even realized who he was, she had felt the energies radiating from the occasional madman who had once helped inspire De Sade himself. She glanced at the burly, muscular consort she had kept at her side since that fateful meeting, intending he play a part in her plans for the world once the League was neutralized.
For which she was now relying (too heavily?) upon Brian's assistance.
"Do not question our alliance now, woman," Brian drawled as if reading her mind. She knew better. He was just incredibly observant for a human, and it gave him an aura of prescience.
"I don't suppose you're going to answer my question, then," she asked sulkily.
"I think surprise should be your best instructor in this matter. But consider, the symbiont is no more of this world than your foe's powers. We shall see how the two interact now that it is out of its larval stage."
"Larval stage," Davina murmured thoughtfully. "Brian, you clever boy. You had something else planned all along, didn't you?"
"Of that," the gaunt man drawled. "You may always be certain."
Davina wasn't so sure she liked the tone of his reply. She said nothing for the moment, though. For the moment, it suited her purposes to allow Brian his leeway. If he grew too independent, though, even he would have to learn that she was the true power here. Not even Vandal realized just how much power was hers to command as yet. But then, neither of her temporary partners even knew her true name.
"I believe it is your turn at monitor duty, Diana," J'onn told her as she transported onto the Watchtower a week after her miraculous escape from her living death. "If you're feeling up to it," he added carefully as he eyed her.
"I feel….fine, J'onn," she told him, about to step off the teleport pad. "I just feel a little…weary after a week of scrambling to….catch up….."
"Diana," he exclaimed as she sudden stiffened, and held up her hands, staring in horror at them.
"Great Hera," she gasped, and looked helplessly to J'onn even as the alarm on the teleport system belatedly came alive.
"Bio-Hazard, level three alert," the computer signaled with a shrill warning siren as an impenetrable shield appeared to contain the Amazon, and whatever she carried.
Whatever it was, it was changing her before their very eyes as several other League members, and a medic came running into the control room. Even as she stared at her hands…..through her hands, the strange translucent material claiming her flesh spreading down her forearms. She felt a growing numbness, and realized it was not just her hands, or arms. She looked down to see the same crystalline blight flowing up her legs even as her body seemed to be stiffening, hardening, as if she were….being posed.
"J'onn," she cried out just before her chin lifted, and her lips pressed together as they, too, began to lose all color and fade to a glassy façade that was overtaking her entire body.
She felt her arms fall, but not completely, and she understood even as her fists found her hips, that she was strangely returning to the same pose she modeled inside that hellish cocoon of diamond-glass that had held her for so long.
"Diana," J'onn cried out in alarm as the medic only stood and gaped at her, completely out of his league with this strange phenomena.
"Diana, are you all right," J'onn's mental voice shattered Diana's growing alarm.
"Do I look all right," she shot back, feeling more than a little confused as she stood there, immobilized once more, and uncertain as to why.
"Actually, you look as if you've turned to glass. The same manner of glass that….."
"I guessed that much. I don't suppose you learned anything from those samples you analyzed earlier?"
"Unfortunately, nothing of any consequence. All I can be certain of is that we are dealing with a life form of some sort. A symbiont, as Batman deduced earlier."
"I know that part. Come on, J'onn," the Amazon's worried mental voice shot back. "Tell me something I don't know. Like how to get out of this…..thing."
"Actually, Diana, this time it seems you are the same material holding you captive. That creates a perplexing dilemma, to say the least.
"Batman is teleporting up. Please be patient. I shall try to keep you posted."
Oddly, Diana could see, hear, and even feel as they moved her into a quarantine chamber for safety. She just couldn't seem to speak, unless it was with J'onn through his telepathy. Nor could she understand how any of that was possible. She had caught a reflection of herself in the reflective view port they passed showing her that she was literally a glassy statue. So how could she still be alive? Still be sensing anything? It had to be the symbiont. But what was it's purpose? All parasitic organisms had some function. What was this one's life cycle, and how did its obvious alterations by their unseen enemies affect that cycle?
Superman stared at the now completely transparent 'statue' of Diana. Or rather, what had become of her. J'onn assured him she was still alive behind that glassy façade, locked behind the iso-shield that kept her potentially dangerous symbiont from causing any more trouble.
Meanwhile, even John Stewart, the Green Lantern was stumped as to how to counter the strange transformation. He had contacted Oa, hoping to learn something from the immortals there that had given him his ring, but even those lifelong scientists and guardians of the galaxy had no idea what the symbiont was, or where it had come from.
There was only one being that had the answers they needed, and he was still keeping a low profile despite having taken out two of the League's founding members. For Shayera, as Barbara Gordon, also remained trapped, and J'onn was finding it harder to contact those two as the days turned into weeks.
Worse, those holes he had just managed to burn into the strange allow that was based on Kryptonian alloys kept sealing themselves. Their air passages remained open, but the other openings kept sealing themselves, making him wonder if there was not more to the metal than what even they had yet realized.
Bruce was going over the gleaming shells again, trying to understand what it was they were dealing with. It certainly wasn't ordinary metal. Anymore than what had seemed ordinary latex was just that. The stuff that Karter tried to use to trap the flash was now locked in a containment vault, too. The strange, almost shimmering latex was proving to be an amorphic mass that continued to remain pliable, and actually moved toward any living being around its immediate vicinity. Had the Flash not been moving so fast that day in the gallery, he might well have been trapped as well as the three women.
"We'll find a way to get you out of this," he told Diana, knowing she could hear him. J'onn had told him that aside from her looks, and obvious paralysis, Diana was alive and well inside her glass body. She could hear, and think as well as ever. She just couldn't communicate without J'onn's help.
Superman finally turned to head back up to the command center. He had watch duty soon, and things were quiet now, but that didn't mean they would stay that way.
He was about to take the lift to the command deck when an emergency alert sounded, and J'onn's voice called him to the isolation chamber of the medical bays. He turned and raced back the way he came, almost as fast as Wally could have gone.
He almost ran right into J'onn as he maneuvered a small tank toward the iso-chamber next to Diana's.
"She was found by Batman when he went to check on her," J'onn told him as Superman looked down into the transparent, body-sized container.
Kal-El didn't like to swear, but he was feeling the urge now. Kara had been taken unawares. In her sleep. She lay in quiet repose, completely nude, and showed no sign of being aware of what had happened to her. She looked peaceful, as if she might wake up any moment. If she weren't as transparent as Diana just then, he would have expected her to by now.
"J'onn," Superman turned to the Martian who was leaning over the body locked in a stasis pod for transport for security and quarantine procedures.
"She's not conscious of anything just now. Mentally, she is sleeping. I expect that waking is going to be quite a shock for her, and so I'm letting her sleep as long as she needs to just now."
"It fits," Batman said as he came up behind them to study the naked figure.
Kal couldn't help but feel a little embarrassed as Bruce studied his cousin. She would prefer to sleep naked. But she had always been freer, less inhibited than he had ever been. He didn't know if that came of growing up on Argo, or if it was just part of being a teenage girl set loose on the world with super powers.
"What do you mean, Batman," J'onn asked.
"I've already summoned Lantern, Atom, and Canary up here," Batman told them. "Because, like Supergirl, they were the ones that were around Diana the longest on missions last week.
"And logic suggests that her condition is definitely related to direct exposure to whatever happened to Wonder Woman," Bruce told them.
"If that's true, dozens, even hundreds of people could be at risk."
"I don't think so," Batman told Superman as he started to look even more worried. "Think about it. Supergirl was fighting alongside Wonder Woman with the others I mentioned for the better part of an hour.
"She only just now changed, and that's taken almost a week. Just about the same time that Diana was first trapped. It suggests an incubation period, and a proximity that must be necessary for the contamination to take place."
"You deduced all this from Supergirl's condition," J'onn asked amazed.
"No. From Giganta's condition," he said, and turned to gesture at the super villain that was being carried into the League medical bay inside an isolation tank. She, too, was frozen in glassy immobility.
"Looks like Giganta picked the wrong week to go after Diana," J'onn grimly retorted.
"I've also tried to contact anyone Diana might have been around. Especially her mother, and fellow Amazons. I've been unable to reach anyone on the island," he told them.
"This is not good," Superman rasped.
"No. it isn't," Batman agreed.
"What about you, Batman," J'onn suddenly asked. "You were around Diana the most, too. Especially before, and after she was freed from that strange cocoon."
"I also took precautions. If I am right, the symbiont uses an airborne spore to replicate itself. Why, and what it gets from its hosts is still a mystery, but I'm all but certain it is an airborne contagion."
Even as he spoke, another alert went off. "Quarantine alert from the teleporters," J'onn realized as he spoke unnecessarily.
"Go," Batman told them. "I'll move our new victims in, and see what can be done for them."
The two heroes raced away as four fully suited medics helped him place the two containers into the next isolation chamber before attaching environmental, and biological sensors to the two pods. They then sealed the chamber, and activated the sensors.
"Captain, you're…okay?" Captain Atom stood behind the quarantine shield with two glass statues. Green Lantern, and Black Canary were both now transparent statues, like the others. The nuclear-powered hero, however, stood tall, and proud, and showed no sign of turning into anything just yet.
"I'm better than they are," he growled. "When they didn't answer the page, I went looking. Stewart looked as if he were about to take off, and I found Black Canary inside an underground sex club being used as decoration. It was a good thing they both had their League tracking beacons on."
"Interesting. And yet, you do not feel anything….unusual?" "Wait," Superman snapped his fingers. "Batman thinks the contagion is airborne.
"So Atom wouldn't be affected, since he doesn't breathe."
"Being a concentrated energy field does make that a little unnecessary," the hero who had been transformed into living energy remarked.
"All the same, we'll keep you in iso, too, until we're certain you can't transmit the symbiont's contagion either."
"I have no problem with that, J'onn," the gleaming hero told him. "But what about our friends. Surely we can….change them back, can't we?"
"Batman is investigating that even now," Superman told him. "But so far, we've come up with nothing but dead ends."
"That," the hero scowled as medical teams finally caught up to the two heroes standing before the teleported. "Does not sound good."
J'onn was studying the apparently animated latex when the tiny sample he had excised from containment suddenly doubled, then tripled in size. Before he could react, the stuff had shattered the small slide holding it under his scanning microscope, and leapt out to fuse to his left hand before he could move it.
He did not panic, and simply reached for something to pull if off him, but even as the scalpel he used scraped at the now tarry substance already spreading over his entire hand, he found he couldn't seem to scrape it off at all.
Before he could consider more radical measures, the stuff was all but flowing up his arm, and across the scalpel to his other hand.
Now he was alarmed, and he did the only thing he could do. He hit the containment alarm, and locked himself in the lab even as the glistening latex mass spread up his arms to reach his torso. He meanwhile tried to phase out of the growing mass that was spreading with alarming swiftness, and found it was disrupting the neural impulses he used to activate his powers which were primarily mental in scope. At that point, it occurred to him that the latex trap had not been meant for the Flash at all. It was meant for him all along. And he had blindly triggered it.
By the time anyone responded to his alarm, he was completely encased in the reinforced latex substance, and was frozen in place in a posture that made it look as he if were merely studying his hands. He knew when they moved him, and knew when the others visited, but oddly enough, he could not make contact with his telepathy to share his belated insight. The strange substance also kept him from using his telepathy. He was literally locked within his own mind for the first time in years.
"This is ridiculous," the Flash sputtered as they studied the four monitors that showed the captive heroes. Batman had had the two women encased in metal moved to full containment, too, just in case they had contagious properties that had yet to manifest. "We're the Justice League," Wally West exclaimed as he looked over the Batman's shoulders as he studied the meager data recovered from J'onn's doomed experiment.
"Which makes us a target for a lot of twisted minds," Batman replied. "Or have you forgotten your own rogue's gallery," he asked of the speedster.
"No," the young hero glowered. "But I just hate seeing them like that." he sighed.
"I'm not overly fond of this situation myself. Until we can find Brainiac, or…."
"Batman," Superman called out to him. "I….have a problem," the Kryptonian exclaimed.
"What is it," Batman asked even as he turned to stare at Superman.
He couldn't believe what he saw.
There were bright, chrome splotches all over the blue uniform the hero wore. And those splotches were spreading rapidly before their eyes. "I was trying to find a heat level that would melt this stuff without hurting our friends," he told him as he stood there looking helpless for one of the few times in the powerful hero's life. "When suddenly it seemed to explode all over me."
"There was a trap left in that residual metal," Batman realized. "And we blundered into it. Just like J'onn, I'm guessing. We didn't find a leftover supply of Karter's materials. We found booby-traps," he exclaimed as he approached Superman to run a portable scanner over the Kryptonian's chest.
"It's the same alloy. The same alien composition. It shouldn't be this liquid at all, and yet…."
"I'm going to try to reach the sun. It may be my only chance," he said as he turned to the nearest hatch.
"I'll take a Javelin, just in case, and follow as close as I can," Batman told him.
"Flash, lock down every last sample of those materials leftover from the gallery. And whatever you do, don't touch anything."
"Count on it," Flash exclaimed as the silver continued to spread across Superman's chest even as the hero launched himself into space.
He sat watching the Javelin that flew off after him, and then went to work. Long, tense hours later, he heard the javelin returning as the hangar opened, and another alert sounded. Wally was still voicing the same groan that started in his chair in the lab when he reached the hangar deck.
"Oh, no," he said, staring at the silvered façade of the League's greatest hero as he was carefully taken out of the Javelin, and carried toward iso. He was stretched out in full flight mode, and even his cape was a silver sheet that streamed out behind him.
"If Supes can't break out of that stuff, what chance do the others have," he asked Batman who came toward him looking grim.
"I don't know," Batman told him grimly. "Our best hope is still finding Davina Carter, and Brainiac. Only they are going to have the answers we need."
"Like they're going to help us?"
Batman glanced down at Superman and his eyes narrowed coldly. "I may have an idea," he said, and headed for the lab alongside the medical people in full iso. "But you're going to have to trust me."
"You know I trust you, Bats," Wally exclaimed. "Whatever it takes, I'm with you."
"Good. Because you're about to join the collection."
"I'm…..what," he yelped as the Batman turned that cold, grim expression on him.
"We both are," he added, and dragged Wally after him.
Davina chortled as Vandal merely eyed the ten statues that had just appeared outside the huge cavern where Davina made her primary home. Inside, the immortal knew, the tunnels were lined with stone and glass creatures that had once been human, or animal. Most of the glass statuary were the doomed Amazon race taken completely unaware by their hapless sister's fate.
Vandal himself had proved remarkably resistant to the power that radiated from her, turning all living things around her to stone. Another reason she enjoyed his company. Although, it was annoying, since it made her increasingly wary of the man who seemed to have no agenda at all just now. Which considering his past, just could not be true.
Brian, she surmised, simply protected himself through his powerful sciences. Another reason he was going to have to go once she achieved the means of her ultimate revenge on the world. On all the living. Soon, she and her sisters would finally be avenged, and no one would be left to do anything about it.
"They shall make a fine centerpiece to my Amazon collection, don't you think, Vandal," she asked as she walked near the dark, grim latex statue of the man-bat who truly looked as if he had risen up out of Hades itself.
"My centerpiece, I should think," Brian appeared in the nimbus of a teleportation beam. "I have been awaiting the destruction of these particular meddlers since they first interfered with my plans for this insignificant planet."
"This planet is my home, Brian," she hissed, some of her true nature slipping through the pleasant mask she had learned to cultivate over the centuries as Athena's curse lost some of its power over her.
"It is but an insignificant speck in the cosmos," the man drawled indifferently as he pressed a button on his belt, and dropped his own guise.
The alien android stared at her with pitiless eyes as he affected what was, for him, a smile. "You have but helped sow the seeds of this world's destruction, gorgon. But rest assured, your knowledge and experience shall be added to that of your world's before I depart, leaving nothing but a dry, empty husk behind me. Such is the power, and prerogative of Brainiac."
"You're forgetting someone, robot," Vandal growled, his big fists curling up as he glared at the alien.
"As immortal as you are, Savage," Brainiac drawled. "You are hardly a threat to my plans. Although it shall be interesting to see just how immortal you are once you have been digitized along with the rest of your world."
"Actually, I was referring to….."
Brainiac turned in time to see a powerful, crystalline fist slam into his jaw.
"You made more than one mistake, android," Diana's shriller voice rasped as her crystalline form moved to intercept him even as a red blur pulled two figures out of the dark latex cocoon's holding them.
"No one look at the gorgon," Batman spat. "I'll take care of her," he advised as he lifted a hand to press a transmitter.
"You're turn, Superman," he advised, and a violet streak of blending colors swooped down out of the sky to slam into Braninac just after Diana's second punch slammed him into the side of a mountain, almost embedding him in the normally unyielding stone.
"Im…possible," the damaged android exclaimed. "You….were….. This…..illogical……"
A final punch pulped the android skull, and then powerful hands of living flesh tore through Brainiac's chest plate to rip out his power supply shutting down the android's internal reserves. "I've already taken care of his ship," Superman advised Diana as she moved up to stand beside him.
"Good. Although this feels anticlimactic considering how tough he has been to beat at times."
"Never discount the element of surprise, my dead," Vandal drawled as he joined the pair as Superman ripped out the components that Batman had indicated he would need. The rest vaporized under his heat vision a moment later.
"Vandal," Diana turned on him. "I'm just surprised you're the one that tipped us off in time for Batman to put together this trap. You're usually on the other side of these things," the furious Amazon hissed in her shrill voice created by her crystalline body.
"Self-preservation, I'm afraid, my dear," he smiled, holding up his hands. "I may have my own plans for the future, but I would never stand by and let another interloper take what is rightfully mine. After all, aside from you, all I need do is outlive the lot of you heroes, and I'll be the victor by default in our ongoing battle."
"Don't count on it, Vandal," Superman said as he turned to face him with his blue eyes still glowing. "There will always be someone that rises to stem the forces of evil….." "Now you're starting to sound dull, Kryptonian," Vandal yawned. "If you knew how often I have heard those words….."
"Exactly," Superman smiled knowingly as the immortal frowned at him.
"You have the power to do good, Vandal Savage," Diana told him. "You should consider this a turning point. For now, you've earned our gratitude. Go in peace."
Vandal smiled, stroked his beard, and only laughed as he walked away. "Another time, my dear. Another time."
"Hey, guys," Wally appeared as he appeared in front of them in a blur of motion. "Bats went into the cave after the stone-maker. Shouldn't we….?"
"This is the Batman's work," J'onn drawled as he appeared beside him. "The guards, and outlying defenses have been taken care of," he told Superman, and Diana. "Everything else is up to Batman."
"I'm still amazed he pulled off such an obvious ploy in so short a time," Diana remarked.
"You know Bats," Wally shrugged, still amazed that while technically a prisoner of her new form, Wonder Woman could move, and act as normally as ever.
Batman had explained that Diana was originally created by the Olympic gods from mystic clay molded into her current form. Whatever she had become, that mystically-enhanced clay remained her base, and she could move as she wished despite the changes she had suffered, unlike her sisters who had always been flesh.
She simply hid that fact on Batman's advice as he studied her, and devised a way to use her unexpected immunity to their advantage. When J'onn fell victim to the trap Wally had already shown he could escape, he began to formulate his plan. It was set in place when Superman flew out to the sun, and managed to melt the spreading Kryptonian alloy off his body before it engulfed him.
Guessing that the Watchtower was somehow being monitored, though, and guessing by whom, they arranged for it to seem as if Superman had failed to free himself, and so baited the trap that brought them together with the masterminds behind the entire plot.
"What about the others," Wally asked as he glanced back at the other members of the League still captive by their glass or metallic shells.
"That is what these should tell us," Superman said as he held up the memory circuits taken from Brainiac. "J'onn?"
"I'll get started on decrypting the data right away," he told them as he reached for his transponder to request teleportation back to the Watchtower.
"Two things, J'onn," Diana told him before he departed. "Ensure you isolate his circuits from the rest of our computers, and you might want to sweep the tower for whatever means he used to tap into our operations to spy on us."
"Of course, Diana," the Martian nodded, then disappeared.
"You may as well give up, stalker," Davina rasped as she slithered through the trackless caverns she knew far better than anyone alive. Especially a mere man from the far side of the world.
"Why, Euryale," the hidden stalker spoke out of the darkness, naming her in her own ancient tongue. "Do you fear you will end as your sisters?" She screamed with rage, the sound echoing out of the endless passages to almost deafen anyone that might have heard it.
"What do you know of my sisters, mortal," she hissed, stealthily moving toward the source of his voice.
"Medusa died by Perseus' hand in a bid for a kingdom. Her head ended up on Minerva's shield, which was covered by her skin," the shadow spoke knowingly."
Her howl echoed for several minutes before Batman spoke again.
"Stheno thought to avenge her, and ended up cast into the abyss from which even gods cannot return. You were left alone, Euryale. Brooding, and alone. For centuries. I sympathize with your pain, but you cannot follow your sisters' way, or you will end up your own victim."
"What do you know of pain," she shrieked, then calmed, fearing she might sent him fleeing before she could strike. "Do you not fear to look upon me, mortal," she asked, stripping her thin guise of humanity completely aside now as the gorgon she had been made by a jealous goddess now slithered through the darkness toward the source of the hero's voice. This time, she vowed, the hero would fall. This time, it was the gorgons that would triumph.
"I am fear," the grim voice told her with such unyielding purpose that for a moment she supposed one of the spirits of Hades had indeed risen up to battle her. She knew he was but a mortal man, though, and shook off her own unease as she moved around the smaller passage only she knew of that would bring her to where the man was hiding.
"And I know far more of pain than you might realize. End this now, Euryale, and you need not end like your sisters," the mortal dared taunt her.
"How little you know," she mocked him in turn. "By the time I join my powers to that of the plague the android pretender so obligingly provided me, I shall cover the earth with glassine statues in memory of my sisters. An endless memorial of living, suffering mortals made immortal in their living deaths."
"It's not going to happen, gorgon," that grim voice spat even as she leapt out of the shadows to find her prey, claws and teeth ready to shred what her stupefying glance had not ensorcelled.
"That was a mistake, Euryale," the voice that came from the tiny, black box on the ground drawled even as three sharp missiles plunged into her left side, and spilled her precious blood upon the cold ground.
She screamed again, her voice shrill enough to crack stone, and shatter glass the array of vipers upon her head writhed in shared agony. "I'll rip your flesh from your bones before it can turn to stone," she howled as she turned in the direction of the missiles only to feel a sudden dizzying rush that had her dropping to the ground before she managed three feet.
"I think not, gorgon," the man's hateful voice rang in her ears from two directions now as the shadow before her split as if emerging from the very stone walls around her. "Your day is most definitely over. I am truly sorry for what you suffered, but your sisters brought their fates upon themselves. Just as you have," he added, and stepped back as she looked up to see a shining, blinding brilliance present itself before her.
"You mortals just don't learn," the soft, lyrical voice of the goddess sighed in exasperation.
Euryale screamed as the goddess pointed her slender finger toward her, and changed her world again.
Diana felt the crystal sheath fall from her flesh even as her body once more solidified mere seconds after the spray covered her form. She flexed her mighty hands, and smiled as she looked down at herself. "Well done, gentlemen," she said, and flexed powerful fists as her body shed its glassy façade at last as the antigen developed from Brainiac's own memory circuits did its job.
They freed John next, and the Lantern simply blinked as he returned to true life, and looked around. "Well," he drawled, "That was embarrassing."
He left to resume his duties without a word. He was that kind of man.
When Superman turned toward Kara, J'onn was already spraying the nude form of his cousin. Kara stretched languidly as her flesh returned to normal, and then she looked up, and then at herself, and vanished in a blur of speed as she fled at a speed that made her nearly invisible as she went in search of clothing. Not, however, before a startled yelp of dismay had been torn from her lips to echo in her passing.
"Well," Kal-El murmured. "It's good to see that she isn't completely without modesty."
"Give her time, Kal," Diana chortled as she loaded a pouch with vials of the cure to take to her sisters whom she had returned to their island home. Now, all she had to do was free them of the blight that kept them in their glassine prisons as food for the extra-dimensional symbiont Brainiac had unleashed on them.
"I know, Diana," he smiled as they turned to watch Giganta being released now.
They all moved closer, just in case the villainess turned violent, but they need not have bothered. Even as J'onn sprayed her, and the red-haired criminal regained her own flesh, she looked at herself, ignoring them, and simply collapsed to her knees weeping uncontrollably.
"I shall return her to prison," J'onn told them. "I doubt she will be recovering from the trauma of her experience for a time. Perhaps this time, it will help teach her the error of her ways."
"I doubt that," Diana grimaced as the weeping meta was led away by the Martian. "Still, I'm glad we're finally rid of Brainiac."
"Are we," Superman asked her as she went back to load a few more vials into the leather pouch she was stuffing full of the cure Batman had helped J'onn develop before disappearing yet again. "You said it yourself. It was too easy.
"I think we only destroyed a simulacrum," he told her. "He'll be back. I'm more than certain of that."
"Well, he'll find us ready," she promised as she slid the bulging back over one shoulder. "Now, I have to go free my sisters.
"Has Batman found a way to free the others yet," she asked, knowing the two statues in Kryptonian metal were still resistant to their efforts to date.
"Unfortunately, even Brainiac's own memory reveals that only extreme heat can release the metal's state to make it malleable once set. And neither of those women could survive that kind of heat."
"I see. Well, I pray that he finds a way. He is clever for a man. Who else would have thought to enlist the gods in his cause once he realized he was facing the last surviving gorgon?"
"Bruce can be….clever," Superman agreed as he stared back toward the room where two metallic statues still stood unchanged behind the door.
"So, you understand the problem," Batman asked the grim figure in blue and gold that levitated before him.
"Yes, Batman," Dr. Fate nodded as his sonorous voice murmured quietly in response. "And I believe I have a solution. It is simple enough task, despite the alien nature of the metals involved. Shall we go"
"At once," Batman agreed.
In a mere blink, the two appeared in the medical bay before Superman and Diana even as they spoke. Unlike the teleporter, Fate's magics were harnessed to the very universe around him, and subject to laws of physics as yet unknown by the world at large. Thus, he could travel instantly, at the speed of thought, to any destination that occurred to him.
"I suggest you wait here," Dr. Fate told Batman when the Dark Knight moved to follow him. "I should be alone when I attempt this particular spell. Especially on this level."
"What's he doing," Superman asked, still a little anxious around the man, since he was remarkably vulnerable to any magic.
"He's going to try to free our friends," Batman told him. "By using a little known spell that I reminded him existed for just such occasions."
"You reminded him," Diana asked as Batman turned to merely glance at her.
Diana shook her head, and Batman went to the observation port, opening the panel so he could watch even though he was not allowed in the room.
"It's best we don't listen," Batman told them as he switched off the intercom even as Fate's voice began echoing with eerie syllables that had no place on the human tongue.
"I don't mind," Superman murmured, having felt a little uneasy at the sounds coming from that small speaker.
Almost at once, the two gleaming statues began to glow a bright violet as arcane forces were unleashed within the medical bay that were beyond the watcher's understanding, or imagination. In the center, the hovering form of Fate, his gold helmet emitting its own eerie aura of power, seemed to join the two darker auras.
Then the statues began to crack as something seemed to poor from them, and formed small, glowing balls of bright, bluish light on the floor before fate. The balls grew even as the brilliant light intensified, and a silent explosion actually rocked the station for a moment before the ambient lighting returned to normal, and the watchers saw Fate kneeling to address two naked women in the room. One with wings that sprouted out of her back.
Nearby, the once seemingly lifeless statues that had nearly become their tombs were cracking, and continuing to degrade as if aging at a rate unparallel until only dust remained to mark their passing. Atop one pile of dust lay a familiar mace of nth metal.
"Dr. Fate," Batman asked as he switched on the intercom once more. "Is it safe….?"
"Of course, Batman," the mage of order looked up to nod at them even as a small gesture immediately clothed both women in their customary garb.
"It's alright, Barbara," Batman told her as he helped the redhead to her feet. "It's over," he told the woman who looked nothing like she had just spent weeks inside a metal shell that had all but squeezed the life from her.
"I repaired the physical toll on their bodies, but the toll on their minds will take somewhat longer," Fate told them as he released Shayera to Superman's care. "Now, I must go. Other matters require my attention," he informed them, and simply vanished.
"We should have just called him from the start," Diana said as Batman helped the trembling redhead who clung to him with the strength of desperation as he helped her to a bed.
"I did," Batman told her as Superman helped the proud Thanagarian to a bed even though she refused to voice her own inner distress that nevertheless showed in her wide, anxious gaze.
"He told me the time was not yet right, and that to act sooner would have had dark repercussions."
"Sorcerers," Diana snorted.
"My feelings exactly," Superman murmured as he helped Shayera lay back, though he noted she would not release his arm.
Euryale stared out from the cliffs of her island home, feeling the years weighing upon her. She was exiled once more, but this time, as a human. She was human. After centuries, she had become human again.
Only she was old. So very old. Death was finally lurking just over her shoulder, and worse, she could hear the cries of her countless victims from over the years. The old woman she had become merely stood and stared out over the sea, weeping.
She was the last now. Soon, she would be no more.
Strangely, that no longer bothered her. Soon, she knew, she would be at peace.
"I'm sorry," she murmured into the breeze just before she stepped off the high cliffs that housed the dark caverns that had been her home for so many centuries.
Diana wept with her mother and sisters as the antigen quickly restored her sisters back to true life, and they embraced one another after those first freed of the symbiont were quick to help spread the cure.
"Is there not a danger of the blight returning," Hippolyta asked Diana as she dined with her daughter later that evening in celebration of their victory over evil.
"No, mother. Even though we were all contained before the spores could spread further, J'onn took the liberty of releasing the antigen into the environment so that it spread over the entire planet in case Brainiac had a means of releasing them again in spite of his failure. There is no chance of the contagion returning now."
"And your friends are all well," the queen asked as she smiled at her daughter, grateful she was back, and alive and well.
"All well. Dr. Fate used a spell that pulled organic and inorganic matter apart on a subatomic level. Even alien metals could not resist his kind of magic, and the women were freed of those unnatural statues they had been made into by that inhuman monster."
"I am glad all worked out."
"As am I," Diana assured her.
"Then why do you remain so grim," her mother asked pointedly.
"Something Kal-El said. Brainiac is likely still out there. Somewhere. Hiding for now since his most recent plan was stopped thanks to Vandal Savage of all people. His calling Batman with the details made it far easier for him to formulate a plan to stop the android and Euryale once we knew what they were up to, and where they were hiding. But Brainiac remains. And it worries me."
"With your friends at your side, Diana," Hippolyta told her with a sincere smile. "I have little doubt that you will save us again should he return. I had my doubts about your place in man's world. But you have grown in the time you have been away. And I cannot be prouder of you than I am at this moment."
"Thank you, mother," Diana smiled as she reached for her wine feeling very glad to be alive, and home.