105 Justice League Cardinal Sin

The Batmobile pulled into the private garage at the rear of the Hall of Justice building. The canopy of the car opened up and Batman got out.

"Stay here." He instructed Batgirl.

"Like heck I am." She retorted as she hopped out of the vehicle, "And, by the way, that's the most you've said to me during this entire trip."

He said nothing. He just stood there eking disapproval. Batgirl charged headlong for the Hall's rear entrance.

"Are you coming?" she called over her shoulder.

Batman stood immobile. Batgirl shrugged and entered the building. He was left pondering his latest circumstance.

Batgirl just doesn't see it, he decided. He was doing this all for her. He was protecting her so they could be together.

Batman knew that his depriving her of the life of a costumed adventurer yet letting her become a cop seemed ironic. Yet, her advanced training and superior skills made her more than a match for the average Gothamite punk. It was maniacs like the Joker that she had to be shielded from.

The Joker had done more than kill Tim. He'd taken him from Batman. Tim's company had fulfilled a need so deep that neither Bruce nor Batman could acknowledge it.

Now that need was unfulfilled and it created an open wound in the scarred Wayne/Batman psyche. Yet, the wound was so deep that it precluded future fulfillment. Batman would take on no new partners. Point in fact; he would dissuade the partners that he had from being his partners from now on.

The wound would persist but it wouldn't get any worse. Batman already felt as though his soul had been cleaved in two. It was almost as bad as when his parents had been taken from him. He knew he couldn't survive another loss like that.

The pain caused rage and the rage was blinding in its intensity. He knew he'd overreacted with the Riddler. For the first time in his life, he couldn't trust himself.

He felt as though he'd mastered the anger enough to prevent another "Riddler incident" but what if something happened to Dick…or to Barbara? If the unthinkable happened, how would he control himself then? Their abandoning Nightwing and Batgirl was as much for his sake as it was for theirs.

A nagging voice echoed in his mind. It said that it was all for his sake. All that mattered was his ability to master his emotions. Everything else was secondary.

He denied it, of course, yet the nagging persisted. He just knew that if he could win the argument he could silence the voice. In order to win, he had to get Dick and Barbara to quit. Then his version of the story would be the only option available.

Batman's signal device sounded so he plucked it out of his belt and spoke into it, "Batman."

"Are you coming in?" Batgirl dryly asked.

"Yes." He said and he went for the door.

Over the Caspian Sea, Superman began his descent. The GPS locator in his signal device informed him that he was headed directly for the captive oil rig and it estimated his time of arrival at four minutes. He began using his telescopic vision and took in the sights upon the derrick. What he saw looked grim.

He streaked in and then came to an abrupt halt. Hovering over the derrick he said, "This is over. Surrender now and no one gets hurt."

"Like yourself?" Metallo asked. His synthetic skin was fully repaired, except for the nicks from the rounds he'd deflected earlier, so he couldn't open his chest plate without spoiling the illusion that he was still human. Instead he unleashed a dose of "kryptonite vision" from his eyes.

Superman cried out and fell to the deck. Metallo laughed and prepared to unleash a second wave when Superman got to his hands and knees and unleashed the full fury of his heat vision. Metallo's skin and clothes burned away. His bare endoskeleton glowed from the heat.

Metallo went to reply in kind when he discovered the focal shutters to his ocular blasters were fused. He could no longer fire concentrated bursts of kryptonite radiation. Metallo desperately scrabbled at his chest plate but his molten fingers bent. Finding them useless, he backed away from the Man of Steel.

Silver Banshee made ready to wail. Superman utilized a burst of super speed to grabbed a metal flange and bend it around her mouth. He welded it shut with his heat vision.

Over to the side, Killer Frost coated Metallo in a sheen of ice. His "body" temperature rapidly dropped without cracking his chassis. Still, his kryptonite "heart" was still shielded by the plates fused together. Without it being exposed the task of finishing off Superman fell to Grundy.

"You are threatening Grundy's partners." Solomon Grundy accused Superman, "Go away now or Grundy hurt you."

For Grundy, it was an erudite analysis and proposal. Fate had mentioned the fact that the forces involved with bringing Grundy back to life had been born of another world. New Genesis's Mother Box baldly stated that Darkseid had resurrected the zombie. Fate declared it to be a collaborative effort of the Lords of Chaos and the Lord of Apokolips.

While Grundy was more verbose, the monster was also stronger than ever. His threshold for abuse and pain had doubled as had his sheer might. Added to these additions were his enhanced reflexes and newly improved hand/eye coordination. All of this meant that Superman was in trouble.

Grundy waited ten seconds and then, deciding he'd waited long enough, hit Superman in the gut. He followed this with a left-right combo. As Superman reeled, Grundy brought both of his fists down atop of Superman. The Man of Steel collapsed onto his knees and dazedly endured a series of right crosses after left crosses up until he fell over.

Grundy roared to celebrate his victory. Metallo approached him, "Grundy, pull off my breastplate. Then I can kill this fool."

Grundy braced Metallo's shoulder with one hand and took hold of the fused metal plates with the other. One solid yank pulled the plate off. Metallo chuckled darkly.

"Now you die." He told Superman.

Over the Caspian, the Javelin shuttle rapidly approached. Inside, Hawkgirl, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, and Red Tornado rode inside. Skeets, of course, was accompanying Booster Gold. He was also enthusiastically extolling Booster's virtues and had been for the entire flight.

"Okay, Skeets," Booster sighed, "you've worn out our welcome."

"But…" Skeets whimpered.

"Listen to him." Hawkgirl growled, "He knows he's not that great. So should you."

"Hey! I'm a little great." Booster argued.

"No." John declared, "You're not."

"Don't worry. I'm on your side." Skeets reassured Booster.

"Thanks." Booster replied disparagingly.

Hawkgirl went to the cockpit and viewed the incoming rig, "Superman's down. Don't worry about landing or hovering. We can all fly. Just make a slow pass overhead and we'll bail out."

"You got it." Lady Blackhawk replied. Like Blackhawk himself, her identity was classified by the UN at the highest levels. Even the Big 5 of the Security Council didn't have access to those files.

Despite natural assumptions, the two Blackhawks weren't remotely involved. They each had their own personal liaisons that never stood in the way of their duties. They moved through civilian life under a cloud of aliases. Nemesis and the Question frequently devised their covers and allocated the nature of their usage.

Returning her focus to her flying she said, "We'll be passing by in seven minutes. We'll have slowed enough by then so be ready."

Hawkgirl grinned, "We'll be ready."

In the heart if the South African diamond mine that the Legionnaires were ransacking, Bane and Big Sir were pushing the drill to a clear spot in order for Major Disaster to open a boom tube. They all hesitated when they heard the whine of overhead repulsors. Bronze Tiger pointed out an arriving Javelin shuttle.

It landed in the clearing they'd been headed for. Steel flew out of its boarding ramp as soon as it lowered itself. He flew into Bane, knocking him aside. Next her swung his sledgehammer at Big Sir.

Big Sir caught it and held onto it. Steel activated its electro-discharge cannon. Big Sir proved impervious to the electrical voltage and ripped the hammer out of Steel's hands. Next he swatted Steel aside. He finished the encounter by smashing Steel over the head with the hammer. When he was done, he dropped the hammer and walked away.

"Are you okay?" the simplistic Big Sir asked Major Disaster.

"I think you need to ask them." Disaster pointed at the onrushing JLers.

"Okay." Big Sir replied and he turned to face the League, "Are you…urk!"

Channeling the strength and powers of a rhino, Vixen charged into Big Sir. They travelled another twenty feet and then Sir lost his footing and went down. Vixen touched her talisman and harnessed the abilities of a tiger and leapt atop of him.

Bane had regained his footing only to find Hourman waiting for him. Charged with his Miraclo pill for the next sixty minutes, Hourman was spoiling for a fight. Bane obliged.

Big Sir swatted Vixen away. He clambered to his feet and was ambushed by Hawk. Hawk punched, kicked, and threw Big Sir around while his brother Dove tended to Vixen.

"You all right?" he asked her.

She wore a rueful grin, "Nothing a week long soak couldn't cure."

"Look, Major Disaster looks awfully unmolested. I was just on my way over there. Want to back me up?" Dove asked.

"I'll be checking on Steel but I've got your back." Vixen promised.

"Thanks." Dove said. He moved off and began approaching Disaster. As he closed the distance Disaster shook his head.

"You people always have to show up." Major Disaster wearily sighed.

"We only show up where you do." Dove replied, "We wouldn't be here if you didn't create mayhem."

"We weren't hurting anyone!" Disaster angrily shouted, "Everything was going smoothly with no hang ups until you arrived. Well, you want to fight, let's fight!"

Major Disaster waved his hand over the ground. Next, a 7.1 earthquake epicentered at that location. Damage occurred throughout South Africa and Zimbabwe. The ground at the mine fissured. Molten lava began spewing out of it and an unlikely volcano was born.

The lava quite jetting into the air but the molten rock freely flowed throughout the mine area. The only spot it didn't flow towards was Disaster as he stood next to the drill. Bane and Big Sir started for the drill. Bronze Tiger, who'd been sitting atop of it to ward off JLers should they approach, watched as the lava chased his comrades to the drill and then flowed away.

The League on the other hand was desperately trying to evade the lava as it came at the shuttle. Vixen and Dove anxiously tried to wake Steel, who was in the path of a lava flow. They were having no success.

Suddenly, the lava cooled. It was still steaming but it was solid. Major Disaster called out to the heroes, "I could have killed you. Remember that next time."

A boom tube opened and Bane and Big Sir pushed the drill though while Bronze Tiger drove. Disaster trailed them and closed the tube behind them. The JLers were left stunned in their wake.

Hourman and Hawk were stranded in pockets surrounded by steaming rock. The Javelin had launched and departed. Dove and Vixen still tended to Steel but he still wasn't moving. Their unit was out of the fight for the duration and apparently stranded by their own shuttle.

At the Caspian oil rig, Hawkgirl bailed out of the shuttle, as did GL, Booster, Skeets, and Red Tornado behind her. She swooped down and smashed Metallo with her mace. He flew overboard and sank hundreds of feet to the bottom of the sea.

Killer Frost trailed her with cold blasts. Booster leveled her with an energy discharge from his gauntlet blaster. Skeets was exultant, "Once again ladies and gentlemen, Booster Gold has saved the day! Who else can match his bravery, his genius, his…?"

"Skeets." Booster interrupted, "No one here is listening or cares."

"Oh, all right." Skeets pouted. The little AI had way too much personality for his own good. The "upgrades" L-Ron and Skeets were swapping back and forth didn't help matters any.

L-Ron still had an Upkeep and Upgrade account with the Interstellar Consortium that had sold him to the League. He still held his status as Manga Khan's major dome so he was entitled to all of the best software. He was also entitled to the latest hardware but he had to wait until the Consortium returned to cash in his vouchers. In the interim though, he was buying software for Skeets as well as himself.

Silver Banshee ripped the gag off of her mouth and took in a deep breath to scream. GL wrapped her head in a force bubble and she shrieked to herself. Nearly deafening herself, she cried out again and again until she'd depleted her oxygen and passed out.

This left Grundy to Red Tornado. The living android landed ahead of Solomon Grundy's position and sternly said, "Halt."

"So you can arrest Grundy and take him to prison?" Grundy bellowed, "Grundy doesn't think so."

Hawkgirl landed beside Red Tornado, "Grundy! It doesn't have to be this way."

"Grundy knows Bird Nose is trying to be my friend but Bird Nose doesn't know what she is talking about." Grundy argued.

"So you remember me even without my helmet?" Hawkgirl asked.

"Grundy remembers. Bird Nose tried to be Grundy's friend…only; Grundy has no friends, only partners." Grundy explained.

"But why are they your partners?" Hawkgirl had to ask.

"They are finding Grundy's soul." Grundy revealed, "Something even Helmet Head couldn't do."

She knew he was referring to Dr. Fate, "He tried. He could try again if you'd let him."

"Tala has seen it." Grundy shared, "She knows where to look and looks every day. She has seen many souls. Too many. She has trouble sorting through all of them."

"How do you know she's telling the truth?" Hawkgirl asked.

"Grundy has seen them." He happily declared, "In her looking rock. There are too many to count. All stuffed together like in a closet."

Hawkgirl was still getting used to his usage of metaphors when he declared, "Now get out of my way Bird Nose. Grundy will smash anyone who gets in his way."

"I don't think so." Hawkgirl said sadly, "Red."

Tornado stretched forth his hand and powerful winds started cycloning around Grundy. Soon, a fully fledged tornado lifted him into the air and out over the water. Just as suddenly as the winds appeared, they disappeared.

As he fell into the waves, Grundy cried out; "Not the water! Grundy can't swim!"

As Grundy sank deeper and deeper into the depths Red Tornado turned to Hawkgirl, "Was that wise?"

Hawkgirl sighed forlornly, "He's already dead. He doesn't require oxygen to exist."

"I see." Red Tornado understood. The mechanics of it were easy enough to understand but it went deeper than that. Red Tornado was unaware that his android body was infused with the essence and personality of an air elemental known only as the Tornado Champion. Like Grundy, the elemental didn't require oxygen to exist. It merely required atmosphere.

Of course, Red's android body didn't require atmosphere to function. The gestalt being of Red Tornado could exist without atmosphere for several hours before the Tornado Champion died. Then the android shell would continue functioning without its former superpowers and no spark of life to illuminate its programming with a soul.

"Head's up." Booster called out, "We've got boats and helicopters inbound."

John, who was containing both Silver Banshee and Killer frost in a force bubble, looked to Hawkgirl, "Time to use those hawk-like eyes of yours to see if we have trouble coming at us."

Hawkgirl sketched off a salute, "Aye, aye, Sergeant Stewart."

"It's 'yes sir' in the Marines." John explained for the millionth time, "'Aye aye' is the Navy."

"Yes, dear." Hawkgirl smirked, "Whatever you say, dear."

John spared a hand to smack her on the butt as she waltzed by. She delightedly laughed and made her way to the edge of the platform. Her razor sharp eyes sought out the approaching units. Seeing which country's flag emblazoned across the hulls, she relaxed. This was especially true when she saw who led the charge.

Within a minute, Rocket Red landed on the platform. Hawkgirl grinned, "About time you got here."

"Da." Rocket Red agreed, "But I was on a special mission for the Prime Minister when the President called. One does not disappoint the Prime Minister so I finished that task first."

"And what will the President say about that?" John asked.

Rocket Red shrugged, "He will say whatever the Prime Minister tells him to say."

"Metallo and Solomon Grundy went overboard." Red Tornado informed him while the rest of the JLers pondered Russian superhero's last statement.

"Our sonar picked them up headed for shore. A Meta-human Response Unit is mobilizing to meet them. The tanks equipped with plasma cannons should stop Grundy. We have a magnetic grappler for Metallo." Rocket Red revealed, "Then there's me."

"You came prepared." Booster said.

"The workers who fled from this platform were quite specific in their descriptions. We knew what to expect." Rocket Red explained.

"Yet you came anyway." GL joked.

Rocket Red chuckled, "We do our best for the Motherland."

"What about these two?" Hawkgirl indicated Killer Frost and Silver Banshee.

"We have equipment on the boats and helicopters." Rocket Red detailed, "One of the helicopters sports an electromagnet. Every unit possesses plasma rifles and cannons. Hyperalloy restraints are aboard most of the boats and helicopters as well."

"Unhhh." Superman groaned.

"What happened to him?" Rocket Red asked.

"Metallo and Grundy." GL replied, "I ran a scan on him with the ring. He's fine. He's just been resting."

Superman pushed himself off of the deck and looked around. Seeing he was surrounded by friends, he gingerly got up. He wore a rueful grin, "I guess this just go to show why there's 'man' after 'super'."

"This group seemed tailored for a defense against you or Supergirl so don't feel so bad." Hawkgirl advised.

"I wish that helped but I've fought all of these people before. Taking them one at a time…" Superman protested.

"There were four of them and one of you." GL commented, "I'd say you did pretty good considering."

Superman wrestled with his own sense of failure for a while and then relented, "I guess you're right."

The helicopters arrived first followed by the patrol boats, "I take it the Russian Army is taking over."

"That's the plan." Hawkgirl replied, "In fact, we…"

Superman's signal device sounded. It was J'onn. He wanted a status report. Upon hearing it he issued instructions.

Superman relayed those instructions, "J'onn wants you to supervise the delivery of the Legionnaires to their holding cells."

"You make it sound as though 'you' doesn't include you." Booster noted.

"It doesn't." Superman acknowledged, "I'm headed to Dustin, Nevada. J'onn is leading a group to arrest the Legionnaires located there."

"Are you certain that's the place?" Hawkgirl frowned.

Superman nodded, "Process of elimination. All of the investigative teams called in and said their towns were clean except the Nevada team. In fact, they're missing."

"All of the shuttles have been recalled so you're temporarily stuck here." Superman said, "I'm sorry."

"I can get everyone back if I need to." GL offered.

"I can't tell you how many ways this plan is screwed up." Hawkgirl protested, "But once J'onn gets something in his Martian mind there's little we can do to change it."

Superman smirked, "I'll be sure to pass that along."

"With my compliments." Hawkgirl forcefully added.

"Look, I'm going to be late." Superman said, "I'll see you all when this done."

"We'll look forward to it." Red Tornado assured him, "Farewell and good luck."

"Thanks." Superman replied, "Hopefully we won't need it."