This time, waking up wasn't slow or difficult. It was abrupt and forceful. I jerked awake to find myself in a small cell, the walls, floor and ceiling all white. The interior of the room consisted in its entirety of a bench, also white, that was built into the back wall and on which I was sitting. The far wall which I sat facing was made of glass, and through it I saw a section of a hallway, the walls and floor made of the same white material. When I shifted on my seat, I found that my hands and feet were bound together by heavy leather restraints. I was alone.
With nothing else to do and no other options, I was forced to wait for my captors to decide what to do with me. At least I had some idea of who they were this time, a thought that naturally led my mind into once again attempting to dissect the situation, with about as much success. It was clear that I had landed myself in the middle of a war, but as to who was fighting, or where we were, I had no idea. I wasn't in any of the four nations anymore, that was for sure, but instead in a land where Bending itself did not exist, or remained undiscovered. That certainly was puzzling, because I had studied many maps; I knew the geography and the political alliances of the entire known world, which meant I was in an area of the world no nation knew existed, that no nation knew could exist.
With this realization I was left at a dead end. Without a map of this new land, preferably more than one to detail geography and political boundaries, I was left blind to my situation. Thus my only possible consideration, what I had been specifically trying to avoid, was everything that had happened since I awoke. Nuwei was here in this strange land with me, lost and injured, perhaps badly. Now that I was calm and collected, I refused to consider alternative possibilities. I had found potential allies, but in my anguish I had injured several of them, some badly. Now I would be lucky if they ever let me out of this cell.
For some reason, my mind kept returning to Aqualad, to every moment of trust and compassion he had given me, to the moment in which he had almost died by my hand. I could not understand why I felt the deepest sorrow for him. Maybe it was because he had been the one there, supporting me physically and emotionally throughout the entire chaotic adventure. Maybe it was because of his tireless trust in me. Maybe it was because he was hot. Probably it was because he was hot. If he had suffered any permanent harm by my doing…
My thoughts were interrupted by a door opening at the end of the hallway to my right. Three pairs of feet started walking towards my cell. I waited for a few, long, tense moments as the feet grew closer. They didn't all sound like the footsteps of the youths. Three figures walked into my view from the right of my cell. One was Robin. I didn't recognize the other two. They stood shoulder to shoulder, watching me in silence.
Robin was on the right. On the far left, a young man slightly older than me stood. He was dressed in a red, sleeveless shirt, with a small black mask covering only his eyes that Robin also wore. He had a red bow over his shoulder, and a quiver poking up behind the other. The third man was in fact a man, and the first adult I had seen in this land who wasn't trying to kill me. At least not yet. He was dressed all in black, with a black cape and cowl. The cowl had two pointed spikes extending from where his ears should be, and his cape hung around him and extended to the floor. It was as ridiculous an outfit as any I had seen, but something about how he stood in it exuded an air of danger. The breadth of his shoulders, the intensity of his gaze all gave him a wickedly intimidating appearance.
I had gotten up when they had walked in, and now we stood in silence. None of them made any indication that they intended to speak. I knew what they were doing. They were waiting to see if I would speak first, to see what my first concern would be. Well, I was concerned.
"How is Aqualad? And the ones called Rocket and Kid Flash, they were hurt. Are they okay?"
"They'll live," said Robin. The others still didn't speak. "Kid Flash and Rocket have mild concussions. Aqualad will take longer to recover."
"But he will recover?" I persisted. "May I see him, them?"
They didn't speak.
I tried again. "I understand the restraints and the cell. But you should know they are unnecessary. You don't seem to know who I am, what I am. You don't know what Bending is. I don't know where we are that that is possible, but if you show me a map of your land, I might be able to find a way home."
The man in black finally spoke. "Who are you then?" His voice was like his appearance, commanding and intimidating.
"I'm the Avatar," I told them, still half expecting them to understand that fact. When no realization bloomed across their faces, I continued. "That means that I can Bend the four elements, Air, Water, Earth, Fire." Still no reaction. I went on. "Where I come from, most people can only Bend one element, or none. Four nations, four elements. That's my world, that's the whole world. Or at least I thought."
I stopped, but still none of the three spoke. "Well? Is this an interrogation or not?" I demanded.
The man in black spoke to Robin beside him without ever taking his eyes off me. "Bring up a hologram map." He ordered. Robin brought his arm up across his chest like before, and like before a rectangle of blue light appeared above it.
"Look, I'm sorry about-" I was cut off as a glowing sphere of the same blue light as Robin's arm display materialized directly in front of me. I stumbled back, falling clumsily onto the bench.
The man in black spoke again. "This is our planet, Earth. Show us your four nations." It was an order, given by a man who was used to being obeyed without question.
I gazed at the sphere in consternation. It seemed to be completely insubstantial; even as I examined its surface I could see right through it to the three strange individuals who still stood in silence, watching me. On its curved plains, lines snaked in twisted patterns. It took me several moments to recognize continents and oceans. Then I gasped, for before me I saw a world sitting on the giant sphere, far vaster than the one I had left behind.
There was just enough room in my cell for me to shuffle around the hologram map- that is what the man in black had called it- to examine it from all angles. The continents stretched around the sphere, none of them looking like any of the nations I knew of. I completed a full circle without seeing anything I recognized. When I got back to my bench, I collapsed on it heavily, holding my head in my hands.
I wasn't just in a new land; I was in a new world. Surrounded by such peculiarities, it wasn't all that hard to believe that this world was in the shape of a sphere, but the ironic beauty of it was that the sphere was detailed to the point that there were no blanks or unfilled areas where my homeland could be squeezed in. I found that I could not reconcile this fact.
I looked up, back at the three individuals who still studied me like some new specimen turtleduck. I felt the overwhelming sense of hopelessness creeping over me once more, felt myself drowning in its depths. It was the same feeling that before had led me to injure Aqualad and others who were only trying to help me. I refused to let it take such a hold on me a second a time.
"No." I managed. "No! You could still be lying. This could be…" I grimaced. What could it be? Back in the Fire Nation, or in any nation, everything I had seen in the past few hours was impossible. If these people were tricking me or conning me, then they at least were not lying about this. But how?
It wasn't until Robin responded that I realized I had spoken my last thought out loud. "Like I said before, we have a theory. Cadmus is known for creating clones. Since you seem to be unfamiliar with anything conceived after the nineteenth century, a clone is biological copy of another organism. Superboy and Red Arrow here are both clones, created by Cadmus. We think you are a clone as well."
I shook my head. Robin had said that before, in those tunnels. At the time, I had been able to run from the prospect. Now, I had nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. The helplessness clutched at me, its fingers searing cold like the grasp of Death. No! I thought to myself. I do not run. I do not hide! I'm stronger than that! I've always…
I couldn't finish the thought. Before Robin had also said that as a clone, my memories were fake. 'Always' for me was meaningless. The man with the bow, Red Arrow, was speaking.
"…was hard for me when I first learned. It still is. My memories are of another Roy Harper, but yours seem to be made up entirely. Why, we don't know."
"I have friends," I said, still straining for my last breaths, my last glimpses of light, "family, a home, a life. What about that?" A chilling thought occurred to me. "What about Nuwei?" I finished in a whisper.
"It would seem that everything in your memory is fictionalized," said the man in black. "Including your dragon. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry," I repeated dumbly. "And who are you again?"
"Batman. Right." This was wrong. All of this, it was impossible. How was this happening? How did I get here? How…
Like a fog, desperation closed in on me. Bleak and cold, it stopped my senses and clouded my thoughts. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. Panic's iron fist held my heart, and its grip tightening with every moment spent in this hell, squeezing my chest until I felt physical pain with each breath.
I couldn't stay upright. Clutching my chest, I fell to the floor. Above me, I heard Batman exclaim, "she's having a panic attack! Robin, the med kit. Get the inhaler."
"No!" I gasped. Wheezing, I forced my limbs to move, propping myself on my hands and knees in order to look up at the men and Robin. Grimacing through the pain, I forced myself to take deep breaths. "No. I… can do… this." The words came out choked, interrupted by long rattles, but I refused to let myself be consumed by panic, and so I fought. If I could not fight the Avatar State, I at least knew how to fight through pain. My memories may have been fake, but they at least held true in that respect.
It took several, long moments, but I was eventually able to push myself up from my hands and knees to leaning on the bench, to finally standing. My breaths slowed, became steady and even. I looked up at the three in front of me, looked Batman right in the eye.
"Whoever I am, whatever I am, I am not the weak little girl you have seen so far. I'm strong, and I can handle this and anything else life throws at me. Perhaps you are right that my life is not what I thought it was. Perhaps not. Regardless, I know who I am in this moment and I know I can hold true to that. That is not something that I will give up for anyone or anything."
I finished in a rush, but also with a sense of elation. I knew those words to be true, every one of them. If everything else in my life fell to pieces, I at least knew that I would have the strength to get through it. I had just proven it.
After I finished, there was a pause. None of the individuals before me gave any visible reaction to my outburst. Then Robin said, quietly, "No one said you were weak."
I snorted. "I did. On the mountaintop, I couldn't control myself. I couldn't keep my emotions from controlling me, and for it I nearly killed all of you. I'm sorry."
Batman spoke, "the question remains, the big question from the start: what happened on the mountaintop? What exactly did you do, what can you do?"
I sighed. "All I know is what my memories tell me. On the mountaintop, I went into the Avatar State. The Fire Sages told me that it is a defense mechanism for the Avatar. When I reach a certain level of stress, my eyes glow and my Bending becomes several times more powerful. That's all I know."
I looked at each of them in turn. "What are you going to do with me? I know I have earned your animosity, but I mean you no harm. At the very least you could give me a chance to earn back, if not your trust, then at least some relative measure of freedom."
"We believe you," said Batman, "you have been truthful in all your claims, and for that you will not be held any longer than is strictly necessary. However, you are still a liability and a potential danger to others, so you will be given free rein of this facility provided you do not attempt to leave it. Beyond that, you require time to adjust to our culture, so you will be temporarily placed on the Team. They will train you and acquaint you with what you need to know and learn in order to adjust. If you are a clone, we will help you move past it. If you are not, we will help you get home. Do you accept these terms and conditions?"
This was like negotiating between the factions in the Water Tribe, except that I wasn't the one proposing the treaties. "I accept your terms and conditions," I said, "and I thank you for your most gracious offer." If only the Water Tribe had been as agreeable as I. Perhaps then I wouldn't be in this situation. Perhaps.
"There is one other thing," said Robin.
Red Arrow spoke next. "When Cadmus creates a clone, they make sure that they will be able to control it. They program key phrases into the clone's mind that will shut it down or enable other programming. They may have done this to you."
"Miss Martian's telepathic mind is able to clean out any residual programming," said Batman, "She will be in in a few minutes." The three of them turned to go.
"Wait!" I called, "I still wish to see Aqualad and the others that I hurt."
Batman looked back at me. "I will consider it," he said, and walked out of my view without another word.
A few moments later, I heard the door close, and I was alone. I moved to sit down. Then the full implications of what had just been said hit me like a ton of bricks. This Cadmus might be able to control me, my thoughts, my actions. They could know my every thought, direct my every motion. Who was to say they weren't right now in this moment? Now it wasn't hopelessness that consumed me, but paranoia.
I was still fighting my fears when the door opened again, and two pairs of feet entered. Miss Martian and Superboy entered my view. They stood watching me like the three before them, as if I was some strange new phenomenon that they were about to dissect. I noticed that Superboy stood a little in front of Miss Martian, his muscles tense and his eyes wary. The wariness wasn't for himself. He was like a guard dog for Miss Martian, ready to leap for the throat at the first sign of danger. He had to be courting her.
I spoke first. "Batman said you would make sure that I wasn't compromised. And if I was, that you'd fix it."
"Yes, that's true," she said gently. Superboy never took his eyes off me.
"May I ask how you are able to do this? And the psychic thing? Also, you're green." I was talking to Miss Martian, but I couldn't keep from watching Superboy. He blinked with disturbing irregularity.
Miss Martian chuckled softly. "I'm a Martian, hence my name. I'm a different species hailing from different planet than you, and my race has a set of unique abilities, among them telepathy and shape-shifting. Hence the 'psychic thing' and my green skin."
"Martian. Right." It seemed I was saying that a lot. "Well, let's just get started then, shall we? The sooner this is done…" I jangled my restraints at them.
"Yes, let's," said Miss Martian. "So… you just sit there. You won't feel a thing."
I had never gotten up, so I didn't move. I sat there, watching Miss Martian. Every few seconds, my eyes darted to Superboy, and then away. Miss Martian put her hands to her temples, and suddenly, her eyes glowed green. And then red.
At first I felt nothing. I began to think that nothing would happen. Then, I felt a slight tickling at nape of my neck, a tickling that didn't go away even when I scratched at it. The sensation traveled up the back of my head to my scalp, an infuriating little buzzing that rang in my ears. My head began to ache, and the tickling spread, became like sandpaper on the inside of my skull. I grimaced and was about to cry out when all of sudden, the sensation stopped.
"Done," said Miss Martian, her eyes back to normal, "You're clean."
"Gah!" I cried, "I thought you said that was supposed to be painless!"
Miss Martian frowned. "Most of the time it is. What did you feel?"
"What did I feel?" I asked, rubbing the back of my head, "I felt you, feeling around in my head like sandpaper." I frowned. "Wait, what did you say about me?"
"I said you're clean," said Miss Martian, smiling at me, "You haven't had anything programmed into you, so you're not a sleeper agent. Congratulations."
"Yay…" I said weakly, still massaging out the headache I had just acquired.
There was a pause, then, "I should inform Batman," said Miss Martian. She touched Superboy's shoulder, the light touch of one giving her lover a temporary goodbye, and left.
Superboy stayed for a few moments more, then finally spoke. "Welcome to the Team," he said, and then he too walked out. It wasn't a friendly welcome.