Dick Grayson was sleeping peacefully in his bed. Long nights were something he'd been dealing with since the ripe old age of nine, but that didn't mean they didn't take their toll. Usually he was pretty good about getting up in the morning. Being Dick Grayson was a full time job that started before sunrise, what with the wife, the kids, the city.
Thank God Bruce had left the company to Tim in the will. The original Boy Wonder wasn't sure he'd be able to handle that responsibility on top of all the other ones.
So yes, while Dick was usually good about getting up early, he felt he'd earned the right to sleep in every once in a while. It wasn't that his wife disagreed with him per say, just that the one day of privileged sleep wasn't going to be today.
"Nekawa," a feminine voice whispered lightly to Dick's sleeping form.
Dick felt himself return to the land of the living, but managed to suppress the groan and the reflex to open his eyes. Maybe, he figured, if he just pretended he was still asleep…
"Pu ekaw," let it never be said that Zatanna wasn't persistent.
"Five more minutes," Dick protested.
"Kcid nosyarg, teg tuo fo taht deb ro os pleh em I lliw etativel uoy tuo!" Zatanna said. By now, it wasn't a spell so much as just threatening him in her "native tongue".
"I'm up!" Dick very quickly replied, trying to stave off her wrath. "I'm up, what is it?"
"Breakfast at Wally and Artemis's?" Zatanna prompted. Dick didn't give any kind of reaction that indicated he knew what she was talking about. "Don't tell me you forgot again."
"You know I forget things after a beating," Dick defended, referring to his most recent brush with the Joker. Aged though the Clown Prince had become, he still retained his skill in creating utter mayhem. Really, the clown car full of dynamite had just been overkill.
"C'mon, we're going to be late," Zatanna scolded.
By the time the Graysons arrived at "West Manor", everyone else was already there. Everyone who could arrive anyway. Wally welcomed them at the door, and Artemis was setting the table while asking a bleary-eyed Megan if she wanted to join them. The youngest West had opted to grab a stack of waffles and shuffle back to bed.
Roy had already arrived, Lian and Connor having been gone to their team's headquarters. Raquel too had managed to show up, which meant her son Amnistad was occupied.
Kaldur was in Atlantis, visiting his old mentor, and Superboy had left for New Justice's new headquarters. The various members of the new team were meeting today, and everyone knew he wouldn't pass on the chance for a group training session.
Food was plentiful, Artemis used to cooking for two speedsters, and conversation was friendly and light with the occasional nostalgic dabble into how hilarious some of Dick and Wally's screw-ups had been. But, eventually, the topic shifted to what was really on everyone's minds: New Justice.
"So, they pick a leader yet?" Artemis asked.
"Not as far as I know," Dick said. "I'm giving them their space. Giovanni gets enough of me on a daily basis, and the whole point of the team is giving them independence, you know?"
"Speak for yourself, Bats," Roy said. "Lian already too independent as is. I prefer to keep a closer eye on her."
"C'mon Red, she's eighteen," Wally said. "She's gotta leave the nest at some point."
"Talk to me in three years, Wally," Roy taunted.
"Speaking of Megan, are you guys sure you won't let her join the team?" Zatanna asked, as gently as possible.
Wally and Artemis exchanged a look, a dead giveaway that they weren't sure at all with what to do about Megan. The young girl wanted so badly to be a hero.
"I don't know," Wally sighed. "It's a tough call, you know? I mean, after everything that happened to us…how do let your kid go down that path, knowing what they could get themselves into?"
"Hmph, I think I'd rather have Amnistad playing hero than wandering town with too much time on his hands," Raquel put in. "That boy is a mess, sometimes."
"I'll admit, it wasn't an easy choice," Zatanna agreed with Wally, referring to hers and Dick's choice to have their son become Robin, and begin training their younger daughter Maria.
"But if we figured that if they're anything like us, they'd just put on a mask on their own, whether we wanted them to or not," Dick finished for her. "And if they're going to be heroes, you might as well train them so they don't get themselves killed."
"Point taken," Artemis agreed. "We'll think about it. And what about you Raquel?"
"I'm all for it," Raquel said. "My son the superhero. It's convincing him that's gonna be the problem."
"Trade you," Artemis joked, and everyone laughed, before Artemis got serious again. "We'll think about it. I take it they haven't had their first mission either?"
"Something did come up in Vlatava," Roy said. "Might be the perfect chance to get their feet wet. If our fearless leader thinks they're ready, that is."
Eyes turned to Dick who nodded and gave a small smile. "For me, they proved they were ready back on the Watchtower. Check with Connor and Kaldur. If the three of you think they're up to it, the mission's theirs."
The rest of their little get together went along smoothly. Wally ate most of the food, as usual, but everyone had long gotten used to that. Raquel left, saying a jumbled sentence was hard to understand, but had the words Amnistad, police cruiser, and broken in it, and Roy, Dick, and Zatanna had to get ready for their respective duties.
"You really think they're ready?" Zatanna asked her husband. "Giovanni's used to stopping robberies and auto thefts, not missions with a team."
"Giovanni and the team will be fine," Dick assured.
Robin ducked under the punch that would have hit him dead in the face, sidestepped the subsequent jab, and blocked the final attempted blow before countering with a leaping knee. The attack was blocked, and Robin landed before springing right back up with a flying kick.
Green Arrow caught the kick and threw Robin to the side, forcing the Boy Wonder to handspring to avoid landing flat on his back. Robin didn't miss a beat, leaping forward and leading with a punch, though Green Arrow dodged and then blocked Robin's follow –up attack.
The two combatants continued their dance, evenly matched. They worked each other back and forth across the training floor set up by the holo-projectors in the mission room under the watchful eyes of Superboy, who couldn't help but notice how much more relaxed Green Arrow seemed to be in hand to hand fighting.
Meanwhile, not far from the boys, Helena and Lian were also sparring, Helena relying much more heavily on Superboy's teachings while Lian was content to let her own training take over. Helena did her best, but was repeatedly forced onto the defensive, blocking and dodging just to stay in the fight.
Lian by comparison moved with practiced fluidity, her agile attacks coming from every direction and her evasive style letting her easily stay out of the way of Helena's punches and kicks.
"Recognized, Aquaman-29," Help's voice announced over the intercom, though the announcement was largely ignored as everyone in the room focused on their sparring matches.
"Kaldur," Superboy greeted, smiling at the sight of his old friend entering through the zeta tube. "How was the trip home?"
"It was good to see everyone again," Kaldur said with a warm smile. "My King was most supportive of my decision to move here with the team, and as usual complained of the horrors of the quiet life now that he has retired to devote his full attention to Atlantis."
Superboy scoffed, half-laughing. Same old, same old. Over the years, as the various Leaguers had begun to retire, they'd all adjusted to civilian life with varying degrees of ease. Barry Allen for example, had transitioned to the role of civilian with relative ease, as had Black Canary and Ollie. Well, after everyone got over the whole "Oliver Queen is back from the dead say what?" thing.
But others had had it a bit…rougher. Both Hawkman and Hawkwoman didn't adjust very well at all, and though he was living a perfectly normal life, John Stewart still acted with the same soldier mentality he'd always had.
And of course others simply refused to retire, like the Man of Steel himself, who now sported grey at the temples but still continued to fight the good fight. Some people it seemed, wouldn't retire until they were forced to.
Like the last Batman had been.
"How are they settling in?" Kaldur asked, referring to the members of New Justice.
"They're getting there," Superboy said, gaze going to Helena, who by now knew it was only a matter of time before Lian put her on the ground. "Helena's finished moving in, but her memory hasn't improved any. Help made himself right at home, practically runs the place now. This is the first time they've all been here together since their first day though."
"And you could not pass on the opportunity for combat training, I see," Kaldur said.
Connor smirked. "They could use the practice."
Lian dropped low underneath Helena's guard and performed a quick leg sweep, taking Helena's legs out from underneath her. The sorceress hit the ground, and the holo-display on the ground next to her read: Helena Status: Fail.
"Some more than others," Connor added as Lian helped Helena to her feet. Kaldur noted the way Connor's eyes narrowed slightly in scrutiny as his gaze passed over Helena. Connor spoke up before Kaldur could ask.
"You've been around her longer," the half-Kryptonian said without taking his eyes off Helena. "Do you think we can trust her?"
"Helena's memory loss is troubling," Kaldur admitted. "Especially since Martian Manhunter was unable to repair it, or determine exactly what had caused it. But Batman seems to believe the best way for us to keep an eye on her is here. And I trust his judgment."
"Fair enough," Connor agreed. Trusting Dick Grayson had gotten them this far, after all.
Lian offered Helena a hand to help her up, which the sorceress gladly accepted. Together, the two girls joined Superboy and Aquaman in the activity of spectating the match between Robin and Green Arrow. Robin remained ever agile, moving faster and more flexibly, but Green Arrow responded with a firm, stable style that allowed him to intercept Robin's attacks and deliver his own in counter.
In short, Green Arrow kept it simple while Robin went for flair.
Robin leapt back to dodge Green Arrow's front kick before springing forward to try and deliver a punch. Green Arrow's patience had finally been rewarded. He grabbed Robin's wrist with one hand and his arm with the other before turning and throwing the Boy Wonder over his shoulder.
Robin went tumbling, the move catching him completely off guard, and he landed on his back with the holographic message of "Robin Status: Fail" next to him on the floor.
"See? That's why I prefer magic," Helena said. "Less getting thrown around."
"How is that part of your skillset coming along?" Green Arrow asked, turning his attention away from Robin. "Most of what Martian Manhunter helped you remember was magic, right?"
"It was," Helena confirmed with a nod. "Knowing where I came from would be great, but for now, at least I know what I can do."
"Care to give us a sample?" Lian asked.
Helena's eyes lit up with a mischievous glint and her face sported a matching smile, which meant yes. Her hands glowed with bright red light as her powers activated, though she never had to speak a word of whatever spell she was casting.
Robin, who'd leapt up off the floor, was walking over to join the group, when he noticed that no matter how long he walked, his teammates weren't getting closer. Perplexed, and thinking for a second that maybe he'd hit his head a little harder than he thought during the fall, he picked up his walking speed, but still his friends were the same distance away.
Now he was really beginning to feel disoriented. Helena was looking at him, her eyes glowing the way they did whenever she used magic, and the others were looking at him as well. Lian looked like she was trying not to laugh, and Green Arrow sported an amused smile.
On a hunch, Robin looked down. To his mild amazement, the floor beneath his feet seemed to be shifting and moving in an almost treadmill like motion, matching his pace and keeping him rooted in one spot. Lian laughed in earnest as the Boy Wonder figured out Helena's little trick.
Not about to be beaten by a floor panel, Robin jumped up into the air and performed a single front flip for distance before falling back towards ground that had remained unaffected by Helena's magic. The ground rushed up to meet him, but he never felt his feet touch it.
Looking down again, he saw that he was levitating a few feet off the ground, a faint red aura emanating from his body.
"Oh that's real funny," Robin said, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes. Helena had that the type of face Robin couldn't get mad at, a trait the sorceress unknowingly shared with Robin's younger sister, but that did not mean he liked being suspended in the air without his consent.
Helena gave a full, bubbling laugh as she gently set him down, allowing Robin to join them for real this time.
"I'm impressed," Lian said, giving a few mock claps. She turned to Green Arrow, and gave him a congratulatory smack on the arm. "You too, Robin Hood. Not everyday someone puts Wonder Bird on his back."
"We get it Lian, you enjoy watching me suffer," Robin said. His tone was exasperated, but he said it with a genuine smile, a clear sign he took no offense. Lian gave a chuckle and reached over to ruffle the young boy's hair. Robin's smile vanished and he swatted her hand away.
"Don't push it," he said, giving his best impersonation of the bat-glare. Judging by the way Lian did little more than smirk, he figured it didn't work all that well.
"Hey," Lian said, looking around. "Don't we have another teammate? Glowing eyes, nerdy voice, makes little whirring noises every time he moves?"
"Yeah, where is Help?" Green Arrow asked. "I haven't seen him since last week."
A holo-display appeared midair next to the four New Justice members, showing a sound wave profile chart accompanied by a small caption that read AC-S001136 underneath it. Help's voice was broadcasted over the headquarters' audio system.
"While synced with the Grotto's systems, I can maintain a presence of awareness that encompasses the entire base. Put into human terms, I am everywhere. However, my mobile platform is currently in the kitchen. Lunch has been prepared, if any of you are hungry."
"Liking that robot more every minute," Lian said with a smile. "Which way to the kitchen?"
"Proceed directly north thirty feet to the nearest—" Help said, beginning to give directions, before he was cut off.
"I'll show them, Help," Helena interrupted. Without another word, Help's holo-display disappeared. Helena turned to the others with a smile on her face as she rolled her eyes. "Sorry. Help means well, but he really needs to learn how to say 'through that door'."
Helena led them through a doorway and down a hall to the kitchen. They walked in a brief silence as each of them tried to think of something to say. Green Arrow came up without a single idea as for what to say, and Lian had run out of things to poke fun of.
Robin was the one who managed to break the silence. "So, how's Help as a roommate?"
"Honestly, I forget he's around most of the time," Helena said. "The first few days when I was moving in, he was standing off in the corner, linking up with the Grotto's computer systems. He still does that a lot now, but he says hi every now and again, and I see him whenever we eat. Plus whenever I leave something in the toaster, he announces over the loudspeaker when it's done."
"What is the Grotto?" Green Arrow asked. "I heard Help mention it earlier."
"Oh, right," Helena said. "It's uh, what Help and I decided to name this place. Makes sense right? Underwater headquarters and all that."
"Speaking of names," Robin asked, "did you pick one out for yourself?"
Helena stopped mid-walk and turned to face the others, smiling. "Actually, how does…"
Helena spun a full three-sixty, tendrils of brilliant red magical energies encircling her. As if caught up in a wind, her clothes whipped and fluttered about. Where the tendrils touched her clothes, the fabric shifted in color, fit, and material. Her brief twirl came to an end in sync with the light show, revealing Helena in a whole new outfit.
Instead of her normal civilian clothes, Helena now wore a black, form fitting jumpsuit with a dark red zipper that ran up the front of the torso all the way up the collar. Two dark red stripes branched off from the zipper, reaching up to her shoulders and then traveling down her arms. The stripes were mimicked on her black gloves that ended at her wrists, coloring her middle and ring fingers. She also wore calf-high, dark red boots.
"…Black Magic sound?" Helena finished. She held her arms out and gave a quick twirl to show off her new costume.
"Nice!" Robin said, smiling.
"It fits," Green Arrow agreed.
"Thanks, guys," the newly christened Black Magic said, beaming.
The group's attention shifted expectantly over to Lian, who remained looking relatively uninterested. She raised an eyebrow at the looks they gave her before finally understanding what they were asking.
"I'm working on it," Lian said dismissively, referring to her lack of super identity.
The group resumed walking, and Robin fell into step with Black Magic. He swore he saw her eyes sparkle with a momentary glint of the same red glow her powers gave off, and something tugged at his brain. His gut got a strange feeling in it, accompanied by a slight buzz in the back of his skull.
Talk to her. His brain seemed to urge.
"So, no mask?" Robin asked, trying to strike up a conversation.
"I thought about it," Black Magic said. Her eyes flared with red glow for a brief instant, and a dark red domino mask flashed into existence on her face. A moment later it vanished. "But I don't really have any secret identity to worry about revealing. I live here, no family, maybe five friends, not even a last name. If some supervillain found out who I was, they'd know more than me."
She said it as a joke, but Robin thought he detected a bit of sadness. The thought wormed his way into his brain that he should see what was wrong, but he dismissed it, unsure where it came from. If Black Magic wanted to talk about it, she would.
The four reached the kitchen and dining room, where they found Help dressed in his usual semi-formal attire, with the peculiar addition of an apron, setting the table for seven. The sight was strange enough to make everyone stop and stare.
Help finished his task and turned, greeting the team with a picture perfect smile. "Hello Team. Please, seat yourselves. Aquaman and Superboy should be joining us shortly."
"He can cook?" Lian asked.
"Help can rapid download and stream information, instructions, and tutorials from the internet," Black Magic explained, having been around Help the longest, with the possible exception of Robin. "What he can't already do, he can learn in seconds."
"This is a slight exaggeration," Help said. "Though I can flash download any human-accessible skills, I cannot replicate flight, energy projection, and several other superhuman abilities."
"Always so modest," Black Magic laughed. Help just cocked his head, slightly confused. He hadn't been trying to be modest, he had simply been stating the facts. Why then, he wondered, had Black Magic misinterpreted? Or, perhaps, had she been poking fun at him? Humans.
Black Magic sat first, and Green Arrow moved to sit next to her, only to be cut off by Robin, who sat there first. Green Arrow internally shrugged, and took the seat across his friend, and next to his surrogate older sister.
Superboy and Aquaman both entered in, taking their seats at either head of the table. "I am glad you could stay for dinner with us friend," Aquaman said to his long time teammate.
"Well, you know I couldn't miss out on Help's cooking," Superboy said, sticking a fork into his food. "Frankly, the rest of the League should be jealous."
"I am so jealous of the Justice League right now," Wally muttered, rubbing the back of his neck in exasperation.
Megan was being uncooperative. Again. She got this way whenever she heard Robin was going off to the new Team's headquarters. What were they calling themselves? New Justice.
Megan hadn't stolen a Kid Flash suit and gone off on her own superhero crusade (well, at least not since that one time when she was eleven), and for that Wally was grateful. But she very clearly wanted to. The entire Watchtower catastrophe had only strengthened her burning desire to be a hero, and her parents' rejection of the idea had spawned a streak of teenage rebellion.
Usually, Wally let Artemis handle their stubborn daughter. She was good at that. But Artemis was on a girl's day with Karen, Cassie, and Raquel, leaving the former speedster alone to deal with Megan, who had locked herself in her room immediately after hearing from Robin that he was heading off to a meeting with his teammates.
Wally stood at the door to his daughter's room. Though it went against everything he'd said to himself and Megan, right now he just might take the old red and yellow and people trying to kill him over dealing with a teenaged concoction of himself and Artemis.
Nevertheless, he knew the potential dangers of parenthood when he signed up. Well, actually he hadn't, but it wasn't something you could back out of.
Wally knocked on the door. "Megan? Megan, come on out, food's getting cold."
"Not hungry," the door responded.
"Megan, we both know that's a lie," Wally said. "We share the same metabolism."
"Except I never burn any calories, because you and Mom have me locked inside day in and day out," the door protested.
"Megan…" Wally began, searching for the right words. "We've been over this a million times. Your mother and I retired so we could all have a normal life, away from all that."
"What if I don't want a normal life?" the door demanded in Megan's voice. "You and mom both chose to be heroes, same as Batman, Zatanna, Aquaman, Miss Martian, and Robin! You two chose to give it up too. What makes me so different that I don't get a choice?"
"Megan, we were trained!" Wally defended. "And look what happened to us. I spent years, never knowing when I woke up if that would be the last day I ever saw. I watched friends die, people thought I was dead, there were times when I couldn't even trust my best friend. Your mother and I… we never wanted any of that for you. We—"
The door of Megan's room had opened a crack, letting Wally get a glimpse of his daughter. Though he couldn't be sure, he thought that was a Flash t-shirt she was wearing.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It's just… not easy, watching from the sidelines. But you're right. I'm not trained. And, unless someone were to train me…"
"Not happening kid," Wally said.
Megan gave a frustrated sigh, closing the door again. Wally decided to switch up his tactics. "Okay, guess I'll just have to eat all eight of the pizzas on my own…"
Behind him, Wally West heard the door open up again, and chuckled to himself. Long term, he knew Megan would broach the subject again, but at least for now, he had won, and his daughter would be safe and far away from the hero life…today.
Tomorrow, the argument could very well start all over again.
Back in the Grotto, lunch was going along smoothly. Both Robin and Green Arrow were enthusiastic in keeping Black Magic occupied with conversation, something Lian noted with a smirk and raised eyebrow. Help, though he wasn't eating, sat at the table with the others, doing his best to make conversation, though heaven forbid anybody made a joke, because Help could spend several minutes trying to determine exactly why it was deemed funny.
As things progressed though, Robin decided to ask what was secretly on everyone's mind. "Aquaman, Superboy, do we… have an idea of when we're getting our first mission?"
Aquaman and Superboy exchanged a glance before Aquaman spoke. "Mission assignments will come from Red Arrow, when you are needed."
"And when's that?" Lian asked. "Why are we even here if there's no mission?"
It was Superboy's turn to answer. "Team building. Just because you've all got a mission under your belt and you talk every now and again does not mean you can work well as a team. An effective team needs familiarity, order, trust. None of that happens unless all of you spend time together."
"Right," Lian muttered unconvinced, arms folded.
Aquaman and Superboy exchanged a glance before the oceanic hero spoke up. "Perhaps the five of you could spend the afternoon touring the Grotto? You could all benefit from familiarizing yourselves with the layout."
The members of New Justice exchanged looks.
"Well, Help and I do live here," Black Magic said, trying to stir up support for the idea. After all, there was still a lot she didn't know about her team mates. A chance to bond was welcome with her. "We could show you guys around."
"Uh…sure," Robin said, noticeably disappointed that they didn't have a mission yet.
"I guess," Lian huffed.
And so New Justice found itself meandering about the many corridors of the Grotto as Help and Black Magic showed them the living room, the dorm rooms, the library, the showers, the workout room, and the Fishbowl, a room with a reinforced glass floor, walls, and ceiling that allowed an unimpeded view of the surrounding ocean deep.
Green Arrow stopped, noticing that they'd passed by a set of tightly shut doors. "Help, what's this room?"
The tour party stopped, turning to look at the door Green Arrow had pointed out. Help's eyes glowed with a briefly increased brightness as he accessed his files, and then his face formed a definite frown.
"Working," Help said, accessing blue print layouts from the League databases. After a moment, he answered. "Unknown. It is not on file."
"I've never gone there either," Black Magic said, hand touching the cool metal of the door. The Grotto was made from the combined wrecks of the Reach's flagship and the Watchtower, mixed with a reconstruction and retrofit process to make everything sync together. But this door was decidedly Reach in origin. Cautiously, as if unsure if it would cause an explosion, Black Magic pushed a button on the control panel of the door, but there was no response.
"Nothing," Green Arrow murmured. "Help?"
"The door is non-responsive to any electronic commands," Help reported. "I would also advise against any further attempts to open it. The number of likely dangerous scenarios is—"
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," Lian interrupted. "Besides, if we quit now, the door wins."
"I was not aware we were participating in a game," Help said, blinking in confusion. "Especially a competitive one in which we are pitted against an inert door."
Lian pinched the bridge of her nose. "Oh, he's going to take some getting used to. Robin, open the door."
The entirety of New Justice looked to the Boy Wonder, who looked right back at them. He weighed out his options in his mind. On one hand, Help had a point. There was no telling what was behind the door. But on the other hand, his curiosity was piqued. And logically, the odds of this one door being the only thing separating them from crushing ocean pressure were pretty low.
"Nepo emases," Robin said.
The door responded by swooshing open, and Robin's first thought was that he'd just gotten them all killed. Water rushed out to meet them, they all lost their footing, and as Robin's forehead made heard contact with the floor he prepared himself for the wall of water that would rush in and fill the entire hallway.
It never came though, and after a moment Robin realized he had simply been face planted into about two inches of sea water. Robin propped himself on his hands and knees, looking around to check the status of his teammates.
Green Arrow had dropped his bow, which now lay a few feet away from him. Black Magic and Lian were both wet but perfectly fine beyond that. Help lay on his back, eyes still lit up without any expression on his face.
Black Magic got to her feet, her body momentarily flashing red. Just like that, the water was evaporated from her body, as if se'd never even gotten wet. The others were on their feet soon after.
"Help, you okay?" Black Magic asked, holding her head after having hit it in the fall.
"Yes," Help confirmed. A microsecond computation was all it took for Help to determine why they could possibly be worried about him, given that he was made of steel and ceramic. "I am designed to be water resistant up to one thousand feet. I am capable of functioning while wet."
Help turned to Robin and Lian, and his facial expression shifted slightly to where it almost resembled a reprimanding glare. "I see it is still common place for young heroes to ignore my warnings of potential risk."
"Hey, we're still alive, aren't we?" Lian defended.
"Guys," Green Arrow interrupted. "You might want to take a look at this."
The group turned to see what the Emerald Archer was talking about. He pointed through the now open door. Looking into a room that was decidedly Reach, they saw what could only be signs of a struggle. There were several dents and dings in the walls, as well as plasma burns, and patches of the walls that looked structurally warped. The floor was still wet, covered in algae and coral that until moments ago had been living submerged in water.
New Justice stepped in to look around. Help's head swept back and forth as his eyes recorded video and image of the site, cataloguing it into the Grotto's schematic and League's databases. At the same time, he was accessing League time stamps to determine where every member of the Justice League and the Team had been while the Reach capital ship had been in action, trying to determine what could have caused this.
"Whoa," Lian said, examining the signs of battle. "Reach knew how to throw a party."
"Okay, I'm still a little rusty even with Help's history lessons," Black Magic said, picking up a rust covered object that resembled a staff. "What…happened here?"
"Accessing League databases," Help announced. The brightness of his eyes increased and a moment later they were projecting a holographic computer screen for the others to see. " Following a surprise attack on the Light and the Reach, the Team attempted to board the Reach vessel, which had been hovering above the United Nations building in New York City. The Team's attack was repelled, and the vessel fled into the Atlantic, here, where it was brought down."
The holoscreen vanished as help finished his story.
"What's this do?" Lian wondered as she pressed a control panel on the wall. All heads swiveled in her direction to see what she was doing.
The door closest to her opened up, and this time no water was spilled. The group wandered in.
The walls of this room were lined with small pods that reminded them of security pods they'd been trapped in when the Watchtower had been taken over. Except these looked smaller. Less comfortable. And decidedly more alien. The air was damp and stale, having been sealed tight fore nearly twenty years.
"Help?" Robin asked, requesting information on their surroundings.
Help picked up on the one word cue. "Database entries made by the Flash label these containment units as Reach stasis pods. This was one of the labs where meta gene experiments were conducted."
Green Arrow wandered a bit away from the group to examine one of the stasis pods more closely when he stepped in a puddle of water. Out of curiosity, he looked up. Sure enough, there was a jagged steel girder, definitely of human origin, jutting down through the Reach ceiling. The girder had been jammed through in so tight a fashion, it had made a watertight seal, preventing this room from being flooded to the brim.
Well, mostly watertight, Green Arrow realized as a single drop of water hit him in the mask.
"That has to be one slow drip if all it's done in twenty years is make a puddle," Green Arrow surmised.
"What was that?" Lian asked, coming over to see what he was talking about. After looking up, she saw for herself and whistled. "Wow. Talk about luck. Another centimeter of a gap between that thing and the ship, and this room would be underwater."
Lian bent down to pick up a piece of shattered glass from the floor, and then threw it at the girder. It made a light shattering noise as the tiny piece broke into even tinier pieces on contact with the metal.
"Uh, you sure it's a good idea to be messing with that?" Green Arrow asked.
"Oh, grow a spine," Lian said. "If the pressure of being this far underwater hasn't already opened that up, throwing something at it won't either."
Just to prove a point, this time Lian drew a shuriken from her pocket and threw it at the girder. It hit with a ringing clang, which echoed in the quiet of the room. Robin took notice of what was going on now.
"Hey, be careful!" he chastised. "This area isn't reinforced like the rest of the Grotto!"
"Fine," Lian groaned. "If it's really going to worry you two that much, I'll stop."
No sooner had she said this than the metal above them gave a long, low, tortured moan, followed by a rattling groan, and then a very brief, sickening screech. Everybody went dead quiet, nobody moved, as if their movements would cause the roof to cave in on them bring the ocean down on top of them.
"Maybe we should get out of here," Black Magic suggested nervously.
"A very excellent suggestion" Help readily agreed. If a robot's voice could sound afraid, then Help's definitely would have.
They all took a step towards the exit, and then all hell broke loose. The girder slid a full foot, breaking its seal with the roof, and water came rushing in. Green Arrow, almost directly underneath it, went down first, soon lost under the torrent of water. Lian called out to him as the girder slipped further, opening up a new gap which a different jet of water shot out of.
Lian tripped up, going face first into the water and the floor. The tide of the water flowing in carried her off and slammed her against a wall. She was vaguely aware of the exit doors shutting, and after that, the water level began to rise very, very quickly.
The years of holding up the ocean were at an end for the ceiling above them, and a stress line formed and burst, letting water in from a third location.
Lian struggled, but finally managed to stand. The water was already up to her waist.
"The room will completely filled within twenty five seconds," Help calculated for everyone. "We must evacuate immediately!"
"No shit!" Lian yelled in response. She sloshed towards the door controls but when she pushed them, they didn't respond. "The door's not working!"
"Where's Green Arrow?" Black Magic yelled above the cacophony of rushing water.
Everyone looked in every direction, but he was nowhere to be seen. The water was almost midway up their stomachs now and climbing fast. They had to get out, now.
"Lian, look for Arrow, I'll get the door!" Robin ordered.
"Since when are you the boss of me?" Lian demanded.
"Uh, guys…" Black Magic interrupted nervously. The water had reached her chest.
"Lian, we don't have time to argue, just do it!" Robin yelled.
Lian rolled her eyes and grumbled something about taking orders from a toddler before drawing in a breath and diving under the water, which wouldn't have been necessary in a few more seconds.
"Black Magic, plug the leaks as best you can," Robin said.
Black Magic nodded, and her eyes glowed bright red as she got to work. Lain burst up from the water, gasping for air. "Arrow's stuck under a pod! I can't lift it!"
"Help, give Lian a hand," Robin tasked.
The android boy gave a nod before diving underwater along with Lian. Meanwhile, Black Magic was in the process of stretching a pod flat and pressing it against one of the tears in the ceiling. Once she had it in place, Black Magic glared in concentration, and the warped pod and damaged ceiling fused like they'd been spottily welded together. It wouldn't hold for very long, but it would stem the tide somewhat. The first breach covered, she turned her attentions to the other two.
Their feet had all stopped touching the floor.
Using her telekinetic spell Black Magic was able to wriggle the steel girder almost back into its original position, bringing the number of jets flooding the room back down to one. A few moments later, Help and Lian surfaced carrying an unconscious Green Arrow in between them.
Robin swam over to their exit. Just to make sure, he tried the door controls, which were by now underwater. Just as when Lian tried they were non responsive. He grit his teeth. Plan B.
"Nepo emases!" Robin yelled, almost in desperation as the water carried them higher and higher up towards the ceiling.
The doors opened, and all the water that had flooded the room now came rushing out, carrying New Justice with it. They were swept along like a leaf in a river current, bashed against several walls along the way, and finally dumped back in the Grotto hallway that had first led them into their predicament.
They were scattered, Lian face first in the water groaning, Help propped up against the wall, Green Arrow motionless on his back, and Robin laying down panting for air with Black Magic haphazardly sprawled out on top of him.
They were all still fresh out of the experience of nearly drowning, tired, low on air, soaking wet, disoriented, and very glad to be alive. Around them, water continued to trickle into the hall like a peaceful brook, nothing like the unforgiving torrent they'd faced earlier.
Help was the first one to get up, dripping wet. Very calmly he strode to the door that led off into the formerly unexplored areas of the Grotto, and after the door controls failed to respond, he grabbed the door and pulled it shut with a single powerful whir of his servo motors.
"From this moment onwards, I trust you will put more weight with my judgment, Ms. Harper," he said.
"You got it," Lian muttered into the water that had pooled around them.
Green Arrow coughed, water coming up, and rolled onto his stomach before vomiting out the buckets of seawater he'd drank after going under. His mask hung lopsidedly on his face, his hood was clinging to him in a cumbersome, heavy fashion, and his skin was pale, but he was breathing again. He would be okay.
"For the next team-building exercise, might I recommend something slightly more...subdued?" a calm voice offered.
Robin looked up from his position underneath Black Magic. "Aquaman!"
New Justice's supervisor folded his arms, but the Boy Wonder caught the subtle smile on his face. "Would any of you care to explain what happened here?"
"I, uh…" Lian began, because she knew that the entire mess was in fact her fault. She'd been the once to suggest forcing open the unresponsive door, and she'd been the one to loosen the girder that had nearly ended up drowning them.
"I can explain," Robin interrupted, getting up.
Lian was prepared to hear Robin throwing all the blame on her. Which is what she would have done anyway, but she was allowed to throw herself under the bus. No one else. But before she could open her mouth to yell "It's all a lie!", Robin began a carefully woven tale of how they'd found a door nobody recognized and, in curiosity, set about exploring it. It was followed up with a convincing lie that the structural integrity of the Reach vessel ruins had failed on its own, and it wrapped up with a heartwarming account of all of them finally managing to get out of there alive.
They were reprimanded for going into a potential dangerous area, but Aquaman ended the lecture fairly quickly, saying that he was glad they were alright, and left them with the suggestion to go dry off.
Where was the "It was all Lian's fault?" in that little story? Lian must've missed it, because she hadn't heard a shred of blame being placed on herself. Or on anyone for that matter.
"If our team building session has ended for the time being," Help said, "I am going to drain my mobile platform of excess water."
"Way ahead of you Help," Black Magic said. Her body flashed bright red in a repeat of her drying off spell, and the water once again evaporated from her body, like she'd been absent from the whole debacle. "I need some rest."
Black Magic walked off, headed for the closest thing the Grotto had to a living room.
"I'm going to go dry off too," Green Arrow announced. "The old fashioned way, with a towel. I'll meet up with all of you later."
That left Robin and Lian alone together in silence, which Robin didn't really take much notice of. Instead, he just shook some of the excess water out of his hair and ran his hand through it a few times to try and put it back into a reasonable shape.
"Thanks for not ratting me out," Lian said, breaking the silence.
"We're a team," Robin explained as if it was obvious. "There's no blame game. One of us falls, we all do."
"Speaking of the team," Lian said. "For a half-sized squirt, you did alright getting us out of that jam back there. I know being the oldest, you kids probably all want me to be leader-"
Robin raised an eyebrow at that, and Lian's playfully annoyed tone. Who ever said anything about her being leader?
"-but…you just might wanna take the job. You're certainly good at explaining our messes to Aquaman."
Robin scoffed at that. "Thanks, Lian."
Together, the two of them left down the hall to go find someplace to dry off. As they did, Robin idly asked, "So, any ideas on what you're going to call yourself yet?"
002: Whew. It. Is done. Well, you know, this episode anyway.
Reader23417: But this one was way shorter than the last one!
002: Hey, last episode was a special extended length for the premiere. And besides, this was a much quieter episode. Next episode is more action oriented, given the fact that its New Justice's first mission, so it might be longer. Or shorter. Sue me.
Anyway, so now that Endgame came out, I've slightly edited my head canon. The Team boarded the Reach ship that was above the UN, but couldn't quite win, and they fled to join up with the rest of their fleet on Earth. The Justice Leaguers who'd gone into space arrived and helped take down the fleet, but even as that wrapped up, the Reach deployed their MFDs as a last ditch effort to destroy the Earth. And from there, the ending of Endgame happened.
I'm only telling you guys all this because its just backstory that I don't plan on actually making into a full story, and anyway, it spoils nothing.
Once again, shoutout to BatmanPrincess43 for doing the beta for this episode, and for helping come up with the opening scene. You've been an awesome help so far, and we're only just getting started!
So, we saw (or referenced) a couple of young, non-New Justice heroes in this episode. No foreshadowing there... Ahem.
Serious Question: How do you guys feel about the chapter length? I purposely have them in a longer, conflict-and-resolution-in-one format so they feel more like tv-episodes, but if they're a bit of a pain I can break them up.
Stupid Question: What was your favorite out of all of Help's "humans are wierd" moments?
Obvious Trivia Question: What does Zatanna's third "spell" translate to?
Headdesk Trivia Question: What is the new Green Arrow's real name? (Hint: He's taken from the comics.)
Until next time, all!