Mindstorm, part 20

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0" Note images and events from Pokolistan derived from Action Comics #803-805.

Dr. Richard Occult was tired. In the space of four hours, he had interrupted a long sojourn in Faerie and its requisite privation in order to fight a life and death battle for the Earth. He had personally evacuated 85% of the population to Philadelphia to the outer suburbs. More exhausting, he had transported three of his colleagues to Gemworld despite grave misgivings. Then, just as it seemed the battle might be over, he had received word to wait for Wonder Woman in order that he might address some new crisis too secret to discuss over the comlink.

The snark at the back of his mind spoke in John Constantine's irritating accent. "That's what all your do-gooding gets you, mate. More trouble."

Like Constantine was one to talk.

When he had heard why Wonder Woman was collecting him, he understood the reason for secrecy. Superman was suffering some kind of delusions, was rampaging on the moon. That was definitely not news that should be generally known. It was bad enough when they had only thought Superman was off-planet and unable to help. If anyone thought for a moment he might return to earth as a threat?

Still, he wasn't certain what he could do about the situation until he had arrived in Smallville and been escorted to the hospital room housing that older couple.

Dr. Occult was a mystic, wise in the ways of magic. He was also the product of some of the finest schools in the world, savvy of the world of science and its edges. He was not a telepath, but what had happened to Superman was not telepathy in the strictest sense. As soon as he entered the hospital room, he could almost taste the truth. The mind of the sleeping man had been a lair.

The creature who had dwelt there, a being somewhere between the planes of magic and science, was gone. However, it had left its scent - and a trail. He wasted no time, turning from the bed only long enough to apologize to the man's wife (or only lover? Intimate friend in any case) for his rudeness. Then he slipped the Symbol of the Seven from his pocket and headed down the rabbit hole.

It was Rose Psychic who emerged from the other end, stumbling slightly on the broken pavement. She caught her balance and straightened her skirt and hat. In the distance, she could hear the krump of mortar fire, and the red sky flickered as if with heat lightning. "Great, Richard," she remarked with more fondness than irritation, "just drop me in a war zone." She imagined his answering chuckle and some remark that he had done his share of fighting for the day. She didn't allow herself the reflexive longing to actually hear his voice; they had been fused for so long she could box the emotion to deal with another time. Right now, she was on the hunt.

Or not.

Just there, across the street, was a cafe. She squared her shoulders and picked her way across the shattered asphalt with as much confidence as the uneven surface would allow her in her neat heels. Her quarry did not even look at her until she pulled out a chair at the same table as the other woman.

Rose flagged a waiter for coffee. He disappeared into the interior of the cafe.

Across from her, the other woman scowled. "I didn't summon you."

Rose smiled easily, picking up the teaspoon at her setting to keep her hands busy. "No," she confirmed.

Her casual demeanor drew a penetrating stare from midnight blue eyes. "You're not one of mine."

"No."

The waiter brought Rose her coffee, and she smiled at him. There was a packet of sugar on the saucer, and his eyes drifted unsubtly to her silk clad legs. She understood the gesture, and she pulled her legs more pointedly under the table's surface. The waiter looked disappointed, but he moved on. It felt like World War II, when rationing had made such small gifts more meaningful and a girl could be bought by such gestures. In fact, this whole scenario...

She looked around more carefully, observing the buildings that remained standing. "Pokolistan?"

The blue eyes examining her had not wavered. "Are you from Him?"

Rose took a sip of coffee. Ersatz, in keeping with the surroundings. "I belong to myself."

The sounds of battle drew closer. Neither Rose nor her companion paid any attention. "So I see. But He sent you."

Rose set her cup back in its saucer. It needed the sugar, but she would leave the packet untouched. "I can't tell if you're talking about your oppressor or your knight in shining armor."

Surprise flared in the other woman's eyes before they narrowed in suspicion. "You are not a construct." Above them, the battle noises grew deafening.

Rose tipped her head back to see past the brim of her hat. "Interesting," she noted. "I recognize the one in the blue, but the red?"

"I found him in here," the other woman shrugged. "General Zod, I think he's called. Apparently my imagination was not sufficient to complete my task. I should've started with native materials."

The two aerial combatants slammed into one another, and the teacups rattled in their saucers. "Impressive," Rose acknowledged. "Although I would prefer not to shout."

The other woman waved her hand negligently, and the two fighters disappeared. "I can finish later. After I understand what you are."

Rose smiled sweetly. "My name is Rose." She held out her hand. "And you?"

The other woman considered for a moment before accepting the handshake. "Bette."

"Very well, Bette. What would you like to know?"

Bette flagged the waiter for more coffee. "How did you get here?"

"I walked. Followed you, actually. You left a trail from Kansas."

The waiter approached, and both women waited as he filled their cups. If he noted the untouched sugar packet on Rose's saucer, he made no reaction.

"So you are not a telepath, then," Bette stated matter-of-factly.

"Naturally not." Rose waved to the surrounding city and sky. "A telepath could not penetrate into this anyway. Watch it, perhaps, but not enter."

A new expression, something like hope, crossed Bette's face. "Really?"

"You sound surprised. Didn't you create this?"

Bette shook her head. "I started it, but when I first arrived here- You are certain no telepath could enter?"

"Positive," Rose confirmed.

For the first time since they had met, Bette's shoulders slumped in a posture of defeat. "Then I am truly alone." Above them, the red sky deepened toward midnight, phasing through a magnificent shade of violet that Rose felt she should remember for Richard before settling into a normal night sky.

"I am here," Rose pointed out.

"Can you take me out of here?"

Rose hesitated. She could see Bette's aura, but her instincts told her that it was not something the Symbol of the Seven could hold on to, even if Richard had been there to wield it. Bette spoke before she could voice her negative.

"That's what I thought. I am here until the one who sent me here decides he wants me somewhere else, or until Jones comes back for me. But if no telepath can enter..."

"J'onzz sent you here?"

Bette gave Rose an irritated look. "No. He would never. He would have stopped it." Her face dropped so it was hidden by the veil of her hair. "If He remembered me."

Rose sat back in her chair and drank more coffee. Gas lights shone pleasantly on cobbled streets, no longer broken by war. The guns in the distance were silent. She considered Bette for a while. "I know J'onzz," she finally revealed.

Bette's eyes shot up angrily, and there were traces of tears on her cheeks. "You said He didn't send you!" she accused.

"He didn't," Rose answered calmly, "but he is near."

Bette stood and crossed to the wrought iron railing that surrounded the outdoor tables. Her fingers were white knuckled as she grasped the metal and looked out into the night. "I knew it! I knew it when I first arrived here and felt traces of him everywhere. It was like he was mocking me. It confused me, threw me off my mission! You're a BASTARD, JONES! YOU HEAR ME?" she shouted. "A FUCKING BASTARD!"

Her voice left silence behind it, punctuated by the chirping of one brave cricket. "Feel better?" Rose asked.

"No." Bette returned to her chair and sat with a sigh. "He left me in Trapps. 'A tough town run by a tough man,' he told me." She gave a short, barking laugh. "We got along all right, though. Jones left me to keep it all in check -" Now she wasn't bothering to hide her tears. "Trapps wasn't tough enough. Black got me anyway."

"Black?"

Bette nodded. "Jones weakened me with his deal. Black took advantage of it. He peeled me out of Trapps, held me bodiless for so long -"

"You're a psychic entity," Rose suddenly understood. "Your body-"

"Destroyed. I was at Black's mercy. If Jones would've come back-"

"He didn't know," Rose murmured, not knowing if it were true or not, but recognizing a useful hook for a dangerously unstable mind.

"Where is he now?" Bette demanded. "You said he's near."

Rose considered. "I cannot bring you to him, and I am not certain I can bring him here. Perhaps if you return control of this mind -"

"Black will kill me."

"He is a telepath?"

Bette nodded.

"Then he cannot reach you any more than J'onzz can. And J'onzz is closer."

Bette's lower lip trembled. "I can't."

Rose finished her last swallow of coffee. "Then I cannot help you," she decided, rising to her feet.

"Wait, no!" Bette cried.

Rose hesitated.

"I - I can make it easier. Reign in the nightmares. But I collapse this world - I have nowhere to go."

"And if I can bring you Jones?"

Bette was silent.

"Bette?"

"I will go. He will find me a place."

Rose wasn't sure whether to be warmed or chilled by Bette's faith, but she understood it. "I will do my best to bring him, then," she promised, meaning it. She didn't look back as she stepped through the fabric of Bette's world and gave control of her own soul back to Dr. Occult.

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