Memoria Mortis

Written for Chi: "I want consequences. Cast of your choosing, but must include J'onn. And a bottle of bourbon."


Detective John Jones, once of the Denver Police Department, settled on to a stool at The Towne Tavern, a corner bar in a working class neighborhood in downtown Philadelphia. As per the norm, there were a dozen others at the bar, half of whom had the haunted look of trying to drown away their sorrows in alcohol, burning away their memories in an ethanol haze.

Every day was an anniversary of some life lost somewhere.

"What're you drinking?"

John looked over at the next to him, more curious than wary. He was in his thirties, well-dressed enough that he didn't look like he spent too many mid-afternoons in bars of any sort. One of the survivors.

"I'm spending the afternoon with Mister Daniels," he went on, the words coming out without slurring but nonetheless sounding... soaked. "Although I really should be calling him Jack by this point."

John asked the waiting bartender for a local brew and was met with a quick nod and soon presented with a full mug. Beer was a taste he had learned to tolerate years ago; it was a necessity for the working class life he had adapted. Detective Jones was an odd enough fellow as it was that to not drink beer might have made his life on the Force a more difficult one - the occasional brew with the shift being required for good relations all around.

He knew without asking what his drinking companion's story was. His high school sweetheart had assaulted after a dance by one of the youth gangs that were a depressing mainstay in every town large enough have a general store. In a world where lives were lost seemingly at random, where Fate was a demon and Fortune was known to take long vacations, nihilism was the fad of choice for teenagers and the resultant gang problems kept both police and costumed vigilates busy.

After that, it had been an unmarred stretch - nobody close lost, nothing that would raise the premiums on the home and car insurance , only one evacuation - until his brother had been killed on this date years ago when Ian Karkull had run amok in Milwaukee. He still thinks it should have been him; he was the one who was supposed to have gone out for pizza except he couldn't find his sneaker because the dog had hidden it.

Detective Jones had had a long, honored career with the police. He had been retired for years now and any time he was seen there was always this look of surprise mixed in with the recognition - everyone figured he'd be dead by now. His police career had ended so long ago that the current head of the Detective Division had been a rookie beat cop on one of Jones's last cases... and yet he still remembered every case he hadn't solved, every victim he had left unavenged. The first time it had happened, the first time not even extraordinary abilities had not been able to bring the perpetrator to legal justice, he had wept piteously. The last time it happened, the tears had only been quieter but no less copious.

But J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter... did he remember every life he had failed to save? Of course not. He knew the numbers, to a degree of accuracy that would be scary coming from anyone but the original Batman. But not their faces, not their names, not whether they had been innocently sitting watching television or going ice skating or making love when some horrible villain perpetuating horrifying acts had, probably quite without consideration, ended their lives.

The Justice League is all about the big picture, the galactic picture, intentionally ignoring the microcosm for the sake of the macrocosm because otherwise it is impossible to act. Kal -- Clark; he has so few people to call him that anymore -- once explained to Kyle why he 'turned off' his enhanced hearing and sight most of the time: if you hear each blade of grass breaking, would you still walk across lawns? The only way to avoid being paralyzed by the scope of it all is to strip the scale away so that it is all one size.

But there is a dreadful cost to that approach. People are not blades of grass; break them and not only do they feel pain, but those around them do as well. For every alien invasion turned back, there are thousands sacrificed in the effort. The big picture is not always pretty to look at. The small pictures, so pretty, so delicate, were too often lost, their detail invisible to the eye trained to see only the grandest of scenes.

The first person to ask him to see them both had been the original Batman. Not surprisingly. Bruce had dressed up in one of his costumes (so hard to call them "disguises" when a telepath doesn't usually see the surface) and taken him to a wharfside diner and they had sat, eating burgers and listening to the stories of sailors who had lost their fathers, brothers, and sons to the Nazi U-boats, to the schemes of Black Manta, to one of King Orin's fits of pique at the surface world, to a stray laser blast by an alien skyship, to a car-sized piece of shrapnel fallen to earth after Superman had blasted some would-be villain's plane. They had heard of the mothers lost to Ra's Al-Ghul, of the sisters missing since the White Martians' second invasion, of the children lost in collapsed bridges and buildings. Everyone had a story and Bruce hadn't let him leave until he was satisfied that J'onn had heard them all.

That had been years ago, decades ago. But the lesson remained learned. And so J'onn J'onzz, alias John Jones, sat with one Terry Vandermeer, originally from Milwaukee, and listened.  

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