And so it was that I began my illustrious career as a PR intern…
In the guise of Julie Meriwether, I had the ability to keep tabs on what was happening in Webster’s office. Unfortunately, there was very little I could do in the way of changing what he was doing, other than making suggestions, but at least I could make sure that he wasn’t going too far and I could report back to Clark and Diana as to what was happening.
As expected, Webster seemed to devote the majority of his time and energy to debasing Leon McKinley and his ilk. From Webster’s way of thinking, it became less important to push our image and more important to destroy our detractors. I can’t say that I subscribe to that point of view, but we had decided to let Webster run things his way and see where the chips fell. Little did the League know that things would progress as far as they did… but I’m getting ahead of myself again. For the time being, I was mainly focused on watching over him from the "insider" perspective.
As is usually the case in such endeavors, however, other problems began to surface that required my involvement as well. It seems that soon after Dick and Barbara’s wedding, things between Dick and Bruce began to sour. It’s not like the concept of tension between those two was an entirely new one, but given how close they had become in the time building up to the wedding, this rift seemed to be much greater than those in recent past.
Whatever the cause, we in the League didn’t know what was going on; all we saw were the effects on Batman - in League meetings, League events and in the field. Batman was never one to let his personal problems affect his performance when it truly mattered - when we really needed him, he was there. But in the weeks following the wedding, Batman’s definition of what required his involvement began to differ greatly with the rest of the League. The weekly meetings became more of an afterthought for him - he’d show up late and leave early, if he bothered to show at all. Mostly, it just seemed like he couldn’t be bothered. Likewise, word began to spread throughout the Superhero Community as a whole that when it came to running any kind of operation in Gotham City, avoidance was the best policy. Batman had once again staked his claim on Gotham being his city and any activity within city limits required his involvement. Truthfully, he was the most intense we'd ever seen him outside of Hell Month.
I made several trips to Gotham during that time - mostly at the behest of Clark and Diana - in order to check in on Batman… at least, that was the official reason. In truth, I was using these little jaunts to get away for a night or two. After one particular trip involving one of Bruce’s remote Bat Caves, a handful of heroes, and a Sex and the City marathon - that unfortunately, I don’t remember all that well - I decided to put an end to those visits. Damn that Nabisco Corporation and their "Bold, New Flavor" of Oreos… I think it was the Fudge Mint that finally did me in…
As it turns out, The League’s next big mission didn’t come from a faraway galaxy or major supervillain attack, or even from people like Leon McKinley, but rather from a strange, disturbing message from Atlantis. Concerned over the lack of visibility of the League as we dealt with this new problem, Webster took it upon himself to call up several of the Reservists - and push the public view of the League into a whole new direction. As I discovered while working for him as Julie, this was just a sample of the lengths that Webster was willing to go to…
"I don’t understand it." Webster tapped his fingers onto the stack of newspapers that sported headlines like: McKinley Foundation Discloses Full Donor List and Foundation List Shows Even Support.
"Every time," he continued, a strange calmness to his voice that belied his true frustration. "Every time I come up with an angle, they've got a response within a day that blows the whole thing out of the water. First it was the financials. You would think that with that much money going into the Foundation that someone, somewhere, was skimming a little off the top. And in the middle of our investigation into it, they publicly release a full financial disclosure - showing every last penny going to its intended recipient. Then, no sooner had we started setting up interviews with beneficiaries of the Foundation’s charity than they start that ridiculous ad campaign showing 'true testimonials' from all the people they've helped."
The other two occupants of the room - Julie, the intern, and Laura, Webster’s executive assistant - watched silently as Webster rambled on, both slightly concerned that their boss’s head was going to explode at any moment. Julie was still relatively new, but Laura was sure that in her 6 years of working for Hoyt, she had never seen her boss quite this agitated. It was strangely fascinating to watch as he remained outwardly calm and in control, but the veins in his neck were throbbing so much they looked as though they would suddenly burst, sending his head into a lunar orbit.
Webster continued, either not noticing the growing concern on his employees' faces or just outright ignoring them. "And it didn’t stop there. Every last thing I've tried: the lawyers, the judges, the employee records for the Foundation… even the anti-metahuman lobbyists they're using are all above board. And now this!" Webster tipped his hand toward the stack of newspapers. "I finally discover that a large number of Republican National Committee members have been donating to his Foundation - and I’m thinking 'Now that’s something I can work with'. I can turn this whole battle into a political fight - elevate it to the national political level where I have more than a little experience. And just as I’m getting ready to go after him and the whole RNC, we get this…"
Webster picked up the Washington Post from the top of the stack and read aloud from the feature article. "… and the newly released Donor’s List from the McKinley Foundation reveals not only a large number of corporate and regional donations, but also quite a few large personal donations from some of the most powerful and influential people in Washington. The most interesting fact revealed in the list, however, is that McKinley’s Foundation and what it represents appears to inadvertently be the most unilaterally bi-partisan issue to pour through the District in decades. Congressmen and Senators from both sides of the aisle as well as several high ranking members of both the Democratic and Republican National Committees have included the McKinley Foundation in their annual charitable donations…"
Webster threw the paper back down onto the desk. "I've never seen anything like this. This guy really knows how to cover his tracks."
"W-what if he’s not covering anything?" Julie asked timidly, unsure about interrupting Webster at what appeared to be a rather volatile moment. "What if everything about him and this organization really is legitimate?"
Webster stared at the young woman, a hint of incredulity creeping onto his face. "Ms. Meriwether, surely you're not really that naïve. You're young - I understand that - but certainly you know by now that there’s nobody in the universe that’s that perfect. In fact, when something is this seemingly perfect, that just means there’s so much more going on behind the scenes. I just have to find out what… and once I do, I can crush him like a grape…"
The two women traded concerned glances. "Boss?" Laura interrupted, stepping forward. "Are you alright? I don’t want to overstep my bounds here, but I've never seen you this… intense about a client before. It’s like you're taking this whole thing personally…"
"What? No, It’s just…" he paused, chuckling lightly. "Damn you, Damocles."
Laura and Julie exchanged a "yep-that’s-it-the-boss-has-finally-gone-round-the-bend" look. Misreading the look as confusion, Webster explained. "Roman History 101, ladies. Damocles - member of Dionysius' court, makes a comment about how great it must be to be king - Dionysius sits him on the throne with a sword dangling over his head, explaining that this is what being a king feels like… It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop… that overwhelming sense of impending doom…"
"We know what it means, Webster" Laura responded, "and as entertaining as it normally is to listen to you ramble on about ancient Roman history, we're still a little unclear about how all of this pertains to right now…"
Webster sighed lightly. "Something’s coming," he replied cryptically. "Something big. I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but McKinley’s got something huge on the horizon, I can feel it."
"What do you mean, feel it?" Julie asked.
"Call it… instinct," he answered. "Intuition. A gut feeling. Whatever. I can just tell something’s on its way. It’s like I can see all of the pieces falling into place but I can’t tell what form they're taking. All of the public moves they've made over the last few months - they're setting up for something. The problem is: I have no idea what it is - and if I don’t know, I can’t prepare for it. Which is unusual for me, because I’m always prepared. Which is why I want to take him down before he has a chance…"
"Him?" Julie interrupted.
"What?" Webster countered, shaken from his thoughts.
"You said 'him', not 'them' or 'it'. You mean McKinley."
"Of course I mean McKinley," Webster retorted. "I've spent all this time going after the organization, I think it’s time to take a look at the man. He’s the key. He’s the linchpin. If I can take him out, the whole movement crumbles."
"But, you mean to attack him personally?" Julie asked, obvious concern on her face.
Webster replied, unable to hide the condescension in his voice. "Julie, if you really are planning on making a living in the PR field, you're gonna have to learn to check that Pollyanna crap at the door. This is the real world - we play for keeps here. Sometimes that means having to dig a little dirt, sling a little mud, just to get your point across. We're dealing with a level of opposition in the court of public opinion that we haven’t seen in decades and the only way to combat that is to point out the inherent fallacies in that opposition. And to do that, we have to take down the leader of that charge - in this case, McKinley. If you can’t handle that, then maybe you ought to think about switching majors…"
"Hey, I don’t have a Doctorate in Innocence or anything!" Julie responded with surprising verve. "I just wonder if this is really the approach you want to take, especially given who your clients are…"
"Wait, what did you say?" Webster replied with sudden interest.
"I-I said is that the approach you want to take, given who your clients are. I mean, do you really think the JLA would…"
"No, no," he interrupted again. "Before that."
"What? 'I don’t have a Doctorate in Innocence..'? It… It’s just an expression. My mother used to say it all the… What? What is it?"
This last part was in response to the oddly smug and satisfied look crossing Webster’s face. He suddenly began rummaging around on his desk, finally locating what it was he was looking for: the personal profile they had amassed on McKinley. Webster began thumbing through the pages, looking for something in particular. He smiled satisfactorily and leaned back in his chair, staring up at the two women standing there bewildered.
"Answer me this: why would a man who is so against Meta-humans and Superheroes of any kind - a man so vehemently opposed to them that he’s dedicated his life to speaking out publicly against them - why would a man like that write his doctoral thesis on the positive effects of Superheroes on the world?"
Transcript: GBS LivePrimetime
One man’s mission: An interview with Leon McKinley
Phillip Stone: Welcome back to LivePrimetime. We will return you shortly to the rare, in-depth interview with the primary voice in the push for more stringent legislative oversight on the growing Meta-Human population and the man behind the McKinley Foundation: Mr. Leon McKinley. Diane, from the first segment, it looked like Mr. McKinley is more than a simple figurehead…
Diane Finn: Thank you, Phil. Yes, you're quite right. From his public debates and speeches, Leon McKinley may seem like a rough, combative politico. In truth, he is actually a very warm, generous and kind-hearted individual. What some may mistake for anger or bravado is actually a heart-felt dedication to his beliefs. Some may not agree with his positions or his ideas, but no one can deny his strength, his convictions or his passion. He truly believes that his cause is just and, as I soon discovered, his reasons are far more personal than simple political drive…
CUT TO: Taped Interview.
Diane Finn: You actually hold a doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins, do you not?
Leon McKinley: Yes. I do.
DF: And what is it in?
LM: Psychology. Group and Societal Psychology, to be precise.
DF: Your doctoral thesis - what was the title?
LM: [Pause. Light smile] The Societal Effects of Superheroes on a Community and the Public At-Large.
DF: In it, you spent a great deal of time espousing the benefits of Superheroes, is that correct?
LM: [pause] Yes.
DF: In fact, your thesis seems to suggest that you believe that the more Superheroes there are in the world, the better off we all are - that Superheroes are crucial to the cultural and psychological survival of this planet.
LM: It could be taken that way, I suppose.
DF: So what’s changed? Why the sudden switch?
LM: First of all, Diane, the switch has been anything but sudden. That paper was written many, many years ago. I was much younger then; much more… naïve. Events in my life have forced me to adopt a… different point of view.
DF: "Events"? You're talking about the loss of your children?
LM: [long pause] Yes.
DF: If you can, please, tell us about it.
LM: [pause] It was Spring - 1997. The world was excited over the recent return of the JLA - back with it’s original members and more powerful than ever. I guess you could say that I was just as excited as most people, if not more so. Actually, I think the only two who were more excited than me were my two children - my son, Cory, and his older sister, Elizabeth. Their mother and I… well, we were going through a pretty nasty divorce at the time but the Judge had awarded us joint custody. It was my weekend with the kids and I decided to take them with me to Metropolis - I had a conference to attend the following week so I decided to go early and take the kids with me for a little sight-seeing. They were both extremely excited. It was their first visit to Superman’s hometown and Cory - he was ten at the time - spent most of the car ride looking out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Man of Steel racing across the sky. I still remember him like that - his eager young face beaming with joy, a red both towel tied around his neck like a cape… [pauses, eyes watering]
DF: Please, go on.
LM: [pause, light smile] His sister was highly annoyed with him the whole ride, chiding him about not embarrassing her once we reached Metropolis. She was 13, so of course, everything he did annoyed her. She tried so hard to be flippant about the whole thing, but I could tell she was just as excited as he was… Anyway, we spent most of the weekend taking in the sites of Metropolis - museums, the Metropolis Zoo, Adventureland Amusement Park - you know, all the "touristy" places. Anyway, I had managed to get us a room at the Siegel Hotel just off of Queensland Park. Saturday evening, we had just returned from dinner. The kids were watching TV and I was… in the restroom. There were several very loud explosions, followed by what sounded like shouting. I figured the kids had found some war movie on and, as usual, had turned the TV up too loud. I yelled for them to turn the TV down, but the explosions continued. I… finished my business, then came out of the bathroom and discovered that my kids were not sitting on the beds watching the television, but were instead standing at the window, staring out across the street. I asked them what was going on, but they were completely rapt by whatever it was. I ran to the window to see what had so fully grabbed their attention and froze. There, in the park across the street from our hotel, was not only Superman, but ALL of the JLA battling some strange creatures - which we were later told were "White Martians".
LM: The three of us stood there in silent awe, watching these mighty heroes in action - the blast of powerful beams, a blur of red motion, giant green shapes and golden ropes… it was this strange ballet of motion and power. I won’t lie to you, it was an impressive sight to behold. We were all so rapt, so completely engrossed by the scene that we didn’t even think of how close to danger we all were… until it was too late.
LM: I have thought about what happened next a million times since that day - and the truth is, there’s only so much I can remember. [Pause]. I remember standing there, watching the melee out of the window with my arms around my children’s shoulders. Then all of a sudden, there was a large mass sailing through the air… right toward our building. At first it just looked like a giant mass of dark blue but as it neared, I recognized it as a cape - the cape of the one they call the Martian Manhunter. Only, it wasn’t just the cape, it was him - his body was bent over in the middle and he was hurling backward. He'd been hit - either by a massive punch or some kind of blast - I don’t know. There was so much going on in the battle that it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. But what I did know was that his limp body was sailing through the air, not only directly toward the hotel, but unless something changed his direction, he was going to slam right into our window. I was shocked and frightened and panicked and… everything, all at once. My immediate thought was the children, so I gripped their shoulders and pulled them back away from the window. We'd made it all of three steps before the body came crashing through the glass.
LM: After that, everything is pretty much a blur. I remember feeling like I’d been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer - as it turns out, Martian Manhunter’s foot or leg caught me in the chest as he sailed past. My body went flying backward through the room, but his maintained its upward trajectory, tearing through the ceiling of our room and smashing up through the floor of the room above us. The Martian’s body continued its trajectory, tearing up through the floors at an angle and finally stopping - after going through three quarters of the building and up eight floors. Interviews with other hotel patrons later revealed that he had obviously been unconscious during his flight, but once his body stopped, he came to, disoriented and confused. After gaining his bearings for a second or two, he flew back out through the hole he had created and returned to the fight. I was unaware of any of this… because after getting hit, my body had flown the entire length of the room and I ended up smashed against the door, unconscious. I awoke with paramedics hovering over me. It wasn’t until then that I learned what had happened - at some point, either during the Martian’s initial crashing into the building or on his hasty exit, the ceilings in the three floors above our room collapsed in on each other, dumping close to two tons of debris into half of our room… [pause] and on top of my stunned children.
"Unbelievable." Webster stared down at the newspapers on the JLA Conference Table in front of him. Leon McKinley’s interview had sent his popularity through the roof. The general public, it seemed, empathized with the man’s plight and pitied the loss of his children. In one interview, he’d managed to launch himself into the minds - and more importantly, the hearts - of millions of people around the world.
"It is disturbing," Diana responded, believing that Webster was expressing similar sentiments to her own. She had been exceptionally moved and distressed over McKinley’s heart-wrenching tale, as had many others in the League. All of the active roster Leaguers were assembled in the conference room for the weekly meeting. Except Batman, who hadn’t shown up for the third week in a row. Superman stared at Batman’s empty seat, then around the table at his fellow Leaguers. It was apparent that they had all seen the McKinley interview - the weight of McKinley’s grief seemed to weigh on the room. It wasn’t a somber mood exactly, Clark noted. More of a detached professionalism - they were all there to do their jobs and everything else was superfluous at the moment. Wally, Kyle and Eel especially seemed to be purposefully ignoring the topic - mostly just out of respect for J'onn. Superman glanced over at his green friend, who sat as calm and stoic as ever. But Clark knew that behind those eyes, the guilt was just tearing away at him, knowing that he had been the one directly responsible for the McKinley children’s deaths…
No one else felt the need to speak aloud on the matter. For most of them, there was really nothing to say that they weren’t all already thinking. They all seemed content to just take it for what it was and move on. Well, almost all of them.
"Perhaps we should consider an apology," Diana offered. "A public showing of our own dismay over his tragedy. An olive branch of sorts…"
"An apology," Webster replied lightly. "No, that’s a great idea. That way, when the McKinley camp and every major news outlet in the country is accusing all of you of involuntary manslaughter, they won’t have to bother calling us for a comment because you've already apologized and admitted your own guilt."
"Admitted our own…" Diana sputtered back, staring at Webster incredulously. "Have you no shame, Webster! The man lost his family! And you're looking at political downsides?!"
"I agree that what happened is a great tragedy," he responded, "but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Leon McKinley is using that tragedy for his own personal and political gain." He matched Diana’s icy stare with a reserved calmness as he leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together across his torso. "Seriously, the sooner you people realize I know what I’m doing and listen to what I’m saying, the better off you are all going to be. Otherwise, you're going to know first hand what being on the wrong side of public opinion really feels like."
Diana took a deep, steadying breath. Whether she was trying to calm herself or simply gearing up for a blast of righteousness, the League would never know because before she could respond to Webster, a voice filled the room, coming over the Comm unit speakers.
"Uh, I hate in interrupt, guys, but we appear to have a visitor." The voice belonged to Ray Palmer, a.k.a. the Atom, who was sitting Monitor Duty. "Incoming teleport."
"Not to worry," Superman called back, shaken momentarily by the interruption. "It’s probably just Batman…" Clark fought hard to keep his growing aggravation with Bruce’s attendance record as of late out of his voice. He was as affected by the whole ordeal as the rest of them… no use in taking that out on Bruce.
"That’s what I thought too," Ray replied over the speakers. "But the source of the teleport isn’t Gotham… it’s Atlantis."
"Atlantis?" Superman questioned, trading confused looks with several of the other Leaguers in the room. They all turned toward the door to the conference room as it hissed open - but instead of Arthur, they saw a short, rotund man with silver-gray hair, dressed in flowing light blue robes, the ends of his handlebar mustache twittering up and down nervously.
"Vulko?" Superman greeted in surprise, moving to the doorway to shake the short man’s hand and usher him into the room. Most of the other Leaguers had met King Orin’s right-hand man before, but Superman politely introduced him around the table anyway, knowing Vulko’s propensity for formalities.
"So what brings you to the Watchtower, Vulko?" J'onn asked after shaking the man’s hand. "Don’t tell me that Arth… King Orin has decided it’s 'beneath him' to come speak with us personally and therefor sent you, his trusted lieutenant to speak on his behalf." J'onn smiled, knowing that Vulko would see the comment as a joke and not as a sign of any real disdain. Vulko did understand the Martian’s comment, but could only manage a weak smile over the obvious concern etched on his face.
"B-begging your pardon," Vulko stumbled, barely containing his unease. "I appear to have interrupted your meeting. If you prefer, I can wait outside until you are through…"
"Nonsense," Superman replied, laying a steadying hand on the man’s shoulder. "What is the problem, Vulko? Is Arthur okay?"
"Oh, were it so that we knew, sir." Vulko gushed. "The fact is, King Orin… i-is missing!"
Vulko explained the situation to the assembled Leaguers. Two weeks prior, King Orin had announced to Vulko and his court that he was taking a short sabbatical - a vacation of sorts. At the time, no one thought too much of it; fact was, the King had taken such leaves before. The affairs of the Kingdom rarely allowed him too much time away, so in those rare instances, he had been known to take a few days off to wander through the kingdom and, as he put it: reconnect with the inhabitants. However, in the past it was never more than a few days, or if it was, he would send notice via some undersea creature that he was going to be away longer. But this time, no such word came. After a week with no contact with their leader, the royal court became concerned and sent Vulko out to contact the other denizens of the deep to discreetly inquire about King Orin’s location. After a week of almost continual searching, the King was still no where to be found and poor Vulko was at the end of his rope. He had come up to the Justice League base in the hope that King Orin had decided to take his vacation in the relative seclusion of the Watchtower’s lagoon.
Upon confirmation that Arthur was indeed not on the Watchtower and that none of Leaguers had been in contact with him over the last few weeks, Vulko became distraught. Superman and J'onn did what they could to allay the poor man’s fears as they all went down to the monitor womb and the Watchtower’s central computers. They attempted to contact Arthur’s JLA Communicator, only to discover that he had left it in his bedchambers back in Atlantis. Using the Watchtower’s scanning systems and linking up with Oracle and the BatComputer, they tried a preliminary surface scan of the planet. When the scans came back with nothing, Ray explained that a more thorough search was possible but it would take days, if not weeks, to complete. Superman instructed him to go ahead and begin the thorough scans as they went through other options.
J'onn attempted to contact Aquaman telepathically but got no response. They tried everything they could think of, including looking through the Watchtower Teleport logs to see if he had used them to go anywhere. An hour later, they were no closer to finding him, so they reconvened in the conference room to go over their options. Considering who Arthur was, they quickly discovered that a personal search would be unlike anything they had ever undertaken - they weren’t just restricted to landmasses, as he could be anywhere in the millions of miles of uncharted ocean covering the planet as well.
Impossible task or not, their friend was missing - they quickly formed a search plan. Given their speed, Superman and Flash could cover the continents and landmasses the fastest. Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Plastic Man could begin searching the oceans' depths, Kyle’s ring, Diana’s body and Eel’s malleability granting each of them the ability to withstand the pressures of the deep. Vulko offered the services of a handful of Atlantian soldiers to assist in the underwater search, but any more than that, he explained, might raise too much suspicion in Atlantis.
It was decided that J'onn would stay behind on the Watchtower with Atom to continue the searches, electronic and telepathic, and to act as a sort of "mission control" for the search. Atom put the JSA on alert, filling them in on the situation and asking them to keep an eye open for trouble while the League was away. The Leaguers set up search routes and check-in time tables, then separated to prepare for the search - calling friends and family to explain that they would be gone for a while, setting up and testing their underwater breathing gear, etc.
Once it was down to just J'onn and Superman, Webster - who had been watching events unfold with a reserved awe - walked up to Superman, who was taking a final glance over the search routes on a holographic map floating just above the conference table.
"So, how long do you think this will take?" Webster asked quietly.
"As long as it takes," the Man of Steel replied cryptically. "Why do you ask?"
"Ballpark it for me. Are we talking a few hours? A day? What?"
Superman stared at the man for a moment, then returned his attention to the map. "Webster, we're going to be searching the entire planet for one person. It could take weeks…"
"Weeks?" Webster paused, quietly contemplating how to approach this conversation. "I've got to tell you, this isn’t going to look good."
"What do you mean?"
"You most vocal opponent just gave an interview where he announced that you all were responsible for the death of his children and you guys are going to disappear, possibly for several weeks. It’s going to look like you're hiding."
"Webster…" Superman returned his attention to the press agent. He looked as though he had been about to give Webster a curt response, then paused, honestly considering what Webster had said. "Honestly, right now I couldn’t care less about public opinion. Our friend is missing and we're going to go find him. If the public can’t understand and respect that…"
He let the statement go unfinished. Webster simply nodded. "I understand. I just wanted to make you aware…"
"Duly noted," Superman replied, shutting off the holographic projector and turning toward the door.
"What should I tell the press?" Webster asked, stopping Superman in his tracks. "They're already asking about your response to the McKinley interview, so what do I tell them now?"
Superman paused again. He knew all too well how the press were going to handle it - he knew how he’d handle it… "Tell them the truth," he answered finally. "Tell them our friend is missing and finding him is our priority right now."
Webster nodded and Superman left. Webster turned to J'onn, the only other one left in the room. "What if something happens while they're gone? What if there’s some big invasion or some monster ransacking the Midwest while they're out looking for Aquaman? Is everyone just supposed to accept that finding Aquaman takes precedence over the safety of the world?"
Normally, J'onn might be annoyed at the phrasing of the question, but he knew what Webster was up to - he was phrasing the question exactly the same way the press would.
"Of course not, Webster. If something that huge comes up, we can call them back. Plus, we've got the JSA, the Titans, Young Justice, and any number of other heroes we can call on. Not to mention, we have the League reservists." J'onn headed out the door as well, heading back down to the monitor womb.
Webster considered the answer for a long while. He slowly started to nod to himself, then headed over to one of the computer terminals in the conference room. Steel had setup the terminals' interface to be pretty user-friendly and Webster, being somewhat computer savvy, was able to find was he was looking for in a matter of minutes…
The JLA Reserves List.
Paul Booker, former small-time criminal turned Superhero Major Disaster, sat in his dingy apartment, fascinated with the newspaper in front of him. According to the article, Aquaman, long thought dead, was actually alive, but trapped 3000 years in the past in ancient Atlantis. The rest of the Justice League, it turned out, traveled back in time in order to rescue him and bring him back. The article, light on factual information but heavy on opinion, suggested a sort of arrogance on the part of the League - stating that they obviously cared more about themselves than the care and safety of the world.
Booker laughed out loud, his raucous voice booming through the sparsely furnished apartment. Stupid press - they act all high and mighty about it, but what if it was one of their fellow reporters that was missing? There'd be a call to action and a thousand crying interviews about how great the missing snoop was… whining friggin' maggots…
"Besides," he grumbled aloud to the wall, "what about the rest of us 'Hero-types', huh? What, you think the Justice League is the only game in town? Yeah well, fuck you very much too."
No sooner had the word "too" come out of his mouth than an ember from the cigar he was smoking popped off the end and dropped onto the newspaper, immediately setting it ablaze. In one-point-two seconds, he had nothing but a small pile of ash on his lap and one un-charred strip of paper between his fingers. He stared down at the ash pile on his lap.
"Friggin' chaos powers," he mumbled. "Gotta watch getting angry around flammables…"
He stood up, brushing the ashes off his lap, then trundled off toward the small kitchen area to get a fresh beer out of the fridge. He pulled out a bottle, popped it open with his teeth and took a swig, his mind still focussing on the newspaper article and his own "brush with Justice League greatness"… which only made him laugh again. Goddamn Max Lord and his Justice League Antarctica…
It wasn’t until that moment that he realized that the beeping he had thought was a delivery truck backing up to the warehouse next door was actually coming from his bedroom. He set the beer down on the kitchen counter and stumbled into the bedroom, trying to locate where the noise was coming from. After a few minutes of tossing clothes and knocking over old empty beer bottles, he finally centered in on his closet. He swung open the door, only to get buried in the cascade of clothing and debris that tumbled out. Another minute of digging later, he stood with a small beeping metallic device in one hand and an old bowling trophy in the other. He cocked his head sideways and stared down at the beeping device in confusion, like a dog after the furniture’s been rearranged. He depressed the small button, causing the beeping to stop and he rolled the small device over and over in his hand, trying to wrap his brain around what it actually meant…
The JLA was calling him up for active duty.
::Watchtower, this is Superman. Checking in.::
::This is Atom. We read you loud and clear, Superman. How’s it going out there?::
::Slowly but surely. I've just finished over Europe and I’m heading on toward the Middle East. Flash has covered most of South America and should be heading toward Panama now.::
Ray checked the map on one of the Monitor Womb screens and updated the surface search team’s progress. It was going slowly - slower than they had originally anticipated. It had been 4 days since the start of the search and the surface crew had only covered half the planet’s landmasses. Thankfully, Hawkman and Captain Marvel had offered to run a search pattern over North America, allowing Superman and Flash to concentrate on the rest of the world.
::Be careful out there, Superman. That area isn’t really well known for its love of blue and red streaks across the sky…::
::I will, Atom. How are things going up there?::
::About as slowly, I’m afraid. We're being as thorough as possible with the surface scans, but there’s a lot of bodies to filter through to find just one…::
::Like a needle in a haystack.::
::Actually, it’s more like finding one particular needle in a stack of 2 billion needles.::
::And the telepathic scans?::
::About the same:: came the reply, only it wasn’t Atom that replied, but J'onn, who had just entered the Monitor Womb in time to hear Superman’s question. ::Hey Superman, it’s J'onn.::
::Hey J'onn. Still nothing?::
::I’m afraid so. I don’t know what’s going on - I've tried several times to reach him, but I get no response.::
::And how are the others doing?::
The underwater teams weren’t fairing much better. The "handful" of soldiers Vulko had promised turned out to be six men - all fast swimmers and loyal to the throne, so their help was greatly appreciated, but only six extra bodies meant a lot more work than they were expecting.
::They're coming along as well.:: Atom responded ::They split into three teams - one Leaguer with two Atlantians. They started together in the Atlantic then Wonder Woman and her team went north, planning to circumvent the Arctic Circle. Green Lantern and his team went south and west to head around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Indian Ocean. And Plastic Man and his team went south and east to loop around South America and into the Pacific. At least, those are the plans. Fact is, none of them have even made it out of the Atlantic yet. I don’t think any of us really realized just how big Arthur’s "kingdom" really is…::
J'onn muted the Comm unit for a moment to confer with Atom. After the brief discussion, Ray nodded, then climbed out of the Monitor Womb chair and headed out the door. Once he was gone, J'onn returned to the Comm unit.
::It’s just me now, Clark. Ray had to go to a meeting.::
::A meeting? For what?::
::Well, that’s something else we'll need to discuss when you guys get back. It seems that Webster took it upon himself to call up a handful of Reservists for a meeting this afternoon…::
::What?! Whatever for?::
::I don’t know yet. All I know for sure is that he handpicked a group of Reservists and called them up here. He came in a while ago and asked Ray to come be a part of it…::
::Ray? But not you?::
::Yeah. He said he figured it was more important that I be involved with the search and that this was all nothing major…::
::I beg to differ…::
::As do I. Listen, don’t worry about it. I’ll handle things up here, you just find Arthur. Once this is all over, we'll have a nice long sit-down with Webster and discuss his true job description.::
::Count on it. So did you tell Ray to fill you in on what happens at the meeting?::
::No, I was thinking of a more direct approach.::
::Oh? How so?::
::You know me, Clark. I’m a being of many… resources.::
Major Disaster wondered what precise sequence of events had transpired that brought him here. First of all, he was seated in what had to be the most amazing chair his butt had ever been in - it’s like the padding simply molded to his shape and cradled him softly in a perfectly upright position. Secondly, this chair was one of eight that surrounded the JLA Conference table… in the JLA Watchtower… on the moon! Nextly, he was staring around the table at what he considered to be one of the strangest collection of Superheroes ever assembled.
Most of them he knew by name or reputation, though many he had never actually met in person. Seated right next to him was Firestorm, a young but powerful hero in a yellow and orange suit - whose powers, if Disaster remembered correctly, had something to do with rearranging matter on the molecular level. Next to Firestorm was Hawkgirl - which was a bit of a misnomer because from where Disaster sat, she was all woman. Next around the table was someone Disaster didn’t know but he was wearing what appeared to be a Green Lantern outfit - though Disaster couldn’t ever remember there being a black GL. Next to him was another green hero, and the one that had Disaster the closest to "star struck" he’d ever been in his life - Green Arrow. The Green Arrow - the original, not the teenage replacement. This guy was Old School cool - one of the founding members of the JLA and, if the infamous Superhero grapevine was to be believed, one of the best in the business. And from the way Arrow kept eyeing Hawkgirl, several of the other things the grapevine had said about him were true as well.
Next to Green Arrow was the one hero Disaster was the most surprised to see sitting at the JLA conference table (aside from himself, that is) - Nightwing, former Boy Wonder and partner of the Batman, founding member of the Teen Titans and now an amazing hero in his own right. It’s not that Disaster felt Nightwing didn’t belong there, but rather he was surprised that Nightwing would have anything to do with the Justice League. It was fairly well known that Nightwing normally tried to keep a pretty safe distance between himself and anything with DaddyBat’s fingerprints on it, so 'Wing’s involvement with the League seemed a little strange. Maybe things weren’t quite so bad between the two as originally thought.
On the top of the conference table, next to Nightwing, was a miniature version of the same kind of chair they were all sitting in. It was currently empty, but Disaster assumed that one was reserved for The Atom, another long-time hero and one of the smartest guys alive. There were two chairs still empty - one between Hawkgirl and Black GL-Guy and one between himself and Atom’s miniscule chair. He glanced around another time, noticing that many of the other attendees seemed to have the same confusion about this gaggle of heroes.
Before anyone could put voice to their concerns, the door to the conference room hissed open and a man in a well-pressed, three piece suit walked in, a six inch Atom on his shoulder. The pair reached the table and Atom leaped down, taking a seat in his chair on the table. The well-dressed man stood behind the vacant chair next to Atom and looked around the table, smiling wide.
"Thank you all for coming on such short notice," the man greeted, obviously the one who had called them up there in the first place - which Disaster found odd considering he’d never seen this guy before.
"Some of you may already know me," the man continued, "but most of you probably don’t. My name is Webster Hoyt and I am the Justice League’s Press Agent and Public Liaison."
The assembled Reservists traded glances back and forth across the table. Green Arrow stifled a chuckle.
"I’m sure you've all seen the paper," Webster continued, undaunted. "You know that the Justice League is currently… indisposed. As I’m sure you're also aware - some of you, painfully so -that public opinion of you cape-and-spandex types has been abysmal of late and that is why the League has hired me. I’m here to make them - and you - look better. To that end, I called you all up here today…"
"You called us up here?" Nightwing asked. When Webster replied in the affirmative, Nightwing stood up. "Right. Do me a favor: next time, don’t call me up here unless there’s a global crisis that requires actual League involvement."
As Nightwing started to move toward the door, Green Arrow muttered under his breath. "Damn, getting more like Daddy every day…"
Atom shot Green Arrow a disgusted look, then called after the leaving hero. "Nightwing! Please, come sit down and at least hear what Webster has to say. Both J'onn and I approved this meeting and I think there’s a few things here you need to be aware of."
Nightwing and Atom exchanged stares for a moment, then Nightwing finally relented and returned to his seat.
Webster continued. "I realize this is a bit atypical for most of you, but when I’m through, I think most of you will realize the importance of this meeting. As of this moment, you are the official roster of Reservists that will be called up in the event of an emergency that requires League involvement. So, we wanted to bring the seven of you up here to try and create a little more cohesion in the unit…" He stopped, noticing that the flame-haired hero had his hand in the air. "Fire… star, is it?"
"Storm, sir," Firestorm corrected. "Firestorm."
"Yes, okay. Firestorm, then." Webster corrected. "Firestorm, this isn’t Mrs. Tingle’s third grade classroom. You don’t need to raise you hand. If you have something to ask, just ask it."
"Oh," Firestorm replied meekly, as he hesitantly brought his arm down. "Okay."
"Well?" Webster prompted when Firestorm didn’t continue.
"Well, what?" the fiery hero asked, confused.
"Well, what was your question?" Webster asked slowly, exasperation creeping into his voice.
"Oh! Right! Um… well, it’s just that… there’s only six of us…" Firestorm glanced around the table, counting again to make sure. "Y-you said you brought the seven of us up here a-and there’s only six of us… unless you're including yourself in that seven, which is fine I suppose, except that you said ‘seven of you' not ‘seven of us', and the League is usually comprised of Superheroes and you don’t seem to have any powers or metahuman abilities…"
"Easy, ‘Storm," Disaster interrupted the rambling hero quietly. "You're about to pop your headband…"
Ignoring the rambling Firestorm, Webster leaned down and conferred with Atom for a moment and then stood back up and addressed the rest of the table. "I’m sorry, I thought everyone had made it. There will be a seventh joining us shortly, Firestorm. Anyway, as I was saying, we wanted to bring you all up here to create a little more cohesion in the unit - so that should the need arise for the League to make an appearance, you are at least familiar with one another and you know what to expect. In order to try and curb a lot of the ‘substitute Teacher' sentiment that seems to arise whenever the Reservists are called up, I will refrain from referring to you as the 'Replacement' or ‘substitute' League and I would strongly urge the rest of you to do the same. As far as I see it, you are now the Justice League and you will be until such time as the others return from their mission. The seven of you… put your hand down Firestorm… the seven of you were handpicked for your particular abilities and strengths. Each of you brings your own aspect and style to the group that, I think, will make you one of the strongest Leagues ever assembled. Sure, they may be a few teething problems, but that’s to be expected. Part of the reason for this meeting today is to try and get past those problems and try to solidify you all as a group. I also wanted to address with you a few policies we now have for the League as far as follow-up press conferences and announcements to the public."
Oliver suddenly burst out laughing. "Oh, I get it now. We were all picked for our particular 'abilities' - wink wink, nudge nudge."
Webster looked at Green Arrow, annoyed at being interrupted again. "What do you mean?"
"Check this guy out," Oliver joked, jerking a thumb in Webster’s direction and looking around the table. "We weren’t picked for our individual abilities, we were all picked for the same ability - we can all look good in front of a camera."
"Mr. Arrow, each of you met certain criteria…" Webster began.
"Yeah," Ollie interrupted. "We're photogenic. Seriously, look around the table, folks. We're the perfect little PC, multicultural melting-pot - just about every base is covered." Ollie went around the table, pointing to each of the seated Reservists in turn, starting with Nightwing, "We've got the Hunky Studmuffin, the Super-Brain, the Reformed Criminal, the Young & Flashy One, the Hot Girl, and the Black Guy. It’s our own little Diversity Super Group."
Offended by being referred to as 'The Hot Girl', Hawkgirl retorted. "So what’s that make you, Arrow? The Token Asshole?"
"Actually, I was thinking 'Grumpy Old Fart', but you say 'toe-may-toe'…" Ollie replied with a smirk. "Now all we need is a Native American and we've got…"
"Hey! I’m quarter Cherokee!" Disaster blurted, then glanced around at all the stares he was getting from the rest of the table. "What?!"
"Hey, that’s perfect, Kiddo. Now we're all set!" Ollie continued. "What I don’t get… and this is one of those things that’s bugged me for years… if we're supposed to represent the culture and make-up of this planet - whose total population is 54% female - why are we always so lacking in the Double-X chromosome department? I mean, it’s not like there aren’t strong female heroes out there - so why do these Super Teams always include just one filly…"
"What does that make me? Chopped Liver?"
They all turned to see a beautiful, young, dark-haired woman leaning back against the wall next to the doorway, wearing a strange purple and white bodysuit that left little to the imagination. Ollie whistled low, then muttered to himself.
"I should say not… because you couldn’t pay me enough to eat chopped liver, but I’d certainly… Whoa! Wouldja look at that! JuniorBat learned how to make that scowly face, just like Daddy’s!"
"Ah, wonderful!" Webster called, trying to steer the attention away from the stare-down and back to the new arrival. "You must be our seventh member. The one that Martian Manhunter recommended…"
"Faith," the young woman introduced herself as she sashayed across the room and took a seat in the empty chair between Hawkgirl and Green Lantern. The others traded glances, silently confirming with one another that none of them had ever seen or heard of this strange new arrival.
Sensing the reservations, Webster intervened to try and allay the rest of the League’s fears. "Welcome, Faith. You come highly recommended…"
Like the rest of the table, Atom eyed her suspiciously… but when Faith’s gaze met his, they stared at each other for the briefest of moments and Atom’s face suddenly lightened. "Ah! Yes. Faith. Thank you for coming. Both J'o… Martian Manhunter and I can vouch for this young lady. Quite talented - mostly magic-based powers if I remember correctly." Faith nodded.
The others began to warm to the new arrival when they realized that not only Atom, but J'onn - long considered to be the soul of the League itself - had hand selected her for inclusion. Greetings and introductions followed, with Major Disaster making a mental note that the Black GL-Guy did, in fact, refer to himself as Green Lantern. After the introductions, Atom spoke up again.
"Welcome aboard. I think you'll make a wonderful addition to our little gang here. As I've always said: every super group like this one could use a little Faith…"
The table collectively groaned and Faith hit Atom with the frank stare of someone who’s heard every religion-name pun in her lifetime.
"Well, she’s certainly making a believer out of me…" Ollie muttered.
"That’s enough, Arrow." Nightwing growled.
"Listen, Junior. I've been nose to nose with your old man more times than you've got years. What on Earth makes you believe that you can actually intimidate me?"
"Because unlike Batman," 'Wing responded viciously, "I have absolutely no qualms about punching that twinkle out of your eye."
Ollie smirked. "You may have the sack, Kiddo, but do you have the skills?"
Atom finally intervened. "Knock it off, you two…"
As the argument worked its way around the table, bringing in more and more participants, Webster began to consider if things could get any worse. His answer came in the form of a hand, sticking meekly up into the air.
"What is it, Firestorm?"
"Shouldn’t we have a name?"
"A name. Shouldn’t we have our own name… y'know like a code name or something. I mean, I know you said you wanted us to think of ourselves as The Justice League and all, but if we're calling ourselves the Justice League and the real Justice League comes back, isn’t that just going to cause all kinds of confusion and strangeness and stuff? I mean, if they come back and they're the Justice League and we're the Justice League, then who really is the Justice League…"
Firestorm continued to ramble as Webster began slowly rubbing the bridge of his nose and wondering exactly when he had so completely lost control of the meeting…
"The what?!" Wally asked, barely able to contain his chuckling.
Rather than answer, Superman merely shot him a non-committal look, preferring to avoid a whole conversation about Webster’s new replacement league. Truth was, Clark was more than a little miffed at Webster’s presumption, but leave it up to Wally to find the humor in the situation.
"The 'Obsidian League'?!" Wally chortled. "What, the 'Black League' sounded too ethnic?"
"Wally!" Superman chided.
"Shhh!" The curt shushing came from in front of them, where Zatanna and Tempest were concentrating on their incantations. They were all standing on a remote bit of shoreline on the Washington State coast - private property owned by one Oliver Queen. Tempest had contacted the Watchtower about a possible divination spell he and Zatanna were working on. Superman and Wally had finished up all they could searching dry land and were preparing to head underwater to join the others, so they decided to stop by and see if Zatanna and Garth had come up with anything.
What they had come up with was a giant ball of floating water, which neither Wally nor Clark could determine the precise meaning of. As they watched, however, Tempest shifted his hands and the ball started slowly revolving, small ripples appearing as it spun. The ripples grew and, to the Leaguer’s amazement, began to form the rough outline of landmasses - specifically the Earth’s continents.
"Good, good," Zatanna urged, then held her own hands up to help stabilize the ball. She muttered a few words under her breath and the ball grew bigger, faint details in the landscape becoming clearer.
"You ready?" Zatanna asked Tempest quietly and he nodded a quick response, afraid to lose concentration. Zatanna looked back over her shoulder to Superman and Flash who were watching intently now. The ball had grown to about 60 feet in diameter and both Superman and Flash were surprised at the growing size and amount water Tempest was siphoning out of the sea to create this monstrosity. "Hey fellas? I know it’s getting big, but it needs to be large in order to get clear enough detail to pinpoint a location. But we're gonna need you to watch here. We're going to be so busy keeping the spell going that we might miss it."
"What are we looking for?" Superman asked.
"It should look like a glowing yellow light inside the ball of water somewhere," Zatanna responded, turning her attention back to the still growing ball. By the time they finished, both Zatanna and Tempest were showing signs of physical struggle as the ball reached 100 feet in diameter. Superman and Flash were both studying the ball intently… so intently that Batman’s voice in their ears jolted them.
::Superman, this is Batman. I found him.::
Superman tore his eyes away from the mesmerizing ball and clicked his Comm unit on.
::Say again, Batman::
::I found him. I’m on my way there now. I’ll lead you to him.::
::You found him?!?::
It was an expression of surprise and delight. It was an exclamation of relief and awe. It was a week and half of frustration and bleakness bordering on desperation released in a single instant of jubilation. It was phrase of joy, a phrase of excitement, a phrase of pure exaltation.
It was a phrase, unfortunately for all of those involved, that was uttered a bit too loud.
In his exuberance, Superman had grabbed Flash’s shoulder. Flash - who had just begun to see a faint yellowish glow appear inside the ball and was completely focused on it - yelped in surprise.
Tempest, upon hearing the shout - a shout that portended the possibility that his mentor had finally been located - turned in surprise to confirm what he had heard. This unfortunately, left Zatanna, quite literally, holding the ball. She had just enough time to scream to Tempest’s name before she felt the magic giving way.
At the time it exploded, the ball was roughly 100 feet in diameter and contained approximately 524,000 cubic feet of water - close to 4 million gallons. At least half of that volume exploded straight down onto the four heroes on the beach. Thankfully, Tempest was able to dive into the relative safety of the sea, while Superman and Flash made sure to get Zatanna clear of the brunt of the blast. The other half of that water exploded upward… directly into the path of the Batwing as it flew in at treetop level.
With deft precision, extreme concentration and more than a little luck, Batman was able to successfully pilot the small plane away from the main geyser, but had to fight to keep the plane aloft as it was pelted from all sides by flying water. He finally managed to stabilize the aircraft and make a wide arcing turn back toward the shoreline, giving the column of rising water enough time to reach the peak of its ascent and then crash back down to the surface. As he neared the shoreline to meet up with Superman and Flash, he muttered three little words to himself.
"I hate magic…"
The Hunter crouched low on the small outcropping sticking out amongst the trees. With eyes like a hawk, he tracked the slow, methodical movement of his prey - a large anaconda sliding through the grass on its way back to its den. He hunted not for sport, but for food and a snake this size - close to 6 feet long - would feed him for several days. It was not his food of choice, but when the options are limited, one learns to make adjustments.
He watched the snake slithering casually around a tree trunk, blithely oblivious to its impending doom and couldn’t help the small smile crossing his lips. The Hunter straightened up slightly, raising his weapon and taking aim. This was it: the moment of truth - that moment that most hunters know about but rarely speak of - that instant just before striking when it all comes together, Hunter and Prey locked as one, caught in their inevitable dance. It was at that moment that, while he didn’t necessarily agree with it, The Hunter certainly understood the thrill and exhilaration of hunting for sport.
And it was at that moment that the large, black shadow screamed overhead, rustling the trees and shaking the ground with the power of its jet engines. The snake panicked, turned directly toward its home and slithered away quickly. The Hunter muttered curses under his breath, realizing the moment was gone and that he had to act quickly if he still wanted to claim his prize. He tracked the now speeding snake with his weapon, aiming true, and fired. The golden projectile streaked through the trees heading toward its rapidly escaping target… then was suddenly and unceremoniously deflected by a big red and yellow "S" that landed in its path.
Arthur stood, cursed again and retracted the harpoon back into his arm as a confused Superman walked toward the small rock outcropping. Arthur jumped down to meet him.
"You just lost me my dinner, Clark."
It was a strange greeting, to be sure, and one that hadn’t even been considered on Clark’s top list of greetings he expected in this situation. The man in front of him certainly looked like Arthur, though his hair and beard were a bit dirtier and scragglier and his skin tone was a bit darker. Clark might not have recognized him, but that golden harpoon on his left forearm was a dead giveaway. "Arthur?"
"Clark." Arthur grinned lightly, then walked off through the woods. Superman stood there for a moment, surprised and more than a little perplexed - Arthur hadn’t looked like a man in trouble or a man distressed; in fact, he looked completely relaxed and in his element. Finally shaking out of his daze and realizing that he was being left behind, Superman turned and followed after his colleague.
He walked out of the woods and onto a beautiful white sand beach, crystal blue water stretching all the way to the horizon. On the beach was what looked like a campsite - a small thatched lean-to, too small for a man but covering what appeared to be small bags of woven palm fronds, a makeshift bench made of driftwood sitting beside a small campfire and hundreds of footprints all over the beach. Above the campfire, a vine-bound tripod held a small dangling iron pot that produced a small amount of rising steam. To the casual observer, it looked like the kind of setup one would expect to see in a deserted island movie - which would make some sense except for the fact that in this case the apparently "stranded" person was Aquaman!
Arthur stood on the shore, facing the water with his eyes closed and his arms outstretched, taking in a huge breath of air. He exhaled loudly, then strolled casually over to the pot, using a small wooden spoon to stir its contents. He bent low and sniffed the pot, smiling wide.
"Kelp?" Arthur offered as he ladled out a steaming pile of greenish leaves and stems and gestured in Superman’s direction.
An odd moment passed between the two as Superman stood completely dumbfounded and Arthur squatted casually beside the fire, holding a spoonful of steaming kelp, both men staring at each other. Superman finally shook his head slightly, as if shaking from a dream-state and finally responded.
"What? No. No, thank you, I… Arthur… What…? Where are we!?"
"Well, I don’t know what you Surface Dwellers call it, but down in Atlantis, we'd call this an island, Clark," Arthur replied casually, lifting the spoon to his own mouth and slurping down some of the kelp.
"I know it’s an island, Arthur. What are we doing here?" Clark asked, exasperated.
Arthur dropped the spoon back into the pot and stood, brushing off his hands. "You see, this is just one of thousands of 'uncharted' islands in what you call the southern Pacific Ocean. You call it 'uncharted' because even with all of your advanced technology and satellite tracking and such, there are still places like this on the planet that none of your kind has ever even seen before. Now, since no one has seen them and therefore no one has any kind of 'claim' on them… which, quite frankly, is a completely different and ludicrous conversation for another time… and they are all completely surrounded by my Kingdom, I figured it was only fair for me to exercise that same right that so many of your kind has used in the past and simply claimed them as my own. They make a pleasant and quite relaxing vacation spot and as I do not get the opportunity to take vacations very often, when the opportunity arises, I tend to come to one of my so-called 'uncharted' islands and take a break."
Arthur strolled up to Superman, a wide, peaceful smile still on his face. "So that’s what I’m doing here, Clark. I’m on vacation. So I guess the real question is: what are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," came the reply… only it wasn’t Superman who answered, but Flash, who suddenly appeared at the end of a small line of footprints that followed the shoreline. He paused and blinked a few times, having to double-check that the man he was looking at was actually who he thought. "Arthur?"
Arthur flashed a welcoming smile to the new visitor. "Wally."
Wally shot a quick confused glance at Superman, hoping to get some kind of explanation. Superman merely shrugged.
"So… uh… what’s goin' on?" Wally asked Arthur, realizing that Clark was just as confused as he was.
"Well, as I was telling Big Blue here," Arthur said with a wink, "I’m on vacation and as you just said, you guys are here looking for me… so let’s see if I can noodle this one out. I go on vacation, as is my wont to do, and after a while Vulko, hapless worry-wart that he is, starts freaking out that he hasn’t seen me or heard from me and calls you guys. You, predictably, try everything at your disposal to contact or locate me, to no avail. Then, when none of your scans or searches turn up anything - because I’m on one of those pesky 'uncharted islands' that doesn’t register on your searches - you split into teams and start searching every inch the planet by hand. Now, considering the large, black monstrosity that went screaming over my island just a few seconds before Supes here showed up and ruined my chance at a nice snake dinner, I think it’s safe to assume that Batman was the one to finally locate me - probably because he’s smart enough to include those areas on the planet that are littered with little islands just like this one in his scans. Batman then contacts you and leads you here, where you search the island and promptly find me. Which brings us to the present. So, I guess the only thing left for you to do is get on your communicator and tell the rest of the team that I’m here…"
"Already done," came the surprisingly un-growly reply from the edge of the woods. They all turned to see the most recent arrival walk out from the tree-line and onto the beach.
"Impeccable timing as always," Arthur greeted with a smile, holding out his hand. "Bruce."
"Arthur," Batman replied, shaking the proffered hand.
"Say," Arthur chided Bruce playfully, "isn’t this against the rules of nature or something? I mean you, out here in direct sunlight? Won’t you turn to dust or something?"
Wally cringed slightly to himself, certain that Batman was about to pummel the crap out of Arthur. Superman, however, noticed that strange twitching-thing at the corner of Bruce’s mouth again.
"Aren’t you supposed to be underwater. Or something?" came the Dark Knight’s reply.
Wide-eyed, Wally leaned over toward Superman and whispered, "D-did Batman just make… a joke?!?"
Superman shot a grinning sideways glance at Wally. "Yes."
"This is it," Wally announced quietly, more to himself than to anyone else. "This is definitely it. It’s official. This has officially become, without a doubt, the most surreal experience of my entire life…"
To be continued...