THE OTHER SIDE
::Telepathic link re-engaged, Superman::
::Thanks, J'onn. Alright teams, report in. Batman and I are en route to the rendés vous. J'onn?::
::Plastic Man and I are headed your way, Superman. ETA: 2 minutes::
::Thanks, J'onn. Team 3? Kyle?::
::We're just finishing up now, Superman. I’m on my way to the ron-day-voo and Wally is… uh… right behind me?::
::Kyle, was that an answer or a question? What’s going on?::
::Well, Wally assures me he'll be there on time, but he’s… well… he’s incapacitating a tank right now…::
::Yeah, he’s… taking it apart, piece by piece::
::O-kay… Well, as long as he makes it on time, I suppose that’s fair. Thanks, Kyle. Team 4?::
::Team 4? Report please::
::Diana? What’s your status?::
::J'onn? What’s happening?::
::I don’t know, Superman. Let me check… Arthur?::
::Arthur?! This is Superman. We all read you now. Report Please!!::
::I said JUST A MINUTE!::
::Arthur, where is Diana?! Why is she not responding?!?::
3 hours earlier…
J'onn sat dutifully in the Monitor Womb chair perusing the various screens: CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, C-SPAN…
Nick at Nite.
It had taken Wally all of two weeks to break down and tell J'onn about the now infamous Monitor 15. J'onn had walked in to relieve Wally for monitor duty three nights before and caught him completely engrossed in an episode of The Sopranos. Wally’s insistence that it was professional interest ("an inside look at the criminal mind") and not personal interest ("Carmela is hot!") could not withstand J'onn’s version of "The Stare." Wally had caved in about fifteen seconds (A personal record for J'onn).
His penalty for getting caught "misusing" League equipment?
J'onn was looking at it. As all of the other monitors flickered images of world events and global economy reports, Screen 15 was blaring one of J'onn’s guilty pleasures: Green Acres. Arnold Ziffel always entertained! The Comm channel suddenly buzzed to life and J'onn quickly started tapping keys to switch Monitor 15 back to C-Span2 where it belonged normally.
"J'onn?" There was no mistaking the voice. Only one person on the planet had that combination of heroism and small-town naiveté.
"Hello, Kal. What can I do for you?"
There was a slight hesitation on the other end of the line, as if the caller had been waiting to hear a different answer. "Have you been watching the developments in Kurdistan?"
J'onn quickly upped the volume on Screen 3: CNN. He watched as Wolf Blitzer stood, holding a combat helmet on his head and speaking in frantic tones. The caption at the bottom of the screen read:
Live from Kurdistan
Foreign military cadres amass at border.
"Yes…" J'onn lied with remarkable ease. "I was actually just getting ready to call Batman for his insight."
Another pause, followed by "Well, I think we ought to call in the team. Get together for a brief sit-down and go over policy and possible battle plans if intercession becomes necessary. Call the rest of the League, would you? Meeting in the conference room in fifteen minutes."
"Of course," J'onn replied before disconnecting the communication link. He sighed in relief like a sixteen-year-old after successfully sneaking back into their room after curfew. He switched over to the Emergency Alert panel and started making the calls.
"Thank you all for coming on such short notice." Superman paced around the table, then sat in his designated chair as the large wall monitor flicked on, showing the now familiar scene of a reporter standing against the backdrop of the Middle Eastern countryside on one half of the screen and a news anchor in some generic newsroom setting on the other half.
Well, Tom, at around 2:15 AM Local Time this morning, reports started coming in talking about masses of various military vehicles and personnel collecting just outside the western border. Soon after, agencies along the northern and eastern borders reported similar activity as well. We have just received word that several ships have been spotted out in international waters just south of Kurdistan’s southern shore. So far, no aggressive actions or signals have been shown here, but it certainly looks like something is going to happen…
"Wolf, where are these people and vehicles coming from?"
It’s hard to say, Tom. Truth is, no one really seems to know at this point. None of the vehicles have any distinguishing markings or characteristics and the uniforms do not look familiar to me or anyone else here. It’s quite odd, though, that several of the bordering countries in which these "cadres" are collecting are in fact at war with each other. Why they have allowed these other factions to collect inside their borders is still a mystery. Tom?
"Thanks, Wolf. We will be returning to Wolf briefly, but first we take you live to Washington DC, where former General and current Presidential analyst…"
The room fell silent as the Wall Monitor was muted. Superman turned to address the other seven League members surrounding the giant round table in the conference room.
"Well, as you can see, things are starting to get a little tense in Kurdistan. 'No aggressive actions' means we stay out of it for now. But I wanted us to get together to go over this. I believe Oracle is currently looking into trying to determine who these 'outside forces' are…" Superman turned to Batman as if awaiting confirmation on his last statement, which garnered a slight nod from the Dark Knight. Superman returned his attention to the others.
"So… Ideas? Concerns? Comments?" Superman addressed to the assembled heroes.
The Flash was the first to speak up, quoting verbatim the now ingrained policy. "Yeah, I thought 'The JLA doesn’t get involved in individual nation’s internal conflicts'?"
"Normally, yes," Superman replied, ignoring the obvious chiding in Wally’s voice. "That is true, but this collection of apparent invading forces appears to be somewhat out of the ordinary. If it were a simple boarder dispute or neighboring country’s bid for more land, the League would not interfere. But in this case, evidence seems to point to a far more sinister situation." Superman turned to Batman and motioned to the center of the table.
"Oracle? Report." Batman called, using his personal channel to contact the woman behind the floating green holographic head that suddenly appeared in the center of the table. The responding voice seemed to come from no where and everywhere at once.
"Well, all of the bordering countries are denying any involvement. Though they have promised to investigate these strange cadres within their own borders, so far they haven’t made any real effort to do so. The energy signatures from the weapons and vehicles signify technology far too advanced for any country in that region to even think about, much less be able to afford. The different camps of forces seemed to appear out of no where… they just suddenly marched up to the borders, suited up and ready for battle. I’m thinking that whoever this is, made a deal with the surrounding countries to allow them access to the borders. With military technology like this at their disposal, bargaining with these constantly warring countries would have been simple."
"Ok, so who are they?" Kyle interjected.
"We don’t know at this time," Oracle responded. "It could be military forces from a distant country. Kurdistan provides a large portion of the world’s oil, but the civil war that has been raging in that area threatens that oil source. Another possibility is that it’s one of the many criminals or criminal organizations has decided that owning their own country will help put them on the map."
"Literally," Plastic Man added, eliciting a groan from several of the other Leaguers.
"Ra’s Al Ghul, Vandal Savage, Kobra… the list is limitless." Oracle continued.
"Any indications from the technology who it could be?" J'onn prompted.
"No," Oracle replied. "Whoever they are, the technology, though fairly advanced, is stuff that would be readily available to anyone via the black market. They obviously don’t want anyone to know who they really are."
"Thanks, Oracle. Keep us posted," Superman replied, taking control of the meeting once again. "Ok, so operating under the assumption that this is not just a bit of civil unrest, but an outright attack from an outside source, what do we…"
"Hang on a second," Diana interrupted. All eyes shifted to her as she leaned forward across the table, staring directly at Superman. "Why are we getting involved at all? Seems to me that this is a political issue. Never mind the 'non-interference' policy, this is a problem the world’s governments and diplomats should try to resolve…"
"Diana," Arthur intervened, "if this is an old League villain or, Gods forbid, some new global threat, then we should take this opportunity to check it out." His tone was non-combative but his icy stare aimed directly at the Amazon caught more than a few of the other Leaguers off guard. Discreetly, both Wally and Kyle reached under the table and pulled out small wads of cash. They shot quick glances at one another and smirked before returning their attention to the table.
"I’m just saying, this is setting a dangerous precedent, that’s all," Diana replied, shifting her attention directly to Arthur. "We step in now and this whole thing becomes about the JLA’s support of one side or the other in this on-going war. We need to make sure who we're going up against before we just run in there with our guns blazing…"
A disappointed look flashed across Wally’s face then disappeared. Under the table, he peeled one bill out of his stack and handed it to Kyle.
"No one is planning on rushing into this," Arthur replied. "We're merely talking about contingencies at the moment. And it will never become a question of 'sides'. Not if we make our intentions clear…"
"Regardless of our intentions, Arthur, with such a heavy media presence in the area…"
"Fuck the media," Arthur spat more under his breath than at Diana or anyone in particular as he leaned back in his chair. Kyle shot Arthur an aggravated look that went unnoticed then, under the table, flipped two bills out of his stack and passed them over to Wally.
"Your personal opinions regarding the international press aside," Diana continued, "any involvement on our part could be construed as intervention in a global-political conflict."
"Global-Political conflict?! It’s a WAR! It’s a bloody, out-of-control Holy War that’s been raging for decades, if not centuries!" Arthur’s tone increased in intensity, but not in volume. No one at the table wanted the discussion to turn into a shouting match… well, except for two certain individuals who had rather large standing wagers placed on the outcome of such a battle between The Amazon and The Atlantian.
As Arthur and Diana continued their… discussion, J'onn glanced around the table. Wally and Kyle were at it again. Their little side-bets on who would say what in any Arthur/Diana face-off had not gone unnoticed. J'onn fired a rather parental looking glare at the duo which Kyle responded to by casting his gaze downward in shame and putting away his cash. Wally, on the other hand, gave J'onn that hand-in-the-cookie-jar "What?" look that turned into a most mischievous grin. J'onn simply rolled his eyes and looked over at Plastic Man, sitting with his elbow on the table and seemingly intently watching the discussion.
J'onn knew, however, that Eel’s interest was not particularly in the conversation, but more in his… view. Plaz enjoyed these "discussions" more than the others realized not because of some deep-seated interest in the topic at hand or some lofty aspirations of resolving the conflicts, but because he sat directly across the table from Diana. Diana, who moved her hands, arms and upper body very vehemently when she spoke. Diana, who tended to lean forward a lot when having these "heated" discussions. Diana, who had no idea exactly how little her eagle-embossed breast-plate covered. Plaz sat, eyes covered by his oversized goggles, staring intently at the Amazonian Hills, completely oblivious to the world around him. J'onn shot a quick mental jolt at Plaz letting him know that his actions were not going unnoticed either.
::Cut it out, Eel.::
Plaz continued to sit unmoving and unfazed by J'onn’s comment, chin still resting in his hand as he watched the conversation continue. From the edge of the table to the left side of Plaz, a thin, stretchy digit rose up slowly, the slight glint of fingernail pointing directly at J'onn, who immediately determined the digit to be the middle one. J'onn grunted lightly, then covered it with a light cough.
The conversation kept going, oblivious to J'onn’s cough, but Superman had caught it and he turned his head toward the Martian, a questioning look on his face. J'onn returned Clark’s glance and shook his head lightly in a "never mind" gesture. Clark nodded lightly and returned his attention to the conversation, which although appearing civil, had started to develop a rather strange undercurrent. J'onn knew that Clark was actually paying attention to what was being said more than anyone else in the room, including the two having the conversation. Ever the Hero of Truth, Clark was probably frantically trying to come up with a solution to this confrontation.
Batman sat to J'onn’s right, leaning back in his chair with his fingers steepled under his nose. J'onn shot a quick glance over to the Dark Knight and realized that Batman was deep in thought, not about the conversation at the table, but most likely plotting strategies and planning contingencies in the event that they had to interfere in the Middle East conflict. Just as J'onn was about to lean over to discuss strategies with Batman, The Dark Knight’s right hand shot out and started tapping several keys on the console in front of his seat. His left hand came down, slapping the top of the table and startling everyone into silence.
"It’s a moot point, now," Batman explained, motioning to the wall monitor as he un-muted the sound.
… about two or three minutes ago, Tom. The vehicles started moving in toward the border. Although no fighting has begun, I think it’s safe to say that whatever we were waiting for is about to…
A large red fireball exploded into the night sky behind the reporter, the concussive blast taking a full two seconds to reach the camera. The reporter jerked forward suddenly, a look of sheer panic and fear crossing his face a second before the camera went dead. Immediately, the screen flicked back to the news desk where an awe-struck anchor sat, mouth agape for a second before he regained his composure to address the camera in front of him.
"Well, folks, we don’t know exactly what’s happening at this time bu…"
The monitor went silent again and all of the Leaguers turned to face each other around the table. Soon, all eyes shifted to Superman who was still staring at the now silent image on the screen. He finally turned to address the gathered heroes.
"Ok, Showtime. How do we want to handle this?"
Batman quickly punched a few more buttons on his control panel and a large holographic map of Kurdistan appeared floating over the table. Small red dots appeared on the surrounding landscape all slowly moving inward toward the borders. Batman spoke quickly, motioning on the 3-D map of Kurdistan and the surrounding areas as he laid out his plan.
"Here’s the plan. The largest contingent is to the North. We teleport in here," he instructed, pointing to an area about 2 inches behind the red dots to the northern part of the map. "We come in from behind and split up the main group as much as possible. Once we break through to the front lines, we split off into four teams of two: one flyer, one non-flyer. Superman and I will be Team One. We will stay behind and finish up the group to the north. J'onn and Plastic Man: you are Team Two. You will head out to the eastern border and handle whatever they have there. Initial reports indicate mostly ground troops and light vehicles, so watch for small arms fire. Team Three: Lantern and Flash will head west…"
"Appropriate," Wally joked.
"Shut up, Wally," Batman spat, never taking his eyes off the map. He continued:
"You're contingent appears to be the heavy-arms division. Large tanks and surface-to-air missile battalions. Wally, I would suggest taking out the SAM’s first to give Kyle some breathing room."
"Yes, sir." Wally replied, the agitation in his voice unmistakable.
Batman continued on, Wally’s personal feelings holding no bearing on the task at hand. "Team Four: Aquaman and Wonder Woman." There was a brief pause, even in Batman’s rolling list of orders as every person in the room suddenly realized the team-up just proposed. Batman quickly resumed however, the battle plan in his head taking precedence. "You will head to the Arabian Sea to the south." Batman finally looked up from the map to meet Arthur’s gaze. Arthur sat, fully attentive and awaiting the plan. Batman flicked his eyes over to Diana and only caught the side of her head as she stared directly at Arthur. Bruce recognized that look as the one that his mother always used to give his father in public when she expected him to retort to some baseless accusation regarding his character. Obviously nonplussed by Arthur’s lack of response, she turned to Batman and prepared to object to the team assignments when Batman continued, ignoring her altogether.
"Yours will be the most critical assignment," Batman added, the statement seeming to please Diana. At least pleasing enough for her to keep quiet long enough to hear him out. "We have no idea of the size or scope of the forces off the southern coast. You two will be heading in a little blind, but I’m sure it’s nothing the two of you cannot handle together." Diana turned again to Arthur, this time more for confirmation of acceptance, but she was greeted by the side of his head as he continued to stare straight ahead at Batman.
"All told, this shouldn’t take us more than thirty minutes to quell," Batman prompted, earning a few questioning looks from the surrounding team. "Since we still don’t know who we're up against, I suggest we do this as quickly and discreetly as possible. It’s now 4:13 AM Kurdistan time, which means we have the cover of night to our advantage. Until we know for sure that this is an 'outside' entity, try to keep any press visibility to a minimum. Once done, we meet here." Batman pointed to the Kurdistan capitol on the large holographic map as he continued, "The mobile teleport units will be setup at the Capitol building. We'll meet there and come back up here for a debriefing once we're done. Considering our recent… encounters with unknown technology and telepathic adversaries, I suggest we do this one quietly. No comm traffic, no telepathic communications." Several of the Leaguers moved as if to protest, but Batman cut off any objections quickly. "No communication except between team members! We cannot afford the possibility of detection before we strike."
"I would agree with that," Superman interjected, squashing any other objections. "Once we hit planetside, we go communication blackout until the 'two-minute warning'. At that point, J'onn will re-establish the telepathic link and we'll head for the capitol. The only reason to break Comm-silence is in an emergency. The plan is solid. Let’s set up and get ready to roll, folks."
The Leaguers all stood and headed for the teleport tubes. Flash arrived at the control panels first and began punching in the coordinates for the landing site Batman had suggested. He momentarily pondered setting Batman’s tube to drop him somewhere over Siberia, then configured all four tubes to the appropriate locations. The other Leaguers arrived at the tubes and divided into their teams for teleportation. Diana continually stared at Arthur, obviously waiting for him to say… something. Arthur, however, seemed to be in "Action Mode" and was paying absolutely no attention to her. She huffed quietly to herself as they entered the tube and prepared for teleportation.
Superman and Batman stepped into Tube #1 as Wally finished setting up the teleports. As the tubes began to hum, Clark turned to his long-time friend and teammate, a sudden look of concern washing over his face. "Uh, Batman? Shouldn’t we have contacted Oracle about getting the mobile teleport tubes to the capitol? They'll never make it there on time!"
Something odd started to happen with the corner of Batman’s mouth. He continued to stare straight ahead, his lip twitching ever so slightly in what Clark finally recognized as the first smile he’d ever seen appear on Bruce’s face inside the cowl. The knowing smirk quickly faded as the soft blue light of the teleport tube began to surround them.
Just as the beam began to activate, Batman spoke with a calm and determination that sent a chill down Clark’s spine.
"They arrived twenty minutes ago."
::What do you mean "Diana’s down?!::
::Dammit, Give me a minute! I’m a little busy here!::
::On my way, Superman! Arthur, hold on! I’m en route now!::
::J'onn, don’t worry about me, just find Diana. Last I saw she was dropping somewhere near the shoreline. I've got one last straggler here who appears to be trying to run. I’m going after them now. You guys head back up to the 'Tower. I’ll get to the tube in Atlantis and meet you there.::
"What the hell happened out there?!" Batman stormed into the conference room, his voice filling the large hall.
Kyle, Wally, and Plastic Man all sat in their respective seats at the table, all three fiddling with scraps of metal and several small control boxes. They studied every piece, trying to determine the origin of the tank that the pieces had come from. Superman stood in front of the large monitor as reports started pouring in about the mysterious halting of the invading troops in Kurdistan.
"I don’t know, Batman. None of us do right now." Superman’s voice was much calmer, but the tension and anger was still audible. "J'onn took Diana directly to the infirmary, but until she comes around or Arthur shows up, we still don’t really know what happened to the south.
"She was hit from behind," J'onn answered as he entered the room. "Some kind of rocket or missile. She says she never saw it coming."
"She’s awake?" Superman asked, concern creeping into his voice for the first time. J'onn nodded. The three men stood, trading glances as each one pondered the potential problems a screw up of this nature could mean for the team. They had covered the incident well, but something fell apart in the field and that never boded well. It was Superman who finally broke the mounting silence. "How did this happen?"
"Diana didn’t say," J'onn answered. "All she said was that the last thing she remembers is getting hit, then waking up here. Which means…"
"Which means we have to wait for Arthur," Diana finished, walking into the room and heading over to her chair, holding a cold compress against the back of her head. "I have no idea what happened, but Arthur was supposed to be watching my back and, well…" She held up the ice pack as if that was enough of an explanation. Superman turned and moved to his chair beside her, inspecting the back of her head while Batman walked over and stood behind his chair and spoke to her directly.
"What happened?" Batman queried.
"I don’t really know. We got there and there were only four or five little boats with minimal crews. Couldn’t have been more than fifty men total. We took them out pretty quickly, and I turned to come up north and help you guys… then I got hit from by behind!" The obvious aggravation in Diana’s voice caused the trio of parts inspectors to pause and look up at her. She shot them an icy stare and all three heads simultaneously dropped back down to the mass of parts on the table.
"So what… or who… hit you?" Superman asked.
"East Germany!" Kyle erupted, looking up from the parts to the assembled Leaguers. He paused as J'onn, Batman, Superman, and Diana all shot him completely confused looks. He looked at each of them in turn, then coughed lightly, trying to hide the nervousness in his voice. "Uh… the tank," he explained, holding up a small mechanical device for explanation. "The tank is from East Germany. Or was, anyway. I mean, I know East Germany doesn’t exist anymore, it’s just Germany, but the writing here says…"
"Old East German tanks? That’s odd." J'onn replied, cutting Kyle off mid-ramble. "The soldiers we faced were carrying old Italian infantry rifles."
"And driving Saudi desert vehicles!" Eel added, remembering the trucks he had bounced off the road by rolling down the side of a hill as a giant bowling ball.
"So this doesn’t bring us any closer to who was behind all of this," Batman reasoned. "East German tanks, Saudi vehicles, Italian rifles… These weapons and vehicles could have been picked up by anyone. Still, I’ll get Oracle onto tracking the equipment. See if we can find out who bought all this."
"Kobra!" Arthur strolled into the conference room, his hair still slightly damp and a large sheet of blackened metal at his side, his harpoon piercing the middle of the large slab.
"Kobra?" Batman responded. "As in the Cult of the Cobra leader? Are you certain?"
"Pretty certain," Arthur replied sarcastically as he jerked his arm toward the large round table. The large metal scrap flew off his harpoon and landed with a clatter in the middle of the table, the large symbol of a coiled, hooded snake staring up at the seated Leaguers.
"What is that from?" Superman asked, standing up and inspecting the metal slab in the center of the table.
"Submarine," Arthur responded, walking over to his chair and standing behind it in the same fashion that Batman had just moments before. "Old Russian nuclear sub. They were using it as the base of operations for this little 'invasion' of theirs. I guess they thought Kurdistan was easy pickings at the moment…" During his explanation, Arthur appeared to be purposefully avoiding looking at Diana at all. "The crew of the sub are being held in Atlantis as we speak. My staff is trying to get as much information out of them as possible, but considering how fanatical these guys are, we probably won’t get much."
"So the sub shot at Diana?" Superman probed.
"No, the sub was too far down, even for submergible rockets. The rockets came from one of the boats…"
"The boats?" J'onn asked, turning a quizzical eye from Arthur to Diana, then back to Arthur. "I thought you had taken out the boats at that point."
Arthur shot a questioning look to Diana, who immediately looked away and up to J'onn. Arthur’s look turned from quizzical to bordering on viscous. He turned back to J'onn and spoke, the anger seething in his voice. "I guess we missed one…" he offered.
"So there’s still one out there?!" Superman asked, already preparing to head back to the Arabian Sea to finish the job.
"No," Arthur interrupted, turning his icy stare back to Diana. "I finished them all off. It’s over. We know who was behind it and the crisis is over. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go check on our prisoners and see if there’s any thing else we can find out." Arthur turned and headed for the door.
"Arthur, wait…" Superman called after him, but Arthur marched out the door and headed off toward the teleport tubes. Superman called to him again, to no answer, then turned to J'onn. J'onn looked to Diana, who simply watched as Arthur left. J'onn looked to Superman, nodded shortly, then headed out the door after Arthur, leaving a table full of stunned Leaguers. Superman tried to recollect the group by talking over how to track Kobra down, but all eyes kept shifting toward the doorway.
Once out of eye- and earshot of the conference room, J'onn called to Arthur, still on his steady march to the teleport tubes. "Arthur? What happened out there?"
"Let’s not get into this right now, J'onn" came the reply.
"Arthur? Arthur!!?" J'onn called after him again, this time running up to grab him by the shoulder. "Tell me what happened…"
Arthur stopped, his back still turned. There was a brief pause as Arthur collected himself, then sighed. He mumbled something under his breath that J'onn couldn’t make out.
What?" J'onn prompted.
"I said," Arthur restated, slowly "She ditched me in the field."
Arthur spun on J'onn, his eyes burning with anger. "She ditched me! She left me to deal with the entire fleet alone!"
"She… " He paused, trying to suppress the anger. Arthur didn’t want to take this out on J'onn. He took a deep breath. "We got out there and saw five ships, all not much bigger than deep sea fishing boats," Arthur began recounting the story quietly, the anger in his voice steadily rising. "There were only a handful of troops on the ships. I asked her to drop me down so I could get a closer look. All of a sudden she starts rambling on about this whole thing being a waste of her time and that it was all below her ‘station'—whatever the hell that meant! Then she dropped me down into the water. As soon as I broke the surface, I noticed the subs… all eight subs, sitting under the water and waiting. I surfaced and started looking around for Diana to tell her about them when she suddenly floated down right over me. She just lowered down like she was in the middle of the fucking park or something, looking all disgusted. Her face was twisted in this completely aggravated and… I dunno… almost offended look. She told me that I could "handle this" and she turned around and started to leave! She started heading back to fucking shore! She just fucking left! Like she was giving me orders and she was off to do her own little important thing! Meanwhile, there’s who knows how many guys on these boats—plus eight rather large submarines—waiting to blast the two of us to kingdom come! And she’s just floating away and leaving me there to deal with this shit alone!"
J'onn stood in shocked silence listening to Arthur recount the events. His mind started racing over what he was hearing. All of this seemed to be building toward an unbelievable conclusion. ! The thought was unfathomable, yet it seemed to be where Arthur’s tirade was heading. J'onn’s heart suddenly leapt to his throat and his stomach twisted itself into knots. Was Arthur the Culprit? Had Arthur actually been the one to take Diana down in the middle of a battle? Outwardly, J'onn stood, stoic as ever, listening as Arthur reached a fever pitch.
"I mean, what the fuck is that about!?! You never… ever abandon a teammate like that!" Arthur suddenly paused, finally realizing how intense he had gotten. He took a deep breath to compose himself, closed his eyes, and breathed out. His eyes opened slowly and he looked to J'onn, his face turning into the picture of defeat. He started slowly again, relaying what happened next in as calm a voice as he could muster.
"I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye and turned just in time to see a soldier on the bow of one of the boats launching a rocket from some kind of shoulder-mounted launcher. I called out… but it was too late. The rocket slammed into her back and sent her spiraling toward the ground."
Arthur’s eyes appeared to cloud over and go distant, as he relived the whole event over in his head. The image of Diana getting blasted in the back was forever etched in his memory. J'onn reached out a laid a steadying hand on Arthur’s shoulder, relief finally washing over the Martian as he realized Arthur had not been the one to take Diana down. Arthur shook himself out of the trance, the anger rising again in his face.
"Suddenly, I found myself having to choose: Complete the mission alone or help a fallen teammate. Now, normally, that’s a no-brainer for me. Nine times out of ten, I’m helping the fallen colleague. But this time… I don’t know. I guess I figured that the mission was more important."
He trailed off for a moment, knowing that his last statement wasn’t really the truth. "Or maybe it was that I figured that Diana had dug her own fucking hole this time and I wasn’t gonna bail her out. I figured she could handle herself. I've seen her take shots like that before and shrug them off. So I took care of the entire sea-faring crew and left her to fend for herself." Arthur looked directly at J'onn, the anger once again burning in his eyes. "Please excuse me if I chose to accomplish our mission instead of saving the precious Princess from her own stupidity…"
J'onn tightened his grip on Arthur’s shoulder to calm him. "Arthur, no one is blaming you. We just had no idea what was happening out there. Why don’t you come back into the conference room and…"
"No!" Arthur interrupted, pulling himself from J'onn’s grasp. "I can’t do it right now, J'onn. I can’t even face her. Let her tell whatever version of the story she wants to… I just… can’t."
Arthur turned away and headed toward the teleport tubes again. J'onn watched in silence as Arthur disappeared into the glowing tube, still processing the entire conversation. Why had Diana acted this way? She knew better than to abandon a teammate in the field. Something was seriously wrong.
Wally, Kyle, and Plastic Man coming up from behind, chatting loudly and heading for the tubes, interrupted his thoughts. They approached J'onn and asked about Arthur, which he responded to with a half-hearted grin and flippant explanation about stress and problems in Atlantis. The trio headed off, saying their good-byes to one another and disappearing into the tubes. J'onn felt a hand on his shoulder and without turning around, addressed the man behind him.
"I take it the meeting’s over then, Clark?"
"Yes," the Man of Steel replied. "We're done. Wonder Woman has volunteered for monitor duty and Batman is working with Oracle on tracking down Kobra."
J'onn smiled lightly, knowing that the Cult of the Cobra didn’t stand a chance with the tag team of the World’s Greatest Detective and the World’s Greatest Hacker on their trail. Diana taking monitor duty was not that much of a surprise either. She liked sitting in the monitor womb after a battle, for some reason J'onn had yet to really determine. She probably found it a relaxing getaway of sorts: a place to unwind and collect her thoughts. She obviously had a lot to think about that night. J'onn sighed, his mind still reeling from his conversation with Arthur.
Superman respectfully stood behind J'onn, letting the Martian collect his thoughts. The two men stood in silence as they had done many times in the past. The two alien members of the JLA shared a bond that generally transcended the spoken word. Truly the Heart and the Soul of the League, they were often the ones to deal with any conflict within the League itself. And the Diana/Arthur conflict was shaping up to be their biggest challenge to date.
J'onn finally broke the silence. "I take it you heard all of that?"
"Yes," Superman replied, coming around to stand next to J'onn.
"We obviously have a few things to discuss."
"We certainly do," Superman agreed. "But not tonight," he added with a smile. "Let’s get together tomorrow night and discuss it then. Give us both a chance to reflect and process what’s been happening. Try to come at this… thing… with the clearest heads possible." He cocked an eyebrow in J'onn’s direction, his smile creeping into a sly grin. "Besides, we have far more important things to discuss this evening."
Superman paused a moment longer before asking: "Green Acres?"