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Lex was in the process of running a boot up scan on his armor while continuing to play with the Reach control cane. The armored plating was still gold as he hadn't yet been able to engage the additional energy slides.
He had a tactical scan pulled from the ship's scanners floating as a hologram above his head. He realized belatedly that he'd been a little too eager in shutting down the ship's power and engines. Then again, he could blame that on his unfamiliarity with the cane and with the systems of Brainiac's ship.
Hence trying to complete his suit's reboot sequence so that he could try and integrate the cane into his systems. The user interface, once one got used the tactile controls and the fact that it used base 64 math was very friendly. Almost too friendly. Lex glanced down at the still cowering Negotiator. He had a suspicion that the simplicity of the control scheme had been intentional. The Negotiator did not strike him as someone who could be bothered to read the manual. The cane's impressive array of software was eager to be used and seemed to be designed specifically to integrate with other equipment.
If the Reach were as secretive with their technology as they were supposed to be, Lex found himself wondering, Why did the equipment seem laughably easy to understand?
In between his troubles with the reboot, which seemed to hang on an unfamiliar control sequence that Lex was hurriedly trying to program around in the past few minutes, the scene in the ghostly hologram above his head did not paint a happy picture.
Dox had succeeded in bringing Lex to Oa. The ship was in a low orbit and Lex's stunt with the engines had caused their orbit to begin to degrade. There was still plenty of time before the situation became critical, but Lex was sharply aware of the time crunch he was now under. Not just from their impending fiery doom, but also until Dox took a proper interest.
The other interesting thing, Lex noted, were the ships surrounding the planet. Hundreds of vessels with varying designs. The cane kept helpfully adding little text windows with additional information on the ships which might have been of value to Lex if he'd been more fluent in the Reach language, but even without them, Lex could recognize a few of the designs. In the background was a soft stream of constant chatter on the various communications frequencies. Including ones his suit had no access to. He could pick out a few words here and there, but most were unfiltered and untranslated.
The placement of the vessels was decidedly unfriendly. The fleets of the various empires and collectives were arranged to keep groups of like-minded ships together, while still maintaining as much coverage of Oa as possible.
They were picketing Oa, Lex realized. No one was attacking, but it looked like only a matter of time. Nothing was coming in or out without having to pass through the ships. Lex couldn't spot any obvious harassment as various green streaks shot to and from of the planet, but it was no doubt a nuisance for the Guardians. It would also be the work of instants to close in those gaps and have the ships begin catching Lanterns within the range of massed ship fire.
There were also several dozen smaller ships that did not appear attached to any specific force. Observers possibly? Unless, Lex realized, Lobo had successfully sent out his messages. More distractions for Dox, even though he didn't need them now. He wondered if the Czarnian had come back for him already, but his space hog was so small that it would've been easily lost in the mass of ship signatures. Lex had a rough idea of how far they'd gone since they were at Oa, but he didn't think Lobo would make it back anytime soon.
He shrugged that off and tried to focus on what he was doing. His eyes narrowed as he realized that Dox had tampered with his suit. He wasn't entirely certain yet what the bits of foreign code Dox had introduced into his programming would do, but it wouldn't do him any good. Unfortunately, he also didn't have a backup of the firmware on him. He didn't want to risk what his suit would do with those foreign commands slipped in, so he was having to do it the hard way and manually chasing them down, without bringing the central processor of the suit up all the way.
At least it gave him something to do while he waited. He'd been expecting some sort of contact well before this, but there were a easily a dozen possible explanations for why the Brainiac had not yet seen fit to get in touch with him. So as he waited... he worked.
He glanced down idly at the Negotiator who was still half sprawled against one wall. Lex had dismissed him minutes ago, but he was still there. Lex finally grew tired of the morose expression on the being's face and asked sharply, "Why are you still here?"
He sighed. "I do not know. The Assistant Negotiator should have transported me back to my ship by now."
Lex shook his head, then turned his attention back to the holographic representation of his code. He'd made considerable headway, but there were still a few critical segments that needed to be cleaned up before he could boot up his armor in safety.
A small proximity alert from cane pinged that company was about to join them. Lex cursed and not having any other weapons on hand, Lex picked up the Reach negotiator and put an arm around his neck. Despite the interruption, he allowed the boot scan software to keep running, making the necessary decisions through the finger controls in his gloves.
The seamless door irised open and Vril Dox stood in the dim hallway, an energy pistol in one hand, the other jammed deep into his pocket. The robots that had been guarding the cell were slumped on the floor on either side of Dox.
"Alright, I will admit that I am mildly impressed." Dox said, his tone level, but his annoyance was clear. "Turn the ship's power back on before our orbit decays."
Lex smiled with polite surprise, raising the tip of the cane to press it against the Negotiator's cheek. "I was expecting you to call."
"Which was why you left the communication systems working." Dox replied testily.
Lex smiled and shrugged, "You looked like you needed someone to talk to."
"I suspect you didn't even really plan on cutting power to the ship, just using the Negotiator's teleporter to be on your way once you had your suit." Dox said with a nasty undertone to his voice.
Lex nodded once more. "Yes. But I couldn't help but notice that you decided to put in your own little modifications to it."
"It's primitive and crude, but not without some charm," Dox said.
Caught between the intensity of the staring contest the two men were engaging in, the Negotiator whimpered in Lex's grasp, prompting the human to tighten his hold.
Lex replied. "You were expecting I would either activate my armor immediately, allowing whatever code it was-"
Dox nodded. "It would've given me remote control over your systems."
Lex pursed his lips thoughtfully and nodded, "I expected as much. So, since I chose to do a systems check before activation, that delayed me sufficiently for you to get down here before I could get it working."
"I'd originally intended to let you stew in the dark while I took control of my ship back. It's not like you would have been able to get through the door, as it's on an isolated control circuit that can only be rerouted manually. I'm surprised you didn't just teleport out of the cell."
"Too much risk of getting caught in a wall or one of your robots," Lex replied mildly. "I couldn't find a ship's layout on your system."
"That was intentional, why make it easy for someone breaking into my system? So not being able to trust your suit's life support you elected to stay in here instead."
"Of course," Lex said agreeably, not showing at all that he was keeping an eye on his suit's progress bar in the corner of his vision as they spoke. "I was actually going to try and goad you to come down here once I was ready so you'd open your door and I could overpower you and take direct control of the ship."
Dox snapped, "Except, since you so thoughtfully left the comm system wide open, it allowed everyone to keep placing calls to speak to you."
Lex looked surprised. "Everyone?"
Dox nodded, "Several dozen in just the last few minutes. Interestingly enough, those individuals should have been trying to reach me at my main office on Colu, not in orbit around Oa."
Lex smiled slightly. "I suppose someone must have told them where you and I were."
"No doubt." Dox responded dryly. "But they wouldn't stop calling so I was forced to put the comms on 'do not disturb' mode, which also prevents me from making calls out." Dox's annoyance seemed to increase as he recalled the multitude of communications requests he'd gotten.
Lex winced slightly. "Ah. And you took a while getting here even though you proceeded directly-"
"Because someone also cut out the power to all the elevators." Dox finished sharply. "And I stopped by the armory for a few party favors to use in dealing with you." He waved the gun negligently.
"I do love a good party," Lex smirked.
Dox was not amused. "Taking the Negotiator hostage is not going to keep me from shooting you. In fact, I would be quite happy to shoot through him if it will allow me to hurt you in some small, significant fashion, since it is his fault that my ship is about to crash into Oa's atmosphere. Furthermore, I am a sufficiently good shot that I can wound you rather than kill you. I am telling you to turn my ship's power back on and return control to me or I will lobotomize you."
Luthor nodded, "I can understand your sentiment perfectly, Brainiac, but you are missing a critical piece of the puzzle here."
"And that is?"
"That the Negotiator's technology will react," Lex paused significantly, "Explosively, in the event of his demise. So it you try to shoot me, I interpose him. In which case his cane and his armor explode and kill us both. If you annoy me sufficiently, I snap his neck. Same result."
Dox seemed to think this over for a moment. "I can step back, let the door close and be out of range of the explosion."
Lex chuckled wryly, "Even if that would be enough for the direct explosions, the only reason the Reach haven't started shooting is out of fear for the Negotiator's safety. Once that is removed from the equation this ship will be a cloud of rapidly expanding hot gas."
"They would not be so stupid as to fire when the situation outside is so volatile." Dox gestured with his free hand at the holographic scene above them.
The Negotiator piped up in Lex's grasp, "It is true. They would not."
Human and Coluan glared at him for the interruption. He shrank into himself and mumbled weakly. "I was just trying to contribute."
"They're cloaked." Lex said cheerfully. "They seem to be quite practiced at looking innocent and frankly, they dislike you more than they dislike me. Well, this fellow might be of a different opinion," Lex gave the Negotiator another squeeze.
"I hate you both equally." The Negotiator replied. "And if pushed, it is possible that the Assistant Negotiator may choose to destroy this vessel, regardless of the situation outside."
"See? Now, the wanton slaughter of one of their Negotiators and theft of their technology could be considered a 'push'."
"Then we both end up dead. I can't see you pushing this in that direction." Dox replied.
"Then you're suffering from a failure of imagination. That you haven't shot yet means that you're not absolutely certain about what I will do." Lex grinned.
"I haven't shot yet because I hope to avoid having to clean up a mess." Dox shook his head. "I'm beginning to suspect that you may be irrational."
"Don't think I haven't considered it myself." Lex said agreeably. "Keep in mind, if the Reach do blast us into component atoms, the destruction of your ship will likely be attributed to the Oans, prompting retaliation from the rest of those ships." Lex flashed a bright smile. "That is an acceptable trade-off for my life. How about yours, Coluan?"
"Oh, come now, Luthor." Dox sneered. "This is a transparent bluff. It's obvious that you aren't the type to make a martyr out of yourself."
"You suspect it, but you aren't sure."
"That miniscule chance is the only thing that stays my hand." Dox said steadily.
"Then we're at an impasse."
"Quite. But it won't last forever. In about an hour our orbit will have decayed sufficiently that my ship's hull will begin to burn. From that point on, things will become exponentially worse, until we reach the absolute limit eight minutes after that, by which time it will be too late to save ourselves."
"Unless one of us chooses to trust the other."
"That's not likely to happen." Dox replied, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm irrational, remember? When we spoke earlier, you wanted to make a deal for Reach technology?" Lex asked, giving the cane a waggle. "Here it is, direct from the source. In fact, I'd be happy to also offer you a high ranking member of the Reach as well to interrogate to your heart's content." The Negotiator gave a squeak as Lex poked him in the cheek with the cane.
The Negotiator whined, "I'm not really all that high-ranking." Earning himself a sharp glance from Luthor and a smirk from Dox.
Lex soldiered on, "Unlike earlier, I am now in a position to give you what you want."
Dox scoffed, but the gun did lower just a fraction. Just enough for Lex to know he was on the right track. "You're in no position to provide anything of the sort as long as that Reach vessel is out there. Their policy for protecting their technology is quite... aggressive."
Lex gave the cane another waggle. "This thing is surprisingly user friendly, but given the level of intelligence of the users, I'm not surprised."
The Negotiator gave an indignant squawk that Lex silenced with another fractional tightening of his hold.
"It took me a few seconds to figure out how to disable your ship with it." Lex continued. "Want to take a guess at what else I figured out about it?"
"How to use the teleport functions and the holograms seem obvious enough." Dox looked thoughtful for a moment, then his jaw dropped. "You can do that do the same thing to the Reach Destroyer."
Lex gave a predatory grin. "Shall we make a deal, Coluan?"
Dox holstered his gun down and laughed. "Well played, human. Although to be honest, I'm only down here stalling for time."
Lex raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"Yes. I was making certain that you were too preoccupied to notice." Dox replied as all the lights came back on. Behind him the two robots rose to their feet and aimed their weapons at Lex and the Negotiator.
"I've been programming the ship's systems to ignore the shutdown command the whole time we've been talking." He pulled a hand-held interface from his pocket. It was vaguely cylindrical and was covered in a multitude of buttons. "I have weapons and shields back online, so we aren't quite the sitting duck for the Reach Destroyer anymore. This has been amusing, but our standoff is at an end and I have the upper hand."
Lex frowned and released the Negotiator, who crawled into a corner of the room, trying to keep as far away as possible from the room's other occupants. Lex flashed both the Negotiator and Dox a dark look. He passed his thumb over the control cane once more and the display above them flickered out. "I hate you Brainiacs."
"This is a common sentiment, believe me. Most do not appreciate true genius."
"Oh, it's not that. I have a personal grudge against one of your descendants. Brainiac 13." Lex replied, still seemingly displeased at having been out maneuvered. "He traveled back in time and killed my daughter. I'm hoping to have an opportunity to kill you and perhaps wipe out your entire lineage."
Dox pursed his lips at that and replied, "I've already procreated. If you truly wish to destroy the Brainiac dynasty, you would be better served killing my son, Lyrl Dox. Also known as Brainiac 3. He has yet to reach adolescence and to the best of my knowledge has not yet managed to reproduce."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Now, while you have been an entertaining ape, I'll take the cane, if you please?" Dox asked sweetly, gloating slightly. The tone was belied by the fact that the weapons ports in the palms of the two robots began to glow brighter.
Lex held the cane in both hands for a moment, twisting it thoughtfully, then he allowed the pout to dissolve into his own amused smile. "I didn't think I'd be able to keep that up." Lex said.
"Keep what up?" Dox asked suspiciously.
"Stalling for time long enough for a clean boot sequence." Lex replied as the gold colored panels on his armor, shifted color and began to glow green. "You weren't the only one programming while we talked." Lex gloated. "Thank goodness, you love hearing the sound of your own voice."
Dox cursed and pointed, but it wasn't quite fast enough. The robots fired simultaneously at Lex's head and chest, but the beams splashed harmlessly against Lex's force field. The modifications he'd made while tied up on Lobo's bike greedily drinking in the energy from the attacks. Dox pulled his pistol out and added his own shots, but it made no difference. In the corner, the Negotiator screamed and desperately covered his head in his hands.
Lex laughed as he triggered another attack at Dox's control systems from the cane to crash the teleport denial systems just long enough for him to vanish from their sight.
Lex reappeared in empty space. The holographic scene he'd been observing earlier had given him a sufficiently good idea of how the various ships had been placed to allow him to reappear in a section of empty space. He laughed to himself, breathing deep of the air his environmental systems were providing. The gravitic systems kept him from experiencing vertigo, tricking his inner ear into believing he was upright, despite the complete lack of orientation.
Despite how crowded the space around Oa had appeared in the display, there were still vast gulfs of distance between the various ships. His new position gave him a commanding view of the picket line and the vast curving sphere of Oa. He had an excellent view of Dox's ship and knew from the cane's displays earlier that the Destroyer was just off it's bow, even though no one else had any clue precisely where it was.
Lex muttered to himself, "As escapes go... I give it a seven out of ten."
Those ships out there were keeping alert for targets roughly his size, but ones which would be radiating the distinctive emerald energy of Oa. Unfortunately, since Lex's power supply was partially being provided by the eternal flame back in Coast City, he would register as a Green Lantern if he desired it. He adjusted his force field to minimize his energy profile, allowing him to camouflage himself to some extent, but from what he'd been able to understand of the Reach's technology as long as he had the cane, they would be able to find him. He knew he could seal the cane into the tesseract chamber on his gauntlet, as he had done to the Negotiator's holdout pistol. From his admittedly limited understanding of Reach technology, that was enough to prevent them from tracking it and causing it to self-destruct, but he had a much better use for it than to simply have it be hidden away.
With a grin, Lex activated his communication system to contact Dox.
An irritated Vril Dox appeared in the corner of Lex's vision. "Calling to gloat?"
"Actually, no." Lex replied honestly. "I'm just thinking ahead. I don't want to have to keep looking over my shoulder. Clear my name of all outstanding charges and I give you what you want."
The line of Dox's jaw tensed once more. "You have no idea what I want."
"A technological advantage and the chance to stick it to the bigger galactic powers." Lex replied with a smile. "I send you the cane. With it you can disable the Reach ship's shields, weapons and propulsion. Then we can both be on our way."
Dox seemed to mull the idea over before he gave a sharp nod. "Why would you give up such a useful tool, unless." The Coluan's face broke into a nasty grin. "I see what you're trying to do, Luthor."
"Do you now?"
"You want me to take the blame for what's going to happen next." Dox said slowly. "Getting yourself off the most-wanted list is just a happy extra."
Lex affected nonchalance. "I'm offering you an opportunity to get what you want. That it happens to coincide with my own needs is, as you say, a happy extra."
"I can't remove the warrants as long as you're manipulating navigation systems."
"Are you still seriously on that?" Lex was amused. "That's not at all what I'm doing. I am defying Oa, but what I'm doing has absolutely nothing to do with navigation systems or navigation software anywhere."
Dox frowned, "That's impo-" His eyes widened. "That's insane."
"Ah. A light dawns." Lex said.
"Fine," the Coluan replied, coolly, his image shifted as he seemed to enter information into a terminal. "You are cleared of all charges across all worlds subscribed to the Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network. Send me the cane. I'll be happy to be rid of you."
Lex used the cane to tap into Dox's ship once more and found that the Coluan had told the truth. He didn't particularly care, but it kept the Reach off his own back and firmly on Brainiac's. He manipulated the controls once more and let the cane go, it drifted away from him for a moment, then vanished in a flash of light.
Dox's face in the communications window lit up into a genuine smile. "If you survive what you're doing, Luthor, never come into my jurisdiction."
"I'd be just as happy to never see you again."
Dox raised the cane into view of the camera, still smiling. "I've thought it over and I realize there's still a way for the Reach to be dealt with and yet still leave my name out of it."
"What do you-"
Dox's hands flitted across the controls of the cane. "Goodbye, Luthor," he said, with a smirk that Lex did not like at all, then closed the communications window.
Lex gasped in shock as the Reach ship shimmered into view, its stealth cloak suddenly deactivated. His suit's sensors picked up that the Destroyer's weapons and defenses were still fully operational, although their engines appeared to be shot. On the one hand, Lex could not help but admire the audacity the Coluan had shown, even as he was appalled as he realized what was going to happen.
He remembered that the Guardians did not like the Reach. At all.
High handed and self-centered as the Guardians were, their reflexive reaction to the sudden appearance of a vessel commanded by an ancient enemy of theirs was immediate and devastating. By right and by treaty, no Reach ship was allowed within a hundred Parsecs of Oa. That this one had dared to come within orbital range of Oa itself could be attributed to the Negotiator's short-sightedness and arrogance. Or he really did believe that Earth was worth the risk.
The risk had not paid off for the Negotiator at all.
Green beams of light lanced up from the surface of Oa. Lex watched with horrified fascination as the Destroyer's shields flickered and dropped momentarily. More control cane antics, Lex realized, as the beams completely devastated the rear section of the ship, shattering it into so much debris.
Even in space, Lex could almost feel the stunned silence of the crowded ships wash over him. Long seconds stretched with no one making a move, even as the shattered remnants of the Reach Destroyer's rear floated serenely past him.
He knew that the reaction would be. These ships that had been keeping silent watch over Oa, all of them having seen accusations and proof of Oan duplicity and conspiracies had just seen a ship among their number mercilessly struck down by the Guardians.
First the crippled remains of the Destroyer sent out blue beams of energy, piercing Oa's atmosphere. Then another ship. Then another. Then a third. And more besides. Dozens of ships suddenly opened fire on the Guardian's citadel surrounding their Central Battery.
The Green Lanterns who had been flying to and fro were now suddenly caught in the crossfire and fought back for their lives, striking at the massed ships with desperate speed, but also getting overwhelmed by the massed fire of the picketed ships.
It was madness. None of the ships were organized beyond the level of individual fleets as each empire and race had chosen to keep to themselves. This hampered their effectiveness as they ended up shooting one another and getting in each others way as much as their blows struck at Oa and her servants.
Lantern shaped satellites manifested above the planet, shooting wildly into the target rich environment even as an emerald canopy snapped into existence above the citadel.
The whole was beginning to devolve into a free-for all as the space surrounding Oa transformed into a complete war zone.
Lex could only scream in frustrated horror as his carefully laid plans to end the Guardians of Oa cleanly and quietly went up in flames and plasma bursts.
The picket lines were originalyl meant to increase political pressure on Oa so that when a Terran Diplomatic team led by the Justice League made themselves known, the relief at a way to defuse the situation and the distractions it would create, were supposed to allow Lex to carry out his final masterstroke and wrest control of the Guardian's power and deposit it firmly in human hands.
That scenario was in tatters now. Events escalated so far that the mere appearance of the League wouldn't be enough to quiet things down. In a small, distant way he also understood that sentients were being hurt. This didn't upset him as much as the fact that they were not being hurt on his schedule. Their pain was not being put to good use. He felt a small twinge at his lack of empathy, but it was ignored because he was just too angry to think straight.
He signaled Dox's ship, hopping to wrench an explanation for his actions from the Coluan, or at least extract some more information. Lex noted in his sensors that the LEGION cruiser had already departed in the face of the devastation it had sown. There was no response. Lex didn't really need to ask Dox for his reasons, they were obvious. Open war between the Reach and Oa would allow LEGION to swoop in and take "jurisdiction" of worlds shaken loose from the conflict. More selfishness. Lex snarled uselessly in the direction of Dox's departure. He was going to enjoy fulfilling his promise to ruin the green bastard.
Lex caught hold of himself. Anger was useless here. He needed to think. This was similar enough to a contingency he had planned out, but he needed to adjust his plans. He also had to find a ship to take him in as he was floating alone in the middle of a war zone.
One good thing about his captivity, he told himself consolingly. He had been able to modify his suit's radio to do sub-space broadcast. This far from Earth, the signal still wouldn't reach in any reasonable amount of time, but he'd pulled information on various repeaters, routers and transmission network elements from Dox's database, along with authorizations to use them. He had access to a communications network now. With it, he could get intelligence. With that he could work out the necessary logistics. All he needed were his troops and he could still win this war.
His mind was alight with thoughts once more. He could still get this to work.
He was still in the game.
The Oans were still doomed.
He narrowcast a signal to the Justice League Watchtower and spoke, "This is Lex Luthor. I am adrift over Oa and in dire need of pickup. It's madness out here. The Oans started shooting and now everyone else is shooting them and each other. The diplomatic mission is aborted, but we will need everyone capable of orbital maneuvers on standby."
An image of a bright green humanoid with red eyes and an overdeveloped brow appeared in the corner of his vision. "This is J'onn J'onzz, Luthor. The LCSV Moonraker is already in transit to Oa and will be at your position in one hundred forty three minutes."
Lex frowned in confusion. "What Moonraker?"
"LexCorp Space Vessel Moonraker." J'onn replied. "It was a prototype inter-stellar craft that you had built, that had been included during the Wayne Industries purchase of LexCorp. It had been mothballed, but Miss Teschmacher had it launched within an hour of your capture."
"Good job, Eve." Lex laughed. "How did they know to head to Oa?"
"They were originally following Lobo's trail, but somehow you convinced him to e-mail Miss Teschmacher your location several hours ago. They have been en route since then."
"Is Eve on board the Prometheus?" Lex asked worriedly.
"No, but Miss Graves is. She and Miss Teschmacher are looking forward to hearing from you."
Lex nodded approvingly. "Excellent. Please let Eve and Mercy know I'm fine, but let Eve know I'm going to need Junior. We'll need him to clean some of this mess up. I'll be gathering more intelligence until the Moonraker arrives. Lex out."
He opened his purloined communications array to its full capabilities and began running intercepted communications through various translators and decoders, sifting through them and seeking out the points where he could take hold and twist to his liking. He could improvise like mad when he needed to. He could still make this all work. He had to keep believing that.
A/N: I don't usually do author's notes, but I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who's been reading. I was very surprised at the sudden influx of readers a few weeks ago, but very appreciative for all the encouraging comments. If it seems as though I'm updating a little more often, it's because of that encouragement. I work faster the more readers and encouragement I get. Hint, hint. I'm already working on the next chapter as I post this, so I hope you'll stick with me.
Lex's strange ride continues.
Also, much thanks to my pre-readers. They have been a tremendous help, especially as far as keeping me from over-complicating this. Y'all know who you are.