Mindstorm, part 24

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Barbara Gordon was nurturing a world class tension headache. She had no time for it at the moment, but she knew it was lurking there, just waiting for her to think about it for even a split second.

She would allow herself that luxury when she could also afford to sleep it off - hopefully sometime before the next major supervillain effort to take over or destroy the world.

In the meantime, her fingers flashed over two keyboards and her eyes tracked data on multiple monitor screens. A corner of her attention was tuned to her comlink, listening for further news. Thankfully, the UN's world disaster preparedness plan had kicked in smoothly, the Luthor-pressed adjustments making the whole process much smoother than it had in the aftermath of the Martian god thing. Communications were coming back on line, and Mr. Terrific, Josiah Powers, the Janissary, Wonder Woman and Dr. Light were taking on continental coordination duties for the various pockets of superheroes scattered across the globe.

Too much of that involved triage, a sorting of living from dead, the erection of temporary shelters, the running of medical supplies from place to place.

It was really only a matter of hours before the long string of painful funeral and memorial services began.

Barbara could not afford to think about any of that, however. She had a very specific mission: find Manchester Black. She had already hacked the Daily Planet, a move that included the need to make known that she had already set up decryption programs that could handle anything Clark Kent had devised. Batman had not indicated any surprise, but she wanted to think he hadn't known how far she had previously hacked into JLA and other systems.

It was a foolish wish in a way; they played so much spy-counterspy with one another's systems that there was nothing in either Oracle's or Batman's computers that was unknown to the other. The significance of some things were perhaps not so readily discovered. Barbara, for instance, had barely paid attention when Batman had uploaded files regarding Bette Noir some months previously. She had noted it, but now she felt like she was playing catch up. Her only consolation is that it was clear that Batman had not gotten the information first hand; the file had all the hallmarks of hearsay from J'onn.

That was the one she needed to talk to. Who knew how much information J'onn decided was confidential and kept exclusively in his own mind according to some alien notion of discretion? Not that it would have made that much difference, she allowed. What had happened to Superman had required the intervention of Manchester Black, and no where in the files had anyone suggested that Bette Noir could be weaponized by a skilled telepath.

It had occurred to Luthor, though. It must have. Masters was so clearly a high level operative, nominally of the CIA, outside the loop of Checkmate but still...

No matter what else was true, the DEO answered to Luthor. Bones was a cagey bastard, probably deliberately set up the leak to Lois Lane, but he was still the director of a Federal agency. Hell, the DEO funneled metas into government employ, had responsibility for keeping a bead on every powered being on the planet. They knew about Bette Noir. It looked like they knew Bette Noir was potentially missing. Bette Noir was missing, and her captor, Trapps, had been transferred to a facility in Wyoming. Trapps was still there, ostensibly being studied by mind scientists who weren't there anymore, and Black had gone missing when he was supposedly being transferred to the same facility in Wyoming.

By Masters.

And none of this loop was getting her anywhere but angry and she still didn't have a bead on where Black might have disappeared to. The idea that such a high powered telepath was out there...

Her comlink pinged. "Oracle here."

"Where do you need me?"

Barbara blinked. "In the hospital, Lantern," she said sternly, "which better be where you're calling me from."

"Um-"

Barbara flipped to another window, engaging tracking software that showed Green Lantern's signal over the Pacific Ocean. She mentally cursed and sent a message to Vic Stone. "I'm sending Cyborg to meet you. Do NOT pass out over the damned ocean."

"I-"

"Concussion, Lantern. Don't play around. I don't appreciate having to divert resources to ground you, but I will do it."

"But you need someone - the teleporter -"

"I'm going to take you off the network, Lantern," she threatened. "I only left you live access so you could get news as it came, but so help me-"

A new alert sounded and she glanced at the computer. "Dammit," she muttered, closing out a set of programs that linked her to the complex in Wyoming. They had finally smelled hacker and were taking aggressive countermeasures. They wouldn't track her back, but still -

"Oracle-"

She ignored Kyle, irritated beyond words that world disaster was not distracting security attention enough for her to sneak through systems while at the same time granting the outfit in Wyoming some grudging respect. On another monitor, a message scrolled across from Vic, indicating he had a lock on Green Lantern and would get him safely somewhere.

"Lantern," she finally spoke, "don't fuss at Cyborg. I've got too much to worry about right now."

He sounded for an instant like he was going to object, then he gave her a subdued, "Okay. Lantern out."

A new signal went off, indicating a new stream of data from one of Batman's sources. Or rather, Oracle registered, the product of clue-hunting in tabloids. This was what they were reduced to. A final key punch released a diversion program that would completely scramble the trail back to her, defeating the counter hack initiated in Wyoming, and she turned her attention to the clustered, "I was mind controlled!" tabloid headlines, following the map pattern Batman had already produced. There were clear areas of concentration, but-

"Batman. Oracle." That was the Flash, sounding deliberately calm. "Has J'onn been in contact with either of you?"

"Report, Flash," Batman ordered.

"We finally got the atmosphere back under control in the medbay, and he just... took off."

Oracle flipped back to her tracking program. "I got nothing," she reported in frustration. "He's either not carrying his tracker or its signal isn't getting through the electromagnetic interference. Do you know where he was heading?"

"He went invisible on me," Wally explained. "He was talking to Dr. Occult, and then Lois got in there and they were getting Superman onto a bed and then - gone."

There was a click on the line and Barbara realized Batman had opened a new channel when he said, "Dr. Occult."

The mystic did not miss a beat. "I don't know where he went, Batman. We were speaking about Superman's state, and he asked if I felt I could deal with Bette if she reneged on our agreement. I said I could, and he implied he was scanning the planet-"

"Looking for Black," Barbara registered, staring hopelessly at her computer screens. Somewhere among her many muted audio feeds, another Presidential address was coming through, kicked up to audibility by some pre-programmed key word. She found her attention drifting to the sound as Batman thanked Dr. Occult and directed Wally to keep his attention on the teleporter problem.

"... about recognizing our limits along with our strengths..." Luthor was saying. She hated him for it, but the son of a bitch had a point.

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