Mindstorm, part 25

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0" Aspects of Manchester Black's appearance taken directly from his last appearance in Action Comics #796.

For what felt like the 20th time, J'onn found an intact medical bed and managed to settle Superman onto it. It was finally warm enough that the tears that still trickled down the Man of Steel's face neither froze nor steamed, and J'onn allowed himself a moment to test the atmosphere.

"We're back to human breathability if you want to return to this plane," he told Occult. "I'm going to reopen the hatch between here and the Monitor Womb."

Occult shimmered for a moment, then seemed to settle into solid form. He took a deep breath. "Impressive. I was not aware you could regenerate atmosphere so quickly up here. Martian technology?"

"In part," J'onn confirmed, crossing to the medbay communications console. "With additions from New Genesis and Thangar, and an upgrade from Zauriel that is almost beyond my physics. It irritates Batman," he added in afterthought, not really knowing why.

Occult chuckled as J'onn opened a channel to Wally.

"Flash."

"Go ahead, Big Guy."

"Please let Lois know it is safe for her to be here. I am uncertain Kal will register her presence, but I can only imagine it will be easier for him if she is here."

"Got it." Over the comlink, J'onn could hear the synthesized voice announcing, "Observation Bay partition opening. Attention, Observation Bay..."

"J'onn out." He closed out the comlink signal and closed his eyes. He had been trying to reach through the chaos in Superman's mind to Bette, but it was to no avail. Even knowing she was there, it seemed Occult's assessment was correct. She was too frightened of Black to shift the mental landscape enough to reveal herself.

"J'onn?" Dr. Occult's hand on his shoulder was solid this time, his fingers gripping firmly.

J'onn shook himself and glanced back past Occult at Superman. "Bette thinks Black will know if she lets Superman out of her thrall."

Occult dropped his hand. "That is what she intimated to Rose, at any rate."

"I should have paid more attention," J'onn regretted, watching as Lois appeared at a near run through the medbay door.

"Where?" she asked breathlessly, then saw the lone bed standing amidst the devastated med bay. Occult crossed toward her, pulling an intact chair from one pile of battered equipment and settling it beside the bed.

Lois gave him a too-quick smile, her eyes fixed on her husband's face. "Oh, Clark, I'm here. What-?" She looked up at Occult and then toward J'onn, eyes asking explanation for the continuous stream of tears on her husband's face.

"The entity - Bette -" J'onn began heavily.

"She has created a mental landscape for him where he will not want to hurt anything," Occult picked up smoothly, his tone more reassuring than J'onn could manage. "She is under threat herself."

"From Black. Motherfucker," Lois spat, the obscenity laced with a level of vitriol that bounced against J'onn's depleted mental shields almost painfully.

J'onn resisted the urge to close his eyes again, to lean against something, to rest. Instead, he let Lois' emotion roll over him, feeling the sting of unintended blame. He could end this. He knew who was causing it. He knew who he was looking for.

"Dr. Occult," he began, "you feel confident that Bette will uphold her end of your bargain?"

"If you can't get to her, neither can Black," Occult pointed out. "I don't see why she would break the deal. If we take care of Black, she has more to gain than lose."

J'onn nodded. "And if she does break the deal? Would you be able to-?"

"Contain her?" Occult finished. "Well enough, I think. Or at least meet her on the mental plane."

"J'onn, why-?"

"I am only thinking, Lois," J'onn reassured, stretching out his mind as he did so, reaching his consciousness out to the planet below, searching for-

YOU!

J'onn felt the telepathic force of another presence meeting his scan and staring back at him. Black. Fixing him with the telepathic equivalent of a stare and reaching out-

Without a second thought, J'onn went intangible and invisible, closing his mind thoroughly to any contact save Black's. I am coming, he warned, phasing through the Watchtower walls and flinging himself toward the Earth's atmosphere.

You think you can stop me. Black's tone was amused.

I know I can, J'onn replied grimly, sluicing through the stratosphere with arrow-straight directness.

Really now? Tired as you are? I can feel the exhaustion from here.

J'onn came from the north to avoid the fires blazing in Philadelphia. Metropolis was less dark than other cities between the Brainiac-13 tech and the widespread use of emergency generators. Not that J'onn need to see to find his target. You will never be a match for me.

"So you think, mate," Black said aloud as J'onn touched down in the grungy hotel room Black was staying in. He turned to face the Martian, a cigarette dangling from his lips and his hands holding a match ready to strike. "But I'll thank you to keep your distance anyway."

J'onn reached to the man's mind, only to find his focused probe batted away. "No you don't, J'onny boy. It's been a while since you've had a telepath anywhere near your skill to spar with, hasn't it? You've gotten sloppy."

"Let Bette go, Black."

Black raised an eyebrow and sat down on the dingy bedspread. He set the matchbook down and took his cigarette from his mouth to ash on the floor. "Now why should I do that? Especially when I could make you make me."

J'onn considered Black for a moment. The man's mental shields were solid; penetrating them would require more than J'onn felt he could afford. "You want me to fight you."

Black took another drag from his cigarette. "Why not? Telepath of your abilities is hard to find and you weren't around to engage me before."

"Before you became Luthor's pet?"

Black snorted. "Is that what you think? Superman really needs to keep you all in the loop better."

J'onn watched the tip of Black's cigarette glow cherry red for a moment. "You are operating on your own?"

"You really are extraordinarily stupid for someone of your reputation," Black pronounced, "but I kinda like you anyway, J'onny-boy." He fished a new cigarette from the pack on the end table. "I'll chain light this one."

J'onn concentrated. "Luthor coerced you."

"Ah, that's better!" Black dropped his old cigarette and ground it under his boot heel. "Never underestimate what a billionaire president can do with the chemical resources at his disposal. Or what sort of mad-ons he can provoke."

"Mad-on?" J'onn winced against a telepathic backlash.

"Now, none of that," Black chided. "But that was sneakier. Probably could get further in if you weren't concentrating on making sure I don't slip under your radar and traced back all the secrets in your pretty green head. But yes, mad-on. Luthor had me going. Why does Superman get the accolades? All this truth and justice bullshit, but no permanent solution to all these supervillains who come in and kill innocents by the dozens and hundreds."

"The Elite-"

"Don't start. Don't even go there," Black warned. "Superman broke us. The world broke us. Broke me. 'When I was a child... I dreamt of childish things...'"

"Black-"

A wall of telekinetic energy slammed against J'onn, pressing him back until he was against the thin plaster of the hotel room wall. "Feel that? You could've stopped that if you were in practice, if you weren't tired. Don't waste your fucking potential."

J'onn reached his mind out against the psychic snare, feeling the energy Black was expending, seeing the sweat on the man's brow as he maintained a facade of casualness. Black took another drag of his cigarette.

"Luthor wanted to take something right and good and pervert it, make himself a hero against the fall of Superman. Couldn't impeach him then. And he used me. Son of a bitch made me more of a villain than I had ever fought."

J'onn took a step forward, mind and hand reaching toward Black, sensing something in the man's mind. He flinched back as Black flicked the lit cigarette at him.

"You won't save me, mate," Black decreed, pressing his forefinger against his head and cocking his thumb like the hammer of a gun. J'onn realized too late that Black's hand was on the matchbook, that the telekinetic energy in the room was collecting and-

PABOOOM!

The force of the explosion blew out the windows, threw J'onn back in a wash of flame. The rush of wind past him as he fell was cold, and after the first few stories the flames were gone and -

Something slammed into him at high speed, and he was no longer falling.

Correction, he realized, his mind fighting through the static the fire left in its wake. SomeONE.

"I've got you," Jesse Quick was saying. "The Tower's closest. Batman, Flash, Oracle, I've got him. I think he's mostly okay. Just singed. J'onn?"

"Tell them," he began, fighting the chaos in his mind, "tell them it's over." He closed his eyes, feeling the force of Manchester Black's memories, hurled at him along with the explosion that ended the man's life. He began to shake.

"Here we are," Jesse announced as she sped them to the medbay of Titans Tower. "Omen, one more for you." She turned to J'onn. "Next time," she said sternly, "stay away from fires. 3X2(9YZ)4A."

She was gone, and Omen was guiding him to a bed. "Dr. Mid-Nite says all I can do is make you rest..."

He stopped listening, fighting against the burnings and beatings that filled Black's memory, finding space to open his mind to the insistent calls from Ace. Bruce, he projected.

We will talk, Bruce sent back firmly, anger and worry commingled in his mental tone.

Tell Occult to tell Bette-

She already knows. She is still in Superman's mind but has released him. Occult reports she will wait for you.

J'onn closed his eyes as he settled back under Omen's guiding hands, giving in to her desire to see him lie down. Then tell Lois-

J'onn. Rest. Batman out.

It was more than J'onn could do to resist the sudden snap of Batman's primitive mental shields. The echo of fire still burned in his brain. With a sigh, he tuned his mind toward a meditative state, striving to forget, if only for a while, what made a man's heart turn against its own desire to do good.

back to previous partend part 25first epilogue