Thanks for the reviews and favs.
This was, once again, brought to you thanks to the editing skills of Hellacre, a debt I'll never could pay.
Chapter 24 – "Confusion, I don't know what I should do.
Confusion, I leave it all up to you."
Planet Almerac – City of Potentoris – Security Command Center
Hour of Erebus
John Stewart and the Magician were supervising the planetary sweep in search for Lashina. After their meeting with Maxima, where they'd exposed to her their suspicions that the captain of the Furies was somewhere in Almerac, hiding after the failed bombing at the Ancestral Hall or, even worst, planning another terrorist act, the Monarch had graciously allowed them to order a thorough search looking for her as their prime suspect. During the audience, the ruler spoke directly to the Martian, as if GL and the sorceress had been cardboard figures. They thought it was natural, given her infatuation with him. Their concern grew when they saw the Manhunter being extremely polite, kind of sweet, even obsequious, at times, when his tone used to be neutral and no-nonsensical. The two had exchanged a significant look, but kept it to themselves.
A boom-tube dampener field was already in place at Potentoris, the capital, and it was extended from there to the rest of the globe to prevent Darkseid's aide's escape. The dampener projected a cryoton particle field. When a boom-tube opened, the field rendered its event horizon unstable, making it impossible for living tissue to pass safely through and sent the location of the singularity to the monitoring center. Also, every surveillance device was connected to a grid whose epicenter was the Security Command. Besides of the many technical difficulties a global endeavor of such magnitude presented, there was some sort of federalism in place on planet Almerac; in spite of being a monarchy, authorization from every Province's governor was needed in order to connect their electronic detection and security systems to the grid. Fortunately, an emergency decree from their ruler helped expedite things and it could be achieved in less than two days, when it could have taken a whole week of debate and voting.
The Martian was in charge of the dampener field (the controls were conveniently located in the Communications Center at the Royal Palace itself), while they were at the grid's command.
Since this was the first time Green Lantern and Zatanna had the chance of being alone, without J'onn, in the last two days, they took the time, during a break, to talk about the past events, specifically about their team mate and the monarch.
"J'onny-Boy made quite an impression in our Queen," Stewart casually dropped. "She seemed to have eyes only for him." Some sort of brotherly pride transpired from his words.
Zatanna rolled her eyes. "Yeah…and it's playing to our advantage, so far, but I fear the opposite is true as well. Do you think he may be thinking about pursuing something with Maxima?" Her last words almost choked in her throat.
"The Manhunter? Come on! The guy is a rock! I saw him arguing with a Guardian of the Universe without batting an eye. Cold as ice! Not even Guy Gardner's arrogant ass is capable of that. He's playing her! He knows what's best for our job, and he's just trying to lubricate things with the Queen!" said John.
"You DO realize what a poor choice of words that was, don't you?" Zee raised an eyebrow, GL lowered his eyes. "Besides, you saw him the other day. I never would have imagined him like that, least of all for a woman…or whatever Maxi-be-atch is."
"Now that you mentioned, he was quite taken aback." He pensively sipped his yellow tea. "But, if it is so, what can we possibly do? He's like a hundred years old grown up, we can't have any control over his actions."
"I don't know. You're a guy! Talk to him! Make him listen to reason! Bros before Broads'n'all that, Dude! Punch some sense into his head, if you must!" snapped Zatanna.
"Do you know who are you talking about? The man can go toe to toe with Superman or Diana, for crying out loud! There's no punching anything with him, unless he does the punching!" GL stated.
"You wuss…Uh…sorry, sorry!" Startled by her own words she put her hand on Stewarts' arm. "Sorry, John. I'm worried, that's all. That harpy gets to my nerves! I didn't mean it, I swear, please forgive me."
"I understand." He placed his other hand in top of hers. Their eyes met and, for a moment, the room around them froze. Forcing himself out of what he considered an awkward situation, John quickly said, "I'll try and talk to him, but no promises. Meanwhile, can you cast some spell to make him change his mind?"
Holding tight the glass of pruss she was about to drop, Zatanna said, "The only force in the entire universe against which white magic is ineffective is love. Being the ultimate objective of every good magical power, why would any decent homo magi want to change it? Black magic is a completely different matter, but, believe me, neither you or me want to mess with the dark arts," she warned.
"Love? Really? Aren't you going too far? We're talking lust here, desire…animal attraction, but…love? Pfff!" There was an incredulous smirk on his face.
"Maybe there are things about love you don't know…yet." Her chestnut colored eyes met his once again. "From lust to love there's only one short step. The one thing you can be sure regarding love is you can find it where you least expect it to be and…"
"We have a hit!" The voice of the Lieutenant in Command of the shift, interrupted her from an adjoining room, much to Stewart's dismay, who was lost studying each feature of her lovely face, specially her full red lips.
"Wha…what? Where?" he reacted.
"In the province of Mannare, Deruvan City. It has not been confirmed yet, but an A.G.D., an Appearance Generator Device, was detected. A very sophisticated one, according to our sensors. Not the kind thieves or common criminals can afford. We almost missed it if it wasn't for the faint holographic signal it emits. It must be a spying operation of some kind," the soldier said.
"Did you check with the governmental services to see if it is one of theirs?" Zatanna asked.
"It's being checked as we speak. If they come negative, what do you want us to do?" the lieutenant wanted to know.
"Keep the user monitored at a distance and don't lose him. DO NOT ENGAGE. Understood?" ordered GL
"Yes sir. But what if…?"
"Do-not-approach-the-subject!" Zee said very slowly. "It's extremely dangerous to cross this particular individual, if it turns out to be who we think she is."
"You heard the lady. We've got this. We just need you to keep tracking the suspect till we arrive," added John, and to the magician, "Can you transport us there, Zee?"
"Yes. I need a map, Lieutenant, please." They followed him out of the room.
A soldier sitting at a communications console said, "Intelligence confirms they have no operatives in the sector, Lieutenant."
"Security came negative as well, sir!" added another.
The shift C.O. showed them a holographic Almerac globe in the center of the Surveillance Grid Room, a blinking blue dot signaled their current position and another, a yellow one, the city of Deruvan.
"Deruvan…If I'm not very mistaken, that's the place Lashina's cover, Healer Axine, was supposed to come from," said the sorceress.
"Makes sense. It was where her papers allowed her to move right after the attack. She had no time to forge new ones before the curfew was declared and probably didn't want to attract much attention," guessed Green Lantern. "Lieutenant, inform the Martian Manhunter, at the Royal Palace, where we're going."
"Yes, sir. Sergeant, contact the Royal Palace!" the soldier ordered.
Zatanna passed her arm around John's waist, pressing her entire curvy frame against his side, making him quiver
"Hold on tight, Ringo" she said with a smile. Such proximity wasn't really necessary, but damn her if she was going to miss the opportunity.
"Evom su hguorht ecaps ot eht ytic fo Navured, morf ereh." She touched the blue dot with her index finger. "ot ereh". Next, she touched the yellow dot.
They both disappeared from the command room in the wink of an eye.
Planet Almerac – City of Potentoris – Royal Palace – Communications Center
J'onn J'onzz was moving from station to station of the Dampener Control Center, making sure everything was working correctly and looking for any possible signal. In one of the past encounters the Justice League had with Darkseid, his minions managed to evade them activating several boom-tubes in different locations simultaneously. By the time the League checked all of them, the villain was long gone. Not that he thought Lashina had that kind of resources by herself, but that was something he wouldn't let ever happen again. If he had to use his recently acquired preferential status with the Queen, he would, but…was that the only reason for his improved relationship with her? In all honesty, the Martian wanted their 'encounter' to repeat
"What am I thinking? This is insane! I can't allow my instincts govern me! She can be behind the problem which brought us here!" And yet, his gut experienced vertigo with the memory of their bodies and minds joined together.
Maxima was much more than suitable as a sex partner, but there was something else their mind connection revealed: she was an outstanding ruler with noble intentions, with the well being of her people in mind and a balanced sense of justice, that was obscured by the fact that Almerac's monarchy had a tradition of ruling with an iron fist. The real problem with her was she had the character development of a child. Due, possibly, to her pampered and spoiled upbringing, she wasn't allowed the chance to mature and her personality was that of a little selfish girl with tons of power, both physically and socio-politically, to do her will and whims.
There were things the Queen didn't bother to shield from J'onn's exploration during their mind fusion, things that were motive of great pride and joy for her: in her short life(Maxima was 41 cycles old, the average adalus -the name Almerachi dominant species chose to call themselves- lives till the age of 150. With her genetically engineered DNA, who knows how old she was going to be) the ruler successfully repelled three off planet invasions, prevented one coup d'etat, cleansed the corrupted governmental ranks, reduced almost to zero the spread of diseases on a planetary scale, improved the access to education and the quality of life of the lower classes of society, signed interplanetary exchange treaties with as much as 11 other worlds, which benefited Almerac not only economically, but also culturally and scientifically. She wasn't a genius, but she knew how to listen to her advisors.
Unfortunately, her personality flaws and her very often, cruel behavior and methods, mood swings and conduct flips, imperative manners and her overall annoying persona kept people from appreciating what an accomplished sovereign she was.
But J'onn could also sense a terrible absence in her life, a void which left a terrible wound that never healed, but was always hidden behind her immature outbursts and capricious tantrums. Doing some digging in her biography, which was in every virtual text book for the equivalent of grade school students, he learned about the passing of her mother when Maxima was a kid. Of course, the texts kept the real reasons and circumstances of her demise unsaid, blaming a terrible illness instead. Talking to the assistance personnel of the Palace, very prone to gossip (he transformed himself into a newly assigned assistant who wanted to know things about the new job and the people involved) during the free moments his mission granted him, he gathered enough information to discover the real motives and knew her father made her watch when her mother, Queen Ealtha, was executed. Maxima was only seven cycles old.
"What a terrible thing to do to a child!" he thought. He was indulging in empathy for a person he was supposed to investigate for the crime of, allegedly, ordering the disappearance and possible murder of his comrades. "H'Ronmeer! What's happening to me?! My mind seems to be in a lust induced state! Her skin is all I can see when I close my eyes!"
"J'onn!" As if summoned by his thoughts, the Queen entered the Comm Center. She was an angelic apparition in her favorite green and gold.
"Exalted One!" The Martian and every other personnel not performing vital operations saluted the Monarch with a bow.
"Continue, people!" she ordered. "I told you to call me Maxima, J'onn. You know you and me are past these formalities." She batted her long eyelashes.
"I didn't want to disrespect you in front of your subjects, Maxima" he answered in a low voice. He felt butterflies in his stomach, Martian butterflies, which were much larger and not nearly as nice as their earthling counterparts.
"Whatever. I took a moment to see you for an update on the situation. Come on, walk with me." She grab his arm and conducted him through the large corridors of the palace. Two guards walked six steps in front of them and four others the same distance behind. The Manhunter was walking really uncomfortably while the Queen stuck to his side tightly."Say…J'onn, this is the first time we have the chance to really talk since our…meeting, and I…" For the first time since he knew her, Maxima seemed uncomfortable and without words.
"There's nothing to say, Maxima. I'm trying to put the…incident behind, I recommend you do the same. We both have a mission to perform and dwelling in things past is not helping anyone." The Martian stopped her and surprised himself with the coolness of his tone.
"I can't. I don't want to do that…" Another first. Maxima wasn't looking straight at him. The Queen, always arrogant and intimidating, deviated her gaze like a guilty child. "I mean, I want…I want to apologize…"
"Is this another of your tricks? What are you trying to accomplish now?" Now his voice denoted a badly controlled anger.
"Don't you dare judg…!" Raising her voice, she returned to her normal self for a moment, but, taking a deep breath, lowered her voice, "I'm not…I have no ulterior motive this time. I don't want things to be difficult between us."
"What you tried to do to me was wrong. The fact that I cooperated was also wrong…" he began.
"I didn't try. I succeeded. Besides, I don't regret what happened. On the contrary, it gave me the chance to see part of your mind and know your brave and noble spirit and I saw a glimpse of your pain and loneliness…besides, your physical contact was…very nice as well…" Maxima lifted her eyes.
"My only regret is the circumstances in which it all happened, not that it happened at all. What I saw in you is something you should let other people see as well, not this ugly shell you wield constantly as a shield," J'onn said.
"Stop, please. Don't try to analyze me. Those who attempted it before didn't …let's say it didn't end well for them. I'm not a book for others to read…," the Queen interrupted him.
"All I'm saying is, I liked what I saw and I want others to see you as I have," he persisted.
"I am what I need to be for the position I occupy. What you saw is something I wanted to share with you and you alone, but it's not all that I am. I've seen terrible things but, most importantly, I've done terrible things, necessary actions you and your League wouldn't approve," said the ruler.
"I don't need a lesson in politics. I'm aware that, sometimes, in order to achieve results, a leader must sink their hands in the mud or worst. I don't want you to explain yourself to me, I'm sorry I saw something in you that wasn't there. Perhaps I should thank you…" Disappointment tinged in his voice.
Maxima quickly added, "But it was…! It was there!" A hint of childish indecision could be heard in her tone. "I'm…I don't know what to say. Look, I've learnt from previous mistakes and I know now I can't force my company onto you…still, I greatly enjoy yours. Since we have work to do together, I'd like to continue enjoying it. No tricks, this time. I have very few friends and I wish I can count you among them. If the occasion and…" The Queen looked at his lower body significantly, "…other things arise, we'll see what to do then." She tip-toed to plant a peck in his cheek, and, with a playful smirk, whispered, "You are my Emerald Beast." Then, with a regal inflexion she added, "You can resume your duty, Leaguer," and walked away surrounded by her guards.
Confused, J'onn stood in the middle of the corridor as a man who'd lost his bearings, while watching her go.
Deet-deet-deet! His communicator brought him back to reality. "Martian Manhunter here," he said, after tapping his ear.
"There's a message for you, sir. It comes from the Security Command Center," the comm Officer said.
"Patch it through," the Green Crusader ordered.
"There was an unconfirmed hit on the City of Deruvan, province of Mannare. Leaguers Green Lantern and Zatanna Zatara went there to check it out."
"Get me your Captain," J'onn said.
"Captain Aumetrius here," a new voice could be heard.
"Captain, I need you to take command of the Dampener Field Center, and I'm going to need a map," he requested.
"Yes, Sir. You can pick a Planetary Locator from a weapons cabinet near every exit of the palace."
"Very handy," the Martian observed.
Once equipped, J'onn took off towards Deruvan's direction.
"Lantern, Zatanna, come in. Manhunter here," he called.
"Zatanna here. Go on, Manhunter," Zee answered.
"SitRep?" he asked.
"We arrived fifteen minutes ago. We have the subject in sight. Damn! Those appearance generators are good! For all intents and purposes, we are following a decrepit, old man. If it wasn't for John's ring, we could never be sure. It's her alright. The witch."
"Wait for me. I'm…," he checked his device, "half way there."
"E.T.A.?" the Magician asked.
"Another six minutes. Eight tops," he estimated.
"Roger." The Martian increased his speed.