Mindstorm, part 6
Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"
She followed Wally with an odd mix of impatience and hesitancy, and J'onn could feel her deep alarm under the veneer of confident concern she wore. "Hello, Lois," J'onn greeted. "Please-" he gestured her to the exam table.
The invitation seemed to be all Lois had been waiting for. She stepped around Wally and strode briskly to her husband's side, resting her hand on one of his and gazing at his face. "I'm here, Clark," she said.
J'onn nodded, closing his eyes to focus on the weak signal of awareness deep in Superman's consciousness. "He can feel you," he reported, a sense of relief flooding through him. He had been uncertain if any of the real activity around Superman had penetrated past the nightmare visions that consumed the Kryptonian's consciousness. He could feel Kal's desperate hold on the mental tether J'onn was maintaining for him, and until this moment he had wondered if Kal was reading events from J'onn's consciousness. Now, however, he could feel Lois' touch through Kal's unresponsive fingers.
"What happened?" Lois demanded. "What's wrong with him?"
J'onn shook his head slightly, reaching out once more to rest his hand against Superman's temple. "I don't know exactly what happened. He called to me as he felt an... attack... on his mind, but what he is experiencing is inconsistent with telepathically induced delusion."
Lois wrapped her fingers around the hand she held and stroked her husband's forehead. "You'll have to try that in smaller words," she said. "Why is he so still?"
"Paralysis," J'onn offered, and Lois looked up sharply. "I did that to him," J'onn explained reluctantly.
Lois continued to stare at him. "Why?"
J'onn sighed. "Lois, whoever - whatever did this - however they are doing it..." He broke off, searching for words. "Inside Clark's - Superman's - mind," he tried again, "his world is being completely shattered. He is watching his friends tortured and murdered, everything he believes in ripped to shreds. It is as if there is a constant goad for him to lash out, to protect us, you, the world. It feels very real to him."
Lois' eyes drifted back to her husband's face. "He's feeling that right now?"
"Yes," J'onn confirmed. "The intensity has diminished a little in the past several minutes, but yes."
Lois considered for a moment, and Wally, still standing to one side, spoke up. "J'onn, Lois, do you guys need-"
"We are fine for the moment, Wallace," J'onn reassured, freeing the younger hero to escape the disturbing sight of Superman's unmoving form.
"Okay," Wally replied, dashing from the med bay and leaving J'onn and Lois alone.
Lois finally chose to sit on the chair beside the bed. "This delusion," she began, "it's strong enough that he believes he's really living it?"
"And that is why you paralyzed him."
J'onn could feel Lois processing the information, rationalizing away anger at J'onn as she imagined how Clark would respond to threats to everything he loved. "But you said he can feel me."
"Yes. I had hoped he might. When his mind was attacked, he was able to stave off the effect for a few seconds - long enough that I was able to protect a small part of his consciousness. The Superman we know is there, under the ravages of the delusion, although I suspect that was not the intent of whoever launched this attack."
Lois took a deep breath and rested both her hands on Clark's still fingers. She blew out the air she had taken in and once more raised her eyes to J'onn. "Okay. Once more. From the top."
J'onn nodded. "Somewhere over Wyoming, someone or something attacked Superman's mind. The type of symptoms he is experiencing are usually the result of a telepath operating remotely on someone's mind, but if that were the case, I would be able to feel their presence and possibly back track them through their remote link. Whoever did this has created a situation where Superman's mind appears to have turned in on itself, and if I did not know so certainly that it was instigated, I would be inclined to believe it was a totally organic mental break down."
"Clark is the stablest person I know," Lois defended automatically. "He isn't-"
"I know," J'onn interrupted gently. "I just don't know how to fix it."
A warning beep sounded, and Lois looked around in confusion as J'onn said, "Go ahead, monitor."
A projected monitor screen flared to life a few feet from them, revealing Batman's face. "Lois," he greeted. "I have been screening traffic on Clark's and your cell phone accounts."
Lois opened her mouth as if to protest, but Batman continued talking. "There have been numerous calls from Clark's parents. I have managed to create a satellite link so that you will be able to get service if you would like to return their calls."
Lois closed her mouth and reached for the purse she had let fall to the floor beside her chair. "Clark's parents." She stopped, looking at her husband's face. "God, what am I going to tell them?"
J'onn reached out to gently rest a hand on her shoulder, drawing her startled attention. "He has been attacked and hurt, but he is stable," he suggested.
He watched sympathetically as Lois' eyes once more went to Superman's frozen features. Then she shook herself, rummaging in her purse and retrieving her cell phone. It beeped under her fingertips. "Eight messages," she noted with alarm. "Batman, this will connect down to the planet?"
"It will," he promised, and with a half-apologetic look to J'onn, Lois began punching numbers into her phone.
While Lois was distracted, J'onn met Batman's eyes on the monitor. He allowed himself the luxury of reaching out to touch Bruce's mind, of drawing a brief moment's comfort from his lover.
It was a mistake. As soon as his telepathic attention was divided, J'onn felt Superman's delusions flaring up, threatening to engulf him. He abruptly cut contact with Bruce, focusing himself back on the link he had forged to Kal, emptying his mind of all thought save the most crucial one: this isn't real.
This time, at least, the horror was relatively contained. For Lois' sake, J'onn was able to maintain form and his distraction did not make an impression on her as she talked on her phone. Snatches of conversation caught passingly in J'onn's mind, and he forced himself to let them go, to keep his meditative focus.
"... he okay? What time?... I - no... Martha, I'm so... not injured, but... stable... did the doctors say... yes. I will... okay... bye."
J'onn watched with unfocused eyes as Lois lowered her cellphone and snapped it closed. It felt like half a lifetime that she sat holding it in her hand, staring at it as if it had offered her some betrayal. Her need for human contact pressed against J'onn's mind, but he shut it out. Batman's voice sounded over the monitor, clearly addressing Lois, but it was as if he was talking from a great distance, and Lois' response seemed muffled to J'onn's ears. He could feel them discussing him as well as Superman and something about Jonathan Kent? J'onn made his expression mild and reassuring, but he could not hear nor answer their questions.
Batman finally must have signed off, because silence returned to the medbay. J'onn felt an easing of Superman's mind and slowly began backing out again. As sound and accurate vision returned, he realized that Lois was quietly crying.