Mindstorm, part 18

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

"Flash, I've got Mr. Terrific on line. He's got an idea to get us more subnetworks."

"Thank god," the Flash reacted. He and Oracle had been struggling to make communications work for the hundreds of superheroes working around the globe. The universal signal had not been so hard to create, even though they had to stay well away from the broadcast frequencies the various world leaders were using. The problem was the communications chaos that resulted when there was only one fully functional channel.

Had there only been team heroes involved, it would have been easier. There were protocols for sharing communications lines. But so many reservists and independents had been pressed into duty that even triage of messages was proving near impossible.

"Flash," Terrific greeted over the mercifully limited JLA line.

"Talk to me, Terrific," Flash directed into his com, his hands busily rewiring various Watchtower functions.

"I've been looking at the Martian tech in the JLA communicators. At first I thought it was incompatible with the Thanagarian tech we're using, but I tried tinkering with it anyway."

Wally pulled himself out from under the monitor console and whisked down to the teleport bay. "They'll work together?"

"The Martian tech is pretty malleable - semi-organic stuff," Terrific reported. "It started adapting to the Thanagarian wavelengths and multiplying them when I married the two communicators."

"Great, they're breeding. Shit!"

"Flash?" That was Oracle.

"Not you. This damned teleporter. The communications thing is great news, but that doesn't help with all the indies out there."

"Actually," Terrific contradicted, "if the other systems react the way the JSA's did, it might. But we'll need you to disseminate the signal."

Wally zipped back to the monitor womb. "Oracle, you got us connectivity?" he checked.

"Give me a sec to reconnect you to the universal channel."

Wally winced in anticipation of the previous flood of sound, but clearly Oracle had been successful in establishing a working pecking order. She must have recruited AirWave and Atom, among others, to get the message out so swiftly.

"Okay," Oracle stated, "standby, Flash. Attention on the universal channel. Mr. Terrific has discovered a way to remotely activate multi-channel potentiality in all your comlinks. Please listen to the entirety of his message before jumping back on line. Message to commence in 30 seconds." There was a click, and she was back on the JLA line. "Mr. Terrific?" she prompted.

"Flash, if you'll link the JLA channel through the universal channel via satellite, I should be able to make this work."

"Do I have to pay attention to this?" Wally asked worriedly, glancing at the remote teleport console. He needed to get the teleporters working.

"Just hook me up and you can go," Mr. Terrific assured him.

"Already done," Wally replied, flipping a switch. "You'll go live as soon as Oracle gets the signal downstairs."

"Live in 3... 2..."

Wally turned down the com signal and snapped to the diagnostic report printing across the room. His eyes scanned the page in a futile effort to find a sign of how to work around the upper level electromagnetic disturbances that promised to scatter the molecules of anything coming up from the planet.

A sound at the door ripped his eyes from the paper.

"Lois? What-"

She was walking as if in a trance, glassy-eyed as she entered the monitor womb and turned to close the door. As soon as the door slid shut, however, she recoiled, blinking rapidly.

"Lois?" he asked again, trying to mindful of his speed as he crossed to her side.

Her eyes were confused. "He sent me away. J'onn just -"

"Alert! Observation bay partition activated. Alert! Observation bay partition activated. Alert! Ob-"

"Shit!" Wally shouted, tearing over to the internal monitoring equipment. A low rumbling was sounding through the Watchtower.

"Wally? What's going on? What is the observation bay partition?"

Wally slammed his hand on a button, silencing the computer alert. "It's the airlock between the monitor womb and the upper levels of the central Watchtower. C'mon, c'mon," he urged the computer, trying to coax the medbay monitors to clear up enough for him to see what was going on.

He could feel Lois move to a position a few feet from him, out of the way but close enough to watch what he was doing. "Wally - Flash - "

He spun to face her. "J'onn sent you down. It looked like he just put coordinates in your head. Did he even give you a choice?"

Lois blinked. "No. We were just sitting there talking and suddenly he just... looked at me. And then I was walking down here. What does that -?"

The Watchtower gave a little shudder, and Flash glanced up. "Well, that's the airlock sealed. Lois, let's hope that doesn't mean what I think it means."

Her eyes scanned his face, and he saw her wrestling with something she didn't want to acknowledge. "J'onn's lost him, hasn't he?" she whispered.

"I don't know. I wish I could-"

The monitor womb suddenly rocked around them, forcing Lois to grab a console for balance. "Please tell me the moon isn't moving again," she pleaded.

"That wasn't a moonquake," Wally replied grimly, opening up the JLA channel. "Oracle, I need Batman," he stated, starting when Lois touched his arm.

He followed her pointing finger to the now clear monitor.

"Batman," the Dark Knight signed on.

"Batman, we've got code blue up here. Repeat, we've got code blue."

His eyes were riveted by the monitor screen. J'onn and Superman were circling one another, feinting and testing one another's stances.

"Full status, Flash!" Batman barked.

"Blue is still contained. The affected area has been sealed off, and Green is keeping Blue occupied."

"Teleporter?"

"I still can't bring it on line, even for inorganics. Lantern?"

"Oracle?"

"I still can't raise him. His tracker went live when Terrific sent his signal. Still in Calcutta, but it hasn't moved."

Superman suddenly rushed forward, slamming J'onn's body toward the wall of the medbay. The Martian phased out of the Man of Steel's grip, but the Watchtower still rocked with the impact of Superman's body.

Batman's voice came back on line. "Protocol Zed, Flash," he said flatly. "Green knows it. Advise if Green is overpowered. We will continue working on this end. Batman out."

"Right," Wally breathed, watching hypnotically as the two combatants returned to circling.

"What's Protocol Zed?" a voice asked at his elbow. Lois. He'd forgotten her for a moment. "Wally?"

That was her husband in there. Hell, Superman was ... Superman. A paragon of virtue, the very exemplar of superherodom. And her eyes were as scared as Wally knew his must be. "Don't worry," he tried to reassure her. "As long as there's no fire, J'onn can contain him."

She was watching as intently as Wally, her fingers tight on Wally's wrist as Superman's eyes began to glow. "And if there's fire?" she asked.

"That's why J'onn sealed us in. Then he can break through the wall of the Watchtower, take the fight into space."

Superman's heat vision seared through a once more insubstantial J'onn. Wally felt Lois hold her breath as sparks flew from the cabinets hit by the rays from her husband's eyes, but no flames started. He realized when he exhaled in relief that he'd been holding his breath, too.

"And then?" Lois prompted.

"J'onn will keep the fight in the vacuum until Superman tires. He'll probably try to get him to the dark side of the moon."

On the monitor, a clearly enraged Superman caught hold of J'onn's body and began squeezing. Wally felt his stomach knot as J'onn's form lost shape, seemed to collapse under the bone shattering hold. The sickened feeling only intensified when J'onn flowed on the ground to slide viscously behind Superman and rise behind him. When Superman turned, J'onn slammed a punch into his jaw that carried Superman into the medbay wall at high speed. The Watchtower rocked again, and when Superman got up, a red light flooded the medbay.

"Hull breach," Wally interpreted. "A small one. The autorepair function might be able to seal it."

"He doesn't know it's J'onn," Lois said, and Wally didn't answer, knowing she was reminding herself, not him.

Superman flung himself at J'onn again, eyes blazing.

"And if they end up outside? Behind the moon? That's Protocol Zed?" Lois asked.

Superman's heat vision burned across a sheet on one of the beds, starting a small flame. J'onn danced away, his own eyes sending beams at the place where Superman had fallen earlier. For a moment new chaos reigned as all the smaller objects in the medbay began rolling and tumbling toward the hull breach. The flames flickered out.

"No," the Flash replied to Lois' question. "J'onn won't initiate Protocol Zed unless Superman tries to get to the planet."

One of the medbay exam tables slammed against the hull breach, and a dozen flying objects dropped to the ground. Superman and J'onn resumed their circling.

"If he gets to the planet like this..." Lois began.

"He won't," Wally stated firmly.

"But if -"

"Protocol Zed," Wally interrupted. He tore his eyes away from the screen to look at Lois. "You remember when we kicked Batman out of the League, all the issues about fail-safes?"

Lois shot another glance at the monitor then returned her attention to the Flash, nodding in acknowledgement.

"The complaint wasn't that he had developed protocols against us."

"I remember. It was the secrecy, the plotting."

Wally nodded, not letting himself look at the monitor as another blow rocked the Watchtower. "It made us make explicit an assumed protocol."

"Protocol Zed?" He had her full attention now.

"If any of us ever went so far off the deep end we couldn't be called back, if we became a danger to the earth and everything we loved-"

"J'onn would know."

Wally nodded again. "And he would stop us. Any of us." He touched his temple significantly. "It was nothing for him to make you a puppet long enough to get you out of harm's way." The Flash looked back to the monitor, not wanting to see the dawning realization in Lois' eyes. "It'd be even easier for him to cut the strings."

But he wouldn't have to, Wally told himself, watching as J'onn and Superman wrestled in midair in the medbay.

"Protocol Zed," Lois said softly, and Wally didn't dare look to see if she was crying.

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