The car hurtled out of the Underground in a somewhat dilapidated neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. Cliff looked around slowly. "This is where your mother lives?"
"[She's at home.]" Rebis leaned forward and pointed. "[That way. I told her to get out of the house, but she didn't.]"
"Well, what do you expect? Some strange guy calls claiming to be her daughter--"
"[She would have heard me as Eleanor. I don't really sound that much like Larry, Cliff-- it's mostly your imagination.]"
"Cliff has a point," Jane said, pulling the car around a corner at a speed nearly sufficient to tip it over on its side. "She doesn't know what's happened to you, so why should she do what you said?"
"My mother would be frantic," Sharon said. "Come to think of it, my mother probably is frantic."
"[There.]" Rebis pointed to an old brick house, part of a series of old brick houses that melted into each other. This one was distinguishable from the others only by the flowerboxes on the upstairs windowsill and the dead Christmas lights still wrapped around a barren flagpole. "[She's in there.]"
"She all right?" Cliff asked as Jane brought the car to a screeching halt.
"So far" meant they could take the time to knock on the door instead of simply breaking it down-- which they might have done anyway, if it hadn't been the mother of a team member they were dealing with. Cliff thumped the door hard enough to make it vibrate, and Jane leaned on the doorbell for ten unbroken seconds. When Leona Poole finally appeared, a small, wiry woman with graying hair wearing a faded floral print dress, she stood staring at them slack-jawed for about a minute before Cliff realized that Rebis wasn't going to take the conversational initiative. Which shouldn't have come as any surprise-- Rebis almost never did-- but Cliff had instinctively expected hir to say something, this being hes mother, after all.
"Who are you... people?"
"Mrs. Poole, we're the Doom Patrol." Cliff decided this was not the time to go into Rebis' status. "We're superheroes. Your daughter Eleanor thought you were in danger and--"
"Where is Eleanor?" Leona shouted, grabbing Cliff's shoulders and pulling herself up into his face. "I know about you people-- you're the outfit that that Caulder man runs, aren't you? What have you done with my daughter?"
"[Mother, there isn't time for this.]"
Leona released Cliff and turned to stare at Rebis. "...Eleanor?"
"[We have to--]"
"Eleanor, honey, what have they done to you?" Leona cried, grabbing an unresisting Rebis and pulling hir into the living room. The others followed. Jane nudged Sharon.
"Are you going to do something, or what?"
As Rebis drifted to a stop, Leona apparently realized that s/he was floating six inches off the ground, and gasped. "You're floating!"
"[We don't have time, Mother. There're some people who probably want to kill you. Could we discuss this later?]"
"You really ought to do something," Jane whispered. "She's going to have hysterics. Ten to one."
"Later?" Leona shrilled. "Where on God's green Earth were you all this time? The hospital said you'd had an accident, and this Dr. Caulder person wouldn't tell me what had happened to you, or where you were, or anything! And now-- you're floating, you sound funny, you're wearing bandages, you're glowing-- you're taller, I know you are--"
Sharon stepped forward. "Let me explain, Mrs. Poole. I'm Dr. Sharon Dilliard--"
"I don't care who you are, girl, I want to know what you've done with my daughter!"
"[I'm not entirely your daughter anymore. Gestalt. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.]"
Cliff put his hand to his head. Rebis had just blown any chance they could convince this woman to come with them without explaining the whole situation. "Brilliant move, Rebis. Now I know why you didn't tell her about this before."
"Mrs. Poole," Sharon tried again, "if you'll just calm down--"
"I'm not calming down! My daughter shows up in bandages--"
"[I just told you. I'm not really your daughter.]"
Leona gaped. "What?"
Cliff rounded on Rebis. "Good going, asshole! Are you trying to get her killed?"
"[We could just--]"
"WILL EVERYONE PLEASE SHUT UP FOR TWO SECONDS?" Jane screamed.
In the sudden, stunned silence, she turned to Leona. "We'll explain whatever you want to know, later. Right now there's something trying to kill you--"
"Exactly," a cheery voice caroled. "Or at the very least, to rip up all your fluffy pillows. Which is a fate worse than death, don't you think?"
Kisvallen came in from the kitchen, followed by a tall blonde girl with a childish face and a giant floating pineapple with eyes on every facet. Sharon bolted for the front door, yanked it open-- and shrieked as Maître roared at her. She threw herself behind Cliff. "Did I forget to mention the fact that I'm a total and complete coward?" she whimpered.
Maître squeezed through the door, accompanied by wraiths of some sort. The pineapple fired sticky glue strands out of an eye at Leona. Rebis released the Negative Spirit, which snapped the glue strands, while Jane fired bolts of some energy at the wraiths. "Rebis! I'll take Maître!" Cliff shouted. "Get your mother and Sharon out of here!"
"[Right!]" The Negative Spirit spun inward to fly rapid protective circles around Rebis as s/he picked up hes mother in one arm and Sharon with the other. "[Hang on.]" S/he flew for the staircase and up to Eleanor's old bedroom as the Negative Spirit defended the stairs.
"We're going to die," Sharon moaned. "We're all going to die. They'll break open our bones and suck out the marrow."
"What's going on? What are those things?" Leona asked frantically. "I told you you shouldn't have gotten involved treating superheroes!"
Rebis deposited them on the bed, slamming the door behind hir. There was only one bed, Lauren's; Eleanor's had been removed a long time ago, and the room redecorated to her little sister's tastes. Which s/he had known, but forgotten. "[Sharon? Are you all right?]"
Sharon was trembling violently, her eyes rolled up in her head. "They're killing me. They're killing me."
"What's wrong with her?"
"[She thinks she's dying. Watch the door, I'll try to bring her out.]"
"You haven't answered any of my questions! What was that green-- thing-- that came out of you? Why are you in bandages-- what's happened?"
Sharon's psyche was in turmoil. She was retreating into her own death, closing barriers. It would take far too much time to try to break through her shields. "[The Negative Spirit is my other self. I'll explain the rest later. We have to get out of here.]" S/he lifted hes head away from Sharon, suddenly realizing something. "[Mother? Where's the fire escape door?]"
"The landlord said it was unsafe. Burglaries. They bricked it up. The new fire escape's a rope ladder in my bedroom."
"[Oh.]" There was no fire escape. The plan had revolved around the presence of the fire escape here. "[We could be in worse trouble than I thought.]"
Sharon clutched her heart and keeled over. Startled, Rebis looked at her harder, bringing to bear more of hes unique senses. S/he had previously assumed that Sharon's condition was a delusion, that, like Jane, Sharon would trap herself within her own mind. It was worse than that. Sharon's body lived, but her spirit was gone, yanked from her body, and Rebis didn't know whether that was normal for her or the Mad Ones' doing.
As s/he stood in hes old bedroom, debating what to do next, s/he was also downstairs as the Negative Spirit, fighting. The blonde girl, Guerra, had surrounded herself with a ring of fire, and was trying to burn the house down, being countered by Jane. Cliff was wrestling with Maître. The Negative Spirit had already caromed through the pineapple-head, destroying it, but the wraiths it had fought before were clinging to it like clammy cloud-bits, slowing it as it destroyed more wraiths. Kisvallen was not visible. Upstairs, Rebis happened to know that Kisvallen would come in if s/he opened the bedroom door, probably with reinforcements. On the other hand, Kisvallen's reinforcements could come in through an open window, too-- they had put the entire building into a kind of warp, halfway into their realm, and they could enter from any gateway at all.
The door was probably more defensible than the window. Rebis summoned the Negative Spirit back. "[Mother. Stay with Sharon by the bed.]" S/he yanked the door open-- and was met with an empty hallway. No Kisvallen, no Mad Ones.
The window smashed open. Leona screamed, yanking the unconscious Sharon off the bed by her legs. A homunculus with huge lobster claws clamped them on Sharon's head. The Negative Spirit lunged at the intruder-- and stopped, circling in helpless anger, as the giant lobster claws tightened threateningly on Sharon's skull.
"Wee jusst want the Mandaala," the homunculus hissed. "The Mandaala that Eleanoor stoole from uss."
"[For what purpose?]"
"[I very much doubt it.]"
Leona turned toward Rebis. "Eleanor, you stole something from them?" she asked disbelievingly.
[She's blown it! They know it's us now.]
[Perhaps we can still salvage this?]
[Doubtful, but we can try.]
"[My name is Rebis. Not Eleanor.]" It was true. S/he put the full force of belief behind it.
The homunculus wasn't shaken. "Kissvaallen photoed you. Naomi ssayss it'ss you, it'ss you. You haave our Mandaala."
"[I stole nothing. The Mandala was given to me. What are you offering in exchange?]"
"I give you thiss wooman'ss liffe in exsschange."
"[Very well.]" Rebis floated over to the door. "[It's in my bedroom. Come with me, and I'll get it.]"
The homunculus released Sharon and started to scuttle across the room. It didn't get far before the Negative Spirit pulverized it, and then proceeded to fry the other things trying to follow it through the window.
The weakness was beginning-- Rebis was starting to feel the effects of too much activity without the Spirit. But it couldn't be helped-- it was still needed outside to run interference. S/he scooped up Sharon and floated quickly out the door. "[Mother, come on.]"
"What do they want?" Leona panted, as they ran for the bedroom at the end of the hall.
"[A sacred mandala. An item of power. Something unimaginably destructive. If they--]"
Kisvallen stepped out of Donald's bedroom, between Rebis and Leona. He reached for Leona, his glass hands grasping her wrists. With the speed of thought, the Negative Spirit dove at Kisvallen.
It was as if a cage of glass slammed down around Rebis, cutting off or dimming most of hes extra senses. S/he dropped out of the air and crashed to hes knees in shock, Sharon's limp body bouncing out of hes arms to fall on the floor. Leona screamed and tore free. Kisvallen shoved Leona into Donald's room, slammed the door, and turned to Rebis. His glass body glowed with the energy of the trapped Negative Spirit.
[Mercurius in the genie bottle... Like the Quiz again. Tricked again. Trapped... Bottle fly bottled. letmefreeletmefreeletme Let us be one oh please oh please release us Cold... it's so...]
The shrieking chaos of hes thoughts drowned hir. Distantly Rebis sensed Kisvallen's approach. He lifted hes head by the chin. Rebis clamped both hands on Kisvallen's. Through the glass, through the bandages, s/he could feel the burning of the Spirit, and ached for it, a hunger that was food and drink and sex and love and everything else, everything good in the universe, held away from hir. S/he tried to break Kisvallen's hands, to release the Spirit, but the glass was strong and s/he was far too weak.
"I should've known," Kisvallen said softly. "The interference Naomi sensed... You're not Eleanor Poole, but you are." He stepped back slightly, taking the warmth of life back out of reach. Rebis reached desperately, moaning weakly, and fell prone. "You know my price, if you want it back. Permission and location."
"Then you'll die." Kisvallen knelt on the floor, smiling maliciously. He clasped Rebis's hand in his own. The warmth was maddening-- to be separated from life, energy, completion, by such a tantalizingly thin glass membrane, and yet neither Rebis nor the Negative Spirit could break through. Inside Kisvallen, the Negative Spirit swirled frantically. "With your soul trapped within me, I don't need permission. It's part of you-- its permission is sufficient, and I'll get that when you're dead and its sentience is gone. All I need from you is location-- and now, you're weak enough that I can take it."
The other glass hand pressed against Rebis's forehead and into hes brain. Kisvallen was pulling images, trying to suck them out of Rebis and reproduce them in a photograph. The image of the Mandala, of Doom Patrol headquarters, of the Mandala's location there. Rebis marshalled the last of hes strength to fight the invasion, but every moment of struggle made hir weaker, closer to death.
[cliff?... momma?... help me...]
And suddenly warmth, light, life, flooded back into hir with the crash of shattering glass. Rebis looked up. Leona was holding Donald's metal baseball bat, smashing Kisvallen's head again and again. The glass, chipped and crazed, finally gave way with a rush of transparent, viscous liquid, like the vitreous humor of the eye. "Don't-- touch-- my-- daughter!"
Kisvallen's corpse toppled over. Rebis rolled away, to avoid the falling body, and started to sit up. Leona knelt by hes side. "Eleanor! Eleanor, honey doll, are you all right? Say something, baby!"
"[I'm... all right.]" Rebis got up, brushing glass shards off hirself. "[Thank you.]" S/he glanced at Sharon, determining if she'd been hurt in the fall, and was rather relieved to see that she wasn't. There would be bruises, but nothing serious. Her spirit was still missing, though.
"What was he doing to you?"
Rebis picked Sharon up. "[He trapped the Negative Spirit away from me. There's only so long I can go without it, and I was reaching my limit anyway.]"
"It gives you those superpowers, doesn't it. Like flying."
With Kisvallen's death, all the remaining Mad Ones had retreated. Rebis headed downstairs. Maître's corpse lay bleeding on the rug, his huge skull broken in a dozen places by Cliff's metal fists. Guerra, s/he sensed, had fled.
Cliff looked up at Rebis. "Larry! Are you and your mom all right? What happened to Sharon?"
"[Catatonic. I think.]"
Leona frowned. "'Larry?'"
"[Mother killed Kisvallen. Since he seems to have been the strike leader on the Mandala reclamation project, this will disorganize them a bit. I still think we need to move quickly, though. Eventually, they'll regroup and go after my younger brother and sister.]"
"Don and Laurie are in danger?" Leona shrieked.
"Let's get going, then," Jane said. "We can do what we can for Sharon in the car."
"Right," Cliff said. "Think your mother's still in danger?"
"[Why take chances?]"
"Good point. Mrs. Poole, if you could come with us... uh, we'll try to explain things on the way, all right?"
"Those bastards had better not touch my kids," Leona said grimly. "Come on!" She ran down the stairs and out the door, still holding the baseball bat.
Leona gave directions to Johns Hopkins, where Donald was an intern. Driver 8 nodded. "That's all I need." They set off at high speed.
"Larry?" Cliff turned his head. "I think we owe your mom a few explanations."
"[It'll have to wait. Sharon's catatonic; I need to try to bring her out.]"
"What's wrong with her?" Leona asked, concerned.
"[I told you. She thinks she's dead.]" Rebis looked up at Cliff. "[Actually, the situation's worse than I thought. She's not inside her head; her spirit has gone somewhere. I don't even know if I can bring her back.]"
"How does she deal with this normally?" Cliff said. "I mean, aside from going to the local loony bin?"
"Check her pocketbook for drugs," Driver 8 suggested.
Rebis pulled the pocketbook out from under the seat and did so. "[Ah.]"
"Found something?" Cliff asked.
"You know the right dosage?"
Leona said indignantly, "Eleanor's a doctor! Of course she knows the right dosage."
"Eleanor maybe was a doctor, but Rebis... Skip it. Do you remember the right dosage?"
"[More or less.]" There were needles and vials of liquid antipsychotic drugs in the purse; Rebis summoned up Eleanor's memory of a normal dosage for a catatonic patient and drew the correct amount into the needle. "[I should probably go looking for her anyway,]" s/he said as s/he injected the drug into Sharon's arm. "[If it helps her to revive faster...]"
"I guess so. She did it for you," Cliff said. "If you think you have to."
"[I think it would help.]"
"What is going on here?" Leona asked desperately.
Rebis was holding Sharon's hand and murmuring something unintelligible. Cliff suspected that s/he was completely zoned out. "Okay. Let me try to explain the situation, Mrs. Poole--"
"Why did you call my daughter 'Larry?' Twice! Why--"
"I'm going to explain, if you'd calm down and let me talk. Okay?"
Leona breathed deeply. "All right. Explain."
"Like I said before, we're the Doom Patrol. I'm Cliff Steele--"
"Is that a superhero name or a real name?"
"It's my real name. Why?"
"Oh, well, I thought all you superheroes had to have made-up names. Anyway, the 'Steele' part, since you look like a robot and all-- maybe it's presumptuous of me to ask, but are you a robot?"
"Cliff's a human being," Driver 8 said coolly. "His body's a robot."
"Right. Anyway, we're not talking about me, we're talking about Rebis. See, in the old-- before-- okay, several months ago, I had this friend named Larry. Larry Trainor. He used to have the Negative Spirit-- that's that green thing you saw with Rebis-- but that was all. He was just an ordinary guy. This thing-- it's radioactive-- he had to wear special bandages to keep the radiation in, like Rebis wears now. So several months ago, we thought he was cured-- I mean that he didn't have the Negative Spirit anymore, and he could lead a normal life. He was in the hospital, and your daughter was his doctor."
"And somehow my daughter was possessed by this-- this Negative Spirit of his?"
"No, it's worse than that. The Negative Spirit showed up and merged Larry together with your daughter. So Rebis is both Larry and Eleanor, except he doesn't much act like either of them."
"My-- Eleanor--" Leona shook her head and placed her hand to her eyes. "I don't understand this. Is Eleanor somehow trapped in your friend's body? Or--"
"They're the same person. One single body that's both male and female. Ask Rebis when he wakes up."
"What-- is she-- I mean he or-- whatever. Is Eleanor asleep?"
"Not exactly-- he's looking for Sharon's spirit. See, he was in a coma recently. Sharon's power is to go inside people's heads and-- are you following this?"
"In a coma? Why?"
"Because-- let me try to explain it from the beginning." Cliff shifted position, so he was facing the back seat with his body rather than just his head. "Three days ago, Rebis was given this powerful item, called the Mandala of Eternity, by a woman who died shortly after that. The woman who died was killed by the Mad Ones-- the people we fought back there. They want this Mandala and they somehow figured out that Rebis had it, only they only know Rebis as Eleanor. They killed Eleanor's old boyfriend--"
"Dan? You mean Dan? He's dead?"
"Yeah. He's dead. And Rebis figured out that they'd be coming after you and his brother and sister. Only, before we knew Dan was dead or about the Mad Ones or anything like that, Rebis tried to use his powers to study the Mandala. He's got a lot of weird senses. He got sucked in and went catatonic. So we called in Dr. Dilliard-- that's Sharon-- to help us get Rebis back out of there. And now Rebis probably wants to return the favor for her. I don't know what he's doing, exactly, but he's trying to wake her up."
"If-- if Rebis is-- is two people, then why do I hear her speak with Eleanor's voice?"
"I hear Larry's. Jane, what do you hear?"
"It just sounds to me like an androgynous voice. It doesn't have a sex."
"Rebis says it's just a trick of our imagination, that we hear him as whichever side we knew him as. Jane didn't know him before, so maybe she hears the voice right."
"I told Eleanor she shouldn't get involved treating superheroes," Leona mumbled. "This is so strange. Why didn't she tell me about this?"
"I don't know. Ask, why don't you. Maybe because he knew what a mess he'd make of it."
"What about these things that we're going to rescue Donald and Lauren from? What are they?"
"Hell if I know. They call themselves the Mad Ones, and they live up to the name. But we'll get your kids, Mrs. Poole. I promise."
"And-- and Eleanor-- does this for a living now? I mean-- she used to be a doctor. She's a superhero now?"
"Larry used to be a test pilot. I used to race cars. Jane used to be a graphics designer in Metropolis. We're all superheroes now."
"But-- we were all so proud of her. The family's first doctor..."
"Well, now she's the family's first superhero. What's the problem?"
"Well, I suppose... superheroes save lives, too, but... it's just so dangerous. All this wouldn't have happened if she weren't a superhero."
Cliff shrugged. "Hey, it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it."
At the molecular level/the spiritual level/the level of the quantum dance, all of reality was linked. Science, magic, the borderworld of the psychic, all were different ways of looking at reality, different metaphors. Since becoming Rebis, s/he had seen that reality was bigger than any of them. Such a narrow window each looked at, like the blind men and the elephant, each claiming to have a monopoly on the truth. S/he remembered physics and technical studies for would-be astronauts, so dry. Biochemistry for doctors, so narrow. This was the ultimate, the fusion of all possible realities at the fundamental level of the matter/energy matrix, and perhaps Rebis was the only one who could see it.
The dance of molecules in the brain. Dopamine receptors firing wildly, being slowly shut down by antipsychotics. The physical level of chemistry mirrored the level of mind, of spirit. A mind with gaping doorways, leading onto some other spiritual plane. The realm of dreams, of nightmares, of astral travel. A slender ectoplasmic cord led out the doors, a spirit lost elsewhere, connected by only a silver wire. In the brain, the song of the cortex was muted with unconsciousness. Only the fire of visions blazed, slowly being damped by the drugs. The doors of the mind were closing, closing, and the silver thread was being reeled in slowly. It was all the same, the firing of the dopamine receptors keeping the spiritual gateways open. It all depended on the metaphor you used.
Cautiously Rebis probed deeper. The mind was defenseless. Any number of horrors could come to rest here. Rebis, knowing more than most about the reality of spiritual predators, was surprised Sharon wasn't crazier than she was, if this was how she left her mind during every breakdown. There was no sign that any demons or unquiet spirits had ever possessed this vulnerable mind, and yet there were no discernible defenses to keep them out. Was this in fact an unusual kind of breakdown for Sharon, or had she just been very very lucky? Or perhaps there was an intentional defense. Rebis came with the intention to help-- perhaps there was something that kept those with more predatory intentions out.
Rebis's physical body could be left in the care of the Negative Spirit-- s/he would have to leave it to go through the doorways, after Sharon's vanished spirit. Carefully s/he dissociated from the physical and stepped through a doorway in Sharon's mind. The ectoplasmic cord stretched out into infinity. Rebis followed it, flying along its length as it stretched in the space between worlds. Behind hir, s/he left a silver thread of hes own, anchoring hir to the physical.
S/he came to a place of pain. A nightmare place, where an ugly thought could manifest as a hideous living thing. A place populated by demons, a place of living death. Or perhaps of death itself. The nature of the realm provided a tangible resistance to Rebis's spirit, enough that s/he feared tearing hes lifeline if s/he approached too closely. "[Sharon? Sharon!]"
Sharon lay on a slab, the center of this tableau of torment. She was naked and completely immobile. Her eyes had been gouged out and lay on her cheeks, a meal for ants; blood poured from every orifice, but most especially ears and nose. She could see nothing, hear nothing, smell nothing, being dead, but she could feel everything. And of course, some part of her could actually see and hear perfectly well, to know the full extent of the torment. Only the aspect lying immobile on the slab had been deprived of some senses.
This place was in part a creation of Sharon's mind, of her power. But since her power could shape the fabric of the dreamscape, it was far too stable and too old to be a mere dream. This was a realm of nightmare, populated by demons whose only purpose in existence was to inflict pain on Sharon Dilliard.
And she believed that this was what death entailed. Even if she were freed now, someday she would inevitably come to this place for good...
"[Sharon! Can you hear me? Can any part of you hear me?]"
Maggots with tiny sharp teeth crawled in and out of the corpse. Slavering sexual demons did unspeakable things. The air radiated pain and fear and anguish and, underneath, a deep masochistic satisfaction. She was being punished, all was right with the universe.
What she was punishing herself for, Rebis didn't want to imagine. S/he pressed forward against the viscous air, calling. Some part of Sharon could hear. "[Sharon, can you hear me? I'm here to get you out. You have to come with me. Can you come back to life?]"
dead dead dead in the pain tomb in hell with the demons oh
If you should see a hearse go by, then you will be the next to die, they wrap you up in a big white sheet, then shovel you under 'bout six feet deep...
Rebis had almost reached her. The demons struck at hir, but were insubstantial. They were Sharon's demons, and had no power over Rebis. "[Sharon, come on. Come back. We need you.]"
alas poor yorick i knew her down in the depths of the crypt and the creaking tomb with eyes sewn shut and stapled lips and blood replaced with cool formaldehyde
"[Sharon.]" Rebis grasped the corpse and pulled it up. The eyeballs fell out of the sockets and rolled on the ground. "[I know you can still see-- you're seeing all of this. It's time to come back to life.]"
The dead body shuddered. Demons clawed at it, trying to drag it back. Now they were substantial to Rebis, trying to pull hir down with them. Rebis floated back along the silver cord, moving quickly. For once, hes lack of emotional affect was a definite advantage; s/he knew that if the things could manage to cut hes lifeline, s/he would die here, but it didn't seem like a pressing problem, and there was nothing recognizable as fear. Fear fueled the creatures. Rebis was totally confident of hes ability to get back to hes own body, and almost as confident of hes ability to bring Sharon back as well. The demons bit and clawed and spat fire, but Rebis was aware of how unreal they were, and so the attacks brought no pain. As they flowed backward toward life, Sharon began to stir, the corpse returning to life and reuniting with the aspects that had been awake all this time.
"...but you don't... you're so beautiful... not like in the dream..."
Whatever it was she was seeing, Rebis couldn't see it. "[I think you're probably hallucinating.]"
"...I can see your soul... it's glowing, so many different colors... it's so..."
Perhaps she could. Rebis didn't particularly care. They fell backward through the door into Sharon's mind, as her spirit healed all its wounds, and Rebis returned to the physical world, sensing Sharon but no longer inside her mind with her.
The gateways had closed. The brain came alive again, but it seemed dulled-- like the light of an office after being outside on a sunny day. "[She's coming around.]"
Cliff leaned over the seat. Sharon was still curled in Rebis's lap. Her eyes fluttered open and she moaned. "How do you feel?" Cliff asked.
"Like an undead corpse," she muttered. "Did... somebody... give me drugs?"
Rebis told her. Sharon closed her eyes. "[Was the dosage wrong?]"
"I guess... I can't complain... anyone would've... and anyway, 'ts better'n hell..."
"What's wrong?" Cliff asked. "Was it too much?"
"For... ordinary... no. Even... for me... it did what it's supposed to. But... oh, I feel like something the cat dragged in... it suppresses too much. My other senses. I can't think. Like... cotton wool around my brain."
"Not your fault. But... I better sleep... okay? I'm not going to be... much good to anyone."
"We're coming out of the Underground," Driver 8 reported.
"Yeah. Go to sleep." Cliff turned toward Leona. "You'll have to give her directions."
It was Dr. Donald Poole's fifteenth cup of coffee and 42nd hour of being awake. He had had three and a half hours of sleep in the past 41 hours, but since they were all obtained in bits of ten to twenty minutes, they didn't really count as sleep. He was starting to fantasize about sleep. Never mind sex, never mind backrubs, never mind hot fudge sundaes; he wanted a cool and blissfully lonely bed. It didn't even have to have sheets. Hell, it didn't even need to be a bed, so long as it stayed still when he lay down on it.
"I'm not going to lie to you," his older sister Eleanor had said. "Internship is hell. Sheer, unadulterated hell. You have to really, really want to do this."
Sure, sis. I can handle it, sis. I must be utterly nuts to want this, sis.
He wished he knew where Eleanor was. She had mysteriously disappeared in some kind of accident, and hadn't made contact with the family for months. Donald wondered sometimes if she was dead. He felt sad about it. Not now, though; he was too tired to be sad, or anything else. Six more hours and I can sleep. Six more hours. Only six. How many cups of coffee is that?
Someone was nudging him. Blearily he glanced over at his friend Mike. "Don, they're paging you. Can't you hear it?"
"Oh." Donald listened for the page, but he'd missed it. "Did it say where to go?"
"They said the front desk."
Not more hours. You're not taking my sleep away from me. I don't care if I never get my license, you're not giving me more hours. He trudged to the front desk, and noted his mother standing there, accompanied by a burn victim in a colored trenchcoat and a man in a robot suit. Under normal circumstances this might have surprised him; right now, though, nothing surprised him. "Mom?"
"I just finished explaining to your supervisor. There's a family emergency. You've got to come."
"Emergency. All right." He wondered if the emergency had to do with Eleanor, but was too tired to articulate the question. Instead, he followed his mother and the other two out into a car. There was a white woman with black hair at the wheel of the car, waiting, and a woman in a beige dress slumped asleep in the back seat. She looked very comfortable. "Mind if I take a nap?"
"Poor thing. How long have you been up this time?"
"A long time. 41 hours. Almost 42. I had three hours of sleep but it doesn't count because it wasn't straight through."
"[Yes. I remember. Internship year,]" the burn victim said in Eleanor's voice. Don was slightly surprised.
"Leigh? You get burned or something?"
"She's a superhero now, Don."
"Oh. Does she wear one of those neat costumes?"
"[Just go to sleep.]"
Don crawled into the back seat, sandwiched between Eleanor, the sleeping woman, and his mother, and promptly did so.
Jane giggled wildly as she started the car. "A neat costume? Rebis, Rebis, I've got an idea! Imagine you wearing one of those silly costumes... a spandex bikini... with a big letter R on the front..." She could barely control herself. Cliff had a sudden mental image of the costume, and started laughing as well.
"[I'm not sure I see what's so funny,]" Rebis said, sounding genuinely bemused.
"Nothing," Cliff said. "I was just thinking of you and me and Jane in typical superhero costumes, like they wear nowadays... By the way, who's Leigh?"
"[Eleanor's middle name. Don and Laurie used it as a nickname for me when they were too young to pronounce Eleanor.]"
"Did you spell it 'L-e-e'?" Jane asked.
"[No, 'L-e-i-g-h'. Why?]"
"Oh, I was just thinking it would have been nice and androgynous if it had been the other way around. I know both men and women who are L-e-e Lee's. Did you know, if you transliterated Rebis into Japanese, Lee would be the first syllable of your name?"
"What does Japanese have to do with anything?" Cliff asked.
"Nothing. I just thought it was interesting."
They headed into the Underground.
"So, uh..." Leona seemed at a bit of a loss. "Do you kids enjoy being superheroes?"
Cliff shrugged. "It's a living."
"I never thought about it one way or another," Driver 8 said. "Although, Crazy Jane says to tell you, since she can't come up herself while we're using my power, that she absolutely loves it and she never had so much fun in her life."
"Wait," Leona said, startled. "Aren't you Jane?"
"No, I'm Driver 8."
"But-- Mr. Steele called you Jane--"
"Jane has multiple personalities," Cliff explained. "The one we're talking to now is Driver 8. Crazy Jane's the name of one of the personalities, and since she's usually the one up, I generally call them all that when I don't know who's up."
"We do need some kind of public name," Driver 8 agreed. "Jane's got a catchy one. Most of us don't have a problem being called by her name."
Leona pressed her head against the back of the seat in front of her. "This is so strange," she moaned. "Your old friends were so much more normal, Eleanor."
"[I'm not really Eleanor.]"
"She doesn't need to hear that, Rebis," Cliff pointed out.
"[I don't need to hear how abnormal I am for Eleanor. I'm not Eleanor, and I'm getting a little tired of being treated as if I am.]"
Cliff was startled. Rebis must be seriously upset, to show this much emotion. "Yeah, well, mothers. You know."
"Eleanor, you're my daughter. Do you want me to believe my daughter's dead, and all that's left is some cold freak?!" Leona shouted.
"[If it makes you feel better.]"
"It doesn't make me feel better! How can you be so callous if there's anything in you of Eleanor at all?"
"[Am I being callous? I thought I was being realistic.]"
"Look, maybe the two of you ought to have this discussion privately, some other time," Cliff suggested. "Right now, we've got to worry about rescuing Lauren. Where exactly is she again?"
"The University of Pennsylvania," Leona said, slightly mollified by the opportunity to talk about her children. "That's an Ivy League school, you know. Lauren gets straight A grades."
"Hey, that's good. What's she majoring in?"
"Well, she's only a freshman, so she hasn't got a major. She's got a practical, hard head, my Lauren does. She'll probably go into business and make a million dollars before she's thirty."
Cliff kept Leona talking most of the ride, until they were out of the Underground and had pulled up on a side street next to Lauren's dormitory. This time, Jane decided to accompany them. "I have a feeling you'll need me," she said. "By the way, Cliff--" this was out of Leona's earshot-- "that was great, how you handled her. I could barely stand to listen to the old biddy going on and on, let alone get her to keep talking so she'd leave Rebis alone. You've got a talent."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad someone appreciates my efforts." With a pointed glance at Rebis, who was heading up the walkway to the dorm. "Let's go."
Inside, the guard challenged them for student ID. Leona explained that they were there to see her daughter, and the guard offered to call upstairs and get Lauren to come down and sign them in.
"[There isn't time,]" Rebis said. "[We need to get in now.]"
"I'm sorry, I just can't let you in without a student's signature."
"We are students," Jane said. "I'm dressed in black designer art-fart clothes and half my head is shaved. He's a football player wearing a black leather jacket. This lady is a graduate student in conservative clothes, and this is a tall young man with a cueball head, sunglasses, trenchcoat and a broken arm in a cast. All of us have student ID. So let us in already."
"Sure thing," the guard said. "Sorry about that. Go on up."
"Which staircase?" Cliff asked. There were four, one at each corner of an enclosed courtyard. A hole in the courtyard showed students in a cafeteria, eating dinner. "You've been here before, haven't you, Mrs. Poole?"
"Uh... yes. That one, over there. Why did he let us in? What did you do to him?"
"Ever see Star Wars?" Jane asked.
"No, I can't say I have. My late husband took Donald and Eleanor to view it when they were small, but I've never liked sci-fi."
"Pity. You should have seen Star Wars. It was a fun movie." She grabbed the railing. "Let's hurry, okay? I've got a bad feeling."
They hurried up the stairs, drawing strange looks from students. Lauren's dorm room was on the third floor, near the staircase. Leona banged on the door. "Laurie? Laurie, honey, you in there?"
From inside, an insane giggle. "All right," Cliff said. "Stand back." He took a step backwards, and bodyslammed into the door, grabbing it as he crashed through so it wouldn't fall on anyone. "Jesus!"
Once the dorm room had probably been a typical messy dorm room, with pictures of rap artists decorating one wall and impressionist prints on the other. Now various day-glo substances had been sprayed all over the walls, the furniture, and the single occupant of the room, a blonde girl who looked as pale as death. She giggled hysterically.
"Raquel!" Leona shouted, grabbing the girl's shoulders. "Raquel, are you all right? Where's my daughter?"
"Momma had a baby and her head popped off!" Raquel caroled.
"[They were here already. We're too late.]"
"Too late? Where's Lauren?!"
"Momma had a baby and her head popped off! Momma had a baby and her head popped off!" Raquel sang the inane children's jingle louder and louder, rocking back and forth. "Momma had a baby and her head popped off!"
"Watch out!" Jane shouted. "Duck!"
As everyone ducked, Raquel's head exploded in a pyrotechnic display of brilliant colors. Sparks and blood flew everyone. Leona gasped, as if she were choking.
"Oh-- oh, no-- not Lauren--"
"[Not yet. No. This is a warning.]" Rebis touched the remains of the dead girl. "[The Mad Ones want the Mandala. They've taken Lauren hostage for it.]"
"Then give it to them!" Leona shouted. "It's not worth your sister's life!"
"[The Mandala itself is not worth anyone's life. Keeping it out of the Mad Ones' hands, however, is worth several thousand lives. They would consume far more than that with the Mandala under their control.]"
"Shit." Cliff got out of the apartment. "Shit, shit, shit. Come on. We'd better go back to base and consult the Chief."
"What do you mean? My daughter is in the hands of those-- those-- maniacs-- you've got to do something!"
"Like what?" Cliff snarled. "We know the problem, okay? We'll do everything we can to get your daughter back. Right now, though, I just don't know where to start."
"I do," Jane said. "When we get back home. We can open a gateway to the Deep Underground and go in after her."
"I don't know... remember what happened last time?"
"We have to try, Cliff. Anyway, this time we'll be prepared."
"Yeah. Well, before we do anything like that, we'd better get all the civilians somewhere safe. Leave the Chief and the others watching them. Rebis? Mrs. Poole? You coming?"
The ride back was somewhat subdued. Leona was trying hard to keep from breaking down, and failing. Cliff couldn't blame her; bad enough to find out that one daughter had turned into something like Rebis, worse yet to be attacked by the Mad Ones in her living room, but this, the capture of her other daughter by the Mad Ones, had to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Both Sharon and Donald were still asleep, Driver 8 was getting exhausted from being up so long and using her powers constantly, and Rebis was thinking, or so s/he claimed.
Cliff tried to work out a plan of attack, and realized he didn't have enough information. Assuming they could get into the Deep Underground, what then? They had to rescue Lauren and get the Mad Ones to stop pursuing the Mandala, all without yielding the Mandala to them or getting any civilians killed. Since he had no idea what the structure of the Deep Underground was like, it was impossible to make any kind of coherent plan. He sincerely hoped Jane and Rebis could figure out more than he could, because otherwise the situation looked rather hopeless.
Father Uvula carried the smashed body of the glass boy into the room above the sacristy. The Bishop nodded at him. "What have you brought us, my son?"
Uvula laid the body carefully onto the table of petrified wood. "This was one of the Mad Ones," he said. "I discovered him and a number of other dead Mad Ones in my search for the Mandala of Eternity. This one was a strike leader, in charge of capturing the Mandala."
"I see." The Bishop nodded, examining the dead boy. "Good, good." He spoke into an ear that had been glued to the wall. "All priests of the Uninnocent are to meet in the Hall of Our Lord of Needles for the Rite of Awakening Sleepers." He turned back to Uvula. "We'll have some answers out of him yet."
At the third bell of eleven o'clock, they were all there, pale men circled around the altar in the vast Hall of Our Lord of Needles. Kisvallen's body had been laid out on the altar, naked, the shards of his head painstakingly glued together. Slowly the priests of the Uninnocent began to chant.
"Domine noster qui cuspide et sanguine incolit, Domine noster qui spiculo concavum incolit, hunc quem dormit excita et is dicere face. Ab voluntate tua faciat. Hunc quem dormit excita. Ab voluntate tua facit." "Our Lord who resides in the point and the blood, Our Lord who resides in the hollow tip, awaken this sleeper and permit him to speak. By Your will let it be done. Awaken the sleeper. By Your will let it be done..."
As the chant crescendoed, the Bishop pierced one of the tiny cracks in Kisvallen's glass with a needle, and injected holy adrenaline, a substance taken from the bodies of murdered priests of other sects and blessed by the Bishop of the Uninnocent. Kisvallen stirred, the fine cloudy panes that obscured his eyes rolling back, revealing blank, staring orbs. "Who calls me?" Kisvallen asked, in a thready whisper. "I was with my brothers and sisters..."
"In the name of Our Lord, we charge you to answer our questions. Only after you satisfy all that we ask in complete truthfulness, sparing no relevant fact, shall we release you unto your rest. Now, answer! Where is the Mandala of Eternity?"
"I didn't find out," Kisvallen whispered. "I was close, so close... We tracked it to a woman named Eleanor Poole, and I had a photograph, but we couldn't find her, we couldn't find her. So we found the webbed connections and followed them. A lover died before he would talk. We attacked the mother and were ourselves attacked by a group called the Doom Patrol."
"Who are the Doom Patrol?" one of the priests, Father Zygoma, asked uncertainly.
"A group of superheroes," the Bishop proclaimed. "Idolaters all, worshippers of the Fallen Angel, the alien demon sent to test our faith. Go on!"
"One of their number was revealed as Eleanor Poole. But not Eleanor Poole, after all. A tri-souled hermaphrodite named Rebis was Eleanor Poole in part, but not in whole, and it was that one who has the Mandala."
"A hermaphrodite? Named Rebis?" the Bishop asked, clenching his fists and red with excitement.
"Yes. That was the sex, that was the name. Three entities in one. I had one of them in my grasp... I would have torn the Mandala from the hermaphrodite's head... but then something hit me. I know no more. Release me..."
"Give us a photograph," the Bishop demanded.
"I am damaged... my head smashed... I don't know if I..."
A blurry photograph began to congeal in Kisvallen's limp hand, of a person tightly wrapped in bandages. The Bishop removed the photo and inspected it.
"You are released," the Bishop pronounced, and Kisvallen died again.
"A hermaphrodite with a name like Rebis? You think it means the alchemical rebus?" a priest asked.
"Most certainly. It's hard to imagine someone more appropriate for the Salesman to choose. And the Kryptonian's worshippers are all trained and powerful fighters-- it might be more safe in this creature's hands than in the Traveling Salesman's own. It's obvious what we must do." The Bishop turned to Father Uvula. "Take a group of holy warriors from the brethren and find these Doom Patrol. Use any means necessary to take the Mandala from them. And when you have the Mandala, purify the unfortunates who have touched it."
"We purify for You, our Lord of the Darkness."
"Let it be so. Amen."
Back at headquarters, everyone disembarked in a hurry. Cliff carried Donald, who was still asleep, in to one of the bedrooms; Jane helped Sharon, who had woken up, make it to another. Rebis started to go get the Mandala from Caulder, but Leona got in hes way.
"You're going to get her back," Leona told Rebis, the way she might once have told Eleanor to clean her room or get better grades.
"[I believe Cliff already told you we would try.]"
"Don't give me 'try', girl! Or whatever you are now!" Leona grabbed Rebis's coat and tried to pull hir down. "You will do it! Do you hear me? Lauren is your family. You are not going to let those monsters kill her. Family is more important than this superhero thing. Do you understand me?"
Rebis pulled away. "[You seem to be under a misconception,]" s/he said. "[Perhaps it's my fault for calling you Mother. It makes it difficult for you to understand.]"
"[There are two kinds of relationships. Of the physical, and of the emotional. The physical is completely irrelevant now and the emotional is becoming so. We will rescue Lauren because she needs to be rescued, not because of any relationship she bore Eleanor Poole. That relationship no longer matters.]"
"Eleanor. What are you saying?"
"[I'm saying I'm not Eleanor. I'm grateful to you for saving my life, but that doesn't mean I accept the claim you're trying to place on me. I am not your daughter. Do you understand?]"
"You're still my child! Whatever you become-- I'm your mother! I-- where are you going?"
"[I have things to do.]"
"I'm not done talking to you!"
"[I've said all that needs to be said. I don't see any use in repeating myself, or listening to you repeat yourself. Stay here. Or don't. It's no concern of mine what you do, as long as you stop bothering me.]"
Rebis went through one of the Restricted Access doors that only members of the Doom Patrol could access, leaving Leona locked on the other side.
The other two had already gathered in Caulder's office. "Ah, there you are, Rebis," Caulder said. "Cliff and Jane have been trying to construct a plan of attack. We're hoping you can provide some input."
"[Yes. I've come for my Mandala, Professor Caulder.]"
"I don't think that's wise. The thing does seem to be addictive, and you--"
Rebis interrupted, uncharacteristically. "[No, the danger is to you, not me.]"
"To me?" Caulder sounded frankly skeptical.
"[You've been studying it.]"
"Well, yes, I have. But I've been using instruments, not psychic abilities. I wouldn't think it would be dangerous under those conditions."
"[It is. The act of studying it activates it. Psychometry is only one method of opening doorways to knowledge. Laboratory study is slower but just as sure.]"
"Ah. In that case--" Caulder rolled his chair over to where the Mandala sat beneath a battery of instruments. "Is it safe to touch it?"
"[I'd think so.]"
"Maybe I better get it, just to be sure," Cliff said, picking it up. "I didn't try to study it, so that ought to be safe." He carried it over to Rebis. "Can you touch it, or is that too dangerous?"
Rebis took the Mandala."[Jane. Can we talk privately?]"
Jane glanced over at Cliff and Caulder. "Privately? What for?"
"I do think that if you're planning something, you should let the rest of us know," Caulder said.
"[Yes. I'm planning something. Jane?]"
"Right." The two of them stepped outside the room and shut the door. "Okay, what is it?"
"[I want to give the Mandala to you.]"
"To me?" Jane sounded disbelieving. "Rebis, don't do me any favors. That thing has brought you nothing but grief--"
"[Not as a favor to you. The Mad Ones need two things from the owner of the Mandala. They need its location, and they need permission to take it. They believe I am the owner, and will try to pressure me into giving them both. I... you know that my offensive capabilities are sharply limited if I can't release the Negative Spirit.]"
"Yes, I know. What's your point?"
"[Earlier, when the Negative Spirit attacked Kisvallen, he captured it. He then told me that with the Negative Spirit trapped within him, he didn't need my permission. If he could take the location of the Mandala from me telepathically, he could wait for me to die, and then use the Negative Spirit as a sort of proxy for the permission requirement. Kisvallen may not be the only Mad One who can do that. And if I have to worry constantly that releasing the Negative Spirit will end up in the Mandala's capture, I'll be effectively crippled.]"
"So you hope to-- what?"
"[If I give it to you, I can no longer give permission for it. Also, the Negative Spirit could only be my proxy, not yours-- capturing it would not help them retrieve the Mandala. Then if you allow me to hide it for you, so that you don't know where it is, neither of us will be able to give them what they want. It will be some time before they realize what they've done. By that time, it may be too late for them to fulfill both aspects.]"
"You mean that one of us could be dead by that time."
"[It's a possibility.]"
"What about your sister? They'll try to pressure you by threatening to kill her. Probably they will kill her when they find out you can't give them permission."
"[I know. By that time either we'll have rescued her, or it's not likely to matter to me what happens to her anymore. We have to keep the Mandala out of the Mad Ones' hands.]"
"I know." Jane took a deep breath. "Okay. I accept the Mandala, at least until after all this has blown over, and I give you permission to hide it somewhere I don't know about. You won't tell Cliff or the Chief either, right?"
"[That's right. I'd prefer they don't even know we've divided the roles. Cliff has few telepathic defenses.]"
"Yeah. I don't want them tearing his mind up to get some facts about us. At least we can protect ourselves mentally. What are you going to tell him?"
"You're not going to tell him anything about what all this is about? That'll hurt his feelings, you know. He already feels like the two of us leave him out half the time as it is."
"[I have more important things to worry about than Cliff's feelings.]"
"Fine. I'll tell him something, and it won't be the truth. Okay? You go hide my Mandala."
"[Thank you, Jane. I do appreciate this.]"
"Get going." She turned and went back into the room.
"What was that all about?" Cliff asked.
"Rebis had this plan for how to hide the Mandala in a way that the Mad Ones couldn't zero in on it mystically. S/he wanted my advice on how to do it."
"So why privately? It's not like the two of you don't talk about things like that in front of me all the time/"
"Because the Mad Ones can probably read your mind, Cliff. We don't want them figuring out that way how we hid it." She shrugged. "I think after s/he does this, even Rebis won't know precisely where the Mandala is. I sure won't. But we'd rather as few people knew about the technique as possible, okay? I'm sorry."
"That's all right. It's not your fault. We have a plan yet?"
"Well, after Rebis takes care of the Mandala, I think we'd just better go in there and reconnoiter. I don't know what we'll find in the Deep Underground."
"Yeah. I just don't like going in blind, is all. Where's Sharon? You put her to bed?"
"Uh-huh. Her power's been knocked out by those drugs Rebis gave her; she's not going to be any use to us for a while."
"I'm not sure she's going to be any use to us at all anymore. You saw what happened. She panicked when the Mad Ones attacked."
"She's not well, Cliff. Anyway, could have been worse. Could have been Kipling."
"Don't remind me."
Rebis came in. "[It's done. Shall we go?]"
"Do you have any idea what we're doing?" Cliff asked.
"[Rescuing Lauren, presumably. Do you mean, 'do I have a plan for doing so?']"
"I was hoping."
"[Sorry. We still need more information.]"
"That's what Jane said."
Caulder cleared his throat. "If the Mad Ones attack here, for whatever reason, Josh, Dorothy and I should be able to hold them off. If they have telepaths, however, they may find out from us where you went. I hope that's an acceptable risk."
"Oh, they'll know where we went," Jane said grimly. "They'll see us coming a mile away."
"Great," Cliff said. "Just great." He turned to Caulder. "I guess you'd rather we left from a different room?"
"I would prefer it so, yes."
"All right. Let's leave from one of the sealed rooms; that way if they come back through, we can contain them."
"Good luck," Caulder called as they left, heading downstairs.
In one of the sealed practice chambers, where the JLA had once refined their skills, Cliff, Jane and Rebis locked all the doors but one. They stood in front of that one, hands linked, concentrating on madness.
Then Jane opened the door, and the three charged through, into the Deep Underground.