Mindstorm, part 8
Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"
It was a risky business to rescue someone from tangle vines, and not always successful. To try to free someone by one's self was total folly, but even having a second person well clear of the waving tendrils did not guarantee the would-be rescuer would not become a second victim.
Arthur's first thought when J'onn's desperate mental touch had reached him from Superman's side had been, "It's like tangle vines!"
Now, after half an hour submerged and resting in his quarters, Arthur could not shake the comparison. He could still feel the tightening of J'onn's mental link, anchoring against his mind with none of the Martian's usual gentleness. The aftermath of the contact still throbbed in Arthur's temples. And through that link - the image bleedthrough from Superman's consciousness had been more than unnerving. For a panicked moment, Arthur had thought he was going to get sucked down with him, lost in end of the world horror, watching friends and loved ones and innocent bystanders tortured and killed. Then he had felt J'onn's solid mental frame, realized how he was being shielded. He had set himself as an anchor and watched in fascination as the more adept telepath did things on the mental plane that had stabilized the maelstrom that was raging in Superman's mind.
It had still seemed like a battle with tangle vines until J'onn had thrust him roughly clear and he had found himself sitting in a chair with a pitcher of water turned over his head.
So Arthur paused for a moment outside the medbay door before he entered. He made an effort to calm and order his thoughts, steeling himself to help J'onn again. Batman's instructions had been vague; J'onn was going to scan Diana and Kyle and did not dare risk too much distraction from the task of managing Superman's mind. Arthur hoped against hope that J'onn did not intend to borrow Arthur's mental energy as a place holder while he checked over the other heroes. One descent into that maelstrom had been enough, and he wasn't sure another would leave him fit for the second half of Batman's assignment.
Arthur squared his shoulders finally and opened the medbay door. He had barely entered when J'onn was speaking to him. "Orin. How are you feeling?"
Arthur nodded toward J'onn, feeling the tight buzz of his active telepathy filling the room. He ignored Wonder Woman's concerned glance, although he knew why she was not the one asking the question. "I am recovered. Good morning, Ms. Lane."
"It's Lois, Arthur." At Superman's bedside, Lois Lane gave him a tight smile, and even at this distance, he could sense the clinging moisture of recent tears on her cheeks. "And good morning. Hell of a day, isn't it?"
"Yes," he agreed, accepting her cue that she needed Clark's friends on hand, not Superman's colleagues. "Has there been any further word on Jonathan?"
She shook her head. "I heard you helped earlier with Clark. Thank you."
Arthur let himself glance at the rigidly still figure of Superman. "He would do the same for me," he replied, resisting the urge to squirm under Lois' gratitude.
At the table, Kyle cleared his throat. "Um, shouldn't we get this done? I don't want to just sit around with the Kobra thing and-"
J'onn frowned. "Kobra thing?"
"The JSA is handling it," Batman's voice came icily from a monitor that had suddenly flared to life, and Arthur let himself be relieved that he was not the target of that particular tone. It wasn't that he was intimidated by Batman, but the man could be unbearably obstructionist when he got into a brooding spell. Not that Arthur was any more clued in than J'onn, but apparently there had been a reason a general alert had not been sounded.
"Very well," J'onn decided, "Arthur, if I may use you as an anchor?"
Arthur nodded. "You need me right there or -"
"Actually, if you can sit at the table with Kyle and Diana-"
"Lois, I need you to just continue to hold Clark's hand." J'onn's voice was quiet, but in the relative silence of the medbay it carried. The Martian offered a gentle squeeze to Lois' shoulder before closing his eyes and settling down on the opposite side of the bed.
In contrast to their earlier contact, J'onn's mental touch to Arthur's mind was almost soothing. At least it was until J'onn's voice traveled along their link. Orin, I must ask you to do these scans.
Carefully keeping his face neutral, Arthur offered J'onn a mental gape. J'onn, I can't-
You can. I have augmented your telepathy, but I can only provide power. I cannot afford the distraction of focused work.
I wouldn't know what to- oh! A sudden rush of flavor seemed to roll through Arthur's mind, recognizable as a mental signature. He explored it for a moment, testing its undertones and bouquet. That's - distinct, he remarked.
Yes, J'onn agreed. It seems familiar, but I cannot place it.
Can't place _this_? Arthur said incredulously. I would think sensing it once-
Orin, I sense many things, J'onn reminded. This is what I have extracted as inconsistent with Superman's mental matrix. If the others-
Right, Arthur cut in, feeling a hint of the earlier tangled sensation once again bleeding through from J'onn. I'll try.
Arthur took a moment to compose his mind, and he heard J'onn telling the others he was about to scan them. He wondered why J'onn didn't just explain - but no, one explanation would require others, and it would be too much to make clear what was really happening there in the world that was claiming Superman's mind. No, simpler just to do as J'onn was asking, reach out with his own telepathy...
He almost gasped as he felt how far his mind's reach extended, how effortlessly he was able to skim across the surfaces of Diana's and Kyle's minds. Thoughts bounced into his consciousness as easily as if they were his own, and he forced himself to ignore them, focusing instead on the mental signature J'onn had forwarded to him.
It was detail work, quickly done but requiring concentration. That was particularly true given the way J'onn's power boost was making his telepathy "hear" far more than he was ever privy to. Within a few minutes he was able to establish that whatever else was true, what had touched Superman's mind had been no where near either Lantern nor Wonder Woman. They're clear, he reported to J'onn. Pull me out.
With the same gentle efficiency that he had used to set their link, J'onn withdrew the extra energy he was supplying to Arthur's telepathy. A involuntary shudder went through Arthur's body as the distinctness of others' thoughts returned to the usual vague awareness of their emotional states, easily tuned out and ignored.
"Are you okay, Arthur?" Wonder Woman asked.
Of course she would notice, he thought to himself, giving her a curt nod. "Fine."
"As are both of you," J'onn added, earning a puzzled glance from Kyle. If the younger man had intended to explain his expression, however, the moment was lost when Batman's voice once more came through the monitor.
"Good. If you three can report to the monitor womb-"
"Me and Kyle and-"
"Arthur," Batman clarified. "Unless J'onn-"
"We're okay, Batman," J'onn replied, giving Lois a quick smile. "Perhaps some coffee could be brought up later, but -"
"Understood. Batman out."
Diana and Kyle looked at each other. "Guess we've been summoned," Kyle remarked, rising to his feet and giving J'onn another odd glance. "You sure you're okay, big guy?"
"I am well, Kyle."
The Green Lantern shrugged and headed toward the door, pausing to say, "It's good to see you, Ms. Lane. He's in good hands."
"I know," she answered, returning Wonder Woman's nod and watching the other woman follow Kyle.
Arthur rose finally and paused beside Superman's feet. This close, the tangling sensation rose up again, and he felt the hair prickle on the back of his neck. He kept the reaction off his face, however, asking, "Lois, is there any special message for the Kents?"
"Just that we love them," she said, her fingers tightening to white knuckled on Superman's hand.
"Very well," Arthur acknowledged. "J'onn."
Arthur turned then and met the others outside the medbay door, walking with them in tense silence through the Watchtower corridors. That silence lasted until they entered the monitor womb.
"What in Hades-!" Diana burst out, flying halfway up the central tower as around Batman, monitors flickered with countless scenes of destruction.
"Mordru," Batman's voice answered, and Arthur realized he was down at the lowest level of the monitor womb, typing furiously and apparently listening to something.
"Eel sucker!" Arthur spat, remembering the sorcerer's effort to force Poseidonis to remain in the dimensional bubble that Garth had fashioned for them during the Imperiex disaster. It had been as close as the Atlantean monarch had ever been to giving up all hope for himself and his people.
"What happened?" Kyle demanded. "I thought Fate-"
Batman still hadn't turned from his station. "He appears to have taken over Fate, and recruited Eclipso and Obsidian. New York City is completely under cover of darkness, and Kobra seems to be taking advantage of the escalating chaos. The JSA is swamped." Finally the Dark Knight spun in his chair. "Diana, Kyle, there have been terrorist bombings in Calcutta and Los Angeles that could use superhero attention. If you finish there they could use back up in DC and Paris. Go."
If either were inclined to argue or question, they did not show it in their response as they both flew from the monitor womb, the wind of their wakes pulling at Arthur's hair and beard. "And me?"
"The Kents," Batman replied.
"Especially with all this. He's our biggest weapon, him and J'onn, and right now we don't have either of them. And we can't afford to have him become a weapon against us."
Arthur swallowed a reaction to Batman's final sentence, asking instead, "You think what happened to Jonathan-"
"It happened at almost the same instant."
Arthur's eyes met the lenses of Batman's cowl. After a beat, he turned on heel. "I'll call from Kansas." He headed toward the door, hearing Batman recall the Flash to the Watchtower as he left and wondering what chaos would meet him on the planet below.