Waking, part 19

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

Pieter pushed back his goggles, allowing himself his blindness for a moment. It was a mistake, he realized too late, as the rawness of the crash, it's aftermath, forced itself churning back into prominence in his mind. He clenched his fists impotently, fighting the grief that he knew wouldn't fade because it hadn't yet, even after three hours. What was it Oracle had said? "We gut it out because we have to, Doctor. Because we call ourselves heroes." Dinah had mentioned that Oracle could be ... tough to take sometimes. Right at the wrong times. Or at the right times, as frustration at her rightness gave him the strength to dash his tears away and resettle his goggles over his eyes.

"Doctor Mid-Nite?"

He turned, his features controlled now. "Yes, Lenore?"

"My sisters report that emergency room traffic has slowed to a trickle around the world. We will stay as long as we are needed, but it appears -"

"I understand, Lenore. I will inform Oracle."

The woman nodded stiffly and left the room. Amazons, he reflected - a handful of them, but strangely, enough. Only those with some taint of the man's world already on them, and a few striplings driven more by compassion than sense, but their presence had had a striking impact where they had been stationed. Most of them wouldn't even speak to the men they worked alongside in the hospitals and counseling centers of the world, but the women - the women they met all seemed empowered by the natives of Themyscira. He wondered what words passed between cultures that allowed these women to hear the message of the Amazons and overcome their crippling grief enough to stand as supports for so many others. He imagined Hippolyta for a moment, bringing new stinging tears to his eyes. Once more he struggled for his composure as he keyed in the signal for Oracle.

A faintly Grecian-looking mask appeared on his monitor, accompanied by a synthesized voice. "Oracle here. Go ahead, Mid-Nite."

"Oracle, it appears that whatever else is happening here, the need for emergency services is diminishing."

There was a hint of a pause. "That's consistent with other reports. Thank you, Mid-Nite."

She didn't wait for his sign off, and he let himself be annoyed. He wanted to talk to her about what it all meant, that such heartfelt grief had somehow not only virtually ended human assaults on one another, but had also stayed the hands of many would-be suicides. It seemed counterintuitive, yet emergency room traffic was grinding to a halt. Not even traffic accidents or kids falling out of trees, just the continuing care of the already ill. He mused on this for what seemed like a long time, a niggling idea hovering at the edges of his consciousness.

He was almost startled when the idea blossomed into full clarity of thought. For the first time in several hours, Doctor Mid-Nite smiled, rising from his chair with new strength of purpose. He knew what he had to do, and in the energy of action, he almost didn't notice that the grief of the morning had fallen completely away.

"So now we're dealing with an alien force that can control our moods," Lex Luthor said acidly.

"Mr. President," Superman began carefully, "as I told the UN, we are not certain what is behind these strange effects, but we suspect it may be of alien origin, yes."

"And what is your sainted League doing about it?"

"Our priority right now is to find a way to shield the planet from the effects. We're still working on finding those responsible."

"Or shielding one of your members gone rogue?" To Superman's ears, Lex's voice sounded a little rough. "It seems to me you have a pretty powerful telepath among your ranks."

Superman stiffened. "I can assure you, Mr. President, J'onn J'onzz is not behind this. In fact, he was instrumental in discovering the influence."

"So you say." Lex stared hard at Superman, who calmly met his eyes. They stayed silent for a moment, and Superman was vaguely surprised when Lex broke the eye contact to swivel his chair around and look out over the gardens.

"Mr. President, I appreciate that your concern is for the defense of the American people. At the moment, though, I must urge you to consider how we can first free them from whatever thrall they are in."

"Yes," Lex replied, his tone carrying a certain heaviness.

"If I might suggest, we know STAR Labs has been working on telepathic dampening technologies and that the DEO has also funded considerable research into this field. As a matter of national security-"

"You want me to issue an executive order to have that technology mass produced," Lex finished. He turned his chair back around sharply, and Superman noticed a hint of moisture on one cheekbone. "Tell me this, Superman. Should I issue such an order, and such devices are installed globally, that pretty much guarantees our world is left telepathically deaf, does it not? Which not only exorcises our present demons, but it also nullifies any means of detecting future assaults. You say you have reason to believe that this particular episode is not the precursor of some invasion, but what if it is? Or what if a future situation arises where we require awareness of efforts to telepathically control our thoughts?"

"With all due respect, Mr. President, this continuing wave of grief over the planet may render such concerns moot unless we are able to arrive at some alternative means of-" Superman paused. An odd expression crossed Luthor's face, and he suddenly rose crisply from his seat. His hand had already slapped the call button on the intercom on his desk.

"Yes, Mr. President?"

"Rourke, get the Oval Office ready for a press conference. I want blanket media coverage - no alternative programming. Alert the media."

"Mr. President, Lydia is fielding calls now from the heads of GNN and the major networks offering to preempt all other programming. Couvade is prepared to coordinate with the mayoral network to organize assembly sites in all major metropolitan areas."

"Tell him to go ahead. I'll be out shortly." Lex looked up at Superman. "I appreciate your concern, Superman, and your interest in national security. But if you'll excuse me, I have a country to run. I trust you'll see yourself out."

Superman could only blink as Lex Luthor brushed by him with a sense of purpose. Then his signaler began to beep.

"This isn't working," Kyle sighed in frustration, swallowing hard against tears. "I can't focus past it enough to even imagine what I would feel like without the telepathic influence, let alone will that feeling into existence."

"Tut, tut!" Plasticman scolded, adopting the shape of an Egyptian sarcophagus as he spoke. "Can't will get you nowhere. We've got to consider the problem sideways." He stretched himself thinly horizontal.

"Sideways, backwards, upside down," Kyle protested. "We've tried everything. Even sitting around J'onn's quarters to try to get the feel of it. All that did was make it hurt more when we got away from the dampeners." Now a tear did trail down Kyle's cheek, trickling along the side of his nose to drip finally from its tip as he hung his head in despair.

"That's it!" Plasticman announced, bouncing excitedly out of the observatory.

"What's it?" Kyle questioned. "Hey, wait up!"

"We tried everything except having you try to work your will from inside J'onn's quarters," Plasticman explained.

"What good would that do?" Kyle asked, rushing to keep up with Plasticman's extra-long legged strides. "You wouldn't know if it worked if you were already in the room with me."

"I didn't say I would be in the room," Plasticman pointed out, halting at the door of J'onn's quarters. "I'll stay out here and you concentrate on blocking the telepathic influence from the whole tower. Then I can -"

"-tell me if it works. O'Brian, you're a genius!" Kyle exclaimed. He punched the entry code into a touch pad on the wall and glanced over at his companion. For the briefest instant, he noticed Eel's lip had begun to quiver. A manifestation of the grief effect, surely, Kyle reminded himself, already feeling the relief provided by the dampening field. Before he could offer any comfort, though, Plasticman was in the shape of a stopwatch.

"Get a move on, GL!" Plasticman barked, contorting into a drill sergeant.

"I'm moving," Kyle shot back, slipping into the quiet of J'onn's quarters and shutting the door behind him.

The sudden dissipation of emotion, even though he knew it was coming, left him weak-kneed. He sank down beside a low table that graced the small entry room to J'onn's quarters, resting his head on his arms for a moment. He was exhausted. It had been easier to ignore when he and Plasticman had come into J'onn's quarters together, but here alone, freed from the effort of fighting the grief effect? The earlier sense of loneliness he'd felt still haunted these quarters, compounded by his own fears for what had happened to J'onn and what might happen to them all.

He shook himself, realizing he had no time for such thoughts and that he was dangerously close to falling asleep. He focused his attention on how his present state differed from that under the telepathic influence outside, trying to isolate some telltale that would help him create a block to the mental manipulation.

"IT'S WORKING!" Plasticman's voice suddenly blared from the comlink on the wall.

Kyle frowned and rose to open a reply channel. "I'm not doing anything yet," he reported.

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty damn sure," he grumbled.

"Well, then, you better get out here, stat. We need to get to the monitor womb and call Supes."

"On my way," Kyle answered, puzzled. He went back to the door, steeling himself, and passed out into - a sudden sense of energy and a realization. Plas was right; they needed to make some calls and get things moving. He felt himself smiling as he hastened toward the monitor womb. Things were going to be okay.

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